The Shamanic Journey
Journeying to the 3 Spirit Worlds
by Roel Crabbé
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. Marcel Proust
Although shamanic practices, ritual structures, and forms may differ from tradition to tradition, contact with the spirit world and the spirit helpers is always central to shamanic practice. Using the ‘shamanic state of consciousness’ to contact the spirit world is at the core in shamanism worldwide. The shamanic journey allows the practitioner to access the spiritual dimension and to work within them.
Entering the Spirit world
The most common way to enter the spirit world is through the shamanic journey. Certainly in Western contemporary shamanism, popularised by the work of Michael Harner, working with the shamanic journey, often using the rhythmic pulses of the shamanic drum or rattle, has become a central practice. The monotonous rhythm of the shamanic drum allows the practitioner to reach the shamanic trance: the gateway to journey to the 3 shamanic worlds: the Lower World, Middle World, and Upper World.
Trance as a gateway to the Other World
The word trance comes from the Latin “transire” which means ‘to cross over’. There are many forms of trance: everyone knows the state of daydreaming, or deep relaxation when we listen to the waves on the beach. We’ve all missed a train stop while we were staring through the window of the train.
The shamanic trance journey is characterized by a very deep relaxation while at the same time a high degree of clarity in which consciousness is fully focused on the spiritual dimension. Shamanic teacherDaan van Kampenhout describes it as follows: “you can see trance as a state of consciousness in which someone is on the way to fall asleep but at the same time awake, or better: stays clear.”
In many traditions worldwide, we often see that a monotonous rhythm of approximately 180 to 240 BPM is used to induce a trance. The monotonous rhythm of the shaman’s drum or rattle is often called ‘the horse of the shaman’: it is this rhythm of the drum that forms the gateway to the shamanic reality.
The sound of the shamanic drum induces a light and safe trance so that the shamanic practitioner can direct his attention from the physical, material dimension to the spiritual dimension. This spiritual dimension was first called by Carlos Castaneda the Non-Ordinary Reality (NOR): the shamanic reality.
Through practice, attunement to this NOR will become more focused which allows an ever deeper contact with the spirit helpers. This then enables the practitioner to journey via the Axis Mundi, the shamanic tree of life, to the three shamanic worlds and to meet the power animals and spirit helpers.
Preparation and intention
All shamanic practice is founded on a strong connection with the spirit helpers. In preparing for the journey, the shaman brings in power and connection, so that a strong sacred space for the work is established. When practicing, you can make the journey into your own ritual. For example, before starting the journey, you can invite the four directions, burn incense, do silent meditation, dance, or sing to raise your power and connection. The key is to create a strong atmosphere and connection and sacred space. This forms the basis for the further course of this ritual.
When this sacred space is established, a clear intention is formulated, in silence or out loud, giving direction to the journey. Skillful shamanic practitioners are often masters in working with powerful intentions. They understand the power of the word and creation.
The shamanic journey to the 3 spirit worlds
A shamanic journey is characterized by an interaction between imagination and Spirit. For the shaman or Western practitioner, the shamanic journey always starts from one’s imagination. He or she starts in his mind by creating an opening to the other world. In the case of the journey to the underworld, this gate may be a cavity in the earth, for example at the foot of a tree. What starts as the use of your imagination to create a passage to the other world, will soon evolve into an authentic journey.
There comes a moment when the journeyer experiences how the domain of the ‘imagination’ disappears and the journey begins to come alive. As if the journey transcends everything you could imagine. You feel that the journey is animated and that everything you experience has a deeper meaning. It is then that Spirit comes into the journey and inspiration begins to guide you.
As you journey, you often get completely immersed in the experience that there is a guiding intelligence at work. As if the journey itself comes to life. The practitioner comes into deep contact with the intelligence that is the journey. It is then that we as practitioners begin to experience that this trance journey is created not only from the personal mind but from the wonderful interaction between the personal mind and Spirit.
The power of the Spirits in the Shamanic Journey
The shamanic practitioner and the powerful connection with his spirit helpers are the true core of shamanic practice: ‘No spirits, no shaman’. One of the first things the shamanic practitioner does when he journeys to the other world is to make contact with the spirit helpers.
The helping spirits can take all forms: a tree, a river, a power animal, or an ancestral spirit. Spirits in essence have no form but they present themselves in form so we can interact with them.
When the shamanic practitioner meets his power animals or other spiritguides, he will share the intention of his journey or his question with them. It is at that moment that the rational mind and thoughts of the shamanic practitioner often become silent through this interaction with the power animals the shamanic journey begins to unfold very vividly.
The spirits that inhabit these worlds have a helping function in the relationship with the shaman and guide him to a solution of the issue or to the power of healing that is being sought. The solution can take place in the shamanic journey itself, but often concrete insights or instructions are brought back from the journey to apply them in this world.
It is here that one feels that the shamanic journey is ‘Spirit Driven’. Everything that reveals itself in the journey is part of the answer. Every element of the journey will present itself so that the entire journey can be experienced as an answer to the question or intention asked.
Returning from the journey and integration
When you work with the sound of the shamanic drum or rattle, a return signal will often be played at the end of the shamanic journey. It is this return signal that tells you that it is time to come back to the ordinary world. This signal is a western approach that is applied in most circles that work with the shamanic journey.
After playing this signal, an accelerated rhythm follows and the shaman journeys back to the Axis Mundi, the starting point of the journey, bringing back the power and insights that the journey has brought him.
After returning, it is very important that the journeyer brings his attention fully back to his body and takes the time to properly integrate the power of the journey. Through practice, the practitioner will become more aware of this power. After all, the true potential of the journey does not lie in the journey alone, but more importantly in how consciously the information and energy can be brought back to this world, to be integrated and lived here.
The blessings of the spirit world can truly become visible on this Earth through dedicated integration of the practitioner himself. The main training is to tune in to the shamanic state of consciousness and to open oneself to the next steps that make the collaboration with the spirits visible. A training that is practical and invites the consciousness to unfold again and again. A training that will continue to evolve and will allow you to unfold into your true soul’s destiny.
© Roel Crabbé - 2012 - 2022