©2013 by Joseph Mancini, Jr., Ph.D., CCHt, PL.t., L.B.L.t., C.R.t., M.S.W.
& Shana Robinson, B.A., co-author of Shamanism and the Spirit Mate
Shana’s website and email, Shaman Tracks
In Episode #5, Past-life Regression and Shamanic Journeying, of my radio show, “Explorations in Consciousness with Dr. Joe”, my guests, Dana & Shana Robinson, shamanic practitioners and teachers, discussed with me a unique workshop we did combining these spiritual journeying modalities. We did not get a chance to directly compare the modalities, though listeners may have grasped on their own many of the similarities and dissimilarities between these methods of spiritual journeying. But we want to share with you more directly what we came up with. May your journeys in Spirit be expansive and useful to this incarnation!
When looked at closely, Shamanism, especially Core Shamanism as formulated by Michael Harner, and Past-Life Regression (PLR) are more similar than most individuals at first would imagine. The differences are most often a matter of intention and emphasis. What we present here is not meant to be complete, but rather to be suggestive and stimulating of further expansion of awareness on the topic.
NOTE: While different practitioners have somewhat different ways to facilitate PLR, especially in the way they do inductions, endings and manage change in the past life, what is presented below is from the perspective of what could be called a Core or Basic form of PLR that is germane to most or even all forms.
NOTE: A traditional shaman is called that by others once they have experienced the results of a shaman’s healing practice or divination. Shamanic practitioners are those modern individuals who can and do journey, but are not per se shamans. The shaman and shamanic practitioner engage the spirits in many ways. The focus of this comparison is limited to spirit travel – the journey, and does not include a discussion of other practices, such as depossession and extraction.
HOW THE MODALITIES ARE ALIKE:
- Both modalities use a sonic driver:
In PLR, the voice of the facilitator guides the journeyer. As Milton Erickson once said, “My voice goes with you.” The voice provides an anchor to the current reality while simultaneously leading the journeyer into another. The facilitator modulates his/her voice to relax and sometimes calm the journeyer and also to signal that it is time to come back to ordinary reality.
In Shamanism and Core Shamanism the shaman and shamanic practitioner are typically accompanied by a drumbeat and/or the shaking of a rattle, although many other modes of percussive sound have been used from winnowing fans to rice pounding. Changes in tempo and rhythm are employed to demarcate the various stages of the journey.
- Both modalities employ an Altered State of Consciousness:
In PLR, it is imperative that the journeyer move beyond the limits of his/her conscious mind, so that the subconscious can be more easily accessed, programmed and, in deeper states, queried for information. In PLR, relaxation and concentration on the breath are used most often to enter the trance state, though focusing on strong emotion, repeated phrases, and body sensations can also become ways to enter a trance.
In Shamanism and Core Shamanism, the shaman and shamanic practitioner decisively enter an altered state of consciousness to go into non-ordinary reality, using the sound of rattles and/or drums.
- Both modalities include the presence/possibility of guides:
In PLR, the journeyer has the option of taking a guide along with him or her; this may be in the form of an animal spirit (often that of a pet who has passed over), a spirit once human (often that of a beloved relative who has passed over), or an angel or guide. In some forms of PLR, the journeyer may meet an archetypal figure, like an Inner Mate, Great Father, Great Mother, Protector, etc., along with historical figures like Mother Mary, Jesus, Buddha. These archetypal figures can provide information and also help in changing the past life.
In Shamanism and Core Shamanism the shaman and shamanic practitioner often have power animals, guardian spirits and teachers to help him or her. They will stay with him/him for varying lengths of time over the course of a lifetime, providing him/her with their differing “medicines” or powers.
- Both modalities bridge and travel between realities:
In PLR, the journeyer, most often with the help of a facilitator, travels to and enters into “the other world.” The journeyer travels to lives that seem to be from other times (though all past lives are simultaneous with each other and the present incarnation). Sometimes, the journeyer goes back to lives spent on other planets or in other systems of reality.
In Shamanism, the journeyer moves from material, ordinary reality into non-material, non-ordinary, reality.
- Both modalities involve shape-shifting, merging:
In PLR, the present individual often merges with (sees through the eyes of) his/her past-life personality, experiencing first-hand what that personality experiences from moment to moment. In some cases, after connecting with a talent or positive trait of the past-life personality, the journeyer can “bring back” that ability into the current lifetime and use it here.
In Shamanism and Core Shamanism, the shaman and shamanic practitioner may shape-shift into their power animals and sometimes into their Teachers while on a journey. Doing so helps the shaman and shamanic practitioner take on and use the abilities of those spirits with whom they merge.
- Both modalities use some kind of portal as part of the protocol:
In PLR, the journeyer often goes through a portal, such as a door or gate, to access the other world; but these are not necessarily precise locations in the other world, for the facilitator and even the journeyer can suddenly discover or even create a portal. (The idea is that every place or point is a gateway to every other place.) The portal may be different each time the journeyer enters the other world. Even when such a portal is not used, there is very often some marking of a transition, of a crossing over, as when a journeyer floats in a boat traversing the space between banks or moves down a river past different landscapes.
In Shamanism and Core Shamanism, the shaman and shamanic practitioner must know his or her destination. He or she begins with an established ordinary reality starting point. Then, directional movement, to the accompaniment of a sonic driver, is used as the prelude to passage through a transition zone. When the shaman initiates a downward movement, it is through the starting point of a hole that leads to the transitional tunnel that ultimately passes into the Lower World. An upward movement from the starting point of a “high place” leads to an encounter with the transitional membrane, which, once breeched, is the portal to the Upper World. These are signposts or markers that indicate a precise location for the shamanic journeyer. Using the same starting point to pass through the tunnel or the membrane leads to the same “drop off” place in the other world, and allows the journeyer to learn the geography of the other worlds.
- Both modalities allow the journeyers to encounter independent spirits.
In PLR, the journeyer may meet some projections of his/her subconscious, but most of the entities he/she encounters are also real, and independent in that they have lived their own separate lives on the Earth. In some cases, enough information about the past-life personality is gleaned for the journeyer to find evidence in historical records of the prior existence of these personalities (especially true of children’s past lives as reported by Dr. Ian Stevenson and Carol Bowman, CHT). While it is said that the current person has lived before as these personalities because all share the same soul; nevertheless, it is also true, paradoxically, that each is also distinctive from the others and on its own journey.
In Shamanism and Core Shamanism, the spirits the shaman encounters are real, independent spirits, and are not figments of his/her imagination or projections from his/her subconscious. They occupy a separate, non-ordinary reality.
- Both modalities focus much on bringing back “knowledge” to enhance the current lifetime.
In PLR, the journeyer goes to a past life to acquire knowledge about what beliefs, practices, talents and physical characteristics the journeyer has accepted, for various reasons, to carry over into the current life.
In Shamanism and Core Shamanism, the shaman and shamanic practitioner work with power; power is energy, intelligence, love and ethics. The shaman stands in the center moderating power relationships with Power Animals, Teachers, Spirits of Nature (mineral, plant, non-human, etc.), Spirit Mates and Ancestors. All of these relationships can be the ground for healing and provide wisdom for those in the material world.
- In both modalities, it is important for the witness or facilitator to tend to and help elicit the journeyer’s full experience, but the witness or facilitator must not push his or her own interpretation on that experience.
It is important that the facilitator of the PLR journeyer not push her or her own agenda/interpretation either while the journeyer is in trance or when the debrief occurs. The job of the facilitator is to help the journey unfold through suggestions that are consistent with the journeyer’s needs; if the journeyer does not take a suggestion, the facilitator must simply drop it. During the debrief, the facilitator must ask many questions to elicit the meaning of the experience for the journeyer; only after the journeyer has explored all of his own analysis does the facilitator offer other ways to look at the journeyer’s experience. But, indeed, the journeyer has the final say about the interpretation of his own experience.
For the shaman/shamanic practitioner, the person who is engaged with the spirits, either on a journey or in divination, experiences the spirits communicating through the language of his/her personal metaphor. It is an individual revelatory process. Therefore it is entirely up to the journeyer to come to an understanding of a divination or journey since he/she is the recipient of the information. A facilitator may ask questions to help clarify, but may not offer interpretations since the language was in the vocabulary of the journeyer, not the facilitator.
- In both modalities, the journeyer may be aware simultaneously of the material and the other world (i.e., attention to surroundings).
The PLR journeyer is likely to be aware of both worlds at the same time, though the material world will most of the time feel far away or even uninteresting. For instance, a PLR journeyer may be lying in an office chair in trance while hearing lawn mowers bellowing outside; yet, the journeyer can stay in trance and not be bothered by the harsh sounds. The PLR journey may also need to scratch the itch felt on his/her body. And, when the journeyer is in one-to-one relationship with the facilitator, the journey is always aware of the voice of the facilitator. This kind of divided consciousness points to the fact that what we experience as our greater identity shows up in many dimensions (beyond merely two) at the same time.
For the shaman and shamanic practitioner, it is possible to have a foot in each world, ordinary reality and non-ordinary reality. A dramatic example is from the Northwest Coast where various traditional groups of specialized shamans form “spirit boats” to travel to retrieve guardian spirits for patients. During these healing ceremonies, the shamans are aware of both ordinary and non-ordinary reality as they pole their boats to the other world, effectively traveling simultaneously in two realities, acting out the journey. At a point in a given spirit boat ceremony, certain shamans have to be very connected to the material world as young boys shoot burning bits of cedar into the air which the shamans must dodge to avoid injury in both realities – an injury that could imperil the success of their mission.
At the other end of the continuum, most core shamanic practitioners lie quietly and have little interaction with the material world beyond a vague awareness of a need to scratch or shift position. Attention can shift between the two realities as exemplified by a hypothetical journeyer having the awareness of a stone under his/her back while engaged in conversation with a Power Animal or Teacher.
- Both modalities may help create physical, mental, emotional and physical healing, sometime instantaneously.
HOW THE MODALITIES TEND TO DIFFER:
- Use of Movement and Sound:
In Shamanism and Core Shamanism, during the journey, the shaman and shamanic practitioner may sing, dance or act out the journey.
In contrast, during the journey, PLR journeyers usually are not physically moving but, instead, are lying down or sitting motionless (though some movement may play out in the person’s body as he/she experiences what is going on for the past-life self). While PLR journeyers listen to the sound of the facilitator’s voice, the only sound they usually make is to vocalize what is happening to them in the past-life and to express any emotion that comes up for the past-life persona and/or for the journeyer himself or herself..
- Landscape of the other world(s):
When shamans and shamanic practitioners visit the other worlds, there are three main, structured landscapes: the lower world (where many of the power animals reside), the middle world (which is this world AND its non-ordinary aspect), and the upper world (which is where many of the wisdom teachers reside). Beyond these fairly structured cosmic zones, core practitioners (especially Michael Harner) have encountered Interworlds: one between the Upper and Middle World and one between the Lower and Middle World.
In contrast, the inner world for PLR journeyers is not so clearly differentiated, though there is often a strong sense of the middle world in other times and places and also a sense of a realm called the Interlife where the spirit goes after death in a past life. This Interlife is where soul groups, Elders and other such beings reside, and where the soul goes for rest, schooling, and preparation for the next incarnation. Soul guides and angels move all over the worlds that the past-life journeyer visits.
- Degree of interaction with the material world (reporting to an ordinary reality facilitator, or following instructions of an ordinary reality facilitator) when in an altered state of consciousness.
In both traditional and core shamanism, the journeyer is connected to the material world via the drum or sonic driver which facilitates the shift in consciousness and punctuates stages of the journey. As the Siberians would say, the drum is the “horse” that transports the shaman to and from the other worlds. But, once transported, the shaman is typically on his/her own.
For some traditional shamans, however, there is an established cosmography, and coaching from elders is known to occur when novices are beginning to learn the non-ordinary ways of the other worlds. An example of this is the Huichol who instruct their children in travel to the Land of Peyote during the drumming and journeying.
Also, some core shamanic practitioners will choose to speak a journey to a trusted facilitator during a Harner Shamanic Counseling session. However, a core practitioner, especially during a journey for soul retrieval, will not speak during a healing session with a client to avoid the possibility of inadvertently revealing information of a past trauma and exacerbating a client’s condition.
In contrast, while some well-practiced PLR journeyers can take themselves on a journey to the other world, they are most often guided by a facilitator who is in the material world. The facilitator gives suggestions about where the journeyer may want to go, takes the journeyer from scene to scene, and calls in spirit guides and angels, if necessary, to assist the person, especially when the person wants to change the path of the past life to create a different ending. However, the facilitator never forces the journeyer to do anything and cannot control the journeyer’s inner world or any helpers that appear or are summoned.
In one-on-one sessions, the PLR journeyer also speaks aloud to the facilitator. However, when the PLR journeyer is engaged in a group session, he/she will not usually talk with the facilitator.
- Use of Drugs:
In Shamanism, the traditional/indigenous shaman sometimes uses psychoactive drugs derived from sacred plants and mushrooms to initiate a journey. This is done in the framework of very strict preparatory rituals that honor the plant and its spirit. These shamans recognize that the power of the plant is tied into the power of the place where it grows and the place where the shaman lives. Most modern individuals who learn Core Shamanism do not use drugs to do their journeying, except possibly when they are taught by an indigenous, traditional shaman in a culturally specific context (which constitutes a step away from Core Shamanism). For the most part, in the case of modern Western shamanic practitioners, drugs and/or alcohol will not assist in the shamanic journey and are not used.
In contrast, the PLR journeyer is never allowed to use any kind of drug during his/her journey to the other world. Drugs, particularly synthetic and hallucinogenic drugs are seen as distracting, ungrounding, even damaging to the process, especially because most facilitators do not believe, as shamans do, that there are guiding powers in some kinds of drugs derived from natural sources.
- Original and main intention of the journeyer:
In traditional Shamanism, the shaman’s first intention is usually to go into the other worlds to seek knowledge and healing for the sake of another or for the community, though he/she may also journey for self-healing. Self-healing in a traditional environment often comes in the initiatory process wherein the shaman-to-be overcomes an illness with the help of the spirits. Having overcome the initiatory illness, the new shaman has the basis for compassion for healing work that moves into the community. In Core Shamanism, the shamanic practitioner may spend somewhat more of his or her journeying on self-healing and self-discovery, though it is consistently reported that the experience of journeywork is heightened when working on behalf of others.
In contrast, the PLR journeyer’s first intention is usually to seek knowledge and healing for the sake of him/herself; however, a by-product of going to a past life in which the journeyer had a relationship with someone with whom he or she has a connection also in the present life is that some of the knowledge accessed may benefit that other person in the current incarnation.
- Connection to community:
In traditional Shamanism, the shaman is very much tied to and integrated into and supported and nurtured by the community while the core practitioner may be somewhat isolated.
In contrast, the PLR journeyer is not necessarily tied to a community; if he/she is connected, the community is not seen necessarily as supportive of the person’s journeying to a past life.
- Training and Initiation:
In traditional Shamanism, the training of the shaman is often rigorous, involving physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual challenges that may be dangerous. The notion of a formal initiation is central to this process. In Core Shamanism, the initial training is much less rigorous on all levels and initiation is usually not formalized, at least for those who do not go far into the process; for those who do, the training is more likely to approach that of traditional shamans, especially if the training is of duration or expanded to include culturally specific techniques which, again, is a step away from core practice.
In contrast, the PLR journeyer does not have to go through a major set of challenges to be ready to journey, though practice in relaxation and having substantive ego strength is much preferred. The journeyer, ho wever, may experience in the session challenges to his emotional, mental and spiritual, though not usually physical, orientations. Such experiences may constitute very deep, but non-formal initiations into Expanded Consciousness.
- Use of and relation to nature:
While both modalities may make use of Nature, Shamanism and Core Shamanism are much more intimately tied to the natural world from animals, plants and insects to landscapes and other elemental spirits. Each of these beings has power that can inform the shaman and shamanic practitioner in ordinary and non-ordinary realms. The shaman and shamanic practitioner usually treat the nature spirits (and others) with much respect and forbearance in order to build relationships with them and have them as dependable allies for journeywork and healing. As a means of connecting to the power of various nature spirits, the shaman and shamanic practitioner will sometimes embody the natural being, moving rhythmically as it does and perhaps dressing in a mask, costume or a skin if it is an animal.
In contrast, the PLR journeyer may pick up information from symbols in the natural world, and may have the spirit of a passed-over pet with him/her, but, generally speaking, the natural world is mostly a setting, albeit an important one.
- Attention to a life actually lived in the past:
In PLR, the journeyer has more of an awareness of specific places and times, opening up to sensations of the past-life persona as it moves through various scenes of its actual life. The journeyer is encouraged to experience and relate many sensory details of what the past-life persona is sensing, doing, feeling, saying and hearing, including any physical restrictions on the self and in the environment. The journeyer merges to learn very often about the negative beliefs that hold the person back from what he/she wanted to achieve in the past life, so the person in the current incarnation knows what to avoid. The point is to become aware of an actual history, complete with successes and failures. Sometimes the journeyer can go back to visit the life of his or her ancestor, and, with the permission of the ancestor, change something about the lineage. Or the journeyer can bring back information that he or she will use to change his or her present life, a change that can have an effect on the ancestor’s life, since all lives of everyone are simultaneous with each other and therefore are not actually over and thus can be “adjusted.”
While it is not an overriding mandate, the traditional shaman and core shamanic practitioner can be actively interested in lives from the past especially when engaging the ancestors. Accessing persons within given lineages can bring forth talents or troubles, and the shaman follows both paths to bring about balance in the past, present and future. Many traditions, particularly those in the East, look to the ancestors for guidance and special assistance on a daily basis, maintaining a strong connection through a very thin veil. Some may even feel that they are continuing or actualizing an ancestor’s calling to the point where he/she not only is part of a lineage, but also perhaps a re-expression of an ancestor. This is based on the concept of the multiplicity of the soul in which, in this oversimplified explanation, one of the esssential soul parts is the ancestral soul shared by many ancestors over time.
If any of our readers have detected any other similarities or dissimilarities between these spiritual journeying techniques, please let us know and we will review each one for possible inclusion in this blog!