Begin by gently breathing in and out a few times, relaxing your body slowly. Make sure it is quiet where you are. Do this for a few minutes until you fell totally relaxed and at peace.
Next, imagine that you find yourself walking along a pathway that leads you further and further away from civilization, and deep into the heart of a primeval forest. As you follow this trail, imagine that you are winding around and among trees that are hundreds of years old. Flowers carpet the ground and birds sing. In the distance you hear the muffled roar of the ocean waves, rising and falling, rising and falling, like music. Your heartbeat, your breath, and the ocean waves keep time with the rhythm of nature.
Soon the path you are on brings you to a tiny, crumbling, stone sanctuary. A place so old and hidden it had been forgotten by time. Thickly covered with vines and gnarled branches, it is clear that no one entered this chapel in centuries, perhaps even thousands of years. Intuitively you sense that something mysterious yet deeply familiar lies within this ruin of a forgotten shrine. Slowly you push open the door and enter. As you open the door, something old and timeless opens within your soul as well.
Once across the threshold, you find yourself immersed in an atmosphere that is sacred and holy. Vaulted ceilings arch over a rough, stone altar at the front. Candles are burning, there is a smell of fragrant incense. On an altar stands a statue of the female deity, the Goddess. Her face is so old and dark with time, the lines on her body so worn from the touch of praying hands that you cannot even tell what religion she belongs to. She is simply the Mother, god as a woman, the one to whom the world turns in all its grief and suffering. She is Sofia, Kwan Yin, Mary, Sarah, Fatima, White Buffalo Woman, Isis, Sita, Innanna, and Demeter.
Kneeling before her in reverence, you bow your head in prayer. Immediately you are embraced by her being, and the cares and worries of the world fall away, soothed in her loving acceptance of all your human faults and frailties. Entering even more deeply into your meditation the statue you are praying before suddenly comes alive as a real being and now you find yourself before the mystery of the living mother of all creation.
As she comes to life, the chapel fills with a warm and golden light. Now the face of the ancient mother becomes animated with feeling. Seated before her you gaze into each other’s eyes. She penetrates your soul with a glance that loves you to the core of your very being. Emotions of sweetness, mercy, and loving forgiveness emanate from her, sweeping over you in waves of bliss, healing all the parts of your that are hurt, broken, and wounded. Held within her arms, taken onto her lap, you become like a little child with its mother. You touch her hair, her face in loving affection, and feel her loving affection for you in return.
Going more deeply into this experience you begin to feel as if the body of the ancient mother is the gateway to the body of creation itself. Going beyond her form, you enter into a communion with the body of the earth — all her creatures, trees, oceans, rivers, mountains, cities, and people. Going even beyond the earth, feel the body of the ancient mother expand into space, becoming the bodies of the stars and the planets and the whirling galaxies that are spread over the universe like a mantle of bright jewels.
Held in the womb of this mystery you feel a powerful force, a holy energy and the breath of life, the soul of the cosmos. Feel your heart beat in rhythm with the rhythm of life itself. Slowly begin to return your awareness to your body, still seated before the ancient mother in prayer. Inhale deeply, taking into every cell of your body, every thought in your mind her cherishing nourishing life-sustaining love. Exhale, letting this energy flow out of you like a river of grace watering your life and all those you know and care for, with a stream of blessings, happiness, and well-being.
Now close your meditation bowing once more before the ancient mother. Rise and exit from her humble little sanctuary, closing the door behind you. As you make your way along the path back to the life you left behind, remember that you carry within your heart a precious secret: faith in the goodness of life, the gift of love of the divine mother of the world.
Art by: Josephine Wall
The link to this original meditation can be found here: Beliefnet.com
This is an active meditation for calling on the power of Durga.
Wherever you are, imagine the form of Durga coalescing out of your surroundings - out of the sky, earth, furnishings, drawing crackling strands of electricity out of nearby power sockets, a corona of energy about her. Visualize the form of Durga forming above you. Feel her feet upon your head, sending shockwaves of power through your body, and imagine yourself to be seated on the back of her tiger. Feel the power of Durga coursing through you and meditate upon her qualities.
The weapons which Durga bears (given to her by the gods) can be taken, in this meditation, as ‘attachments’ - things which you think you need; tools which you perhaps rely too much on. As Durga defeated Mahisa by herself, so too, your power and poise resides in you, rather than your tools and attachments.
The legend of Durga and Mahisa1
Mahisa was a son of Rambha, an asura2, and Mahisi, the goddess Gauri in her form of a female buffalo. Mahisa, chief of the asuras became, through austerities skilled in magical prowess. Invincible, he threatened the gods who were powerless to defeat him.3 In desperation, they invoked the goddess for assistance. To resounding incantations and mantras, the goddess appeared as a mountain of light, the colour of gold, with the brilliance of a thousand suns. Her eyes were like the nilotpala flower, the blue lily; her hair was black as night; her high, round, prominent breasts proclaimed her feminine divinity. To her, each god contributed his fiery essence and weapons. Siva, his trident; Visnu, his disk; Varuna, his conch; Agni, a dart; Yama, an iron rod; Vayu, a bow; Surya, arrows; Kubera, a mace; Indra, a thunderbolt; Brahma, a rosary and waterpot; Kala, a sword; Visakarma, an axe; Himavan, a lion.3 Thus armed, Durga went to her home on the Vindhya mountains,4 where she was worshipped by the tribes of the Savaras and the Pulindas. Mahisa, hearing of her intoxicating beauty, sent a message to her, claiming her as his own, for was he not Lord of the three worlds? Durga smiled and replied that she would only wed the hero who defeated her in battle.
Boastful Mahisa accepted the challenge and first sent his asura army to war with her. Katayayani5 lifted her bow and arrow, and mounted on her Sarabha,6 she defeated the asura hosts. Seeing the slain, she seized a vina and a damaru and laughing in joy, played music. Then Mahisasura advanced, assuming his form of a deep-black, maddened, buffalo, now bellowing, now running, now stamping the ground with his hoofs. A cataclysmic battle commenced. The mountains were rent asunder, the oceans trembled and the clouds scattered in the sky. In vain the goddess used her god-given weapons, but the buffalo hero escaped her. At last, filled with engulfing anger, she flung aside her weapons, dismounted, and with her bare hands, sprang on the back of Mahisa; with her tender, fragrant foot she smote his head. The asura, immune to the weapons of all the gods, fell senseless at the touch of the goddess’ feet.7 And she, poised in the serene knowledge of her all-consuming power, took her sword and cut off the head of Mahisa. Then, making the gesture that dispels fear with her hand, the goddess appeared smiling. Seeing her victorious, the male gods of the Puranas hailed her:
Whatever gentle forms of thine,And whatever of thy terrible forms wander in the three worlds,By these forms protect us and the Earth.8
(Arthur Avalon, Hymns to the Goddess, p.118)
(Based on the variant recounted in: The Earth Mother, by Pupul Jayakar, Penguin Books 1989)
1. There are many variations of this legend - we prefer the versions whereby Durga is self-existent prior to being called on by the gods, rather than created from their essence. In some versions of the myth, Mahisa is said to become invincible via a boon granted by Brahma - that no man could kill him - and that he could not believe that any woman could kill him so he neglected to include this eventuality in his boon - which of course led to his downfall.
2. The asuras are usually taken as demons. This is not necessarily the case and some commentators have it that they were wild tribes who were hostile to the Aryans.
3. In some variants, Durga’s mount is a tiger. Or see 6, below.
4. Vindhyadevi - goddess of the Vindhya (mountains) is a title of Durga. This region was considered to be populated by wild, hostile tribes and inaccessible to all but the most heroic.
5. ? Presumably a title of Durga.
6. The Sarabha - a mythical animal, half-elephant and half-tiger.
7. The significance of the foot is discussed at some length in Jeffrey J. Kripal’s Kali’s Child. The foot is the transmitter of divine power or grace - further examples being the depiction of Shiva-Nataraja with his foot holding down a dwarf-demon; the tradition of worshipping the feet of a guru, and Ramakrishna’s ‘scandalous’ practice of placing his foot in the lap of one of his youthful disciples.
8. Durga is not only a goddess who responds to threats to the established cosmos, but responds directly to the petitions of her devotees. Moreover, Durga, like all deities, acts from the position of lila or play. She battles Mahisa because it pleases her to do so. As a battle-goddess, Durga reverses the Puranic stereotype of women as submissive wives or daughters. See Hindu Goddesses by David Kinsley for more details.
Characteristics : Strength, Morality, Power, Protector Other Names : Jagdamba, Shakti, Bhagwati, Devi, Maa Weapon : Trident, Chakra, Snake, Conch shell, Mace, Bow, Long sword, Thunderbolt Abode : Trikoota Mountain Vehicle (Vahana) : Lion Mula Mantra : Om Sri Durgaya Namah Durga Gayatri Mantra: Aum Girijaye Cha Vidmahe
Shiva Priyaye Cha Dheemahi
Tanno Durga Prachodayat
What are Power Animals?
A standard practice in shamanic healing is “power animal retrieval”. Though this is far from being a cure-all, having a power animal gives the seeker of healing strength and better defence against negativity. It is an empowerment after all. Regular work with one’s power animal will speed up spiritual growth.
Power animals are spirit beings. They are real, though they cannot be perceived with the five senses. Everybody has a power animal from birth. Sometimes this is called a totem animal. The totem animal is a particular power animal, which is yours for life though it can leave you under certain circumstances, leaving you “disempowered” and dispirited. There is a kinship between you and your totem animal, you share certain traits. For example, if your main power or totem animal is a herd animal you may feel more secure when being in a group. If it is a solitary animal such as a tiger, you will probably be happy in your own company, enjoy solitude and find strength when you are alone.
Every animal has its strengths, special powers and lessons to teach you. When you align yourself with your power animal you come to know your strengths and weaknesses and make the most of your powers while avoiding pitfalls. Say, your totem animal is a snake, and you are used to eating at least five meals a day. While having many small meals is generally considered healthy and good for the metabolic rate, that habit may not benefit a snake person. Snakes eat infrequently and have times of fasting in-between. So regular fasting may benefit you as well if you are a snake person. Your power animal may be more powerful in the day or night time, in a particular season (winter obviously won’t be the power season of a bear person as the bear hibernates). Also depending on your power animal one or several of your senses may be more highly developed than in the average person. This can be helpful in shamanic work or for getting messages from Spirit. So get to know your power animal and know yourself!
Working with Power Animals
Power animals can help you in various ways. If you know how to journey (shamanic spirit journeying) then you can take your power animal(s) with you on your adventures. They will help you find things in the Otherworld, protect you from enemies, fight for you or with you, give advice to your problems and empower you in various ways.
You can mentally call your power animal to you when you are in a tight spot or need help, for example, when you are walking at night in a dangerous area and feel threatened. If your power animal is a big and strong animal that would scare people, calling it may put people off messing with you. If you call your wolf or tiger you are likely to be left alone. This may not work if you call your bunny. It may however increase your speed of running away!
Strengthening the Bond
To keep your power animal happy you can dance it regularly, ideally to the sound of a shaman’s drum. Another way of connecting more deeply with your power animal is to spend time in the environment it likes. For instance, if your power animal is a dolphin, it will appreciate you going swimming regularly. A deer or wolf may enjoy walks in the woods, etc. I often make my clients dance their power animal right after they received it. As Westerners most of us are very self-conscious about dancing or “making a fool” of ourselves.
However, when the animal takes over and you experience the power first hand you are more likely to keep working with the power animal afterwards. It becomes real for you and then there is genuine enthusiasm in the relationship with their power animal.Loss of Power Animals
Loss of Power Animals
As mentioned above, your totem animal, or main power animal normally stays with you for life. Through shamanic work one can acquire more than one power animal. Shamans and shamankas (female shamans) often have a good number of power animals. Some power animals will only stay with you for a short while, until certain lessons are learned, then they move on to be replaced by other power animals later. This is natural and there is nothing wrong with it. However, there are various negative circumstances that can lead to a premature and permanent loss of a power animal, even one’s totem animal and in the worst case scenario to loss of all one’s power animals!
1. One way of losing power animals is by not honouring them. If you ignore the animal world as a whole, thinking humans are superior, etc, or if you treat animals unethically, don’t be surprised when your power animals leave you!
2. Leading a boring material life, totally unaware of spiritual matters can also make your power animals leave you. Your power animals don’t care about money, titles and degrees. They care about power. Are you journeying, dreaming, meditating? Or are you just in the treadmill, living the rat race? Remember it is a symbiotic relationship, so if there is nothing in it for your power animals, if you ignore them, are unaware of them and do no spiritual work at all they will eventually leave.
3. A big trauma can cause your power animals to leave you.
4. When you become totally disempowered through whatever reasons, including through habitually giving your power away to others, all your power animals can leave you.
5. Through sorcery and “black” magick your power animals can be taken away from you or blocked from working with you. They can even be wounded or destroyed. I had problems with some of my power animals after meeting a vampire shaman.
As a result of losing one’s power animals one becomes weaker, easier to be affected by bad luck, psychic< attack, and even more prone to disease. This is such common knowledge among shamans that no matter what complaint a seeker of healing has, the standard procedure is to retrieve a power animal for them, and then do whatever other healing is needed following the power animal retrieval. Having one’s power animal back or an additional one to help is always beneficial!
Power Animal Retrieval
To find a new power animal or retrieve a lost one, the shaman or shamanka, on behalf of the seeker of healing journeys in the Otherworld - to be precise into the client’s Underworld - to find their power animal. Power animal retrieval in itself can bring about healing though it usually is complimentary to other healing techniques. In short: a competent shaman needs to know more than just power animal retrieval. To find the power animal the shaman /shamanka needs to be able to enter the Underworld of the one seeking healing and find the correct power animal for them. Sometimes several animals show up. An inexperienced shaman may grab the first one or take the one they think most likely for the seeker of healing. It is of utmost importance that any preconceived ideas, or ego are kept out of this work! The shaman or shamanka must work with great focus and integrity.
Wisdom of Power Animals
Many times the power animal will have a message for the seeker of healing. This message may be conveyed to me in words, in symbols or by the behaviour of the power animal. The message of the power animal is to help one achieve wholeness. It may be anything such as a suggestion to eat healthier, reduce meat intake, exercise more, a need to spend time by the sea or in the forest, certain herbs to work with, negative patterns to give up, boundaries to keep, etc.
Artwork by: Kris Davidson and David Hale
Soul retrieval is based on the concept that throughout the course of daily life pieces of our soul can be lost. This soul loss is usually a natural coping response to a trauma. When we are traumatized and it is too painful for us to be present and aware, a part of us may leave to wait in non-ordinary reality. This state of soul loss is often referred to medically as shock, or psychologically as dissociation.
When we have a soul loss we may feel something is missing. We may have an emptiness that we try to fill through addictions, compulsive behavior, taking energy from others, or we may simply feel depressed. We may look and act competent on the outside, but feel inadequate or disquieted on the inside.
Soul loss can occur in a number of ways: through serious illness or accidents, through depression or strong emotional events, and even through theft. Often “soul-thieves” do not know that they are stealing soul parts, and they may be people close to us: parents, grandparents, siblings, and lovers. Sometimes we experience soul loss because we have given a quality or essence to someone else or allowed them to take it. We often give away a quality of essence (patience, assertiveness, zest for life) to someone else because we want to help them or they may want this quality for themselves. No one can make use of our essence but us, so when it is with another person they are weighed down and we feel unnaturally connected to them - we may think about the other person more often and more intensely than is warranted.
Soul loss is identifiable through apathy, an absence of joy, an inability to feel love or receive it, suicidal thoughts, addictions, chronic despair and depression. Angeles Arrien states that symptoms of soul loss include “losing a desire dance, sing, enjoy silence, and enjoy storytelling.” We may have done much personal growth work at the emotional and psychological level, which can be enhanced by this spiritual healing work.
The actual event of soul retrieval work occurs in a safe environment. The client invites allies to assist him or herself in the ceremony. These allies should be close and trusted friends, who are there to observe, support and accept the clients’ healing process. They will be asked to focus on the intent of the work, maintain a safe psychic space and think positive thoughts.
The ceremony begins with prayers, energy cleansing through the use of sage smoke (smudging) and an interview by the practioner - looking to determine the client’s intent in the healing. The client and the shamanic practioner lie on blankets on the floor; and the practioner enters the Shamanic State of Conciousness (SSC) through the use of a loud monotonous drumbeat.
While in the SSC, the shamanic practioner relies on the assistance of his or her Spirit guides and Power Animal allies. These are the avatars for the practioner in the shamanic realms, and it is these allies who perform the work which takes place. Often, the practioner will make the sounds of the ally they are working with. For example, a practioner who relies on Raven for healing work will caw and screech. Additionally, the practioner may make sudden movements, appear to be pulling or cutting, or make loud noises through clapping, shouting or singing.
Often during the process, the client may feel a wide range of emotions, from laughter or fear, to passion and hate. All of these feelings are related to the work and they should be acknowledged, thanked and released. It is completely acceptable to laugh, cry, yell, or do nothing at all during the ceremony and work. The client may also feel the urge to “assist” the practioner with her work - this is strongly discouraged. The client is best served by the remaining present in his or her physical body, and observing the emotions or thoughts that the work brings to the surface.
Upon completion of the journey, the practioner returns the missing soul parts by blowing them into the heart chakra, and into the the crown of the head. The practioner will then rattle around the client’s body to seal in the returned soul parts, and welcome the returned parts home. After some quiet time to think and write, the practioner will share the ages of the soul parts returned, the nature of the loss event, and any allies who pesented themselves for the client. The practioner will then invite the client and the client’s allies to share any experiences or emotions.
The ceremony ends with the closing of the sacred circle and the thanking of the allies present. It is proper for the client to bring giveaways (small gifts) for the practioner, the drummer, and for the client’s allies who attended.
Modern shamanic healing arts are largely similar to the ancient techniques, with the important inclusion of therapy-based aftercare. It is highly recommended that the client attend several therapy sessions to assist in the process of “reintegration”. Often soul parts have returned that were lost years prior, and the client must patiently explain to these soul parts how the client’s life has changed in the intervening years. One client of soul retrieval compared the integration period to “leading a school field trip with earlier version” of himself. This client recounted tales of explaining the layout of his current city to his soul parts, explaining current events, and describing the nature of his current personal life.
Part of the integration process may include setting boundaries with newly returned soul parts. For example, a soul part returning from adolescence, before a client became a vegetarian, might crave meat. This client would have to explain the nature of his or her new diet to the soul part, and negotiate a proper bondary.
Most importantly, it is necessary to be tender with newly returned soul parts, and with yourself. These soul parts left due to some traumatic event. It is likely that feelings surrounding that event will surface, and that these should be dealt with in a responsible and respectful manner. One of the ways to do this is to build altars in your living space to the ages of the soul parts which returned, or to the Power Animals and allies who may have stepped forward during your healing work.
The healing work of soul retrievals and extraction work is based in a long tradition of shamanic medicine work, from many cultures around the globe. According to Hank Wesselman, a researcher into the nature of shamanic healing, “By using the shamanic method, each person is gifted with their freedom, their sovereignty, and their right to develop spirituality. In doing so, each of us becomes our own teacher, our own priestess or priest, our own prophet, enabling us to receive spiritual revelations directly from the highest sources - ourselves” (Wesserman 21).