The Society for Shamanic Practioners 4th UK Residential Conference

Dancing with the Cycles of Life

9-12 September 2010
Gaunts House, Wimborne, Dorset, UK

 

…a report of sorts which weaves between the magic of that gathering and questions for shamanic practitioners in Finland.

 

Welcome to Gaunts House! Ancestral father’s home of Harry Potter’s nemesis Voldemort… sorry, couldn’t help myself.

I received an invitation to present two workshops (all are experiential-not lectures) within the framework of their theme. My spots were on Saturday night (at least two hours) and Sunday afternoon (another two hours). The organizer’s aim is to find experts, someone who is not of native (aboriginal) roots but has been initiated into a shamanic tradition of an indigenous people. I was their WASP or White Anglo Saxon Protestant on Tuvan shamanism.

The organisers, Howard and Elsa Malpas (http://shamanicwarrior.org) have a grace for loving, listening and honouring everyone. These two have been one of the main energy centres for organising the conference for the fourth time in a row. They will organise the next one also. These two found each other after many years. Elsa has had polio since a child. That hasn’t stopped her from helping others. These two are a gentle and powerful pair. I thought that I don’t know if I could mirror such generosity and openness and acceptance of such a diverse group of people.

As part of the Society of Shamanic Practitioners they reiterate in the programme:

MISSION:

  • We are an alliance of people deeply committed to the re-emergence of shamanic practices that promote healthy individuals and viable communities.
  • The Society is committed to keep up with the changing times.
  • The Society of Shamanic Practitioners:
    • Creates an alliance of diverse shamanic practitioners which functions as a circle of peers. (italics are the writer’s)
    • Gathers and disseminates knowledge about shamanic practice.
    • Promotes the importance of personal responsibility in doing the inner work necessary to live and practise with integrity.

And if you want to read more visit: www.shamansociety.org.

Reporting back what I did to Shamaaniseura about what I presented is not the focus for me. What I hope to convey is the magic of this circle of people, the magic of this event all centred around shamanic healing: for I was struck with friendliness, uncompetitive-ness, and openness which I have yet to meet on Finnish soil yet (exceptions being Shamaani seura happenings). Presenters were from around the world and from diverse backgrounds. Gathered together were people involved in shamanic healing.

People who participated were teachers, writers of books, had their own schools of training, were beginners, or had been “doing this for years”; publicists, bookkeepers, magazine editors, designers, students, police officers, anthropologists, doctors and so on. All gathered together under the term of “shamanic practitioner”.

What is that? In Finnish this word is difficult to translate because the idea surrounding it needs to be correctly identified. To say “harjoittelija” is perhaps not correct. SP is someone who does shamanic healing work. Is this the tietäjää? The shaman’s journey is at the core of the work with Healing as the focus. It is disciplined shamanic journeying with spirit helpers. There and back again. Ethical work.

For three full days we joined together in the morning for announcements. This was followed by a one hour Plenary Session with Jonathan Horwitz, Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies each morning. Jonathan was one of my very first teachers. With him (and Heimo Lappalainen) I made my first disciplined shamanic journey. The last time we saw each other was in ’96 when I attended his shamanic counselling course in Sweden. He was instrumental in getting me to teach workshops in Finland. Our meeting was one of great love and respect…and a lot of laughter. Johnny was a teacher for Foundation for Shamanic Studies Harner from 84-93. Jonathan got instructions from his Spirits to return to the Basics: Trust, Song, healing. In essence what the shaman is supposed to be doing in simple clear language. The red thread wove between his words and the three mornings. This year I have been invited to return again and deliver the Plenary Session. I pray that I can honour this well. Visit www.shamanism.dk

During the mornings and afternoons we had the opportunity to make choices and attend at least two different workshops. The choices were many and the variety was wide. I comment on some that I attended-and a few that I didn’t attend but had the opportunity to make acquaintances with the presenters.

Friday evening was Power Up-Trance Dance with a purpose of “connecting to primal energy levels of the elements, revel in our male and female energies and connect to our community, our mother, the goddess, the god, and Spirit.” Connected, painted, and in white clothes. Wonderful.

I attended each day an early morning session at 6.15 led by Anja Saunders, a wonderful British woman who is a shamanic practitioner, ceremonial leader and bodyworker (Alexander Technique, tai ji). Movement, visualisation and tai ji. The tai ji was well taught through the use of story. I never done so good! Blood got moving and wonderful relaxed way to start day.

Englishman David Wendyl-Berry (www.earthencounters.net) has had an interesting path to shamanism. He quit his job (in the film business) and all the drugs related to it and by a series of “accidents” was apprenticed to Sun Bear, the late Chippewa medicine man. The road led to becoming a wilderness guide at the School of Lost Borders in California (pioneers who first brought the vision quest into Western culture). He is a fully qualified Wilderness Rites of Passage guide and counsellor. He is also many other things. His workshop was on Vision Quest. This man has experiences for over twenty years…and stories to tell. He has an innate sensitivity to integrate what was experienced and mirroring it back. His words: minimum four days for a vision quest, not including the preparation work and the follow-up.

Rev Dr John-Luke Edwards (Canada) B.Ed, MA, PhD, CCC, CSE, OICGH was a challenge for me. I had a chance to examine some of my own borders/edges. Best to read his website! He was the opening speaker: Shamanic Cycles of Life. He spoke of birth-rebirth-the passing of old life to new; about Spirits, directions, myth. Best to read his website, I repeat! See www.wolfindark.com.

Ongon – Spirit Dolls with Mark Loman. This was led by a man who knows about jewellery and making spirit helpers. We made Ongon: sacred object that becomes a “house” for your helping spirits. He has a strong leaning towards Mongolian and Siberian shamanism. Quite fun cutting, gluing, wrapping, snipping and waking them up. Basic. I was struck with how the group was let loose in a candy shop of baubles, beads, feathers, string, cloth, jingle jangles. Just like children we were.

The Great Song with Tom Cowan. Tom is another “old-hand”. He has been, still is, I think, a teacher for Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Tom is author of several books on shamanism with a focus on Celtic shamanism. His was focused on the Celtic tradition of the great song- Oran Mor. Wonderful basic introduction to the role of song and its myriad meanings, roles. Birthing mothers had a bard with them: certain songs to assist the birthing process! We sang. Wonderful appetiser to the great song tradition. Too many similarities to Finnish-Baltic traditions to be considered coincidence. Visit www.riverdrum.com

I led on Saturday night Black Earth and White Sky: Calling in the Spirits Tuvan Style. We had a roaring candle bonfire in the centre and a room full of about 100 persons drumming and rattling while we sanctified Fire. Sunday was using voice to sing your journey and blessing ceremony for a partner.

What I didn’t attend:

  • Annie Spencer (USA): Initiation and Rites of Passage. Annie knows about story and REAL giveaways (www.circleofliferediscovery.com/annie.htm).
  • Maria-Runningwater: Chakra Conference www.totallyshamanic.com).
  • Toltec Shamanism-the Cave of the Dreamer with Twobirds (UK) www.anamcara.org.
  • Riding the Winds of Change with Trisha Mulholland (Celt/Scot) www.dreamweaversenergywork.com.
  • Shamanic Journeys and Remote Viewing with Leo Rutherford (UK). Leo is an old konkkari and has moved into quite a futuristic exploration of the world’s future using RemoteViewing. The time to get prepared is now. Check out Hopis and their message. Leo has written several books and has his own school of shamanism Eagle’s Wing College of Shamanic Medicine www.shamanism.co.uk.
  • Divination in Shamanic Practice, Jules Farrer (UK) www.worldtree.org.
  • A Gap in the Hedge with Steve Niner (UK). This was connecting with the natural world.
  • Journeying to Truth (literally) with Taz Thornton (UK) www.firechild-designs.co.uk.
  • Gateways of the Dragon with Sarah Finlay and Peter Clark (USA) www.shamansflame.com.
  • Moon Lodge with Annie; Awakening the Courageous Heart with Christina Pratt (USA) www.lastmaskcenter.com. A friend attended and remarked: the Americans make many journeys-10min long, one right after the other. Crazy! Too much”. I made a similar observation in Tom’s workshop.
  • Runes of Engagement with Dr. Mary Courtis (anthropologist) www.elflander.com; We are All Tourists on this Planet: Journey to our True Self Intention (even get an individual perfume to remember and anchor their soul intention) with Beatrice Simmons-Heiz (Swiss) www.attaraduftparadies.com and Mary Willis.
  • Following the Teachings of the Seasons with Supi Pennington (UK) www.suepennington.com.

All these presenters USED THE DISCIPLINED SHAMANIC JOURNEY AT THE CORE OF THEIR WORKSHOP. All used the drum (interesting statistic). Even the runes workshop was making a journey.

The last day had a shamans’ market: one and a half hours for the chance to buy that special shamanic “thingamigjig” you have always wanted. Blankets laid on the floor, minimal tables. Thingamigjig is correct. I found two small aquarelles and a big copper jangly dangly bear necklace.

Give-Away: led by Annie Spencer. This was truly amazing. Bring something or some-things along that you give away. You give away to GIVE THANKS for something you have received: an answered prayer, a healing, a rejoicing. Amazing how we cling to stuff. She told the story of two sisters (First Nation on a reservation) which had received a healing. It was answered prayer. They arranged the Give Away: blankets on the floor (also part of the giveaway), all their earthly possessions on it. Literally emptied their house and placed it on the blankets in the community hall. All the people were invited to sit around the edges. Then the small children began to pick up items, or give cards that were on item (too big to carry) to those sitting on the edges. They ran around giving everything away as the sisters guided. At the end of the GIVE AWAY, nothing was left. Their house was empty. But they had done as their culture always had done: honoured their tradition and given thanks. Well, the next day the sisters went outside: tied to their porch was a horse. Why? Because the sister’s had no transportation-they had given that away also. Someone gave away to them. They were full of their blessing, of answered prayer; they gave it all away in thanks; but they were not left alone! Community! How much can we say of our own?

The main speaker-or rather the person who attended as much as possible and then made the closing commentary was neuroscientist, shamanic practitioner, shamanic counsellor MD, PhD Alan Davis from Utah. He is one of the founders for the SSP. In his simple words: re-integrate spirituality and spiritual healing into hospitals and medical centres. I have been thinking this ever since returning from Tuva: if the former Soviet Union can arrange to have a health centre that combines traditional herbal/folk medicine as well as shamanic healing and a few Buddhist monks in and the orthodox priests WHY OH WHY can’t we!?

I spent time re-connecting with practitioners which I hadn’t seen in ages. Finding out how and what everyone was doing during this time period gave insight into the possibilities of Finland attempting to hold their own shamanic practitioners conference. What rose up were many, many questions such as:

  • can a similar event take place amongst Finns-having inclinations for talking behind each others back, jealousy, bitterness, competition, working alone, associating only with this or that teacher? This is what I have experienced firsthand towards myself and others and this is also what I have experienced towards others.
  • can Finnish people who are practising shamanic healing gather together and share a piece of their learning, experiences to others for free? Yes, free. Room and board covered. Travel not covered.
  • can all this be done in a spirit of cooperation, in preservation of SHAMANIC TRADITIONS?
  • what is happening with sharing of information between shamanic practitioners in Finland?
  • Clinical cases: I know there are psychotherapists, psychologists and others out there who use shamanic healing techniques in their work? Where are they and their stories?
  • what is happening in the mainstream? Are we trying to re-integrate? Are we just trying to be “special” and offer “alternative” care as opposed to bringing shamanic practices into health centres, support groups, jails, juvenile centres, hospitals?
  • What responsibility do shamanic practitioners have to their contemporary societycommunities; clinical practise, institutions and efforts to heal the earth?
  • What are the ethics?
  • How can we legitimise a tradition that is as old as the hills under our feet so that it is available to ALL people and not a select few who are seeking alternative care?
  • Do we need to do like many others: hang out a sign on the street advertising shamanic healing services? Use social media? Have web-sites?
  • Can we continue to operate only on word of mouth?
  • Are we stuck in a dualistic view of shamanism, shamanic healing; either you do or you don’t do it properly?
  • If tietäjä and all its forms are part of Finnish tradition then how is it we still continue to struggle with the negative connotations, even spitting, or that people fear the word Spirit?
  • How great is the gap, the separation, between educational and health institutions, researchers, scientists and the practitioners?
  • Do we let KELA and similar organisations in power decide what is palliative care? What is legal and illegal?
  • if there is interest than how to coordinate it, fund it?

I welcome any and all answers to these questions-and any and all discussion of them. I thank Shamaaniseura from my heart for contributing most of the funds for travelling to England to attend and present at this conference.

Christiana Aro-Harle