This is the blog of a shamanic community dedicated to exploring Indigenous Dreaming and the Medicine Wheel. We are a diverse group consisting of Teachers, Elders, Initiates, Students and the curious and between us we cover many perspectives within the Wheel. We are all learning as we walk our paths.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Shamanic Art

Sometimes when you are walking around a shop, an item you only maybe partially glimpsed, catches hold of something in your brain and you have to go back and look and see what it is that called you so strongly.  Sometimes you are looking at Facebook, reading your friends posts, when some words you are not even reading, crawl into your mind and won't go away.  For me. the two words were Shamanic Art.  After a few days I listened and decided to explore them further with the community.

"It is, partly, a thing of definitions. Shamanism is the act of getting stuff from 'there' to the here and now. From an arts perspective, shamanism is a verb. It is more the process or act and art is its byproduct. It is certainly spiritual.

Dreaming is a shamanic act. So is channeling. Ancestor speaking.

My own opinion is that shamanic art is the raw unsynthesized stuff that is just as it comes out. No interpretation. As if we are simply conduits. Most art is integrated internally or mentally processed first and then pooped out.
Craft and photography can certainly be shamanic but the more factors, processes, thought and time it takes, the further you move away from that experience." said Ted.

This rang a bell with me.  Before I began my journey with the Shamanic Path and Dreaming, I completed an online course on intuitive painting, just letting go and painting, seeing what turned up on the paper as a result, but not analysing it or thinking about it as you did it, just going with the flow of creating.  One of our paintings was to paint an image of our true selves.  I knew straight away how to paint myself, lying on my side, cradling my head.  Voluptuous.  In truth, way more voluptuous than I actually wanted to paint.  I did trim the figure down somewhat...  What was unusual about the woman in the painting was that she was asleep but there still appeared to be movement. She was still aware.

I felt that she symbolised something more and searched for meaning and one day I found her.  An ancient statuette had been discovered on the island of Malta.  She was voluptuous and she lay asleep on her side in the same position as the me in my painting.  She is known as the Dreaming Goddess of Malta.

Creating shamanic art can be about creating something and then working with it and seeing how it fits, what journey it takes us upon, but many things can be considered as shamanic art just because the process that has created them was shamanic, they are almost a byproduct, perhaps of a ceremony.  

Lisa said "Honestly, I've watched people make knives, totem poles, build a sweat lodge, a tipi or longhouse. All of these may be tools, dwellings, or practical, political, or cultural representations of people's traditions or way of living; but nevertheless it is still art. Human creative skill and imagination which evoke emotion and beauty."

Lisa went on to share the story of rosette's such as the one above that she made.  "You can do a beaded rosette by planning your whole structure and counting your beads or you can just allow yourself to bead. Rosettes used to be stitched while someone was sick. The sickness would basically produce the rosette. No thinking, no planning, no counting. At the end the rosette would be given to the healer so that he or she would be protected from the illness. For me this is shamanic art..."

Some times beautiful things are made with shamanic purpose though.  JZ said "I try to apply this expression, creativity and imagination into nearly everything I do."  

JZ made a Coyote stick for JP and this is what JP had to say about it.  "JZ gave me a sacred tool at the blue moon gathering in link with my coyote totem. It is an amazing work of shamanic art. It was made with care and consciousness -and that presence I feel as spirit in the he gave it life while making it. I built a little frame to hold or house it. It hangs above my bed and I constantly dream and work with it. I would look at it, sit with it in my hands and dream. Now when I walk in my room it is the first thing I see. It has helped me value this totem more and I think have more consciousness with it. What is amazing is I feel myself or the coyote part of me in the coyote stick and i know my coyote has tormented JZ at times so it was really humbling and an honour to receive the gift."

JZ went on to talk about the process of making the coyote stick.

"A year before the Blue Moon I stayed in Montreal for 3/ 4 months with L and G. During that time I lived out a huge story. JP was deeply in her Coyote Totem at the time so fortunately for me I got a lot of lessons from it Even though there's sarcasm in that last sentence, there is still gratitude lol.

I learned in that short while a lot about the Coyote. It initiated or "tormented" me (as JP put it).  I found myself struggling. It seemed Coyote tricked me at every corner.  A chain of events was triggered for the next year, all leading towards the lessons Coyote teaches.

At first I was pissed off, and just wanted to get the hell away from Coyote, but after a year of it, I came to see that Coyote was there to torment the hell out of me so I could stand in my power. The lessons were numerous. After nearly a year of it I learned to start building clear boundaries, I got to journey and see my Wolf more, and develop the medicine. Just in my Wolf alone triggered by Coyote I got tons of sacred knowledge!  I could keep going on and on and tell you just exactly how and what I got from it, but I was asked to share about the making of the Tool itself.

For the Blue Moon Gathering I needed an offering to the Gatekeeper of the Coyote... JP.
I wasn't sure if it was my gate at the time, but none the less I didn't want to just give any old thing. It needed to match what I had lived with the Coyote. As offering I wanted to honor the part the Coyote played in my life.  I am Keeper of Sacred Tools. I began Dreaming on the one for the Coyote.  I retrieved all the parts, including the Coyote skull, and constructed a Sacred Tool fit specifically for Coyote.  I put into the stick the stories and lessons I had lived with Coyote.

It makes sense that JP would feel it alive and see herself/ her Coyote in it cause that was the intention.
When I work I Dream it; when I was making it I feel myself enter a Dream state which feels Trance like, and I can feel what Im making actually alive. Giving it spirit and Power actually makes sense.

I ended up not approaching to the Coyote gate; I felt I had come to understand Coyote very well I didn't need to enter the gate... I may already have anyway.  At the end of the Gathering I walked with JP and gave her the Tool. I thanked her for the part she played in my story, even if it wasn't all functional or conscious... it helped me to grow."

Sometimes art is just a tool to create something shamanic, so as Ted explains "There is also art that provokes or prompts the shamanic experience. Tibetan sand mandala comes to mind. Here, the process is to initiate a shamanic response in the viewer or listener and their experience becomes the shamanic part and art is just another tool like a drum or rattle."

So shamanic art is either created in a shamanic way or to facilitate shamanism or both.  I have a painting that L did.  Her process is clearly shamanic and her art is beautiful and striking, the sort that slowly reveals more as you look more deeply, the sort of art to journey with.  And given that art can be defined as "the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power." as said by Lisa, there is a very wide scope for creating art for shamanism.

Sometimes though the boundaries begin to blur though.  Dreamcatchers have a clear shamanic purpose, they are a sacred tool used by Dreamers for protection.  Nowadays though they are created en masse with no shamanic intent and they have such wide appeal because of their beauty that they are also brought with no shamanic intent.  As Kristen said "Now I wouldn't call what I am seeing recently "shamanic art" as per THIS thread (though the artists are literally calling it that). Quite the contrary. It's almost a form of mimicry for profit, and to feed "trends"."

"I was in a store recently where they were selling peyote stitch bracelets by a local "artist", less than an inch wide, with thread, for $158. As well as a bizarre forms of dreamcatchers, with giant holes in the centre (more hole than web), which were going for $200. With the dreamcatchers, the intention was obviously to create something that looks cool, rather than creating something that fulfils the actual purpose a dreamcatcher is meant to."

One community member, Christy, talked about her experiences "At the first craft fair I sold my dreamcatchers at only a few people actually talked to me about dreamcatchers in general. One lady saw the commercial aspect and commented on how they are coming back "in style" I said I didn't know about that but I told her the story of the spider making the dream catcher.

Another lady picked up on my spider-totem's energy in the catchers right away and asked me if there was a story to them, again I shared the story of spider.

Even though I only sold two dreamcatchers that day I still felt like I had a fruitful exchange.

The very last lady to talk about dreamcatchers was a metis/cree woman who was looking for something for a friend who was depressed. She was looking for something like she would make, but when she described how she makes them and what her friend was going through I suggested that it was more important that she make it if that's what called her. She thanked me and in exchange she gave me some great advice on working with willow for dreamcatchers since I had expressed interest in making my own willow hoops.

I really enjoyed making the connections."

Kristen also used peyote stitch, which is used in beadwork, as an example and Ted explained "Peyote stitching is a late nineteenth century development made possible by European beads and European needle and thread. The peyote movement itself is fairly recent. It's rituals and objects are a mixture of Mexican, Christian and Native practices. As well as it's art and object. 

One of the NA church founders was a man named Tom Wilson who, himself, took freely from whatever rituals and tools he needed. Trained as a Navajo Beauty Way singer and Owl SkinWalker, he used Hopi sand paintings and Lakota flute with Christian chanting to get where he wanted.

So there is no black and white here. But there is Intent. I think we need to look at our own intent but with the caveat that we are putting out objects without the time, training and lineal entrainment they require to become effective. Meaning that we have to ask ourselves if we are adding to the idea that the stuff itself is sacred. More sacred than, say, your babies rattle at home. Or your grandmas cake knife is less useful than the fancy obsidian flint blade you bought at a pow wow. 

From a shamanistic perspective I think you will find a level of pragmatism and sustainability that used every day objects. The iconic shaman drum is a drying rack and the Hopi Marriage basket a winnowing basket for two examples.

To me, I make pipes for pipe holders. Bells for priests and fans for healers. Price is not the issue. Some people are blessed with that. Others not. Equality of exchange is what's important and who knows who owes what over lifetimes. I give away a lot. For all others... There's MasterCard.

I know in pagan circles in the UK there has previously been discussion about how the ritual items used were also practical everyday items. People were poor. A stew pot by day, a cauldron by night. I guess it raises the question of how we can use things commonplace in our lives now as shamanic objects. I guess intent is everything. if an object is made with intent and used with intent it is better. but having an object that we use all the time and are bonded to is also useful. Is it all about how we connect with the dream in the object?

Ted replied "I think so. I'm a firm believer that everything we need as a tool we will have, be given or create.

There is something to be said for demystifying shamanism as well as creating objects imbued with great beauty and meaning.

In all instances, the Dream and how we walk in it (Intent) is the key and the rest is perception. Which, itself, also can be either negative or positive."

Lisa continued "We also have to keep in mind we live in 2013 and not 1435. Things and times have changed. There's no going back...

We make drums and sell them. We follow the old drum keeper traditions (one drum a month or when called to make one). We believe that whoever buys the drum was called to it. We also believe that if the drum was made in a sacred manner; prayed upon / smudged; and cared for --- there's no way it will fall in the hands of the wrong person. Plus we pick and choose our vendors. In our case our main vendor is also a student of ours. We contribute to their abundance and vice versa.

It's not because you are a vendor you are "evil"... These days money is necessary for livelihood. We all need to eat and pay bills. I'm a strong believer in helping those who are part of my circle: My community.

I also believe I don't know every member of my shamanic community and that our objects connect us. Before the GG I approached certain members with "shamanic objects /art requests." Something as simple as teeth, bones and feathers mean lots to us. Honestly, I tend to give more value to things hunters and vendors would gladly GIVE me. Ironically, value is in the eye of the beholder..."

So some things can be both Shamanic Tool and Shamanic Art because of the way in which they are used. I also brought my drum from the community and know I could never sell it.  I dreamt and journeyed with it before I received it and I had to be very patient, in order to respect the dreams I had and receive the correct drum.  Once I brought it though and used it, it was mine in a way that can not be sold because Medicine is beyond money.

I would love to have posted pictures of some of the items we have talked about here, including the picture I have by L, but I felt very protective of them. "If for instance a photo of JP's Coyote Stick were posted here, would that enable other people to dream with it? I have always wondered why some cultures would not allow their photo's to be taken but I can see some possibilities now. Or is a photo not enough to connect with the spirit of an object or the dreams within it?"

Lisa replied "A photo would be enough for many here to connect.... Yet in most circles it wouldn't make a difference.

E posted recently an article about artifacts from Chief Seattle's village that were returned home after 60 years in the Washington Museum. I believe much of the Shamanic Art within those boxes was robbed of "something" for being exposed. And yet, it also returns home with a new kind of energy. It goes both ways: We take from the object and the object takes from us..."

Ted continued "I think that a photo is often like a handprint you see in the cave wall. Not the subject but the maker/taker is what's in play here.

I am sensitive to native feelings on the subject as well coming from a culture that has taboos about this sort of thing. Photography being a small part of secrecy and cultural self segregation.

While I do respect it, I don't view it as a law or even a rule. The energetic reasons to do it or not do it is about intent and energy and is unique to the situation and to who is doing it. Sort of like writing rules. I don't always write in complete sentences but do so for a reason. Intent.

I also agree with Lisa that this is 2013 and things are changing. The linear guarding of matriarchal and shamanic secret/sacred objects were being preserved specifically to keep them as best as possible for a universally prophesied time where they would come back together and be shared and reimagined/redreamed for that time. This is that time. The old rules are out and we have all to renegotiate our intents with spirit, ancestors and even our selves. This is part of that conversation and there are no easy answers. Only simple ones."

Lisa finished with "I agree with Ted. Now is the time to step out of the shadows and share...."

I talked to Lisa about how this entire conversation started and decided to find and join the group that had started this entire exploration.  Except, I could not find it....


Kristen lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada and has been a member of the community for 2 years.
Christy is from Biggar, Saskatchewan, Canada and grew up doing art but has found a love for making dream catchers.
Rose lives in the UK and enjoys all sorts of crafts and art and especially likes learning new skills.