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Class/Book Notes – The Differences between Dramatic, Imitative and Ecstatic Shamanic Forms

Written by Joseph Carrabis

We put ourselves in the Circle. Enter from the Eastern Door. Circle the fire once, always clockwise. When leaving, always circle once, clockwise, then leave by the Western Door.
[This post was originally one section in Class/Book Notes – Levels of Awareness, Trances and Journeying, Part 3 (it may not be published yet). That post was becoming book length (or at least novella length) so I’m breaking it out into several sections. We’ll pick up with “Class/Book Notes – Levels of Awareness, Trances and Journeying, Part 3” in a bit. Until then, enjoy!]

One of my teachers, WildCat, had studied all he could among his own people and then spent years studying in South America. He was a master of versipellis and he had some strong beliefs about the differences in the shamanic forms. The following is an excerpt from our upcoming book on The Practice, specifically the section wherein WildCat talks about versipellis.

Wildcat practices ecstatic shamanism and performs healings. His particular talent isn’t healing, however, it’s shapeshifting, the ability to change from human form to some other form. The other form, according to Wildcat, doesn’t have to be an animal form. It can and should be whatever is necessary to perform the healing.
I watched Wildcat perform a healing by shapeshifting from human to bear shape. When the healing was over we talked about what had happened and I specifically mentioned the imitative shamanic form of putting on a bearskin to perform a healing.
“No,” he said. “That’s not right. That’s different.”
Like most times, he wasn’t forthcoming and wanted me to be as specific as possible in what I wanted to know.
“People who put on a bearskin and talk to Bear are cross-dressing.”
“They’re transvestites.”
I didn’t know he knew the word and his use of it was more confusing than helpful to me.
“You put on woman’s clothes, you put on makeup, you pad yourself to look the way a woman looks. Does that make you a woman?”
“No, but I’ve never done that. I know some men who cross-dress and you’d never know they were men.”
He stared at me and now he looked confused. “Of course I’d never know. You’d never know, either. That’s because we’re both men. We don’t know what it means to be a woman. A woman who is really a woman knows when somebody else isn’t a woman.
“You can dress up like a bear and eat like a bear and walk like a bear but still a bear’s going to see you and know you’re not a bear. The Spirits can tell about you things you can’t tell about yourself.”
With prodding he went on. “Bear will see you wearing his clothes and he may help you. Bear won’t know for sure what you want him to do, though. You wear his clothes and no matter what you else you do you still think like a human.”
A variation of this comment, “you think like a human”, was repeated often to me as I studied with Wildcat. When I was having trouble with a lesson he would grab me by my beard and shake me. “Stop thinking like a human,” he’d say.
“So you shapeshift so you can think like Bear?” I asked.
“Do you know how I know you don’t think like me? Because you don’t talk like me. That’s why you shapeshift, so you can talk the spirit’s language. You speak somebody’s language and they understand you perfectly.
“The only way you can shapeshift is from the inside out. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you look like a bear and think like a man.”

Other examples of the differences in shamanic forms come from classes I took with people who were trained differently than I.

Discernment Example
In one class, we were asked to bring things from the natural world with us. Some people brought feathers, some twigs, some rocks, earth, seeds, snakeskins and the like.

The trainer told us to pair up. Person A was to hold their offering (what they brought) and describe to Person B what the offering meant to Person A.

I want to make sure what we were asked to do is understood: I bring a feather. I tell you what the feather means to me. You ask me questions about the feather. We’re done.

I took part and then said that I’d been taught divination differently. The trainer invited me to demonstrate.

I asked for a volunteer. Someone I didn’t know and had never met came forward. I asked them three times (part of my training) if they were willing to take part. They were.

“May I hold what you brought?”

They gave their offering to me. I read their energies from their object (similar to psychopometry or psychometrics and not quite), telling them about their life, their challenges, what was on their mind that day, what they hoped for themselves, …

Again, let’s make sure what is happening is understood. In The Practice (the way we were taught ecstatic shamanism), you bring a feather to me. I take the feather and tell you about your life, your triumphs, your troubles, your joys, your sorrows, I offer suggestions for what to change and how so that you can make your life better.

In the classroom example above, the gentleman who offered to work with me couldn’t get over the accuracy of what I was saying, even down to his witnessing a bird eating an insect and knowing it had meaning for him but being unable to discern the meaning, which I could.

This is an example of the discernment discipline and something that, as far as I know, requires training to perform.

(Totem) Divination Example
Another example deals with another trainer who also asked us to pair up. Person A would tell Person B about Person A’s “special animal ally”.

Again, let’s be clear – I come to you. I tell you about some animal I feel an affinity to. You ask me some questions. We’re done

Again I explained that I was taught differently and invited to demonstrate.

A volunteer came forward. I asked them three times for confirmation they wanted to take part. They did and, without asking any questions of them, I told them what their Totem was. This is a specific type of divination called Totem Divination.

That person admitted they’d always had an interest and affinity to that animal but had never shared it because it was a love/hate relationship. I explained why most people have love/hate relationships with their Totems and it made sense. I also shared what this person’s Totem was communicating to them. It made no sense to me or anybody else in the class but it sure made sense to them. It was an answer to a life-challenge they’d refused to deal with and was getting worse. Their Totem’s message cleared the life-challenge in one step.

And again, for clarity – You come to me. I tell you what form the energies in your life are taking, their shapes and images, as they move and gather around you. I share what they mean to you and for you, not something like “I see Bear and Bear means…” but “This is Bear’s meaning and message for you…” I let you know any specific messages they might have for you. We’re done.

(Spirit) Divination Example
Another person came forward and asked what I could tell them. With them, it was different. I shared something they’d seen on their way to class and what it meant to them, then fine-tuned their thoughts a bit by sharing what that spirit was communicating to them. This is known as Spirit Divination.

They’d told me nothing about their commute and admitted I described what had happened accurately, including what they thought the encounter meant, and that my fine-tuning cleared up a mystery in their life.

Again, accuracy, revelatory, explanatory.

Accuracy, Revelatory, Explanatory
The critical piece to all this is the accuracy. The shamanic disciplines of divination and discernment (and others) are useless unless they’re 1) accurate, 2) revelatory and 3) explanatory. It can be explanatory, definitely, and only after it’s accurately revelatory.

If I ask you to tell me what something means to you…I’m simply doing psychotherapy without a license…

If I ask you to tell me what something means to you, something you’ve already demonstrated is significant by bringing it to me, I’m simply doing psychotherapy without a license or title.

If I ask you to bring something to me and tell you the hows, whos and whys of it, the wheres and whens of its significance in your life, I’m divining by communicating with the Energies, Entities, Spirits, et cetera, that are in your life.

That, to me, is quite a difference.

Imitative and dramatic shamanism are wonderful forms, simply not the form we practice and study. They are also the forms most often adopted by people who claimed to have studied, indeed may have studied, but learned, as I say, only the rituals and not the ceremonies.

If that.

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Joseph Carrabis

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