Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The US, Pluto and Donald Trump

The last time we had a Uranus-Pluto square - the late20s/early 30s - much of the real shit happened afterwards in the form of the continuing Great Depression and the Second World War. The current square finished (in terms of exact crossings) 18 months ago. It's hard to second-guess these transits, but it could well be that the real outcome, the major events, will be in the coming years.

So far we have avoided a Great Depression. The loose monetary policy that led to our Great Recession was eerily similar to the last square, but this time we bailed out the banks. It was unfair the way the bankers got away with it, but only some of them: most bankers were ordinary people doing their jobs. It's also worth remembering that the banking system performs a vital function. Ultimately, it was the western governments, blinded by free market ideology, and in the pockets of the financial system, that was to blame.

But there is still a huge economic shift going on, called 'globalisation', in which wealth and the means of production are shifting to hitherto poor but populous countries like China and India. And in the West we are feeling it. Hence Trump and Brexit.

Pluto reveals that which is hidden, and things get hidden because we don't want to look at them, and that means they often come out in a painful, disruptive way. But better out than in. One factor in the Brexit vote was the protest by areas in the north of England, whose 'inefficient' industries had been shut down under Thatcher, and which have never recovered. The reasoning behind the vote was that the EU represents the same sort of capitalism as is found in the UK, and what has it ever done for them? In fact, with the free movement of workers, things could only get worse from their point of view. I think it's hard to argue against this point, rooted as it is in hard experience. This doesn't make Brexit itself right or wrong. But it does mean that something that wasn't previously addressed has made its voice heard.

And it's the same sort of thing with the Trump vote in the US. There is a whole section of the population that has become poorer due to de-industrialisation and globalisation, and only Mr Trump is addressing that. Pluto is at the end of opposing the US Sun, and Trump is Pluto personified: unreasonable, unignorable, a powerful force, who even resonates with the Pluto myth of female abduction.

But he is there for a reason, which is a section of the population that has been ignored by politicians. And why have these people been ignored? It seems to me that to address their real grievances, the nature of the capitalist system under which we live would have to be addressed. And that ain't going to happen easily, US politicians being famously in the pockets of the big corporations. And with a heavy disguise of right-wing ideology to go with it.

So what Trump stands for is a protest against the globalised capitalism under which we live, in which corporations can outsource to the cheapest country, regardless of consequences at home or working conditions abroad, and in which the gap between rich and poor is growing.

And I think this can be missed about Trump, because the man is so awful and so unfit to govern: there is something real going on, a move away from the free market capitalism of the last 35 years, towards protectionism. That, I think, will be one of the meanings of the Saturn-Pluto conjunction in Capricorn a few years down the line.

Protectionism, in which countries protect their own industries and products from cheaper products from abroad, has a bad name. It has a bad name because it stops the powerful countries from extending their reach. But 'developing' countries need to be protectionist. America itself was in the early days.

Brexit and the rise of Trump may be seen in 10 years time as the first fractures in the current globalising economy.

The US is at the end of Pluto opposite Sun, and in the middle of Neptune square Ascendant. So it's big stuff. The Neptune transit describes, for one thing, the susceptibility to an ideologue like Trump. But with Sag Rising, it also suggests some kind of search for meaning. The US will soon give way to China as the world's wealthiest nation. Being number one has been an important part of who America is for the last 100 years. So who will she be now? This is why Trump talks in terms of 'making America great again': it is a crude way of addressing that gradual loss of identity.

And in about 5 years the US will have her first Pluto return, in the 2nd House: a review of that incredible resourcefulness that quickly made her the world's wealthiest and most powerful country. America is still a young nation, she has only ever known success. And she still has that pioneering, survival-mode mentality that Pluto in the 2nd also describes. It will be very good for her to be knocked off the top spot, it may bring thoughtfulness and reflection and loss of naivety.

Back in January, before the American primaries began, I predicted that Trump would be the Republican candidate, and the next President. It looks like I was right on the first prediction, and wrong on the second. But assuming he loses, America will still be left with a lot of soul-searching, as is only right for a major Pluto transit. The rise of Trump has for many been a trauma, a shock. It shows how crude, how prejudiced, how gullible many Americans are, and how that constituency and all it stands for came so close to running the country. It also, maybe, shows how desperate many Americans are, that they would support such a man. Pluto opposite Sun has revealed a wound in the country that, once the dust has settled, will need to be addressed.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Dakota Pipeline Protests and the 13th Sign of the Zodiac

According to, protesters began blocking the oil pipeline contruction sites in North Dakota on 22 August this year. Since then it has turned into a protest that has united the various Native American peoples. 

That unity sends a strong message: it stands for a humanity that has not lost its participation in nature, versus modern, technological man, who has lost that connection to nature and therefore to himself. This is a kind of madness. The dominant civilisation in this world of ours is mad, a madness that has been growing for thousands of years, when the disconnect began.

As the poet Ted Hughes said: "The story of mind exiled from Nature is the story of Western Man." 

Ruling this protest has been a Mars-Saturn conjunction in Sagittarius. The conjunction was exact on 24th August at which point (and for a couple of days before) the Sun, North Node, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter were all in Virgo, the sign of the cycles of nature. The North Node was square to Mars-Saturn and opposite Neptune, showing that this was a battle (Mars) against the establishment (Saturn) not just for the stopping of the pipeline, but for the soul (Neptune) of nature (Virgo). The Moon was in Taurus, emphasising the love of the natural world. The sign of Sagittarius shows the legal battle involved. 

Obama has little to lose politically at this juncture in his Presidency, he may as well back these guys. He is very good at standing for all the right liberal things, and will make the ideal elder statesman; but unlike Bill Clinton, not very good at rolling up his sleeves and making change happen. Now is his chance. What are America's values?

The enduring aspect is a t-square between Saturn, Neptune and the North Node, which will last until November: so this protest is liable to run and run. It could become an issue in the Presidential campaign.

I said Mars and Saturn have been in Sagittarius. But they also conjoined at the start of the so-called 13th sign of the zodiac, Ophiuchus, which extends from about 8 to 26 Sagittarius. The start of a sign is a powerful place, it begins things. This sign is the subject of ridicule from traditional astrologers (see my blog defending Ophiuchus)  purely because it doesn't fit into their system.

But this idea of a 13th sign keeps presenting itself, via the BBC of all places. It has popular appeal, it intrigues people, and that is enough for me to say there is something real going on. A tradition stays alive when it responsive to how people feel, and it dies when it stands on its doctrinal correctness, which is what some astrologers are trying to do. So it makes a mess of the system, deal with it!

Ophiuchus portrays a man battling a serpent, and neither ever wins. It is Aquarius (man) and Scorpio (serpent). Technological man versus instinctive man. Humanity has always got itself into trouble when it thinks it has god-like powers, and this is attested to in many ancient stories. What we are experiencing now is a perennial problem. But it has become extreme, and it is at this time that Ophiuchus has presented himself, saying this problem has always been there and always will be, it is in the nature of being human. But it IS a problem, proportionality needs to be found, or the serpent will destroy you.

This struggle with deeper forces is part of shamanism, it is understood by indigenous spirituality. Ophiuchus was identified by the Romans as Asclepius, the healer. For the ancient Greeks, the figure was Apollo wrestling a huge snake that guarded the oracle at Delphi. So there are numerous connections here suggesting Ophiuchus as a shamanic figure, and these figures, in our world, are outside society, just as the 13th sign of the zodiac is anathema to traditional astrologers. And his emergence now seems to me to be pointing us towards the indigenous understanding of humanity's relationship with the natural world, for it is only mutual respect between humanity and the serpent that can restore balance.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Modern vs Traditional Shamanism: Ponderings from the Front-line

I've been blogging about this Shamanic thing since January this year. 3 days after my Dad died, to be exact. A few weeks before, in my last conversation with him, he said twice that I must be thinking of retiring now. Well I'm some years off that yet, I hope, and he was in a morphine-muddle. But it was interesting in that for him, material achievement, and the social status that comes with that, was all. And it was as if, in my last conversation with him, he was releasing me from that shadow that has always hung over my life. Because for me, it is the soul-making that has always mattered.

And then after he died, I had dreams, and in one there was a young polar bear. And then a few weeks ago, I spent 5 days on my own own in a yurt in Wales, and the polar bear was there the whole time, adult now, protecting me. And I was reading about the Medicine Wheel, and as I left the site, I was shown by the owner how the whole place was dedicated to medicine wheels, one for each element. I hadn't known!

And when I got home, I built a wheel of stones, about 18ft wide, outside my caravan, and then I painted the stones. And I am with that wheel a lot, it represents a dream for the future, but for now that dream is taking care of itself. I just sit and wonder.

Some people say I shouldn't be saying this personal stuff, that I shouldn't talk about the polar bear. They are right, but only up to a point. I love that she is there, and I want people to know about these things, because they can happen, maybe already do, in their own lives.

And I feel like I'm at an interface, trying to work out what this shamanic thing is about, for myself at any rate. In the 90s I did lots of the things many of us have done - shamanic journeying, healing work, sweat lodges, trance dance, pipe ceremonies, being buried, medicine wheel, vision quest, ayahuasca in the jungle.... and I loved all of it. And it was with westerners. And I ended up teaching some of it.

And then in the noughties I began having a Canadian Indian come to stay with me, and I began learning (informally, around the breakfast table) in quite a different way. Unfortunately, he was also quite dismissive of all that 'New Age' stuff (as he called it) that we do over here, and it faded from my life. And I was also teaching myself to write and to practise as an astrologer, which was a great adventure in itself. And I was also slowly sorting stuff in myself that would, eventually, give a bit more depth to what I had to offer.

But now all that 'New Age' stuff is coming back at me. I love it. And I also have in me something of the more traditional spirit. Something, not all, by a long chalk. I'm not being modest. And I want to put those 2 things together. That is the interface I am at. I am trying to work it all out, and I'm using this blog to do so, so it needs to be treated as work in progress. In fact, I hope to always be work in progress.

And there are certain things I think as I try put together what I learned from the Canadian guy (and another Indian who more recently came my way) and modern shamanism.

1/ This thing is essentially about becoming a balanced human being. It is not about becoming a healer or a teacher or about being able to talk to spirits or about getting 'qualifications'. We may or may not end up doing stuff that helps people in various ways, but I think it gets diluted, and creates a superficial attitude, by being presented in course-form that most people can attend, as an 'add-on'. And it's not the main thing, either.

2/ Change takes a long time, and it's not under our direction. It takes a whole lifetime. Traditionally, it is the guys in their 80s and 90s who are the elders, who are seen as really having something to say. In our culture we want quick change, and we want something to show for it, an identity, perhaps. So this can be very hard for us to understand. As well as being more real, this perspective takes the pressure off us to 'achieve' or to try and 'be' someone.

3/ Shamanism requires an engagement with nature that we have forgotten. Everything is grounded in our relationship to the natural world. That is what we pray to, what we are grateful to, what we feel to be sacred, what we are part of. If we approach nature in this way, she will respond. Her messages may be symbolic, like when an unusual event occurs. But not everything that occurs is symbolic. And we will feel cared for.

We started to lose this being in nature thousands of years ago, and I think in our short lifetimes we can only ever get part of the way back. I recommend The Dream of the Cosmos by Anne Baring, who traces, through the gods and goddesses we have worshipped, our gradual distancing from nature, and evokes very well what that closer relationship would have felt like.

4/ A good teacher does not make claims. Nowadays it seems very common for shamanic healers/teachers to present themselves in terms of their connections to spirit guides or their childhood experiences, as if they are 'born' seers, or as visionaries, or as having experienced the shamanic illness, the closer to insanity the better.

It is an authoritarian way of functioning. The teacher becomes the one with the special vision, and everyone is meant to look to that. This way of presenting oneself has become embedded, but I also think it is untraditional and egotistical. My Canadian Indian friend never presented himself like this, as having 'special' experiences that qualified him. No, he used reason and experience. One of the guys I learned off in the 90s, Leo Rutherford, also declined to operate in this way. But he was an exception, it is that common.

Maybe it is because our religious history in the west is authoritarian. It is the priest who has the hotline to God. It seems to me that is what we are replicating. Like a bunch of Old Testament prophets mouthing off what 'the spirits' have told them. Even with their hotline, Christian priests don't do this, why do we?

If the spirits tell you something, and you want to persuade others of it, you need to use reason, not the 'authority' of where it came from: if you say 'the spirits told me', many people will then take what you say on board, but for the wrong reasons.

A good teacher presents themselves as an ordinary person who has some worthwhile things to say. He/she will, if they are the real thing, be substantial within themselves, have their own inner knowing. But that is for the pupil to spot, not for the teacher to boast about. 

Of course, we may well have unusual or profound experiences that we'll want to talk about, and there will be times when it is important to do so. But I think that needs to that occur in the context of relationship, not in the context of presenting your services to people you don't know.

5/ A bit of contact with indigenous people doesn't make you an authority. A little knowledge is dangerous. This is the other side of the interface. On the New Age side, we want quick results, we treat shamanism as an add-on, and do not understand the profound relationship with the natural world we need to build. On the Indigenous side, we can think that a few weeks in Peru with some 'elders', or inviting a few over to run some events, counts as an initiation on our teachers CV, and gives us an authority to speak on what shamanism is and isn't. It becomes another 'claim'.

Real teaching, or learning, is being-to-being, it is about developing an inner attitude towards oneself and towards the world, that one gradually absorbs from someone else. And this takes personal relationship, and it takes years. And one may learn something of the traditional attitude through that. But even that does not make one an authority. It can become yet another identity. You may not be a born seer, you may not have had the shamanic illness or the prophecies from spirits. But you have had a bit of contact with the 'real thing'. And that is also another trap that I have observed - another way of becoming stuck.

6/ Let us get away from the emphasis on talking with spirit guides or other forms of non-ordinary awareness, as though that is what shamanism is about. I don't at all want to undermine those of us who do, it can be profound.

It's probably got to do with origins: the shaman is originally a guy from somewhere in Siberia who can talk with the spirits and do healing work and offer counsel on that basis. That, I think, is why we have that emphasis in shamanism in the west, even though it has come to mean something much broader: the whole western attempt to engage with, and be inspired by, indigenous ways.

Many of us our drawn to this project. Only a minority will have that natural leaning/ability to talk with spirits. I certainly don't, and I spent years feeling inadequate on that account! I'm good with words in this reality, crap in non-ordinary reality. When called on, something takes me over and I seem able to do some good work from that place, or rather what comes into me is able to. I guess that is shamanic in the formal sense.

But it's not the main thing. The main thing for me is becoming a balanced human being, and having a strong relationship with the 'spirit' side of existence is central to that quest. And we all have that relationship, and it is very important to find and develop our own particular relationship with that spirit side.

If you're going to run courses in shamanism - and why not, if it doesn't include a qualification - then I think they need to be grounded in this very broad approach to spirit.

That is why I like the Medicine Wheel - it is an approach to the whole human being.

7/ Rationality and discernment are needed as to what is and is not 'spirit'. When I learned shamanic journeying, we were told over and again that the spirits know you perfectly, and that we need to learn to trust what we get told or shown in our shamanic journeys.

I don't think it's quite like that. Shamanism came in on the counter-cultural wave of reaction to western one-sided rationality. And I think that rationality can need reclaiming. What is needed is a sense of attunement to Spirit, and if you're having a bad day, what you see in your shamanic journey may well be bilge. Just like someone who functions psychically, if they haven't trained themselves well, personal stuff and moods will get in the way.

So far from blindly trusting 'the spirits', we first need to develop self-awareness, and that takes time. It is ridiculous to ask someone to trust everything they get shown in a shamanic journey. What they need to find out is what they can trust and what they can't.

And it's the same with prayers and calling on Spirit for help. I read someone the other day saying you need to 'know' you will be answered. Again, that is blind faith. It is our Christian heritage. If you are wanting 2 plus 2 to equal 5, that ain't going to happen. You need to ask and to pray from a sense of attunement to Spirit: then you will be answered, but quite possibly not in the way you intended!

There is This World and there is the Other World. A solid grounding in This World is needed as a basis for navigating the Other World. Practices in self-awareness are, I think, needed alongside practices such as shamanic journeying. The dis-identification of the North of the Medicine Wheel, the bodily awareness of the West, the awareness of the emotion of the South are all needed to encounter the Spirit presence of the East.

8/ I think that shamanism needs to find ways of integrating some of the understanding of ourselves that western psychology, particularly perhaps the transpersonal forms, has developed. Many western Buddhists have found that Buddhism is not necessarily very good at addressing the particular psychological issues that we in the west have. And I think the same can be said for many indigenous ways, acute as their psychological understanding can be. At the same time, we can bring to psychology some of the transformational methods that it does not have so much: energy work, putting back bits of soul, ceremonial work. This is a big subject.

9/ How long are we going to keep looking over our shoulders to the indigenous people for authority and for authenticity? Especially when the great majority of us have no direct experience of them, certainly in the matter of what counts, which is personal relationship.

What we DO have is our own inner knowings, and that is what any tradition worth its salt promotes. Religion goes in the opposite direction, encouraging reliance on the teacher, which as I have said is what many teachers are doing when they advertise their 'special' experiences.

And I think if we do look to indigenous people - and remember some of them can be dodgy too - then it is the spirit and attitude we need to look to, and if we encounter that, it is a great gift.

But quite possibly not the letter. I will never the learn the letter of a pipe ceremony done traditionally. But I have been around them enough to get at least some of the basic attitude, and it is a beautiful and helpful and connecting ceremony, and currently I do them on my own and kind of make it up as I go along.

So I think absorb the indigenous attitudes where you can, if you have the chance, but ultimately it is our own inner knowing that matters, and that will go on to create a distinctively modern shamanism, which I think is the thing that the world needs more than anything.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Confessions of a Cultural Appropriator

The Mexican Indians allegedly have a story that Jesus visited their land, and where the blood from his wounds fell, there grew the sacred peyote plant.

So why aren’t the Christians protesting ‘cultural appropriation’? Humans have always borrowed shamelessly from other cultures, and made what they want of what they have borrowed. Shakespeare took stories from all over and re-wrote them into his plays and never credited anyone! Nowadays you have someone suing Led Zeppelin over Stairway to Heaven saying a riff in it sounded a bit like theirs. LZ won the case.

I am in favour of what is now, usually pejoratively, called cultural appropriation. I want it on my gravestone: “He was a shameless cultural appropriator.”

Currently, in the world of this thing we call ‘shamanism’, politics and guilt are standing in the way of this natural and healthy process. The idea is that if you are pinching rituals and teachings from a culture that is now in the minority, because your ancestors were brutal to their ancestors, then this is not OK. It is all they have left, and now we even want to take that from them.

I just do not buy this. The reality is a human who is being influenced by the culture of another, as has always happened. The 'cultural appropriation' is just an abstraction, a political layer being added on, telling one person he is a 'coloniser' and so can't do this or that. It's a piece of nonsense. The Tibetans don't seem to have this problem, if anything they are the opposite, spreading their teachings widely (and often in dilute form!) in the hope that some seeds will take.

Of course, claiming that what you are doing IS, say, American Indian when you haven't been trained properly in it is wrong and dishonest and there are valid grounds for complaint there, but maybe you just want to laugh at it instead, depending on who you are. But what I'm principally arguing against in this piece is the people who are going to cry foul almost whatever you do, and their white defenders (who can be cases of 'a little knowledge is dangerous'.) It is suffocating. Yes, there has been and continues to be a ton of pain and suffering. But these teachings and practices, however secondhand, have value, they show us what it is to be human, and what could be more important than that?

Religious fundamentalism gets in the way too. “These are the teachings, you do not understand them, please bow down and worship in front of us, who have been properly instructed.” The thing is, they are right: we usually don’t understand them, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t, in our own modern way, found something profound there.

I think the Medicine Wheel is a good example. Its origins are obscure. You get stone circles in the USA, which were doubtless used for ceremonial purposes. What it has become in the modern west is a tool for personal psychological transformation as well as ritual.

It is a wonderful map of the human mind, rooted in a map of the natural universe. I first encountered it in the late 90s, taught by Leo Rutherford. I’ve always loved it, and I’m also very aware that it probably bears little relation to any tradition in the Americas. But it started there, and via a few Indians of questionable ancestry, teachers and charlatans rolled into one (aren't humans fascinating?) found its way down to us.

And it works, it really does, both as a map of personal development and as a tool for personal and community ritual. I’m slowly creating one in a field right now, and yesterday when I put down the stone of the ancestors in the South East, I felt their presence and power.

Shamanic Journeying is another one. All most of us know is you get these guys in Siberia who bang a drum and it helps them talk to spirits and do helpful work for people in the community. How much relation it bears to our Upper Worlds and Lower Worlds and Middle Worlds and soul retrieval (with its psychotherapeutic perspective) and soul theft and de-possessions, I do not know. How much relation it bears to the idea that everyone can have a power animal, you just need to go on a workshop, I do not know – probably none at all! But this stuff works, it is often a profound initiation for people.

I think we really need to run with these things and re-invent them as we go. And not listen to the voices that are quick to shout cultural appropriation and New-Age (whatever that means) and fake. There will always be these voices in whatever tradition you are in, forever banging on about what is and is not the ‘authentic’ tradition. It is the voice of fundamentalism and it will disempower you if you listen to it, and sometimes our path to personal integrity involves learning not to be affected by those voices.

Indigenous teachers can be fundamentalist just as much as anyone else can, and they can be good teachers at the same time.

A living tradition is always changing.

So let us be respectful to the indigenous traditions, and acknowledge we know little if anything of their ways and the spirit of their ways. But let us grasp with both hands that which speaks to us, in the trust that we too are humans with our own inner means of knowing that can guide us, and make something real out of this mixed bag of teachings and traditions that has, often through a glass darkly, come our way.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


In Tibetan Buddhist terms, the UK is in a Bardo, a space between existences that is fluid and full of potentialities. Astrologically, our homeland has been abducted by Pluto (which is starting to oppose the UK Moon) and taken to the Underworld for dismembering and for the planting of a powerful new seed. In Psychosynthesis terms, we are having a crisis of meaning, and trying to find a new synthesis between our sense of who we are and our place in the world. 

And in terms of the Tarot, we have drawn the Fool Card: we are stepping out into the unknown, without a real plan, leaving our security behind, but in the trust that new paradigms will emerge. This has required courage, whether or not you agree with it. Shamanically, we need to beat our drums and draw in a new vision for the people, because now is when it can happen. 2 days ago, it could not have happened.

But it will also take time. It will take years. This is something western shamanism doesn't get, with its one year courses in becoming a healer. Real change is slow and not under our control. Anything that has depth takes years even decades even a whole lifetime and is largely unknowable. But we can plant a seed, even though we don't know what it is.

So we need patience. Above all, right now, we need to deal with the anxiety that is created by uncertainty. You cannot have deep change without uncertainty, for the old has to die, and it is dying as we speak. As an astrologer, I know about the anxiety that people go through when change happens. Well we have a whole nation going through that anxiety, and it is inevitable but it doesn't help.

The part we can individually play is to understand that uncertainty is the price of big change. Put aside whether you voted in or out, for that is in the past. Recognise the courage of those who voted to step over the cliff, even if you think they were wrong. Recognise the desire to be connected of those who wanted to remain. All these qualities are needed.

At the moment, it is an energy thing. If you can dwell in the uncertainty without feeling anxious or despondent, that will create space for something creative to happen.

It was not a party political decision. The Tories were the tools of much bigger forces stirring in the UK collective unconscious. In the short term, you may not have the government you want. Put that aside. The referendum has shown that the people CAN make a difference, and it is the seed of that which we can work with. We are not helpless against the big corporations and the forces of globalisation. We can vote in the government we want, and we have a chance to re-dream what this country is about. We can write laws that protect people and the environment that Brussels couldn't even have dreamed of. We just need patience and determination and a recognition that things are now possible that were not possible before.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Depth Psychology of Shamanism

In 1997, I was organising some shamanic journeying at a small festival in the UK, and the space was packed for each session, like 70-80 people. The word shamanism had a buzz to it, and I think it still does, even though it can also be a cliché.

But the buzz was genuine, and I think it was about people wanting a taste of the Otherworld, something which has almost become a race memory, because it has been so squeezed out by religion and then science. But it is still there in us, this desire for an untrammelled experience of Spirit, that feels ancient, and that is not hedged around by dogmas of what is and is not possible.

It is Spirit that ultimately teaches us about Reality, not humans and their books. Shamanism – a recent, western phenomenon – is about that return to a direct experience of Spirit, that connects us to a universe that is so much more than the literal, material universe of modern science.

That taste of the Otherworld is, for some, enough as an accompaniment to their regular existence. For others, it is not enough. Or we may think it is enough, but the spirits have other ideas!

And this is where the idea of the 'shaman' comes in. A slightly problematic word, as it carries connotations of spiritual stature, which ain't a good thing to claim. And a shaman is technically also a healer and diviner, a spirit consultant.

But the spirits can drag us kicking through that initiatory journey without the end result being a healer. You may end up as a counsellor, or an artist, or a stand-up comic - or as Mozart: what was it that spoke through him if it wasn't the Otherworld? Or you may be nothing in particular that you can put a name to! You just have that look in your eye that says I've been somewhere else.

As Leonardo da Vinci said: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Or as the Ancient Mariner said:
"I pass, like night, from land to land;

I have strange power of speech;

That moment that his face I see,

I know the man that must hear me:

To him my tale I teach."

The Ancient Mariner
The archetypal event has become, for us, the shaman's illness, which will often bring him or her to the gates of death or madness, and once she has accepted the wishes of the spirits to be a vehicle for them, he recovers.

And I think this illness, this trial, this ordeal, needs to be interpreted broadly within our shamanism, even though the original definition was quite specific. And I think we need to be quite broad too about 'the spirits'. Yes, some of us will have guys upstairs that tell us stuff, or who work through us. For others, it may just be this other place in us, and when we speak or act from it, there is some kind of deeper wisdom or insight there, that may not even make sense to us at the time, but we learn to trust it. The so-called 'mid-life crisis' (which can go on and on - see The Middle Passage by James Hollis) has a resonance of this type of ordeal.

As an astrologer, I encounter these trials in the form of Neptune and Pluto acting on people's charts. I had my own experience of Pluto for much of the 90s: after 10 years running Buddhist institutions, I was unable to do anything for several years. Anything I tried to do wouldn't work. And it was like the plug on my life-force had been pulled. I realised that it is not 'I' who lives, it is something from deeper within that calls the shots, and it was saying we're not going to let you carry on in that wilful way, we're going to fuck with you until you listen to us. And there was this deep, magical pull towards that other voice. 

Abdominal Surgery

At the same time, I felt like I’d had major abdominal surgery, and that I’d been brought about as low as I could be, to this faraway place. And after a few years I had a dream telling me to pursue shamanism - as well as something else, which was a trick dream that catapulted me out of my old life.

And since then there has always been this place within me that is a kind of dark wisdom, that I can forget about sometimes, but when I'm coming from there I am aligned with my life. It is the glittering eye of the ancient mariner. And in the last few years it's been happening all over again, but under Neptune's rule, and I'm still in the thick of it, so I can't say too much. But it's been like this overwhelming call that I haven't quite known what to do with.

Pluto with his hellhound
The classic story behind Pluto, who is Lord of the Underworld, is that one day he abducted Persephone, daughter of the nature goddess Ceres, who went into mourning and the earth went into permanent winter. Eventually it got sorted, but Persephone was by now Pluto's wife, and spent half her time in the underworld.

So this is a good way of understanding the shaman's illness. There is another side to life, beyond what is presented to us by society, and you can be taken there forcibly by the demands of the spirit, which has no regard for conventional niceties and sanities. And in a deeper kind of way, you grow up, move on to the next stage - as did Persephone, in becoming Pluto's wife.

A traditional society understands this ruthless dimension to Spirit. As Holger Kalweit writes in Shamans, Healers and Medicine Men: 

“The suffering and exhaustion that accompany a vision quest do not correspond to the mild and gentle style of modern psychotherapy. Westerners do not want to have to exert themselves to solve their problems.” (p102)

And Goethe understood what happens if you resist the call:

“And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

So this initiatory journey that the shaman undergoes isn't just about acquiring magical powers under duress. I don't think it is like that. The main emphasis is on the development of psychological depth, in the sense of moving beyond the narrow, conventional self that tells us how to live, and whose rules are shared by the other members of society. That kind of living is 'normal', it gives a kind of psychological security to many people, and it is necessary for the stability of society.

But that ain't what the shaman lives by. No, he/she has another loyalty, a deeper loyalty, that is not to the rules and 'shoulds' of the tribe, but to the spirits, to the daimon, to the Otherworld, to the Jungian Self. And that other place to which we have our loyalty is more real, for it recognises that the world isn't what it seems, it is not to be taken at face value, for it is only one pole of existence, the other being the spirit world, and these 2 poles are profoundly interconnected. The world is not an absolute, it is fluid.

So it is this loyalty to the Otherworld that is the real qualification to be a healer - or whatever. It is the shaman's wholehearted response to the imperatives of the Otherworld and its values that make him/her a shaman. Once you have that new basis to your life - that look in your eye - then the spirits will allow you to be a healer, or require you to be.

Of course, this is a kind of ideal scenario, because we are human, and we fuck up, and sometimes people have real healing abilities who seem in other respects to be such messes.

But the principle remains, and it is the 'depth psychology' of shamanism referred to in the title. It involves a radical turning about, so that the guiding principle of our lives becomes not what society expects, nor is it based on our personal desires, but on a commitment to something beyond us, that also is us, and that is more real than a purely conventional notion of existence ever can be.

It is a completely different basis for living, and that is why the shaman's illness can take him/her to death's door: the conventional, which is so deep-rooted, has to die. It can almost be like I cannot continue to live like I have been, so how can I live? And the answer is there within, and always has been.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Astrological Case for Brexit

UK Chart

The UK is divided down the middle on the subject of the EU referendum. Before I continue, I'll declare my interest: I'm moderately in favour of leaving the EU. This is because I think that the individual has more voice in small political units. Economically, I think we'll be OK either way. That said, I will now attempt to be disinterested.

This piece began with a consideration of what the basic motives of each side might be. I think there is a fear on each side. The Brexits fear loss of identity in a larger whole. The Bremains fear the unknown, the insecurity of being on our own. I'm not saying these are the only motivations, but I think they may be more dominant than we perhaps think.

The Cancer-Capricorn axis is basic to the UK chart. The Sun-IC is around 10 Capricorn, opposite the Moon-MC at 19-9 Cancer respectively. That is the basic divide in the nation, and it is exacerbated by Uranus the splitter, conjunct the ASC and square the Sun and MC-IC. So it comes naturally to us, if you like, to be divided. But Uranus makes it painful. Our best hope is that Scotland leaves and we have a new chart that is not divided (but that new chart will have its own difficulties.) Pluto is starting to oppose the UK Moon (homeland), which says to me that Scotland is likely to leave in the next 2 to 3 years.

So what is the nature of a divide along Cancer-Capricorn lines, exacerbated by Uranus? Maybe even caused by Uranus, because opposing signs don't have to be opposed, the ideal is that they complement.

Cancer emphasises the home and the security of what is known. Capricorn emphasises finding one's place in the world. The Bremains are Cancer, the Brexits are Capricorn. Usually these things can be read both ways, but I find it hard to see how Capricorn would be a natural Bremainer.

We have Saturn in the 11th House of group involvement.This shows an initial fear, but also an ability to make a long-term contribution. BUT Saturn is square to Neptune: that is our fear of loss of identity in larger groupings. (As well as Sun-IC in Capricorn).

The UK North Node is in 7th House Aries, square to Sun, Moon and MC-IC. Now there's a package. It draws together and shows, through the Node,  how to resolve the fundamentals of the UK Chart. We need strong relations with foreign countries (7th House Node). But we need to feel we have the initiative (Aries). This is difficult in the EU, because Germany has become so dominant. Aries finds joint ventures difficult anyway, a fortiori when one partner is dominant.

This says to me that Britain is better out than in - more at ease with itself, and more able to fulfil its destiny. Honest, I only reached this conclusion through the astrology, and as I wrote it! I'm not saying that we will vote to leave - I don't think we will. But that won't stop the Tory party fighting amongst themselves while  Labour remains unelectable (though I do like Jeremy Corbyn).

Boris and Dave

The astrological reason I don't think we'll leave is that the transiting square from Pluto to David Cameron's Sun at 15.26 Libra, which is keeping him in power, will not be over for a year or two. Only then will he leave office. If we vote to leave the EU, he won't last 5 minutes. Moreover, if we leave, then Boris' star will rise. Boris' star has already risen to it's maximum height (due to Pluto opposing his MC at 13 Cancer) and he has no major outer planet transits coming up. Therefore we will remain.

Whichever way it goes, in the Progressed UK chart the Moon is in an applying conjunction with the Prog Asc in Gemini: the people (Moon) will be having their say (Gemini).

One way or another, we should be more at ease with ourselves in a couple of years, once the long series of Pluto transits to the Sun, Moon, Node and Angles is over.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Shamanism: Being vs Doing

(Also published at my other blog In the early 80s, after university, I decided to live in a Buddhist community. This was a great disappointment to my father, who had assumed I would have a stellar career that he could be proud of. On
one visit back home, he got a bee in his bonnet about what Buddhists ‘do’. I didn’t really have an answer, as it hadn’t occurred to me to think like that. And the more I couldn’t answer him, the more incensed he got, because for him it was a simple matter, with what should be a simple answer. He kept repeating along the lines of well plumbers fix pipes, poets write poetry, what do Buddhists do? I tried saying stuff about meditation and ethics and enlightenment and all that, but it was nothing he could understand in terms of doing. I was, as it happens, working in a Buddhist vegetarian restaurant, but that, of course, wasn’t a general activity of Buddhists that I could invoke.

Black Elk
Buddhism, like any spiritual path, is essentially an attitude to life, on the basis of which the ‘doing’ happens. For us shamanistas, this attitude is well-expressed by Black Elk:

“Hear me, four quarters of the world - a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds.

Great Spirit, Great Spirit, my Grandfather, all over the earth the faces of living things are all alike. With tenderness have these come up out of the ground. Look upon these faces of children without number and with children in their arms, that they may face the winds and walk the good road to the day of quiet.

This is my prayer; hear me! The voice I have sent is weak, yet with earnestness I have sent it. Hear me!”

I haven’t found this attitude so fully expressed anywhere else but in what we in the West have come to term ‘shamanism’. Attitude is the wrong word, because it is not something added on. It is a way of being, a beautiful and loving way to relate to the earth, that is also true and real. It is based on how things are. And in bringing humans ‘down’, as we might see it, to the level of the elements and other forms of life, it elevates us, it shows us how to be noble human beings.

And for me, this is the essence of shamanism.

The Wikipedia definition reads: “Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.”

This is a definition in terms of doing rather than being, and it is typical of us westerners to come up with such a definition. It is like saying a Christian is someone who performs miracles. OK, technically the shaman is a special type of person who can do the healing stuff, or rather his spirits can. But shamanism has come to mean our western re-interpretation of indigenous spirituality: the healing work is just a special instance of that broader engagement. And for the traditional shaman him/herself, the healing work takes place in the prior context of this sacred but natural connection to the world, without which the healing would be unthinkable.

So I think that shamanism is not to do with whether you can do healing work or lead ceremonies. Shamanism is a context, a context of profound gratitude and relatedness to the natural world. These days, the world is something we take from. But the traditional (and more adult) attitude is that it gives to us. That is the basis. And it’s not the natural world in just the modern, material sense: it is that, but more, it gives us the power to live, and it is the spirit world. Spirit and matter are the 2 poles of life, inner and outer, if you like.

But it is hard to get away from doing definitions. Maybe it always has been. Material existence presses hard upon us, it can seem like it is all there is. One of the main functions of the shaman is simply to remind people about spirit. In my mid-30s I realised that the power to live was not a given, it was something that could be taken away from me. And it had been taken away from me because I had not listened to the call of my spirit. It was a deep turning around for me, my eyes turned inward to a place that was alive and beyond any words or dogma. And at that point I had very little definition of myself in terms of doing. I was being dragged through a deep lesson in being.

So it is this way of being, which is sometimes just an attitude because it’s the best we can do, that matters. That sense of profound connection to the natural world, for me, is occasional, if at all. I enjoy the natural beauty of the beech trees outside my caravan, and I enjoy watching the sheep eat, and sometimes my breath is taken away by the sight of the horses in the field beyond. But when I read other people writing about the importance of feeling our identity with the natural world, I easily feel wrong-footed, like I only have a faint glimpse of it. I also feel wrong-footed when people write (usually in their intros to their healing services) about how they’ve been seers, or something like that, since childhood. I know I certainly wasn’t. (Though I confess I’m slightly suspicious when people do that.) And then of course there are indigenous people, and I’m certainly not the real thing in comparison to them. Maybe I’m just human, and need to forgive myself, and remember that others probably feel, and have always felt, the same way.

Protestant Work Ethic
But the main point here is that more than ever, we live in a 'doing' culture, and we easily define shamanism in those terms, and when we do that we have missed the point. The term 'shamanic practitioner' seems to me to carry some of this bias. 'Doing' is easily the enemy of being, as it devalues being, says that if I can’t measure you, then you are nothing. Astrologically, I call it the western negative Saturn (see my astrology blog). It’s deeply rooted in western culture, I don’t think we can help but do it. It’s a dark spirit we carry with us. Being able to take a holiday from it sometimes is itself an achievement.

What matters is the sense of appreciative connection, firstly to ourselves and then to the natural world and its people and to that thing beyond, however we experience it. If a calling to do healing work, or whatever, comes in as well, let it come to you, don’t seek it out. I don’t think it likes being a day-job.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What makes Shamanism Real?

(Posted at my other blog, I’ve been trying to write a bit of copy to advertise the shamanic healing I do, and it’s not proving easy. I would like to write a load of stuff talking about traditional shamans and what they do, suggesting that I am somehow in that timeless lineage, and that what I do echoes back to the dawn of time etc. But I can’t bring myself to do that, because I don’t think it's true.

I’ve had a fair bit to do with a Chippewa Cree guy who used to come and stay with me over a period of 7 or 8 years, and he did teachings and told stories and ran sweat lodges. We used to have great metaphysical conversations over breakfast, and he said that what I do would be described as a ’personal medicine’ within his tradition. And he also felt the inner connections from which I was speaking when I talked astrology, even though he knew nothing about the subject itself.

But that is the extent of my connection to a living tradition. And I want to be real about that and not bum it up into something it isn’t.

I think that living indigenous traditions are both an inspiration and a burden for us modern westerners. We can be too eager to make the indigenous link to what we do, even if it’s just by implication. And not to put too fine a point on it, I think it is often a bit bogus -  though we may not realise it, because our teachers may have in turn talked in those terms. Mine certainly did, though they hadn’t had much to do with indigenous people. OK, your spirit guides might tell you stuff – I knew one guy whose guide was giving him Lakota teachings, and they were good teachings, but in my book you can’t then say they are Lakota. And I don’t think it’s enough to visit someone in the jungle for a few days – valuable as that might be – and then add it to your CV as indigenous cred. I think the real stuff gets transmitted through getting to know people, and that takes time.

And what I think all this comes down to is the search for authenticity, and what we think of as authenticity, in a time when our own traditions have broken down.

Pluto abducts Persephone
In my opinion, the only thing that is authentic is inner experience, and that is something that is usually hard won. It takes many years. It takes being dismembered so that what is essential can shine through. I am currently being dismembered for the 2nd time (or, as a dream woman told me recently, I am undergoing my ‘second psycho-synthesis’). And I am 58. The first dismemberment was in my 30s. Pluto abducted me into his Underworld. These things have happened to me, I have not chosen them. I still feel like a hot-headed mess a lot of the time. But at best, it means that when I do astrology readings, the symbols come alive, and something real and charged comes out of my mouth. And it also means that I get taken over by a wonderful beast who heals people.

So it is this that is real, not any connection to indigenous people. And – here is my point – I think we can to a degree disempower our own gifts by seeking validation through a supposed connection to indigenous people.

What we do needs to stand alone. We moderns have our own spirit connections. Shamanism is what we do, not what indigenous people do. Shamanism may be inspired by what they do, but for most of us the link is tenuous in real terms.

I’ve been an astrologer for many years, and something I noticed about the astrological world is that it is very accepting of all sorts of different types of astrology. Apart from the odd traditionalist, you don’t get people suggesting that this is real astrology and this isn’t. And the shamanic world similarly seems welcoming of all sorts of different types of shamanism. But it also sometimes seems to me a bit overly-concerned with what is real shamanism and what isn’t. 

Of course you don’t want too many people claiming to be shamanic healers who may have some ability, but who haven’t gone through the years of personal training that are usually necessary to do it with integrity. Though I suspect that flakey - or even dark - element has always been part of the picture. But that’s not what I’m getting at here: it’s the sense that our shamanism is more real if it has an observable link to an indigenous tradition, which isn't that different to Christians quoting from the Bible. And I think there can be an element of wishful thinking, that gets passed on from teacher to pupil.

What I suppose I’m rooting for here is that we need a way of describing what we do without the validating references to indigenous peoples, valuable and profound as their example can be. One of humanity’s weaknesses is an attachment to the past, as though that was somehow more real and validates what we do now. We live in a unique time where it is possible to drop all that and start afresh. Now is a melting pot, where there is room for original inspiration. Our spirit guides know what to do, they're on the case, they can do this thing if we don't get in the way too much.

Friday, April 29, 2016

This World, The Otherworld and the Self

Modern Shamanism is an attempt to re-create the spirituality of
indigenous peoples. It is hard to say how successful it is in that. What I think we can say is that if we listen to nature, listen to ‘the spirits’, listen, perhaps above all, to ourselves, we won’t go far wrong. It is this listening, this paying attention that is timeless. It is in itself a transformative, magical act.

It is also what has been lost. Nature reminds us of who we are. Yet there is little space for nature in urban life. And the voice of the collective is also very powerful, telling us how to live our lives, what makes us a ‘good’ person, what makes us a ‘bad’ person, what is sense and what is nonsense – and listening to ‘spirits’ generally comes under the nonsense, if not sectionable, category.

Shamanism could be seen as the act of listening to ourselves at all levels, and with that comes something that is uniquely ourselves, and with that comes the power to live.

The connection to the spirits that is made in shamanic journeying and other practices is also the connection to the imagination and the intuition – a level that is both deeply ourselves yet beyond us, connected to the whole web of life and matter.

Shamanism gives an initiation into the Imagination – capital ‘I’, a connection to the Otherworld, without which we are not fully human.

So the creation of an individual self lies at the heart of Shamanism, a self that does not exist without a deep connection to something beyond itself. It is hard to know how much room there is/was for this individuality in indigenous societies. No doubt it depended. But the pressure just to survive can demand conformity. In the West, we have been part of a large collective for a long time, a collective that for 1000 years has veered towards fundamentalism, whether of a Christian or scientific materialist bent.

Fundamentalism occurs once you think there is only one reality. I once asked a Chippewa-Cree friend if his people got fundamentalist about their own creation myth, and he said that was difficult, because they had several creation myths, some of them contradictory! For this reason I think it is good that children are taught both evolution and creationism: both these ‘isms’ can think they are the only reality and, like the Chippewa creation myths, it shows children that there is more than one way of looking at things. (Personally, I prefer creationism, because it at least has a transcendent reality.)

Shamanism itself can of course veer towards fundamentalism, just like anything can. At the heart of that veer is our very human need for certainty – ‘this is how it is’ – and we look for it in creeds and teachers or in a rigid sense of our own rightness, or the rightness of our spirit guides. Here's a test: how do you respond if someone disagrees with your 'spirit guide'?

This is where the ‘this world’ aspect of shamanism needs to come in. It is not enough to have a deep connection to the Otherworld. We need an understanding of our own psychology and the ability to dis-identify from it. In the American Indian stories you get Wisahitsa, a character who is always getting into trouble because of his own self-importance. So the Indians (as they call themselves, not ‘Native Americans’) spoke to and were helped by the spirits, but they were also, it seems, trained in human psychology.

So Shamanism needs to involve the cultivation of both the ‘this world’ and the ‘otherworld’ aspects of the personality. You could say that shamanism needs psychology, while psychology needs shamanism.

Part of the beauty of shamanism is its emphasis on direct experience. There is very little in the way of a particular worldview that can be turned into an ideology. The key is not to take things literally. Don’t, for example, take the idea of the upper world, middle world and lower world literally, as a cosmology that if embraced strongly will somehow bring one closer to the world of indigenous peoples.

Literalized reality presses very strongly upon us these days in the form of ‘facts’. Science doesn’t have creation stories like every other tradition before it, it has ‘facts’, how things ‘actually’ happened. My Chippewa Cree friend saw evolution as a story, not a ‘fact’, and that is how I try to treat all of science: a set of stories, useful stories in many cases, but still stories.

What we have lost is the reality of the inner world. Shamanism is an initiation into the ‘inner’ world. When that world is awake, the outer world becomes more relative: it is a manifestation of mind, of consciousness, it does not need to be taken so seriously any more.