The Shaman and the Druid
Wind Dancer of the Hollow Bones
Druidess, Grove of the Celtic Cauldron
Prs H., Lyceum of the Goddess Morgan and the Ninefold Sisterhood of the Celtic
Hear the word
“Shaman” and most people immediately picture a Native American or South American Medicine Person. Actually, the
word “shaman” comes to us from Siberia. Today, however, scholars and the public, in order to reference all forms
of a particular spiritual practice regardless of the culture involved, use the term “shaman”. Often a form of
shamanism can be found as a healing technique buried in various religions. Nevertheless, a shaman works within his or her
own cultural moirés. If one scratches deeply enough into any culture, back to its indigenous beginnings, one will find
some form of shamanism.
Some years ago, an anthropologist by the name of Michael Harner made a
study of shamanic practices in varied indigenous societies. He discovered an amazing group of factors that were common cross
culturally. Harner’s book, 'The Way of the Shaman' is a classic in its
field. Harner became the father of neo-shamanism. What he found was that no matter the culture, no matter the mythology, no
matter what else entered into their practice, the same “core practices” were present. These practices included:
Shaman is said to “ride the sound of the drum into the other worlds,” and often refers to the drum as his or her
“horse.” A common mistake that people often make is the assumption that the shamanic journey is a form of meditation.
It is not. The Shaman is able to shift from beta brain waves (normal waking consciousness) to theta brain waves at will. The
theta state of consciousness is the one we all enter when we dream during sleep. (Hence, the Australian Aborigines referencing
the shamanic state as “The Dream Time.”) The Shaman in this altered state is in full awareness and in control
of his or her actions. EEG machines have physically monitored this shift. Once, when I had to undergo an MRI on my brain,
I chose to “journey” while undergoing the test. The neurologist who read the results told me that she was amazed.
“This looks like the brain of a much younger person, not what I would expect to see in a woman in her late sixties.”
I have no idea what showed up on that MRI, but it left me wondering if like the EEG, the MRI also picks up some change in
the brain during the shamanic journey.
A shamanic journey is only undertaken for a specific
need, usually framed as a question. In this altered, visionary state of consciousness, generally induced by monotonous sounds,
such as drumming, rattling or chanting, the shaman travels to other levels of reality in order to gain helping and healing
wisdom for his or her community. A Shaman is often referred to as having a “fire in the head”, the fire of ecstatic
vision. Two of the techniques used by the Shaman are soul retrieval and extraction. In the former, the Shaman searches for
and retrieves parts of the soul that have been lost through trauma. In the latter, the Shaman extracts any negative energy
that may have become embedded in the person seeking help, as well as extracting the spirit of the disease or problem itself.
The Shaman makes the shamanic journey with the help of his or her personal
Spirit Helpers, Allies and Power Animals. No truly trained Shaman ever journeys without the helping Sprits who have chosen
to work with that Shaman. Moreover, here’s the trick…the Spirits alone choose those with whom they will work.
One does not choose a guide or a power animal. They choose you! The Shaman treats guides and animal allies with the utmost
respect. They keep the Shaman safe while walking between the worlds and in the final analysis, it is the Spirits and Allies
who give the healing advice or do the actual healing. The Shaman is merely a hollow bone through which this information or
healing travels to the one in need. My own experience leads me to believe that the “Spirits” of the Native American
Shaman are the same as the Celtic “Faery or Shining Ones” or the Tibetan “Dakinis” etc. Different
cultures, different names, perhaps different appearances, but the same idea and found cross-culturally. But under whatever
name, there appears eventually, the inner shaman teacher. The human teacher is only a way shower. The true Shaman is taught
by the Spirits…and that teaching goes on for a lifetime!
These other levels of consciousness, or other worlds, are
described almost universally as the Upper World, the Middle World and the Lower World. The shaman may travel to any of these
worlds during a journey.
The Upper World is a place of cosmic and personal patterns, an overview of situations.
Answers here seem to come like flashes of insight into the overall blueprint of someone’s life. I call it the “What’s
it all about, Alfie” world.
The Middle World consists of the physical world and its astral
component. Distance healing is often done here. Shamans spirit-travel to other locations in the physical world and can describe
places and people with amazing accuracy. It is also helpful in finding lost objects.
World is a place of primal power. Caitlin Matthews calls it the powerhouse of the three worlds and I tend to agree with her.
Power animals and powerful guides are found here along with the Ancestors. It is not a dark place, but one that has starry
skies, forests, mountains, caves, rivers, streams and oceans. While the landscape here is much like the physical world, the
feeling is much different. One can sense the primal powers that reside here. Many Shamans prefer to work in the Lower World
Shamanic healing takes place on the spiritual level, and a Shaman is aware
that healing does not always equate to “cure.” Nevertheless, a healing always takes place on some level. It is
the Shamans’ job to let go of outcomes. The Shaman who is too involved with particular results is letting his or her
ego come between the Shaman and the helping Spirits.
It is said that Shamans are the “wounded
healers.” It is not unusual for the call to shamanism to come upon the heels of severe trauma to the would be Shaman.
The call can arrive in the form of life threatening illness or accident. Others come by way of handicaps or major loss of
a loved one. Sometimes there is clearly a call from the Spirits early in the Shaman’s life. However the call comes,
the Helping Spirits test a Shaman severely. Many scholars have noted that nearly every Shaman goes through what is commonly
referred to as “The Shaman’s Death” through initiation or life-trauma. The path of the Shaman requires both
endurance and maturity. Testing continues throughout the lifetime of the Shaman. While the Spirits are not the cause of
the trauma the shaman undergoes, they are the witnesses to the would-be shaman’s handling of the traumatic experience.
It is there the testing truly lies.
The Shaman knows that everything has spirit.
Trees, stones, clouds, creatures, storms, lakes, all physical phenomena, have spirit and that spirit can be communicated with.
It is all a matter of awareness. When I was studying with my Navajo teacher, he taught me to widen my awareness by requiring
me to sit in the high desert of New Mexico and “notice things.” Being a good little scholar, I filled notebook
pages with the things I “noticed.” I proudly read them off to my teacher, expecting him to give me an “A.”
He would listen patiently and then in a quiet voice ask me something such as, “What direction was the wind blowing?”
No matter how many things I noticed, he always had questions about things I had NOT noticed. In this way, he taught me the
beginning of shamanic awareness. That awareness brings the student to the knowledge that not only do all things have spirit,
but also that all things are connected, often referred to by Native Americans as “All My Relations.” Shamans consider
the world of nature to be sacred. Even a clod of dirt has spirit and is considered sacred. This brings us to the Druid.
The Druids are commonly known for the quote: “All wisdom is to be found in Nature.” To the
Druid as well as the Shaman, nature is sacred, a manifestation of Deity. To both, the Divine shows Itself in Nature. Both
the Shaman and the Druid read the omens in nature, hear the winds, the bird songs, see the cloud formations and animal activity
from a spiritual standpoint and are able read the messages that Nature gives us every minute. Both are trained to be AWARE.
Both are healers and considered by their culture to be “wise ones.” I came to the path of the Druid long after
I had completed my apprenticeship with my Shaman Teacher. Strangely enough, it was he who told me that I must find my own
cultural form of shamanism. I had no clue what that meant. Years later, while studying Druidism, I was astounded at the similarities
between Druidry and Shamanism.
Even long after official Druidism faded in the British Isles,
came the Celtic “Faery Doctors” who healed with the help of the “Faeries.” Several scholars have written
in depth about the pre-Celtic and Celtic shamanic practices. Among them are two members of the FOI clergy, John and Caitlin
Matthews. Their books are an invaluable source for anyone interested in the ancient shamanic practices of the British Isles: 'Walkers Between the Worlds', 'Singing the
Soul Back Home', 'The Celtic Shaman', and 'The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman's Source Book'. Two scholar-shamans that I
have been honored to work with, Tom Cowan and Frank MacEowen have also written wonderful books on the subject of the “Celtic
Shaman.” ('Fire in the Head' by Cowan, and 'The Mist Filled Path' by MacEowen.)
While we do not know what the precise
practices of the ancient Druids were, we can surmise with some certainty that they paralleled what we know today as shamanism.
We do know that both the Shaman and the Druid studied their craft for many years. We read that prior to the Druids, there
are references to “Deer Priestesses” in indigenous Britain. Some authors speculate that the Deer Priestesses were
the link between the ancient Shaman and the Druids. The facts are lost in the mists of time and we can only surmise and guess
at the academic level. Nevertheless, several scholars, including the Matthews, write of analeptic memory…the ability
of the Shaman or Druid to journey back into the past and retrieve those lost memories.
shamanism and druidism, ancient as they are, adapt to current needs. As humankind’s requirements and circumstances evolve,
so do these two venerable spiritual paths because ultimately, they are paths to human healing on both physical and spiritual
There is a great misunderstanding today that reading a few books, or attending a workshop
or two will make one a Shaman, or a Druid, for that matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. Both paths take years
of study, practice and most of all, a seasoned instructor to guide one. I am not a believer that any form of shamanism can
truly be taught over the internet. Perhaps I am biased on the subject because I was fortunate enough to apprentice with a
Native American Shaman who showed me things I would never have experienced by any correspondence course. And I never looked
at the world in the same way after my study with him.
In the final analysis, both the Shaman and
the Druid are healers, mediators between the other worlds and this world, “see-ers” of the invisible spirits and
leaders of ritual and ceremony. Both are ancient spiritual paths that hark back to pre-history, both in tune with Nature on
its every level. Both the Shaman and the Druid are known for their acute awareness. I believe that any Shaman or any Druid
is only as effective as he or she is able to put aside their ego and become a “Hollow Bone” channel for the Helping
In an article such as this, one can only touch lightly on a subject worthy of a lifetime
of study and practice. I would encourage any who are interested in the subject to read the above-mentioned books as a beginning.
As the old adage goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”