✨ A Gathering Place for Magical Readers and Writers ✨

Tag Archives: shamanism

Shamanic Teachings of the Condor, by Martha Winona Travers, Ph.D.

Shamanic Teachings of the Condor: Encounters with the Mystical Traditions of the Andes, by Martha Winona Travers, Ph.D.
Bear & Company, 1591435064, 192 pages, April 2024

In Shamanic Teachings of the Condor: Encounters with the Mystical Traditions of the Andes, Michigan-based author Martha Winona Travers, Ph.D., who holds a doctorate in English literature, writes about her twenty-two year apprenticeship to the Ecuadorian Kichwa healer Taita Alberto Taxo, who passed away in February 2022. This spiritual memoir is both a glowing eulogy honoring Taita Alberto’s life work and a guide to reconnecting with nature that shares his legacy with the world. Taita Alberto comes alive in these pages, imparting gentle, heart-centered wisdom. Through Travers’s recollections, we too can receive his teachings.

Taita Alberto (1954-2022) authored several books, including Friendship with the Elements: Opening the Channels of Communication (2010). Travers is also the creator of The Waycard Oracle: A Guide to the Inner Journey (2016), which includes 33 oracle cards and a guidebook.

Taita Alberto was a iachak, which is the Kichwa word for shaman. (The i in iachak is pronounced like a y.) Taita is an honorific title meaning “father,” indicating his role as a spiritual leader and teacher in his community.1 In 2007, he gave Travers the title of Mama Iachak, giving her the authority to carry on his tradition and transmit his teachings.

Iachaks, also known as “bird people,”2 identify with Condors. The Condor represents the Andean way of life, of “living from the heart,”3 in harmony with nature. The Eagle, the national bird of the United States, symbolizes “the people of the North,”4 who value technology and rationality, and live from the mind. “The Condor’s gift—the power of the heart—and the Eagle’s gift—the power of the mind—are two halves of a whole,”5 Travers says, and Taita Alberto taught that the time has come for the two to work together in harmony.

The iachak must bridge the cultural gap between the traditional way of life and the colonial one, retaining the native language while speaking the colonial tongue, and preserving the ancestral customs when most people in their community have converted to the colonial religion and adopted modern values. The power of flight enables the iachak to move freely between these cultural realms without being trapped in either one. 

While many natives felt threatened by outsiders visiting Ecuador to study with the iachak due to the harm caused by colonialism, Taita Alberto claimed that it had been prophesied that the forces of mind and heart, the rational Eagle and the intuitive Condor, were now destined to unite.

“The Condor needs help with technology and science,” Taita Alberto said. “The Eagle needs help listening to the heart. We need both gifts—both the mind and the heart—for balance.”6

Travers met Taita Alberto (also known as Taita Haskusht, his Kichwa name) in 1999. In “Part One: The Eagle Visits the Condor,” Travers recounts her first journey to Quito, Ecuador, a part of the Andes Mountain range that includes multiple active volcanoes. She and a group of visitors were welcomed into the ancestral home of Taita Haskusht, near the base of the volcano Cotopaxi, which is itself a powerful spiritual guide. With vivid and immersive prose, this beautiful memoir floods the mind’s eye with the sights and sensations of her pilgrimage along the serpentine paths circling Cotopaxi.

Each chapter in this section revolves around communion with one of the five elements. In the iachak worldview, the physical realm is made up of the four elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, plus the fifth element of Spirit, which is called Ushai in Kichwa. “The Ushai is the animating force of the universe; it is the energy that moves Earth, Air, Water, and Fire,”7 says Travers.“We experience the Ushai when we have the awareness that we are not separate from the elements.”8 All of the elements have feminine names in Kichwa: Fire is Nina, Water is Yaku, Air is Waira, Earth is Ashpamama, and Pachamama is the all-encompassing Great Cosmic Mother.

Chapter Three, “The Loving Earth,” is a moving account of a healing ritual in which the author recalls the experience of giving her pain to Mother Earth so it could be transformed by her. Prior to the ritual, Taita Haskusht encouraged the group to pick plants they felt drawn to for healing, following the wisdom of the heart to select the right one. When Travers attempted to ask Taita Haskusht to identify the plant she had chosen, he covered her mouth and turned away, triggering a deep wound within her. This was her first time attempting to speak to him, and she was hurt that he had silenced her.

Travers saw a migraine aura and feared a headache coming on, but she felt guided by an inner voice to follow the light instead of resisting it. While Taita Haskusht chanted, tears watered the earth as Travers and a grieving woman beside her relinquished their pain to the Mother. After the ritual, Taita Haskusht revealed to Travers that the plant she had selected “heals the voice.”9 I was dewy-eyed while reading this chapter, as I could feel the healing power of the Earth Mother through Travers’s vivid description of her experience.

In Chapter Four, “The Sacred River,” Travers describes the group’s experience of being purified in a volcanic hot spring, then dipping in a cold shallow stream, and the remainder of the day was spent resting and fasting. In the middle of the night, Travers woke several times, feeling afraid, and she glimpsed a ghostlike presence in the room. The next day, Taita Haskusht revealed that there had been “a great battle”10 during the night, as the impurities the group had released the previous day were manifesting as they were leaving. He blessed everyone by smudging them with the sweet-smelling woodsmoke of palo santo, a plant he said “loves us very much.”11

While reading, it felt beneficial to follow along by mimicking some of the actions described or by visualizing myself performing them with the narrator. For example, after reading about the smoke cleansing with palo santo, I burned some myself, asking the plant’s spirit to purify me. 

Chapter Five, “The Speaking Wind,” invigorates readers with the breath of Andean air as Travers communes with the volcano Cotopaxi. When Travers first beheld the face of Cotopaxi, peeking through a veil of clouds, she thought it seemed sinister, and the words “grim” and “cruel” came to mind, but she realized this was how she was “dreaming up” the volcano, and she proceeded to listen with her heart instead.12 I found her commentary on humanity’s tendency to project their personal experiences onto the world to be very insightful. 

“Listening is an open condition devoid of human projection,” Travers writes. “The iachak learns to separate from human fear and desire—those aspects of ego that create projection—and, instead, enters into a condition of receptivity to the many voices, the many languages of the many beings who share our world.”13

As Travers and her group embraced the presence of Cotopaxi, listening with their hearts and absorbing the mountain’s powerful essence, “Madre Waira,” or “Mother Wind,”14 lifted their spirits, cleansing them of negativity.

Part Two is titled “Becoming a Runa: Purification and Sacred Communion.” “In Kichwa, the word runa describes a person who is walking the path of life in a sacred way,”15 Travers writes. A runa lives in intimate harmony with the natural world, as our ancestors once did. Taita Alberto taught that we can reestablish this ancient connection with nature through communion with the elements. 

In the second part of this book, Travers provides exercises for revitalizing our relationship with the elemental powers. By recognizing the elements within and honoring the sacredness of our bodies, we become more conscious of what we consume, and are reminded not to pollute our inner rivers. According to Taita Alberto, “everything is food,”16 from the air we breathe to the books and other forms of media we ingest, which is important to keep in mind, especially for those of us living in the Eagle’s consumer culture. Regardless of what we are eating, whether it is healthy or not, we express gratitude to Mother Earth when we savor and enjoy our food.

In the section on working with the Earth element, I found the dietary advice to be insightful. Travers suggests eating foods individually to gauge how they make us feel, allowing enough time to digest in between meals so the foods don’t mix. She provides general guidelines for how long to wait, such as half an hour for fruits, which digest quickly, and four hours for meat.

Taita Alberto did not eat meat and neither did his apprentice iachaks. As part of his own iachak training, he was instructed to consume a small portion of animal flesh, and was distressed to discover that it cut off his intuition for six months. “A person who eats animals is eating the animal’s fear,”17 he said. He saw animals as his “helpers” and did not want to harm them.

To eat or not eat meat has been a lifelong moral quandary for me. I went through a vegetarian phase as a teenager, which frustrated some members of my family, who treated me like I was just being a difficult child and a picky eater rather than recognizing it was a choice based on my personal morals and spirituality (I was strongly influenced by Buddhism at the time and didn’t want to hurt animals). It angered my dad so much he stopped cooking for me altogether, claiming he didn’t know what to make since I wouldn’t eat meat, so I had to fend for myself. I started eating meat again in my early 20s when I was pregnant with my second child. I decided that since I was craving meat, the baby needed it. I received positive feedback when I started eating meat again, as people would tell me I looked healthier and had more color in my cheeks. Whether or not this was true, I don’t know, but I was verbally rewarded for conforming to my culture’s dietary preferences. To this day, I’m still troubled by factory farming, even though I eat meat purchased from the grocery store. I currently get my eggs from my own flock of hens, so those are at least guilt-free and not tainted with sadness because I know my girls are treated well.

Reflecting on the negativity I experienced when I chose to be a vegetarian as a teenager reminds me that our Eagle culture conditions us to consume meat without question. Those who deviate from this cultural norm are perceived as picky eaters who inconvenience others, and perhaps even troublemakers if they speak out against cruelty to animals. I think part of the problem is the fact that we get our meat pre-packaged in grocery stores and we are completely disconnected from the source of these products, which cuts off any empathy we might otherwise feel for the animals being slaughtered in factory farms. In contrast, Taita Alberto was raised as a vegetarian in the iachak tradition, and since he had a heart-based connection with the animal realm and saw animals as his helpers, eating meat was taboo for him, and doing so disconnected him from his spiritual Source.

Taita Alberto did not pass judgement on those who eat meat and his guidelines are not meant to be strictly followed as rigid rules. The ultimate teacher is experience, and he encouraged his pupils to see for themselves how following his suggestions makes them feel and shifts their perceptions.

Taita Alberto did not teach his students to ingest psychoactive plants because “all of nature is entheogenic,”18 or “god-filled,”19 including ourselves. We do not need mind-altering substances to experience the awe of “sacred communion with nature.”20 Instead, he taught simple daily practices that “initiate us into primal identification with all of Nature.”21 Many of these exercises focus on simply being present in the physical body and communing with nature through mindful sensory experience.

For example, when you feel the wind whispering on your skin, recognize it as a salutation from the Air element. Allow it to cleanse you of your anxieties and negative thoughts. This type of feeling is intuitive, not emotional, as our emotions are generated in response to our thoughts. Instead, it involves putting “emotion aside in order to enter an expansive condition of full, sensory awareness, present-moment consciousness, and intuitive sensing of energy beyond the material.”22 

Taita Alberto’s teachings can be put into practice through three simple steps: “greeting, feeling, and expressing gratitude.”23 Taita Alberto began his mornings by greeting the newborn day and the shining sun that brightens our lives. “Greet everything that appears before your eyes,”24 he said. Greet the six directions, north, south, east, west, sky above, and earth below.

These teachings may seem too simple for those craving a powerful transcendent experience, but Travers says that “true power is a quiet, internal state,” not “a dominating energy,”25 as our industrialized culture has programmed us to believe. The potency of these practices lies in their simplicity, for they are about creating inner transformation through how we perceive and engage with nature. 

Shamanic Teachings of the Condor offers a heart-centered approach to communing with the four elements of nature and the fifth element of Spirit that unites them. Rather than just being mindful, the Shamanic Teachings of the Condor encourage readers to cultivate heart-centered awareness. This book has reminded me to drop my Eagle consciousness down into my Condor heart space, to be present with my intuitive feelings while deepening my communion with the natural world. By attuning with the wisdom of the heart, we can all reconcile with nature.

The Medicine Wheel, by Barry Goddard

The Medicine Wheel: Maps of Transformation, Wholeness and Balance, by Barry Goddard
Moon Books, 1785359673, 320 pages, October 2022

“This book is not just another ‘self-help’ guide, but rather an exploration of an ancient map that shows how human beings and the world work..”1

The quote above expresses the intention of The Medicine Wheel: Maps of Transformation, Wholeness and Balance by Barry Goddard and is a reminder for humanity of the intimate connection we have with nature and the cosmos. I had the privilege of reviewing Goddard’s other title, Surfing the Galactic Highways: Adventures in Divinatory Astrology, and as a result, I had a deep interest in seeing the approach he would take to this topic. I was not disappointed.

The Medicine Wheel is divided into eight chapters and provides the reader with information that is readily accessible and usable. The acknowledgments in the beginning of the book hold a special meaning in the sincerity and care given to how this topic is presented:

“I would like to express my gratitude to the indigenous peoples everywhere for hanging on to their ancient ways and teachings, despite our modern attempts to eradicate them.2

“Chapter 1: Introducing the Wheel” provides a bit of background around how Goddard encountered the Medicine Wheel and shares his transition from the perspective of Buddhist practice and the new pathways opened in his studies of Shamanism. He writes:

“Shamanism with its foundation in the sense of being part of a world that is alive and to be cherished, provided the remedy for myself, and I believe can do so for the same imbalance in the culture at large.3

Additionally, Goddard also addresses the concerns around “cultural appropriation” that have evolved around many wisdom practices. He offers the reminder that everything of value has a point of origin that may not be of the individual’s heritage but how that content is represented and shared is the more important way of approach and enables the wisdom contained within to be brought into the world more broadly.

As you move through each of the chapters, there is a sense of being part of a grand exploration of revealing the nature of the worlds surrounding as well as the inner landscape that holds the Medicine Wheel organically within. And, although there are many ways in which the Medicine Wheel may be used and inclusive of additional components, Goddard offers use of the Wheel in its four simplified aspects aligning with the elements and cardinal directions of East, South, West and North.

“It is somewhat artificial to talk about each direction on its own, because they are inter-related, and no direction can be grasped without the light shed on it by the other directions. At the same time, the Wheel does have a movement  that gathers momentum and wisdom as it rotates on its path from East through South and West to North, and back to East again. This turning describes the whole arc of our life, as well as the many turnings on different levels within the course of our lives.4

Each of the subsequent chapters devotes its entirety to one of these elements. One can find the subtle references to his knowledge of astrological concepts in these chapters which are robust with varying correlates and fresh perspectives on what the composition of each of the elements may be beyond any tradition’s approach. “Chapter 2: The East-Initiation” provides discussion of this place of the rising sun and new beginnings as also a place of the magical child, courage and a space of major transformative change; “Chapter 3: The South-Emotional Awakening” deepens down into innocence, trust and the shadow nature; “Chapter 4: The West-Incarnation” opens the reader to relationships, gender and transgender and relationships; and “Chapter 5: The North-Perspective” carries the reader to the place of their own legacy and how that is affected by concepts of ageism, becoming the teacher and community.

For those readers who wish to add more of the complexity of the Medicine Wheel, “Chapter 6: The Non-Cardinal Directions” fills that desire. We now find a Wheel of eight directions corresponding to those directional spaces between the established E – S – W – N.  These tell more of the chronology associated with the Wheel moving from the East of the Child and coming finally to the North of the Elder and soon to be Ancestor. Although one of the shorter chapters, it is rich with enhancements.

“Chapter 7: Using the Wheel” brings the reader now to the point of actualizing all that gained of knowledge from the previous chapters. If not skipped ahead to, this very brief few pages provides the final integration to begin effective and meaningful personal work with the Wheel.

The concluding “Chapter 8: Correlations-Jung’s Typology, Archetypes, Astrology and the Mandorla” is the finishing touch meant to further whet the appetite of those wishing to extract more from working with the Medicine Wheel. 

The Bibliography includes some great recommendations, as well as relevant films and documentaries. Overall, The Medicine Wheel hits multiple checkboxes well beyond the traditional writings about the Medicine Wheel and its applications in spiritual practice.

Would I Recommend?

One of the many things I love about Goddard’s writing style is the vastness of interwoven disciplines that are evident in his works. The Medicine Wheel is another title that offers the reader multiple paths of established resonance, as well as new avenues to claim and explore.

There is a wonderfully integrated underpinning of psychological basis for this work with the Medicine Wheel and in this way, this book becomes a deep dive into revealing the nuances and complexities of the individual’s psyche and aligning it with spiritual growth and personal practice. And, most importantly, the clear message is that of our interconnectedness to each other and the world we have chosen for this incarnation’s lessons.

About the Author: Barry Goddard

In his twenties and thirties Barry was engaged in Buddhist practice, but for the last 25 years the main currents have been astrology and shamanism. He regularly writes blogs and Facebook posts about both shamanism and astrology, to which he brings a fresh and sometimes controversial perspective. He also does astrology readings and runs courses on Shamanism. He has recently written a book about astrology, Surfing The Galactic Highways Adventures in Divinatory Astrology. Barry lives on Dartmoor in Devon, UK.

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey, by Kenneth Johnson

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey, by Kenneth Johnson
Crossed Crow Books, 979-8985628173, 212 pages, January 2023

From accusations of shapeshifting and spirit flight to keeping the company of bestial familiar spirits, the testimonies recorded during the European witch trials bear an uncanny resemblance to ancient and universal shamanistic practices. In his classic work Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey, author Kenneth Johnson posits that European witches were indeed practicing a form of shamanism, “the world’s oldest spiritual path.”1 This view has already been well articulated in Eliade Mircea’s Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy (1951), and the scholarly works of Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg, such as Night Battles: Witchcraft & Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1966) and Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath (1989), but Johnson builds upon historical evidence for the purpose of reconstructing ancient shamanic practices for modern witches.

Johnson is a professional astrologer and the author of several books, including Mythic Astrology (1993), which he co-authored with Arielle Guttman, and Jaguar Wisdom: An Introduction to the Mayan Calendar (1997). Johnson is originally from California, but currently resides in Mexico. He also spent a decade in Guatemala, where “he was initiated into the indigenous Mayan priesthood as an aj q’ij (keeper of days) in November of 2017.”2 Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey is his personal favorite among his published works.

I read a previous edition of this book, published by Llewellyn under the title of North Star Road (1996), and I didn’t realize this was the same book until I started reading it. It was nonetheless a pleasure to revisit this superb work, as it contains a wealth of information and was one of the most influential texts in my transition from mainstream Wicca to the more shamanic practices of Traditional Witchcraft. This new edition, published by Crossed Crow Books, includes spiritual exercises inspired by Johnson’s tutelage under Russian shamans. It also has a foreword written by Nicholaj de Mattos Frisvold, author of Craft of the Untamed (2014) and Seven Crossroads at Night (2023), and a preface by Robin Artisson, the author of An Carow Gwyn: Sorcery and the Ancient Fayerie Faith (2018) and several other works on Traditional Witchcraft.

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey is interspersed with beautifully written fictional vignettes that capture glimpses of shamanic witchcraft practices throughout Europe, such as “Greenland, AD 1000,”3 which features a priestess of the Norse goddess Freya practicing seidr; “Northern Italy, 1600,”4 which dramatizes the spirit flight of an Italian benandante, or “good walker,”5 who protects the harvest by fending off evil spirits with a fennel stalk; and “Scotland, 1662,”6 which glimpses the trial of Scottish witch Isobel Gowdie.

In the introduction, Johnson provides a brief historical survey of the environmental and cultural factors that led to the witchcraft trials, “a holocaust that, we should remember, took place not during the so-called Dark Ages, but during the more ‘enlightened’ age of the Italian Renaissance and the early years of the scientific revolution.”7 In the tumultuous 1300s, the Black Death, crop failures, peasant revolts, and the uprising of radical religious movements, such as the Cathars and Waldensians, contributed to a widespread fear of “an epidemic of witchcraft.”8 Inquisitors believed heretics were members of a diabolical cult, “formed about 1375, which called upon demons who often bore the names and attributes of old pagan divinities, and which met by night in ceremonies called Sabbats.”9

These so-called witches anointed themselves with flying ointments made of hallucinogenic herbs and took flight in spirit, either astride animals or riding broomsticks, riding the night winds to the Sabbat where they danced in orgiastic rites with a horned devil. Johnson suspects that there could have indeed been a witchcraft crisis cult, which arose in response to the drastic decline of medieval society. By returning to traditional shamanic beliefs and blending them with folk Christianity, members of this hypothetical cult may have been attempting to end “aristocratic dominance through magical social revolution.”10 One of the most fascinating theories Johnson presents is that the medieval dancing plague was the shamanic dance of a crisis cult.11

The ancient spiritual practice of shamanism involves the practitioner entering trance states and traversing the spirit realm, from the heavenly heights of the gods to the Underworld of the dead, in order to bring back knowledge and healing wisdom to the benefit of their community. Although the word “shaman” originated in Siberia, Johnson claims that shamanic practices are the spiritual foundation upon which many world religions were built.

In “Part 1: Otherworlds,” Johnson explores the shamanic view of the cosmos.

“According to the cosmovision of the shaman, the North Star is the axis around which all things revolve,” Johnson says.12 “When shamans depart upon their spirit journeys, they often take the road to the North Star.”13

According to the Buryat people of Siberia, the sky is a great tent punctured with stars, and the North Star is the central pole which holds up the heavens. The stars themselves are a herd of galloping horses tethered to the polestar. In various cultures, the axis mundi, or world axis, is envisioned as the central pillar of the cosmos, embodied in the World Mountain, the World Tree, or even the Maypole. Using this axis, the shaman can navigate the three realms of Heaven, Earth, and Underworld. When depicted as a tree, the branches are imagined to reach up to the abode of the Sky Father, and the souls of unborn children roost in the boughs, as well as an eagle, the primary totem of shamans, and the “Bird of Prey Mother,” who lays the eggs from which shamans are born. The roots of the tree burrow deep into the Underworld, where a great serpent dwells.

Through comparative mythology, Johnson provides compelling evidence of similar shamanic beliefs throughout the world, citing examples of several World Trees, such as Yggdrasil, the World Tree of the Vikings; the great ceiba tree of the Mayans, which grew from the back of a crocodile; the Kabbalistic Tree of Life; and the Underworld cypress tree of the Orphic mysteries. The World Tree even appears in the witch trial of Joan of Arc (1412-1431), as she was accused of dancing around a “fairy tree”14 when she was a child, suggesting the survival of ancient shamanic practices in early fifteenth century Europe.

Variations of the World Mountain also appear in many cultures, from megalithic monuments, volcanoes, and Mayan pyramids to the abode of the Greek gods on Mt. Olympus. In the witch trials, the World Mountain appears as the home of the witch goddess. In the early 1500s, an Italian peasant accused of witchcraft named Zuan delle Piatte confessed that Venus had whisked him away to the Sabbath upon black horses, and he had visited Herodias in the mount of Venus. In 1630, a German witch confessed to traveling in spirit to visit the goddess Holda in a mountain called the Venusberg.

“All our images of the Goddess in the Mountain or Tree are ultimately metaphors for the kundalini or ‘serpent power,’ a feminine energy both sexual and spiritual that has its origins at the base of the spine and, during spiritual practice, travels up our own internal World Tree or Mountain to the crown of the head—at which point we experience enlightenment,” Johnson says.15

Just as the shaman’s tent is mobile, so is the center of the universe. The moveable axis mundi, or World Tree, corresponds to the upright spinal column unique to human bipedalism. The skull, which is the spirit house of human consciousness, is elevated to the heavens, and the earth goddess or Fairy Queen slumbering at the base of the spine is the kundalini serpent.16

According to Buryat mythology, the first shaman was born from the union of an eagle and a human woman, “which, symbolically, tells us that shamanism is ‘born’ from the union of the enlightened consciousness which dwells at the top of our own internal World Tree with the feminine potency that sleeps at its base.” 17

“Though one may be born to a shamanic vocation, one attains power and mastery only through initiation,”18 Johnson says. Shamanic initiation may manifest as being called by spirit voices and having a vision of death and dismemberment, followed by a rebirth experienced during a physical illness or a bout of madness, which we would perceive in modern times as a psychotic break. In European mythology, the Norse god Odin is the most obvious shamanic figure, as he was wounded by a spear and sacrificed himself to himself on the World Tree. There are also Welsh legends of Merlin in which he was once a warrior who went mad and lived in the woods like a wild animal after a traumatic experience on the battlefield. The Orphic myth of the death and dismemberment of the Greek god Dionysus is another striking example of shamanic initiation. As a child, the Titans murdered him and cooked him in a cauldron, which echoes the inquisitors’ grotesque fantasies of witches have cannibalistic feasts, involving the boiling of unbaptized babies in cauldrons and the use of their fat in flying ointments. 

“The Old Bone Goddess,”19 with her cauldron of death and rebirth, is the one who resurrects the shaman. She is the “Bird of Prey Mother”20 of the Siberian Yakut shamans. When the shaman’s magical powers have ripened and are ready to be activated through initiation, she dismembers him and feeds his body parts to demons. Then she reassembles his bones and resuscitates him.

I wonder if modern society’s disassociation from traditional shamanic practices can cause such initiations to manifest through traumatic life experiences, rather than just dream visions. After I performed a formal self-initiation ritual, I had initiatory dreams and visions, but my waking life also catastrophically fell apart, and it coincided with my Saturn Return. I lost everything, from material possessions to family members, and experienced frequent psychic attacks by a shadowy demonic entity that appeared to be attached to an abusive boyfriend. When it finally withdrew, several months after I escaped that toxic relationship, I heard it tell me that it was sorry for what it had put me through, and I never felt its presence again. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realized that the ordeals I experienced were part of an initiatory dismemberment and I came to terms with the fact that the Dark Mother to whom I was devoted had allowed those horrors to happen to me as part of the process.

Wicca, with its sugar-coated love and light Mother Goddess, did not adequately prepare me for the brutality of my shamanic witchcraft initiation, and reading the previous edition of this book, North Star Road, revealed the harsh truths of my spiritual path. I share what happened to me as a cautionary tale, because I initiated myself not fully understanding what I was getting myself into. I thought I was adequately prepared after studying Wicca for over a decade, rather than the customary year and a day, but the witch’s path is riddled with rose thorns, and true wisdom comes through suffering.

Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey fills in the gaps of knowledge that are missing in mainstream pop culture witchcraft. Johnson elucidates how ancient shamanic practices infuse the folkloric witchcraft of medieval and Renaissance Europe, and are the backbone of witchcraft today. This is an essential text for any serious practitioner who has been called by the spirits and seeks to reclaim their shamanic roots.

Meeting the Melissae, by Elizabeth Ashley

Meeting the Melissae: The Ancient Greek Bee Priestesses of Demeter, by Elizabeth Ashley
O-Books,1803412496, 360 pages, October 2023

It’s more than likely you’ve heard about the Eleusinian Mysteries, a secret ritual which lasted for more than 4,000 years in Greece kept hidden by the threat of death if revealed to outsiders. Maybe you’ve read about the famous people who ventured to undergo this rite–Plato, Marcus Aurelius, Aeschylus–and questioned the impact it had on their contribution to the world. Or perhaps you’ve wondered if hallucinogens, such as kykeon or ergot, were involved in the divine experience those who were initiated into the mysteries came away with.

But have you ever stopped and wondered who the people were overseeing the ritual? If you look up the Eleusinian Mysteries on Wikipedia, there’s a whole page dedicated to the priesthood, yet absolutely no link for the priestesses. All that’s mentioned on Wikipedia is that these priestesses were the High Priestesses of Demeter and Kore (Persephone), one of the highest religious offices that enjoyed great prestige, but there’s scarce information about who these women were or the role they had within the ritual. As someone who is fascinated by ancient priestesses, I certainly wanted to know more!

In Meeting the Melissae: The Ancient Greek Bee Priestesses of Demeter, Elizabeth Ashley has done a beautiful job of unveiling the long-forgotten priestesses of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the Melissae. The Melissae, which translates to “bees”, were some of the most influential priestesses of Ancient Greece, but modern scholars, just like Wikipedia, have largely neglected their role in the secret ritual. Unbeknownst to Ashley, her curiosity about the latin name of Lemon Balm, Melissa officialis, would spark a sacred journey as she set out to learn more about these fascinating women and their mysterious cult.

“Mystery work – as in the Mysteries of Eleusis, the domain of Demeter’s Melissae priestesses – is drawn from one’s own internal revelations. Peeling back layers of femininity, it reveals your part in life’s mystical pattern. Through it, one recognises the sacred privilege of being chosen as Earth steward.”1

The book begins with Ashley’s description of how she began to explore these priestesses of Demeter, including her initiations to the shamanism of the bees. Next, she spends a good amount of time teaching readers about bees themselves: different roles  in the hive, their life cycle, how they communicate, pollinate, and reproduce – and so much more! I learned a ton about bees from reading this book; I had absolutely no idea of the complexity and synchronization of inner workings of the hive. I have an entirely new appreciation for bees and now see them in a whole new light, especially after reading about their sacred symbolism in both ancient Egypt and ancient Greece.

“A potted version of some of his Orphic beliefs is a person was born with Dionysian perfectly pure spirit, housed in evil, chaotic Titanic flesh. Spirits were believed to drift down from the Heavens, disturbed by the chaos of creation, moving around on the breeze, accompanied by the bees, until children were born. At that moment, the bees then accompanied the Dionysian spirit down to Earth, where it was breathed into the body at a baby’s first gasp.”2

The flow of this book is a bit like a bee’s might appear: clear direction but a little bit this way, then a little that way, moving forward though often looping back in a circuitous route. There’s a lot to piece together, but there’s an intuition to Ashley’s transmission of information. She writes:

“Not all Melissae were priestesses, and not every priestess was known as Melissa. Likewise, contrary to what herbal texts would have us believe, they were not only affiliated to Demeter, or indeed only to Greece, being found much further afield in Asia Minor and Egypt for instance. They belonged to a tradition that had originated from many thousands of years before.”3

Therefore, to fully paint a picture of the Melissae for readers, Ashley covers a wide-range of topics, such as the life of ancient Greek priestesses and how one became a Greek priestess. Then she specifically goes into detail about the mysteries of Demeter and Persephone, Artemis, and Aphrodite before going even further back to the Minoan Priestesses and snake priestesses. She guides readers back in time to festivals (Thesmophoria) and rites (The Elusianian Mysteries, of course!) to highlight the connection to the Melissae.

My favorite chapter was titled “The Blood Mysteries”. She describes how M. officinalis is “profoundly involved with gynaecology, reducing period pain, balancing mood, and even guarding against post-natal depression.”4 Though she could not find any direct information association the Melissae with menstruation or sexual medicine, she came to the realizatino that Aphrodite’s girdle is the “sexual and gynaecological meridian”5, and working from this she pulls together compelling ideas about “family planning and colony control”6.

Though this book is extremely well-researched with plenty of references to follow up on, Ashley did not approach this undertaking as a scholar, but rather a woman on a quest looking for answers. The process of connecting with the Melissae involved soul-searching, opening up to new spirit guides, and piecing together bits of what was revealed to her. Ashley is very transparent about her journey, and in turn, she becomes a guide for the rest of us in the path to resurrect the ways of these lost priestesses.

“These reflections of the womb shamans have been brought down entirely from meditating and dreaming with Lemon Balm plant, with Melissa essential oil, CO2, and hydrolat, from using meditation techniques I have learnt and, of course, from spending time with the actual insects.”7

In recent news, bees have become a concern in the face of climate change. Changes in precipitation have been limiting their ability to collect food for their offspring, leading to a smaller population the following year. Bumble bees are one of the most susceptible species to the change of temperature. Concerns about bee population have led to encouragement to plant wildflowers and avoid the use of insecticides.

At the same time, one might assert in the face of patriarchy that the way of the priestess is also being threatened with extinction too. Might the bees and the priestesses of our world come together once again? After reading Ashley’s journey, I have hope that women of the world can rebuild their hive once again. For those who feel the calling to restore the divinity of both the bees and path of the priestess to its rightful place in the natural world, Meeting the Melissae is calling for you to dive in.

Shamanic Dreaming, by Carol Day

Shamanic Dreaming: Connecting with Your Inner Visionary, by Carol Day
Findhorn Press, 1644117037, 192 pages, February 2023

Discovering Carol Day has been an experience. She is a remarkable woman, who lends herself to many walks of life. As an author, counsellor, nature educator, and constellation therapist, Carol is used to “working with imaginary realms. Holding space within nature, and multi-realm environments”1

I enjoyed the circular, cyclical elements within Shamanic Dreaming: Connecting with Your Inner Visionary. All of life is cyclical–all of the universe in fact. This concept is something that speaks to me and something I often ponder about, as we see several different cycles regularly. The changing seasons, menstrual cycles, and the circle of life. Planetary spheres. They’re all connected in similar patterns. 

Also, the actor within me thoroughly enjoyed that the book is cleverly laid out in “Acts”, much like life itself. You can split your own play into as many acts as you like, but the point is that we’re all only on this earth for a snippet of time and Carol wants us to deepen our connection to the “calling of the land”2 to make your time here a fulfilling experience.

In Act One you are invited to ask yourself, “Why am I here?” and “What is going on?”.

Day has developed a practice, which she shares with you in the book, to aid people in being open to their visions. She talks about knowing yourself, knowing the visions that you see, and trusting in this process.

The book allows you a hands-on approach and asks you to attune yourself to everything all around you. There are tasks for you to complete throughout, all of which can bring a deeper understanding of your mindset and learning to be present.

I recommend quickly browsing the book before you begin, as some tasks require items you might not just have lain around, such as a shamanic drum. If you’ve already got one, great. But just check beforehand, because getting all ready for one of the tasks only to find you’re missing the key ingredient can be a huge disappointment. 

Day explains to us how we can connect with the vibration of the universe and how this can be beneficial for seeking out your “knowing”. This isn’t a book just to read, it is for you to make a connection, it’s a companion for a specific time in your life. To tune in and be peaceful. To lean into where you need to be in life and in the universe. 

Act Two allows you to travel through the past, present, and future. Kind of like a modern-day Christmas Carol for those who want to reconnect with the universe. No need for any Scrooges, just an openness to all things.

You’ll be guided throughout to connect with the nature of the universe, to find your own spirit guides, to be creative, and learn how to be quiet and be still. How can you be enlightened? What do you find when you open your mind? You shall set intentions across several realms. And learn how to respond to callings, how to interpret the messages, and what to do with those that you receive.

This book literally has everything, from the vibrational settings that we receive when partaking in Shamanic Drumming to the connections we can make with the Fav

We eventually lead into the practice and process of dreaming and how to call the ancestors into your dreams. All the while keeping yourself grounded and safe. 

Life’s grand plan for us all, for you individually, is waiting within these pages, ready to be unleashed and your first step on this path is right here in Day’s Shamanic Dreaming.

The very lovely illustrations that accompany the text are hand drawn and have a slight Quentin Blake style to them. They’re a beautiful accompaniment to this very real, open, and organic guiding system that Day has kindly shared with us. 

If you’re trying to find your place in the universe and you know there’s something else waiting, but it’s just out of reach, maybe Shamanic Dreaming has your answer, waiting patiently just on the horizon.

Animal Spirit Wisdom, by Philip Kansa and Elke Kirchner-Young

Animal Spirit Wisdom: A Pocket Reference to 45 Power Animals, by Philip Kansa and Elke Kirchner-Young
Earthdancer Books, 1644111154, 112 pages, May 2021

The lovely little paperback, called Animal Spirit Wisdom: A Pocket Reference to 45 Power Animals, by two shamans named Philip Kansa and Elke Kirchner-Young is a nice encouragement to open one’s mind to accepting the wisdom and assistance of animal spirits “energy from other dimensions,” as they write on page 8. Philip and Elke have been on a journey, for over 21 years between them, to share the wisdoms of this native tradition, known as Power Animals, or Animal Totems. I personally took their encouragement to heart as I read through this book, because I already have a love for animals in the world of mundane biology. I was quite interested in what the spiritual plane had to offer from animals too!

This book brought me a feeling of warmth and friendliness. I could really grasp the concept of calling a power animal to one’s side as a companion. This was my first true introduction to animal spirits, so I will need to gain more knowledge on the practice, before I might incorporate it into my own spiritual practices. That said though, I look forward to trying out the exercises written in this book, because unlike many other references I’ve seen, Animal Spirit Wisdom seems to take a gentle, guiding approach, rather than a strict format that stresses a lot on technique. That’s not to say the strict approach is wrong, however the easy going nature of this book seemed to match the writer’s intentions perfectly.

Reading through Animal Spirit Wisdom feels like you’re taking a spiritual walk on a path of nature with two friendly tour guides showing you the way. There is a schedule, for Philip and Elke shall also guide those next in line to be lead, but you must also stroll and allow the power animals to come along the path when you’re both ready to learn and grow from the experience.

Animal Spirit Wisdom is written in a succinct, organized style, and it features a clear and precise connection exercise with which to call on each of the 45 spirit animals referenced. Phillip and Elke also include a brief list of keywords and helpful descriptions for ideas on how calling forth any of the power animals may aid and protect you. Each spirit animal page contains adequately sourced and vivid images, which allow for the perfect visual aids for beginners.

I was only slightly confused by one part of this book, but I think that’s because I was taking things literally. I’ll only include my bamboozlement here, because I’m still not completely sure about it. On page 9 of Animal Spirit Wisdom, our shamans state “in order to discover your animal, make a spirit animal journey (see p. 12) with a shaman or another spiritual teacher.” As shown in the quote, there is another page number listed to see. On page 12 there is a whole exercise titled “A Spirit Animal Journey.”

Now, since our authors are shamans themselves, I’m inclined to believe they are indeed the “shamans with us,” so to say, on this particular journey. I don’t know if this might seem nit-picky, but I honestly wasn’t sure if that’s how I’m supposed to read these particular sections, or if I should actually contact either shaman directly and seek their counsel, as it were. Either way, don’t let the confused mutterings of a beginner sway you. The aforementioned curiosity didn’t take anything away from the book’s experience at all. I simply wish to remain transparent and forthcoming with my review.

Overall, Animal Spirit Wisdom by Phillip Kansa and Elke Kirchner-Young was a truly impactful and enlightening reading experience. I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone, of any level, who is interested in acquiring an introduction to the tradition of spirit animals. I genuinely believe the two beautiful shamans who put this book together delight in sharing this very knowledge with you. After my journey through these pages, I am moved to see the animals around me in a much more spiritual light. I wonder if the power animals will know my awe for them. Yeah, they probably will, as they’re the ones with the wisdom, after all.