A full immersion seminar in Seattle with Selene Calloni Williams about Archetypal Psychology and Shamanism with ancestor-evocation rituals, family constellations and pacification of past trauma experiences - From november 2nd to november 3rd 2019
It is very hard for us today, after Descartes — who lay the philosophical groundwork for the exploitation of the environment by declaring it dead without soul, without activity of its own — very hard for us to imagine the actual literal earth to be inspirited. Peoples of many other cultures feel the soil on which they live and from which they live, not merely as a nourishing and punishing mother, but also as directly infused into their own personal souls. The inner soul and the outer soil have a permeable osmotic connection, so that here is forcible movement, migration, or radical destruction of the actual earth — for mining, for damming of a river, for deforestation — they feel their own souls deteriorating, and the life goes out of them, and they die. This is not merely for economic reasons: that they have been deprived of their subsistence — animals, plants, water. But because their spirit world has been disrupted; they have lost their protectors; their reason for being and serving. Where we in our ‘civilization’ can live without gods in a secular society functioning quite well as lost souls in a soulless condition, from their point of view we are already walking dead, zombies, unreal. Only in this way, detached from the ground, are we able to be as successful as we are. Successful; within the madness of a philosophically dead planet.
When we pray “Thy Will be done” it is to an abstract transcendent god who lives far away from the earth, if he “lives” at all. When animistic, polytheistic, pagan peoples pray “Thy Will be done” they are speaking to the rain and the river, to the plants and the insects too, to the earth’s own willing powers.
These words were pronounced by professor James Hillman in 2003, during an international conference held in Campione d'Italia, during which I had the opportunity of collaborating with the famous psychoanalyst and philosopher who has recently left us (James Hillman “The Good Earth: Imaginal or Literal”, in atti del Convegno Corpo Spirituale Terra Celeste, Edizioni Holos International, 2003, Melide, Svizzera).
I got to know and work with James Hillman for a good amount of time, today I consider him one of my most influential teachers. James Hillman has been the father of the so called archetypal psychology and the major creator of imaginal psychology and deep ecology.
Archetypal and imaginal psychology are developments of the depth psychology which conduct this subject towards the spiritual traditions, towards the religious believes of indigenous peoples, towards mythology, literature and poetry. Archetypal and imaginal psychology are an attempt to revive traditional spirituality in ways relevant to our contemporary lives, enabling a distinctly postmodern approach for psychology to emerge. The central archetypal psychology method is a process which Hillman calls "soulmaking". This process reclaims the soul as psychology’s primary concern. Central to this discipline is the idea that the 'soul' expresses itself in images, and that care of the soul requires that we pay great attention to the images we 'inhabit'.
Archetypal and imaginal psychology links itself strongly and directly with deep ecology.
The phrase "deep ecology" was coined by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess in 1973. Proponents of deep ecology believe that the world does not exist as a resource to be freely exploited by humans. The ethics of deep ecology hold that a whole system is superior to any of its parts. The movement does not subscribe to anthropocentric environmentalism (which is concerned with conservation of the environment only for exploitation by and for human purposes).
In the last twenty years I have abundantly explored Inner Asia searching, studying and filming those ethnic traditions and cultures which have survived to our days, and I formulated the idea that within these cultures there are resources of inestimable value for modern humanity; a humanity which has vital need of soulmaking and deep ecology. The ecological emergency which the world is now facing is the clearest evidence of this vital need.
Particularly the observation of the shamanic phenomenon, still present in the ethnic traditions of many Inner Asian populations, can strongly contribute fomenting the soul making and deep ecology sentiment and process. Shamanism is a nature based philosophy and religion which can help to rediscover a more harmonic feeling towards the planet and the body.
Here are some important elements for the soulmaking and deep ecology process which we can deduct from the observation of the shamanic phenomenon:
1) The Immanence of Divinity
Modern culture is strongly animated by the idea of a metaphysic god, an abstract, transcendent god who lives far away from the earth, if he “lives” at all.
On the other hand, shamanism presents itself as a natural philosophy and religion in which the image of god isn't separated from nature, but exists within nature itself.
The vision of a divine nature allows the psyche to reach the perception of an a-dual universe in which all the opposites are distinct but not separate.
2) The non-duality
The sentiment of non-duality is the fundament of natural philosophy and ethnic cultures.
In Shamanic Yoga, which has found its summit of expression in the Himalayan regions, and in esoteric buddhism and Hindu Shaktism alike (the latter of which is an expression of the ancient religion of the Mother), a-duality is represented as an inseparable union between mother and father.
The symbol of the union between male and female is the archetype which lays at the basis of those tribal cultures which have escaped from the expansion of modernisation.
At the Enn tribe village's entrance, next to Myanmar's border with Thailand, there are two pieces of wood, one with a big hole in the middle and one with a large elongated protuberance, symbolising respectively the female and the male genders. Above the two pieces of wood, hanging from the branches of a tree, there is a long chain made of interwoven rings of bamboo. Each ring symbolises an ancestor of the tribe. The Enn are a tibeto-burmese ethnicity, their people have in fact migrated into Burma from the highlands of Tibet during times gone by. Each member of the tribe believes being able to recite the names of his ancestors going back 75 generations.
Psychologically speaking, the a-dual vision renders all the opposites (life and death, health and illness, pleasure and pain) distinct but not separate conditions, allowing life to be lived with less fear and sadness. The increase in sadness, anxiety, depression, panic in modern society can be traced to be coming from a paradigm which has separated the opposites to the point of making them enemies instead of animating principles of each other.
A humanity scared by death and shaped by pain cannot live in harmony with nature, which is the harbinger of death. To succeed in deep ecology it is necessary to get over the deep fear which pushes us in believing that, in order to accumulate material wellbeing, we continually need to exploit the planet's resources. It is also necessary to conquer the sadness and suffering which, making themselves part of us, encourage the accumulation of rancour and the doing destructive actions.
Transvaluation is a term taken from the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and means ''to have the capacity of turning everything into its opposite''. In Shamanism we find a strong encouragement towards transvaluation.
In no other place on earth have I felt the possibility of transvaluation and its enormous potential like I have in the vast Mongolian and Siberian steppe.
In the Asian steppe the distances are without end and this gives the soul time to breathe. Breathe the beauty of nature which goes from the eyes to the heart and immediately becomes intuition. Instinct wakes-up in the steppe, where there are no roads and vehicles run following the traces left by herds of horses. In these lands where the vacuity of existence is in full show, an ethnicity of proud men and women passes on the knowledge of the first shamans on earth: they are the Buriats. Strictu sensu shamanism was born here.
Today Buriat shamans define themselves as white, yellow or black depending on the characteristics of their shamanisation. The greatest part of the shamans in the Mongolian steppe bordering Russia define themselves as yellow to indicate the assimilation of buddhism within the nature religion. Yellow is, in fact, the colour of Buddhism. However the yellow shamans refer to themselves as white as well. White shamans are healers of the soul, the mind and the body.
Few are the black shamans who still are alive. According to Purev Otgony, a history professor who lives and works in Ulaan-baatar, author of numerous researches on Mongolian shamanism, only the black form constitutes original shamanism, real stirctu sensu shamanism. Black shamans, once, inhabited the steppe and were known for their magic and power, which has survived to these days.
To comprehend the shamanic phenomenon one needs to go through a process of transvaluation, to exit from the categories of good and evil which the dominant culture imposes, and let oneself go deep into nature, where the Great Mother roars and the wild force can't be tamed. In our world all that isn't tameable and controllable is potentially dangerous. It isn't so in the instinct's wild world from which shamanism originates. In the ordinary world obscurity is dangerous since within it everything is incalculable, unmeasurable, unexpected. But a shaman has faith in his instinct and knows how to move in the darkness.
Within the shamanic vision the universe is divided in three worlds: the middle-world, the underground world and the celestial world. If the middle-world is the ordinary dimension of conscience, the underground world is home to the wild soul, the instinctual self, the eternal feminine. The subterranean dimension puts us in contact with nature and its forces. The underground world is also the afterlife inhabited by the spirits of those who don't own a human body anymore, the dimension of dreams, of shadows, of invisibility and of all the missed opportunities, the repressed forces and the potentialities which haven't been used in the middle-world.
Transvaluation is fundamental to correctly approach shamanism, soulmaking and deep ecology, therefore recovering lost opportunities. This operation, which allows us to consider shamanism by ignoring good and evil, inevitably leads me to mention the axis mundi.
4) The Horizontality of the Mental Perspective
The axis mundi is a basic image of our way to consider reality, it gives us fundamental information about the way we see our universe.
If we imagine the world axis horizontally, the three shamanic worlds (the middle-world, the underground world and the celestial world) are all at the same level. If we instead see the world axis as vertical, the celestial world seems superior to the other two, rendering the underground world low-lying, unpleasant and scary.
At the times of the black shamans the world axis was horizontal. One could believe that for those black shamans who once inhabited the steppe, underground didn't mean underneath something, but simply internal to the earth. It is therefore reasonable to think that death, as a painful and obscure dimension separated and opposed to life, didn't exist for them. From a perspective of horizontality of the world axis, life and death are equally valid dimensions: death doesn't chase life but it is a friend, a lover of it.
It is out of doubt that the reason why the world axis has been ever more rendered vertical during our history stands within the fact that human individuals want power: power over nature and other men.
The will of power is the ''original sin'' at the basis of the ''banishment from the garden of eden'' and of the lost of the natural state.
The verticalisation of the world axis creates the ground for the creation of hierarchies of power sustained by the idea of a single god, a single leader, a single good, a single truth. The verticalisation of the world axis nourishes itself of the false belief that nature and humans can be predictable, calculable and governable on the basis of a scale of universally shared values presented and judged by a metaphysical god.
In order for peace to prevail it is important to be able to listen out for the Buriat shamans of the steppe.
The verticality of the world axis, with the sinking of the soul's dimension, of the feminine, dark, dreamy, ancestral and inferolateral instinct, renders men incapable of freely moving through the various dimensions. This capacity is, however, still held by shamans.
Shamans are primarily psychopomps and ferrymen of souls. They hold the key for travelling through dimensions: they can descend into the chthonic abyss of the underworld and come back. They can evoke the shadows who inhabit the underworld: ancestors, dreams, wild forces which live beyond the Great Threshold.
The Great Threshold is the Great Middle-Earth, the imaginal kingdom. This land is where conscious and subconscious meet and collaborate. Here all images and archetypes which generate all that we live and experience are born.
To understand this it is necessary to refer to the fifth principle which we can deduct from the observation of the shamanic phenomenon:
5) The non-objectivity of things: the world isn't material but imaginal.
By removing ourselves from the natural state, by separating the opposites to favour our will of power we have created what has been defined as a great downfall, the banishment from the garden of eden. This is the downfall into the deception of materialism and the objectivity of things. Having extracted spirit from objects, having divided Father and Mother, the creation of a metaphysical god causes the loss of the world's soul.
An earth which hasn't got a soul anymore becomes an object, losing all its original nature of image.
In animistic cultures, as with the vision of archetypical and imaginal psychology, the object exists only as an image of the soul. With the nonexistence of a separation between night and day, the day is a prolongation of the nightly dream, a different quality of the dreaming state.
We are the dreamers of the dream, we are the makers of reality and of the events that we experience but, forgetting that we are dreaming, we end up becoming the victims of the images which we produce ourselves.
James Hillman advised anyone who wanted to wake up from the dream to follow a simple but very effective method. It consisted of remembering yourself for a few times a day that you are dreaming, that the people with which you are talking, the objects that you are using, the events that you are experiencing are, in truth, images of a dream. The sense of objectivity of things gains the characteristic of very strong realism because it is dreamed in ways shared by the majority of humanity. Materialism is one of the strongest archetypes which dominate the collective unconsciousness. This archetype is like a sort of spell from which a waking up will only be possible when a considerable force within humanity, given by an indeterminable number of individuals, defined as ''critical mass'', will be ready to change perspective. The work of shamans, scattered like rare jewels around the world, and of depth psychology can give an enormous contribution to the creation of this critical mass.
6) Inspiration: the poësis over the logos
Shamans hold the key to the art of dissolving and creating images. This art is found in the shamanic ceremony that consists of a trance caused by the sound of a drum. During the ceremony, each shaman calls within its his body a spirit from the other side of the Great Threshold, generally one of his ancestors, a mythological ancestor (called Ongon by Mongolian Buriats). The Ongon speaks through the voice of the shaman. This voice, driven by the shaman, makes itself an immediate harbinger of symbols able to cause great changes. This voice, in fact, isn't animated by the logos (logical thinking) anymore, but is poësis. The inspired word, or poësis, is able to dissolve and create images.
What renders so difficult, under normal conditions, for individuals to be inspired? The idea that ideas are ours, as if they were a product of our brain. Ideas, in truth, don't belong to us. James Hillman defined ideas as eidola, that is idols, divinities, gods and demons. Ideas are the gods, the infinite aspects of the world's soul.
Within Burmese populations, which are still relatively near to the instinctual self world, the Nat cult is still alive. The Nats are Lords of Nature and the Burmese build them small houses which they then hang on the branches of trees as worshipping altars.
Such worshipping of nature spirits is very strong in various regions of Asia, not only in Myanmar.
The Nats, Lords of Nature, the gods, the spirits, the demons are those ideas which travel through our minds encouraging us to act. This is why, amongst ancient civilisations, propitiating the favour of the gods was fundamental before embarking on any important action.
The process of depersonalisation can be done in numerous ways: firstly by rejecting the idea that ideas are ours, then going over our Ego, our person.
When we meet, in our dreams or in the so-called reality, somebody (for example our husband or our old school teacher) we have to ask ourselves: which emotion does this encounter provoke in me? And answering to ourselves with anger, or love, or even panic for example, we know that we are confronted with one of the infinite ways in which the god of anger, the god of love or the wild god Pan comes to visit us.
When in the Enn tribe men recite the names of their ancestors going back 75 generations, the evoke 75 possible emotions they might experience, 75 deep aspects of their psyche, 75 gods.
Going over the Ego is fundamental to remember, to be inspired, to get to know nature more deeply than what the scientific paradigm wants us to believe. The Enn don't count the years of life that pass, their existence includes many lives and many deaths.
8) The Psychopomp
A Nagpa, a psychopomp shaman I had the honour to meet in the Tingri region of the Tibetan plateau, has told me that dead people don't exist. According to his vision, only dying people exist, only those who are transiting between a death and the next rebirth. A dying person and a living person are both on the same uninterrupted thread of existence. What can stop the continuous flow of conscience, which incessantly moves between life and death, according to the Nagpa, is only the oblivion. This is why the Nagpa, who is an expert of the afterlife, reads the Bardo Tosgrol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, to the dying, so that they are able, as he himself stated, ''to act in a way that will prevent them from forgetting''.
Therefore die without fear since we know that the body is an image and not an object and we see death as a sacred symbol (the sacrum facere, the giving of oneself, which is the predominant aspect of nature), die without pain because we will participate in an imaginal reality, because there is no fear and therefore there is no need to fall into the abyss of unawareness, as the Nagpa has defined it. In this way one remains conscious and alert when faced with the Old Lady, death, which escorts us to our next rebirth. This not forgetting is what brings us to the managing of a interrupted cycle of lives-deaths-lives. Acting like this, without fear, as to not forget, we reach what is defined as the final liberation according to the shamanic Buddhist view, towards which the Tibetan Book of the Dead is referred.
9) The Holographic Vision
When the Enn recite the names of their ancestors, they aren't really nominating anybody else other than themselves. The ancestors of a man are profound aspects of his psyche, they are ways in which they might manifest themselves. Not only reality is an image, but this image is always holographic.
As in a fractal in which every infinitesimal point reflects the whole image, each and every image created by the soul contains the entirety.
When Buriat shamans draw their power animal on their drum or they knit the claws of an eagle or the fur of a wolf on their ritual costume, they are recreating the total image of themselves, they are indeed putting together the various pieces which form their soul. This process of reintegration, which begins with the preparation of the ritual costume, is fundamental to confer them the power to travel into the underworld and empower the invisible presences which inhabit it to speak.
In Mongolia, a cap from which a dense web of black intertwined strings falls is a fundamental part of the Buriat shamanic costume, these strings caver the shaman's face and make him able to see and not to see, to be in the shadow.
Holographic vision happens when light and darkness meet. The shaman can't see into the light fully because he looks over what we can usually see, he sees the underworld, the home of the ancestors, of dreams, of spirits, of shadows.
In Greek mythology the character of Orpheus is very well know, as are the orphic cults linked to shamanism. Orpheus is a psychopomp able to descend into the underworld to get back his beloved Eurydice, who died bitten by a snake. The god of the underworld, Hades, lets him get his lover back if he doesn't turn around to glance at her while going back to the world of light. However Orpheus isn't able to keep the promise made and, just before exiting the underworld he glances back to Eurydice who disappears, returning forever into the kingdom of the dead.
In the process of shamanisation, during the great voyage in the underworld, a shaman must not have the expectation of being able to see as he does in the ordinary world. To cover his eyes, to accept the shadow is a way to make impressions come alive and let them substitute the usual images of the ordinary world. Impressions of images but not visions of images, shadows but not objects constitute the shamanic experience.
Modern culture, which also finds its roots in Greek mythology, has gone so far away from the soul originated perception of things that its ignorance of death has become almost complete.
This ignorance of death is probably at the origins of the increase in sadness, anxiety and fear that characterises this era.
To find a western based description of the underworld we must go back at least to Dante.
Philosophers and psychologists of the Jungian movement, such as Erich Neumann and James Hillman, are right when they say that we need a culture therapy.
The exasperation of the patricentric symbolic model – linked with the logos, the logical thinking – and the abandoning of the matricentric symbolic paradigm – animated by revelation and instinct – seem like the great absurdity of our culture of which we all are victims and because of which we all, in some way or another, suffer.
The wild soul has been buried, conscience sleeps under an hypnotic dream. We have to be brave enough to die and be reborn. To die while living to descend in the underground world and get our souls back, to then be reborn to a new life.
As shamans well know, the real life is the second one, the real birth is the second one, the real mother is the second one.
From the Buriats I have learned that the soul isn't one but many. We have a mother-soul, a father-soul and a reincarnation-soul.
The father-soul conserves historic memory, this is why the Enn recite exclusively the name of their male ancestors, the mother-soul holds the instinct power and the capacity to go back to nature as soon as the heart stops beating and death begins. The father-soul, instead, flees into the cervical vertebrae and here it remains for the time it takes to find a new home in a tree, a lake or another natural principle. The reincarnation-soul, as soon as the heart stops beating, gathers itself in the pelvic bone where it stays until the bone breaks, then it begins the process that goes from death till the next rebirth.
These processes can't certainly be seen during a period of time as we perceive it. Holographic vision means that everything is in one thing and that all moments are in one moment. Something isolated and finite in its owen simply doesn't exist in nature. Number one doesn't exist in nature where the plurality of gods is the expression of the world's soul.
The mystic death, death while living is the shamanic initiation which takes place while a difficulty, an illness, a feeling of unease is about to approach.
All shamans whom I have interviewed, from the Siberian uplands to the Mongolian steppe, from Burma to the Tibetan plateau, from Bhutan to Ladakh and Kashmir, have all told me that what has lead them to become shamans was the approaching of great unease, problems or illnesses.
Because of these difficulties they have heard they soul calling them, leading them to retire in solitary places in the forests or in monasteries. There they have learned, following a teacher, and have become shamans welcoming within themselves the powerful spirit of an ancestor who carried shamanic knowledge.
The importance of an initiation (understood as rite of death and rebirth) has completely been lost by modern culture where unease and illness have become traumatic events, incomprehensible sentences to suffering which must be extirpated immediately and forcefully from the body and the mind.
Modern culture has a vital need of shamans and creative people, outsiders who know how to give power to paradigms which go closer to nature and are less materialistic. Outsiders capable of soulmaking.
Soulmaking means to take people, objects and events and bring them back to their real nature, which is image. Soulmaking means to dematerialise the world. During the night, when we sleep and dream, we accomplish this process in a spontaneous way: every time we dream our husband, our friends, the wolf who's howling at the moon, the rain or the mountain road, we are dematerialising them, we snatch them from the rule of materialism to take them back to the kingdoms of the soul.
Shamans go through this process while doing their rituals. In Tibet and Ladakh I have seen extraordinary visionary rituals in which the shaman extracted illnesses from the body of his patients by sucking them out with his mouth and then spitting them as clots of blood and serum.
I have seen extraordinary rituals in the woods of Mongolia where the shaman blessed the trees, the earth and evoked the spirits who inhabit the depths of the forest. I have seen marvelous rituals enacted by the Buriats in which the shaman, provided with a wonderful costume, playing a drum evoked his own guide spirit and spoke during his trance with a completely different voice from the one he uses normally while delivering messages from the kingdom of the dead. Messages from the dead, teachings for the living.
Soulmaking means to depersonalise, to see the universal soul as superior the personal ego, the personal self.
Official psychology can't be based on the Ego: it now begins from the Ego and has as aim the reinforcement of the structures of the self. Official psychology funds itself on the belief that things are material and sees the body as an actual object. Soulmaking means dematerialising things to be able to live one's own body as a symbolic image of the soul.
A great shaman and tantric teacher who lived in the Himalayan uplands, bride of the legendary Padamasambhava, teacher of shamanic Buddhism and author of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, has left us these poetic words to define the body:
This body is a magic apparition, it is the reflexion of the moon on the water, it is a shadow without flesh nor bones, a mirage which changes moment after moment, a dream projected by the brain, an eco, a ghost without entity. This body is a cloud which continually changes shape, a beautiful and vivid rainbow, but without substance, a lightning which rapidly appears and disappears. This body is a bubble which gets formed and then suddenly pops, it is a reflexion in a mirror which can be seen vividly but is void of substance. (Keith Dowman,La danzatrice del cielo, la vita segreta e i canti di Yeshe Tsogyel, Roma, 1985, Ubaldini.)
Also the Great yogin and shaman Milarepa gave a fundamental teaching to his followers before dying: always walk on the firm ground of the non-objectivity of things. (Vita di Milarepa a cura di Jacques Bacot, Milano, 1991, ed Adelphi.)
Archetypal and imaginal psychology is much nearer to the shamanic traditions of Inner Asia than official scientific psychology.
Soulmaking and deep ecology are two aspects of the same reality, two sides of the same medal. To enter the human psyche and to walk on the earth are two aspects of the same path. A path towards which the world's soul, in the midst of the ecologic emergency we are facing, is urging us to go. Saying yes to the soul means to face the great journey, the adventure of conscience.
The ethnic cultures of Inner Asia have a lot to say and to give in regards to this great adventure of soulmaking and deep ecology.