We don’t have an unbroken shamanic tradition here in the islands of Britain and Ireland. Some would say we never had one; others, like me, believe there was one and that evidence of that tradition can be found in the landscape, the ancient monuments and the old myths and stories that have come down to us. Today, we do have a shamanic practice in the West, created by Michael Harner, as recently as the 1970’s. It’s called core shamanism and it has a great deal going for it. I studied for several years with someone who taught me core shamanism, and it will take you so far. It’s an amalgamation of a number of practices from traditional Shamanic societies that are then adapted to fit the modern ‘western’ mind set. And it works. As far as it goes, it works.
But for me it still lacked something, especially with my long background in Druidry – a path I have been following and studying for upwards of twenty years. For me, core shamanism is simply a set of techniques that can be applied by virtually anyone. There always seemed to be something missing in core shamanism, and that lack left me unfulfilled.
So what? You may well ask. We could go off to the deep Amazon or to Mongolia and learn from shamans there couldn’t we? We could bring it back with their spirits and gods and ancestral heritage and practice their shamanism here. Well, yes, we could – and many do.
As I pondered these questions, I began to ask myself: what are the ramifications of bringing back the spirit of the Amazon forest and working with them in the middle of London; or in rural Wales; or remote Scotland or Ireland? My feeling is that they change and adapt as they create new relationships with the native spirits. I’m certainly not saying I wouldn’t jump at the chance to learn from indigenous shamans. Still, my path remains one where I am seeking to deepen my relationship with the ancestral native spirits of these islands; spirits that have been neglected for too long. And I’m not alone in this quest. There are more and more wonderful teachers and practitioners now seeking to tread the same path. We are re-awakening to the deep spiritual heritage we have in these islands.
I was born on the Island of Britain, and am of Irish heritage through my paternal ancestral lineage, and so that led me to ask the question: What of our own native spirits? And our own long lost native spiritual traditions?
I have worked with the gods and spirits of this land for very many years in my practice of Druidry. Very quickly I found that by using shamanic ways combined with my Druidic practice we can peel away the layers of neglect that our society has created and deepen our connection to all of nature. What’s more, by working with the spirits of the land together with ancestral spirits, we are able to connect to the old gods of Britain and Ireland and we are able to discover and work with the spirits of this land before they were distorted, dispersed or dismissed by the Romans and by many who came after them, not least the Normans!
So that makes them Celtic, right? Well, no, not necessarily. That Celtic culture has had a huge impact on both Britain and Ireland is undeniable, but the DNA evidence shows that there was little impact from a Celtic ‘invasion’ of people on the populations of these islands. That their impact linguistically and socially was huge remains in evidence today with the resurgence of interest in the Celtic languages of Welsh, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Cornish as well as their stories, myths and heritage. But the people themselves in that time remained largely indigenous. While the DNA markers of the Anglo-Saxons tend to dominate the modern population of England, even within that group it means most of us still have direct ancestral links to our Celtic and pre-Celtic ancestors. And, whether or not we have those deep ancestral threads we can, with practice, still go back and connect with those humans who came to settle in these islands before it was separated from our continental neighbours – back to the last ice age and maybe even beyond, with Ireland occupied from around 12,500 years ago, and Britain continuously for the last 11,700 years. Think about that for a second. How amazing is that!
That doesn’t mean we have to have those direct DNA threads to work with the spiritual heritage of these islands. If we feel a connection to these islands in whatever way, if we have settled here from other lands, if we feel the call of Ireland or Britain deep within us, then we can work with the native gods and spirits.
In many of the old stories we reach the Otherworld by going on a journey over the sea – immram in the old Irish (immrama is the plural) – or we set off on an adventure – echtrae in Irish. Frequently in both the Welsh and Irish stories we must enter an impenetrable mist to reach the Otherworld, and so this site is called Mistdancer, and my personal practice I’ve called Mistdancing, or Spirit Weaving. My practice has many similarities to shamanism, and uses many shamanic forms, but they are more than simply the techniques of core shamanism. Likewise, because they are not inherited from a culture of continuous shamanic practice they cannot strictly be called shamanism. However, what they are is imbued with spirits of the land, of the ancestors, and with the sacred cosmology of these islands as I have come to perceive and understand them.
When we journey in to myths and stories of these islands, when we journey in to the Otherworld, sooner or later we will find ourselves entering in to that mist. Here is where we begin the Mazy Dance, our footsteps taking us along hidden pathways that twist and turn this way and that until our senses are confused and we have no idea in which direction we are travelling. There may be voices, muffled and feint, just outside of our comprehension; or there may be that eerie quiet, that stillness that is almost solid, physical. A silence you can reach out and touch, only to find it evaporates into the mist that shrouds all around you. This is the place where we find out who we are; here is where we find our footsteps taking us one step forward, two back; where we trip over obstacles unseen; where we find rivers and streams that sing their hypnotic song, and where we discover deep still pools as dark as the midnight sky. If our courage fails us, we may turn back – or at least follow what sense of ‘back’ we still retain, and we will always find our way safely back out of the mist. But eventually, if we have the courage, the tenacity and the will, we will reach the other side of the mists. We will have danced through those mists and faced our fears, our problems and issues, and we will have arrived at that mystical magical otherworldly place where wonders await us.
I hope you find something that interests or intrigues you here. I would to welcome you if you choose to join me in discovering more on rekindling the indigenous heritage of the magical islands of Britain and Ireland.