Throughout history, shamans have acted as the interface between the spirit and mundane worlds. Shamans keep an eye on the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of their people, as well as the environment in which they live. If a malady shows up in one, it’s likely to have a counterpart in the other.
One way that shamans communicate with the spirit world is through shamanic journeying. This allows the shaman to leave ordinary reality and step into what’s commonly known as non-ordinary reality — a structured reflection of the spirit world, rendered in images and forms that a human can understand.
This allows shamans to perform divination, speak to deities and the spirits of ancestors and nature, and seek out cures for spiritual ills. Shamans live with one foot in the mundane world, and one foot in the spirit world. In this way, they bring balance to the people and nature around them.
What is Shamanic Journeying?
Shamanic journeying is simply a way of using one’s spirit-self to retrieve information. During a journey, the shaman meets with the spirits of gods, goddesses, lesser divine spirits, animals, ancestors, shamans who have passed on, or even the spirits of plants and places. These spirits can speak directly to the shaman, or act out scenes that provide answers in a symbolic form.
The Lower, Middle, and Upper Worlds
The spirit world of the shaman is split into three basic parts, though each of these has many layers of their own. Despite their names, they are not truly above or below each other — each realm has its own importance, and none are more divine, more important, or more beautiful than the other.
The lower world is regarded as the world of nature spirits. This is the world of primordial life and energy, a world where nature still reigns with red teeth and claws. Journeying here is generally undertaken to speak to the spirits of animals, plants, sacred springs or wells, and the spirits of a location.
The middle world is the spirit world that runs parallel to — and reflects — our ordinary reality. Journeying here is done for remote viewing, visiting others, and what most people picture of when they hear the words “astral projection.”
The upper world is the realm of spirit guides, ancestors, and shamans who have passed on. Journeying here is done to contact these helpful spirits.
The worlds are often visualized as a tree, with the lower world acting as the roots, the middle as the trunk, and the upper as the branches. Shamans may climb or descend this tree as needed. Shamans around the world also often describe descending to the lower world as going down a ribbed or striated tube, like an esophagus.
Some spirits are not confined to a single realm. Deities can appear how and wherever they wish. Some nature spirits — including ones typically regarded as part of the fae — can also show up in the lower, middle, or upper realms as they please.
It should be noted that not all shamans experience non-ordinary reality as if it were a movie playing out in front of them. While some are able to have vivid visual and auditory experiences, others might receive information as colors, light, touch, smell, or even taste. Just because two shamans experience their journeys differently doesn’t make one of them any better or worse than the other.
How does Shamanic Journeying Work?
Before setting out on a shamanic journey, a shaman must have a goal in mind. Keeping this goal at the forefront of their thoughts is what allows shamans to find the places and spirits they need in non-ordinary reality.
After figuring out a goal, the shaman enters a state of altered consciousness. Shamanic journeying consciousness is different from meditative consciousness — shamans must be at least partially aware of their surroundings, even as they navigate the spirit world.
This altered state can be achieved in multiple ways, including:
- Drumming, rattling, or chanting.
- The use of mind-altering plants, called entheogens.
Entheogens and Shamanic Journeying
It takes a lot of experience to be able to enter a shamanic state through concentration alone. While all shamans must concentrate in order to make it through the spirit world, drumming, rattling, chanting, or entheogens are invaluable aids when it comes to entering the correct state of mind.
Entheogens are psychoactive plants or fungi. Hallucinogenic mushrooms, for example, are a very ancient entheogen used by shamans. Their use is so old, in fact, that they are depicted in cave paintings from as far back as 5,000 BCE!
It should be noted that, in most ceremonies, the shaman isn’t the one who uses entheogens. Instead, the plants or fungi are employed as part of a ceremony for another individual or group. The participants use the entheogens, and the shaman then drums, chants, and acts as a guide as these people journey through non-ordinary reality. The shaman, then, facilitates their self-healing and communication with spirit.
If one intends on using entheogens in order to produce a journeying experience, it’s important to remember that they can easily be misused. These plants and fungi open the mind and make it more receptive, which is what allows the mind to pick up on subtle input from the spirit world.
For this reason, it’s important to first quiet and calm the mind, after cultivating mental discipline through meditation. Entheogens should also only ever be used in a place where the user feels safe, preferably in nature.
For best results, this ceremony should be undertaken at night. If these instructions aren’t followed, it’s very easy for a mind-altering substance to have some unintended effects — instead of a healing journey, the user might find themselves on the receiving end of a waking nightmare.
Benefits of Shamanic Journeying
Shamanic journeying has numerous benefits, and none of them are limited to experienced shamans. Even novices can experience them, as long as they develop a dedicated shamanic practice.
Some of the benefits of shamanic journeying include:
- Deeper insight into personal situations.
- Decreased anxiety and fear.
- Decreased physical pain.
- Increased creativity.
- Resolved personal trauma.
- Physical, psychological, or spiritual healing.
- Obtaining knowledge about the nature of reality.
- Increased intuition and spiritual connections.
- Deeper feelings of connection and support from others.
- Obtaining mystical knowledge.
Getting Started With Shamanic Journeying
Getting started with shamanic journeying can feel a little daunting. The best place to start may be in a group setting, with a seasoned shaman available to drum and guide participants on their first journey.
After experiencing this, novice shamans can turn to books, online or in-person classes, or shamanic teachers to further guide them in navigating non-ordinary reality.
More adventurous spiritual explorers may even venture out into nature on their own to practice journeying in solitude. If you choose to do this, be sure to practice meditation beforehand and to go into the experience in a pleasant state of mind.
Overcoming fear and the breaking down of perceived mental limitations can be a great way to reach a state of fluidity and heightened consciousness, which can help you to more easily break through into the non-ordinary realms of reality.
Shamanic journeying allows shamans to see connections that often get missed in the ordinary world. They can communicate with spirits, ancestors, and the divine, gaining the insight they need to keep their communities and environments safe, healthy, and whole.
For new shamanic practitioners, journeying can feel like a difficult undertaking, and they might not feel like they make much progress at first. With time and experience, the wonder, mystery, and wisdom of the spirit world will open.