Friday, September 16, 2011


This list is taken from the website of RAVEN KALDERA.  If you are interested, you can find a LOT of stuff there.  This is his list of the 8-fold path of Shamans.  He speaks of classic Northern modes.
The first path is the Path of Meditation. This is also sometimes called the Path of Breath, because altering consciousness through specific forms of breathing is one of the classic techniques of meditation.
The second path is the Path of Ritual. Creating sacred space and doing deliberate (and often repetitive), mindful activities that are heavily laden with meaning in that space can create an altered state by itself. 
The third path is the Path of Rhythm. This includes drumming, dancing, or any repetitive rhythmic motions.
The fourth path is the Ascetic's Path. This includes fasting, sensory deprivation, and purification ordeals, all of which have various precedents in the North. 
The fifth path is the Path of Sacred Plants. From Thor's henbane beer to the infamous Little Red Man mushroom, hallucinogenic plants have been used with surprising frequency in the ancient North. 
The sixth path is the Path of the Flesh. This path involves using sexual energy as a way of opening one's self to the spirits.
The seventh path is the Ordeal Path. This path revolves around intentional and careful use of pain in order to put the body into an altered state. 
All of the above have crossed my research more than once in surprising ways and have shown up in real life -- I run across persons who actually practice one or more of these paths with no reference to shamans.  Sometimes the experience was imposed on them, unasked for.  
But the eighth path is not one that I know at all, unless Raven is talking about shape-shifting, in which case the path should be the “Path of the Creature,” since sometimes we’re talking seals or big birds or bison.  
There are certain domestic animals which will “bond” with a human being and become attuned to his or her mind and goals -- horses and dogs do this so well and so thoroughly that the relationship becomes more one of extension than of partnership.  There’s a little sexual fusion to it, mind-reading, picking up signals so subtle that one is not conscious of them.  But that’s not what Raven is talking about.  This what he says:
The eighth path is the Path of the Horse, which involves direct spirit-possession, bringing the Gods or wights into the body for a short period of time. 
First, let me disclaimer right off that the word "horse" is borrowed from the Afro-Caribbean religious traditions. In those religions (Voudoun, Santeria, Candomble, Umbanda, Palo Mayombe), the person whose body is borrowed by a God or a spirit is referred to as a "horse", and the act of being spirit-possessed is referred to as being "ridden". While we who do these things in a modern northern-tradition context do unashamedly borrow this term, it seems oddly appropriate in spite of its origins. One is reminded of the runes Ehwaz and Raido, the Horse and the Ride, which are also Movement and the Path.
He’s talking about possession, some mind-force coming into a human being and taking him or her over for its own purposes.  This is much darker and scarier than the appreciation of a willing horse.  We know one metaphor for sex is riding or being ridden (“ridden hard and put away wet”).  The play “Equus” bitterly recounts the merging of sexuality with equitation, but even that is innocent when compared with the notion of invasion by a completely different consciousness that is anthropomorphic but not human.  
Maybe there’s “channeling” as when a spirit personality talks “through” someone.  Or “speaking in tongues” or maybe there’s what might be called psychosis or a “split personality.”  Those who like to think of such phenomena as being explainable by science will look for descriptions of changed consciousnesses and identities, maybe arguing for a kind of brain-reorganization, extreme playacting to the point of losing the boundary with reality.  At least some pre-existing reality.  Where’s that fMRI machine?
On the other hand there will always be people who accept a magical, other-worldly explanation.  I don’t see a problem so long as one is able, in that U of Chicago Div School way, to state one’s method.  Don’t mix science with superstition.  But one who is clear, and at least in control of their own thoughts, could go back and forth from one method to another:  observe someone who seems to be possessed; let the scary feelings run up and down the spine; then step over to questioning about what forces are scientifically operating on this person.  Maybe ask about trauma or hormone levels.
So it turns out that the Path of the Horse is not even about equines.  Shucks.  There is so much that is magical about a horse even if you’re not riding it. Sitting up on a horse makes the world a different place, as the plains Indians quickly figured out.  Even walking across grass with a horse willingly traveling beside you, keeping its head by your shoulder, seems so companionable, so natural.  Horses are curious and -- once they know you -- trusting, so that you can put your hands all over them, sliding palms over their slick warm quivering and flinching ribs and flexing round rears; blow your breath up their noses; put your fingers in their mouths.   But if you get out of tune, de-synchronized, you’re liable to be bitten hard and even kicked.  A rearing, striking horse is deadly.
My niece’s ranch was bought by a man who was raising wild horses, the original mustangs, except that it all went wrong and collapsed.  Maybe something made a “horse” of him, though his name was Black Bear.  Anyway, my niece and her son and grandson, a toddler, wanted to visit them so we went out into the field in the foothills of the Rockies where the horses that Spring had run off a couple of gregarious young moose.  Now it was mid-July and the grass was tall but still green.  These horses are gray, dun, buckskin, mouse-colored, sometimes with that ancient stripe down their back and vague stripes across the backs of their rear legs, as though they’d been switched by something soft but dirty.  They were very curious about the baby, who was wearing only a diaper.  They came to peer, with their manes in their eyes like bashful girls, 
The baby’s father put his crying, fussing, boy down in the grass to rub sunscreen on him, blue goop that made me think of the Picts. The baby calmed and the horses -- a band of mares with colts -- came even closer to see what was happening and try to interpret it.  But when my niece and I reached out to touch the horses, they struck the ground with their front hooves and blew snot at us, backing off.
The shaman’s idea of the Path of the Horse is one of a big something possessing a little something, but a rider is a little something on a big something, so this Horse Path is one of Reversal.  But what we felt that summer afternoon in the grass was an enveloping fusion, light streaked with shadow, no need for any sort of possessing.  
But shouldn’t an aspiring Dionysian welcome being possessed?  Perhaps I am this blog’s “horse.”


Anonymous said...

The Mongolian shamans also use the image of the horse in their shamanic work. They say the drum is a horse which carries the shaman on his spirit flight.

Anonymous said...

A video on female Mongolian shaman going into spirit possession with drum:

Art Durkee said...

A few clarifications, if I may, from someone who knows this stuff and has been involved with it for a long time (which only means that my interpretation is mine, and his is his, and hers is hers, etc., all equally valid on some levels):

"Northern" here means Viking, which is commonly known these days as Asatru. It's one form of neo-paganism, and not a particularly mainstream form relative to others. Like, say, Wicca. It can indeed be a shamanic path—the equivalent on some levels of Native American shamanism, in that each nation has a slightly different cosmology and way of doing things. Viking cosmology is not Inuit cosmology, however, even though they lived at the same latitudes, in the same kinds of climates.

The Ordeal Path is about things like the Sundance: physical pain, from torture to branding to scarification to tattoo, as a way to altered states of consciousness.

Shape-shifting is something else entirely—more akin to the animal paths of possession, the totem animals and ancestors, and the Path of the Horse as listed here.

As for mixing science with spirituality. . . in fact, the most effective shamans of my experience are the most pragmatic ones. Some even go so far as to talk about shamanic practice as non-denominational spiritual technology. Sacred science is another term I've heard used (also used by some Tibetan Buddhists).

There are many kinds of possession. This one being talked about here is only variety. Haitian voudoun, in which the lowa (god-spirits) "ride" the entranced practitioner like a "horse" is similar to what was talked about here. But communing with spirit guides is not possession. The ancient Greeks talked about being "taken by the god," which is yet another variety.

Dionysus wasn't channelled and didn't possess his practitioners, because his personality didn't subsume or dominate theirs, or put their minds "to sleep." Dionysian revels were about the derangement of the senses (by entheogenic intoxicants, i.e. the wine) and the loss of inhibitions. Being taken by the god meant letting go of the self. A higher ekstasis took one over, and one loses oneself in the higher state of consciousness. (A real oversimplification, but I'm trying to make a differentiation between this and other varieties of ecstasy.)

Sorry to be technical, but as someone involved with all this, I get annoyed at times by imprecision. Because when you're practicing the dangerous arts of shamanism, imprecision, as in surgery, can kill you.

prairie mary said...

Thanks much, Art. I'm barely beginning to explore so I value your guidance very much. My hard drive crashed a bit ago and I've lost your email.

I don't expect to embark on a career as a shaman -- quite the opposite -- but I am VERY interested in the management of consciousness.

Prairie Mary