Journeying in the Spirit World is very much about creating and exploring an experience that is mythological.
Encounters in that world are “larger than life” and have an all-encompassing scope. Humans have gone on such journeys for thousands of years. In doing so, our ancestors have built a cohesive and reliable structure for the experience – the mythology of the shamanic journey.
Like the way that your human reaction to certain events – such as an anxiety response when encountering a new or unknown situation – can be traced back to our ancient ancestors, it is likely that the journey experience is hardwired into your DNA. One of the manifestations of that probability is the fact that you have the capacity to imagine yourself being in certain scenarios or experiencing events that you create in your mind. You can remember and recreate in your imagination the experience of being in a sacred place, for example.
In your imagination, you can move through the memory as it is, or create a completely different scenario based on the memory, or even from a picture you may have seen of a place you would like to visit. The range of experiences within your imagination can be virtually unlimited!
Using that ability within the shamanic journey, you can travel to any place you have ever been or even that you know about. You can traverse time – journeying into your possible futures as well as to your past. And all the while, your experiences are enfolded into the larger story – the mythology – of journeying.
Ordinary Reality and the Otherworld
You awaken and move through your day in the context of ordinary, everyday reality. Ordinary reality has a system of rules that everyone you encounter generally agrees to. There is gravity, an orderly passage of time, and physical laws like acceleration and momentum. There are also physical necessities such as food, water, and shelter which if not adhered to can lead to illness or even death.
None of these are true in the non-ordinary reality of the Otherworld – the Spirit World. You can fly and visit other lands, even the stars. Other physical laws are also not binding. Time does not flow regularly from past to future and may even stop or accelerate. You will not die from lack of the physical necessities of ordinary reality. And more.
The Otherworld is mythological in the sense that it seems fantastical, imagined, and fictitious. It is also allegorical and highly symbolic. And yet, you will find that it is completely real and operates within its own structure and rules.
Each part of your journey offers an aspect of the answer to the reason for your journey, whatever that might be. From beginning to end, consider everything to be a symbolic message. Just as stories and myths afford deeper meaning and knowledge than might be obvious, so do your journeys.
With only a little experience in journeying, you will quickly see that there is a relationship – a bridge – between the two worlds. You will find that the mythological Otherworld underlies ordinary reality. And as you continue to work with that deeper world, you will find many ways that the Otherworld shows up in your ordinary, everyday life.
Encounters With Extraordinary Beings
Even though you can do extraordinary things in the Otherworld, there are still some rules of order to follow. You must know that the Spirit World is inhabited by living beings, not dissimilar to you and everyone you know. They inhabit that world whether you are journeying or not. And you must realize that they are as alive as you are. You are a visitor in their world, and you should behave in ways that reflect that you do understand.
It is best to be polite and respectful, even if such is not a prerequisite to undertake journeys in the beginning. You are building relationships, even with the mythical and mythological beings you meet. As in ordinary reality, if you don’t respect people, then you will likely lose friends.
In shamanic journeys, you can encounter Deer, or Tree, or Mountain; you may meet with spirit teachers, your ancestors, or even descendants. You can interact meaningfully with each of the Beings that you meet to learn more about who you are and to gain a broader perspective on decisions.
Among the things you will find about your encounters with the extraordinary Beings of the Otherworld is that they are the mythological essence of the Being, rather than one of many. That is, a Deer you might encounter is the original form of Deer – its living archetype in a way – of which all others are a reflection. The same is true of Tree, as well as its other variants, such as Oak and Fir.
When you encounter groups of Beings, consider that you are meeting with the Herd of Deer or Wolfpack, rather than focusing on individual animals. Thus, your understanding of the symbols of the message may be different than you might think. Understanding your extraordinary encounters can show you a deeper understanding that is also reflected in ordinary reality.
Creating Your Personal Myth
As you gain more experience in the shamanic journey, you will most likely find that your journeys are connected in some important ways. You may be building an over-arching story with individual journeys adding to the structure of the story. You may also notice only a small thread of similarities that runs through your individual journeys but that is consistent and predictable.
Whether your experience is a growing story, or a single thread, or anything in between, they are the building blocks of your personal, spiritual myth.
Each of the Beings you build a relationship with is a character in that myth. Every place that you visit frequently is the setting of your mythical story. The experiences and memories themselves are woven into the fabric of that personal myth. And you will find its reflection in your personal, everyday life.
Storytellers will assure you that the ancient stories are not simply told for entertainment. They are teachers for you. The more that you understand them, the more you will see them reflected in your own consciousness and thus their seeds will blossom in your everyday life.
What is remarkable about the shamanic journey and your experiences in the Otherworld is that the myths and stories that you are creating are living and dynamic themselves. They are you and you are the author, director, and actor in them. Understood in this way, the shamanic journey becomes one of the most powerful tools for personal development imaginable.
Article by Gerry Starnes, M.Ed.
Author, teacher, shamanic practitioner
Gerry C. Starnes, M.Ed. is a shamanic practitioner, teacher, mentor, and author in Austin, Texas. He started the first shamanic journey circle in Austin in 2003 and continues to facilitate journey circles weekly. For more than a decade, he has been committed to assisting people to discover and express their essential and authentic selves. To this end, he offers regular personal and group experiences, and a variety of workshops based on the shamanic worldview.
Learn more about Gerry’s work through his videos here.