This article is excerpted from Shapeshifting into Higher Consciousness, available now on Amazon.
When John Perkins and I take North Americans and Europeans into the Amazon basin, the forest dwellers invite us to feel the spirit of Arutum — pronounced Arootum. Shuar members and their children seek this life giving energy from the trees, animals, stars, waters and stones. Arutum increases a hunter’s perception and a warrior’s stamina. It can rouse confidence to face everyday dilemmas or to navigate higher direction. Similar to the Native American Vision Quest tradition of fasting and praying alone in the wilderness for life-guiding visions, Shuar transform through Arutum.
Nature and her energy are bountiful for the Shuar who live in oxygen rich forests and whose home country of Ecuador hosts some of the greatest diversity of plant life on this planet. Some of these are “dreaming plants” which tribal members ingest for healing and to acquire Arutum. Yet contrary to popular thought, indigenous people do not need to imbibe plants to do this. They can simply open to nature’s energy. The same is true for us.
In July of 2009, John and I hiked through Panamanian jungle with members of a partner organization, Earth Train. We headed for the Northeast edge of Earth Train’s 10,000-acre preserve. One more ridge would have us at the Continental Divide and the boundary of indigenous Kuna territory, which Earth Train borders now protect. As we made our way through thick jungle undergrowth to the Mamoni River, we saw an area in the distance that was lighted by open sky. Much of the land Earth Train had earmarked for reforestation was slashed and burned for cattle but this parcel was felled for lumber. Illegally stripped, the most commercially valuable trees were targeted by helium balloons and plucked by helicopter. What remained was clear-cut. We had only been in Panama a handful of days yet this was time enough to see widespread ecological damage. Hillsides were muddied and eroded. Once-pristine rivers stank of cattle urine. Sun drenched lands yawned vacant where lush forests had housed multitudes of animals, insects and birds. My heart hung heavy.
In reaching the riverbed we took off our outer clothes and relaxed near clear pools formed by cascading waters. The journey had been long, hot and now, emotional. Yet the sights, the cacophony of birds and insects and streams tumbling through this verdant pocket eased my grief. I watched several iridescent Blue Morpho butterflies pirouette through the air and recalled impressions from our hike. Leaf cutter ants by the hundreds carried tiny leaf bits. A huge Conga ant tended her nest and countless mud-laden armadillo burrows bordered the trail. Delicate spider webs and infinite varieties of trees, vines and plant life stretched out before us. The forest pulsed with beauty. Yet the rape of adjacent lands was hard to put aside. We sat at the water’s edge and John urged us to take in power. Indigenous people of these lands would know Arutum, though by a different name. I closed my eyes and listened to the melody of the falls. My body vibrated to the rhythm of cool rushing waters. When Arutum began to surge in me I breathed its life giving strength from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I sucked in another deep breath and realized that my sadness had evaporated. In its place was fortitude. We, and our world, can change. I envisioned this force, Arutum, infusing the tens of thousands of seedlings being planted by Earth Train to restore Panama’s degraded lands.
We each can gain Arutum from the water and skies, from the land and trees. Its force that feeds us, and the life all around us, arises from the elements. These natural powers can be used unconsciously or malevolently, yet, ignorant or selfish gain never lasts; just as we see amazing advances in our times, humans are on the brink of extinction. So, we teach people to seek Arutum to heal and to gain higher direction in support of all life. Together, we rouse the confidence to transform ourselves, and our world.
Arutum derives from nature, yet we can also discover it in dreams or shamanic journeys. In the process of discovery, we might encounter something ominous. For example our journey may pose us face to face with a huge spider, a jaguar, or anaconda. Snakes, ancient symbols of Shapeshifting, are associated with Arutum. Just as a snake transfigures by shedding its skin, Arutum can help us to transform. Perhaps snakes frighten civilized folks, in part, because they signify raw power. Think of the entwined Caduceus snakes of allopathic medicine, representing the power to heal. Consider the Minoan Snake Goddess, an omen of fertility, and the yogic serpentine energy, Kundalini, which awakens spiritual power. Juxtaposing is the snake of the Garden of Eden and the legend of St. Patrick banishing the snakes from Ireland. That St. Patrick banished snakes is debatable, but he did drive the earth-honoring ways from Ireland. Shamans, as did the Druids, cultivate power with, not over, nature. Snakes symbolize this raw alliance with primal forces, which the Christians, for many reasons, feared.
Whether ancient or esoteric, interpreted as good or bad, snake means power. For this reason Shuar medicine people encourage people to approach the snake (or spider or jaguar) of their journey or dream and touch it, feel its energy. They even encourage their children to touch the life force, or Arutum, of dangerous snakes in the wild. Anacondas are voracious hunters. On one expedition, we heard of a five year-old girl being eaten by an anaconda. But in mating season they pose less threat. At this time up to twelve males wrap around a female until she is no longer observable and all writhe trance-like for up to four weeks. The snakes are completely absorbed at this time; so much so that the Shuar have said they urge their children to touch, even walk upon, these anaconda mating-balls to take in power.
I was inspired by this story of Shuar children touching the Arutum of wild animals. For years I walked an isolated dirt road flanked by hundreds of acres of protected lands in Western Massachusetts. In the spring when the black bears abundantly roamed the forests my walks were stimulating as I never knew when I would encounter a bear. I was afraid, yet also excited, to meet one. I did not go looking for them, but did see four bears through my years of walking that road. I felt awe, terror and power. The emotions mixed into one as being so close to the bears and their cubs flooded me with Arutum. I was wide-awake. The last one I saw ran out of the woods and crossed right in front of me on the road. I felt little fear this time. The animal was beautiful. I was exhilarated. This reminded me of when my son, Eben, had driven John and me on this road at dusk one night. We spotted a bear at the road’s edge and Eben stopped the car. John jumped out and scampered over to the startled animal. Both bear and John then disappeared into the woods. Eben’s mouth dropped open, “What’s he doing?!” I said, “John wants to touch the bear’s power”.
I do not advise that you look for, or run after, bears or any other wild animal. Yet, such stories demonstrate that Arutum can demand bravery and a willingness to step into the unknown. Those partaking in Amazon plant ceremonies sometimes encounter terrifying visions. Yet in rousing courage and touching what they fear, they gain vitality. This can be applied to everyday life. Think of a time when something terrified you, but you faced it. What did you feel, what was your experience? Recall rallying courage to make a public stand on something you felt strongly about. Remember admitting to a lover that your feelings have changed. Summon the memory of what it felt like to step into a daunting, yet important, task. In overcoming obstacles or in following your heart, did you grow strong? Did approaching what you normally shy away from energize you?
When the time is right, open to something you know you must greet, yet, would rather avoid. Like the Shuar, be mindful, as power must be respected. Again, I do not recommend running after a bear or touching a Brown Recluse spider, for instance. Seeking the exotic is also not necessary as each day offers ample opportunities for gaining power. Mindfully face life’s everyday challenges, and you will feel vital.
A Shuar hunter will seek to shapeshift into Arutum to enhance stealth and stamina. Amazonians may do so for persistence in battling oil companies destroying their lands. A Shuar mother may rouse it to endure a trying birth, or even to redirect an errant husband. Elaborate customs surround the Shuar staple drink, Chicha, made by crushing, chewing and spitting manioc root into a large gourd bowl. The fermented brew is their primary fluid. Water is not consumed since rivers are full of organic matter. Yet, only Shuar women make or serve Chicha. If a husband causes discord his wife may withhold Chicha. Only when things are set right will she offer it to him to drink. With the help of Arutum, Shuar mothers Shapeshift into maternal warriors. They gain pluck to keep harmony in the family.
As do the Shuar of the Amazon we, too, can seek Arutum for perseverance and to transform everyday circumstance. We can use its life giving force to clarify our life’s direction and to tackle tough personal as well as global issues. In gaining Arutum we rouse within us the intelligence and power of life itself.
Image by ggallice, courtesy of Creative Commons license.
Llyn Roberts will be one of John Perkins’ guests for his Evolver Intensive live online video course “Shapeshifting Strategies for Positive Change,” starting September 17th.