I became fascinated by the Haida Gwaii indians - a culture wiped out at the beginning of the 20th century - while reading ‘A Story as Sharp as a Knife’ by the American poet Robert Bringhurst. This book is an account of the Haida culture - their art, religion and literature - the latter expressed in a highly developed tradition of oral poetry.
Theirs was a hunter/gatherer society, living in clans under the banner of either the Eagle or the Raven, and their religion was Shamanic. Many of their major poems - eg Raven Travelling - appear to be about shamanic journeys. On a journey the Shaman could traverse the three dimensions - earth, sea and sky - easily, flying to the bottom of the sea, or swimming up into the sky.
So, I began to read up on shamanic journeying in order to understand just exactly what it entailed and how it was done. What I discovered is that its practitioners still exist, though these days it’s used most often, not as a religious ritual, but as a means of spiritual healing, or self-enlightenment.
Now, I’m a science and logic girl, and have always been sceptical of anything vaguely new-agey - while at the same time accepting (with Shakespeare) that ‘there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio’ etc etc, and that the mind has amazing powers we haven’t even begun to explore. I also believe that when Christianity threw out witchcraft, it also threw out a lot of useful knowledge at the same time.
So, with this crazy mixed up basket of thoughts and ideas I was bound to be intrigued when a friend (who is a Reiki Master) confessed over dinner that she was also a fully certificated Shaman.
‘Let me take you on a journey,’ she said.
And I agreed to give it a try. Would going on a shamanic journey give me any insight into the practices of the Haida Gwaii? Would a journey into the depths of my own psyche have any benefits in accessing locked-up creativity?
Would I be able to do it at all - given my innate scepticism and strong personality? Years ago someone once tried to put me into a hypnotic trance, but had to retire defeated - apparently I was too much of a control freak to allow anyone to mess with my mind.
This has already been quite a long post, so I will write about what happened on Sunday. I’m still feeling surprised and a little weird! But I do have a few more insights into the culture of the Haida Gwaii and the roots of their story-telling.