I watched a detective series from the mid 70′s called Murder She Wrote the other day and I must admit it blew my mind. The main character is a middle aged, middle class white American lady with the steely eyed determination of a reptile and the gentle charm of a pigeon.
The series is just far enough removed from my everyday life ( I am a middle aged, middle class white woman living in Britain in 2012) to reveal a caricature mirror image of every day life. Watching an episode is akin to entering the House of Mirrors in a fun fair – you know the one where all the mirrors reflect back different images. But in the House of Mirrors you are aware that the mirrors are skewered and that it’s all a game, really. Watching Murder She Wrote 40 years after it was made, the society and the values portrayed there seem almost absurd. The sense of absurdness is intensified by the absolute, straight faced conviction of the actors.
It made me think that reality is like an onion in that there are so many different layers and each layer is a definite entity with it’s own particular set of rules. I think that each layer pretty much live in isolation and ignorance of the surrounding layers. Each layer is convinced it is the true onion, their reality the only reality. The dividing factors can be time, geography, religion, or level of consciousness.
I live in 2012, in a small town in England. I live in a country where some people are millionaires and others sleep rough, a country where many can’t afford to feed their children. I live in a country at war with a large proportion of the Muslim world because officially the British government say they object to innocent people being killed and harassed. I live in a world where materialism is the new God and the ruling church is led by males who side with the rich against the poor. I live in a society where we are encouraged to seek to meet the Divine only through intermediaries.
I must admit that very little makes any sense to me. I don’t understand much of what is going on in the world, but I have got one area where I thrive and that is exploring what Carl Jung named the collective unconsciousness. He devised a method called active imagination allowing for constructive meetings with the archetypes inside us all. This method is built on an ancient Shamanic tradition of going into an altered state of consciousness to journey outside time and space into non-ordinary reality . I view it as a way to slide and glide like Alice between the many layers of the onion in the strange funfair of life. Carl Jung brought Shamanic techniques into the light of the scientific world and he called it Psychoanalysis. Again, why use intermediaries?
I can’t say that I have found a lot of answers through Shamanic Journeying, but I have found that my questions shift emphasis and a lot of anger and pain is transformed into a sense of detached wonder. And it does make me appreciate just how transient any culture or ideology really is.
For those interested in Carl Jung and his link with shamanism I can recommend his autobiography ‘ Memories, dreams, reflections’ . The Red Book is also a (very expensive) delight.
To find out more about Shamanism in modern society I think Michael Harner’s ‘ The way of the Shaman ‘ is good, and for a do-it-yourself book of journey techniques I would recommend Sandra Ingerman’s ‘Shamanic Journeying’, a beginners guide.
Faith Nolton is a visionary painter I have a huge respect for. You can catch her here
The picture on top is of a sculpture called ‘The Abduction’. I based it on an old Swedish fairytale about a young girl who was abducted by the fairies. To see more of my work, please go to www.annakeiller.com
Faith Nolton is an artist- shaman who uses journeys into altered reality as inspiration for paintings and poems. We made contact a few years ago when I was looking for Shamanic artists online and found her website http://www.soulgardens.co.uk/. Faith describes Shamanism as an ancient natural relationship with life, in which all things are related, and connected – a web of energy that is affected by our actions, thoughts, emotions and intentions. It is not a ‘religion’, but enables one to live in a larger waveband of sacred experience and understanding, with the guidance and loving support of personal spirit helpers. There is more information about her creative process on the site and how she encourages others to heal and expand their inner creative ‘garden’
I recommend a visit to her website where you can also find a selection of poems. Here’s one of my favourites;
The beach was wide and flat today
Stretched out beneath the winter sun
As I walked across reflected scudding clouds
Towards the chattering waves and gulls
And suddenly I was not alone.
‘Thank you’ I said aloud
‘For the long years you have shadowed me’
At some times almost tangible,
And then again a merest wisp of presence
In a twilight birdsong, or the first star.
And as I speak
Into the light stretched overhead,
I am twelve years old, and we
Are pedaling uphill along a country lane.
I lead, but as my muscles strain
I feel the gentle reassuring pressure
Of your hand in the small of my back.
And now the wheels turn easily;
Father and child, uphill we go,
Never a word needed,
To the crest of the hill.
As now, walking towards the sea,
Walking on an uphill stretch of life,
I feel that hand in the pressure of the breeze
At my back, and we are side by side again
Shamanism is not a belief system. It is based on personal experiments in altered reality, what we ‘see’ or ‘know’ is based on personal experience during Shamanic journeys to other worlds. It is not a doctrine; there are no rights or wrongs, and the only way to know whether or not your mind is playing tricks on you is to find out if what you saw works in ordinary reality. It is both lonely and frustrating for a beginner, let me tell you! The buck rests with you and there are no gold stars for good behaviour.
The practise of Shamanism is a method, not a religion. It co exists with established religions such as Buddhism or Lamaism. One of my favourite artists, Meinrad Craighead, used to be a Benedictine nun at Stanbrook Abbey in England, but her paintings portray her journeys to the spirit realms and her meetings with the Great Mother and the divine feminine. She is a fabulous Shamanic painter.
This is an image of ‘Crow Mother and the Dog God’ , the cover of one of her books.
I’m learning how to translate images from my journeys more directly into my clay. It worries me because I want to get it right – but in many ways I’m only doing what everyone else is doing for where else does inspiration come from, if not from the Spirits?
This song is to me both camp and sublime – the words remind me of journeys I make in my mind when sitting in a forest or hill top.
The search for beauty and meaning has lead me to Shamanism and lately C. Jung’s writings on the collective unconsciousness and the archetypes.
The techniques I have learned through my studies have helped my art no end. Sometimes fully formed sculptures emerge in my mind’s eye – It is almost as if they just land there, asking to be created in clay. I know they have been waiting in my unconscious all along, and it is just a case of me recognizing them.
Below is a quote on the mysterious from Albert Einstein;
The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery — even if mixed with fear — that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man… I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence — as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”