January 2010
WinterShamanism: The Miracle & Gift of Memory

Dear Friends,

Darkness and Snow have descended...
There is a hush upon the Land
In the distance cross the sweeps and plains
Firelight flickers along with the sweetest of sounds
Walking 'cross the crusted field
Lured by the light and the sweetest of sounds
I come to standing outside the contours
Of a tipi tattooed with bison and bears
Wolves and owls and deer on its hide
And hear from within the sweetest of sounds
'Tis the Memory of the People flowing in Song...

Darkness and Snow have descended
There is silence upon the Land
Except for the sound of the People's Memory
Filling the Cold with the warmest of Song...
When plants stand frozen, stiff with ice..
And animals sink slowly to the Forest floor
Winter's Death comes slinking through the ribs
Seizes the heart...prevents the brain's own thinking,
We sidle closer as everything breathes with heaving,
Staring bleakly - light from the fire reflected in eyes
Scenes of another time and place slowly upward rising
Memory is stirred and we begin our singing..
We are the People flowing in our Songs
The Sweetest of Sounds 'cross the snow-covered land..

In the Time Between

imageWe have just finished engaging in the various cultural phenomena and individual activities that characterize the holiday period from mid-December through the first of the New Year. While writing this newsletter, I'm aware of that peculiar pause that seems to occur just after the fairly loud vibrations of these seasonal holidays.

Rushing into the void between then and now is that uneasy sense of 'what's next?' After celebrating the Return of the Light, what to do with the fact it is STILL very, very dark, cold, with fierce Weather systems still to come. For shamanic cultures, this is the time when the people use one of the greatest gifts to the humans: Memory.   

'Tis the time when the painted hides are unraveled and their stories told; the Singing Staff is brought forward, passed around the Circle and songs emerge; dreams from the night voiced, their messages received, while divination takes place to determine their meanings. There are days when events of the previous year are surfaced, retold and committed to memory. The memory is stored in the minds of the listeners with iconic images added to the painted hides. All activity during this time is undertaken with intention to remember:
Who Are We
From where do we come
What are the Places of Blessings for us
That have shaped our lives
Marked and transfigured us...
What is the source of our healing powers
Who be our allies, guardians,
And companions through the many worlds..
Whether gathering in small family dwellings or in the Circle's enclosures, everyone knew that this was the season given to the humans for renewing Memory - for what is held in Memory is the very marrow of the humans. And those who trained to be Keepers of Memory used this time to deepen their knowing and sharpen their skills.

It is hearing these Memories sung forth for the Whole that created the sweetest of sounds during the dark and the cold.

Memory is the Marrow of The Shaman's Path

imageI keep wondering about this Memory-driven image of the 'shaman's winter' and some of the dis-content many of us experience through the Winter months.

In recent years, friends of mine have introduced me to their "Light Boxes." These are literally boxes containing lights of a specific spectrum and are used daily to counter the effects of less light (or Sun) within one's environment. The use seems to range from the prevention of depression to curing depression or sadness seemingly correlated with the dark of the Winter days.

I do know friends for whom Winter is their season of depression and they have a hard time finding anything that would lighten their mood. Days are seen through a color spectrum of mostly gray. I have known them long enough that when they mention their wariness of Winter's approach, I can call to mind how difficult did the previous Winters seem for them.  

Surely it is hard to ascertain just how much our difficulties during the Winter months are connected with trying to live our lives as though every season is the same: that is, keep the same working hours, do the same activities, while realizing there may be some interruptions in travel due to hazardous road conditions!  I don't think our culture is going to suddenly transform its priorities... nor we as individuals... but it may be that by adding
the shamanic paradigm to our Winter living, we may find ourselves actually looking forward to the return of Winter each year!

We might find that Winter becomes the season of self-ful-fill-ment. It becomes the season wherein we, like other animals, will truly have ways to both seed our dreams and nurture those seeds to their emergence in Spring.
I think learning how to be Winter's People is very important.

In several of his writings, the Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, spoke about the insidiousness of despair---despair being a way that eats the very person from within until nothing remains of heart or soul. He distinguished despair from depression (which he saw as a physiological imbalance). The primary characteristic of despair, according to Kierkegaard, was the Self desiring to be other than the Self. From this perspective, it is the Self wanting to NOT be a Self in Winter... not wishing to experience Winter. Or it can be seen as the Self wishing to be other than a 'Winter embedded Self:' e.g. being a 'Spring Self'. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, there is no way to not be a Self in Winter for we are inseparable from this season... from all seasons.   

If re-membering who we are and choosing to be our very Selves is the path beyond despair, then cultivation of Memory may be the antidote. Letting our memories reflect before us may be the Shamanic Light Box that addresses the spiritual component of seasonal dis-order. This may not cure the physiological factor but may allow us a proactive attitude to our suffering. Our Ancestors may have understood this and be able to offer us some healing from their Ways of Wintering shamanism. 

And some of our contemporary Winter activities are not that dissimilar from those of our Ancestors - the primary difference is in their intention and purpose. For example, crafting, drawing, storytelling, music-making, games, and dream sharing are activities often done through Winter months.

It is universal across peoples in the Northern Hemisphere to perceive Winter as the time when the Memory of the People is both expressed and created. Shamanic initiates used this time to learn the stories, remember the songs, and practice specific healing ways. One would not be accorded full initiation until one demonstrated the ability to re-member, and recall from memory, the stories that were the bloodlines of the peoples. These could be simple or very complex narratives. Or they might be various genres of songs: historical, healing, or detailing relationships with plants and animals.
    These are the sweetest of sounds
    The sounds of Memory flowing across the Winter land.

Surrounding One's Self with the Animals

imageThirty-eight years ago Winter found me living in a tipi in Elk, a town situated in the northern coastal mountains of California. I had spent the Summer months making a tipi suitable for me, my dog Taugus, and a Woolly Monkey that an Animal Farm in Massachusetts had asked me to adopt.

Jerome (his name) had been involved in therapy work I was doing with children during my years in Boston. He had been rescued from a group who were illegally importing animals from South America. The Animal Farm director simply thought Jerome would not survive (much less thrive) under the circumstances intended for him. And over the two years Jerome had developed a close bond with Taugus and me.

So off to California did the three of us go. That was one of the most physically challenging Winters I've ever experienced. I was not prepared for the endless rain and bone deep wet cold in those mountains that year.

I remember quite clearly, however, just what moved this unexpected challenge into a remarkably creative time.  In making my tipi, I had decided to paint pictures of wilderness kin on the hide. The effect was that whether looking in or looking out, a community of Wild Ones encircled my home.

From October to March I had to keep a fire constantly going... day and night... and that meant the reflections of these Wild Ones were with me always. Over those months, I shared stories with both my living and my Shadow companions that helped to create a mythic Winter. And now years later, some of those animals are the Power Beings with home I work.   

In retrospect, I was simply following the Way of Winter living practiced by our Ancestors for thousands and thousands of years.

I still continue the practice of circling my home with Totemic Beings and it occurs to me that this Winter, I shall focus more on learning the stories they have to share and share my stories with them.

I mention this because we can do this mythic living using our shamanic objects. If we don't have them now, we can go to any nature area e.g., woodlands or ocean area and find natural objects, such as stone or wood, that somehow contain the form of the Ones with which we walk on our shamanic path. Or we might find object forms that indicate they wish to return home with us. They have something to reveal to us. This is why such forms were painted on hide, carved into the inner support poles of lodges, or strung from ceiling structures. By doing this, we can re-discover the myths by which we live consciously and unconsciously... such discoveries contribute to the River that flows us into Spring.

Painting Our Gifts from the Road

imageA friend of mine in Israel and I were recently Skyping (video/phoning on the computer) and Ziva held up for me a painting she had done titled "Wisdom from the Road." The painting covered a recent journey she had made that included some sacred places in Israel.

While peering into the computer screen, I had a momentary thought that I was looking at some contemporary form of painting of the Memory Hide.

While Ziva described, my eyes traced the iconic map she had made. When she finished, I then retraced the route and knew that particular journey had been committed to my memory and my knowledge of sacred places in the world had been thus expanded. I could even imagine taking Ziva's map with me on a trip to Israel and using her hieroglyphics to follow the same route to Places of Blessing.

Shamanic peoples have always created such maps: whether of the nonordinary or the ordinary worlds. Winter was the primary time for creating these, sharing the stories, and thus increasing the Memory of the People regarding both History and Place. Songs emerged honoring the Blessings received from within the Lands.
What might we develop if we used Wintertime for creating such maps individually and in our Circles?

This has prompted me to suggest to one of the Drum Circles here that we spend some circle time recollecting the Places of Blessings we have encountered this past year; and then spend some time seeing what stories might emerge as we hold these places in our Memory. And these need not be limited to the past year - painting our gifts from the Path might include several years. In such activity, might we find that we were taken to many different places and yet there was a thread of similarity that we had not seen before? Focused recollection can be a wondrous process for un-covering teachings and, when done with others, for expanding everyone's knowledge of BlessingWay Places.

Or we can paint with words images of beautiful places... these images become many candles in the dark months. Two weeks ago, some of us gathered in Circle and spent some time allowing images of Earth's beauty to take shape among us. Each person painted a vision of some specific place on Earth they offered to us as a talisman through the Winter. My smile grew wider and wider as I saw these scenes in the center of our Circle... it was like looking into one of those snow-filled glass balls, watching the painted words fall to create fantastical scenes that would be awaiting us in Spring yet were also with us Now. Such moments are illustrative for me of why Memory is considered among the greatest of gifts to the Humans... and the cultivation of Memory required of the shamanic practitioner.

The Singing Staff - Winter's Friend

imageDuring our Solstice celebration, we took time to honor Mother Oak - the great Tree that provides shelter and nourishment for all the lands in which She is found... which is almost everywhere that Trees live in the Northern Hemisphere. We decorated her with seed balls and millet strands and poured libations of Apple Cider over her body. The sound of singing, rattling, and bells filled the air. Such seed providing is done in order to bring the winged ones to her, during her own dormant phase, so that she can experience their beauty and song... in that way, we were assistant to her own Mothering activities.

While doing this, I remembered the tradition of the Singing Oak Staff in which the Staff is used to access leylines of Song within the Earth, bringing them through the Staff, through one's own body and singing them forth to the World. The use of Staff is a marvelous shamanic practice not used that much in contemporary shamanism yet one worth developing and practicing.

Just as the roots of a Tree sink downward and bring up Earth's nutrition to the branches, so too does the tip of the Staff for the shamanic practitioner. In healing the Staff is tapped upon the ground, around the patient, to access the appropriate healing powers within the Land. It is used to summon the Animals and to establish a bridge of connection between the one holding and the ones being touched by the Staff's tip.

One ancient Winter tradition involves passing the Singing Staff in Circle. It is understood that different individuals will be given different songs... appropriate to the vibrations of their own bodies. Yet the many songs, regardless of who accesses, are songs for all the people and gifts from the Below World. We can use the wood from whatever Tree lives in our area and make such a staff that could become our Winter's Friend. Individually or in Circle, we could bring forth the songs within our homeland. The Staff from any Tree remembers the songs and stories of that Tree and, if we awaken it, we shall be granted the gift of these memories.

I have decided to get out a Staff that I made from wood in Montana, use it this Winter both to access the songs from the Land here and from its home in Wolf Creek, Montana. I know there are others in Drum Circles here that have Staffs we made several years ago. I am intrigued to discover what we might see and hear when we bring together a group of Staffs - asking them to become our Winter's Friends.

Perhaps altogether
the Songs from our Staffs
Will become the sweetest of sounds
Warming us through cold Winter rains...

And Then There was Play   

imageRecently I came across a description of "Mitten"... a shamanic game intended to further the development of certain 'sensing skills.' It reminded me how much the divinatory arts are furthered through games of skill or chance e.g. the Bone Game. We can get very serious in our shamanic studies and lose sight of how much 'play' is an essential human activity.

For all peoples, long days spent indoors or in inclement weather are conducive to developing and enacting games. A goal for me in this new year is to increase my repertoire of games that enhance shamanic skills through the employment of our various senses.

Sometimes the simplest games serve this purpose. For example, the Mitten Game:
In this game (the title refers to Winter Gloves), each person keeps one of their Mittens while placing the other in a collection along with the Mittens of all the Players. Variations on the game include 'finding' not one's own mitten but the mitten of another. That is an advanced game. The usual Mitten game can be played individually or in tag teams. The object is to find the other Mitten in the collection, within a given time, while being blindfolded. 

If played by 'tag teaming,' then each success occurs when the tag team member finds either their own or a member of their tag team's Mitten. If played individually, when the mitten is found it is simply returned to the pile of mittens thus ensuring a continuous collection from which one must be able to find one's own. Several beats on the drum signify the time for finding the Mitten is over. The winner of the individual game is based on who is quickest to find their own mitten and is then awarded some prize - often a new set of Mittens (an item much in demand!) In the tag team, success is based on which team accrued the most Mittens and other teams are required to provide a 'feast' for the winner. Overall success is based on two factors: the length of time needed and the ability to find one's mitten or mittens belonging to one's team members.

Different subtle skills are developed during this game including touch, smell, and sighting. Over time this Winter game becomes a way of assessing the skill level of various shamanic initiates, developing these skills more deeply, and eventually someone possessing high-level abilities becomes a potential shaman who employs that gift as needed on behalf of the people. Shamanic initiations nearly always included a history of demonstrating one's skill in such games.

I can well imagine that this game would be enjoyed by individuals of all ages and it would be watched closely since some of these skills or gifts would be essential to the people's survival at different times and in specific circumstances. For example, to be able to sort surrounding smells on the land could be invaluable.

We can also take other games we play (board and/or card) and rewrite the rules so that they become games of divination. All such divinatory games were developed over time, using the materials at hand from which to constitute the game. Every game has some element of guess or predicting outcome within it. I'm not aware of much attention paid to developing such games in our contemporary shamanic practice while, at the same time, such games are integral in shamanic cultures. It would be interesting to see what games we would develop today!

Renewal and Re-memberment for the New Year

imageMost of us do some focusing on entering the New Year by divesting ourselves of that which we do not wish to carry as extra luggage and/or creating resolutions for the changes we wish to be as we align ourselves with the Return of the Light.

That's one reason I consider this an optimal time for the healing process of dismemberment-rememberment. Just as Winter serves for renewing the people's Memory, so, too can Dismemberment and Rememberment allow for the conscious return of our own Memory for who we are and our purpose here. By doing this on the cellular level in this process, our Being has the opportunity to reorganize so that our Soul can claim its rightful place within us and direct our engagement with the world.

There's a reason that this healing way is done periodically by shamanic people. Inevitably in the dailiness of our lives, we accrue unwanted feelings, thoughts, and a wide range of attached strings that sometimes jerk us around.

We do that which we desire not to do - we are involved in activities injurious to our souls. This is unavoidable yet without periodic cleansing, the Self becomes greatly diminished and the Soul contracts. That's why shamanic cultures recognize the need for periodic dismemberment.

Along with our usual rituals for transition between the old and new year, we can undertake this. We might consider holding clearly that our intention is to be dismembered and then be 're-Memoried.' Then several days or two weeks later, journey to see if Spirit wishes to reveal any specific Memories now dwelling in the deep places within our Being.  Just as the painted hides used icons depicting the history of the People, so too are such iconic images painted within us. If we can draw on them consciously, we have even more fuel for lighting and sustaining the Ways in which we wish to live.

Over the past few years, I have experimented with using drums OR singing for these Dismemberment-Rememberment Journeys. Both can provide the auditory rhythm that holds us as we undertake this process. If you have not employed Singers for this particular journey, I highly recommend trying this. Hearing my circle friends singing for me touches that primal knowing that 'the whole village desires this journey for me and will be waiting for my return.' Yes, people drumming for us can have similar effect yet the sound of the human voice singing us is analogous to being accompanied by the heartbeat of the People.

We know the heartbeat of the Drum accompanying us. Do we know the heartbeat of the People holding and tending us as we move along in our journey? And what about our spiritual helpers hearing this heartbeat singing too?  All the different ways in which we can journey have related effects through all the realms. Who knows what the effect might be on some spiritual helper (say Wolf), if Wolf hears the humans singing while Wolf is helping or healing me.

Memory is the River Running through the Ages

imageHow blessed are we that the world over, shamans have recorded what they experience during altered states of consciousness and journeys into non-ordinary realms of reality.

These remarkable drawings show flight, communication with spirit guides, and otherwise hidden knowledge of the universe.

They remind us that shamans change their energy field to interact with the energy field of living and non-living objects as well as the elements. They intrigue and invite us to dis-cover these other realms and know that state of merging with another Being or Power.

Shamans through the ages are dependent on those who have gone before... who have discovered and shown some of the ways for these extraordinary searches to the Hidden. Practicing the Shaman's Way or walking this path is a continuous process of being imbued with powers from the realm of spirit. The Way is a movement in which one is continuously stepping into the Memory River and adding one's own discoveries to the River's waters. The literature and the oral tradition are replete with examples of the initiatory processes whereby one undergoes some type of purification, some form of death, in order to be born again. Awaring ourselves of these descriptions can keep us mindful that this is a path of service characterized by assistance from ancestral beings and spirit helpers. 

As we tap into ancient Memories, it's important to remember that these can arise from our Dreams, from images we encounter in our walkabouts, and through listening to the stories of our fellow walkers on the path. If we stay tuned to what Winter is seeding in the Darkness, then we are able to nurture these seeds and walk these visions into Spring and beyond.

For me, Winter is a primary time of deep listening to Spirit - and to the World - to discover upon just what issues to focus in my workshops the following Spring, Summer, Fall. With the veils between the worlds so thin, I am able to see and hear more clearly what  and who is calling to me and engage in profound conversations before the Light's so bright that our Shadow Companions seem to disappear.

Many of you have written to me asking "what is your teaching schedule for 2010?" At the bottom of this letter, I can give you dates that are now confirmed.

However, except for one or two workshops, I am using Winter to listen for 'what and how to teach' during the other weekends  that have been set aside. I don't want to use these newsletters as advertising for workshops. I consider these letters to you as times for reflecting and meditating together. Some information about my teaching schedule can be seen at the end of this letter - including how to find out more if you are interested.

Many of us are in service through our teaching, healing, or circle practice. This Winter season is a special opportunity to move from outward in, to refurbish and renew the inspirational fire that fuels our service. 'Tis a marvelous time to learn more of 'withiness':  withinness of one's self, withiness of others including people, plants, animals, and the elements. Consider, for example, our service through healing: often during diagnostic sessions, the shamanic practitioner listens to see if 'all is right within'----do the sounds and colors beneath the skin vibrate clearly in harmonious relationship... and based on what we learn, we then use the shamanic tools with which Spirit has gifted us.

Yet sometimes in our busy lives, we can short circuit the process and seemingly leap easily from the initial 'hearing or sensing' and quickly employ our tools (e.g. extraction, soul retrieval).  Through the Winter gift of dormancy or less outer activity, we can drop down into deep, deep listening... refine our sense of smell... see from the middle, the periphery of our eyes... and explore touching which feels way below the skin. 

Meanwhile as there is this wonderful, seeming outer dormancy, life is being fiercely sustained from deep, deep within - way, way down below. And these  Winter activities, that I have been describing, are shamanic ways of balancing this inner living with knowledge and wisdom from the outer world. By outer world, I mean these remarkable re-collections from shamanic peoples - both historical and contemporary - of the Ways of Spirit in prayer, action and practice. We DO learn from our human kin as well as our Spirit Beings - and our descendants are dependent on us to keep a continuous thread - a truly Flowing River.

Keeping covenant with those who have gone before and those coming requires our own contributions to Memory's River -  finding ways of witnessing to that which we have been shown and taught. Perhaps Creator gave us the Gift of Winter to use as a time for throwing back our catches into the hole in the Ice -- having used the prior months to nourish ourselves with fish and loaves -  now with tears of joy and gratitude - with palms outstretched in prayer - we sing "O Ma Some" - and pour our wisdom libations to all beings now sinking down into watery roots and creating vast reservoirs of connection below the visible surface.

Just as we cannot function without water, we cannot function without Memory. When Memory is referred to in shamanic cultures, it is nearly always related to the River that flows through All. And we know that water, in its many forms, feeds all other life on the planet. May we use this season of Winter to dis-member, re-member, and add to the Memory of the People.

May we find and do activities that create the sweetest of sounds across the Lands. May we move in River's flow and contribute with our waters to the River of Memory for the People.

Love and Blessings,

Carol Proudfoot-Edgar
for ShamanicCircles

Note regarding future workshops:

A complete description of each workshop will be available by early March. As stated above, I use the Winter months for working with Spirit re: what issues are calling to be addressed during these workshops. 

These workshops dates have been confirmed with the Retreat Centers. Check with Pirkko or at my website for additional workshops not yet confirmed.

**Except for the SSP Annual Conference (June), these workshops are limited in enrollment.

Except for the May Women Healers Retreat, all these workshops are for men and women (referred to as Mixed Group). There has been some confusion about this because for several years I was teaching many Women's Circles and some people presumed my workshops were for Women only. I have always felt it is our working together, men and women, that will lead to a transformed world.

Susan Gilliland and I continue to teach together. In addition to working with Susan and Pirkko, plans are underway to teach another workshop (at an animal shelter) with Dan Jordinelli in Los Angeles in mid-Summer.

If you wish more information or to be on a workshop mailing list, please contact the coordinator
Pirkko Miller at pirkko@embarqmail.com. Information and registration is also available at my website: www.shamanicvisions.com

Carol's Workshop Calendar for 2010

May 7 - 9
Women Healer's Retreat - Santa Cruz, CA (Fri - Sunday)

June 3 - 6
Society for Shamanic Practitioners (SSP) Annual Conference "Self in Service: Shamanism without Borders"    Soquel/Santa Cruz County, CA - for information & enrollment: www.shamansociety.org

June 25 - 27
Mixed Group - Santa Cruz, CA - (Fri - Sunday)

July 29 - August 1
Philadelphia, PA

Sept. 9 - 12
Mixed Group - Santa Cruz, CA (Thursday - Sunday)

More Information




Copyright © 2019 Carol Proudfoot Edgar
Not to be reproduced without permission