Developing Shamanic Consciousness
First published as the transcript for an episode of the Plant Witch Podcast.
[00:00:47] Welcome to The Plant Witch podcast, where we enter together into the web of life in all of its many seen and unseen dimensions. I’m Eryn Shrader, owner of The Rebel Herbalist, and it is my honor to hold this portal to the other world. Let’s enter, shall we?
[00:01:20] I wanna talk about shamanic consciousness; and this is a word that - “shamanic” being the word - that there’s a lot of conversation around the use of that word, so I’ll contextualize it for you. What do I mean when I use the word “shamanic?” We know that the particular word “shaman” comes from a particular people who live in Northern Asia, and the word means “one who knows,” or “to know.” So when I talk about shamanic consciousness, I’m talking about what we’ve sort of adopted this word to mean. This sort of way of knowing, this - not that we are shamans - but that there’s this way of knowing that’s beyond every day consciousness and that it’s a way of knowing that exists through all cultures through all time; and that there are some traditional methods for attaining shamanic consciousness. Some of those traditional methods include percussion instruments - like drumming; psychoactive plant helpers - like mushrooms, and ayahuasca, cannabis, and many others depending on your bioregion. Other practices include fasting for long periods of time, physical exertion. The yogic practices specifically are cultivating of a shamanic consciousness. Or a detachment from the coarser five senses to hone and attune oneself to the shamanic consciousness. Or the finer - or more refined - senses of knowing. In most cultures the spiritual technologies that were developed, these practices I’m talking about, are an effort to reliably produce shamanic consciousness, or altered state of knowing - and I’m really just using shamanic consciousness as a sort of easy-to-identify-with term. So all of that just to contextualize the word I’m using today. You know in a time when words are getting to be such an interesting study. There’s a hummingbird right by my face, I don’t know if you can hear his little wings flapping. Talk about percussive instruments.
[00:04:37] So a few years ago I was at an event with some local holistic practitioners and they had started out the event with a cacao ceremony, and they had been trained by indigenous keepers of this tradition in giving cacao ceremony to anyone who needs that medicine; and after our sort of communion with, or interaction with the spirit of cacao through the ceremony, they led us through a visualization process that some would call “shamanic journeying” - which again is just altering our consciousness from identification with the physical body’s senses to then identifying our consciousness with the other ways of knowing - and through that process they led us to meeting parts of ourselves that exist in the past, the present, and the future. It was a really powerful experience for me. I think it was one of the earliest experiences I’ve had with altering my consciousness with a plant that was not meant to be - that wasn’t blatantly a consciousness altering plant, though cacao definitely is. I wasn’t aware of how much that’s true before the ceremony. I had used other consciousness altering plants in the past that were more recreational, but this was - because it was held in such a sacred container - it was a totally different kind of experience than what I had with other entertainment-based workings with plants like this. So specifically the part that was really transformational for me and that I want to share with you in case it can be a benefit in your life as well, was that they guided us to get a message from these different parts of ourselves. This part that comes from our past, this part that comes from the present - what do we need right now? - and this part that comes from the future; and when I encountered myself in the future through this visualization process, it was really transformational for me to see myself as this future projection of myself and what mattered to her. What did she impart on me as wisdom from many decades in the future of my life and how can I maintain a relationship with her in my daily life knowing that what I do now she is living the fruit of my actions today?
[00:07:47] So we have this link to each other, and so if we tend to each other and care for each other through this sort of wormhole of time, I have this ally and oracle in the future who is communicating with me in real time as I make choices; and I have found this to be a huge part of my practice now. When I am going through things in my life where I’m discerning a choice, or I’m trying to decide how I feel about something that’s going on in my life, if I’m ambivalent or conflicted. Especially when it comes to how I’m raising my kids or how I’m doing my work in the world, I will take the time to cultivate this shamanic consciousness and go and visit this future aspect of myself, and our relationship has grown so powerfully over the years since this first interaction at the cacao ceremony and I have received so much wisdom from her; and I’ve really felt my personality shifting and adapting as we have this sort of feedback from myself to this future self; and it’s so interesting - I had had these two paintings on my altar for many years. One was a young woman holding out a bowl with a white egret on her shoulder, and she was holding the bowl that was steaming with some magical elixir; and it was facing - her bowl was facing to the right side of my altar - and then on the right side of my altar I had a painting of an elderly woman with the Venus of Willendorf sculpture there, and she had a crow on her left shoulder, and she was holding out a bowl that seemed empty - and she was facing the left side of my altar - and one day I was coming out of meditation and it occurred to me that these two women were holding the bowls out to each other - a young woman and an elderly woman - and that they were in this kind of relationship. It was like one of those moments of numinous - of luminosity - where the message became so clear to me that this altar art was a reflection of an inner process that I was cultivating and that I had symbolized subconsciously by being attracted to these pieces of art from two different artists and putting them on my altar in a way that represented a deep process I was going through. But it was all subconscious - until it wasn’t - and then when it became conscious the fruits of this practice really took root in me and I started to deepen the way that I experience this practice; and so over the years now that I’ve been visiting my future self, she continues to communicate with such compassion for the mistakes I make as a young version of her, and she doesn’t dissuade me from making mistakes. She doesn’t warn me ahead of time, generally. She will give me feelings about what is important so I understand what’s important to me even when I’m making the mistake - that I know why I’m making it. So it’s not like I’m Biff in Back to the Future and I have all of the lottery numbers or something. It’s a much more nuanced and gentle kind of relationship. Where she does not rob me of mistakes and she doesn’t rob me of my ignorance, but she mothers me, in a way, and guides me through these difficult transitions by helping me understand why I’m doing what I’m doing - helping me see myself more clearly without giving away all of the answers.
[00:12:22] On that first experience with her on that first journey I took to meet her, the message she gave me that day was the word “stay,” and that was the only thing she said in that first encounter. “Stay.” She was wearing all white - a white dress, a white robe, her hair was white. I thought maybe she was just sort of angelic, but I’ve come to find out since I’ve become a Druid in recent times that that is the traditional attire of the Druid - white robes, white clothing - so I think she was forecasting my Druidry back to me without me understanding what that meant at the time. But I’ve really been working with this word, “stay.” Does she mean stay…what? Stay true? Stay real? Stay grounded? Stay in the house where I live? Stay in the job that I have? Where does she want me to stay? And what I’ve come to understand over these intervening years is that there’s a quality of staying that is fading away in our modern way of being alive. That we are spending a lot of our time running from things. Running from our feelings, running from our relationships, running from our symptoms. We’re looking for fast resolution to things by just running to the next thing; and this quality of staying - staying in the relationship when things get hard, staying with my body when it gets uncomfortable, staying in my practice when I don’t feel like doing it - that this quality to “stay,” it’s the heavy lifter, like it moves the Earth. This quality of being able to stay - of building the resilience to allow the discomfort to ripen into something emergent, something that wants a new life in me - is alchemy. That there’s - it’s like a bell curve. The discomfort of the relationship, of the symptoms, of the realization that I’m having - whatever is causing discomfort - it builds, and builds, and builds, and builds and if I stay it breaks; and when the discomfort breaks, something emerges and it is often clarity. So in a relationship, for instance - I’ve had several relationships that have changed a lot over the past few years, and always on the other side of huge discomfort that I’ve wanted to run away from - but when I don’t and I stay, and I keep communicating my discomfort in the relationship, and I keep setting boundaries, and I keep showing up, and I keep being present - a clarity emerges. Like what is really going on here? And then I learn something about myself, and I learn something about the person I’m in relationship with, and I learn something about relationship; and that makes me more real - which is ultimately what I want and what I’m after in this lifetime.
[00:16:22] Last year or the year before - I can’t remember now - the word “stay” developed into this symbol of an anchor, and of course that is part of the use of the word “stay.” There are stays that anchor things, that keep them from moving; and so this anchor is now a symbol for this quality for me. What am I anchored to? Why am I - what am I staying for? What is the quality of my staying? And it hasn’t stopped me from leaving. I’ve left plenty of things in the intervening years since I’ve gotten this message from her, but I’ve left after staying. I didn’t run. I left with clarity and with the presence of staying in me. Because I was anchored to my integrity, to my learning, to my becoming real, to being fully authentic in the relationships. Not just being reactive and avoiding my feelings; and you’ve been listening to this podcast long enough to understand, I’m sure, that I would never encourage anyone to stay in a dangerous situation. But to in that instance stay in your instincts and get out if you feel like you’re in danger - any kind of danger: emotional, financial, physical - and that kind of discernment comes from staying true to our own knowing and that’s what my anchor is anchored into. This deep, inner knowing that I have. That no one else has to understand, but it is my job to honor and to nourish, and to tend to; and my connection to this future version of myself is a huge part of that knowing that I cultivate. So if you want to take a journey to meet a future part of yourself, or work with the past part of you - that was also a really beautiful part of the work, for me, was with my child-self and I have continued to work with her through these kinds of visits too - but not nearly as often as the future self - she’s, it’s just a different kind of experience. But you can do that in any way that you find in an altered state of consciousness. So maybe you listen to drumming tapes, maybe you do some breath work, maybe you do some vigorous yoga that clears your mind and then allows you to settle more easily into this altered state of consciousness. Maybe you work with a plant ally, like cacao. I love flower essences for helping me to make these subtle shifts in my consciousness. Some of my favorites are morning glory, moonflower - they seem to be especially helpful in making these kinds of shifts to allow for experiencing other ways of knowing. Also, rose - I’ve become really acutely aware of the field that rose creates. Whether that’s rose absolute, or just smelling rose petals, or drinking a rose tea or something - that the spirit of rose really holds this sort of portal energy to other states of consciousness that are attuned to healing and wellness. So working with the plants - either in plant spirit medicine, or by drinking their teas, or taking the flower essences which is a plant spirit medicine too - can really help us make these shifts in consciousness. To allow a deepening of our understanding of ourselves, and a deepening of relationship with these parts of ourselves. If you have studied internal family systems at all - and I’ve talked about them here, that method of psychological work here on the podcast before - that’s another thing you can do with this sort of shamanic consciousness is visiting other parts of the self that have developed as protectors; or our exiled parts of the self. They can have these sort of safe places where they live in the psychological landscape and we can travel to them and communicate together, and learn what those parts of us really need and then bring that medicine back into our lives. In some indigenous ways of healing that has been called “soul retrieval” - or bringing the soul back into the body, or dancing the soul back home - is sort of like retrieving these fragmented parts of ourselves and bringing them back into harmony, which I see internal family systems as a really beautiful reflection of that indigenous way of knowing brought into the modern era.
[00:21:52] We had the funeral for my aunt this week, which is why my podcast is a day late - thank you for your patience - and it was just a really beautiful and powerful experience for us as a family to be together, to mourn her life. It was really, I was really grateful to have the capacity for a shamanic way of knowing during her funeral service. It gave me a lot of insight and clarity into the energetic dynamics that were going on in myself and in the room. What was going on with her personal spirit as she was journeying through the process of leaving her body behind. So if you haven’t embarked on any methods of altering your consciousness so that you can perceive these other ways of knowing, it is never too late to start. It’s not as hard as it sounds. We all do it all the time already through daydreaming, and night dreaming, and intuitive knowing, and the more that we trust these ways of knowing and respond to them with direct action - like we trust what we know and we respond to what we know, it’s like building any other skill - then the ways of knowing just become more prominent and we focus on them more. This includes dream interpretation, looking for synchronicities - all of that goes into the category of developing this way of knowing that’s been called “shamanic,” but it’s really just our birthright; and some of us are called to develop it in service to others, and some of us just get it in fleeting moments - like all humans do - and wherever you fall on that spectrum, I hope you’ll trust it. Because we’ve been so conditioned in modern life to only trust what is reproducible, rational, linear; and that is amputating a huge part of how we know what we know. So if you needed a sign to trust your intuition, your other ways of knowing, and develop your shamanic consciousness - let this be your sign.
[00:24:36] If you would like to support the podcast, you can find a link at plantwitchpodcast.com or you can go directly to Patreon at patreon.com/therebelherbalist. We welcome your financial support and we also welcome your participation in this vibrant community of humans who are working together to rejoin the web of life. The audio that you hear for the intro and outro of this podcast is the song “Vikings” by Alan Gray.
[00:25:33] Thank you for joining me for The Plant Witch podcast. I’m your host, Eryn Shrader. I’m an herbalist, a mother, a holistic nurse, and a practitioner of the ancient ways. You can connect with me between episodes at therebelherbalist.com, or on Instagram and Facebook @therebelherbalist. Thank you for joining me, and it’s time to come back to life.