I had the pleasure of providing an endorsement for Evelyn’s wonderful book ‘The Norse Shaman’ (which appears on the back cover alongside an endorsement by Sandra Ingerman) so took the opportunity to ask her if it was her family elders, who were great storytellers and preserved as much as they could of her ancestral traditions, who inspired her to write ‘The Norse Shaman’? I also asked her about her feelings of sadness, revulsion, horror and puzzlement which she describes, about how our Northern European ancestors became brutal colonizers, creating so much damage in the world alongside extraordinary art, music and literature. How can people now best work to clear this ancestral soul illness and continue forward on a better path together with Nature?
‘The Norse Shaman’ is based on the shamanic threads woven through Northern Europe and Evelyn states that “it is not meant to suggest that the practices covered in these pages are only for those who claim that heritage”, citing that we are all descended from our common African archaic ancestors who roamed far and wide meaning “every individual is a hybrid”. An ethos I agree with totally and one that was behind the birth of Indie Shaman 10 years ago! However knowing many practitioners and people newly experiencing the call to shamanism feel that they walk a difficult path in between practicing shamanism and not being involved in cultural appropriation of indigenous traditions of shamanism, I took the opportunity to ask Evelyn about any advice she may have on this issue. Which was a similar question to one Penny Noddinghawk Jones had; asking Evelyn’s views on the contemporary shamanic practice that is rooted in the Northern Traditions. Yvonne Ryves also asked about how the practice of the Northern Shaman differs from that of other traditions, for example with things like shifting consciousness.
Other questions included one from Wendy Stokes who said that she has “heard of people calling all types of things ‘shamanism’ how would it be defined and how does one recognise a good shaman?” And we finish on a question from Rob May, who wanted to ask Evelyn if she has any plans to come and present workshops in the UK?
As a firstborn child, all of the people I knew were elders. Alongside of my parents, I had two sets of grandparents, great aunts and uncles, a great-grandmother and her siblings surrounding me. All of them were skilled storytellers sharing not only the tales of their lives but also the transcontinental exploits of their own deceased elders. As a result, I was raised with a broad spectrum of time woven through my childhood. So much so that people who had died long before I was born were as palpable a presence to me as my own grandparents. The stories explained a great deal about how and from whom I had arrived on this Earth.
As I grew, I realized that I held within me a rich knowledge and wisdom that had been imparted by my elders’ stories. I had a unique perception of time and place, which gave me a perspective that was not shared by my peers.
Raised in an urban suburb of New York City, I knew much about its earlier days when her trolleys were pulled by horses and farms existed a very short distance from the city line. I also had a sense of living on the sea’s edge in Norway, of immigrating across the ocean, of fishing the North Atlantic and carrying dried cod to South America, of plants, animals, trees and birds that flourished in the woods and fells of Northern Europe; the adventure of making a life in a place where the language and customs were different and how our precious stories are even more important than treasured possessions in keeping your sense of who you are.
There were darker lessons the ancestors’ stories taught me, too. Though I was a child born during the Cold War, I had a vivid sense of what it had been like to live through the horror and privation of two World Wars. I had an understanding of the hardship of having to immigrate far from one’s homeland in search of a better life and how the Great Depression permanently altered the psyches of those who had lived through it. These stories were told differently. They were rarely shared and when shared were briefer than the others. They contained a palpable subtext of hurt, confusion and unspoken questions that defied understanding; how was it possible to be proud of one’s nationality and horrified at the same time? How can the same peoples who created extraordinary art, music and literature, participate in creating so much damage in the world? How am I different to the ones who do these things? Or worse yet, how am I just the same?
It was clear to me that stories contribute to making us who we are as much as our DNA. If the stories of the last few centuries had taught me so much, maybe the stories even further back in time held some answers about how to unravel the paradox of our ancestral light and darkness.
As a shamanic healer, I have come to recognize that such behaviours have their basis in spiritual disconnection from nature and from the other beings who share our world. In a shamanic view, this disconnection results in a soul illness that creates deep feelings of weakness and inadequacy. Those feelings can create a desperate desire for power, which can lead to subjugating other people, other species, and “claiming” vast tracts of land in the vain expectation of feeling whole. I also learned that in spite of the facts that suggest my Northern European ancestors were the “poster children” for this behavior, it was far more pervasive in our species. The persistence of these destructive ways now jeopardizes the ultimate survival of all species and our planet.
To heal these behaviors, we need to first own that they are a part of us–all of us. Every human being has the capacity to create chaos and destruction, as well as the ability to rationalize its “necessity.” If we do not uncover our inner darkness and heal it, it will continue to operate in our subconscious. This will prevent us from becoming fully conscious of our Power of Choice. You see, the choices that we make with every single thought and action create the future we will have. When these choices are shaded by unconscious prejudice, hidden motive and the poison of unhealed pain we are not fully able to make a clear and informed choice. As a result, we run the genuine risk of fulfilling the worst prophesies for our global future.
We have to understand the darkness does not belong to an “other” but to ourselves. Then we have to have the courage to explore it in journeys and through therapeutic methods until we fully understand our capacity to harm as well as heal and how to be dead certain about when we may do each.
Many people do not have the tools we have learned as shamanic practitioners. Their lives may preclude such studies due to extreme poverty, illness, or living under repressive religious or governmental systems. We have been blessed by our circumstances to be able to do this work. Therefore, on behalf of our larger family and our Mother Earth, we have a responsibility to do so. Each of us that makes this work a priority directly impacts the spirit and energy of our larger collective. After all, the shaman’s ultimate task is always to negotiate harmony. This is done for an individual’s health, for a community’s well-being and between humans and the natural world for the environment. To do it well, we need to have a grip on our inherent weaknesses, our potential blind spots and prejudices.
A long time ago, our ancestors understood the sacredness of all beings. We also understood that a healthy feminine was critical to nature’s power and bounty. Six millennia of patriarchal culture has subjugated that understanding to the point where women are treated as having less worth than men and where men, who show the least whiff of the “feminine traits” of sensitivity or softness, are often vilified. This destructive cultural “programming” is so deep that far too many women learn to undermine themselves, belittle other women and vote against their own interests.
The methods I offer in The Norse Shaman are one path to exploring the larger reality of the spirit world that has preserved the feminine, as well as a sense of how we can heal the ancient traumas that lie at the base of our species’ destructively dysfunctional behaviour. One powerful shamanic method to assist in this work is using the voice to achieve and sustain trance. Shamans use drumming, rattling, repetitive movements, ritual isolation, physical deprivation, the use of entheogenic compounds, as well as other methods, to achieve the shamanic state of consciousness. Old Norse seers used songs and swaying/rocking to achieve the same result.
However, we must remember that the path back from the brink isn’t simply about recreating ancient ritual. It isn’t what we do that changes the world but who we become. We need to do the work to bring us back into harmony and connection. Learning from the spirits about the feelings and ideas that lie behind the rituals is also critical to finding what will help us to change our experience. Otherwise we run the risk of repeatedly performing empty actions in the hope the feelings or power will follow. Our journeys can also help us to remember our pre-patriarchal, shamanic way of perceiving reality. Our relationships with the spirits can then nurture this awareness and continue to help us evolve far beyond what any book can teach us.
Truly effective shamans have always relied upon the strong relationships they have forged with their helping spirits and Nature to accomplish their work. This is certainly true of the ones I have worked with from far southeastern Siberia, Tuva, Nepal and Peru. It is not useful to simply replicate rituals from another time or place. Instead we need to step into gratitude-filled relationships; reverent participatory relationships; with the beings around our homes (everything, everywhere has a spirit!) as well as with our tutelary spirits and animal protectors.
I would also add that developing similar relationships with our ancestors is an additional part of the puzzle. They live inside of us and so continue to influence our lives. Those who have fully made their transitions are very invested in the success of their descendants. They want to engage and teach us and in return we must always honour them for the gift of being alive.
These relationships are the source of a shaman’s power. Shamans borrow power from the spirits with whom they have developed a lasting and trustworthy relationship. They are able to accomplish their work only because of this partnership. No powerful shaman believes that they are the source of their gifts. Rather, they are grateful for the ability to participate with the spirits for an outcome that produces a harmony that benefits the whole.
This understanding of relationship and the act of being able to access unseen realms lie at the basis of shamanism. It is not any specific technique, but the heart-felt attention to our interconnectedness and a willingness to engage with reverence that makes the difference.
Note: in answer to Rob’s question. I would love to come to teach in the UK as soon as I have someone or some organization to sponsor a program. 🙂
Evelyn C. Rysdyk is the author of several noted books on shamanism including, The Norse Shaman, Spirit Walking: A Course In Shamanic Power and A Spirit Walker’s Guide to Shamanic Tools. Along with her writings, Evelyn is an impassioned shamanic teacher. She was featured on The Shift Network’s, 2016 Global Shamanism Summit, and is a presenter for the innovative, international program, A Year Of Ceremony.
Whether through face-to-face contact with individual patients, workshop groups and conference participants, or through the printed word, Evelyn uses her loving humour and passion to open people’s hearts and inspire them to live more joyful, fulfilling and purposeful lives. Her websites are www.evelynrysdyk.com & www.spiritpassages.com
This article featured in Issue 31 of Indie Shaman magazine