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Journeying Styles and Positions

Climbing LizardHow often do you think about the position in which you journey? Do you always use the same position, or do you vary it? Do you listen to a drumming CD or do you drum or rattle for yourself? Do you move around or stay still?

When I learned shamanic journeying, I was offered (initially) two possibilities; lie down, or sit up (other options did come later). There was no pressure, no pushing or pulling in any direction. At the time I was, like many (probably most) people who learn shamanic journeying, working full time at a demanding job with an additional two hours of commuting per day and doing my journeying sessions in the evenings. There was no contest; if I laid down I would most likely fall asleep, so I elected to sit up. It was several years later that I started attending shamanic workshops, with the intervening time filled with happily journeying mostly sitting down, occasionally standing up or kneeling/crawling on the floor.

It was only when I started going to shamanic workshops that I learned that many people were taught (some extremely rigidly!) that you must journey lying down... “How odd,” I thought, and carried on journeying sitting up, or kneeling, or however the mood took me. Fortunately, I'm used to doing my own thing; if you do it without fanfare, as if it's the most natural thing in the world (which it is), no-one challenges you!

The truth is, there is no single “correct” way to journey, and ancient or current indigenous shamans rarely, if ever, journeyed lying down (or sitting quietly for that matter). They dance, they chant, they sway, they roll around and generally walk around – they are, after all, usually performing healings and ceremonies in which they need to move their physical body around in Ordinary Reality whilst simultaneously moving their spirit body around in Non-ordinary Reality. And any modern shamanic practitioner, if they do healing work on behalf of others, must learn to do this too.

Dr Felicitas Goodman, an anthropologist who has studied the ecstatic trance since the 1960s, noted that certain postures were depicted time and time again in ancient statues and paintings. She chose those that were known to be connected to spiritual or religious experience, and started to use the postures they depicted in her studies of the trance experience, getting her research volunteers to adopt particular postures as they entered trance to the accompaniment of the sound of a rattle. She then recorded their reports of what happened to them during the trance. What she found was that there was a pattern; each posture seemed to provide a particular experience (within the inevitable variability between the details of the volunteers' experiences). For example, she saw that some postures consistently produce Lower World journeys while others produce Upper World journeys; some postures are good for divination, some for shapeshifting into other forms – often animal spirits.

The collection and description of Dr Goodman's trance postures is contained in a very interesting book called Ecstatic Body Postures by Belinda Gore, who worked with Felicitas Goodman as a student of hers, as a fellow teacher of the trance postures and as co-author in earlier versions. In it you'll find a lot of information on shamanic culture as well as detailed descriptions of the trance postures, how to do them and the kind of experience you might expect.

My personal experience has been that I prefer to move and at the very least to make sound with my voice, but often I will drum or rattle for myself and others who might be journeying at the same time. The movement may be swaying in my seat, on my knees or on my feet, or it may involve moving around the space I'm in (I'm often doing soul retrieval/extraction work on behalf of others, so need to be able to move around them without injuring them or myself).

I rarely lie down to journey; the one exception being if I am journeying to request a healing dismemberment (see this journey in the Weekly Journeys section). In this journey I'm essentially being healed by my spirit allies and so just as I would want a client to lie down, relax and not have to do any work while I and my spirit allies do healing work for them, now, I am in the position of the client being healed by my spirit allies, and so I lie down and relax.

I do also sit down with the drumming CD playing in my ears occasionally. The point is that I do what is appropriate to the setting and circumstances, and I listen to my spirit allies and to my own body.

One thing I have observed is that the more things I do for myself that support the journey – e.g. my own physical movement, my own voice, drumming or rattling for myself – the less likely I am to fall asleep or have my mind wander off the intent and back into Ordinary Reality and things like to-do lists.

I encourage you to experiment with different journeying styles and positions, combined with providing your own sounds with drum, rattle and voice to see what works for you. If you don't feel you can drum or rattle for yourself while you journey (or you give it a go and decide it isn't working for you), try having 10-15 minutes of drumming and/or rattling before journeying with the CD and see if that makes a difference to the quality of your journeys. Often some kind of movement helps maintain focus and engagement in the journey.

Experimenting can help you find the best way to journey for you and the circumstances. So go ahead, choose a different posture to your normal one – you might find it suits you better than the one you've been using for donkey's years.

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