The Shamanic Journey

The Shamanic Journey By Jan Engels-Smith

Shamanic journeying is available to anyone willing to learn. The altered state of consciousness achieved in a journey allows you to transcend the limitations of the rational world, with which we are so familiar, and enter the realm of the non-ordinary. Following are the basic aspects of the shamanic journey that I will describe in this article:

  1. The journey and the state of altered consciousness that is induced are created by a sonic instrument such as a drum or rattle.
  2. Prior to the journey, you are asked to form an intention for the journey defining what you hope to gain from the experience.
  3. During the journey, the practicing shaman meets up with his or her Power Animals or Spiritual Allies to gain information pertaining to the declared intention.
  4. Journeys take place in three different realms: the Lower, Upper, and Middle Worlds. The three worlds hold different kinds of information and the shaman learns how to travel in these different realities. This article will highlight the Lower World.
  5. Journeying is a right brain function.

Why Do We Journey?

The Shamanic Journey


Journeys are real. The worlds where these journeys take you do exist, which the right brain can perceive. The other dimensions, seeing or experiencing spirits, the feelings of oneness and non-separation, are all experiences of the right brain.  The right brain is free of ego and full of possibilities; it is unrestricted.

There is a profound magic to journeys that is literally unexplainable using traditional human thought systems and language common to the left brain. We are a left brain dominate culture and it is our left brain that tries to concretize things, leading us to believe that there are highly restrictive boundaries on truth and that there are severe limitations on our ability to change circumstances. Left brain thinking is controlled by the ego which perceives the world and your life from the past and future.

The more you journey and break out of the barriers of the left brain and realize the reality of these places and the energy contained in them, the more powerful you become and the more instantly things manifest in your own life. Limitations fall away.

The journey is used to provide access to information from the spiritual realm which is as unlimited as the universe and the imagination. Anything is possible and information is readily available. Although there are other ways to gather information from the spirits, the journey is the method I prefer and that I teach my students at LightSong School of 21stCentury Shamanism and Energy Medicine. My goal is to empower my students to connect with their own spirit helpers. There is a vast amount of resources and comfort available to those willing to break out of the confinements of western thought and explore the truths held by the unseen. Who knows better than one’s own spiritual teachers and one’s own soul what is needed to heal and to grow? When we are learning the basics of the shamanic journey, we will make sure that all of our journeys to the spirits will be in places where there are only helping spirits. The Lower World is a place of enlightenment and the place where your Power Animal usually presides.

How Do We Learn?

The journey style takes our usual active mind and puts it to good use by teaching the mind how to rise out of the density of the Earth and all of its hardships and restrictions (left brain constructs) into other dimensions and realities (right brain). A person can quickly learn how to journey, and this is appealing to most people. The shamanic journey opens the door to non-ordinary reality, allows you to enter, and offers a technique to explore this vast, creative, and healing space.

In learning how to journey you will become increasingly aware of the spiritual realm of other realities and dimensions. You will discover just how disconnected most human beings are to the energy and spirituality around them.

Reality is an illusive thing. People are most dependent on their eyes to gain information, but our human vision is remarkably limited. Even 20/20 vision in humans is paltry compared to that of many in the animal kingdom. Because of our obsession with sight, we have negated the existence of the unseen, limited the use of our other senses, and diminished their potential usefulness and effectiveness.

We, as a culture, have overdeveloped the left side of our brains at the expense of the right side. Our schools, bureaucratic institutions, sciences, and our very culture have emphasized analytical understanding while minimizing the value of creativity. We have become what the spirits fondly refer to as lopsided. I often say to students that some spiritual things simply can’t be explained in words; to define these experiences in rational terms is to dilute the experience. Trying to explain a right-brain, non-linear experience using left-brain linear, analytical, sequential, and rational terms does not work. Spirit is the world of the nonlinear; it uses the senses of the soul, which are governed by the heart. It is often said that the shaman “sees,” “hears,” “feels,” and “knows” with her/his heart. Journeying develops these “senses of the soul” while it stimulates and utilizes the right side of the brain.

As in anything, the more you practice journeying the better you will get at discovering new realities. New worlds open up that are blindly missed by the human eye and the rational left brain. I am amazed at what is available to all individuals when they let go of existing paradigms and limited perspectives.

Opening the mind and allowing spirit to work unencumbered is what we often call a miracle or magic. It is what spirit calls Eagle Vision, the ability to rise above the limited view of immediate circumstance to gain a broader, more inclusive perspective. There is so much more to “see” in the universal picture when one uses the senses of the soul and lives by the heart.

I have taught hundreds of people how to journey, most with remarkable success. The journey method empowers and enriches their lives. They develop a modality through journeying that is useful to everyday life. They can reach and communicate with their spirit helpers in a constructive and accurate way.

Place of Entry: For your journey to the Lower World, you will enter somewhere that feels as if it is “going down into the earth.” Choose a place that solicits the feeling of descending, like an animal hole or a crack in the earth. Some people use an image of a waterfall or imagine diving into a deep pool. Others climb down the roots of a tree.

Shamanically, a portal is an entryway into a different dimension; the place you choose represents your portal into the Lower World, which leads to your Ally. Once you establish this place, it becomes your place of entry. If it turns out you do not like your initial portal, you can choose something else.

In my tenure as a teacher, as well as participating in numerous journey workshops, I have witnessed hundreds of people learning to journey. A common complaint was that individuals felt lost in the portal, uncertain of their arrival in the Lower World. Commonly, they would question, “Am I in the Lower World? Am I not in the Lower World?” Not every one knew for sure. Participants might spend an entire 20 minutes attempting and reattempting to transcend from one world to the other. To have a different outcome I suggest that you count from 10 down to 1. When you reach number 1 you declare yourself in the Lower World. Intention makes it true; you are there.

The following is a brief summary of the journey process:

  • The first journey is to the Lower World to meet your Power Animal. The objective is to dialogue and to communicate in a multisensory mode with this ally.
  • If you have multiple animals appear, notice which one shows itself three to four times.
  • I recommend that you ask, “Are you my Power Animal?” and begin communicating with this question.
  • It is good protocol to offer the ally some food. Food tends to be a universal sign of friendship, which includes our non-ordinary friends.
  • Be multisensory, consciously engaging your senses – seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, feeling, knowing; activate them all.
  • Journeying is an internal process; the Power Animal will speak with you telepathically. Tell your ally that you desire to be in relationship; you are excited and thrilled for this opportunity. Start building this relationship.
  • Do not be concerned if you are still cognizant of your body or hear sounds happening in the room while you are in the journey. You are omnipresent. You can be many places at once. You can see and feel yourself in the journey, while still being conscious of your bodily presence in the room. You have the ability to invoke many perceptions at one time.
  • Before you journey, fill with power. Call in the spirits. The process can be simple to start: acknowledge the directions, drum, and say an invocation.
  • Your opening ritual will continue to develop, but get in the habit of setting the stage before every journey. Develop a way that is most comfortable for you and allows you to focus your attention most effectively
  • In your journey be very clear about your intention, what you are asking of the spirits. The clarity of your intention will influence your entire journey and how clear the response from the spirits will be.
  • Take some nice deep breaths and relax, knowing that this is a glorious moment for you and for your Power Animal, and you are greatly loved in the universe.
  • Repeat your intention: “I am going to the Lower World to meet my Power Animal.”
  • Place a mind fold or eye cover over your eyes.
  • Start drumming or turn on your drumming CD.
  • Move through your portal, counting down from 10 to 1, when you will find yourself in the Lower World.
  • Ask any animals you encounter whether they are your Power Animal. If not, ask again for your power animal to come forth.
  • Once you have determined your power animal, try to engage all your senses: feel, listen, smell, taste and visualize. Use knowingness, especially if you experience a black screen.
  • If time permits, ask them what attributes they bring for you.
  • When you hear the drum cadence change (callback), thank your Power Animal, retrace your journey (this locks the journey into your memory), and return through your portal.
  • Journal your experience.

Tips for Improving Your Journey:

–Keep track of information in your journal, no matter how insignificant it might seem.

–Never is nothing happening.

–Let information percolate.

–Journey again and ask for more information.

Jan’s book, Through the Rabbit Hole: Explore and Experience the Shamanic Journey and Energy Medicine is a wonderful starter text to begin your journey into shamanism and energy medicine.

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What is a Shamanic Journey?

What is a Shamanic Journey? by Jan Engels-Smith

What is a Shamanic Journey?


A Shamanic journey is a method of making contact with non-ordinary reality. Although there are actually many methods that people can use to make this contact with the non-physical, the reason that I like journeying so much is because it fosters, accepts, and encourages an active mind. The journey style takes this active mind and puts it to good use by teaching the mind how to rise out of the density of the Earth and all of its hardship into the places of the god self. A person can quickly learn how to journey and this is appealing to most people. The shamanic journey opens the door to non-ordinary reality, allowing you to enter, and offers a technique to explore this vast, creative, and healing space.

The shamanic journey is filled with mystery, and despite its ancient history, is little understood in Western culture. The journey is one of the most effective ways to make contact with the spirits. The altered state of consciousness achieved in a journey allows you to transcend the limitations of the rational world and connect with a non-ordinary reality. The shamanic journey is common to all cultures and the nature of the journey is remarkably similar, even in cultures widely separated by era and geography. In the spirit world, both time and place are illusions. The lessons from the other world are universally true, drawing from a collective unconsciousness that is accessible to all.

Journeying is the method we are going to learn to make contact with the spirit realm. When you journey, you are moving into an altered state of consciousness. Learning how to journey successfully takes time and practice. The first step in journeying is shifting, stilling, and altering the mind, which often involves rhythmic drumming. Journeying requires you to tune in to all of your senses. It is vital to activate as many of the senses as possible to stimulate your powers of observation beyond the visual. Many people depend too much on the visual in journeying, and fail to access all of the information offered in the journey. Often, the information will come through a sense of “knowingness,” a kind of sixth sense that is beyond seeing or any of the other single senses.

I have taught hundreds and hundreds of people how to journey, most with remarkable success. The journey method empowers and enriches their lives. They develop a modality through journeying that is useful to everyday life. They can reach and communicate with their spirit helpers in a constructive and accurate way.

Remember that your spirit helpers and power animals are magical and they can do anything, they do not follow physical law. Birds can swim under water, whales can fly, and tigers can talk. They are your protectors and guardians. They do not lie, that is only a human trait—you can trust them.

Each journey will be different; some will be more powerfully realized than others. There is much to learn about the spiritual realm. In each journey I gather information concerning my intention, but I also listen openly for what the spirits may want to tell me. I have found the shamanic journey to be one of my most profound ways of connecting with the spirits and one of the richest sources of understanding and awareness. It has literally healed me and keeps my mind curious and reaching.

I suggest that, in the beginning when you are learning to journey, you don’t ask big, life-altering questions until you take the time to develop your relationship with the spirits. Spend time learning who they are and how you are going to communicate with them. Learn about the spirits in an organized way. When we begin journeying, it’s like the story in the chapters of a book unfolding. You don’t see the big picture until you get further on, and can look back at what happened. The things you experience in your first journeys are often very profound, although you may not be quite ready to understand the information as it comes in. There may be layers to it, and as you get further along in your work, you can look back on those journeys and glean amazing information. It is important that you keep a journal that is just for your journeys, and keep them in order, let them lay out a story for you.

LightSong’s Level I: Basic Journey Skills class provides an excellent introduction to working with Spirit in a shamanic way.

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Shamanic Tools: Drums and Rattles

Shamanic Tools: Drums and Rattles by Jan Engels-Smith

Drums and rattles in journey work


The drum is a primal instrument; it is the sound of a heartbeat. The first thing you hear as a fetus in your mother’s womb is her heartbeat. That sound is imbedded in your cells, in your DNA. The earth has a heartbeat as well, a constant rhythm—7 MHz per second. All of these things are very primal and known all around the world. Drums are typically used to contact spirit or to alter consciousness. And when that drumbeat starts going at a particular rhythm it alters your brainwaves and creates what we call a shamanic state of consciousness, or a place where you are in an altered state and can do a journey. What they are learning now is that you are moving from the left side of the brain to the right side of the brain.

Rattles are also used cross-culturally to shift energy and alter our brainwaves. And, isn’t it interesting that what we give little babies to play and soothe themselves with are rattles. Where did that come from!? It is very ancient and primal.

Drums and rattles are the primary tools that we use in our journey work.

The sound of the drum creates the atmosphere within you to journey. You can journey with other instruments, but we are going to start with the drum. When you are drumming, relax with the drum; really feel the beat, and the rhythm.

When we are journeying with the drum, it is a standard monotone drum beat. But when we are being introduced to the drum and beginning to use it, it is your own beat that wants to come out. We want to encourage that as well; we want to find the voice within ourselves.

You can also learn to use a rattle to journey. There are differences in using rattles and drums—they feel different to your energy system, and they will do different things. Realize that we are experimenting in here. Always do whatever your preference is, when you are doing it on your own. Find things you like best, and stick with it.

Shamanic Drum and Rattle Opening Ceremony

You can use this later in your own practice. It is called a drum or rattle opening ceremony. When we have a new instrument, we want to energetically open it. You can do this privately for yourself, and open it for your own personal use, or when you are in a group, you can open it and have it meet its community.

I have used this method to transfer the energy from one (old) drum to another (new) drum. It is also important to note that if you have a rattle or drum break, you want to be sure to get the power that has been stored in it is transferred.

Drums and rattles used regularly are and become living entities. They have and develop a personality.

For example, I had a horse drum made for a specific activity. I had been using another drum for the same purpose for many, many years. While working with a client, I pick up the new horse drum with the intention of singing the songs intended for this ceremony. They are songs I have been singing for years, but suddenly I can’t remember them! I started drumming, and couldn’t remember the songs! I have sang these songs thousands of times! I looked over at the other drum, the original drum and it said, I am the drum used for this ceremony!!! Oh, I said, OK! I sat my new, very pricey drum down and picked the other drum up, and the songs came to me immediately. I learned my lesson with that one!

Drums and rattles have a lot of power to them, and they continue developing more power as you use them. They are committed to you. As you start building a relationship with them, it is the same as building a relationship with a power ally.

During this journey you are journeying to the world of the drum or the rattle. When you travel there, you will meet the spirit of the instrument. Understand that, just because you have a horse drum, doesn’t mean you will be meeting the spirit of a horse; or if the rattle is made of elk, it doesn’t mean you will meet an elk.

There is a spirit that lives within the instrument, independent of the animal that provided the hide.

During the journey, introduce yourself to the spirit. Ask them if they will be in communion with you, and if they will live in your instrument to provide healing. That way, every time you use it, you are giving and receiving a healing to yourself, whoever you are drumming with and for, and to the world at large. You make a connection and commitment to one another, and then you ask to merge with it. Merging means that it is going to come into you, or you are going to go into it—it doesn’t matter which way.

If you are doing this in a group, everyone has a beater in their right hand; you never let go of your beater. The drum is passed with your left hand, to your neighbor on the left. They take the drum by grabbing the top rim, or take the rattle, and bringing it to their heart to greet it. Then the drum is beat or the rattle is rattled five times. This continues until your instrument returns to you.

Remember, a drum is a living being. Never lay a drum on its face, or leave it in harm’s way.

Drumming Resources:

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