‘Light of the Shaman’ – Extended version, Irish Shaman John Cantwell
By John Cantwell
The sustaining tradition of the indigenous heart is being remembered.
Our survival as a species may depend upon it.
Step forward you, the wild, natural mystic.
Buddhism, Reiki, Christianity, Drumming Circles, Islamism, Yoga, Herbalism, Trance Dance, Mindfulness, virtually all major Spiritual and healing traditions and practices share the same root in humankind, the way of the Shaman.
It is the original and continuous platform of accessing Spiritual awareness and it is sown into the nature of us human beings as our birthright. Some anthropologists say 30, 000, others 50, 000 years ago the first evidence can be traced to our ancestors awakening to the sacredness of life and something vital to our sense of how to be happy. Yet, in recent years a Neanderthal grave excavated in Germany found a skeleton with the remains of rose petals among the bones. Carbon dating of the petals revealed them to be 100, 000 years old. Even then the life of a human was clearly worshipped as sacred by the burial ritual.
From ancient springs such as this, we can trace evolving awareness, celebration and honouring of the life-forces of people, animals, plants, rivers, mountains, the sun, moon, stars. Through a primal engagement with the natural world, the turning of the seasons, cycles of birth and death, in the heart of the mystery of life on earth, our species awoke to find in that place, beauty, magic, wisdom, sacred energy and more mystery. The one who chose or was chosen by the community to venture into that mystery more than any one else, was the Shaman. Consequently, he/she returned to the community with the experience of adventures into Spirit, bringing visions, new frames for understanding our human condition, wisdom and the power to intervene and harmonise energy systems of many diverse fields, from the weather to a sick child.
Having crammed 100, 000 years of tradition into less than 300 words, I can only smile at how broad the brushstrokes. I love talking about Shamanism. Its my life, I teach it, I see clients most days of the week who come to me to heal through this great tradition. I love being in ceremony, being asked on occasion to be a ritualist. I love the research, academic and fieldwork.
But I don’t love the word Shamanism and I’m iffy on the word Shaman itself. Why? Because it is another ‘ism’ and it gets placed in the minds of listeners and readers along with the many other isms in our vernacular when we speak of matters Spiritual. And that is a disservice to the tradition and the lineages of mystic-healers we attempt to refer to, when we use the word Shamanism.
It is a disservice because it cannot rank alongside other traditions, because in truth, it underpins them. The root of all the isms you see, is Shamanism, (how i wish I didn’t have to say it that way!). As for the word Shaman, it carries much stigma and misunderstanding for some people, which is unfortunate.
Collapsing pillars of institutions, financial, civic, religious and political. Mounting pollution, worldwide inequities in the resources for dignified, sustainable life, upheaval of climate change. The combination of all these is thankfully getting our attention. Many are learning the cost of giving our power away to “experts” in the banking, political and religious fields. Many are realising too, that several codes of conduct embraced by “western” culture are backfiring on a critical level. So, what to do? Beyond the pain of broken trust and witnessing abuse of natural resources and wealth, an ancient memory is being stoked within many who live in the “west” or its mindset. From industrial revolution to pogroms, the vibrancy of living from an indigenous consciousness was conditioned out of us, however that tide seems to turning little by little. Many people are reclaiming empowerment, autonomous engagement with Spiritual energy and a more authentic sense of humanity, by restoring their connection to the natural world, on literal and mystical levels. By awakening the Shaman within, we seem to find a path of remembering deep within us that frees us from limiting conditioning and grounds us with positivity in the midst of upheaval and rapid change.
In Ireland, this remembering in the hearts of people is almost explosive, evidence that we are able to acknowledge a wild, indigenous nature beneath the surface of ourselves. The Pre-Celtic and Celtic shamanic lineage of this land has been stored in the cells of our bodies as much as in the stones of the earth, irrespective of what we’ve been told or even told ourselves about that inheritance and irrespective of the regard we’ve held for the stones of the earth . The shamanic path will always be the default path of divine connection for human beings because it does not and cannot belong to anyone, not to any age nor culture. In the arteries that conjoin humankind and nature, flows divine energy, the currency of Spirit. It is a tradition that is honoured, renewed and developed by every generation, at once always ancient and always unfolding in exciting new ways. It is the original transpersonal psycho-Spiritual path, understanding that our innermost, personal healing is indivisible from us healing our relationship with the earth and all her children. The Shaman knows that when we turn up for the earth, we turn up for ourselves, there is no difference.
“OK John, so what can we do to reawaken this indigenous Self? How can we know that connection to our authentic selves and the world around us?”
I was asked this question by Billie Dean and Andrew Einspruch, producers of the documentary “2012: This Sacred Earth”, in which my wife Karen was also a contributor. I began by saying that it is important to realise that we are by nature, equipped and primed for the journey. We don’t have to reach a place of qualification before we step on the path. Our Irish tradition asks us to open our senses, more and more to natural life around us, whether in your window box or the mountain you walk on a Sunday. Be fearless in developing an intimacy with the water of the rivers, the songs of birds, the freshness the of air in Spring. All animals including humans are born “wild”, i.e. we enter this world with no training or taming and we need to free that innate wild man and woman within each of us, (this wildness is not to be confused with savagery). So, go a little wild! Choose to walk the beach barefoot and you will experience the sand and water impossible while in your boots. Whistle back to the birds in your garden. Taste a young oak leaf. Above all, allow yourself to listen with all of your senses and you will be spoken to, in surprising and comforting ways. The ancestors of this land revered the amhrán mór (“the great song”) . It is they said, the sound of creation itself and it is to be heard in the wilderness.
When we look at many of the avatars that became the iconic figureheads for contemporary religions, we see that they seemed to know this. There is little evidence that Jesus or Buddha or Mohammed received their enlightenment in temples, churches or mosques. It is in the wild, natural world of the desert or meditating under the tree that provided the environment for their Spiritual breakthroughs. A wonderful shamanic friend of mine, a catholic nun Sister T, often tut-tuts and shakes her head as she passes a church. “C’mon T, you can’t be doing that, you’re a nun”, I once said to her. She turned to me and said , “But John, why build on pieces of the earth and call them houses of God, when the entire earth is the house of God. Why separate it and look what happens when we do?” Amen, Sister.
John Cantwell and Karen Ward are the directors of Slí An Chroí Holistic Healing Shamanism, (www.slianchroi.ie, www.pathwayoftheheart.ie). They offer shamanic training for all levels of experience in Ireland. They have brought the Irish tradition abroad to teach in England, Netherlands and USA. In 2010, they will do so in Australia.
“2012: This Sacred Earth” is an award winning documentary addressing humankind’s need to return to an Earth consciousness. See www.thissacredearth.tv For DVD copies, contact firstname.lastname@example.org