Nina Milton, author of the Shaman Mystery Series, welcomes book lovers to the Kitchen Table Writers.
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I've been away from my desk. I've been away from my everyday life. I've been on a journey…to Somerset, to the spirit world, to an altered reality of love and light and fun...
In Dundon, a small village on the Somerset Moors – regular readers will already know how I love those moors – there is a place called Earth Spirit, where an original long barn and farm outbuildings have been turned into a centre for spiritual growth.
Doris (Rachel) and Nick Breeze Wood
Almost seventy shamans gathered here, to share their love of shamanism. They came from all corners of the UK and beyond, and from many shamanic cultures. Some were young and fresh-faced – some were grey-haired but still keen-witted.
The first thing I was asked to do, as I arrived on Monday afternoon, was sign a glittery homemade 80th birthday card for Leo Rutherford, one of the grand elders of shamanic practice in Britain, and founder of The Eagle’s Wing Centre. Leo led us in drumming and chanting later on that week, and I had trouble keeping up with his energy levels.
Leo wasn't the only fit, active grizzle-bearded elder. John is still building and re-erecting stone circles (although he admitted he mostly gave directions nowadays), and offers labyrinth workshops too.
And so to our opening ceremony, which set the feel of the gathering wonderfully. First Nick Breeze Wood, the Welsh-based shaman who edits Sacred Hoop magazine, lit Grandfather Fire, calling down the spirits to protect and guide us through our gathering. This fire was kept alight, despite downpours, throughout the four days, and each morning, I’d go across the damp grass to give offerings to it. Grandfather Fire particularly like tobacco, chocolate and leaves soaked in vodka, but seemed also happy to accept scented herbs. We retuned to the barn, and Sika, a musician and artist, took us directly into an altered state of consciousness with the primordial sounds from his range of didjeridoos and other indigenous musical instruments. He played for what must have been hours, seemingly without breath, but it felt like no time…all time. By then it was late at night (for me, anyway!) and I fell into my bed and slept deeply, forgetting all my dreams as they passed by me.
The barn, with Sika
(background of the picture)
At breakfast, the long tables were full of chattering people. You might wonder what shamans talk about over cereal and boiled eggs, and the truth is…everything, of course. Although the shamans are well known for changing their conscious states so that they can enter ‘non ordinary’ reality, most believe it’s important to also keep their feet on the ground. Everyone wanted to communicate with everyone else, sharing and learning and laughing. Something struck me as I chatted to people – the confirmation that there are as many ways to approach this spiritual pathway as there are shaman. I mostly use my shamanic practice to dip into a trance state to find story and character for my writing. Others use it to heal themselves of difficult traumas, or to make sense of life. Many at the gathering were practitioners; seeking healing and advice from compassionate spirits, on behalf of other people. Spiritual healing is complementary to modern medicine and other therapies and can be the answer to things in our lives that trouble us the most, but which would never respond to prescription pills. And some at the gathering were teachers of shamanic practice, including the organizers, Howard and Elsa, who I’d previously worked under.
Each person at the gathering will have their own favourite moments and memories, and for me, there are three – morning drumming, the Medicine Wheel Workshop and the Storytelling Evening.
We’d most of us brought our drums, and right throughout the gathering, there was drumming, stomping, chanting and singing. What else would you expect from a bunch of shamans? When Nick Breeze Wood opened the start of that first full day with a burst of communal drumming, instantly, I found myself on a journey. As I drummed in the Earth Spirit Barn, I was also in my grove of trees, with my guardian, Esmeralda. She is an elder, a crone with wrinkled skin, but she is also a mother, who, in the 15 years I’ve worked with her, has constantly suckled a baby to her breast – a tiny, naked boy with golden skin. As I drummed, she plucked the baby from her breast and handed it to me. I was shocked – I didn’t know if I wanted responsibility for a spirit baby, but I guess after 15 years, she might have been a bit tired herself! Over the course of the four days, the Golden Boy grew, until he was, indeed, fifteen, and has become a spirit guide to me in his own right.
I had always wanted to learn more about the medicine wheel. I had a Celtic apprenticeship in shamanism with Caitlan Matthews, so most of the imagery and symbolism I encounter on my shamanic journeys is based around the beliefs of the Ancient Britons, and I wanted to know more about this Native American way of working. Carrie Jost is a healer who uses the medicine wheel in her work. She showed us how it can shift energy – ridding us of bad and shoring up good. She got us all working with these invisible but strongly felt energies. Carrie had created a circle on the barn floor, showing the 8 compass points. We were asked to walk around the outside of the circle, to find a comfortable place in the room. Everyone seemed to find that easy to do, but then we had to find a place of discomfort. I was dubious, but when I reached the south-east, I instantly felt shivery, that sensation one gets when one is about to incubate a cold. I hadn’t believed I would find such a place, but I was standing in it, and despite the fact that there were over 30 people in the group, I was the only person standing at this compass point. Carrie held us in these ‘uncomfortable places’, asking us to send energy around the circle in an 8-pointed star. When the people of the East sent their energy to me, I felt it as the colour of a carnelian crystal, with filled me with courage, and heard a low humming sound that vibrated right at the base of my spine. It warmed me wonderfully.
Carrie Thomas, a horticulturist and speaker,
with her crystals and flower essences
The other huge delight for me was the storytelling evening with Andrew Steed. I love myth, legend and fairy tales, and Andrew’s retelling of the story of Tuireann (Tyren), who was magically transformed by a jealous fairy-woman into a wolf-hound held us all spellbound. But it was his ‘reclaimed’ stories that hit the spot with me. No, these ‘reclaimed’ stories aren’t, as I expected, stories found in cobwebbed libraries, or scratched in pictures on the wall of ancient tombs, they are the stories of ourselves, that we hate other people retelling, because they make us blush and duck behind the sofa. To boost our self esteem, Andrew recommends we turn these ‘you’ll never guess what he did’ stories into something that can make our friends laugh with us, instead of at us. I have several reclaimed stories brewing, believe me!
It was a sad moment, on Thursday, when we scraped the ash from the still burning Grandfather Fire, and let him die. But, just as we were getting all pumped up with our grand closing ceremony, Doris arrived in our midst. Doris is a sacred clown. She’s got a bit of a lady-beard, and forgot to take the curlers out of her hair that morning, and was carrying a gaily painted watering can and a microphone that didn’t work (an ongoing joke during the gathering). She read us her rhyming account of the gathering. Sixty-plus shamans doubled up with laughter.Thank you Rachel; Doris successfully pricked our high-flying bubbles and brought us down to earth with a chuckle.
Churchyard Yew, Dundon
To quote Leo Rutherford from his book, Your Shamanic Path (2001, Piaktus)…The struggle to make sense of life in the third-dimensional spacesuit we call a body is as important today as at anytime. One could almost say even more so now that in the ‘developed’ part of the world we are polluting our home planet and upsetting the balance of nature and our atmosphere as never before. We desperately need a path that can bring us back into contact and communion with the primal elemental forces of life...
If you ever go to Dundon, do drop in on the churchyard, as I did, to see the magnificent yew, or walk the surrounding hills and find the iron-age hill-fort. And maybe spend a quiet hour in a nature reserve, listening to and watching the beauty that is our natural world.