The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft: Shadows, Spirits and the Healing Journey Paperback – Jul 8 2005
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About the Author
Christopher Penczak is an award-winning author, teacher, and healing practitioner. He has studied extensively with witches, mystics, shamans, and healers in a variety of traditions from around the world to synthesize his own practice of magick and healing.
Formerly based in the music industry, Christopher was empowered by his spiritual experiences to live a magickal life, and began a full-time practice of teaching, writing, and seeing clients. He is the author of the award-winning Temple of Witchcraft series: The Inner Temple of Witchcraft, The Outer Temple of Witchcraft, The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft, and The Living Temple of Witchcraft Volumes 1 and 2.
His other books include City Magick (Red Wheel/Weiser), Spirit Allies (Red Wheel/Weiser), Gay Witchcraft (Red Wheel/Weiser), Magick of Reiki, Sons of the Goddess, Ascension Magick, Instant Magick, The Mystic Foundation, The Witch's Shield, The Witch's Coin, and the forthcoming The Witch's Heart. Christopher Penczak resides in New Hampshire. Visit him online at http://www.christopherpenczak.com.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Witchcraft and Shamanism
The role of the shaman applies to both men and women, though culturally one gender can be more prevalent than the other. Few refer to female shamans with a different word, such as shamaness. Sexual orientation and gender identity does not preclude one from shamanism either. In many traditions, shamans dress in the clothes of the opposite gender or practice homosexuality.
For anthropologists exploring the spiritualities of tribal societies, the word shaman is an easier and safer term than the words witch, wizard, sorcerer, magician, and seer, even though these labels were used in the past to describe the tribal shaman’s European counterparts. For those from a Western mainstream academic background, shaman has less negative baggage than these other highly charged terms.
In an effort to be more precise, some anthropologists and mystical students use the term core shamanism to differentiate the use of shamanic techniques and ideas from traditional Siberian or Native shamanism. Although it is not a religion, shamanism has a definitive set of core practices that sets it apart from other traditions of magick, yet it can be found worldwide, particularly in tribal cultures, and in the foundations of visionary traditions. Not all mystics can be referred to as shamanistic in the truest sense of the word.
Core concepts to the practice of shamanism include the following:
·The ability to enter an altered state of consciousness through the use of sound, rhythm, movement, and plants.
·The experience of one or more nonphysical realities that are just as “real” to the practitioner as the physical world, and of actions in the nonphysical worlds that directly affect the physical world.
·The use of an altered state, a trance sometimes defined as an ecstasy, to project self-awareness from the physical world to the nonphysical worlds.
·Dealings with nonphysical beings, or spirits, who enter into a relationship with the practitioner. They offer guidance, healing, or power used to create change in the physical world.
·Other mystics may have the same gifts and abilities but do not access them through ecstatic trance or working with the spirits. Though they can be gifted medicine people or spell casters, without that link to the spirit world they are not necessarily shamans.
The voluntary interface with the unseen and the ability to use this link to create change is what sets a shaman apart from other magi. Shamans are typically equated with the title of “medicine person,” though not all medicine men and women use shamanic techniques to effect healing.
Humanity seems to be hard-wired with a few common ways to interface with the spirit world. These interfaces are a natural part of our physical and spiritual makeup. Wise ones across the globe separately discovered and applied these techniques and then applied their own cultural beliefs and rituals to them. These techniques have survived because they work. Archaeological evidence indicates that shamanic practice is at least 20,000 years old, making it truly the oldest profession. The recognition of core shamanic techniques in the lands beyond Siberia and the Americas has led to the somewhat controversial use of terms such as Celtic Shamanism and Norse Shamanism, applying a cultural adjective to the shamanic practice.
Practitioners of these other cultural traditions sometimes resent the label of shamanism. The word shaman, being from Siberia, was never used by the ancestors of the Celts, Norse, or any other Europeans. A Celtic practitioner once asked me why we don’t say Siberian Druidism or Asian Druidism, and in a way he had a point. Through this anthropological choice, shamanism became a default term recognizable to all.
This practice of using the word shaman as a generic label has led to a bit of confusion and some difficult feelings. Those involved in the Native tribes feel that culturally it is their word and resent it being used as a generic label or default term. Modern pagans, sharing a similar spiritual history with tribal communities, should be sensitive to these feelings and make an effort to create bridges of understanding. As you study these techniques, it is important to remember that although there are great similarities between the healing practices of many cultures, there are also great differences in thought, philosophy, and interpretation. Such differences must be respected.
When I first started on my shamanic path, I attended a lecture in the Boston area by a scholarly and experienced Celtic practitioner of the Underworld traditions, visiting from the United Kingdom. He insisted, and made quite a convincing case, that there is no such thing as Celtic shamanism. In his opinion, people who use the term are careless, sloppy scholars and need to be better educated. The very next week, I attended another lecture by a Harvard scholar and practicing Celtic shaman who outlined the reasons why someone would call her practice shamanism. She, too, was quite convincing.
I realized then that if the professional experts can’t agree, then perhaps there is no one right answer. I use the term shamanism myself because it’s practical when teaching and I truly feel called to the word. I like its meaning, history, and associations. The practice of core shamanism, and how it relates to the traditions of witchcraft, is a primary focus of my own work.
When I trace back the history of witchcraft and paganism, I find my oldest spiritual ancestors in the Stone Age. During the Stone Age, we have evidence of Goddess-reverent cultures. In these seemingly primitive cultures, there is evidence of ritual and ceremony. We had a people directly dependent upon nature for survival. They learned to partner with the environment around them to prosper. They honored the earth as Mother Goddess, and perhaps the grain, sun, or animals as Father God. They believed in the innate magick, divinity, and spirit in all things. They worked with these spirits to create change, ranging from a successful hunt to rainstorms.
In these tribes were people who acted as spiritual guides. They had a deeper sense of connection with the spirit world and psychic ability. They could partner with the spirits and gods to receive information from the unseen lands that would help the tribe. Most likely many of these wise ones were women, since in the hunter-gatherer societies, the females were protected because of their ability to bring life into the tribe, while one man could father many children. The older men and the injured hunters with spiritual ability would join these women, offering their gifts and guidance to the tribes. This started the archetypal image of the female witch, the wise old wizard, and the wounded healer. They were the first shamans.
As these lands developed into an agrarian society, many of these wise ones gathered to form the first temples and became the first priestesses and priests of society.
They used the tools of the new society, such as writing and formal ritual items, in their crafts. Eventually these mystics created the high arts of ceremonial magick and worship. We find these priestesses and priests influencing the rulers of the Mediterranean, Middle East, and Egypt as those cultures grew into their classical empires.
Some wise ones chose to stay on the fringes of society, without formal temples. They continued on their primal paths to power. They did not have formal schools of training, but kept their teaching personal and individual. They kept the ways of the herbs and medicines. They were in closer contact to untouched nature, the elements and the animals, and continued their relationship with all to better serve those in need. The newly evolving urbanites were more likely to go to the formal temples, while the rural peasants sought help from the simple wise woman or man.
Thus the traditions remained, as empires grew and crumbled. Migrations of many tribes from the East, those of the Celts and Teutons, stretched out across Europe, absorbing the culture, myths, and magick of the indigenous people of Europe, those who had erected the mounds, henges, and standing stones. When you go back to the Stone Age root of all these spiritual and magickal traditions, all evidence points to the core shamanic techniques as a common origin from which the others sprang. What we would now call the forms of European shamanism survived and flourished in many lands, changing with the times. From the Stone Age medicine woman to the image of the medieval witch, the role was one of healing, herbcraft, and midwifery, acting as a bridge between the worlds.
It wasn’t until the rise of Christianity that Europe’s magickal and shamanic traditions came under heavy fire. Intimately linked with what we now consider the pagan religions of old, practitioners of the magickal arts, those who partnered with the spiritual forces of worlds seen and unseen, became targets of fear and persecution. The old gods were called demons, and those who honored them became agents of evil in the minds of Church elders. We did have shamans in the form of witches, and we, as a culture, wiped most of them out and sent the rest underground. As logic, science, and technology replaced the old forms of mysticism, witches were cast into the land of fairy tales and make-believe, no longer taken seriously.
Those of European descent lost a rich shamanic history and tradition due to the persecutions of the Burning Times. Because of the propaganda that was spread, we don’t even recognize the remnants of our heritage, though you can catch distorted glimpses of it in the witch-hunt trial transcripts. Though some magickal practices were preserved as folk wisdom and family secrets, others were resurrected through mythology and written lore.
As modern witches seek to reintroduce elements of shamanism into witchcraft, we look not only to the traditions in the New World, but also to the practices of surviving traditions of European shamanism. Some are tidbits of folk wisdom from the families of seers brought to light by contemporary scholars. Others are reconstructions of this wisdom based on the old mythologies and intuitive experimentation. Folk magick and re-constructionist traditions are the surviving branches of our older forms of European magick.
Although these cultures, both of the Old World and the New World, influence modern Wicca today, few Wiccans see their magickal practices as shamanic in origin. Hopefully, with more time and information, shamanic roots will be incorporated more fully into the practice of witchcraft.
African spiritual traditions are diverse in tribe, language, and location, but have many shamanic techniques in common. Most believe that one distant creative force charged a pantheon of lesser beings to regulate creation. The tribal medicine men function as intermediaries between the people and these spirits, as well as the ancestors. They are respected as priests and ministers. Rituals use music, drumming, and dance. Westerners see the influences of African spiritual traditions in the religions of Voodoo, Santeria, Condomblé, and Ifa.
The Asian spiritual traditions have a strong shamanic foundation, with its influence found in the nature-based spiritual practices of China, Tibet, Japan, and Korea. Technically, according to the etymology of the word, shamanism most appropriately refers to the practices of those spirit workers in Central Asia and Siberia.
Although not directly linked to modern traditions of witchcraft, the modern seeker’s search for spirituality that led to the exploration of Native American traditions has also led the seeker to explore the traditions of the Australian aboriginals. As diverse as the tribes of the Americas and Africa, the Australian aboriginals share many shamanistic elements. Best known among them is the belief in the Dreamtime and the reverence of animal spirits.
Though the true oral traditions of the Druids may have been lost, the mysteries of the Celts have been preserved through the myths and poetry of Celtic tradition. Even though many have been Christianized from their original pagan foundation, you can clearly see the roots of a culture well versed in the spirit world when you read the tales of Ireland regarding the Tuatha de Danaan, the Welsh Mabinogi myth cycle, the classic transformation of Taliesin the Bard, and the prophecies of Merlin. The pagan Celts were a culture that saw the spirit worlds side by side with the material world, and one step could easily take you through the gates of the human world into the realm of the spirits and gods. Proponents of the old faiths claim that Celtic shamanism has survived under the veil of Christianity in folk customs honoring the faery folk, second sight, spiritual healing and the Underworld tradition. Looking to the surviving folklore of the British Isles, I’m inclined to agree.
Central and South American
The ancient empires of the Incans, Mayans, Aztecs, and Toltecs had rich shamanic cultures that survive today in Central and South America with modern practitioners.
Although each of these cultures is very different, they all share striking similarities. Mystical healers and those who speak with the spirits are a part of life in these lands. Many consider themselves the guardians of the sacred past. Their magnificent buildings and potentially bloody rituals do not seem like shamanism to the casual observer, yet like the Egyptians and Greeks, their civilization and religion grew out of the guiding mysteries of shamanic technique. Use of sacred calendars, herbal lore, sacred sites, animal helpers, and spirit work can be found in these surviving traditions despite the encroachment of new religions and technology. In fact, like many African traditions, some have absorbed Christian principles as a way of survival. I’ve felt a resonance in my own soul when comparing the Aztec and Mayan traditions to my own practice of European-based witchcraft.
With its sophisticated culture and architecture, ancient Egyptian civilization is another culture that doesn’t spring to mind as being shamanic, yet shamans have one eye focused on the next world, the ancestors and the afterlife. Egyptian magick was focused on the mysteries of death and the afterlife as well as magick for daily life. One of the most prominent myths of this land is the death and resurrection of the god Osiris. Shamanic initiation journeys all over the world are much like the story of Osiris. In the spirit world, the shaman is confronted with death, horribly mutilated or torn into pieces. The power of magick, sometimes embodied as a goddess, resurrects the shaman, yet leaves him changed somehow, adding or subtracting some element. This rebirth grants the shaman new powers. Osiris was resurrected by his sister-wife, the goddess Isis, yet was missing his phallus, thereby becoming the lord of the dead. He could no longer create life, but gained a new kingdom. Perhaps Osiris was a shamanic god, and the Egyptian dynasties evolved from a more shamanic, tribal culture. The story of Isis and Osiris became the basis of Egyptian mystery schools.
The Finnish people also have a full shamanic tradition that is fairly unknown in the modern world. Historically, the Finns were well-known for being a nation of formidable wizards, holding great power and the ability to change the winds and weather with their songs. They are a nomadic people, coming out of Asia, who eventually settled in their current homeland. Linguistically and magickally they have more in common with the ancient traditions of Siberia, Mongolia, and Korea than their European counterparts. Some believe that the Finns may have predated the Celts in the British Isles, influencing Celtic myth and magick. Their shamanic practices continued when the Finns settled in North America, and they were sometimes considered witches in the New World. The word tietäjä, referring to a shaman or wizard, is used in Finnish translations of the Bible to refer to the wise men or magi. Their magick works primarily through the magician’s relationship with the spirits of nature and the gods, through trance, drumming, words of power, song, and purification rituals of the sauna. Many of the traditional myths, folklore, and magickal charms were eventually recorded in the Kalevala, a collection of epic folk poems from the oral traditions of Finland and Karelia, first compiled in 1835. It is known as the Finnish National Epic.
The magickal lore and philosophy of Hawaii is called Huna, meaning “hidden knowledge.” Practitioners of Huna are called kahunas, acting as priests, ministers, and sorcerers to their people. Though this tradition was almost wiped out due to the Christianization of the Hawaiian islands, it has been preserved and its lore translated for the modern world. Huna contains a quite detailed form of spiritual psychology and healing. Kahunas have parallels in other Pacific lands, such as the tahuna of Tahiti and the tohunga of New Zealand.
One of the most interesting legacies of European shamanism comes from an area in Northern Italy known as Friuli, where Italian, Etruscan, Germanic, and Slavic traditions mingled. Although the pagan spiritual practices of Tuscany honored the ancestors and were somewhat shamanic in nature, in Friuli there existed a tradition known as the Benandanti, who practiced an unusual blend of shamanic magick. The Benandanti were an agricultural fertility cult, pagan in origin and possibly related to the Cults of Diana or the myths of the Wild Hunt. Later, Christian beliefs were mingled with their own. When the witch trials of the Burning Times caught up with them, the Benandanti honestly felt they were good Christians, doing Christ’s and the Lord’s will.
The members of the Benandanti, or “good walkers,” were marked at birth by a caul that was preserved as a magickal charm worn around their neck. On the Ember Days, the days just before the equinoxes and solstices, they would be called to service.
Some say they were called by drums or summoned by angels. Unlike many magickal orders, the Benandanti were called to gather together only in spirit, going into a deep slumberlike trance and projecting their spirits to a common meeting ground, the Valley of Josaphat in the center of the world. They would transform, or shapeshift, into animals such as mice, rabbits, cats, and butterflies. There in the valley, as good soldiers, they would fight the forces of malignancy, decay, and corruption, all the things that symbolized a poor harvest or harsh weather.
These forces were embodied as “witches and warlocks” by the later Christian Benandanti. Buying into the Christian propaganda, the witches, or “bad walkers,” were different from the Benandanti because they caused illness and harmed children, while the Benandanti protected the harvest, village, and children from the witches. They would fight the “bad walkers” with stalks of fennel, known for its healing powers. If they were successful, the year would be good. If they were defeated, the land would be plagued with problems. They returned to their bodies by the dawn and returned to otherwise normal lives.
To the witch inquisitors, this all sounded too much like a witch’s sabbat, though the Benandanti fiercely denied it. The Church did not strongly persecute the Benandanti. To the modern eye, the rites of the Benandanti are very shamanic―drums, festival days, traveling in spirit, acting as sacred warriors of the village, shapechanging, and using the spiritual powers of plants to battle and heal. For more on the little-known Benandanti, look to Carlo Ginzburg’s classic work The Night Battles.
To some, the traditions of Greece and Rome are the first that come to mind upon mention of the word paganism or witchcraft. Most people are familiar with the classical gods of Olympus, and with the emphasis on culture, society, and philosophy, most people don’t tend to think of the Greco-Roman influence as particularly shamanic until you revisit the myths. When you understand that shamanism is not necessarily a tribal native religion, but a practice of walking between worlds, you can’t help but see the parallels of the shaman in classic mythology.
Many Greco-Roman deities have shamanic and magickal characteristics, particularly Hermes, the messenger god. The story of Persephone’s transformation from the maiden Kore while in the Underworld of Hades is much like the shamanic initiation of the witch. In fact, some modern witchcraft traditions reenact the descent of this goddess during initiation rituals and seasonal celebrations. We now believe the initiatory rituals of the Eleusinian Mystery Schools are based on stories of Demeter, Kore, and Hades. The Mystery Schools of Pythagoras, Orpheus, Dionysus, Eleusis, and the imported Persian cults of Mithras could all be considered formalized shamanic rites. The early Greek mystics were certainly influenced by the more primal religions of the northern territories of Thrace and Scythia, known as the land of witches.
Native North American
When discussing shamanism, most people who are unaware of the Siberian origins of the word automatically assume that you’re talking about the medicine people of the Native American tribes. Although viewed as a single culture by many, each tribe has its own mythology, rituals, songs, and traditions. As there has been a revival of such religious practices among Native people, some tribes have been willing to open their doors to seekers, usually white men and women, who want to participate and practice the medicine ways. Many people in the modern pagan and New Age movements spend a lifetime searching for their own practices and experiences, and participate in either Native rituals or anglicized forms of Native rituals. They then bring these experiences to their own traditions of witchcraft. Since European witchcraft has lost most of its specific shamanic rituals, modern witches draw upon Native American teachings for inspiration. I know many witches who participate in traditional forms of vision quests, sweat lodges, and tribal dancing, often studying with a Native American teacher.
Like the Celts, when you look to the myths of the Norse, you will find a rich, complex system of shamanic thought. Their prose, the epics of the Eddas, encode this wisdom much like the Celtic texts. In some ways, Norse mythology outlines the most complete and complex shamanic cosmology of Western Europe, consisting of nine worlds in the three regions of upper, lower, and middle levels. In each world dwell spirits, gods, and creatures that find parallels in other cultures across the globe.
Though many think of Norse magick as strictly the arena of rune magick and divination, the Norse have a long history of shamanic practice and seership, using song, poetry, and shivering and shaking to induce trance. Norse shamanic practices are sometimes referred to as Seidr. Seidr is associated with the goddess Freya and her priestesses. The cults of the rune master god Odin, or Wotan, are also considered shamanic in nature. Odin used the shamanic techniques of self-sacrifice, piercing his side with a spear, and hanging from the World Tree to learn the mystery of the runes. Initiates of these mysteries possibly reenacted the sacrifices of Odin to gain inspiration, vision, and magickal power.
The Siberian traditions of shamanism are possibly some of the oldest forms of shamanism surviving today. Outlawed under Soviet rule, Siberian shamans kept their knowledge and traditions in secret, and are now free to practice again. The origins of the word shaman come from Siberia, and many people theorize that the spread of tribal culture and shamanism to the Americas began with these cultures as groups migrated to other climates. After studying traditional teachings from these lands and speaking with those who have studied with the shamans of Siberia, I find many similarities with all the great traditions, making me wonder if this was one of the first fonts of magickal knowledge. Siberian shamanism weaves together information I have found in North and South American, European, and Far Eastern traditions. I didn’t expect to feel so “at home” with Siberian mythology and cosmology. I thought it would be more alien to my Western witchcraft mind, yet I found many correspondences. Like other traditions, those of Siberia emphasize that shamanism is a calling, a vocation, and that one is literally called by the spirits to service.
The Slavic traditions of magick and shamanism found in Eastern Europe influenced the cults of the Benandanti in Northern Italy and continued independently on their own for quite some time. Many countries in Eastern Europe were the last to convert fully to Christianity. Knowledge of a diverse pantheon of spirits and deities has survived into modern times. Slavic traditions were very dualistic and had a strong focus on nature spirits and ancestor reverence. Like many cultures, Slavic tribes had a ritual totem animal. The Slavs also believed in a great World Tree with three divisions. A personal tree was seen as a sort of spiritual “telephone” to connect with the ancestors and other worlds. These traditions have a wheel of yearly celebrations somewhat similar to the modern pagan Wheel of the Year. Their religious orders at all levels are open to both men and women.
To find shamanism in the modern craft, you need only to look at the era of Gerald Gardner, cited as the founder of Wicca, to find his contemporary, Robert Cochrane, who practiced a more shamanic form of witchcraft. When you look at traditional Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, which stress ceremonial-magick techniques such as casting the circle and calling the quarters, creating group consciousness in a coven, the gender polarity of the Great Rite, and magickal correspondences, the shamanic elements of witchcraft are not apparent. Ceremony and spellcraft are emphasized. But when you look beyond the traditional sources to the remnants of family traditions, you find witchcraft and shamanism intertwined. Cochrane claimed to be a hereditary witch, practicing a form of magick and ritual that was different from Gardner’s. Cochrane’s craft consisted mainly of silent ritual and meditative journey. These practices were more spontaneous and not performed from a Book of Shadows. From our modern point of view, Cochrane’s work seems more shamanic.
Doreen Valiente, Gardner’s highly influential high priestess, left Gardner’s group. She later contacted Cochrane and began practicing witchcraft with him. Cochrane detested the publicness of Gardner and might have coined the term “Gardnerian” as a derogatory word against the tradition. Valiente claimed that Cochrane’s tradition was more shamanic than the formal magickal style of Gardner, though Cochrane would probably not have appreciated the shamanic comparison in his life, since to him it would denote something simplistic or primitive and not necessarily the spiritual art he saw as his craft. His teachings helped the influential Valiente move away from the internal political strife that was threatening modern Wicca and into a more personal practice, though she eventually left his coven, the Clan of Tubal Cain, due to his later authoritarian ways and verbal attacks on Gardnerians.
Cochrane and his clan preferred to work outdoors, in three basic settings. The first was on the hilltop, and such works included images of the four-winded castle, relating to mysteries of the Goddess. The second was in a forest glade, working with the energies of the Green and Horned God in a wilder form of nature magick. Last were the mysteries of the cave and cauldron, dedicated to the triple goddess and the power of destiny. The ritual tools used were slightly different than what is now common in modern witchcraft, including an emphasis on the stang, or a forked staff. Altars were built around the stang itself. Other prominent tools included the cauldron, cup, knife, cord, and stone. Cochrane taught various types of spiritual vision, and his theology included specific information on the soul. The group structure consisted of a “clan.” Though the rituals of this tradition may not be as formalized as those of other traditions, the symbolism does indicate a sophisticated form of magickal practice and theory.
Many believe Robert Cochrane was one of the true hereditary witches with a formal tradition and not just smatterings of folk magick. He hinted as much in his private, personal letters. His practices and ideas varied greatly enough from the better-known forms of Wicca to demonstrate another living branch of the craft different from Gardner or Alex Sanders. Alexandrian Wicca, founded by Alex Sanders, has many parallels to Gardnerian Wicca, differentiating both from Cochrane’s teachings.
Unfortunately, as with many of our modern founders of Wicca, such as Gardner and Sanders, controversy surrounded Cochrane, putting his teachings into doubt. He first claimed to be taught by his maternal great uncle, and then later by his mother. Some skeptics claim he was initiated as a Gardnerian witch and later refuted the teachings, created his own tradition, and claimed a hereditary practice like many witches looking for authenticity in a greatly reconstructed tradition. Though Cochrane was very charismatic, he practiced a form of verbal power play, which he called “grey magic,” to baffle those he met, to prevent them from forming a clear opinion of him. This practice wasn’t harmful, but simply confusing and meant to keep people off balance. Some thought Cochrane taught through puzzle and riddle, like an Asian scholar giving his students a paradoxical parable to contemplate and decipher. Perhaps this grey magick is what confused people.
Cochrane’s best-known controversy involved a plate stamped with “1734” on it. He gave it great mystical significance, claiming the plate had been passed down in his family for over a hundred years. Doreen Valiente later made it publicly known that she had purchased the copper plate for Cochrane to use to carry sabbat cakes at ritual. It is difficult to tell what was a whimsical joke and what was an outright lie for greater attention. Though much of Cochrane’s material is historically plausible, because of such fabrications, much of his work is suspect.
Cochrane died in 1966 from an overdose of belladonna leaves. During a visit with friend and former covenmate Evan Jones, Cochrane said his fate was in “the lap of the Goddess.” That night he was found in his garden by his neighbor. He was taken to the hospital and died three days later from the poison. Much speculation surrounds his death. It is usually thought of as a suicide or an accidental death in a visionary ritual gone awry. Some witches think he was the willing sacrifice of a summer solstice ritual, as an embodiment of the sacrificed God. Cochrane’s work continued onward after his death. His traditions were expanded and made their way to the United States as one of the lesser-known traditions of witchcraft, but still influencing the neoshamanic and witchcraft revival.
While in the Americas during the early 1960s, Carlos Castaneda was beginning his adventure from anthropology student to practitioner of the indigenous shamanism of Mexico. He reportedly met an old Yaqui Indian named Juan Matis who took him on as an apprentice. Juan Matis was called a sorcerer, and in this Toltec tradition, sorcerer was equated with our concept of the shaman. Castaneda wrote many books on his experiences, though the veracity of his works has come into question. He published The Teachings of Don Juan in 1968. Some believe Juan Matis to be a fictional character and literary vehicle to propel Castaneda’s own beliefs. Castaneda’s work was one of the first to bring the concepts of ordinary and nonordinary states of reality to the popular Western consciousness. Though his books did not emphasize the healing aspects of shamanism as much as the warrior aspects, they did serve to introduce the paradigms of shamanism and magick as a noble practice, rather than a fearful or demonic art, to the modern reader. It sparked the imagination of regular people seeking a new spiritual practice of experience to replace the old ones of pure faith and dogma.
Also in the early 1960s, anthropologist Michael Harner began a study of the tribes in South America and experienced a shamanic initiation, inspiring his research into the healing spiritual practices of those tribes and how those in the modern world can be a part of shamanic healing. From his life-changing experience he created the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Through the foundation and his book The Way of the Shaman, he introduced both the concepts and the practice of core shamanic techniques to many in the Western world, paralleling the work of Castaneda, yet very different in approach because the focus was on healing. He made the practice of shamanism accessible and available to people of many different faiths and traditions, including those involved in modern paganism.
Selena Fox, high priestess of Circle Sanctuary near Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin, began a tradition generally known as Wiccan Shamanism. The practice blends more traditional elements of Wicca, such as the magick circle and the Wheel of the Year, with elements of African and Native American tribal groups, including drumming, rattling, and ecstatic dance. Healing, spirit work, and ancestor reverence are primary focuses, and initiation experiences are conducted through solitary vigil. Though Wiccan Shamanism is traditionally associated with Fox, other groups have fused shamanic practices to Wicca, and have created common terms such as shamanic Wicca or shamanic witchcraft for their practice, with no direct ties to Fox.
Victor Anderson is a cofounder of the Feri (sometimes spelled Faery) tradition of witchcraft. While in Oregon, at age nine, Anderson was reportedly initiated into a tradition of witchcraft by a group who called themselves faeries. During the ceremony, an old naked woman sat in the center of the circle. She was surrounded by brass bowls filled with herbs. Anderson removed his clothes and was sexually initiated by her. Although he was nearly blind due to a medical condition, he experienced a vision of the old woman becoming the Goddess, and then they were joined by a vision of the Horned God, crowned in blue flame. The god was powerful yet effeminate, with an erect penis, and spoke to him. Once the communication with these deities was complete, the vision disappeared, and he returned to the circle with the old woman. She taught him about the herbs around her, and washed him in butter, oil, and salt. Through this ritual, he had a very shamanic experience.
Anderson later worked in a coven and eventually married a woman named Cora who practiced with him. A family friend, who was renamed Gwydion Pendderwen, was initiated by the Andersons, and with inspiration from an Alexandrian Book of Shadows, they created the formal rituals of the Faery Tradition, later renamed Feri. As the Feri tradition grew and evolved, aspects of Hawaiian and African spirituality were incorporated. Much of the Feri tradition remains a mystery to the public as little has been published on the subject. Since then, many traditions of witchcraft have evolved claiming kinship or partnership with the various spirits referred to as faeries. Names such as faery Wicca and faery witchcraft are now common, but not directly related to the Andersons’ tradition.
Starhawk, author of the highly influential book The Spiral Dance (1979), was initiated into the Feri tradition by Anderson, and it greatly impacted her own work and path. She is a founder of the Reclaiming, a feminist collective group based in the San Francisco area, and is also a political activist. In the revised tenth-anniversary edition of The Spiral Dance, Starhawk compared the modern pagan movement to more shamanic cultures. She considers witchcraft fundamentally a shamanic religion because of the emphasis on healing, otherworldly contact, and raising energy.
The husband and wife team of John and Caitlín Matthews, based in the United Kingdom, continue to do an amazing service of bringing both the history and practice of the Celtic traditions to the public. Both have written numerous books on the subject. Most notably, John authored The Celtic Shaman, and Caitlín authored Singing the Soul Back Home. Through both practical exercises and a detailed study of Celtic myth and texts, the two authors bring the practices of the Celts to life.
Much like John and Caitlín Matthews, author and teacher R. J. Stewart brings the Celtic faery and Underworld traditions to the modern pagan world. With a detailed foundation in both the Western Mysteries and Celtic lore, his works, such as Earth Light and Power Within the Land, teach practitioners to make real, living contact with the spirits of the Underworld.
Tom Cowan has added to the traditional lore of both witchcraft and shamanism. He coauthored Power of the Witch and Love Magic with Laurie Cabot and wrote Fire in the Head, a book of Celtic shamanism.
Author Kenneth Johnson has done remarkable work comparing various traditions of shamanism with paganism and witchcraft. His book Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey (formerly North Star Road) was one of the first works presented to mainstream pagan practitioners that overtly demonstrates the similarities between witchcraft and shamanism through a survey of cultures as diverse as the Norse and the Mayan. He is
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Once again, Christopher Penczak hits the nail on the head. He starts off with an in-depth cultural history of shamanism, more than I was ever aware of. After that, he's off and running. Sacred space, ethics, cosmology, tools, power animals, the Underworld, the Angelic world, countless journeying...I can go on and on. Just about everything, almost every concept, is illustrated with diagrams and/or tables.
This is more information than I have ever seen before altogether in one book about shamanism. Although I have studied this practice myself and have some wonderful teachers, this book will be invaluable to me. As always, Mr. Penczak brings my spirit to that place of wonder, excitement, and awe in the natural world. I am now impatiently awaiting his fouth book in the Temple series. Whatever it is, I am so there. Thanks, Christopher.
I like Christopher's focus on healing, as I am in the process of retrieving soul pieces myself. It is obvious that this man has dedicated his life to helping and healing others. After reading this, I just had to run out and get a copy of Spirit Allies, which I'm enjoying just as much.
Basically, this author is fantastic. You've GOT to read him.
All the Temple books are long, 400+ pages, and packed with information. It took me a long time to get through this one, but I'm glad I finished it. I've decided I don't really care for Penczak's writing - he tends to be verbose and repetitious, but not excessively so - but I do like his books.
This book describes the first lessons of a potential shaman. There are chapters on animal spirits, plant medicine (he even explains the poisonous ones), healing, and traveling in the three spheres, the upper, middle and lower worlds. The ultimate exercize at the end of the book is called "distilling the shadow," where you really get in touch with yourself. I haven't done any of the exercizes myself yet, in fact I am just starting the first book's exercizes, because I like to read it first to get an idea of what's in store. In fact, I recommend that, because even Penczak says the shamanic path is not for everyone. Even if you don't follow the lessons, this is still a good book full of information.
Being initiated into shamanism is no easy task. It takes a lot of hard work and you really have to be willing to put the time and effort into it. He said the distilling the shadow experience can make you not your usual self for weeks.
I highly recommend this book and the series. They are good guides for solitary practitioners.