To understand the sacred, other world journey of the shaman, it is necessary to first understand shamanic consciousness. To begin with, consciousness is usually divided into two primary types:
The focused, waking consciousness in which we are alert and aware of our surroundings.
The unfocused, non-waking consciousness in which we are either dreaming or unconscious of our surroundings.
Simply put, shamanic consciousness blends the focused awareness of waking consciousness with the unfocused flow of dreams, inner vision, and non-waking consciousness.
Although the sacred, other worlds of the shamans are sometimes called dream worlds or dream time, the shamanic state of consciousness is much more focused and alert than dreams. It is because of this special state of shamanic consciousness that the shaman can interpret and interact with the visionary contents of journeys to other worlds.
Shamanic consciousness is a special altered state of consciousness in which the shaman is able to view close surroundings as a non-ordinary reality. The shaman is aware of the concrete levels of reality that include the everyday world of Humankind. The shaman is also aware of the abstract world of Nature energies and Spirit.
Shamanic consciousness allows the shaman to be aware of all levels or worlds at the same time. This is what is meant by saying the shaman exists between the worlds. For the shaman, both the concrete and the abstract levels have significance, meaning, and validity. The shaman has the ability to draw information and wisdom from all levels, and the abilities to not confuse them with each other
Other psychologists have recognized the uniqueness of shamanic consciousness and have sought to develop forms of therapy based on ancient shamanic methods. One of the most familiar forms of this is guided imagery, also called active imagery. Because of the active and interactive involvement of the shaman, the experience of the other world journeys may be closely related to the active use of imagery. Basically, a shamanic journey can be considered to be a very special form of self-guided imagery. Or, perhaps it would be more appropriate to say imagery guided by the highest aspect of Self. It is the shaman’s diligent exploration of mind consciousness that enables other world journeys and return with wisdom for his/her own path and for others.
Carl Jung, the great Western psychoanalyst and mystic, once compared the mind of man to a large apartment building. While most people in an apartment building are familiar with a few floors and a few other residents of the building, very few know them all. The shaman, as an explorer and experimenter in mind and consciousness, strives to "visit all the floors and residents and return home without getting lost." This sense of exploration and experimentation is the heart of the sacred, shamanic journey. By making these explorative journeys, the shaman becomes the channel between the worlds of Self, Nature, and Spirit.
Like a living tree, the shaman is rooted in concrete consciousness while reaching into abstract consciousness. We can carry this ancient analogy of the shaman as a living tree further. The trunk of the tree can represent the shaman in relation to the middle world of Humankind??"as well as the connected channel between the upper and lower worlds. The deepest roots can represent the pure energies of Nature encountered on Earth journeys. The highest limbs can represent the shaman reaching into the upper astral aspects of Spirit encountered on Vision Quests. The place where the roots of the tree meet the ground can represent the strength and balance needed by the shaman to stay centered in personal power.
When followers of the shamanic path begin to explore mind and consciousness by making other world journeys, the symbol of the shaman as the living tree is a solid reminder of the kind of balance and connectedness needed to have effective, positive results.
In order to make other world journeys, shamans often use several different methods to achieve a deeper state of shamanic consciousness. This is sometimes called "reaching the journey levels." In some traditions, these methods included forced trance, strict deprivation, and hallucinogens. The harshness of these methods reflects the attitude of some shamans that the other worlds are filled with danger and terror. It is felt that the shaman has to be extremely careful to avoid peril. This view has been called "the Way of the Warrior" to symbolize the battle attitude of the shaman.
Other traditions hold the view that life is a series of interweavings and creations, of which the other world journeys are an exciting and integral part. This view has been called the "Way of the Adventurer." Interestingly, the Way of the Adventurer invovles very gentle methods of relaxation and mental imagery to enter the journey levels. Both traditions use drums, rattles, and other simple musical instruments to create a steady rhythm that enhances their abilities to reach shamanic journey levels of consciousness.
It is certainly possible to blend aspects of both basic traditions to create your own methods of achieving shamanic journey levels. From the Way of the Warrior, we can take the harshness and translate it into a seriousness of mind and attitude about our explorations into consciousness. The perils and dangers we can see as a wise reminder to be gentle with ourselves and cautious of our own power and energies. The Warrior we can transform into a Spiritual Warrior striving for wisdom, awareness, and self-healing by using positive methods and attitudes for the good of all.
From the Way of the Adventurer, we can take the joy of life experience and create our own paths. Through the use of gentle mental imagery we can see as the use of our increased brain and mind potentials. As a follower of a shamanic path, we can experience life as a spiritual adventurer, moving to a rhythm of our own creation.
In explaining the levels of shamanic consciousness, or in making journeys to the other worlds, it is wise for the follower of the shamanic path to remember that the shaman seeks to be connected to the Earth, not detached from it.