Nina Milton, author of the Shaman Mystery Series, welcomes book lovers to the Kitchen Table Writers.
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I was honoured and delighted to be asked to talk to the Glastonbury Moot about Shamanism, but I was a bit worried – wouldn’t it be like teaching my grandmother to suck eggs? Or – more accurately – like teaching a load of pagans to walk between the worlds?
So I talked about my own shamanic journey through the years, and what I do with my shamanism now, so that we could open up a debate and share our shamanic experiences.
I starting with how I became a druid, in 1987, after being a long time Rosicrucian. I knew that something was missing for me in those teachings…an honouring of the land and local ancient deities. I became interested in how the ancient druids divined the future and used oracles, and joined an introductory workshop on British shamanism to find out more.
There we were, thirty of us, sitting on floor cushions in a circle in Bath, listening to John Matthews, famous writer on shamanism and the legends of King Arthur. He looked ordinary, sitting cross-legged among us, and he opened the workshop in a quiet, almost muted voice. “I’d better warn you now,” he said, without drama. “Shamanism will alter your life.” Although I was keen - really keen – I’d paid money to be here – I couldn’t help thinking...yeah, right.
But John knew what he meant. For me, things were never the same again.
John and his wife Caitlin are among the most respected practicing shamans in this country, and over the course of the next few years, I took Caitlin’s practitioner courses, which prepare people to practice Shamanism as therapists.
pages from my shamanic journal 2001 to now
Shamanism can be a spiritual path, but, from its very early beginnings, it has been a tool – a method of getting close to another world – the world of spirits. I had brought some of the tools I use to “cross over the rainbow bridge”, including my drum my rattle, an eye mask and some oracle cards, but also my shamanic journal, which I’ve been keeping since 2001.
I passed this round, so that people could see the sorts of things I write down when I return from a trance. I was delighted when this resonated with the mooters – some were able to talk about their own experiences in front of the moot, and others spoke to me personally, afterwards. I told the story of my relationship with my two main guardians on the spirit plane, Esmerelda and The Golden Boy, archetypes who advise, and often offer me gifts.
We talked about the methods of entering a trance so that we could journey into the otherworld. As well the drum beat, the rattle or the rhythm of a fast dance, I described journeying by digeridoo, played by the amazing Sika at the UK Shamanic Gathering. Others spoke about their own methods, including ‘just making a singing noise’, something my original mentor, Caitlin Matthews, has advocated for years.
I did want to cover safety in my talk – shamanism is a wonderful tool, but there are guidelines. It should not be used if you have a serious mental health issue, and you should always start out from a ‘safe haven’ – a place you grow use to seeing and exploring. You should never leave that place without the guidance of an animal ally. I told the story of how my first animal guide, a mole, came to me, and it struck a cord with mooters – some had had very similar experiences to mine.
A shaman can help people with deep problems which might present as something physical, but a lot of clients of shamanic therapists have had a long journey…consultations with doctors, psychiatrists and complimentary therapists, before seeing a shaman. Between us, the moot came up with a lot of other aspects of shamanic practice too; using shamanism with animals, connecting to the land, personal development and – more prosaically – finding lost items. The Moot co-ordinator, Oak, asked me about soul midwifing, which is something that was close to my heart, as I used to be a hospice nurse. After death – moments, hours or sometimes days – the soul separates from the body, and passes into a more subtle existence. I was often the only person in the room with a patient when they died, and keeping a loving vigil to help that person on their journey was something I could do at that moment.
But as a writer, I soon discovered I could also use these techniques to explore story so that my ideas almost ‘wrote themselves’ before I even got to a keyboard. And at that point, a character arrived in my life - a zesty twenty-something therapeutic shaman called Sabbie Dare, who kept telling me that I should write about her. “I see a lot of clients,” she told me, “who don’t really know what’s wrong with them. They’re on the edge. They bring me some very difficult problems.”
I write the Shaman Mysteries for pagans and crime fiction lovers alike, so I have to be careful to walk a line between the truth of my own spiritual path, and the fictions I create. I don’t want to suggest that shamans can ‘solve crime’. And as the series progresses I am trying to introduce some of the aspects of shamanism and paganism that might enlighten the ‘muggle reader’. Book one, In the Moors, introduces the shamanic journey and Sabbie’s animal ally, an otter called Trendle. In the second book, I developed Sabbie’s ritual life, and otherworld associations, especially her guardian, a river goddess who she doesn’t yet quite trust. Book three, Beneath the Tor, uses a theme of transformation, including shapeshifting.This book is set in Glastonbury, and it was my great delight to be able to use some of the legends of the Vale of Avalon In book four, which I'm writing, I'm going to look at the Lower Realms, and introduce Sabbie's father, who is also a shaman.
We ran right out of time (I am hard to shut up, but they finally managed it!). I’m delighted to say that Oak
Good Friday Sunrise by Kev Pearson
has invited me back, sometime in the future. There were so many aspects to living with shamanism that we didn’t cover, and I’d love to have that opportunity. The Glastonbury Moot, which meets on Wednesday evenings at the Mitre Inn, is a welcoming gathering, and I’d recommend it if you are looking for like-minded friends and live in that area.
I was lucky enough to be able to stay the night with two kindly members of the moot, who have recently moved to Glastonbury. Kev is photographer, and (isn’t the universe strange?) I’d only that previous week discovered his wonderful images on the net. Check out his stunning photos, especially of the Tor at http://www.kevpearson.com/recent/