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Class/Book Notes – Levels of Awareness, Trances and Journeying, Part 3

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 is part 3 in an arc on Levels of Awareness, Trances and Journeying. Part 1 dealt with different kinds of trance states and how they can be useful in the initial stages of study, much like training wheels when you’re learning to ride a bike, and like training wheels, (what most people consider) trance states should eventually be discarded in order to ride trailbikes, enter races, et cetera. Part 2 dealt with shamanic work (what I sometimes call “working journeying”) and continued our exploration of Levels of Awareness. We took a brief diversion in Class/Book Notes – The Differences between Dramatic, Imitative and Ecstatic Shamanic Forms because that information could be helpful before continuing the discussion. Here in Part 3 we deal with Questing, Intentional and Functional Journeying.

I mentioned in Part 2 about altered states of consciousness changing how we perceive reality.

Altered states of consciousness changing how we perceive reality is accurate and I often consider such changes in perception “the cheap seats”. Altered states of consciousness are easy to achieve. If you’ve never studied and practiced breathing techniques, blow up a medium sized children’s balloon using only your exhalations. Do it in under a minute.

That dizzy feeling you get? Welcome to an altered state of consciousness brought on by a change in blood pressure and oxygen levels.

Go on a brisk walk, run, take an aerobics class or do some aggressive weightlifting for half an hour or so.

That euphoric feeling you get? Welcome to an altered state of consciousness brought on by an increase in endorphins and other neuropeptides levels in your brain.

What I didn’t mention in Part 2 was a fairly standard and simple test to determine if you’ve achieved the types of altered consciousnesses prevalent in the form of shamanism we practice and teach; a truly altered state of consciousness causes an altered state of being. This is something I cover in detail in a book on The Practice (we’re working on it even as I type. Most of these Class/Book notes are from that book).

“I’ve taken journeying classes before and they were nothing like this. Now I know what journeying is suppose to be. Thank you for that Power!”

The above is a quote from someone who studied with us and directly addresses the topic and concept of questing/intentional/functional journeying, as well as the differences in what we teach and practice and other shamanic forms (side note: I truly expect to see lots of people popping up claiming they teach the form we offer once these posts go public. I suggest prospective students be wary, careful and on guard. The examples provided in Class/Book Notes – The Differences between Dramatic, Imitative and Ecstatic Shamanic Forms relate the differences in the different shamanic forms).

Levels of Awareness and Journeying
Most people who learn “journeying” are learning to go into a semi-hypnotic trance state (and usually at someone else’s direction or following their instructions. I discuss this somewhat in Class/Book Notes – Lucid Dreaming and Shamanic Work, Part 1 and Class/Book Notes – Lucid Dreaming and Shamanic Work, Part 2). This method of journeying and training is most common in what are called dramatic and imitative shamanism. And as noted in Class/Book Notes – The Differences between Dramatic, Imitative and Ecstatic Shamanic Forms, these are fine areas of study.

We were trained in and continue to study ecstatic shamanism (the third form). Its name, “ecstatic”, is an anthropologic term coined by Mircea Eliade in the early 20th century. The term “shaman” didn’t exist in western languages until the early 1700s and for some reason, even though ecstatic shamanic experience and both western and eastern mystical traditions have many similarities, “shamanism” is never applied to modern mystical traditions.

It’s great to show cultural bigotry, I suppose, and I’d rather not, myself.

What’s important is that such traditions, regardless of name, exist everywhere that humans exist. I use the term “ecstatic shamanism” because some of my teachers were and are trained anthropologists, psychologists, mathematicians, linguists, …, and when I ask them what it is we study, they more often than not use the phrase “ecstatic shamanism” as a launching point for what we’re doing.

…it’s a launching point…

Remember that; ecstatic shamanism is a launching point, not the entirety of.

Eliade used the term “ecstatic” to describe what he was witnessing. The ecstasy state has nothing to do with the street drug Xstacy and is more aligned with the concept of religious ecstasy states because such states decrease external awareness and increase internal (transcendent) awareness. It is that internal, transcendent awareness that allow the practitioner – and it doesn’t matter if they’re muslim, hindi, shinto, lakotah, jivaro, christian, catholic, jewish, celtic, inuit, … – to interact with other realities, worlds, entities, et cetera. My grandfather and some others used the term “The Practice”. Some of my teachers reference it as “The Way”, “The Knowledge”, “Our studies”, …

Since Eliade’s time, others have used the phrase “ecstasy state” (as in “altered state of consciousness”) to describe a practitioner entering into an altered state of behavior, awareness, communion, … Some people use the term “primitive ecstasy state”. I’m not sure why and I often think they use “primitive” to separate themselves from the aboriginals they study.

More cultural bigotry, that.

Anyway, ever been with someone performing glossolalia (“speaking in tongues”)? How about perfuming prophecy (either forthtelling or foretelling)? Divination? Discernment? Healing? Visioning (either being given a vision or “Sees Far”, similar to and not to be confused with clairvoyance)? Any, all and more of these things are in modern “mystical” traditions. Anyone familiar with evangelical christianity has either witnessed them or is aware of them. What’s important is that all of these things are in all mystical traditions, no one belief system owns them.

One of my teachers was fond of pointing out that the Judeo-Christian bible, read as an anthropology text, is a wonderful catalog of shamanic abilities and disciplines.

People observed aboriginals enter into one of these beatific ecstasy states to commune with their guides, guardians, protectors, totems, power beings, grandmother and grandfather spirits and decided that was the sum and total of ecstatic shamanism because that’s when they observed the most obvious behavioral changes.

And we’re once again bumping up against ceremonies and rituals because most of these observers were letting their own prejudices, bigotries and ignorance get in the way of good, solid study.

If they’d allowed themselves to document rather than evaluate, we’d have lots more data and study of Going Wide, bipersonalization, foretelling and forthtelling, psychopomp, divination, sacred space work and other shamanic work.

Going into an altered state of consciousness can help someone journey when they’re in the early stages of training/practice. The sensation of journeying is new, unique and so completely different from what most people have experienced up unto the time they journey that some kind of preparation is required and going into “trance” is as good as any.

My grandfather taught me to journey by laddering and having me ride piggyback.

But one doesn’t have to go into trance to go on a journey. The first experience I ever had of journeying which I was aware of as such was when my grandfather asked if I wanted to go on a trip. I thought he meant we’d get in the car and go get some ice cream (he liked to do that a lot).

Instead he had me lay down on my bed. He started singing and moving his hands over me. The next thing I know, I’m gone and thinking, “Wow, this is great, Grampa.” I retained that ability for some time, not realizing it was journeying. I just thought I was going to go visit my friends.

What my grandfather was doing has many names. I call it laddering or piggybacking, as in climbing a ladder or riding someone piggyback. He used his training to create a ladder for me to climb to other times, places and realities. When we were done, he was there for me to climb back down.

We often perform laddering when we teach journeying because it makes it easier for first timers to get where they’re going. In smaller groups, we may piggyback individuals if we learn they need to travel to a specific destination.

It took lots of practice and effort to journey when I returned to The Practice as an adult. But now I was studying to take Questing, Functional and Intentional journeys. To me, these are quite different from working journeys and the meditative trances performed by imitative and dramatic practitioners. Some cultures refer to questing, functional and intentional journeys as “Sky Walking” and when one is Sky Walking, there’s got to be a good reason (part of training is knowing what’s a good reason and what isn’t).

Next up: another brief aside to investigate “The Calling” (may not be published yet)

About the author

Joseph Carrabis

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  • Hi Joseph – You describe being “gone”, is it correct to say that the altered state of being you refer to is a much more pronounced disconnect or change in focus than from your “ordinary” senses and perceptions of reality compared to the semi-hypnotic state of other shamanic forms? When one has these experiences, is this how to tell the difference?

    And are these different experiences actually completely different processes, or a similar process with the main difference in depth/volume/weight? I assume different processes, and I was just wondering.

    • I use the phrase “I was gone” to indicate that all of my focus, awareness and attention was somewhere “other”. If English had words for these experiences, native English speakers would be a much more aware people.
      I’d need a definition of “‘ordinary’ senses and perceptions of reality” to answer your question. It’s definitely not a hypnotic state, at least not in my experience or the experiences of those I’ve worked and studied with.
      Also, “is this how to tell the difference?” – Interesting question. Can one tell when one is on fire? Freezing? Wet? In love? Falling? Walking? Breathing? If the answer to any of these is “Yes”, then the question is “How can you tell that you’re doing A and not B?” Answer that and you’ll answer “is this how to tell the difference?”
      Are they different processes? I need more definition again. Biophysically? Neurologically? Energistically? Is running the same as walking but with different depth/volume/weight?
      When I’m studying and tell my teachers I’d like to do something, they say something like “Go ahead!”
      Should I not be able to do what I want to do, I say I can’t. They answer “Who’s stopping you? We’re not. The Universe isn’t. Who’s left?”
      And I have to realize that my success and failure stems from my own beliefs. My teachers can take me so far then it’s up to me. And if I’m genuinely working at it and not succeeding? “If what you’re doing isn’t working try anything else,” they say. I modify it to “If what you’re doing isn’t working try everything else,” and now we get into using The Practice to solve problems.
      Hope this helps.