Shamanism is not a system of belief or faith, it is a system of knowledge, and divination is one of the paths to gain direct knowledge. Direct knowledge can be defined as that which is experienced first hand by the senses. Divination is not ‘fortune telling’, it is a way to a deeper understanding of events and influences surrounding a situation or person. Divination has always been an integral part of shamanism. One of the most important roles of the shaman has been to seek revelatory knowledge from visionary sources, which may be for healing purposes, “why has this person become ill?” “what medicine does this person need?, or important communal needs “where are the herds of caribou?”, divination is also often used to get meaning from dreams and visions.
Divination is as old as humanity, but unfortunately in mainstream Western society it has been regarded as something primitive, irrational, and pandering to superstition. Divination is simply a way of revealing the truth. The diviner reveals or uncovers to their client hidden truths about themselves, or the circumstances surrounding them. In societies outside the West, divining continues to play an important role, revealing that which is hidden, easing anxiety, and helping in coming to terms with challenging circumstances that may demand the implementation of difficult decisions.
In divination, the role of the shaman is to act as a mediator or ‘middle-man’. The shaman by exploring and providing the initial reading and interpretation allows the seeker of this information to avoid projecting personal wants, desires, and wishes if the question or situation is emotionally charged.
The Multi-dimensional Cosmos of the shaman
In shamanism, there is another kind of time, not linear or sequential but a time which is one single moment. This vast ever moving moment has no boundaries which separate the past, present and future. This is a time in which anything which has ever happened to anybody anywhere, somewhere it is still happening. The shaman travels ‘outside’ of linear time into this vast unending ever-moving moment to seek the information at the place where this event is happening.
One of the main gateways to this vast moment of time or universal consciousness is our own powers of imagination coupled with the three fundamental principles of expanded perception;
1.Intention All actions begin with an intention, a desire for a specific outcome. The principle of intention operates on two levels, the obvious , ‘this is what I want to do’, and the subtle level , i.e. it is a signal or alert to energy to be prepared to move to a certain destination.
2.Trust Trust is an ineffable quality, it is experienced in the body, not the mind. Trust takes time, and to get trust we need feedback which either directly or indirectly validates our experience. With trust our experiences and confidence in our actions increase significantly.
3.Attention This is about the application and focus of energy and intention. Attention is not ‘hard-work’ yet it needs consistency, to place your awareness at the interface of events or places….. Energy flows where Attention goes.
The shamans used many diverse methods for divination, either ways seeking patterns in natural objects and events, or using techniques to directly obtain hidden knowledge. An example of the former could be the practice of divination with rocks.
Rock Divination To do this the traditional practice is for the seeker looks for a rock whilst holding the question in the mind, eventually there will be a rock which stands out or ‘metaphorically’ shouts out “me, me!”. Here is an opportunity to practice the principle of trust!. As a helpful tip the more faceted and inner forms the rock has the better as more facets and patterns mean more detail will be available to the reader. The seeker should then give the rock to the shaman or practitioner and state the question. The shaman (who knows as little as possible about the questioner or the circumstances regarding the question) will gently focus on the rock and allow patterns to form within the imagination. The shaman may ask the seeker to state the question a few times as this helps to deepen the trance state of awareness, to the place where the shapes and patterns in the rock become a ‘gateway’ directly into the universal field of energy, and images, pictures, words, feelings will start to form within the shaman’s being. Each rock face represents a different aspect of the question, and the initial response is generally “where the questioner is at this moment”, and this leads to other rock faces, each rock face exposing and presenting an expanded view of the answer. To me personally this work is awesome, mysterious and poetic, and I have found that is as if a person’s life story is contained in a rock.
Sunbeam Divination Journey An example of a specific technique to discover hidden knowledge is the Sunbeam divination journey of the Labrador Naskapi shamans. This journey has a single specific purpose to find out the physical location of a person, object, or place where an event will take place. In this practice no information will be given about the object, person etc only it’s location. One can see the usefulness and practicality of this technique, for example to help hunters locate game animals, or the to find out and rescue a lost member of the tribe and so on. I have used this practice many times often to locate lost keys or the wallet of a client!
An Exercise – Naskapi Sunbeam Divination Journey.
First meditate or reflect on what you want to locate or know the whereabouts of, remember the first principle of Intention. When ready, find a place where you will not be disturbed for half hour or so, darken the room, and lay down and relax. Note: It is best if you have tape for shamanic journeying drumming (which will smooth the transition into expanded states of awareness). In the imagination, the launch-pad into multi-dimensional perception, go to a place where you can visualise, perceive, or sense being in the open landscape. Sense being fully in this place, experience your feet on the ground and the ground pushing up against the soles of your feet, experience the air and the wind on your face, become fully present in this landscape, and when ready look up to the sky where the sun will be, with the question firmly in your mind, ask the sun to show you the location or whereabouts of what it is you are searching for. Typically a particular sunbeam will either shine brightly or capture your attention in one way or another, follow this beam of sunlight, you may even experience yourself flying over the landscape, and where this specific sunbeam touches the ground, that is where the location is. When you recognise the location, and can correlate it to an actual physical place, it is then time to return. So turn around and go back to the place where you started from, and when you have returned, gently feel yourself back in the physical world, and gently open your eyes.
Remembering the second principle of trust, check the information out, try and get verification of the validity of the journey, keep on doing this until you have developed trust and the confidence will then follow.
Shamanic Trance Postures.
Another form of specific techniques is the body of work known as Shamanic Trance Postures. They take the form of certain precise bodily postures. These postures are gateways to an altered state of consciousness, and visionary experiences. This body of knowledge originates from ancient civilisations and many indigenous cultures throughout the world. Rediscovered in the 1970’s by the renowned anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, these postures are a piece of living history from our heritage of spiritual tradition.
It involves holding non-strenuous, but precise physical positions together with an accompanying rhythmic sound eg. Shamanic drumming or rattling. There are a number of specific postures for divinatory purposes, for example the Nupe people in sub-Saharan Africa, use these ritual postures, and in the one that their divinatory shamans work with gives the experience of detachment and a dispassionate persepective of the question.
An Exercise – Nupe Divination Posture
Once again meditate or focus on your question, as with this work it really helps if the question is sharp, no ‘ifs’, ‘shoulds’ , ‘but’ and so on, get your question as razor honed as possible.
Sit on the floor, leaning toward your left and supported by your left arm. Hold your left arm rigid, with your hand at a right angle to your body. Place your left hand at a spot three to five inches to the left of your body and just behind a straight line drawn along the back of your buttocks. Bend both legs at the knees with both feet pointing to the right, positioned so that your left foot is resting just to the left of your right knee. Place your right hand on your lower left leg, where the muscle indents about halfway down your calf. Move your head slightly to the left, so you are looking over your left knee, and close your eyes.
If possible listen to a shamanic drumming or rattling tape, as this will enhance the visionary potential and makes the experience smoother, and more powerful. Allow the visionary imagery , or just simple ‘knowing’ to take place, when you have a sense of an answer (even if you do not understand it rationally) just gently release yourself from the posture, and come back fully into the present. If an answer is not immediately understood, incubate it, play with it, draw or paint it, this is important as the answer is not always addressed to the rational mind. Being with the imagery or vision will often lead to a deep and profound revelation.
To conclude there are many other ways of divination in shamanism many which underlie well known practices eg; divination with quartz crystals, casting of objects, Scrying.
As the Tungus shamans of Siberia say “we are all connected, we are all one”. So is it no wonder that we can discover ourselves through the natural world.
About the Author
Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest at the dedicated centre located in the Mishana nature reserve. He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA). His website: http://www.shamanism.co.uk