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Howard G. Charing & Juni Parkhurst

One of the core practices of shamanism has been defined as the 'spirit' or 'trance journey'. In this journey the shaman journeys to the 'spirit world', (often referred to as 'Upper & Lower Worlds'), to directly commune with the spirits who reside in the other realities. This is done for many reasons, for example to receive guidance for healing, maintaining the psychic integrity of the community, and divination.

their culture, they are visual teachings for a specific ritual. These paintings and statues from the ancients depict people adopting distinct bodily postures. Many of these bodily postures are ways to an altered state of consciousness, visionary experiences, and a way to embark on a spirit journey. There is an extensive geographic distribution of the trance postures, and indications are that they belong to all cultures and traditions .

It is as i f , however personal the experience, the vision will conform to a consistent framework. Ritual has great power in this reality, it is a way of combining the heart, mind, spirit, and body in a single physical action and intention; religions from all over the world, have long recognised its importance. Ritual is also a means of communication between the Spirits and ourselves. It is a way that the Spirits can cross over from their world into ours. In Western society we have forgotten that the ordinary and other reality belong together, they are two halves of one whole. Ritual is a way to empower and enhance the trance state, and is a gateway to contain, translate, and safely guide an altered state of consciousness into a spiritual experience. Another way of saying this would be that a ritual carries an innate intention, a purpose. Each of the shamanic trance postures is in itself a ritual, and it is a ritual with such intrinsic qualities of exactness and power, that its objective is achieved outside the original cultural setting. This means that we in contemporary Western society can also successfully participate in the shamanic trance postures.
SACRED HOOP Issue 13 1996

There are a number of ways to embark on a spirit journey. These can be through dance, dream, using teacher plants, and by assuming certain specific physical postures. The latter is known as 'shamanic trance postures', and are a method for achieving ecstatic trance and entering that place of both personal and collective vision. The ecstatic trance brings with it a shift in our perception, a way of becoming aware of a reality outside of the world of the ordinary, the mundane. The trance makes us able to perceive the continuum of life, from what has been called 'non-ordinary reality' , a reality which has been known to co-exist with our physical reality throughout time. There are certain works of ancient art, glyphs, carvings, rock paintings which are more than creative expressions of

In western psychological systems, the experience of 'journeying' to other realms to commune with the 'spirit beings' is often regarded as the individual exploring an extension of their self (or mind) and not a journey to a 'different' place. However this psychological view is only a theory, and it is something that you yourself will have to decide. In any case what you believe does not always matter, the most important issue is, does this work or not ? When someone adopts a specific posture as shown in one of the ancient depictions, together with an accompanying rhythmic sound such as a rattle or a drum, they may experience a vision which although is personal, is also specific to the posture.

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To understand the shamanic trance postures they should be directly experienced, no amount of words can compensate for this. Perhaps the best place to experience the ecstatic trance states is in a workshop environment. This brings with it the guidance and support of the workshop facilitator, and the collective energies of the group. The power of the group is important in that it helps in terms of the focus of the ritual, and provides indirect and direct 'feedback. Feedback is the way to obtain the ineffable quality of trust. Trust is one of the pillars of this work, and the group provides validation of your own experience. Another important factor is that the power of the trance postures is magnified, as each person supports and is a part of the collective visionary experience.

the spirits, you may want to make an offering. Traditional Native American offerings can be tobacco or commeal. Immediately before assuming the posture, take fifty measured breaths. Inhale, exhale, pause, and repeat. You w i l l need to have either someone drumming or rattling for you during the posture, or use a shamanic journeying tape. The maximum recommended time for a posture is fifteen minutes.

Allow your thumbs to rest one in front of the other. Bring your elbows closer to your body, so that your arms w i l l be comfortably supported. Slightly lean your head back, and close your eyes. Initially maintain the posture for about five to ten minutes, or until you have a sense of completion. To close, the following is feedback from people who have experienced the Bear Posture on workshops: "/ had been having a sore and painful throat for some time. As I started the posture, I very quickly felt that I was being cradled from behind by a warm energy, which I saw in my mind as a large bear. I felt the bear rip open my throat with its claws, and pull out heavy, thick mucus - like material. This went on for a few minutes, and then the bear blew warmth into my throat, and I began to see flashes of violet-blue colours around me. When the trance posture ended, my throat felt clear, and my body felt as if it was glowing." "My back felt as if it was being opened, and metal plates which covered my spine being levered open and dragged out of my back. When we finished, my back felt so much more flexible, I could even touch my toes, which is something which I have not been able to do for quite some time. I had forgot how stiff my back had become."
Workshops on Shamanic Trance Postures are held by Howard G. Charing and Juni ParkhursL For more details of these and other workshops, and shamanic journeying tapes, please write to: 63 Deans Road, London W7 3QD, or Telephone : (0181) 567 4061. NOTES 1: Mircea Eliade - 'Shamanism , Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy' ISBN 0-14-019155-0 Published by Penguin Books (see the review in Sacred Hoop issue 12). 2: Michael Harner - 'Way of the Shaman' Published by Harper. 3: Felicitas D. Goodman, 'Where the Spirits Ride the Wind - Trance journeys and other Ecstatic Experiences' 4: For details on the uses of smudging herbs, see Sacred Hoop Magazine Issue 1 (Spring 1993). 5: The Book Where Spirits Ride the Wind' depicts a map indicating the locations where there is evidence of the Bear Spirit Posture.
Illustration: Nick Wood 1996

Although there are many shamanic trance postures, e.g. healing, divination, shapeshifting, celebration, the Bear Posture is one of the most ancient, and widespread of the postures. This posture is also called 'Grandfather Bear'.

This posture is a powerful healing posture, and in this posture, many people experience a flow of energy around and through them a sense of being lifted, held, supported, and contained in a gentle way. Stand up, with your knees slightly relaxed. Your feet should be just under a foot apart, and pointing straight ahead. Curl the fingers of your hands and place them on your stomach, and then roll your curled hands upwards in a way that the knuckles of your index fingers touch slightly, forming a triangle above the navel.

Create a sacred space by selecting a location where you will not be disturbed. Having 'sacred' objects in the room, crystals, medicine wheels, stones or feathers contributes to the sensation of entering a special place for a special purpose. A dark and quiet room is often the best. Smudge the room and yourself. Sage is traditionally used for cleansing in preparation for a ritual. When we use Sage we connect to the spirit of that plant, so be sure to thank the plant which has given its body to make the cleansing possible. Avoid intake of alcohol, heavy meals etc. so that your centredness and power of concentration w i l l not be impeded. Take off your shoes, loosen your clothing Take a few deep breaths, relax and allow yourself to imagine the posture and its meaning. Ask the Spirits to be with you. This is often called 'gathering power'. You may want to drum chant, dance, or call in the powers of the Four Directions, or the Powers of the Four Elements. After you have called and greeted

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