Reporting for the Observer has brought out the best in me. In fact, I consider myself a sort of sleep-deprived, female Indiana Jones, always a few steps ahead of catastrophe. I've been nearly run over by the entire Michigan Marching Band, spent hours with drunken church ladies, and broken up a confrontation between a street person and a comedian — all while on assignment.
So, when I read the following Observer Events listing — "Shamanic Journeys: Magical Education Council. Every Wednesday. Using special postures, participants enter a meditative state to the beat of a shaman's drum and discuss their experiences afterward" — I thought, hot damn. I'm there.
First, let me make it clear that there are no leaders in this group. Some folks get the announcements out and reserve the room. But no one sets an agenda or dictates expectations. According to one of the nonleaders, Jim, "the doors are open to whoever finds us. We just show up."
Before we get started, I overhear someone say that when he wakes in the morning he says, "Today I'm going to manifest love. It's its own reward." That's a better ritual than mine. Every morning at 6 a.m. my baby gets out of bed and runs down the hallway. And every morning I can't believe it. I manifest astonishment.
The night I'm there, the group is small, only four of us. Attendance can be anywhere from two to twelve people. According to Jim, in larger groups it's common for people to share elements of their journeys. Once, he says, a participant described seeing himself at the head of a group of horses charging across the landscape, and another person exclaimed afterward, "Well, no wonder! I was having a journey when a whole herd of horses ran through it!"
After some socializing, I am formally welcomed by the group and given a twenty-minute briefing. They show me a book called Where the Spirits Ride the Wind: Trance Journeys and other Ecstatic Experiences. The book's author, anthropologist Felicitas Goodman, discusses seven types of journeys and the "ecstatic body postures" one assumes in order to enter each specific trance. I decide on a "celebration" pose and journey.
Next, the group picks out the helpers responsible for the three ceremonial tasks, and we get started. The lights are dimmed, someone invokes the seven directions, and another person lights candles on an altar — actions that help create a space in which to work, to settle into the silence. After "forty-nine breaths," we assume our positions, and a third helper begins to drum.
Fifteen minutes later the drummer changes rhythm to signify a callback — time to return to the darkened room where we started. Some folks write about their experiences in journals before we begin sharing our journeys. One participant visited a circle of elders. Another asked for healing, and her body became a fish tank.
I can't talk openly about my journey because I've been given a set of instructions to rid the world of evildoers. At the meeting, I disclose enough information to avoid raising suspicions. The others are kind, understanding. I can't possibly tell them the truth, because, well, then I'd have to kill them.