Image by Rajesh_India @flickrTo continue the discussion from my previous post on deepening the modern shamanic experience, I’d like to talk a bit about connecting with totems and Spirit Guides, outside the journey state.
A concept that comes up often in circles of traditional shamanism is that of reciprocity with spirit allies, or what some refer to as ‘the demands of their Guides,’ sacrifice, or taboos. I’ve known shamans whose Guides required them to make all of their ritual items. Some are required to dedicate one day a week to cut off communication and engagement with others, and for that day live in concert only with a specific guide. Leaving a place setting for the Guide at every meal is mandatory for some.  Body modification may be a condition of connecting with a Guide. Others are required to wear talismans of a particular totem, such as feathers, fur, or skin of that totem.

In traditional shamanism, such demands are business as usual. In the modern context, the concept of demanding Guides is a somewhat off-putting idea, that in order to have their full support, we need to comply with certain wishes, on their part.  Generally speaking, we’re not monastic. We aren’t in a culture that by virtue of a spiritual calling sets us aside while we develop that relationship. Most of us don’t cloister ourselves for even short periods of time, as a means of growing, refining, and maintaining raw connection with the Divine. We find the sacred amidst work, bills, and everything else that has to be done.

Despite this distinction from traditional shamanism,  judging the imperative of ally reciprocity as archaic is a very capitalist way to look at the give-and-take nature that should underlie every relationship in our lives. Balanced exchange is no different with Guides. Despite our best strides in incorporating a shamanistic worldview, we still look upon such bare demands as archaic, or out-moded. By our keen intellect, we see ourselves as somehow beyond that base need. As a result, reciprocal relationship with Guides isn’t taught in most shamanic coursework, despite that there are significant spiritual needs that it fills, and very mundane ones, as well.

Foremost, demands from Spirit Guides, aren’t as rudimentary as “Do this, or no dice.” That simplistic way of looking at it brings to mind the pervasive idea that once called to a shamanic path, we have no choice but to follow, that we surrender free will. For many shamanic students, the idea of ‘fire in the head’ is daunting–the state of being spiritually awakened and unable to dismiss that fact, to return to life as it was before. It should be daunting, though not because it’s fearsome, but because it demands that we change, and that demand often comes in the form of our spirit guides setting a few ground rules. Once that circuitry gets opened up, we’re in uncharted territory. We need a few easy-to-follow guidelines to keep us in check, but to also hold us steady in the life changes that come. Honoring the demands of Spirit Guides is one way to do that, in a very brass tacks, chop-wood/carry-water approach.

Still, there’s more going on than quickening the mouse in the transpersonal maze. Another component of placating Guides is the subtler demand that you go deeper within yourself, into spiritual being. The requests of guides are at heart designed to keep us on track when we’re not communing with them in trance, specifically in ways that we would not otherwise monitor ourselves. Keep in mind, we’re not all driven by the same challenges. We are only affected by what’s in our context, so the challenges we’re given match that strata.  So you’re not asked to make your own drum, or grow your ritual herbs. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a need and way to go deeper with your Guides. For an advertising executive on a shamanic path, being asked to honor intuition over sales and stats may be as challenging as building an ark.

Our soul allies light the fire in those initial visits, but it’s up to us to keep it burning.  Have you asked your Guides and totems how to take your relationship deeper? What do they demand of you, to maintain your earthly connection to them, to your spirit? How do you honor them throughout your day?