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Path of the Shaman
By Anna Franklin
The Path of the Shaman is book two in Anna Franklin’s Eight Paths of Magic series, exploring the role of the shaman, the mediator between the world of humankind and the world of spirits. This book explores, from the perspective of native British shamanism, the shamanic cosmos, the web of power, the shamanic crisis and becoming a shaman, healing and soul work, as well as working with the spirits of the land, plus animal and plant allies.
Anthropologists classify a shamanism as a magical/religious practice during which the shaman enters a trance state in order to enter a realm of non-ordinary reality beyond everyday consciousness in order to encounter spirits. Sometimes non-shamans get glimpses of this sphere and its possibilities through visions, miracles, clairvoyant experiences and so on, but through the shaman’s intimate knowledge of the Otherworld, its geography and denizens, he can step into it at will.
The encounter is an entirely personal one and not shared by others as a group of people might share a religious ceremony or ritual. Indeed, everything important the shaman learns comes through personal experience and not through received teaching, though elder shamans may oversee the process of his initiation.
The shaman’s ability is won through personal hardships. In all parts of the world the dawning of the shaman’s enlightenment begins with a ‘shamanic crisis’, often in adolescence, but sometimes much later. This is a severe illness or breakdown which actually threatens his life, and he lingers for a time between on the threshold of life and death. The shaman is reduced, by the trauma of this incident, to a primal way of thinking and being, and only then can he enter the archetypal primordial state where humans can converse with gods, animals and plants. He experiences the sensation of dissolution and the separation of body from spirit, something that only usually occurs in physical death, and which cannot be compared to astral travel or out of body experiences, or even an initiation in other magical traditions.
Returning from his crisis, the shaman knows, from his own encounters, that the world is alive, that everything has spirit and that we are surrounded by spirits, a viewpoint called animism by anthropologists. When he interacts with the world of spirit, he is practising shamanism, and only then. He may work with a variety of supernatural beings and from these learn how to cure specific illnesses, divination, the mastery of fire, weather magic, hunting magic, the retrieval of lost souls or the accompanying of the souls of dead to the Otherworld, and the removal of curses. He can travel great expanses in spirit flight, hear what is going on at a remote place, send messages over a distance and even ‘shapeshift’. Furthermore, he may take on the role of the priest of a community, becoming the bridge between the world of spirits and humankind. Shamanism is not a doctrinal religion, but it is a religious practice.
Continues in book…
The Bluffer’s Guide to the Occult defines a shaman as a ‘hippy with a drum’ and this encapsulates for me the difference between a real shaman and a wannabe. ‘Shamanism’ has been a buzz word in the Pagan community since the early 1970s, and many people claim to be shamans without having much idea of what it actually means, attaching to it instead a wide variety of bowdlerized New Age practices such as waving smudge sticks and feathers and bashing the hell out of bodhrans, or simply wearing fancy-dress costumes and amulets, exploiting genuine native cultures to procure skins, eagle feathers, crystals and so on. Some simply think that the recreational use of psychotropic substances whilst raving the night away gives them the right to be called shamans.
Others suppose that they can adopt odds and sods of shamanic techniques, isolated from the cultures they were practiced in, as a way to spiritual illumination without having to undergo the very real hardships traditionally associated with gaining shamanic knowledge. This in no way reflects the experience of the tribal shaman whose central experience is the shamanic crisis, triggered by mental trial or severe physical illness. You can drum and wave feathers to your heart’s content, but what makes a real shaman is undergoing - and surviving - the shamanic crisis, remembering, and afterwards acting as a shaman.
A person cannot just decide to become a shaman: only the spirits can choose and make a shaman. Though anyone can offer themselves to the spirits, there is no guarantee that the spirits will accept. The candidate is always subjected to trial and testing before his initiation in the Otherworld can take place, encapsulating a very real dissolution, death and rebirth in the core of his being, a process entirely out of the shaman’s control, and often sudden and violent in its onset.
The curious thing about the shamanic crisis is that it is experienced in a similar way all over the world, which suggests it is potentially a fundamental and universal part of the human experience, whether or not it ever manifests within an individual
Published by Lear Books
“I was moved beyond words by the beginning of this book. It reminded me of my traumatic numinous experiences which I have studiously tried to forget. It woke in me those vestiges of that path which I did not wish to traverse. I learned more, understood more and recognized more than I had before.”
NIGEL PENNICK’S EXPERIENCE
“When I was ten years of age, I suffered massive infection that left me deaf and struggling for my life. During this time I had a cosmic axis experience that in retrospect seemed to have gone on for three earthly days, but that is subjective and there is no way of knowing. I was present in both the upperworld and the underworld. I was elevated in an out-of-the body state to the right-hand corner of the room, where I saw myself lying in the bed. Then I was taken through the roof, which I saw from above before going to the upperworld inside a column whose walls were translucent and patterned like dark scales. In the upperworld I beheld the awesome light behind the light, a blinding whiteness beyond brilliance. Then I was cast down the column, back through my body and into the bones of the Earth where I experienced the presence of the human and animal dead, embedded in and part of the rocks, where, I, too, was buried in a kind of basalt sarcophagus, seemingly for thousands of years, before again I returned to my body and waking consciousness. A terrifying experience that I could not talk to anyone about for decades.”
One of several modern experiences recounted in the book.
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