For the past two months, I have been working shamanically six, and sometimes, even seven days a week to serve many clients.
It is my calling, but also my sincere delight because, as Mircea Eliade once wrote, the shamanic journey is the practice of ecstasy. And I enjoy intense waves of work like this because I am journeying to help the spirits cure my clients' illnesses.
When I do the journeys, I spend much of the time out of my body, working in a reality dubbed "nonordinary reality" by Carlos Castaneda, a universe unseen except by those who know this practice.
After flying, leaping and lumbering through the magical and mysterious realms with the spirits, I return again to inhabit my physical body. Often, I feel like I am made of small silver chimes, moved to music by wind. Every journey leaves me feeling stronger, but also with an ineffable shimmer. It must be what swallowing a star would feel like.
For two months, my studio, my sanctuary has seen a cyclone of work. For at least 40 hours most weeks, I am in my shamanic studio, lying on my blanket, a red Pendleton with a bear paw print on its center. And he rests on a journey pad, nested on the red rug from China, who has now held me for 24 years of journeying. She has a secret name. She has collected a bit of power from every journey I have done, thousands done over 24 years. Yes, she has a spirit, and it is powerful.
So this summer was not a time for travel, although journeying for hours every day is a kind of travelling, to commune with snowy mountains that speak, azure oceans that teach as their curled waves splash sands of exotic colors – sometime lapis, tangerine, or sugar white.
Or to stand, watching, as Bear holds a client beneath a sapphire waterfall that lives and exists to wash away illness.
To meet Moon as I did this week, who appeared near a midnight-blue pool in a hushed, jungle grotto. Her lithe spirit, radiating silver light, alchemically transforming the crushed and cursed soul of a client into new power, which looked like hundreds of small, beaming white stars.
As I journey, I am carried by the vibration of the drum. The steady, monotonous drumbeat that is used in shamanic work is used not for the sounds of the strike when the beater hits the skin, but for the drone under the tempo.
In Siberian shamanism, the drum is called a “horse” because of that drone. You ride it to alter your consciousness.
Over the weeks, tremendous and sudden flashes of heat rose in the studio, and sometimes the aroma of roses or lilies appeared as a surprise guest, and perfumed the room for a few minutes. Sometimes, I saw the very air spark, a visible crackle. I heard ancient flutes, the pounding of tribal dancing.
Bees love the studio and sometimes gather there. They like to land on me when I work, and never, ever sting me.
A few days ago, I walked in, ready to do more work. I was ready, but also just feeling a bit lethargic. Yes, my work is magical, but at 64 years, the body just gets tired.
So on this day, when I opened the door, I bowed as I do, but then I stopped. I made a different choice than to do the work for my clients.
They will still be served in good time, but on that day, I realized that it had been quite a while since I cleaned all the altars, tended the scores of beautiful and simple stones, the elaborate carvings, the totems, the paintings -- the feathers and potent power objects that spend their lives humming in resonance with the beat of rattle and drum.
Each has a significance; each lends power or is used for different purpose as the helping spirits require. Some are there to strictly honor the spirits that I work with. None are extraneous, and they grace the walls, and the four altars I keep.
For me, the heart of this work lives in reverence and reciprocity.
And so on that day, I listened and received the call to tend. I heard whispers from many of the carvings and totems and feathers and stones and skins and drums and rattles.
Some of the rocks and stones said, please, I would like to go outside to rest. A small wolf carving said, no, I now need to live on the altar to the south. A horse totem wanted a different view. Many had small, kind and delicate requests that I was delighted to honor.
It takes a day to really clean and tend the studio and the altars. I dust to, well, dust, but really? Dust doesn’t bother them or me. It’s much more about picking up every single totem, ever power object, wiping it gently and saying thank you.
And to hear them speak. What does this bear totem request? To be held or moved? To be splashed with water? Will he ask me to journey to him because he has something to tell me?
Before I began my tending, I rattled and sang for a long time. I sang to many of the spirits who I partner with, so many. I sang to one spirit to praise her, to another to thank him for the gift of the cures for the clients done these past weeks.
I sang to say thank you for my life, and for the still, always shocking fact that I actually get to do this work. I will never stop being surprised, mystified by the fact that I was called to do what I do.
I sang thanks to the rain for coming the day before, remembering that so often, so very often, we are graced by the rose, the wind, and the stone path. By the rain and the dog and the dandelion. Sometimes, we are smart enough to enjoy what is here on our earth, and we certainly use her relations. But, I find, we do not bow enough, thank the Lily for her fragrance, the Blue Jay for the caw.
Tending the studio. It’s so important to pause, and thank all the spirits who crowd in, soaring and roaring and galloping to take me to the places where the cures or the teachings were waiting for my clients.
Although this all sounds and is magical, the point of the work is empirical, practical. I journey for two reasons only: to cure illness, and to ease suffering.
In our western, and perhaps our global culture, we neatly divide ourselves into parts. Physical and emotional, mental and spiritual.
But in the shamanic cosmology, whether illness manifests as cancer, depression, or as a kind of wretched inability to move forward? As a question that you long to answer, have tried to answer for so long that you are exhausted? As trauma suffered, often decades ago, that still rules and diminishes you? It is indicative of power loss, and shamanic work has one goal and one only: to restore power.
And as a 100,00 year old spiritual practice, it has survived for one reason and one only: it works.
For me, these tending days are seasonal, and they come like golden oak leaves falling with sensible ease in autumn or like the first red tulip in spring. My tending arrives, takes a seat in the studio, and I know it is time to pay attention.
Yes, it was time to open wide, to take a day to thank the spirit of the room, who decided she wanted the walls to be painted a butter yellow, and who had other very modest requests when I took my first journey to her spirit before I moved in with even one rattle. I asked her this: How can we work together in partnership so we can serve the people who come seeking the spirits’ service?
To thank the spirit of this home, who is family, sacred space, and gives us such grace and support. To thank the spirit of the land, met before we ever bought the house to find out if he wanted us here, and to discover what we could do to serve him. His very name, which I will not share, was a teaching about how I had to learn to work and live with the strength and the softness of the live feather.
When all the spirits had been thanked and loved, I sat in the large, powder blue womb chair, an inheritance from my father, and enjoyed the hum of the room, and realized that I felt softer, cleaner in some way.
When you tend, you are tended. I cried when I sang my last song to the spirits, adding that good salt to my words, and to the shake of the rattle. They were not tears of grief or joy. Just gratitude.
This tending? It never seems like enough. When clients are cured of illness, of heartbreak, of whatever they need, how can my rattling and singing or even tears ever be a big enough thank you to my sacred studio, this space of grace?
But it is enough because I have learned this. When you give all you have, it is always good enough. Always. Because that is what the spirits do; they give all they have.
I have often said, I will work until I die, maybe gripping a rattle, handle covered with soft red suede, circled with bear fur, and the sepia bulb, which holds the shake, painted with an image of a black bear paw print. This, I think, would be a very fine way to offer my last exhalation to the trees.
I am married to Bear as much as my husband, to a life, to a world that not everyone gets to see. To a life I spend flying among comets, my thighs gripping the massive girth of Bear, my hands holding onto the folds of fur and skin on his neck. We see landscapes not even Tolkien could describe.
And that, my loves, that is the fire that burns in my heart, and ignites me to always keep going. For the spirits tend me as I tend them. This is the circle of reciprocity that makes me a practicing member of the one tribe only.
And for me, this is the essence of the mystery in life, if lived well and in harmony, here on our blue orb. We all need to start singing more, saying thank you more. And taking less, interfering less. The earth and all her relations know how to spin. And we need to resume our proper place as only one grateful strand in the strong and fragile grand web.
Lora Jansson has been a shamanic practitioner for 24 years, a teacher for 19, and a writer forever. In that span, she has worked with over 3,000 clients and students.
She was a member of the faculty for the Foundation for Shamanic studies, but resigned a year ago to devote more time to clients, and to teaching her own curriculum.
She works with clients who want shamanic services (people, companion animals, and land) . This work is done with great efficacy long-distance, and so it does not matter where you live -- she and her spirits can serve you.
Lora is currently teaching students who want to learn how to journey -- live, in-person and one-on-one -- long distance. It's intimate, and finely tuned to you as your unique skill-set evolves. Her students really appreciate the personal attention as they learn the methodology. Lora emphasizes reverence for and reciprocity with the spirits in her teaching.
She is working on a class, "Shamanism and Animals: Working with Your Companion Animals," which she hopes to be offering this fall online.
Her ceremonies have been called "rapturous and life-altering." She often creates ceremonies by client request, although she rightly gives credit to her helping spirits as chief designers of the all the work.
Curious? Want to know more or chat? She'd love to talk with you. Write her here.