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Creating meaning in conscious connection

July 24, 2016

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It is a scientific truth that we are inexorably connected to the entirety of life on Earth. For instance, every human alive today is a descendant of one particular woman who lived in Africa about 200,000 years ago. She wasn’t the only woman living at that time, but only her line continued. We know this because the mitochondrial DNA in our cells has its origin with her.
On a broader scale, we are related to every creature with a backbone. We are related to creatures as diverse as snakes, fish, elephants and polar bears. If we stretch further back in time, we share a common ancestor with sea urchins and starfish. Inside of our bodies, our own cells are outnumbered by a myriad of other beings. Bacteria, viruses, yeasts and naturally occurring microscopic parasites are a part of our internal ecosystem. And the mitochondrial DNA we inherited from our many times great-grandmother is housed in an organelle that was originally a bacteria living 3.5 billion years ago in the primordial sea.
Despite all this remarkable connectivity, our senses continually spin the illusion that we are separate and alone in the universe. Living with that misperception, we have done great harm to each other, other species and to the planet as a whole.
It is only when we expand our awareness that we can perceive how well we are held in the embrace of life. In shamanic journeys, visions and entheogenic voyages we can see hear and feel the threads that weave everything together. These experiences change our perceptions of our place in the Cosmos. Yet, even this extraordinary shift of perception only provides us with knowledge. Creating meaning comes from transforming knowledge into wisdom.
For me, meaning evolves from taking my understanding of connectedness and choosing to allow it influence how I move through my daily existence. When I choose to make my connections more conscious and more thoughtful, I have visceral experiences of the way all beings are connected and I recognize that how I am in the world affects the whole. This provides me with a rich overlay for my everyday interactions with people, animals, the birds at my feeder and the trees that shade my walk. With this richness comes the awareness that our connections are actually relationships that can be fostered through being evermore aware and respectful.
When we choose to be in reverent participatory relationship, we not only benefit the beings around us but also contribute to our own wellbeing. Human beings are wired for connection. We are social primates who are nurtured and sustained through relationship. Interconnection is as important to our mental and emotional health as water and food are to our body. When we treat our relationships with others as nourishment, we can more easily recognize the preciousness of them. We cannot survive without the air the trees create or the waters that flow from rain. In the same fashion, we cannot live well without the laughter of a friend or the touch of a loved one. All of the threads that hold us are necessary and worthy of our gratitude.
And it is in being grateful that we fill with a sense of meaning beyond words.

©2016 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

(This post was originally written for Excellence Reporter)

5 books Evie SIllhoutteEvelyn C. Rysdyk is the author of several noted books on shamanism including, The Norse Shaman, Spirit Walking: A Course In Shamanic Power and A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools. Along with her writings, Evelyn is an impassioned shamanic teacher. She was featured on The Shift Network’s, 2016 Global Shamanism Summit, and is a presenter for the innovative, international program, A Year Of Ceremony.

Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her website is www.evelynrysdyk.com

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Útiseta: The Norse Shaman’s Wilderness Quest

May 16, 2016

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Shamans have always functioned as intermediaries between our ordinary human world and other beings. These could include the denizens of nature as well as the many other spirits. This work was accomplished by traveling between these worlds in a state of trance. A shaman’s work benefits the human community while keeping harmony with the environment, the ancestors, and other beings. It is humankind’s oldest spiritual tradition.

One ancient European shamanic practice that was fairly well documented in the Icelandic sagas is seiðr. The Icelandic sagas, written down in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries have been given more credence by archeological finds such as the Oseberg ship burial. This Viking longboat was buried under a large mound in the year 834 CE in Vestfold, Norway. Buried inside were two women, one in her fifties and the other in her seventies, who were surrounded by lavish grave goods. Their high-status burial accouterments included unusual ritual objects such as staffs with iron rattle heads, which made it clear that these women were not royalty as early twentieth-century investigators once thought. These women were Viking Age shamans. Women in ancient Norse society were the ones who primarily practiced shamanism or seiðr. A woman who practiced with art was known as a seiðkona or völva.

The seið worker is one who is adept at entering trance. She, or in some cases he, was able to alter consciousness for the purpose of gaining information, to seek council with the spirits of nature or the ancestors, to work magic on behalf of the people, and to generally attend to the spiritual wellbeing of the community. For these reasons, a Viking Age seiðr practitioner may be considered that culture’s shamanic equivalent.
For the Norse shaman, one method of gaining spiritual wisdom involved útiseta, or “sitting out,” which involved a time of introspection in nature to receive a vision or to perform divination. During this vision-questing ritual the völva would sit with her staff and sing in concert with the elements, animals, birds, and transcendent nature spirits that were called landvættir. These land wights or spirits of nature were thought to protect and promote the vitality of the places where they live and were a source of wisdom. Sitting out and immersing oneself in the world of nature to receive inspiration and wisdom may have provided the original seed for the völva’s songs. The Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala has a passage that speaks beautifully to this connection:

Many runes the cold has taught me,
Many lays the rain has brought me,
Other songs the winds have sung me.
Many birds from many forests,
Oft have sung me lays in concord
Waves of sea, and ocean billows,
Music from the many waters,
Music from the whole creation,
Oft have been my guide and master.

The word útiseta is derived from a thirteenth-century Icelandic law that outlawed “útiseta at vekja tröll upp ok fremja heiðni,” which translates to, “the act of sitting out to provoke/wake up trolls and practice paganism,” in other words those spiritual beliefs that lie outside of the Christian paradigm. This practice has many parallels to shamanic traditions of spending time isolated from other human beings in nature for the purpose of connecting with spiritual resources or to receive a vision.
Wilderness vision questing is an ancient, cross-cultural practice that involves spending time alone in nature while fasting. It is a spiritual tradition that has been practiced for millennia by people seeking to receive revelation and to reconnect to nature, to the spirits—especially ancestral spirits—and with their deeper selves. This time of deep introspection in nature has many beneficial effects on the psyche and the spirit.
During the Viking Age, the útiseta, or “sitting out,” ritual was specifically used by those who practiced shamanic magic to commune with the spirits of the natural world and the spirits of the dead for divinatory purposes.

However, this ritual is especially vital for the twenty-first-century shamanic practitioner as we experience a deep cultural separation from nature. This disconnection weakens our individual connection to power. Without making intentional, undistracted forays into the natural world, we become like rechargeable devices that have spent too long without being plugged into an electrical outlet. We become weak and ineffective, not only in our spiritual practice, but also in our ordinary lives.
Spending time alone in nature allows us to be replenished. We refresh our passion for living and consciously reconnect ourselves to the larger web of life. Since most of our species’ time on the Earth was spent outside, we also reconnect ourselves to the thousands of generations that have gone before us. When we immerse ourselves back into the natural world, we experience awe. As we become reacquainted with the beauty of the world, we simultaneously feel a profound connectedness with All That Is and develop humility about our tiny place within it. This in turn nurtures a sense of reverence for the natural world and sparks a desire to protect Mother Earth from our collective desire to exploit her resources.

Wilderness questing provides several layers of benefits. They include connections to Self, personal empowerment, and connection to others. These “others” will include other humans, but more importantly, the quester experiences a much deeper connection to the natural world and its spirits. Increasing degrees of connection to the Self can include self-discovery and a deeper sense of purpose. In addition, a stronger sense of clarity, awareness, and self-acceptance may begin to unfold.

The stronger connection with Self generates a sense of empowerment. In facing any fears that may arise during the time in nature, a trust grows in the Self, in nature, as well as in the quester’s spiritual resources. Confidence at having performed the ritual generates powerful feelings of inner strength.
As a person gains confidence with the Self, the spirits, and with nature, a profound feeling of connectedness often blossoms. The quester feels a palpable sense of connection to nature and the other beings who share the planet. Deep healings can occur and a desire to work in community for the greater good may also be stimulated.
These benefits occur even in those people who do not practice any form of shamanism. This is because we are all a part of the natural world. It is only an illusion that we are in any way separate from other beings or nature as a whole. When we reintroduce ourselves to our original context, we begin to feel more enlivened, awake, and aware than ever before. For the person with a strong spiritual practice, the effects can be even more powerful.

An útiseta would entail siting outside overnight while holding the magical staff or seiðstafr and wearing the cloak and hood. To be safe, the quester would also be merged with their protective spirits to remain protected from any unbeneficial wandering souls. The quester’s protectors might be a fylgia (power animal), a dis (female protector spirit), or a familiar ancestral spirit. The seið worker would sing and chant in concert with the elements, animals, birds, and transcendent nature spirits or landvættir. If the sitting out ritual was being performed in the forest, the skogsrå (female forest keeper) would also be contacted and the practitioner would provide an offering to the land wights’ willingness to participate. Our ancestors understood that these beings were guardians of the land and were also capable of sharing a great deal of wisdom so caring for them would have been seen as a way to insure a good life.
During útiseta, the seið worker or völva would use their shamanic songs, or varðlokur for awakening the staff, gathering the helpful spirits, and for entering into the shamanic state of consciousness. During the course of the útiseta, the quester would continue to sing their experiences and offer galdr (incantations or poetic songs) to the spirits. These periods of singing and chanting would be alternated with long periods of silence to receive the spirits’ wisdom and to feel the connections being woven with the unseen and the natural worlds.
To prepare for this time of sitting out in nature, it is important to clarify your purpose. This ritual can be used to spiritually prepare for a transition, ritual or event, to regain clarity when life has become confusing, to connect with an ancestor to gain their insight, to inspirit yourself after a long illness or traumatic situation, to reconnect to your home spirits after traveling, or to strengthen your ties with your power animals, teachers, and nature. While vision-questing ceremonies like útiseta can last over the course of several days, with proper preparation and a strong intention it is possible to have a powerful experience over the course of one night.
When preparing for útiseta the practitioner finds a place in nature where she or he will be safe. The wilder the space in which you experience your útiseta the better, but working within the parameters that one’s life and physical abilities require is always best. The idea is to find a place where you can safely experience nature’s vitality.
Over the course of the night, the seið worker offers songs, prayers and allows experiences of inner and outer vision to unfold. These visions from guides and ancestors and the physical aspects of nature all collude to inform and infuse the practitioner with wisdom.
You will likely experience some discomfort during your sitting out time, but it is not necessary to suffer! For instance, while most folks can easily sit on a folded wool blanket or ground cloth during an útiseta, I have mobility limitations that interfere with me getting down on the ground. For this reason, I have a folding camp chair that ritually I set up for útiseta. I alternate being seated and standing over the course of the night. My body is still uncomfortable but I am not suffering. Another concern in my area is the many deer ticks infected with Lyme diseases. For this reason, I use an insect repellent as a part of my preparation. Since you may need to relieve yourself during the night bring what you need for that purpose, as well.
The idea is to find a kind of balance. You need to be uncomfortable enough that you won’t drop off to sleep but not so uncomfortable or anxious that you can’t remain in ceremony all night. Útiseta begins just before sunset and ends with the sun’s rise over the horizon. In the morning, eat lightly and drink plenty of water to rehydrate yourself. You also want to have time to record and assimilate your experience afterwards. Make sure you can have a few hours of uninterrupted time to allow the experience to be fully anchored in your being.
© 2016 Evelyn C. Rysdyk
This post is an excerpt from Evelyn’s new book, The Norse Shaman.

4 book EVIE books NORSE SIllhoutte
Internationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of The Norse Shaman, Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power, A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her web site is http://www.evelynrysdyk.com.

Green guerrilla actions you can make now!

March 18, 2015

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There are times when the state of the world—especially the condition of your local water, soil and air– can make you feel helpless. Truth is, the little changes we make together can add up to an enormous shift in our collective wellbeing and doing them can be a part of our spiritual practice! I consider the actions I take everyday to take care of the natural world to be part of keeping good faith with those spirits who support my life, with the spirits of my ancestors and also on behalf of my descendants.

What follows here is a list of a few things you can do to make a difference. You may already be doing some of them. If so, look for other ways you can take a stand for sustaining your family while giving back. (I’ve included resource links whenever possible to make your changes that much easier!)

Shedding light on savings:

If every household in the United States swapped out even ONE of their incandescent lights with a compact fluorescent bulb, or better yet an LED bulb, the pollution reduction would be equivalent to removing one million cars from the road. LED bulbs last up to 25 times longer than their incandescent bulb forbearers. Just make sure to recycle CFL and LED bulbs at your local recycling facility or hardware store.

TIP: LEDs have come down in price! This site offers comparison shopping and tips including wattage equivalents and how to buy the right color temperature bulb for different purposes in your home: https://www.earthled.com/products/feit-performanceled-a23-omni-directional-32-watt-2500-lumens-150-watt-equal#.VQl1JkKIUrk

TIP: If you prefer CFL bulbs and want better illumination, use OttLite true-color bulbs. These are the same bulbs used by artists and crafters for decades in situations where good lighting really matters. OttLite’s new CFLs are brighter and more like real sunlight. They’re a bit more expensive but the true-color lighting is worth it! www.ott-lite.com/c-92-bulbstubes.aspx

Tuck in your electronics:

Many electronic devices suck power even when asleep. At night, power down to save your self some money on the electric bill and do something good for the environment in one fell swoop!

TIP: Turn on the computer on the way to making your morning coffee or tea. By the time your morning cuppa is ready, you’ll be all set to read your daily e-newspaper!

Hang ‘em high:

Did you know your drier contributes to the demise of your clothes? Not only does your clothes dryer use a significant amount of energy, it can actually shorten the life of your clothes because of wear and tear on the fabric. Hang your duds on a clothesline outside or drying rack indoors to save a bundle on clothes.

TIP: During the heating season, the extra humidity in the air from drying clothes can benefit you and your wooden furniture!

Colder is better:

…at least in terms of your laundry! If all the households in the United States switched to using warm or cold water cycles for clothes washing, we could save energy comparable to 100,000 barrels of oil every day!

TIP: Use a peroxide-based bleach to safely sanitize clothes as well as keeping them whiter and brighter. Peroxide is much safer than chorine for your septic system BUT even safer bleach can actually kill off the bacteria that are responsible for breaking down the waste in your cesspool if you use a lot! That means you’ll be paying to have it pumped out more often.

BYOB:

According to the World Wildlife Fund, Americans went through about 50,000,000,000 (that’s fifty billion) plastic water bottles just during last year! Fill up a reusable water bottle at home and bring it with you. If you don’t like the taste of your tap water, buy a quality water filter but remember, your household tap water actually has to meet higher quality and safety standards than bottled water!

TIP: We use stainless steel water bottles by Kleen Kanteen www.kleankanteen.com for everyday. They’re made from #304 food-grade stainless steel, are pretty indestructible (one survived freezing with water in it!) and don’t leave an aftertaste in the water.

If you prefer using glass check out these amazing and beautiful miron violet glass bottles: www.surthrival.com/gear/miron-glass-water-bottle.html Miron Violet glass blocks visible light with the exception of the violet part of the spectrum. At the same time it allows in radiation in the spectral range of UV-A, and infrared light. The unique combination offers optimal protection against the aging processes that are released by visible light, thus lengthening durability and potency of products. This kind of bottle is especially good if you’re somebody that adds medicinal tinctures to your drinking water!

Shorten your shower:

According to Stanford University, 
every two minutes you save on your shower can conserve more than ten gallons of water. This is critical as fresh water is a scarce resource. (If you don’t think so, ask folks in California who have only one year of drinking water left in reservoirs or residents of towns in Texas and New Mexico where their drinking water sources have completely dried up!) If everyone in our country saved just one gallon from their daily shower, over the course of the year it would equal twice the amount of freshwater withdrawn from the Great Lakes every day.

TIP: A five-minute shower uses 10-25 gallons of water. (Energy efficient showerheads use the lesser amount.) Shut the water off while you lather up. Even a 20-second pause can save nearly two gallons of water!

Local is better:

There is often a considerable amount of pollution created when transporting your food from the farm to your table. To offset the carbon load this creates, whenever possible, buy from local farmers, fishermen and ethical foragers of wild foods. This supports your local economy and reduces the amount of greenhouse gas created when products are flown or trucked in. Here in Maine, we can access locally raised vegetable produce, meats, eggs, dairy products (from cows, goats and sheep), poultry, locally sourced fish and game, foraged vegetables, mushrooms and other treats too numerous to mention. Tap into the local food scene in your area to

TIP: Local Harvest can help you to tap into local resources for food: http://www.localharvest.org as can Local Dirt: http://localdirt.com. You can also contact http://www.eatwild.com/PRODUCTS/index.html.

For an even better positive impact, remember to buy mostly organic! Organic farms don’t use chemical pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, which are often made from petroleum products. They also refrain from sterile GMO seeds. Organically raised animals are more humanely treated and their meat, milk or eggs are not laden with unbeneficial antibiotics or hormones. Your body and your planet will thank you!

Bag it!

Never mind the “paper or plastic” conundrum as neither are good choices. Keep reusable shopping bags in your car for your trips to the market. Washable bags are best as they can be sanitized easily. Bags are a great second-hand store purchase! We keep our market bags folded up inside one bag. The handles of that outer bag are clipped together with a super-size karabiner. This assures that all the folded bags stay neatly inside. When we get into the market, we just clip the karabiner containing all of our bags to the shopping cart handle. That way they’re handy but not taking up room in the cart.

TIP: Bags are a valuable second-hand store purchase! If you’re handy and want a personal touch, you might want to make your own beautiful bags: http://tipnut.com/35-reusable-grocery-bags-totes-free-patterns. Here is a link to purchase the oversized karabiner clip: www.coghlans.com/products/large-biner-carry-handle-1152

Recycle–everything you can!

Most everyone is getting on the recycling bandwagon, but do you know you may have some things that are easily recycled and can bring you a few dollars, to boot? Your electronics (mp3 players, computers, cell phones, etc.) can make you money or be used to benefit a worthy cause.

TIP: My old, iPhone 3 earned me a $120 Amazon gift certificate, which made this book-aholic very happy. I used Gizelle who also will pay cash for old iPads and Mac computers. http://www.gazelle.com It pays to do an online search as there are other reputable firms who will buy back your old phone and even a broken one can net you a few bucks. Some charities also take old electronics. Here is a list from Mashable: http://mashable.com/2010/04/29/donating-electronics

Save a back!

Get off catalog and other junk mailing lists to help relieve your postal carrier’s daily burden, reduce your household waste and contribute to saving a whole lot of trees. In addition, you’ll be contributing to reducing the amount of energy savings used to print these unwanted things.

TIP: Here is a site with tips to reducing your unwanted junk mail: http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/reducewaste/home/junkmail.htm

Let your fingers to the walking–on your keyboard!

Stop your phone directory delivery. Now. It is estimated that up to 10% of all waste at municipal dump sites is comprised of old telephone books! Not only are they cumbersome to use and impossible for middle-aged eyes to read, in most cases they are far less accurate than online sources.

TIP: Recycle your old phonebooks or shred them for garden mulch. Use online telephone directories to search for numbers such as http://www.anywho.com/whitepages

Become a part-time vegetarian:

Just one less meat-based meal a week helps the planet and your diet. (For example: It requires approximately 2,500 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of beef.) Adding veggies to the diet also boosts the amount of phytonutrients you ingest which are beneficial for good health.

TIP: Here are a few vegetarian burger recipes you can experiment with: http://vegetarian.about.com/od/veggieburgerrecipes/Vegetarian_Veggie_Burger_Recipes.htm

Lose the lawn:

The typical American suburban lawn is a toxic monoculture that is detrimental to the environment. Indeed, A new study from the University of California at Irvine has determined that maintaining grass lawns produce four times the amount of carbon naturally collected and store by the lawn itself.  Lawn mowing, leaf blowing, irrigation, lawn fertilizer manufacturing, and the nitrous oxide released from soil after fertilization all contribute to an overall degradation of the environment. Not only that, the monoculture of grass is detrimental to healthy biodiversity.

TIP: Let weeds grow in the lawn. We have edible plantain, dandelion, clover, chives and other yummy “weeds” that look very nice when cut! The benefit of these plants is we can harvest them for salads or other treats. Our local beneficial insects, birds and animals are nourished by the natural browse, too. Another option is to invest in easy-care native plants or carve out a part of the yard for an organic vegetable or herb garden! 

Go native!

Help to sustain the birds, animals and beneficial insects around your neighborhood by sowing organic, native seeds. We sowed over 100 native milkweed seeds last Autumn to benefit the endangered Monarch Butterfly by using seed bombs/balls. These are small balls of clay, compost and vermiculite with two or three native seeds inside. In some cities, the same “technology” is being used to turn abandoned urban lots into organic, edible plant gardens. They are a blast to make and fun to toss. Work with your neighbors and property owners to “adopt” a growing site and then do a community seed bombing of that area! By seed bombing empty fields, along roadsides, the islands in parking lots and your own backyard you will help to create healthy, native wildflower meadows for you and other critters to enjoy.

TIP: Here is a site with great seed ball info: http://seed-balls.com They offer kits and supplies to arm your family, school class, scout troop or neighborhood with plenty of seed ball ammo! http://seed-balls.com/shop/supplies

Don’t want to get your hands dirty? This site offers 100% NON GMO seed ball packs that have been premade for your region of the USA: http://www.americanmeadows.com/gardening-gifts/seed-bombs gclid=CjwKEAjwxKSoBRCZ5oyy87DimEcSJADiWsvgDuVlt4mk3dK-9nZlBpo7MSdG_k5jzz_22wsea3sHURoC66jw_wcB

Give away and trade!

Before you toss something that is still useable, think if someone else might need it. You can donate to Goodwill or other charities to get a tax deduction. Another option is to post it on the web as a trade or give-away.

TIP: This web-based community organization is a terrific resource for getting goods into the hands of people who can use them!  http://www.freecycle.org 

 

If you have other great environmental ideas, use the comment section to share them with our readers. Together we can keep working to save this marvelous world for future generations of her inhabitants. And bless you for ALL that you already do!

Blessings to you, Evelyn

© 2015 Evelyn C. Rysdyk 

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power,A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her web site is http://www.evelynrysdyk.com.

Fire of spirit.

November 1, 2014

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(This piece is excerpted from the author’s manuscript exploring northern European shamanism.)

Fire has always been critical to life in the north. A central fire was a pivot point around which life revolved once the Sun’s rays vanished into evening. Our distant ancestors spent their nights clustered around it to draw warmth, light and comfort from its marvelous flickering. In our contemporary world, it is difficult to imagine the extraordinary darkness of an ancient night. We are so used to artificially illuminating our world. For us, day and night have become blended into each other. It is only in places far from civilization that it is still possible to get a taste of the true darkness. I had such an experience in the hours before dawn while hunting in upstate New York. It was a night without a moon and the sky was so full of stars that it was impossible to discern any familiar constellations. In that darkness the old expression of not being able to see your hand in front of your face suddenly became a reality. The darkness was so complete that it was both physically disorienting and emotionally unsettling.

How comforting a fire is in such a circumstance! A fire creates a space where we can see and interact with each other. The small illuminated region around the fire becomes our whole world. The edges of the firelight also create a visual boundary. The space that lies beyond the firelight seems even darker. When gazing out to that darkness, our known world seems completely enfolded by another place.

When you sit in front of a fire in that deep darkness the objects and people around you seem to shimmer and move in the flickering light. Firelight produces a stroboscopic effect where darkness and light alternate rapidly back and forth. The rhythmic rate at which this occurs approximates low alpha and theta wave brain states. This brain activity is consistent with the experience of the shamanic state of consciousness.[1] Since life revolved around the fire, our ancestors were exposed to the trance-inducing, photic driving of firelight every evening of their lives. Altered consciousness is not only natural to our species we have been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years.

This state assists in creating new connections between neurons. In other words, trance assists the brain in producing new connections. If this is true, it is not so much that shamanism is a part of our ancient way of relating to the world around us, it is what helped us to understand ourselves (self awareness), our relationship with the world, enabled us to remember the past and ponder our future. In other worlds, trance contributed in creating us as a species.[2] In addition, there are physiologically and psychologically benefits that occur when individuals enter trance that have been observed by scientists not the least of which includes a better immune response.[3]

Trance is also an excellent problem-solving tool. Indeed, this is so clear that anthropologist; Michael Harner suggests that voluntary entrance into a shamanic trance (shamanic state of consciousness) in a counseling context is a proven concrete “problem-solving” method.[4] Certainly, most people have experienced the spontaneous shift of consciousness that accompanies a “mind-less” repetitive task such as spinning wool, or listening to a repetitive sound. While this can be disconcerting when it happens unbidden, it can also be very beneficial. When I was a young illustrator, I rode a diesel commuter train into New York City every weekday. Every morning and evening the clickity-clack of the train would lull me into a dreamy trance. During these experiences I would often receive sudden insight about a current challenge. This method became so useful to me that I learned to use my hours on the train to help me solve creative problems, especially when I was on a tight deadline.

Being able to voluntarily enter a trance state would have been an invaluable tool for locating game to a community that relied upon seasonal arrivals of migrating animals, birds and fish. The same would have been true in locating a lost member of the group, finding the reasons for illness or to discover the right plant remedy to cure it. Indeed, finding any critical information that was hidden from ordinary sight, hearing or touch could have meant the difference between thriving and perishing.

Technicians of ecstasy

During the days of our earliest ancestors, every individual was required to participate in the survival of the community. People of all ages and of both sexes gathered plants, bird eggs, fished, picked berries, made cordage, created shelters and gathered firewood to sustain the tribal group.[5] Of course, as is the case today, there would have been individuals within the group who were better at certain tasks. Some people would have been more skilled at stalking game, making cordage, kindling a fire, weaving fishing nets or other tasks and so would have become “specialists” in their communities. This specialization would have been efficacious for the community as those with better skills could accomplish essential tasks more rapidly and more consistently. This would have made group survival more certain. Even as we made our cultural transition from hunting and gathering into subsistence agricultural and pastoral lifestyles, skill specialization would have been beneficial for survival success.

While entering trance state is a common human ability, as with any other human skill, some individuals are more able to achieve a trance state than others. Indeed, it is most likely that there is a genetic component affecting a person’s ability to more easily enter the shamanic state of consciousness.[6] Just as the more nimble-fingered people would have been better at making cordage, weaving nets and preparing snares, the people either psychologically or physiologically predisposed to enter trance states at will would have become the community shamans.

In experiencing trance states with regularity, our ancestors would have experienced a blurring of what we would delineate as natural and supernatural realities. In other words, their environment would have contained both physical and spiritual beings. In the same way that all physical aspects of the environment were viewed as participants in daily survival, these spiritual beings would have certainly been perceived in a similar light. Since these beings were not usually visible in this plane of existence, the shaman’s skill of willfully entering trance would have been essential for communication with them. For this reason, the shaman would have been an invaluable member of a community.

A shaman’s role in any society is to act as a facilitator between the human realm and that of the other beings and spirits that inhabit the environment. Through interaction with them, our shaman ancestors came to understand that our intrinsic interdependencies sustain life. In a shamanic culture, individuals value harmony with their environment as they have an intimate understanding of their dependence upon it. There is a value placed upon cooperation and cohesiveness rather than mastery of and control over the environment, as there tends to be a deeper sense of the value of all aspects of life.[7]

This is certainly a way of being that is sorely needed today.

© 2014 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power,A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her web site is http://www.evelynrysdyk.com.

[1] Timothy C. Thomason, “The Role of Altered States of Consciousness in Native American Healing,” Journal of Rural Community Psychology, Vol. E13:1 http://www.marshall.edu/jrcp/VE13%20N1/jrcp%2013%201%20thomason.pdf (Accessed 2/17/13)

[2] Mike Williams, PhD, Prehistoric Belief, (Gloucestershire, UK; The History Press, 2011) p.20

[3] Sandra Harner PhD and Warren W. Tryon “Psychological and Immunological Responses to Shamanic Journeying with Drumming’, Published in Vol. 4, Nos. 1-2 of the journal, SHAMAN, 1996

[4] Description of Harner Method Shamanic Counseling course, http://www.shamanism.org/workshops/calendar.php?Wkshp_ID=27

[5] Pringle, Heather. “New Women of the Ice Age,” Discover Magazine, Vol. 19, Number 4, April 1998.

[6] Wright PA. “The nature of the shamanic state of consciousness: a review”. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 1989 Jan-Mar;21(1):25-33. Review. PubMed PMID: 2656950.

[7] Ashvind N. Singh, “Shamans, Healing, and Mental Health,” Journal of Child and Family Studies, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1999, pp. 131-134

Power in the Female Body

July 5, 2014

venus-figurines-europe-paleolithic

(This piece is excerpted from the author’s manuscript exploring northern European shamanism.)

“The roots of shamanic activity extend deep into the past and so too do signs that women have been important, active participants…. The skeleton [found in] Dolni Věstonice…is convincing evidence of prehistoric women shamans.”[1]

Dolni Věstonice is an Upper Paleolithic archeological site in the Czech Republic about one hundred miles north of Vienna, Austria. First discovered in the early twentieth century, the site was radiocarbon dated to approximately 28,000 years ago. While this place is now arguably near the geographic center of Europe, during the Upper Paleolithic period, the area was on the edge of the glacial ice. The grave mentioned above was of a woman in her forties–old enough to have been a grandparent.As an elder, she would have been important to her people. Rachel Caspari argues[2] that elderly people were highly influential in prehistoric society. Grandparents assisted in childcare, perpetuated cultural transmission through storytelling and contributed to the increased complexity of stone tools through their practiced experience. In other words, during the Stone Age an elder was a vital repository of all the collected knowledge, history and wisdom of her or his people.

Not simply set apart by her advanced years, the woman of Dolni Věstonice also had a marked facial asymmetry. Her high-status burial and facial deformity suggests that she was a shaman. According to Simon Fraser University archaeologist, Brian Hayden it was “not uncommon that people with disabilities, …[were thought to have]… unusual supernatural powers”[3] This special woman was buried under two engraved mammoth shoulder blades. She and the contents of her grave had been painted with red ochre after her death. Over her head was a flint spearhead and in one hand she held the body of a fox.

12,000 years ago in another part of Eurasia, a shaman in northern Israel was afforded similar honors[4] when she was buried. Relatively old for her time, the nearly 5-foot-tall, 45-year-old woman was placed in a mud-plastered and rock-lined pit in a cave and was buried beneath a large stone slab. She was buried with fifty carefully arranged tortoise shells, parts of wild pigs, an eagle wing, a cow tail, a leopard’s pelvis, two marten skulls, the forearm of a wild boar, which was laid in alignment with her upper left arm and other artifacts, including a human foot.[5]

Approximately 9,000 years ago, a younger female shaman was interred in a foot-thick layer of red ochre in what is now Bad Dürrenberg, Germany. Like her predecessors, she was interred with many extraordinary grave goods including crane, beaver and deer bones as well as antlers and shells. She was also accompanied by a year-old-child. Entering the spirit realms for the final time, she wore her shamanic costume. A spray of feathers was attached to her right shoulder. Over her leather dress, she wore a deerskin cape with the face of the deer drawn up on her head as a hood. Antlers were affixed to the top. A breastplate of leather and split boar tusks hung on her chest and the area above her eyes and around her face was lavishly decorated with suspended slices of boar tusks and other animal bones and teeth. Along her brow, a fringe mask or “eye curtain” of beads and ruminant incisors dangled in front of her eyes.[6] This toothy mask was very similar to the fringe masks that are still worn by the shamans of Siberia and Central Asia.

Throughout Northern Eurasian cultures, shamans were frequently women.[7] The shaman’s grave of Dolni Věstonice has many similarities to others found across the region that range in dates from the Upper Paleolithic to a much more recent past. In the far-eastern Russian Arctic, a grave from only 2,000 years ago and dating from the Old Bering Sea culture held the skeleton of an elderly woman with a wooden mask at her knees. Her grave had been constructed so that she appeared to have been laid to rest in the body of a whale. Many of the artifacts found in this grave are objects would have been used in women’s activities, however her grave also held objects related to healing, rituals, and dance, indicating that this woman was most probably a shaman. From the wide varieties of burial offerings in her grave, it was also clear that her people revered her.

During the early 20th century prior to the Soviet Revolution, the cultural anthropologist M.A. Czaplicka gathered together much of the remaining shamanic knowledge of Siberia tribes. In her 1914 book, Aboriginal Siberia, A Study in Social Anthropology she quotes a Chukchee proverb, “Woman is by nature a shaman.” Indeed, hunter-gatherer tribes across the Arctic, Siberia, Central and Eastern Asia preserved the tradition that the prototypical “first shaman” was female. It is for that reason that both male and female shamans’ ceremonial costumes reflect traditional woman’s garments such as aprons, skirts and caps. Czaplicka said it this way, “Taking into account the present prominent position of female shamans among many Siberian tribes and their place in traditions, together with certain feminine attributes of the male shaman (such as dress, habits, privileges) and certain linguistic similarities between the names for male and female shamans…in former days, only female shamans existed, and..the male shaman is a later development.…”[8]

This information is not meant to suggest in any way that men cannot be shamans or that male shamans didn’t exist in prehistory! Rather it is to suggest that a primeval female archetype is central to the deepest roots of the tradition. In venerating the feminine as a source of power, perhaps the people of prehistory were acknowledging that we have all come into this world from a womb and that our species–indeed all species–were born from the body of Mother Earth. Her elements make our physical life possible and a deep connection with the natural world–with Mother Nature in all her magnificence and abundance–is at the heart of shamanic spirituality.

Within the Earth’s sacred embrace the masculine and feminine energies of life dance together for continuance. New generations of human beings and other creatures are born from this dance. Each new being is then nurtured by the Earth’s air, her water, her plants and animals. When our physical lives are over, we return again to her body. She is pivotal to the sacred circle of existence.

An assurance of abundance.

Evidence suggests that the Upper Paleolithic shaman from Dolni Věstonice was also a potter. This shaman was fashioning and firing clay over twelve to fifteen thousand years before any other pottery vessels were made.She created many ceramic[9] figurines of animals and one particular figure that resembled other so-called “Venus” statues of the time period. These prehistoric statuettes of women portrayed with similar robust physical attributes have been found in Europe and as far east as Irkutsk Oblast, Siberia, near Lake Baikal. The earliest figure found in Hohle Fels near Schelklingen, Germany was dated to approximately 40,000 years ago. These figures continued to be made all across Eurasia. More recent finds in northern France and Romania[10](6,000 years old) and from the Old Being Sea culture[11](2,000 years old) reveal that our ancestors continued creating these mother/grandmother images in bone, ivory, stone and clay for over 38,000 years. That equates over 380 centuries and at least 1,900 generations! For any cultural idea to be transmitted so accurately from one generation to the next for so many thousands of years, it had to have been considered vitally essential to the culture.

A recent study published in the Journal of Anthropology suggests that the figures constitute evidence that a shared cultural tradition existed across northern Eurasia from the time period of the Upper Paleolithic cave painters and persisted into the period when the first megalithic structures were being constructed in the region.[12] Given that most of the figures were created during the extremely challenging climatic conditions that prevailed at this time, it seems likely that only a very few women survived to become corpulent elders as depicted by many of the figurines. Therefore, these portable images of very well nourished, multiparous mature females may have been talismans for success in the very difficult struggle to survive and reproduce.[13] In this way, the figures can be seen as related to shamanic doll-like effigies used by Siberian tribes until the 20th century that were used to protect the people from calamities such as disease, famine or injury. Like those effigies, these female figures may have functioned as spiritual containers that held the essence or spirit of the symbolic mother/grandmother—a symbol of bounty, fertility and nourishment. In other words, these figures were may well have been talismans to assure survival, longevity and tribal continuance.

The spiritual image of elder females lasted for nearly four hundred centuries. Shaman graves tell us that particularly gifted women were also honored. Since these ideas persisted for so long, one can imagine that even after a few generations, they would have formed part of the culture’s primordial past. In other words, a female holy image and the female shaman would have been concepts that had “always been so.”

Stepping back from the brink.

Our ancestors had to endure tremendous climactic changes that involved the destruction of land and the familiar ways of life they supported. Today, we are facing similar a cataclysm only this time on a global scale. Great changes in the climate are changing weather patterns and in turn negatively affecting ecosystems, food production and health. Rising sea levels jeopardize global coastlines and the enormous numbers of people who live there. This time it isn’t the ending of an Ice Age or other natural disaster that is disrupting our way of life and threatening the future of all species. This time, we are facing a life-ending cataclysm or Ragnarök of our own creation.

We have been brought here by the tyranny of patriarchal culture. This ideology has created an small group of individuals and corporations who have sought to control wealth and power at the expense of the natural world, other species, women, children and the majority of men, as well. So what can we do to preserve the biosphere and all the beings who inhabit it—including us?

Since our destructive culture is a reflection of the conflicts that exist inside of us, we need to transform ourselves to shift our patriarchal culture and so correct our cataclysmic trajectory.

Firstly, it means learning to live as powerful shamans of the past have lived. That is, to work in harmony and stay in communication with the other beings around us. We can do this through journeying, ritual, and respectful interactions. Human beings need to remember that we are intimately connected to all beings. We cannot live without healthy ecosystems. All that is necessary for our survival exists on this one tiny world floating in the vast cold vacuum of space. This is the only home that our species knows. We have nowhere to run or hide. No amount of money or power will save us from the demise of our planet. We need to work in harmony with her, NOW.

Secondly, we need to intentionally return sacred feminine to the forefront. Not to supplant men but to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with each other to heal the wounds created through a little over six centuries of patriarchal culture.

Anthropological evidence suggests that most prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies were relatively egalitarian, and that patriarchal social structures did not develop until many years after the end of the Pleistocene era, following social and technological innovations such as agriculture and domestication of animals. Agrarian lifestyles depend upon controlling “good” arable or grazing land and also promote the need to control other resources such as water. This gives birth ideas of ownership that differ from the sharing lifestyle of hunter-gatherers. The ideas of “mine/yours” and “us/them” developed into the creation of “haves” and have-nots.” Patriarchy promotes success through domination rather than cooperation and creates a small powerful class that controls the larger population. This in turn creates scenarios in which those in the dominated group seek to gain status by fighting other members of the same strata. The dominant group encourages this behavior so that the larger populace remains disjointed and so incapable of overthrowing those who are oppressing them.

Jungian psychology perceives patriarchy as an expression of a stunted, immature form of masculinity and thus as an attack on masculinity in its fullness as well as on femininity in its fullness. To save our world, this immaturity must end. To change our dire situation, we need to each bring forth our individual brilliance and work collectively. To do this we need to rid ourselves of the poisons of division. We do this by working with shamanic methods of journeying, ritual and communion with nature to heal the places in ourselves that hold onto weakness, jealousy, powerlessness, greed, fear and anger.

As we heal, we then must reenter into a harmonious relationship with the natural world. When we remember that humans and all other species are one family–one large, interconnected organism–then we can pull together to take back our planet from those people, industries and corporations that are destroying all that we need to survive.

As the American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator Carl Sagan once said, “As the ancient mythmakers knew, we are children equally of the earth and the sky. In our tenure on this planet we’ve accumulated dangerous evolutionary baggage: propensities for aggression and ritual, submission to leaders, hostility to outsiders, all of which puts our survival in some doubt. But we’ve also acquired passion for others, love for our children, desire to learn from history and experience, and a great, soaring, passionate intelligence, the clear tools for our continued survival and prosperity. Which aspects of our nature will prevail is uncertain.”

What is certain is that if we continue the path we are on or chose to do nothing, our fate and the fate of all other species on our world is sealed. It is time to take up the drum, to dance with the Earth Mother and enter the World Tree to relearn the heart and soul of who we are. That is how we can emerge as new humans to bring forth a verdant, new world.

© 2014 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power, A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her web site is http://www.evelynrysdyk.com.

[1] Barbara Tedlock, PhD. The Woman in the Shaman’s Body. (New York, NY; Bantam/Dell, 2005.) p. 28

[2] Rachel Caspari, “The Evolution of Grandparents” Scientific American, August 2011. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-evolution-of-grandparents. Accessed March 4th, 2013

[3] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/08/100830-first-feast-science-proceedings-israel-shaman-sorcerer-tortoise/

[4] Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Skeleton Of 12,000-Year-Old Shaman Discovered Buried With Leopard, 50 Tortoises And Human Foot.” ScienceDaily, 5 Nov. 2008. Web. 5 Mar.2013. withhttp://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081105083721.htm

[5] This last inclusion is especially interesting as the woman would have limped and dragged one of her own feet as she walked due to a spinal deformity.

[6] Svend Hansen, “Archaeological Finds from Germany.” (Booklet to the Photographic Exhibition) Institutum Archaeologicum Germanicum, 2010 http://www.dainst.org/sites/default/files/media/abteilungen/eurasien/event/archaeologische_funde_englisch.pdf

[7] The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History’s Arctic Studies Center. http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/features/croads/ekven1.html#tomb

[8] M.A. Czaplicka, Aboriginal Siberia, A Study in Social Anthropology. London: Oxford University Press, 1969 reprint of the original 1914 edition. pp. 243-256.

[9] The fired-clay figures at this site pre-date any other ceramic technology by more than 14,000 years. (Vandiver P, Soffer O, Klima B, Svoboda J. 1989. “The Origins of Ceramic Technology at Dolni Vestonice, Czechoslovakia”. Science. Vol. 246, No. 4933:1002-1008.)

[10] The artifact was from the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture, also known as Cucuteni culture (from Romanian), Trypillian culture (from Ukrainian) or Tripolye culture (from Russian), is a Neolithic/Copper Age archaeological culture which existed from approximately 4800 to 3000 BC, from the Carpathian Mountains to what is now modern-day Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine.

[11] An Ekven ritual ladle handle carved from walrus ivory (circa 1000 B.C.-1000.A.D.) Bering Strait, Chukotka, Russia may be seen here: http://allcanadaphotos.com/imagedetails/32817991_extInt0/RC.0251-02-ArcticPhoto-Ritual-ladle-handle-carved-from-walrus-ivory-circa-1000-BC.html

[12] Martin Furholt, Friedrich Lüth and Johannes Müller, editors. Megaliths and Identities. The earliest monuments in Europe – architecture and social structures (5000-3000 cal BC). Journal from the 3rd European Megalithic Studies Group Meeting 13th – 15th of May 2010 at Kiel University. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH, 2011. (http://www.academia.edu/1346797/Megaliths_and_Identities._The_earliest_monuments_in_Europe_-_architecture_and_social_structures_5000-3000_cal_BC) Accessed October 22, 2013.

[13] Alan F. Dixson and Barnaby J. Dixson, “Venus Figurines of the European Paleolithic: Symbols of Fertility or Attractiveness?,” Journal of Anthropology, vol. 2011, Article ID 569120, 11 pages, 2011. doi:10.1155/2011/569120

A special offering.

April 2, 2014

Greenman © Evelyn Rysdyk

Now that Spring has arrived and the energies of the north are finally awakening, I have decided to offer my painting of The Greenman for sale. I have enjoyed having him in my private collection for a number of years but it is time to have him bring his energy to the larger world. We need to see expressions of renewal to give us hope and to spur us to continue our work of healing our planet.

May my representative of the vitality of Nature go to those who connect with his energy!


The Greenman
This is a giclée, museum and archival-quality, full-color limited-edition print from an original painting by visionary artist, Evelyn C. Rysdyk.
The image depicts the Greenman–a Middleworld spirit of regeneration
and consort/protector of Mother Nature–at the crossroad of Spring.
With Raven looking on, we see the Greenman as he is about to coax the trees back to life with his faerie flute…or perhaps this ethereal music

is meant to lure us back to into relationship with Nature!

The print image is approximately 12″ x 141/2″ and every print in the very limited edition of 60 pieces is hand-signed by the artist. (unframed)

Greenman prints are $500. plus $12. shipping/handling.

______________________________________________________
A very special opportunity for one individual.
If you are one who is especially discerning,
the original painting is available for $10,000. plus $30. shipping/handling.
The painting is acrylic on archival-quality, 100% cotton rag
illustration board and has been museum matted and framed.
Original painting image size: 14″ x 173/4″ overall size ~28″x 34″
______________________________________________________

Order the print or original painting now!


© 2014 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic PowerModern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor toSpirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her web site is http://www.evelynrysdyk.com.

 

Trance and the shaman

March 13, 2014

past-life-regression-therapy

(This piece is excerpted from the author’s manuscript exploring northern European shamanism.)

Trance states and shamanism are intimately connected. James L. Pearson does and excellent job of connecting these dots in his book, Shamanism and the Ancient Mind when he writes about the etymology of the words “trance” and “shaman.” He stated, “The word “trance” derives from the Latin transitus, a passage. The verb root is transive, meaning “to pass over,” Trance is literally defined, then, as an entrance to another world. The term shaman, in turn is a transliteration of the Tungus-Mongol word šaman…and functions as both a noun and a verb. The noun-word šaman comes from the Indo-European verb root ša-, which means “to know”…As a noun it refers to “one who is excited, moved raised”; used as a verb it means, “To know in an ecstatic manner”…. Thus the shaman is, by definition, one who attains an ecstatic state. …[so we] therefore consider trance to be a prerequisite for any kind of true shamanism.”(1)

Michael Winkleman suggests that shamanism is endemic to nomadic hunting and gathering cultures. Indeed, evidence in the form of both portable objects and paintings on cave walls does support the idea that shamanism was prevalent across Europe during this time period. The abstract patterns from Upper Paleolithic cave walls–such as dots, wavy lines, spirals and concentric circles–are consistent with entopic imagery (2) or visions that one sees during the early stages of a trance state.(3) In his book, Shamanism and the Ancient Mind James L. Pearson agrees in stating, “…neuropsychological universals that result from altered states experiences do afford insights into … art that was created to portray shamanic dream experience” (4) that is, the shamanic trance state.

Apparently, we are wired for altered consciousness experiences. A study published in 1973, found that altered states of consciousness are “virtually universal in their distribution across human societies. In a sample of 488 societies… [it was] found that fully 90% exhibit institutionalized, culturally patterned forms of altered states of consciousness.” The study also concluded that the capacity to experience an altered state of consciousness seems to be “a part of the psychobiological heritage of our species.”(5)

Mike Williams, PhD in his book, Prehistoric Belief is even more straightforward in his clarity about our ancestors’ spiritual worldview stating, “Unlike people today, those in prehistory were adept at entering trance; what we now call shamanism. This gave access to alternative realms where people met and befriended entities that they thought of as spirits. To the people of the past, the otherworld of trance, and the spirits that resided there, were as real to them as anything else they encountered.”(6) In other words, our ancestors were comfortable with the knowing that there were other worlds beyond our own.

It is his belief that experiencing trance states was not an activity that was only limited to shamans. Our Homo sapiens sapiens ancestors had fully modern brains. As such they were capable of a “higher order consciousness,” which is the ability to conceive ideas of past, present and future, of the dreaming and waking states and of altering consciousness. Like us, these people also were able of holding onto the memories of dream and altered consciousness experiences. As a result, this higher order consciousness allows us to remember and relate different experiences of consciousness to our everyday existence. Directly because we humans have this ability, ideas that are born in dreams and visionary states can be used to inform and transform everyday reality.

Fire was critical to life in the north. A central fire was a pivot point around which life revolved once the Sun’s rays vanished into evening. Our ancestors spent their nights clustered around it to draw warmth, light and comfort from its marvelous flickering. In our contemporary world, it is difficult to imagine the extraordinary darkness of an ancient night. We are so used to artificially illuminating our world. For us, day and night have become blended into each other. It is only in places far from civilization that it is still possible to get a taste of the true darkness. I had such an experience in the hours before dawn while hunting in upstate New York. It was a night without a moon and the sky was so full of stars that it was impossible to discern any familiar constellations. In that darkness the old expression of not being able to see your hand in front of your face suddenly became a reality. The darkness was so complete that it was both physically disorienting and emotionally unsettling.

How comforting a fire is in such a circumstance! A fire creates a space where we can see and interact with each other. The small illuminated region around the fire becomes our whole world. The edges of the firelight also create a visual boundary. The space that lies beyond the firelight seems even darker. When gazing out to that darkness, our known world seems completely enfolded by another place.

When you sit in front of a fire in that deep darkness the objects and people around you seem to shimmer and move in the flickering light. Firelight produces a stroboscopic effect where darkness and light alternate rapidly back and forth. The rhythmic rate at which this occurs approximates low alpha and theta wave brain states. This brain activity is consistent with the experience of the shamanic state of consciousness.(7) Since life revolved around the fire, our ancestors were exposed to the trance-inducing, photic driving of firelight every evening of their lives. Altered consciousness is not only natural to our species we have been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years.

This state assists in creating new connections between neurons. In other words, trance assists the brain in producing new connections. If this is true, it is not so much that shamanism is a part of our ancient way of relating to the world around us, it is what helped us to understand ourselves (self awareness), our relationship with the world, enabled us to remember the past and ponder our future. In other worlds, trance contributed in creating us as a species. (8) In addition, there are physiologically and psychologically benefits that occur when individuals enter trance that have been observed by scientists not the least of which includes a better immune response.(9)

Trance is also an excellent problem-solving tool. Indeed, this is so clear that anthropologist, Michael Harner, PhD suggests that voluntary entrance into a shamanic trance (shamanic state of consciousness) in a counseling context is a proven concrete “problem-solving” method.(10) Certainly, most people have experienced the spontaneous shift of consciousness that accompanies a “mind-less” repetitive task such as spinning wool, or listening to a repetitive sound. While this can be disconcerting when it happens unbidden, it can also be very beneficial. When I was a young illustrator, I rode a diesel commuter train into New York City every weekday. Every morning and evening the clickity-clack of the train would lull me into a dreamy trance. During these experiences I would often receive sudden insight about a current challenge. This method became so useful to me that I earned to use my hours on the train to help me solve creative problems, especially when I was on a tight deadline.

Being able to voluntarily enter a trance state would have been an invaluable tool for locating game to a community that relied upon seasonal arrivals of migrating animals, birds and fish. The same would have been true in locating a lost member of the group, finding the reasons for illness or to discover the right plant remedy to cure it. Indeed, finding any critical information that was hidden from ordinary sight, hearing or touch could have meant the difference between thriving and perishing.

© 2014 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic PowerModern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor toSpirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her web site is http://www.evelynrysdyk.com.

[1] James L. Pearson, Shamanism and the Ancient Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Archaeology, (Walnut Creek, CA; Altamira Press, 2002) p.74

[2] Visual experiences arising from anywhere within the optic system, which includes the eyes, the occipital lobe of the brain, and the many other portions of the neural cortex that process visual stimuli.

[3] Jean Clottes. “Shamanism in Prehistory”. Bradshaw foundation. Retrieved 2013-01-21.

[4] James L. Pearson, Shamanism and the Ancient Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Archaeology, (Walnut Creek, CA; Altamira Press, 2002) p.157

[5] Bourguignon, E. 1973 “Introduction: A Framework for the Comparative Study of Altered States of Consciousness”. In Religion, Altered States of Consciousness and Social Change. E. Bourguignon. ed. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University,1973

[6] Mike Williams, PhD, Prehistoric Belief, (Gloucestershire, UK; The History Press, 2011) p.20

[7] Timothy C. Thomason, “The Role of Altered States of Consciousness in Native American Healing,” Journal of Rural Community Psychology, Vol. E13:1 http://www.marshall.edu/jrcp/VE13%20N1/jrcp%2013%201%20thomason.pdf (Accessed 2/17/13)

[8] Mike Williams, PhD, Prehistoric Belief, (Gloucestershire, UK; The History Press, 2011) p.20

[9] Sandra Harner PhD and Warren W. Tryon “Psychological and Immunological Responses to Shamanic Journeying with Drumming’, Published in Vol. 4, Nos. 1-2 of the journal, SHAMAN, 1996

[10] Description of Harner Method Shamanic Counseling course, http://www.shamanism.org/workshops/calendar.php?Wkshp_ID=27

Spirit Walker’s Guide to Spiritual Preparedness

January 9, 2014

Having a spiritual practice is not protection against having “bad things” happening in your life. Even deeply spiritual people experience difficult situations. Storms, floods, fire or a medical emergency can happen to anyone.

Having a strong spiritual practice gives you a powerful inner rudder. It supports you to go through all that Life provides with a deeper sense of peace and resilience than would be possible without it. I liken it to driving over a stretch of really bump road. Without a spiritual rudder, it is like driving over the rough road in an old off-road vehicle. The experience is extra jarring and painful. A spiritual practice supports you to move through the bumpy stretch like you were in a vehicle with luxury suspension. It still requires skill, patience and good decision-making, but it is a whole lot less miserable!

Since this year’s Winter season is expected to be more extreme, I thought it would be a good time to review how to remain resilient and be more prepared for life’s unexpected surprises!

The first thing is to learning how to get out of fear and back into gratitude—even in tough situations. Maintaining inner emotional balance is critical to thriving in all circumstances. Fear disrupts your ability to think clearly, to stay in balance and will cause you to become sick at times you most need to be strong and clear-headed.

Remember fear has many faces. It can present itself as anxiety, anger, jealousy, envy, doubt, judgment, blame, shame, depression/shutting down, bitterness, holding yourself back, resentment, feelings of being a “victim” or “inferior,” power abuse, impatience, emptiness, cowardice, suspicion, and . . . more fear. Learning to recognize fear’s many faces is vitally important as it helps you to understand how often you need to be transforming it.

Next strengthen you connections to your primary teacher, power animal angels or guides. You want the connection to be so strong that you can access their support when you are most stressed. Practice is really important to that kind of connection. If you are a shamanic practitioner, make sure to ask your teachers or power animal the best ways to do this so that you can really rely on the relationships when the going gets rough. Remember too, that these relationships are reciprocal! Ask how you can give back to them.

Prepare resources BEFORE you will need them. I think of these preparations like insurance policies. I don’t ever plan on using them, but have them in place “just in case.” Feeling prepared also frees me up to be able to assist others.

What follows is the Spirit Walker’s Guide to Spiritual Preparedness Checklist. If you start gathering what you need now, practicing gratitude and strengthening your connections to spirit, you’ll be ready when a storm hits!

1. Develop a gratitude list

2. Practice the “Relieving a DNA Cramp” exercise until it becomes second nature.
• Practice with our “Becoming the New Human” CD!
• This practice protects your immune system and helps you to think well in a difficult situation!

3. Develop a strong relationship with your helping spirits
• Make the bonds strong so that it is easier to connect when you are in a stressful situation
• A strong connection allows the helping spirits to have easier access to you for “early warnings”
• Spiritual connection provides solace and stress relief to make thinking easier during times of duress.

FOR THE CAR:
4. EVERY TIME you drive during cold weather and storms
• Blankets and sleeping bags
• Warm coat, hat, gloves, extra warm socks and boots
• A mylar survival blanket
• Your CHARGED cell phone
• A shovel
• A working flashlight
• Water in an unbreakable container, preferably stainless steel
• Snacks
• Emergency flares
• Bright cloth or reflector to attach to the vehicle if you become stranded
• Jumper cables

FOR HOME:
5. Develop a family house escape plan and agree on a meeting location.
• Practice this with your family—especially if you have small children

6. Learn how to access resources close to home.
• Learn about water sources, wild edibles and other useful resources that are close to your home.

7. Scan ALL of your vital documents onto a thumb drive (to reconstruct your life!)
• Insurances (life, home, car, medical)
• Car title
• Medical information including allergies for ALL family members
• Prescriptions
• Eyeglass/contact prescription
• Passports/ID

8. Create a preparedness kit in a backpack–ideally one for each family member
Refresh the perishable contents twice year
• Your thumb drive with scanned vital information AND hard copies in zipper bag!
• Water purification method (A microfilter water purifier and/or water purification tablets)
• Stainless steel water bottle
• Flashlight and three weeks of extra batteries
• Portable CRANK/solar radio with USB charging port for your cell phone
• First aid materials and guides for use (Ideally, take a course with the family!)
• A good pair of tweezers
• Prescription medication (At least a week’s worth in case supplies are disrupted)
• Space pair of eyeglasses or contacts
• Extra car keys & house keys
• Freeze-dried foods AND/OR nutrition bars (for 3 days for each family member)
• Special treats such as hard candies
• Extra (wool) socks and underwear (for 3 days for each family member)
• Sanitary supplies such as 2 rolls of toilet paper, baby diapers, sanitary napkins, etc.
• Waterproof matches, magnesium fire starter & safety candles
• Warm wool or fleece blankets AND a survival “space blanket”
(Choose the survival “space blanket” that has a colored side and a foil side with grommets on each corner.)
• Alternative cooking device (portable Vital Stove/Grill (www.vitalgrill.com)
• A large stainless steel mug & pot to boil water (If you have a family include a stainless steel cup for each member)
• A set of metal camping cutlery for each person
• Instant coffee, tea or hot cocoa & instant soup/bouillon
• A few cotton bandannas
• Four or five gallon zipper bags
• A good multi-tool with pliers, knife and saw
• A fixed blade knife
• Folding saw
• A camping ax
• A coil of parachute cord
• A sewing kit –with a extra large needle that will handle parachute cord inner core threads
• Warm jacket & folding rain poncho for each person
• Four large plastic trash bags
• A roll of duct tape
(Small camping-sized rolls are perfect. You can also make your own mini roll by carefully coiling tape around a tall prescription bottle. This way, you can place other supplies inside the bottle!)
• A good book you haven’t read, playing cards or a portable board game
• Plastic sheeting & staple gun for covering broken windows—or to create an emergency shelter

9. Stored next to the backpack
• Water (2 gallons a day for 3 days for each member of the family – refresh often)
• Folding water bags for use in the home during expected storms (These may be filled up in advance of a storm to supply drinking water if the power goes out.)
• A few crank-powered lanterns for safe illumination

10. Important extras
• An alternative SAFE source of heat for your home
• Extra, easily accessible wool or fleece blankets
• Kelly Kettle for boiling water & cooking (Kelly Kettle Base Camp Stainless Steel Kit)

© 2014 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic PowerModern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, and contributor toSpirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her web site is http://www.evelynrysdyk.com.

A shamanic reflection on Jesus’ message for the New Year.

December 31, 2013

Jesus

Abraham is considered the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He was a pious man who had his faith tested on many occasions. Perhaps his largest test was when Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his beloved only son, Isaac. In Genesis 22, obedient Abraham takes Isaac to the place of sacrifice. He prepares the fire and binds his son. Just as he is about to take the life of Isaac, God stops Abraham as his actions have proven the depth of his belief and commitment.

During the dawning of the first century AD, the peoples of the Middle East would have been intimately familiar with this story of Abraham. Into this context, Jesus comes into the world as “God’s only begotten son.” This is a peculiar designation as it is said in Genesis that God created all human beings in His image.

As Jesus grew to adulthood and began his teachings, his behavior was loving toward others. He cared for those in need with healing and fed those without food. He associated with the poor, the sick, those who were lame, the mentally ill and also with those who were considered to have broken prevailing cultural norms. In other words, he was able to see everyone as sacred. These ideas flew in the face of the hierarchical social ideals that were promoted by both Roman culture and the Pharisees.

In both cases, enforcing strict dogma and adhering to the letter of the law was perceived as paramount, as this promoted both social order and obedience to the hierarchy. Supporting the organizational structure was more important than the needs of individuals and superseded acts of compassion, which may have been in conflict with their rigid interpretations of “right and wrong.” It is easy to see why Jesus and his teachings became a source of worry for the existing hierarchy.

When working with his disciples, Jesus charged them to go out and heal others as he had. This was to be done by asking the Divine In All Things–the Holy Spirit–to work through them. In his later teachings, he even suggested that, through the strength of their faith, the disciples could perform even greater miracles than he achieved during his lifetime. Jesus preached that we all could do what he did and more.

Fast forward to the capture, punishment and crucifixion of Jesus. As he suffered along side other prisoners, why didn’t God intervene? Perhaps it was because this sacrifice was meant to be interrupted by human beings! Maybe the entire point of Jesus’ role as the sacrificial “Lamb of God” was to get us to awaken to our own divine nature. If people really understood his message of love, they would have intervened on his behalf on several occasions–during the time he was in front of Pilate, during his journey to Cavalry and finally at the point he was being crucified.

Perhaps Jesus was, in the language of his time, trying to get us to see ourselves as aspects of the Divine who are no more or less important than any other. Through his actions, he suggested that we could choose to be loving, to be more egalitarian and inclusive, and more able to perceive the preciousness of all creatures on our planet.

He asked us to access the divine directly through prayer, fasting and through communication with Nature so that we could see things differently. Maybe the ultimate core of his message was for us to perceive the luminous threads that connect us to everything and everyone in creation. And in so doing to manifest our highest nature to generate healing and harmony around us.

 © 2014 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, the soon-to-be published A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is. Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. In joint practice with Allie Knowlton as Spirit Passages, her web site is http://www.spiritpassages.com.

(Digital illustration © 2013 Evelyn Rysdyk)

A Long History of Serving Life

November 12, 2013

Image

“Every action in our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.”

~Edwin Hubbel Chapin

A skeleton was discovered in Dolni Věstonice, an Upper Paleolithic archeological site in the Czech Republic about one hundred miles north of Vienna, Austria. This site was radiocarbon dated to approximately 26,000 years ago. While Dolni Věstonice is now arguably near the geographic center of Europe, during the Upper Paleolithic period, the area was on the edge of the glacial ice. The remains mentioned above were of a woman in her forties–old enough in those days to have been a grandparent. As an elder, she would have been important to her people. Rachel Caspari argued in Scientific American that elderly people were highly influential in prehistoric society. Grandparents assisted in childcare, perpetuated cultural transmission through storytelling and contributed to the increased complexity of stone tools through their practiced experience. In other words, during the Stone Age an elder was a vital repository of all the collected knowledge, history and wisdom of her or his people.

Not simply set apart by her advanced years, the woman of Dolni Věstonice also had a marked facial asymmetry. Her high-status burial and facial deformity suggests that she was a shaman. According to Simon Fraser University archaeologist, Brian Hayden it was “not uncommon that people with disabilities, …[were thought to have]… unusual supernatural powers.” This special woman was buried under two engraved mammoth shoulder blades. She and the contents of her grave had been painted with red ochre after her death. Over her head was a flint spearhead and in one hand she held the body of a fox.

A shaman interred 12,000 years ago, in what is now northern Israel, was afforded similar honors when she was buried. Relatively old for her time, the nearly 5-foot-tall, 45-year-old woman was placed in a mud-plastered and rock-lined pit in a cave and was buried beneath a large stone slab. She was buried with fifty carefully arranged tortoise shells, parts of wild pigs, an eagle wing, a cow tail, a leopard’s pelvis, two marten skulls, the forearm of a wild boar, which was laid in alignment with her upper left arm and other artifacts, including a human foot. This may have been a talisman to assist her in walking as her skeleton revealed that she would have limped quite badly.

Approximately 9,000 years ago, a younger female shaman was interred in a foot-thick layer of red ochre in what is now Bad Dürrenberg, Germany. Like her predecessors, she was interred with many extraordinary grave goods including crane, beaver and deer bones as well as antlers and shells. She was also accompanied by a year-old-child. Entering the spirit realms for the final time, she wore her shamanic costume. A spray of feathers was attached to her right shoulder. Over her leather dress, she wore a deerskin cape with the face of the deer drawn up on her head as a hood. Antlers were affixed to the top. A breastplate of leather and split boar tusks hung on her chest and the area above her eyes and around her face was lavishly decorated with suspended slices of boar tusks and other animal bones and teeth. Along her brow, a fringe mask or “eye curtain” of deer incisors dangled in front of her eyes.  Her toothy mask was very similar to the fringe masks that are still worn by the shamans of Siberia and Central Asia.

Throughout Northern European and Asian cultures, shamans were frequently women. The shaman’s grave of Dolni Věstonice has many similarities to others found across the region that range in dates from the Upper Paleolithic to a much more recent past. In the far-eastern Russian Arctic, a grave from only 2,000 years ago and dating from the Old Bering Sea culture held the skeleton of an elderly woman with a wooden mask at her knees. Her grave had been constructed so that she appeared to have been laid to rest in the body of a whale. Many of the artifacts found in this grave are objects would have been used in women’s activities, however her grave also held objects related to healing, rituals, and dance, indicating that this woman was most probably a shaman. From the wide varieties of burial offerings in her grave, it was also clear that her people revered her.

An assurance of abundance.

Evidence suggests that the Upper Paleolithic shaman from Dolni Věstonice was also a potter. This shaman was fashioning and firing clay over twelve thousand years before any other pottery vessels were made. She created many ceramicfigurines of animals and one particular figure that resembled other so-called “Venus” statues of the time period. These prehistoric statuettes  of women portrayed with similar robust physical attributes have been found in Europe and as far east as Irkutsk, Oblast, Siberia near Lake Baikal. The earliest figure found in Hohle Fels near Schelklingen, Germany was dated to 35,000 years ago while the most recent found in northern France was dated from 6,000 years ago. This suggests that our ancestors continued creating these images in bone, ivory, stone and clay for over 29,000 years. That equates to nearly fifteen hundred generations! For any cultural idea to be transmitted so accurately from one generation to the next for so many thousands of years, it had to have been considered vitally essential to the culture.

A recent study published in the Journal of Anthropology suggests that the figures constitute evidence that a shared cultural tradition existed in Stone Age Europe. Given that most of the figures were created during the extremely challenging climatic conditions that prevailed at this time, it seems likely that only a very few women survived to become corpulent elders as depicted by many of the figurines. Therefore, these portable images of very well nourished, multiparous mature females may have been talismans for success in the very difficult struggle to survive and reproduce. In this way, the figures can be seen as related to shamanic doll-like effigies used by Siberian tribes until the 20th century that were used to protect the people from calamities such as disease, famine or injury. Like those effigies, these ancestral female figures may have functioned as spiritual containers that held the essence or spirit of the symbolic mother/grandmother—a symbol of bounty, fertility and nourishment. In other words, these figures were may well have been talismans to assure survival, longevity and tribal continuance.

The spiritual image of elder females lasted for nearly three hundred centuries. Shaman graves tell us that particularly gifted women were also honored. Since these ideas persisted for so long, one can imagine that even after a few generations, they would have formed part of the culture’s primordial past. In other words, a female holy image and the female shaman would have been concepts that had “always been so.”

As it was in the beginning…

During the early 20th century prior to the Soviet Revolution, the cultural anthropologist M.A. Czaplicka gathered together much of the remaining shamanic knowledge of Siberia tribes. In her 1914 book, Aboriginal Siberia, A Study in Social Anthropology she quotes a Chukchee proverb, “Woman is by nature a shaman.” Indeed, hunter-gatherer tribes across the Arctic, Siberia, Central and Eastern Asia preserved the tradition that the prototypical “first shaman” was female. It is for that reason that both male and female shamans’ ceremonial costumes across Asia reflect traditional woman’s garments such as aprons, skirts and caps. Czaplicka said it this way, “Taking into account the present prominent position of female shamans among many Siberian tribes and their place in traditions, together with certain feminine attributes of the male shaman (such as dress, habits, privileges) and certain linguistic similarities between the names for male and female shamans…in former days, only female shamans existed, and..the male shaman is a later development.…”

This information is not meant to suggest in any way that men cannot be shamans or that male shamans didn’t exist in prehistory! Rather it is to suggest that a primeval female archetype is central to the deepest roots of the tradition. In venerating the feminine as a source of power, perhaps the people of prehistory were acknowledging that we have all come into this world from a womb and that our species–indeed all species–were born from the body of Mother Earth. Her elements make our physical life possible and a deep connection with the natural world–with Mother Nature in all her magnificence and abundance–is at the heart of shamanic spirituality.

Within the Earth’s sacred embrace, the masculine and feminine energies of life dance together to bring new life into the world. New generations of human beings and other creatures are born from this joining. Each new being is then nurtured by the Earth’s air, her water, her plants and animals. When our physical lives are over, we return again to her body. Our planet is pivotal to Life’s sacred circle of existence. Those who make the choice to align with the Earth and step into service for her multitude of life forms serve to support Life’s continuance. May every generation have people who choose to serve in our shamanic ancestors’ footsteps.

NOTE: The author is teaching the shamanic journey process on the weekend of December 7 & 8 in Falmouth, Maine. You can register by clicking on the links here: www.spiritpassages.com/calendar.html

(Photo credit for the shaman of Bad Dürrenberg © LDA Sachsen-Anhalt, Bild: Karol Schauer)

© 2013/2014 Evelyn C. Rysdyk

Nationally recognized shaman teacher/healer, speaker, and author of Spirit Walking a Course in Shamanic Power, Modern Shamanic Living: New Explorations of an Ancient Path, the soon-to-be published A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools and contributor to Spirited Medicine: Shamanism in Contemporary Healthcare; Evelyn C. Rysdyk delights in supporting people to remember their sacred place in All That Is.  Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word–Evelyn uses her loving humor and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives.  www.spiritpassages.com