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In the world of “shamanic practitioners” the term “non-ordinary reality” has arisen to describe the states that a practitioner enters into to receive and interpret messages from Spirit. While this terminology has its uses, I find it problematic. The term non-ordinary reality suggests that the practitioner is entering into a reality that is separate from the one that we occupy every day. In my opinion this strips efficacy from the work of the spirit worker.

As a spirit worker I work with the reality of Spirit, of spirits, of the unseen, of archetypes, of the world psyche every day. To me, entering trance is not a matter of engaging in fantasy or some alternate reality which I find the term non-ordinary reality to allude to. The term was coined by Michael Harner, an American anthropologist turned “shamanic” healer who is largely responsible for the neo-shamanic revival of the past several decades. Most who market themselves as “shamanic practitioners” (myself included, though I no longer use that tittle in preference for the term spirit worker which feels more accurate to me) are, for better or worse, like it or not, downstream from Harner and his teachings.

The importance of this lies in the practices that Harner introduced, largely to the European diaspora in the United States. Harner introduced what he would term as “Core Shamanism”. I understand Core Shamanism to espouse itself as synthesizing what it considers universal aspects of indigenous, animist cultural views and practices surrounding the existence of spirits and spiritual healing in particular. I see this as an attempt to analyze the underpinnings of the technologies that the European world and cultures heavily influenced by the spread of European colonialism have lost contact with. In short, a revival.

There is much to be said and discerned about the ethics of such an undertaking, but that disserves an article of its own. Here, I am concerned more with efficacy than ethics. What I see as conspicuously and largely missing from Harner’s Core Shamanism and its descendants is embodiment practices and embodiment trance. This is odd for a system that claims to be universal as voluntary spirit possession, for example, is a massive, one might even say “core”, part of many of the worlds animistic traditions. This can readily be seen in many African traditions and traditions of the African Diaspora. It can also be seen in traditions from the Indian subcontinent, Himalayas, Indonesia, etc. Many “neo-pagan” groups in-CORP-orate (pun intended) these practices as well.

Aside from possession trance, other ritual is quite embodied as well. Think of the Lakota Sweat Lodge, the Sun Dance, and any number of fire, water or other elemental rituals from any number of traditions around the globe. Even the protestant Christian, fully immersive baptism in water! These all are all embodied and could not be the same without the effects and impacts they have on the physical human form. Raised in the Christian church and baptized at a young age, I still have a visceral mark on my psyche and soma from the ritual. I can readily access the physical sensation of entering and emerging from the water decades later. We are inseparable from our bodies and our bodies play an integral, and I would add crucial, part in our work with Spirit.

If we are not including our bodies in our work with Spirit we are often separating our spirit work from our lives as though it were somewhere else—a fantasy. This allows for a lot of things. It allows for us to create escapist fantasy that serve to protect us from our trauma. It can reinforce trauma-created stories around our separateness and beliefs that we are alone and not understood by others. Aside from that, it allows for parts of us, no matter how small or unconscious they might be, to not have to admit or experience the very real effects of a world inhabited by spirits that are not under our control.

The Western materialist world view often implies that it has knowledge of everything, or can know everything and thus creates the illusion of absolute control over our reality. The illusion of control that stems from excluding the body from spiritual practice not only decreases the potential efficacy of practice, but it also decreases safety by allowing us to believe that we are in control of the spirit world.

While there are many practices, teachings and safeguards that can be implemented in our spirit work, we cannot truly appreciate them if we hold the, often unconscious, belief that we are in control, that spirits respond to our every whimsy. By not grounding our work in our bodies, we can be prone to creating spiritual fantasy in which we are in control—we are just not working with anything “real”. Efficacious spirit work is not fantasy. It is real, sometimes dangerous, and changes and impacts us and the world around us.

My intent here is not to create fear of the spirit world, of the Other, but rather to contribute to what I experience as a more accurate view of spiritual reality. Driving a car is dangerous, but we minimize those dangers the best we can because we believe that the benefits outweigh the potential hazards. Like with driving, we can mitigate, but never totally eliminate the dangers that exist in the aspects of reality that we do not usually experience with our physical senses. However, we cannot do this if we are under the illusion that we are in control of the spirits. If we are out of our bodies and totally in our heads when engaging with Spirit it is all too easy to fall into this trap—for our trauma patterns to co-opt our spirit work—for our need for control to co-opt our spiritual work—for our desire for escapism and entertainment to co-opt our spirit work.

This is not to deny the very real phenomenon of “spirit flight” or the “out of body experience”. These phenomenon, however, are paradoxically—get ready for it—EMBODIED experiences. At least, embodiment increases the efficacy and clarity of these practices.

I will share some of the ways that I practice, personally and with clients. Personally, my main practice is in voluntary possession trance (read middle world merging in core shamanic lingo), yoga asana and embodied meditation. I also experience the majority of my shamanic journeys through the body, even though they are also inclusive of other than clairsentient forms of “sight”.

In my work with clients, I have years of experience in embodied, trauma-informed, self-inquiry work. In this work I guide clients into contact with the intelligence of their body, by which we are then able to access many levels of healing in a way that is inclusive of the body’s experience. I am also a massage therapist and bodyworker, and trained in a variety of energy work modalities, in addition to my work with spirits in and out of embodiment/possession trance.

In closing, it is import for us to have a through-line from Spirit into our everyday realities. Spirit work should effect all layers of our reality—physical, mental/emotional, etheric, and spiritual. This through-line is in some ways like an electrical circuit, if part of it is missing the circuit doesn’t function. The body is a vital part of this circuit.

Further resources that I recommend are:

The Body Deva: Working with the Spiritual Consciousness of the Body by Mary Mueller Shutan

The Importance of Grounding article by Mary Shutan (any and all of her blog posts realy)

Drawing Down the Spirits: The Traditions and Techniques of Spirit Possession by Kenaz Filan and Raven Kaldera

I will also soon be releasing a series of baseline practices for embodied spirit work on YouTube. I’ll link those when they are complete.

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