The Astral Shaman
Through my interest and passion for shamanism, the celestial language of astrology visited me, like magi from a distant, exotic desertscape. In 2004, I began an almost obsessive relationship with the Mayan culture, their mysterious 2012 end date, and their sacred 260-day count, called the Tzolkin. Simultaneously, I exposed myself to the world of Amazonian shamanism through Jeremy Nearby's groundbreaking book The Cosmic Serpent, which linked the serpentine visions of shamans and their indigenous cosmologies with the structures of DNA.
As the languages of astrology and shamanism penetrated every aspect of my being, I learned that in most cultures, there had never been a separation between shaman and stargazer. As the cultural mythmaker, the shaman would indeed need to maintain communication with the meaning of the cycles of the stars, in addition to his or her transmissions with astral beings and the ancestral realm. In my own desire then, to emulate the Mayan shaman-kings and alchemically synthesize the languages of astrology and shamanism, I was drawn early on to the models of Shamanic Astrology and Evolutionary Astrology. Both perspectives focus on an archetypal, soul-centered approach to understanding the karmic dynamics and evolutionary intent of the soul.
Having made odysseys through Asia, Central America, the Middle East, and Europe, the Amazon and Andes were the last places I felt I needed to travel, those places that seem to beckon our souls forward on their destined paths. I was curious to understand the potency of my soul's quest in this land as my relocated astrology maps suggested an evolutionary invitation that could radically shift my life-direction. Would I meet an important teacher? Would this become my second home?
I knew going down to South America that the Nodes in my chart would be the most amplified points. On an astronomical level, the two nodes, the south and the north, relate to the points where the moon's path crosses the sun's, forming the biannual eclipses. The South Node represents our soul's history, where traumas, behavioral attachments, but also intrinsic gifts lie. The opposite point of the North Node is a kind of quest for our soul, inviting us into new experiences, unfamiliar territory that will bring the soul into a more comprehensive understanding of itself and fulfillment of its mission. Although locations with the nodes can be challenging because the soul's karmic drama is intensified, I often find in my work with clients and my own life that these places seem to seduce us with necessary, integral lessons in our evolutionary paths.
In the six months prior to my departure, I began an intensive study of past life regression therapy, utilizing cathartic psychodrama techniques and the foundational soul-map of evolutionary astrology. After my intensive workshop in this modality, and before my journey south, I continued my shamanic work with mushrooms and in the winter did two solo ceremonies, my preferred method of working with that medicine. These journeys were profoundly different than previous mushroom ceremonies in that I took less medicine, but actually went much deeper into my soul, as multiple previous lifetimes appeared, often in very cathartic memories. The memories were visceral, in the sense of "just knowing" what was happening in this other lifetime context. I wondered if ayahuasca would reveal more layers of these or other lifetimes, more lessons from the parallel-universe, multidimensional drama of my soul.
I had wanted to explore psychotropic shamanism in the Mayan lands, but discovered in my travels there that the practice of plant medicine, though common to the ancient Maya, was rarely practiced anywhere with contemporary Mayan shamans. The widespread, traditional use of plant ingestion in the Amazon, however, and the subsequent cosmologies developed from the symbiotic relationships with plants, inspired me to visit the jungles. Though I had journeyed five times with ayahuasca, I postponed working with the Grandmother Vine of the Spirits for about eighteen months prior to this trip to the Amazon. I was ready at last to experience "real shamanism," with the vine in its home. I wanted it to be as pure as it could be.
Journey into the Past
In April of 2009, I joined my visionary artist friends from the West Coast during their 4th annual retreat in the jungle outside of Iquitos. We would do four ceremonies every other day over the course of ten days, with two different shamans. Due to my intuitions about the culture and history of South America, as well as my astrolocality maps in the region, I thought I was embarking on what would become an annual trip.
As an astrologer, I am always very sensitive to timing and I knew that the ceremonies were occurring during the sun's transit through Aries. Since my South Node is in Aries, I was well aware that the sun's transit over this position could reveal stuck patterns in my soul and illuminate wounded or traumatic lifetimes. I was ready to confront these issues and move forward. On a physical level, I sought to heal my problems with digestion, and hopefully find their source.
There were about ten of us participating in the retreat, including visionary painter David Amaringo, nephew of the famous Amazonian curandero/artist Pablo Amaringo. The retreat had an integral focus, allowing much time for creatively channeling the visions, as well as yoga/movement journeys, and my own sharing of astrological wisdom through workshop and readings to my retreat friends. However, these highlighted aspects of the ten days were at times overshadowed by some rather shocking experiences.
Reach Out and Touch Someone
Gathered in the dark maloca, or ceremonial hut, we began our second ceremony, led by our visiting shaman from Pucallpa, the deep jungle region of the Shipibo natives. I was surprised by the deep pockets of uncomfortable silence the shaman allowed us to expose our vulnerable psyches to throughout each ceremony he led. As the "cosmic serpent" slithered her underworld intensity through my intestines, I prayed that the anxious irritation in my stomach was simply the Grandmother working her magic.
Finally, after a few healing songs, or icaros, and an exponential amount of soul clenching silence, I lifted my head to the shaman's speaking voice. Was I really seeing and hearing what I thought I was? No, It must be a hallucination. Is that a cell phone? Is he on his cell phone in the middle of an Ayahuasca ceremony?!
In one sense, I wasn't surprised; he had been on the cell phone quite a lot throughout the week. But really? Not a westerner, but the shaman on his cell phone. My ears could only translate the "Como estas?" and the occasional "si" and "bueno," though my psychedelically drenched senses seemed to be bombarded by the incessant chatter.
At this point, I was grateful for my Gemini rising, which could access the trickster archetype and just laugh internally at what I was not only witnessing, but actively exposing my naked consciousness to. I shook my head in disbelief and just muttered, "Classic."
I also felt grateful for the amount of my own shamanic work I had done, and the confidence I gained traversing altered states. Yet, I wondered about the others in the group, how this would affect their journeys, and why we should all have to undergo such anxiety in the middle of a supposedly "healing" journey. The fact that cell phones could even work, of all places, in the Amazon jungle blew me away, almost as much as the man with the Bluetooth traipsing through Machu Picchu just a week before.
We found out the next day from our translator that the shaman had called his brother, another curandero, during the ceremony. They like to contact each other when they do ceremonies to check in and see how it's going. When I heard this I had to brace my fiery Aries reactivity and yes, warrior ferocity. I thought, "You know, I may be fantasizing about the shamanic archetype, but shouldn't shamans in the Amazon be able to telepathically tap in to their family members while infused with vast quantities of a plant medicine which was originally named "Telepathogen" by early ethnobotanists? I would think that a healer would have a certain sensitivity towards utilizing an intrusive technological device in such a sacred environment.
As the "retreat" progressed, I watched the very challenging Venus retrograde cycle in action, as confusions over money and the purchase of appropriate food for ceremonies brought tensions between the retreat facilitators, the group members, and the owners of the guesthouse where we were staying. Though peace was relatively maintained, social friction did occur, typical of Venus retrograde. I had foreseen some issues with this, but had not known how it would play out. I learned an important lesson cautioning me toward how best to use future Venus retrogrades, and kept thinking how many other group oriented events would benefit from the foreknowledge of this kind of transit.
In the third ceremony, I was introduced to a vision of my higher self, a more luminous mirror. I descended into my perception, folding outwardly my hand from the heart chakra, as if offering me something. I seemed to say to me, "The gift is the open hand itself, the spectral potential in all experience. All will become how you choose to perceive it." This offering echoed the wise words of the Buddha — that the world arises with our thoughts.
Visions of the transfigured Christ as well as various power animals propelled my consciousness and my stomach into deeper wormholes until the urge to purge became intolerable. As I euphemistically "got well," I began to choke. For a few eternal moments, I could not breathe…again. Immediately, I flashed back to being seventeen, when my lung collapsed. During that excruciating experience, I suffered a stabbing pain in my chest and could not catch my breath for hours, before getting to a hospital.
In my early studies of shamanism, especially Mircea Eliade"s book Shamanism, I realized how similar this experience was to a traditional shamanic initiation. In an indigenous culture, I may have been singled out as someone to fulfill the shamanic role. The metaphor of breath was important to this, as was revealed by my Mayan day sign, Ik signifying the wind and the communicator of Spirit, and my persona in the world as a Gemini rising, the messenger. Much of my wounding and healing in this lifetime would center around in-spiration — how Spirit was channeled through my messages and communication.
As I choked in the ceremony, I suffered an intense terror. I reached out towards the shaman, but in the darkness or for some other reason, he did not see me or come to my aid. Once again, I had to heal and guide myself through the underworld. I told myself to relax. Just allow the breath to come. In these moments, I did not only travel back into my traumatic teenage initiation. I went further. In just a brief flash, I knew, viscerally, that I had choked before, in another time, another body. I had extended my arm in exactly the same gesture, and no one had come to help. I could not see the details, only that I had been young in that life, desperate to live on, dying with the thought that I had so much left to accomplish. (But what happened in this life? — quickly give us some specifics — when, where, what happened — images.) I awakened to how that dying thought translated to my sense of urgency and pressure to achieve and create in this life. The familiar themes of the Aries South Node echoed with the recognition of an early death, an incomplete initiation, a will to achieve so much more.
The Bardo Between Vision and Meaning
Entering the fourth ceremony, I took a cue from Terence McKenna and asked ayahuasca to please send me a vision of the future, with a message I could share with others. As this journey began, I did briefly see a vision of the White House, which quickly shifted to a vision of an angelic figure with a sword, like Archangel Michael or the Buddhist Manjushri, except this angel was in fact an alien wielding the flaming Sword of Truth. I was then immediately shown a series of alien, robotic, and human beings running ferociously toward an object. I could not perceive what this object was, but I was struck by the dire urgency in the movement and the fact that the movement was toward something. Perhaps this was McKenna's visions of the Eschaton, the magnetic, singular point-of-no-return. Perhaps it symbolized a galvanized concrescence of intelligent, aware species — Man, Machine, E.T., Extradimensional, the Dead — all co-existing on the earth plane in some kind of apocalyptic desperation at the acceleration of cosmic self-reflectivity.
As the vision subsided, I felt an incredible loss, a disillusionment at the desire for "vision." In overwhelming confusion, hesitant to project meaning without feeling I had received it, I felt myself as a hedonistic Westerner seeking to consume visions in the Amazon, when in actuality, I wasn't seeking visions at all; I was seeking meaning.
I simultaneously witnessed two sides of the mirror-blade. In one, I watched that South Node in Aries impatiently demanding understanding, wanting to know what everything means RIGHT NOW! On the other hand, I also acknowledged the Western or industrialized mind's longing for an authentic religious experience, unmediated, connected with the invisible landscape of the sacred. The shaman on the cell phone who tosses his plastic water bottle over the side of the boat into the Amazon river had lifted the veil of my rose-colored projections.
Also, during the ceremonies, I occasionally reflected on the shamanic potency of my friends and communities in the United States and how powerful of a collective ceremony we could all hold for each other, without the intense resource and emotional investment of the excursion across the world.
Yes, I had exoticized the "shaman archetype," the "authentic Amazonian ayahuasca experience." I had also been taken advantage of in Cusco just two weeks before, when I sought out a journey with the San Pedro cactus. I had to come to terms, after ingesting the medicine, that I had been given something akin to a placebo, a very weak dose of the medicine, from someone I trusted. Over the rest of the day, I went off into the mountains alone and chanted mantras to calm myself. Perhaps I had been too eager, too full of Aries passion to discover a sense of home with these medicines, these "guides," the land itself.
As I examined my desire for meaning, I thought of Timothy Leary's statements about the importance of set and setting in achieving a healthy psychedelic experience. I realized that this was why I like to do ceremonies alone, because I could control the environment in order to create a safe space, where meaningful information could be received. Without a secure container, one's anxiety would override the potential awakening through a particular medicine. The mushroom spirit taught me this in spades one year at Burning Man. I had ingested mushrooms with my girlfriend. It was our year anniversary but we had been on rocky territory. The mushrooms began to climax, and the port-o-potty revelations came spilling through. The mushroom spirit overwhelmed my visionscape with resplendent, mythical images of gods and exotic, seductive space-times, but I could not concentrate on the visions and receive their medicine, with the intensity of the loud music bombarding me, and the need to go navigate the playa, and my relationship, with my girlfriend. We separated from each other within minutes and did not find each other again until early morning. Again, the issues of being a loner and of being in control of situations where I had to defend or exile myself — those Aries past lives — came screaming through. And so did the ruler of that south node, Mars. My Mars position in Leo echoed some of the same issues of needing to be in power and controlling my space.
Past life dynamics offer us perspectives into patterned behavior. Some of these behaviors can be beneficial and used to teach or gift others, while some can be detrimental to our souls' advancement, as we often unconsciously invite in the same situations that harmed us elsewhere.
So maybe I was playing out negative karma from once being a conquistador or doing some other harm in South America? I could not tell. But I was also watching the transit of the volatile, shock-giver Uranus over everywhere I had travelled on my journey. And it would continue to follow me if I ventured onwards into Bolivia to work with animals. My experiences in the jungle, in the crazed marketplaces and noise of Cusco, in the diverse and darker agendas surrounding ayahuasca tourism, in the inability to have a real, heart-centered conversation with a local at Machu Picchu — all made me realize that I was not prepared to handle more extreme energy. I was compelled to call the airlines and change my flight. I had only three days to do this, and it was a lot harder than one might think. I had to speak in Spanish across phone lines that kept collapsing halfway through the conversation. It seemed to be another "emergency" situation, where I had "to be saved." While this was happening, I was furtively trying to connect with a friend of our retreat facilitators, who lived in Florida. Would I stop to see her and do rebirthing work with her? Would that help reveal more layers of the soul-drama?
The Middle Way
I remember when I returned from India many years ago, and was asked, "How was India?" How can one possibly honestly answer this question without making an unfair judgment? The same can be said for ayahuasca. There are so many different kinds of retreats, centers, individual experiences, shamans, participants, motivations that can be factored in to the quality of one's experience. This also includes one's astrological transits at the time of travel, as well as the energies over that area at that time.
Given this, and though my energy and tolerance were low, I sought to have a different experience with the medicine of the jungle before I left. After I finally changed my flight and decided to stopover in Florida, I returned to the Amazon for an opportunity to work with the Temple of Light, which included four Shipibo grandmothers and one Elder male shaman. I would stay for just a few days at the beginning of their twelve-day ceremony, joining many Europeans. I sat out the first ceremony, feeling exhausted and sick, and spent the first two days there questioning my decision to return. What was I learning in all this mosquito-infested madness?
During the next ceremony, which would be my only one at the Temple, the grandmothers wove an incredible tapestry of healing icaros, constant, and at times chaotic. It almost reversed the empty space of the other ceremonies with a paradoxical, angelic cacophony, especially as a very seasoned ayahuasca journeyer began to make a lot of noise.
This woman, who was just a few mats down from me, was inappropriately, sexually moaning and groaning, and even asked another journey participant multiple times to get her water in a very loud voice. There was an obvious vampiric energy running through her. It was beyond challenging to maintain a center through this as my own experience was invaded by this energy. Again, feeling traumatized, I walked to the bathroom to relieve myself, and suffered another horrendous choking. My stomach was purging from both ends and there was no help in sight. In a state of severe shock, I had to calm myself down again.
After the underworld rebirth emergence from the toilet, I walked outside of the maloca and sat half-lotus under a tree, staring at the overwhelming majesty of the stars. I could still hear the moaner, but at least I had some distance.
I reflected on how the choking had happened twice. Just like my lungs: I had collapsed both of them. Without a doubt, under ayahuasca my ability to perceive symbolic messaging remained acute.
With my prayer beads, I sent mantras to the Medicine Buddha, the Buddha of healing which all Tibetan doctors pray to before seeing patients. As I did this, I could feel a more gentle kundalini slithering up my spine, my consciousness spirally orbiting up each chakra. For a few precious moments, I felt the Buddha's energy, a soft, compassionate hand come to my shoulders, affirming that it was going to be alright, to just maintain equanimity, neutral mind, open heart. In this moment, crystalline clarity vibrated through me, the minimalist tones of simple epiphany.
My soul's history was ripe. It had been pulsating all around me throughout my entire trip. I saw that all my travels around the world until that point had been, on certain levels, extensions of the refugee archetype, so elegantly described in my South Node in the 11th house. I had been playing out soul dramas, stories of exile into extreme situations for my beliefs, or escape from my tribe so that I could at last express my own creativity. In this lifetime, I thought of my group shamanic experiences in the Amazon, once with Santo Daime, with peyote, and my church experiences growing up Catholic — I realized that each one had triggered an intense desire to leave the limited container of the belief system and the structure of the tradition and group-mind to forge my own Gnostic relationship with the Divine.
In this lifetime and others, my soul had learned to guide myself, to navigate the under and upperworlds with just my sense of faith that I would be protected. Sitting there under the singing stars and gigantic jungle trees, I realized I no longer needed to prove my ability to survive through uncomfortable situations. I actually needed to root down and ground out, in order to listen to the most harmonious path, and simply play along. This ability to co-operate with Spirit in a co-creative way, as opposed to force my version of what reality should be, is represented by Libra. Opposite to Aries, Libra is the scales, the balancer, mediator, and deep listener of the zodiac. As the sign of my North Node, Libra represents the experiences my soul is seeking to feed upon and integrate in this lifetime. In that moment of clarity amidst the maloca madness, I honored the parts of myself that had recognized this soul-need for years — what we might call the Virgo parts. These are the humbling forces in us, the ones that compel us towards simplicity and daily practice, not just the extreme ecstasy of the Piscean peak state.
In those moments outside the maloca, I understood that to become a master, I could not continue to thrust myself into situations of such an extreme nature. What I sought to master over the course of my lifetime were the realms of music, astrology, and chi kung. All of these arts require an attention to balance and intention to harmonize.
During one of the journeys in my 10-day retreat, I had began sketching the backstory for my fictional memoir of a past life character who had been persecuted for the emergence of his creative process, specifically his writing. Simultaneous to this character emerging in my consciousness was the appearance of the outline for my astrological book due out hopefully in 2011. I realized that this would not be an annual trip. My work would be different than anticipated. The medicine had spoken in a tongue I had not expected to hear, but in a voice I could not ignore.
The first act of deep listening with my soul was to listen to the message of the medicine, even though it told me something very differently than what I had expected. It said to go home and "plant" myself. To do the hard work of writing a book, a long-time ambition of mine. The medicine said that I must begin to think in linear terms, a challenge of mine, but a necessary one to become a translator of cosmic information intended to teach and heal others.
Timemapping Spiritual Transformations
Plant medicines all have a somewhat trickster nature. We as humans have for so long been entranced, bewildered, and frightened of the loss of control once we enter the mysterious rabbit hole of plant consciousness. As we begin to build relationships with different plant entities and chemical doorways, we discover that different medicines will offer us surprisingly varied experiences, even, as with ayahuasca, a very unique journey each time.
Since beginning to study the patterns in the planets, I have been cultivating a linguistics in which we can timemap our transformational journeys. For instance, I began to experiment during my Amazonian retreat with noticing the relationship between the house position of the Moon in a given night and the overarching thematics present in one's journey. Since the moon moves so rapidly, she represents the contents of our shifting moods, and emotional energies. I noticed very revealing correlations which could also be used in helping to specify our intentions for certain ceremonies. This has led to a whole section of my book where I explore techniques for timing spiritual transformations and shamanic ceremonies. My goal with utilizing an astrological map of ceremonial territory is to help clients and students of astrology understand that there are indeed more aligned moments in time, as well as more appropriate places on earth to do the shamanic, healing work one intends.
The World Arises with our Thoughts
Astrology, like travel, is an appreciation for the cosmic symphony of synchronicity. The meaning of one's life can be found in the studying of one's life and its "meaningful coincidences" as Carl Jung called them. Co-inside-dance. For me, synchronicity is the dance of impermanence in the perception of interdependence. With both astrology and travel, we often fit the puzzle pieces of our life together and form reflective mirrors of luminous wisdom to help enhance our self-awareness, accelerate our personal growth, and inspire our appropriate contributions to planetary evolution.
In honoring synchronicity, it is important that we language our experiences in humble gratitude, while recognizing the truth of a situation. Perhaps in my trip to Peru, I had to exorcise the shadows of my Aries nature, to prove to myself that the power and meaning I had sought in a physical place, the Amazon and Andes, and through a curandero or shaman, was already existent within me. I also, like many westerners, had fallen into a trap of projection, a common psychological placebo that if I went to the Amazon, then I would find real shamanism.
Indeed, I found the parts of my soul that needed to find me, and so instead of finding "shamanism," I found true healing. If my experiences in Peru and with ayahuasca did not occur with their extreme nature, it may not have driven me home early and awoken me to the next stage of my work. Within two days after being in South America, and just one week post-Amazon, I found myself in Ft. Lauderdale, for a six-day intensive rebirthing seminar with Rebirthing co-founder Sondra Ray. Here, on my planetary line of inspiration, teaching, and expansion, Jupiter, I learned from a powerful teacher; I gained insights into the patterns present from my birth trauma, and my areas of core wounding and personal lies became quite clear. My rebirthing workshop and wisdom received the focus to create the book I am currently working on, new relationships formed, etc., all would not have occurred if I had not left when I did. This is the humility we discover in reflection, review, and in the appreciation of synchronicity's angels.
And in the end, looking back, it was all perfect. I have now begun really trying to evaluate experiences from a death-bed perspective. If I was to look back, in my dying moments, reflecting upon my experiences occurring now, how would I advise myself to act and what would I want to change? I am certain that I would advise myself to both trust my intuition and listen to the wisdom of the celestial language. Just like the vision of my higher self in ceremony, I would counsel me that through all of it, to accept what is, recognize its perfection, its necessity, its interdependence. And in embracing the fullness of the now as it is, to integrate the lessons learned to help liberate all sentient beings from suffering.
For astrological guidance and relocational coaching, please visit VerDarLuz at astralshaman.com
Image by El coleccionista de instantes, courtesy of Creative Commons license.