Shamanic Journey 101 - Addendum
The following is taken directly from Michael Harner's book "The Way
of the Shaman." I've reproduced it for those wanting more information
on journeying, because it gives examples and commentary that might be
useful. Balance and blessings! -=Satinka Istari
Now you are ready for your first experiential exercise in shamanism.
This will be a simple journey of exploration down through the Tunnel
into the Lowerworld. Your ownly mission will be to traverse the
Tunnel, perhaps see what lies beyond, and then return. Make sure you
thorioughly understand these instructions before you begin.
To carry out the exercise, you probably will need a drum (or a
cassette recording of shamanic drumming), and someone to assist you
by beating the drum. If you have no drum, simply try tapping on a
hardcover book with a tablespoon as you lie outstretched on the floor.
Some persons do not need any drumming or tapping sound at all,
provided they are relaxed and able to clear their minds of ordinary
Wait until you are calm and relaxed before undertaking this or any
other shamanic exercise. Avoid psychedelic or alcoholic substances
during the preceding 24 hours, so that your centeredness and power of
concentration will be good, and your mind clear of confusing imagery.
Eat only lightly or not at all during the preceding four hours. Choose
a dark and quiet room. Take off your shoes, loosen your clothing, and
lie comfortably on the floor, without a pillow. Take a few deep
breaths. Relax your arm and legs. Lie there a few minutes and
contemplate your forthcoming mission. Then close your eyes, placing a
hand or forearm over them to keep out any light.
Now visualize an opening into the earth that you remember from some
time in your life. It can be an opening you remember from your
childhood, or one you saw last week, or even today. Any kind of
entry into the ground will do -- it may be hole made by a burrowing
animal, a cave, a hollow tree stump, a spring, or even a swamp. It
can even be a man-made opening. The right opening is one that really
feels comfortable to you, and one which you can visualize. Spend a
couple of minutes seeing the hole without going into it. Note its
Now instruct your companion to start beating the drum in a strong,
monotonous, unvarying and rapid beat. There should be no contrast in
the intensity of the drum beats or in the intervals between them. A
drumming tempo of about 205 to 220 beats per minute is usually
effective for this journey. Allow yourself about 10 minutes for the
journey. Instruct your assistant to stop the drumming at the end of
ten minutes, striking the drum sharply four times to signal to you
that it is time to return. The your assistant should immediately beat
the drum very rapidly for about a half a minute to accompany you on
the return journey, concluding with four more sharp strikes of the
drum to signal that the journey is over.
When the drumming begins, visualize your familiar opening into the
earth, enter it, and begin the journey. Go down through the opening
and enter the Tunnel. At first the Tunnel may be dark and dim. It
usually goes underground at a slight angle, but occasionally it
descends steeply. The Tunnel sometimes appears ribbed and often it
bends. Occasionally one passes through the Tunnel so fast it is not
even seen. In following the Tunnel you may run up against a natural
wall of stone or some other obstacle. When this happens, just go
around it, or through a crack in it. If this fails, simply come back
to try again. In any case, do not exert yourself too hard in making
the journey. If you do this work correctly, it will be relatively
effortless. Success in journeying and seeing depends on an attitude
that lies between trying too hard and not trying hard enough.
At the end of the Tunnel you will emerge out of doors. Examine the
landscape in detail, travel through it and remember its features.
Explore until you are signalled to come back, and then return up
through the Tunnel the same way you went down. DO NOT BRING ANYTHING
BACK WITH YOU. This is only an exploratory journey.
When you have emerged, sit up and open your eyes. Do not be
discouraged if you did not succeed the first time. Try it again,
with the drumming at a slower or faster beat. Different persons
require a different tempo on different occasions.
When you complete the exercise, describe to your companion what you
saw so that you will not forget the details of the experience. You
may also write them down or dictate them into a cassette recorder.
The act of remembering these experiential details is the beginning of
your accumulation of SCC* knowledge.
* The terms SSC and OSC refer to Shamanic State of Consciousness, and
Ordinary State of Consciousness respectively. Harner gives a lengthy
discussion of them, but basically, your normal waking consciousness is
OSC, and your altered state during sham work is SSC. For a more
complete definition, you'll have to read the book!
Some of the people in my workshops have been kind enough to provide
me with accounts of their experiences during this first exercise.
You may find it instructive to compare your own experience with
theirs. Here are a few of their accounts, prefaced my comments. You
will notice that they sometimes mention my calling them back from the
journey. This is something I usually do in group sessions, simply to
coordinate the participants.
Following are firsthand accounts of the experiences of persons
undertaking the journey into the Lowerworld for the first time, as
related by them afterwards. The narrators are mainly middle-class
Americans from a variety of backgrounds. In their descriptions you
may note the absence of any qualifying expressions such as "I imagined
that..." or "I fantasized that..." Carried along by the drum and using
the simple method just described, they had experiences which they
found to be real in a new way, and which they often described
afterward as among the most profound in their lives. You should be
able to have a comparable experience by using the simple method just
The first account provides an excellent description of the frequent
concentric circle appearance of the walls of the Tunnel.
When the drum began to beat, I sought out in my mind places I had
known which might provide the access I was looking for. I visualized a
couple of places that had been important to me and which I thought
might work, but neither seemed right; then the a high cave at Pyramid
Lake in Nevada, mysterious and with a grand view, but it seemed like
an awfully long tunnel I would have to travel from up there; finally
there was a majestic cave from my childhood, one of those tourist
places; was it called "Ruby Cave"? It was somewhere in the South,
maybe Georgia, or North Carolina.
Anyway, it was full of stalactites and stalagmites - a REAL cave. I
moved off into a dark and narrow area and found, not the cave of my
childhood fantasies with animals and dragons and beasts of every
kind, but a new kind of cave. Concentric rings of light and dark
opened up around me and seemed to carry me along them. It was not so
much a sense that I was moving through the tunnel but that it was
moving along me. At first the rings were circular, but they changed
shape and became vertical ellipses, always concentric and always
moving. The alternating patters of dark and light were faintly
reminiscent of a glow caught between the ridges of a corrugated pipe.
From time to time I became impatient that the tunnel seemed to go on
and on; then I would remind myself that, although it would be nice to
experience whatever was beyond the tunnel, it was enough that I was
experiencing the Tunnel. The vertical ellipses shifted and gave way
to horizontal ones which, after a time, opened up gradually along the
horizontal axis and began to break up, giving way to a gray and dimly
lit landscape - an underground sea - which I passed over for a long
time, closely wathcing waves rise, gather and move away beneath me.
The tunnel which brought me to this place had been at a slightly
downward angle of perhaps fifteen degrees; but now the darkened sky
over this underground sea directed me into another tunnel which took
an immediate and downward turn of 90 degrees, and I was again being
carried through it, by it. Its walls were once again the by now
familiar concentric circles of light and shade, almost pulsing me
through; there was no sense of falling but of quite deliberate
I was surprised to hear myself being called back, and reluctantly I
allowed myself to return, somewhat dissappointed at not coming to the
end of the tunnel, and at the same time, amazed at the experience. The
return itself was quick and easy. The sense of discovery and of awe
The second person also used a cave as an entrance into the earth, and
noted having experienced a sleep-like state of consciousness.
I chose a cave that was familiar to me. I've been to it four or five
times. It's in a wooded forest and the entrance is about four feet
in diameter. You go down into a large room with several passages. It
continues down into a mountain. I had to go over some crevices that
were pretty deep, and there was one spot where I got to a place where
you literally have to squirm your way through - very difficult to do
it just by yourself.
I went on down, to the deepest part of the cave that I've been in. I
had never really been any farther than that. But I just kind of went
even further, and came out at another entrance or, in this case, an
exit, and I came out onto a tropical island with a nice big shore,
just tropical birds and a lot of tropical vegetation. A
Then I came back. It was almost as if I had been sleeping, but I know
myself well enough to know when I'm sleeping, and I wasn't sleeping.
The next case is another example of using a cave as the entrance.
I seemed to take a long time getting started. I finally focused in on
a cave that I had visited in France where primitive people had lived.
I walked in and kept walking and walking. It never seemd to get much
smaller than maybe my height, so I didn't have to crawl. So I just
kept walking along. Eventually it widened into a large opening. I
walked out and there was a cliff. I walked around it and climbed up
the hill so that I was sitting over the opening. I enjoyed the view,
which was very deep and broad. Then I came back.
Persons with unusual shamanic potential may, even in this first
experience, not only see but feel, hear and smell in their
experiences. In the following example, the person felt the sensation
of climbing on hands and knees, the sensation of sliding, and the
coldness of the water, in addition to simply seeing.
I started out in a little spring that's on the property where I now
live. I felt myself getting very small as I went under a big rock. I
entered a tiny little wet channel and it went uphill for quite a
while. I felt myself climbing on my hands and knees. It was very dark
in there. It got very dark as soon as I couldn't see the opening any
more. Then it started a very sudden descent and I didn't know where it
was going. I felt myself sliding down on the wet rocks and ending up
in a very big space where there was a pool of water. The water was
Across this water was a tiny light and I felt there must be something
beyond or outside, so I went through the water and had to partly wade
and partly swim. I remember the sensation of being very cold. Then it
was a very steep climb up a little channel, like in a cave. I came
out into a meadow that was very green and shaded by a huge oak tree.
I sat down under the oak tree and discovered that I had leather
clothes on, like Indian leggings and an Indian shirt.
I was feeling very comfortable under that tree when it was time to
come back. I felt annoyed at having to come back, but being a good
student, I followed the instructions and got to the area where I had
to climb back out of the pool. I discovered I didn't have the
leggings on any more, I just had blue jeans and my climbing boots.
Then I cam out into the little spring again. The sky was kind of gray,
overcast. It felt like home, like I was back where I belonged.
In the case below, the journeyer not only felt a "cool, moist soil,"
but heard also the babbling of water, and felt the wind while standing
on a hilltop in the Lowerworld.
I had a little bit of a problem getting started because, when you
told us to choose an opening to enter, I had two images in my head. I
tried out the first one that was just a sort of cave in the side of a
hill that a bulldozer had chopped that way. I climbed up into the
cave and it didn't go anywhere - I couldn't make it open up for me
So I went to the other place, which is a hollow tree trunk on some
property that belongs to a friend of mine - I was there maybe a month
ago. So I crawled in there and went down through a small opening just
barely big enough for me. I crawled through on my stomach. It wasn't
an unpleaseant feeling like mud, but just sort of a cool, moist soil.
I could hear a babbling at one point. On this particular property I'm
talking about there's a creek that runs over it. I could kind of hear
water, like I was going under the creek. I crawled for a long distance,
and then came out on a hilltop.
I had really good feelings looking out from the top of the hill in
all directions. As I was standing there I could feel the wind coming
through behind me. It was kind of like the wind filled me up with a
really nice feeling.
Then when you told us to come back, I got back on the ground and
started coming back. I got kind of anxious when the drum started
getting faster, like my heart started beating faster. it was like I
wasn't sure I was going to make it back in time. In fact, I was
trying to get back but it was a small opening. Then finally when you
hit the drum the last time I had kind of a flash of light.
In the next example, the person not only had the experience of
smelling, but found a new entrance underground through which to
return to the surface.
I started off swimming in the ocean. Then I went into an enormous
whirlpool, hundreds of feet across or more. It just spun me down and
down and down and down. That lasted most of the journey. I kept
thinking, how am I going to land safely? I finally broke through and
I fell onto this enormous daisy. It was big enough to cushion my
fall. It smelled pretty good. Then you said come back and I found a
cave, a system of caves, and I just whooshed back up through them.
The following case illustrates how the person in the SSC learns new
abilities, such as how to "swim through the earth." Thus occurs the
experiential accumulation of shamanic knowledge as to how to do things
that would be impossible in ordinary reality.
I went down to the bottom of a tunnel and then I came to water at the
bottom. I was entering through the water but I had to play around
there for a while to try and find the cracks in the rock, and I really
couldn't see how to travel in the rock. But then I found if I spread
my limbs out and made myself a little bit flatter I could swim through
Similarly, the shaman in the SSC learns how to metamorphose himself
into other forms of matter, as happened in the following case. Note
how this person, in the midst of such a radical transformation, was
simultaneously aware of the existence of ordinary reality. This is
common in shamanic work with a small portion of one's consciousness
remaining in the OSC to monitor ordinary reality and thereby to
provide a bridge for a relatively rapid total return to the OSC.
I went through a clearing in the woods that I remember when I was
very young. Going through I was very aware of how small I was, how
everything was so much bigger than I. It was as though I were in a
tunnel. I was very aware of sounds, the smell of the woods and my
I just got into a cave, but it was not too deep. I just all of a
sudden dissolved myself, I became water to get into the cracks, just
lying down. I was very much aware of what was going on here in the
room also, hearing you beating the drum. So I was simultaneously in
two realities. Then I came back the same way.
Occasionally in traversing the tunnel, one loses track of direction
or gets "boxed in." This sometimes happens even to experienced Jivaro
shamans. If you cannot find a way out, just relax and wait a while.
You will come back effortlessly, even if somewhat slowly, as in the
Once I saw these ground squirrels when I was camping, their holes were
all over. So that's where I went down; through one of their holes. At
first I started going through these small little tunnels, then all of
a sudden I reached a point where a tunnel was straight down and I
started travelling real fast straight down. I couldn't see the end and
it went on for quite a while. I just couldn't stop and didn't know
where I was going. It was all black. I got a little disoriented in
there for a little bit. I didn't come back up as fast as I went down,
but I eventually came up, although I didn't come back the same way.
Even an experienced shaman may be unsuccessful in penetrating an
obstacle in his descent. Then there is simply nothing to do but
return, as did this person:
I went down through a hot spring in the middle of a river. It kind of
erupts from the bottom. I went down and I sort of visualized what
it's like, no colors or anything. Then I ended up at a sheet of lava
or magma. I didn' t know how to penetrate it so I could travel along
it. I was just stuck here and I didn't know what to do. Then you beat
the drum for us to come back up and I returned.
Even on the first journey a person of unusual shamanic potential may
encounter animal, plant, or even human forms, as in the next case.
This particular person's potentialities are further suggested by the
fact that he flew in his first experience. Not also how, like the
Eskimo shaman referred to earlier (but not in this typescript, sorry!
- SI), he had to struggle to pass down into the earth. Even for those
with considerable potential, shamanic work is sometimes difficult.
I entered some large caverns that I know. I remembered there was an
area they haven't explored yet, so I went down in there. It was very
narrow for a long time, and I had to really squeeze and push to get
through. Then it suddenly opened out into a really large area. It
went for a long, long way and I was traveling, traveling, traveling. I
realized that I had a long way to go, so suddenly I just started to
I was just moving very quickly, flying all the way through. When I
got to sort of the center, there were all these nature spirits, very
ethereal-type bodies everywhere. At first they were just standing
around and then they all started dancing to the beat of the drum.
They were all going the same way at the same time and I was seeing
different ones. There was a frog one that had big eyes and looked
really strange, and a tree one that was very tall, They were all
moving to the drum beat. Then I just returned when you said to come
Animals were encountered in the next case, too. This person
encounters a "pterodactyl-bird," and with appropriate shamanic
confidence senses that it is nothing of which to be frightened.
I went down an old abandoned mine shaft and when I got in there it
turned dark. Somehow I couldn't really begin the journey. Then a
platform appeared with wheels on it, and it started taking me off down
this shaft. Pretty soon the shaft got lighter and lighter, and very
yellow. There were individual little chambers. Each one of the
chambers had an animal in it, some type of prehistoric animal. Each
was doing something, I don't know what they were doing, but they were
moving in incredible agitation.
Then the platform began to slow down. The shaft was still yellow. As
I turned to look at the animals, a thing came out of the wall like a
red and black pterodactyl-bird. It was hooded and flapping its wings
at me. I wasn't frightened, it seemed more playful than anything.
Then you called us back. As you called us back, it acted as if it
wanted me to stay there. The platform began moving back toward the
opening, and I came back.
In our final example of a first journey, the person sensed that he
had brought back a beneficial or beneficient entity. This is a
classic kind of shamanic work that the person had simply stumbled on
involuntarily in his first experience in the SSC. I asked him if he
had already known what I did in my workshops, since this might account
for his experience. He, however, replied "No, I tried to find out
something about the workshop and I never did." Presumably this person
has considerable shamanic potential.
I started off in a spring. I jumped into the spring and followed the
water through the tunnel. Then I came out where another spring was
flowing out into a clearing on the side of a mountain. I was facing
northwest - for some reason I knew it was northwest. I sat down with
the spring on my left and the forest on my right. It felt perfect. No
other place in the area felt right, but that spot felt perfect.
Then I came back. I just jumped into the spring and swam back to the
opening where I began. The strange thing was that when I got back
and had gotten out, I had the distinct impression that something had
come back with me. It was right behind me. It was beneficial or
benevolent; it was not bad.
Thus endeth the transcript. Let me hasten to add that for some of
you, the accounts of others' successful first journeys may be
discouraging when compared to your own attempts. PLEASE don't let
this "comparison" activity sour you on journeying and poison your
self-confidence. EVERYONE can journey - like everyone can draw, or
read music. Some require more teaching and practice, but the talent is
Harner's students begin with the basic workshop in hopes of going on
to study Soul and Power Animal retrieval, deathbed work, and other
such things that a typical community shaman might be called on to do.
It is not necessary that you put as much time or energy into it, if
your main goal is to make sense of your own life, and empower
yourself to be successful in both worlds. It is quite likely that the
majority of his people (many of whom may have resounding duds for
first journeys - he's not going to put THAT into a book!) already
know of and use in some small way the shamanic talents they were born
with, and are just learning how to use them in a more consistent and
controllable fashion by his formal training.
One more thing: when you journey for a power animal, avoid any nasty
looking things (swarms of insects, pools of slime, etc.), reptiles,
serpents, or fish with bared fangs, teeth or claws. Insects are not
power animals, though some sorcerers court them for allies.
According to Harner, although not always stated by other
"authorities", a power animal should usually appear to you four times
in your journey - it might be four similar poses, or four entirely
differnt views (or any combination). We'll cover this in another
episode, however, as it is more important when you journey to find
the power animal of another person with the intent of restoring it to
Balance and Blessings ----====]]] Satinka [[[====----