5 Ways the Shamanic Toolkit can Help in Times of Change
“How can the shamanic toolkit help with the transition I am currently facing?”
This question was asked during our Mystery School Coaching Call last week. In times of transition I have found the Shamanic toolkit to be a huge help in navigating choppy waters and forging that new path. With all the changes happening in our world right now, it is a question worthy of a blog to tackle it.
As we turn our gaze towards autumn, I feel I am standing at a threshold. I have a body sense that when I emerge on the other side of winter, the world is going to be very different. For many people it already is very different. I know there many in our community who have been made redundant or are facing this possibility over the coming months. Some are choosing to take early retirement, and others are perhaps looking to seek work in a different field. Even for people who’s our jobs are secure, there is a process of evaluation going on: re-evaluating what is important and what needs to go.
Certainly, over recent months everybody’s lives have been affected to some degree or another. The pandemic has resulted in huge changes imposed on us and here in the UK it looks like these will be in place for a good while.
At the moment there is no clarity as to whether this is the new normal and a way of life that we need to get used, or whether next year there will be a vaccine that is safe, that enough people will take it, that it will work and we enable things to go back to how they were before.
We just don’t know.
The Soupy Phase
This is a soupy phase that I have spoken of before in blogs this year. It is what author Charles Eisenstein calls “the space in-between stories”, where one story is falling away and another one hasn’t yet formed. It’s often likened to the pupa phase of the lifecycle of a butterfly, when the caterpillar has gorged itself to the point of no return, formed a hard chrysalis around itself and then dissolved into a gooey liquid inside. At this stage in its life it has no form and from the outside looking in there is nothing happening. Yet it is an essential process in order for its new self to be re-imagined and after several weeks, months or for some species years, eventually a new butterfly being does emerge the other side.
The pandemic has forced our world into this soupy phase and we find ourselves standing at a threshold both collectively and individually. I use the term threshold here as a marker to delineate one stage from another: at some point there is a stepping over into the new phase. I find it helpful to think of it in this way as if it is named, then work can be undertaken to prepare for it by thinking about what will be left behind, and what will be taken through to the other side.
So how can the shamanic toolkit help in this time of change and uncertainty? How can shamanism help us prepare for and step over this threshold into a new world?
Following the last recession, I moved through a number of huge transitions in a relatively short space of time where I left a job, a career, a home and a husband in a period of around four years. With redundancy I had the feeling of being kicked out of the tribe, concern about money and fear about paying the bills. I have felt the anxiety, the sleepless nights and fear for the future along with the foggy mind and feeling as though I am walking through treacle. At times in the pandemic I have experienced this again.
The shamanic toolkit has helped me hugely in the past and continues to do so in navigating these transitions. Here in this blog I am going to explain the resources I drew on which I will be calling on again over these coming months as I prepare to step over a threshold into a very different world. I can summarise this in five steps. Taking each in turn, I will begin with aligning with the natural flow of nature.
Step 1: Work with the natural cycles of the year
In the Celtic wheel of the year there are eight festivals that are almost equally spaced apart. Right now, we have just passed Lammas, the festival of the first harvest in early August and we are approaching the Autumn Equinox, the time of equal day and night just after mid-September. Then, after the Equinox we have Samhain, the end of the Celtic year which is on the 31st October. These pivotal moments in our natural calendar are very much on my radar as I watch the subtle changes in nature unfolding as each week passes. If you want to learn more about the wheel of the year download our free guide here.
Looking at what is happening in nature gives a big clue as to how we can work with these festivals in the context of transition and stepping over a threshold. Right now, nature is at its fullest with the berries ripening, crops are being harvested and fruit and vegetables are starting to come in from the fields and gardens. This process will continue right up to the end of October. At the same time, the trees are soon going to be preparing for winter, drawing in their sap and the leaves will be turning brown and falling to the floor. Animals too will be making their preparations come the Equinox, gathering in their winter stores, fattening up their bodies and making their nests for hunkering down through the cold months.
The whole of nature is about to undergo a huge transition so it makes sense to me to go with the flow and prepare myself just as they are. With the threshold of Samhain in my sights, almost three months away, there is a nice amount of time to prepare. The first step I take, which I began at Lammas two weeks ago, is to set myself some goals on how I am planning to make use of this three-month harvest period.
My advice to anyone who is looking to align their life with the natural rhythms of nature right now is just as nature is drawing in and shedding what it doesn’t need, use this time between Lammas and the Autumn Equinox to decide what it is you want to leave behind, and what it is that you want to take through to the other side with you.
Ask yourself the question, ‘what do I want to leave behind?’ as well as ‘what do I want to harvest and take through to sustain me through winter and beyond?’. This change might have been forced on you. You might be saying goodbye to your job, or perhaps your career, or if you are retiring, work altogether. Or you might want to say goodbye to being busy all the time or rushing around looking after other people with little time for yourself. Or it might be something else entirely. For me I am saying goodbye to my need to have a fixed plan. What I have learnt through the pandemic is that not knowing what the future holds is OK, and that not having a plan doesn’t mean I need to worry. Far from it, for I have learnt that I can be highly adaptable in a crisis situation. So, I would like to leave behind my trait of being anxious about change and take through to winter the knowledge that I am resourceful and have everything I need at my feet.
Leaving something behind doesn’t need to be an instant process. Allow yourself a month or so to say goodbye, to gather yourself in and see how you want to move forward, as autumn is a little way off yet. The Equinox is about balance. By this stage, on the 22nd September, you want to have a clearer idea of what you are leaving behind and what you are taking forward. But you don’t need to firm this up even at this point as there are another six weeks to Samhain, when you reach that point of crossing over the threshold. In our culture there is the expectation to rush from one thing to another, but nature doesn’t do this: where there is a big transition nature always takes its time to acclimatise. This brings me to my second step which is drawing inspiration from the behaviour of animals.
Step 2: Work with the messages of animals
Animal spirit medicine has given me so much over the years, right from the beginning of setting out on my spiritual path. Each animal has unique characteristics and can hold an underlying message for us. We can seek out this insight both through shamanic journeying, and by wandering out in nature and keeping an eye out for nature signs.
Shamanic journeying is the process that takes us from our conscious minds in everyday reality through to our unconscious mind and the Otherworlds. It is a way of shifting consciousness that has been practiced for at least 50,000 years. At The Way of the Buzzard we journey on the drum and we have a free mini-course taking you through the steps to go on a shamanic journey via this link.
When we go on a shamanic journey to the Otherworld we meet spirit beings and these are very often animals. The trick is to look at the natural history characteristics of this animal and then seek the message that lies there for us. Let me illustrate how this works by taking an example animal, Salmon. If we encounter Salmon in a journey, what does this mean? What can this tell us about transition?
Well the Salmon is one of the great navigators of the animal kingdom. It moves from one habitat where it is born, a freshwater stream often many miles inland, swimming out to the ocean where it lives for five years. Then when it is ready to reproduce it makes its way back to its birthplace, an epic journey of sometimes many thousands of miles and one that baffles scientists as they don’t understand how the salmon finds it was back through the ocean without any physical landmarks.
Drawing on Salmon energy can help us navigate our way through the journey of life by looking at how it undertakes this journey. Firstly, we can take inspiration on how it transitions from one environment to another as it moves from freshwater to saltwater. Rather than swimming directly from the river to the sea and vice versa, it stops and takes its time. When a young fish first reaches the saline water at the mouth of its home stream it remains there for up to a week in order to adjust, gradually moving into saltier water over time. Likewise, when it makes its journey back from the ocean to the freshwater river, it remains in the brackish water zone of the mouth of the stream until it has acclimatised to the reduced salinity of the water. So, one of the messages Salmon teaches us that it is OK not to rush. Take your time. Allow for acclimatisation. Otherwise it will be too much of a shock to your body and your state of being.
Also Salmon has a great determination to get to where it wants to go. It is not fazed by needing to swim upstream for weeks at a time. It is able to move up through rapids when everything is flowing against him/her. If there is a waterfall, no problem: Salmon will jump it. Salmon will temporarily lift itself out of its environment of comfort in order to propel itself forward. If you are hitting an obstacle right now work with the determination of Salmon to find ways to overcome it, and trust that moving upstream is part of the process.
This is just one animal that can help us navigate a transition. There are so many that could teach us about coping with change. The caterpillar turning into a butterfly is a common one that I have already mentioned, with the pupa phase a necessary and gooey stage. In order to make the transition the caterpillar builds itself a hard case. So, look at setting your boundaries, a safe container for you to do this work. Explain to people what is happening for you and what you need. Say no to things to allow that space for change to happen, try not to be tempted to rush in.
Another animal we can draw inspiration from during change is Fox. Foxes are highly resourceful. They are able to adapt quickly to any environment. This is demonstrated in how effectively they have moved into the cities. Unfazed by the busyness of modern-day living they have adapted to a life of sleeping under sheds and hunting through bins in order to survive. Preferring to hunt at night they will come out in broad daylight too.
This speaks to the part of us that will give anything new a go. If you are drawn to trying your hand at something you haven't done before, use the energy of Fox to help you jump right in there and do it. Foxes are highly skilled hunters, able to run fast and jump high and wide. Not only do they use these highly evolved attributes along with their acute hearing and sight, but they have a skill that no other mammal is known to have developed for hunting; they are aligned to the earth's magnetic field.
Other animals, like birds, sharks, and turtles, have this "magnetic sense," but the fox is the only one that has been discovered to use it to catch prey. The fox can see the earth's magnetic field as a "ring of shadow" on its eyes that darkens as it heads towards magnetic north. When the shadow and the sound the prey is making line up, it's time to pounce. This speaks to the wisdom of drawing on the messages held within the earth for our guidance.
Foxes are also clever. When it comes to being pursued, the fox is skilfully evasive, laying false trails to throw their predators off the track. They also have excellent memories and are able to cache food and not only recall where it is buried but what is buried there. This aspect of Fox reminds us of the importance of putting our highly evolved human minds to good use. Work with Fox to help you see how you need to develop your resourcefulness during this time of transition by going on a shamanic journey to Fox and asking the question.
Animal spirit medicine has so much to offer us during these changing times. Salmon, Fox and Butterfly are just three of hundreds of different species of animal who have insights to share with us to help us right now.
Step 3: Asking the trees
The third aspect of the shamanic toolkit to help during a transition is to seek the wisdom of the trees.
Nature is my balm. It is my go-to place when it all gets too much. It always has been, right from when I was a child when I would go and sit underneath an oak tree when it all got too much.
It has been scientifically proven that when we walk in a forest our blood pressure lowers. There is a magic in amongst those trees and they are incredibly supportive during times of transition.
What I have since learnt in recent years is that each tree has an underlying energy based on its natural history characteristics. Our Celtic ancestors knew this: with their alphabet based on the trees. There is a natural sequence to the position of the trees in their alphabet, with ground building trees such as birch, rowan and alder forming the first three letters of the Celtic Ogham and yew, the tree of the ancestors and death being positioned at the end.
Working with the underlying energies of the trees can be incredibly healing. Take birch for example. Birch is known as a pioneer species as it is usually the first tree to populate disturbed ground but, not only is it the first tree to grow there, it also actively prepares the ground for other species. Its root system covers a wide area and draws nutrients up from otherwise inaccessible soils which it then redistributes to the topsoil as it’s fallen leaves decay. Without the arrival of birch many of our woodlands would struggle to establish.
This is a tree that welcomes changes. Whereas other trees would not be able to break new ground, this tree can. It can turn a piece of wasteland into thriving woodland, and it is because of this ability that we have woodlands in our country which would have otherwise struggled to establish themselves. So the overarching energy of birch is about new beginnings, and you can see why our Celtic ancestors chose this tree to be at the start of their Ogham alphabet. Just as the birch is unconcerned by starting afresh on a new piece of ground, so too you can draw on its energies when you are about to embark on a new venture and a new phase of your life. The birch tree reminds us that it is OK to break new ground, that the seemingly impossible is actually possible, and that great things can come from it.
Then there is rowan, the second tree in the Celtic Ogham. The rowan is incredibly adaptable to the environment it is in, and its roots grow at speed. It grows at a higher altitude than any other tree in the UK and has determined roots that are able to adapt to different conditions and they can penetrate seemingly impenetrable surfaces such as rock. This means that rowan is found in inaccessible locations such as crevices of rocks, and even growing out of other species of tree. It is known as the flying tree, as it appears in locations high up a hillside and appears to have taken flight to get there, which in fact of course it has, in a bird’s stomach as it ate its berries.
Not only are rowan trees adaptable, but they are also fast-growing trees of great vitality. They have determined roots which can move through soil very quickly. This quickening energy has given the rowan one of its names, which is the Quickening Tree or Quickbeam. The message rowan has for us here is to trust in ourselves, and to know that we are capable of reaching new heights, and to never give up. Just as the rowan can grow out of places it just doesn’t seem possible to grow out of, so too we can reach into the depths of our being and sprout forward with new potential we didn’t think was possible. We can draw from nourishment in the most unlikely of places and flourish where others cannot.
By doing this, by being pioneers and leading the way we are capable of transforming the environment. In these emerging times, as one world is falling away, the modern-day world, it is this energy of pushing ourselves forward to unchartered territories which is essential in forging new ground and creating the way for a new system to be built. They also remind us to refuse to give up. If there is something we truly believe in achieving then we can draw on the energy of rowan to remind us not to give up, to soldier on because new ground awaits us.
Further along the Celtic ogham, there are species that will help with our strength and also calming. There is oak, the tree of strength and potential, and holly, the place of sanctuary when it all gets too much. If it all feels too much right now I prescribe a daily trip to lie under either an oak or a holly tree.
There are all kinds of things we can do to connect with tree spirit medicine but the simplest is to just go and sit under the tree. Spend some time, several hours if you can just lying under its boughs and noticing the environment it chooses to make its home in. You can take a small twig and craft it into an Ogham stave, keeping it close to you in your pocket or wearing it as a pendant. Then if you ever feel wobbly take your awareness to it and notice how the feeling changes. There are many other ways to connect with a trees energy, such as meditating with the tree, crafting with its wood, making an incense from its leaves, going on a shamanic journey to the tree in the Otherworld or taking a pilgrimage in this physical world.
Step 4: Seek guidance through shamanic journeying
The fourth aspect of the shamanic toolkit is to find a spirit guide who can walk alongside you through this transition.
This ties in with shamanic journeying: the easiest way to get guidance from our spirit guides which I introduced in step 2. Once you have mastered this skill, which for some people takes no time at all and others a few goes, it will pay back in dividends. Journeying once a week is often plenty, and even just going on a shamanic journey once a month gives you great results.
Your guide may be an animal spirit guide, or they may be a person. Whoever they are, establish an ongoing relationship with them. I have a guide who helped me through my big transitions in life when I left my job, career and home. He is a grey-haired man called Titan who helped me find my inner power. I have several others too who I have been working with closely for many years.
The key here is that when you meet someone, keep on going back like you would a friend or mentor in this reality. Spend time building that strong relationship. Have a question? Go and ask them what they think. Struggling with something? Seek them out. Need a different perspective? Go and see what they say.
Step 5: Call on the power of ceremony
There are ten weeks between now and Samhain to do this work: to seek insights from our spirit guides, decide on what we are going to leave behind and what we will take into the dark months and the new year.
By Samhain at the end of October we don’t need to have all the answers. I find that my guides often do not give me a clear picture of the future. Part of me thinks this is because if they did, I might not sign up for it! I along with many people don’t revel in change. Although I want it, I don’t want it!
So, what happens when we reach that threshold at Samhain, standing at the point of the new year? At this pivotal moment in the Wheel of the Year we are about to move into the darkness. The long winter months are ahead of us and there is plenty of time for ideas to gestate ready to be born into the world with the oncoming of Spring in early February and into March, April and May.
Standing at this threshold it is time to set our intentions for the year ahead. Doing this in ceremony adds gravitas and sends a clear message out to our guides that this is what we intend on doing. It is powerful stuff. The intention or intentions you set can be as broad or specific as you like, with the idea that you state clearly “this is what I want to leave behind and say goodbye to, and this is what I want to take through into the winter.” You will have spent the last three months preparing for this moment and the time you put in will pay you back many times over in my experience.
To give you some examples, last Samhain I set the intention to write a book on ancestral healing. Six weeks later by the Winter Solstice a writing mentor had presented themselves to me and I am on course to have published it on or just after this coming Samhain. In the past I have set intentions about having a simpler life and then just a few months later all my contracts dried up and I closed the door on a busy and demanding career. I have also set an intention at Samhain around my health, asking for help to shift from a high carb to a low carb diet which has worked.
So, what does an intention setting ceremony look like at Samhain? Well, very much like our other ceremonies we design and run at The Way of the Buzzard. You may have experienced this at our online full moon ceremonies and sabbat celebrations, as well as our online retreats that we have run during the pandemic.
You can hold a ceremony on your own and there are three parts to it. The beginning part is where you open sacred space by welcoming in the elements of life: earth, air, fire and water as well as the Upperworld and the Lowerworld. The middle part of the ceremony is the main part where you set your intention. At its simplest, this can be lighting a candle and stating an intention.
You could also create a physical threshold to step over out of material or maybe some branches from a tree. Birch is good for new beginnings and Yew is good as is it is the tree of Samhain and represents endings and the cycle of life. Then you can drum or rattle, write your reflections in your journal or maybe sing a chant if you know any and fancy using your voice. To close the circle, you repeat the process at the start, this time saying thank you and goodbye to the elements of life and the Otherworlds.
Working in ceremony is incredibly empowering. It is a practice that was lost from our culture and is very much there for us to reclaim. It is something we teach in The Mystery School, our online membership site along with all of the steps here, working with animal spirit medicine, tree spirit medicine, shamanic journeying and the Wheel of the Year.
So, there we have it, my five steps to using the shamanic toolkit over the next few months to transition into a new way of being.
Although I am in a relatively stable phase of my life, I will be going through this process myself over the next three months in relation to living in a pandemic. As I have mentioned I have already begun the process of evaluating what I want to leave behind from the old world, and what I want more of in the coming year. The period between Lammas and Samhain is all about gathering in the harvest, looking at what has worked, what hasn’t worked, and taking those seeds you want to nurture and grow into the dark winter months. This winter there will be much to reflect on and much to bring forward into a new world.
Whatever transition you are experiencing right now, these steps will help you move from one place to another. There is enough here for you to work with right away, but if you want more guidance we have a whole range of resources you can draw on in The Mystery School. Here you will find a community of fellow travellers, live online meet ups, a library of animals and their messages, a lesson on each of the trees I have mentioned here, so you can really get to know each of them, more in depth courses on shamanic journeying and a foundation course in working with the Wheel of the Year. It is all there for you for £14 per month, with no fixed lock-in period. If you aren't already a member and would like to find out more click here.
However you choose to navigate these changing times, we wish you a gentle time, an insightful journey and may you emerge into a new way of being in a different world that is aligned with how you want to live your life.