Thursday, December 01, 2016

Uranus-Eris and the Zeitgeist

Last year I predicted that in 2016-17 we would be likely to see sudden and unexpected game-changing events. This was due to the conjunction of Uranus and Eris (aka Discordia), which happens every 85 years or so. 

So far we have had Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as US President. Both these events were unexpected and game-changers, though their implications have yet to be seen.

There is still another conjunction to go (next March), so I expect there to be more shocks to come. In particular, I expect governments to swing to the right across Europe, more than is expected. There are several elections coming up. Marine Le Pen, for example, the far-right leader in France, could be elected President in the spring. One way or the other, I expect these shocks to lead to the  beginning of a wider unravelling of the EU in its present form, to the extent that Brexit will no longer seem such an anomaly.

But Uranus-Eris game-changers do not come out of nowhere: they are the expression of deeper, underlying trends that reach tipping points. Like earthquakes. And they come as a shock because it can be hard for us limited humans to see beneath the status quo, to something we may not want to see. Change and uncertainty are difficult for us.

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And the deeper, underlying trend is described by the major transit the world has been experiencing for about 7 years now, the square from Uranus to Pluto. The last square was in the late 20s/early 30s, and look what that led to.

Trump and the 3rd Reich: Click to Enlarge
As Ed Tamplin has pointed out, Uranus was in EXACTLY the same position when Donald Trump launched his campaign to be President in June 2015, as when Hitler was sworn in as German Chancellor. This tells us that they are the expression of similar revolutionary (Uranus) trends.

The US is not in the desperate economic situation that Germany was in in 1933, and they have a very different political system. So I don’t think we need worry that the US will end up like the 3rd Reich. But there are muted parallels: a demagogue who promises a return to past glories, the loss of pre-eminence in the world as China pulls up alongside; and swathes of the population jobless and ignored. 

So the insight that this Uranus comparison gives us is that we need to look out for these parallels: that Trump has been elected on the back of a sense of loss and privation, and the blind prejudice and grandiose fantasies that can lead to. This is Trump’s constituency, this is the mentality he feeds off and embodies. But the US political system is so riddled with checks and balances that it is amazing any President ever gets anything done. We may not like what he does, but I think it will be limited.

Saturn is prominent in Trump’s chart by transit and progression over the next year: he will find it difficult to get stuff done. And he hasn’t got the outer planet influence that could bypass that through appeals to the collective, the mania that can create, like Bush did with 9/11. Trump will want wars – he has Mars Rising and Sun conjunct the US Mars, but I think he will struggle to achieve that.

And the state of the US is something that is also reflected in Europe, which is also experiencing a swing to the right. Asia is becoming richer, Europe and the US are becoming poorer. At times of uncertainty, people elect right wing governments.

I think that Uranus-Pluto is bringing an end to the free-market capitalism of the last 35 years, characterised by financial deregulation and relatively free trade between countries. I think that an era of protectionism is coming in, perfectly described by the Saturn-Pluto conjunction in Capricorn in a few years’ time. And borders of all kinds, restrictions on ‘the free movement of people’ in Europe, the wall between the US and Mexico.

Trump and Brexit are just the first fissures in the break-up of the old familiar world. We may bemoan them, but if it hadn’t been Trump and Brexit, it would have been something else. (Trump seems determined to have another financial crisis, by tearing up the financial regulations that were brought in in the wake of the 2008/9 financial crisis, to try and avoid a repeat.)

Uranus and Pluto finished their exact crossings to each other some time ago, but the stuff they stirred up has yet to properly surface and change the world we live in. I think the next few years will bring major change. I think we will be poorer and more conservative. The EU will change in a big way. Fuck knows what will happen in the US. But I don’t think it will be World War III, and I think there’ll be enough food on the table. And as I've said before, it'll be very interesting for the US not to be No1 anymore, it's been so much part of the fabric of who they are. That, maybe, will be one of the meanings of the US Pluto Return.

Friday, November 11, 2016


I still remember a dream from 35 years ago, when I was just starting out on this thing: I was on a very high, very white mountain crag, and in front of me was the vast, deep blue sky. I was an eagle, and I took off, and then I got scared by the height. I was afraid to soar, unlike my companion eagle. I don't think I'm soaring yet, I'm still being led to mend the bits that need mending. But it's where I'm headed. 
The house position of Pluto is where you need to look to find your power. My Pluto is in the 12th House, the place of dreams and inner work. If I don't make that place the foundation, I feel out of sorts.
Dreams are not an add-on, a supplement to our waking experience. As my friend June O'Brien said recently, "I have begun to wonder if it isn't this daytime stuff that is the dream."
Dreams are where the Spirit speaks to us. They therefore tell us what is real. I have had some dreams lately that confront, contradict my waking experience. They are forcing the issue of what is real.
But dreams also unfold over time, they are multi-layered. What they mean changes. As with all inner experience, I think it is best to be circumspect about talking about them. It can be like taking the lid off the crucible: the intensity diminishes, the development slows. For dreams are not one-off things, they are gifts that stay with us and enrich. If we cherish them.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Why the US Election isn't so important

I'm not sure that the outcome of the US election matters too much. There are 2 candidates: Hillary Clinton, who is temperamentally unsuited to the post, being a private person who just needs a job to get on with; and Donald Trump, who is morally unsuited. As his biographer said recently, he's the sort of guy who could push the nuclear button just to show how tough he is.

Astrologically, we are at a closing phase of the Jupiter-Saturn cycle. This cycle governs wordly events, and its phase suggests that nothing really new can happen until the conjunction in late 2020, just before the next inauguration. President Carter was elected under the closing square, and Bill Clinton's second term, engulfed as it was by the comedy of the Monica Lewinsky affair, also began under the closing square.

Inauguration Charts 2017 and 2021: Click to Enlarge
Furthermore, the Presidential Inauguration chart for 20 Jan 2017 has an unaspected Sun, again suggesting a leader who cannot get much done. The chart for 20 Jan 2021 is quite different, very dynamic, but that will be another story, and it is unlikely to be Hillary or Trump.

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So there it is. Astrologically, it seems to me to be more likely to be Trump who will win. And that seems like an awful prospect. It may not be. It will probably be the case that he can't get much done, because he has shown an inability to work with members of his own party, let alone the opposition. But he will be a loose cannon who doesn't follow the rules, he will continue to do things that make jaws drop. With the US Progressed Mercury stationary direct, he may occasion America thinking about itself in a way that the same-old of Hillary would not.

It will be awful that such a man is leading the US. But the astrology says to me that the reality of it won't be as bad as we might fear.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The US, Pluto and Donald Trump

The last time we had a Uranus-Pluto square - the late20s/early 30s - much of the real shit happened afterwards in the form of the continuing Great Depression and the Second World War. The current square finished (in terms of exact crossings) 18 months ago. It's hard to second-guess these transits, but it could well be that the real outcome, the major events, will be in the coming years.

So far we have avoided a Great Depression. The loose monetary policy that led to our Great Recession was eerily similar to the last square, but this time we bailed out the banks. It was unfair the way the bankers got away with it, but only some of them: most bankers were ordinary people doing their jobs. It's also worth remembering that the banking system performs a vital function. Ultimately, it was the western governments, blinded by free market ideology, and in the pockets of the financial system, that was to blame.

But there is still a huge economic shift going on, called 'globalisation', in which wealth and the means of production are shifting to hitherto poor but populous countries like China and India. And in the West we are feeling it. Hence Trump and Brexit.

Pluto reveals that which is hidden, and things get hidden because we don't want to look at them, and that means they often come out in a painful, disruptive way. But better out than in. One factor in the Brexit vote was the protest by areas in the north of England, whose 'inefficient' industries had been shut down under Thatcher, and which have never recovered. The reasoning behind the vote was that the EU represents the same sort of capitalism as is found in the UK, and what has it ever done for them? In fact, with the free movement of workers, things could only get worse from their point of view. I think it's hard to argue against this point, rooted as it is in hard experience. This doesn't make Brexit itself right or wrong. But it does mean that something that wasn't previously addressed has made its voice heard.

And it's the same sort of thing with the Trump vote in the US. There is a whole section of the population that has become poorer due to de-industrialisation and globalisation, and only Mr Trump is addressing that. Pluto is at the end of opposing the US Sun, and Trump is Pluto personified: unreasonable, unignorable, a powerful force, who even resonates with the Pluto myth of female abduction.

But he is there for a reason, which is a section of the population that has been ignored by politicians. And why have these people been ignored? It seems to me that to address their real grievances, the nature of the capitalist system under which we live would have to be addressed. And that ain't going to happen easily, US politicians being famously in the pockets of the big corporations. And with a heavy disguise of right-wing ideology to go with it.

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So what Trump stands for is a protest against the globalised capitalism under which we live, in which corporations can outsource to the cheapest country, regardless of consequences at home or working conditions abroad, and in which the gap between rich and poor is growing.

And I think this can be missed about Trump, because the man is so awful and so unfit to govern: there is something real going on, a move away from the free market capitalism of the last 35 years, towards protectionism. That, I think, will be one of the meanings of the Saturn-Pluto conjunction in Capricorn a few years down the line.

Protectionism, in which countries protect their own industries and products from cheaper products from abroad, has a bad name. It has a bad name because it stops the powerful countries from extending their reach. But 'developing' countries need to be protectionist. America itself was in the early days.

Brexit and the rise of Trump may be seen in 10 years time as the first fractures in the current globalising economy.

The US is at the end of Pluto opposite Sun, and in the middle of Neptune square Ascendant. So it's big stuff. The Neptune transit describes, for one thing, the susceptibility to an ideologue like Trump. But with Sag Rising, it also suggests some kind of search for meaning. The US will soon give way to China as the world's wealthiest nation. Being number one has been an important part of who America is for the last 100 years. So who will she be now? This is why Trump talks in terms of 'making America great again': it is a crude way of addressing that gradual loss of identity.

And in about 5 years the US will have her first Pluto return, in the 2nd House: a review of that incredible resourcefulness that quickly made her the world's wealthiest and most powerful country. America is still a young nation, she has only ever known success. And she still has that pioneering, survival-mode mentality that Pluto in the 2nd also describes. It will be very good for her to be knocked off the top spot, it may bring thoughtfulness and reflection and loss of naivety.

Back in January, before the American primaries began, I predicted that Trump would be the Republican candidate, and the next President. It looks like I was right on the first prediction, and wrong on the second. But assuming he loses, America will still be left with a lot of soul-searching, as is only right for a major Pluto transit. The rise of Trump has for many been a trauma, a shock. It shows how crude, how prejudiced, how gullible many Americans are, and how that constituency and all it stands for came so close to running the country. It also, maybe, shows how desperate many Americans are, that they would support such a man. Pluto opposite Sun has revealed a wound in the country that, once the dust has settled, will need to be addressed.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Dakota Pipeline Protests and the 13th Sign of the Zodiac

According to, protesters began blocking the oil pipeline contruction sites in North Dakota on 22 August this year. Since then it has turned into a protest that has united the various Native American peoples. 

That unity sends a strong message: it stands for a humanity that has not lost its participation in nature, versus modern, technological man, who has lost that connection to nature and therefore to himself. This is a kind of madness. The dominant civilisation in this world of ours is mad, a madness that has been growing for thousands of years, when the disconnect began.

As the poet Ted Hughes said: "The story of mind exiled from Nature is the story of Western Man." 

Ruling this protest has been a Mars-Saturn conjunction in Sagittarius. The conjunction was exact on 24th August at which point (and for a couple of days before) the Sun, North Node, Mercury, Venus and Jupiter were all in Virgo, the sign of the cycles of nature. The North Node was square to Mars-Saturn and opposite Neptune, showing that this was a battle (Mars) against the establishment (Saturn) not just for the stopping of the pipeline, but for the soul (Neptune) of nature (Virgo). The Moon was in Taurus, emphasising the love of the natural world. The sign of Sagittarius shows the legal battle involved. 

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Obama has little to lose politically at this juncture in his Presidency, he may as well back these guys. He is very good at standing for all the right liberal things, and will make the ideal elder statesman; but unlike Bill Clinton, not very good at rolling up his sleeves and making change happen. Now is his chance. What are America's values?

The enduring aspect is a t-square between Saturn, Neptune and the North Node, which will last until November: so this protest is liable to run and run. It could become an issue in the Presidential campaign.

I said Mars and Saturn have been in Sagittarius. But they also conjoined at the start of the so-called 13th sign of the zodiac, Ophiuchus, which extends from about 8 to 26 Sagittarius. The start of a sign is a powerful place, it begins things. This sign is the subject of ridicule from traditional astrologers (see my blog defending Ophiuchus)  purely because it doesn't fit into their system.

But this idea of a 13th sign keeps presenting itself, via the BBC of all places. It has popular appeal, it intrigues people, and that is enough for me to say there is something real going on. A tradition stays alive when it responsive to how people feel, and it dies when it stands on its doctrinal correctness, which is what some astrologers are trying to do. So it makes a mess of the system, deal with it!

Ophiuchus portrays a man battling a serpent, and neither ever wins. It is Aquarius (man) and Scorpio (serpent). Technological man versus instinctive man. Humanity has always got itself into trouble when it thinks it has god-like powers, and this is attested to in many ancient stories. What we are experiencing now is a perennial problem. But it has become extreme, and it is at this time that Ophiuchus has presented himself, saying this problem has always been there and always will be, it is in the nature of being human. But it IS a problem, proportionality needs to be found, or the serpent will destroy you.

This struggle with deeper forces is part of shamanism, it is understood by indigenous spirituality. Ophiuchus was identified by the Romans as Asclepius, the healer. For the ancient Greeks, the figure was Apollo wrestling a huge snake that guarded the oracle at Delphi. So there are numerous connections here suggesting Ophiuchus as a shamanic figure, and these figures, in our world, are outside society, just as the 13th sign of the zodiac is anathema to traditional astrologers. And his emergence now seems to me to be pointing us towards the indigenous understanding of humanity's relationship with the natural world, for it is only mutual respect between humanity and the serpent that can restore balance.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Modern vs Traditional Shamanism: Ponderings from the Front-line

I've been blogging about this Shamanic thing since January this year. 3 days after my Dad died, to be exact. A few weeks before, in my last conversation with him, he said twice that I must be thinking of retiring now. Well I'm some years off that yet, I hope, and he was in a morphine-muddle. But it was interesting in that for him, material achievement, and the social status that comes with that, was all. And it was as if, in my last conversation with him, he was releasing me from that shadow that has always hung over my life. Because for me, it is the soul-making that has always mattered.

And then after he died, I had dreams, and in one there was a young polar bear. And then a few weeks ago, I spent 5 days on my own own in a yurt in Wales, and the polar bear was there the whole time, adult now, protecting me. And I was reading about the Medicine Wheel, and as I left the site, I was shown by the owner how the whole place was dedicated to medicine wheels, one for each element. I hadn't known!

And when I got home, I built a wheel of stones, about 18ft wide, outside my caravan, and then I painted the stones. And I am with that wheel a lot, it represents a dream for the future, but for now that dream is taking care of itself. I just sit and wonder.

Some people say I shouldn't be saying this personal stuff, that I shouldn't talk about the polar bear. They are right, but only up to a point. I love that she is there, and I want people to know about these things, because they can happen, maybe already do, in their own lives.

And I feel like I'm at an interface, trying to work out what this shamanic thing is about, for myself at any rate. In the 90s I did lots of the things many of us have done - shamanic journeying, healing work, sweat lodges, trance dance, pipe ceremonies, being buried, medicine wheel, vision quest, ayahuasca in the jungle.... and I loved all of it. And it was with westerners. And I ended up teaching some of it.

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And then in the noughties I began having a Canadian Indian come to stay with me, and I began learning (informally, around the breakfast table) in quite a different way. Unfortunately, he was also quite dismissive of all that 'New Age' stuff (as he called it) that we do over here, and it faded from my life. And I was also teaching myself to write and to practise as an astrologer, which was a great adventure in itself. And I was also slowly sorting stuff in myself that would, eventually, give a bit more depth to what I had to offer.

But now all that 'New Age' stuff is coming back at me. I love it. And I also have in me something of the more traditional spirit. Something, not all, by a long chalk. I'm not being modest. And I want to put those 2 things together. That is the interface I am at. I am trying to work it all out, and I'm using this blog to do so, so it needs to be treated as work in progress. In fact, I hope to always be work in progress.

And there are certain things I think as I try put together what I learned from the Canadian guy (and another Indian who more recently came my way) and modern shamanism.

1/ This thing is essentially about becoming a balanced human being. It is not about becoming a healer or a teacher or about being able to talk to spirits or about getting 'qualifications'. We may or may not end up doing stuff that helps people in various ways, but I think it gets diluted, and creates a superficial attitude, by being presented in course-form that most people can attend, as an 'add-on'. And it's not the main thing, either.

2/ Change takes a long time, and it's not under our direction. It takes a whole lifetime. Traditionally, it is the guys in their 80s and 90s who are the elders, who are seen as really having something to say. In our culture we want quick change, and we want something to show for it, an identity, perhaps. So this can be very hard for us to understand. As well as being more real, this perspective takes the pressure off us to 'achieve' or to try and 'be' someone.

3/ Shamanism requires an engagement with nature that we have forgotten. Everything is grounded in our relationship to the natural world. That is what we pray to, what we are grateful to, what we feel to be sacred, what we are part of. If we approach nature in this way, she will respond. Her messages may be symbolic, like when an unusual event occurs. But not everything that occurs is symbolic. And we will feel cared for.

We started to lose this being in nature thousands of years ago, and I think in our short lifetimes we can only ever get part of the way back. I recommend The Dream of the Cosmos by Anne Baring, who traces, through the gods and goddesses we have worshipped, our gradual distancing from nature, and evokes very well what that closer relationship would have felt like.

4/ A good teacher does not make claims. Nowadays it seems very common for shamanic healers/teachers to present themselves in terms of their connections to spirit guides or their childhood experiences, as if they are 'born' seers, or as visionaries, or as having experienced the shamanic illness, the closer to insanity the better.

It is an authoritarian way of functioning. The teacher becomes the one with the special vision, and everyone is meant to look to that. This way of presenting oneself has become embedded, but I also think it is untraditional and egotistical. My Canadian Indian friend never presented himself like this, as having 'special' experiences that qualified him. No, he used reason and experience. One of the guys I learned off in the 90s, Leo Rutherford, also declined to operate in this way. But he was an exception, it is that common.

Maybe it is because our religious history in the west is authoritarian. It is the priest who has the hotline to God. It seems to me that is what we are replicating. Like a bunch of Old Testament prophets mouthing off what 'the spirits' have told them. Even with their hotline, Christian priests don't do this, why do we?

If the spirits tell you something, and you want to persuade others of it, you need to use reason, not the 'authority' of where it came from: if you say 'the spirits told me', many people will then take what you say on board, but for the wrong reasons.

A good teacher presents themselves as an ordinary person who has some worthwhile things to say. He/she will, if they are the real thing, be substantial within themselves, have their own inner knowing. But that is for the pupil to spot, not for the teacher to boast about. 

Of course, we may well have unusual or profound experiences that we'll want to talk about, and there will be times when it is important to do so. But I think that needs to that occur in the context of relationship, not in the context of presenting your services to people you don't know.

5/ A bit of contact with indigenous people doesn't make you an authority. A little knowledge is dangerous. This is the other side of the interface. On the New Age side, we want quick results, we treat shamanism as an add-on, and do not understand the profound relationship with the natural world we need to build. On the Indigenous side, we can think that a few weeks in Peru with some 'elders', or inviting a few over to run some events, counts as an initiation on our teachers CV, and gives us an authority to speak on what shamanism is and isn't. It becomes another 'claim'.

Real teaching, or learning, is being-to-being, it is about developing an inner attitude towards oneself and towards the world, that one gradually absorbs from someone else. And this takes personal relationship, and it takes years. And one may learn something of the traditional attitude through that. But even that does not make one an authority. It can become yet another identity. You may not be a born seer, you may not have had the shamanic illness or the prophecies from spirits. But you have had a bit of contact with the 'real thing'. And that is also another trap that I have observed - another way of becoming stuck.

6/ Let us get away from the emphasis on talking with spirit guides or other forms of non-ordinary awareness, as though that is what shamanism is about. I don't at all want to undermine those of us who do, it can be profound.

It's probably got to do with origins: the shaman is originally a guy from somewhere in Siberia who can talk with the spirits and do healing work and offer counsel on that basis. That, I think, is why we have that emphasis in shamanism in the west, even though it has come to mean something much broader: the whole western attempt to engage with, and be inspired by, indigenous ways.

Many of us our drawn to this project. Only a minority will have that natural leaning/ability to talk with spirits. I certainly don't, and I spent years feeling inadequate on that account! I'm good with words in this reality, crap in non-ordinary reality. When called on, something takes me over and I seem able to do some good work from that place, or rather what comes into me is able to. I guess that is shamanic in the formal sense.

But it's not the main thing. The main thing for me is becoming a balanced human being, and having a strong relationship with the 'spirit' side of existence is central to that quest. And we all have that relationship, and it is very important to find and develop our own particular relationship with that spirit side.

If you're going to run courses in shamanism - and why not, if it doesn't include a qualification - then I think they need to be grounded in this very broad approach to spirit.

That is why I like the Medicine Wheel - it is an approach to the whole human being.

7/ Rationality and discernment are needed as to what is and is not 'spirit'. When I learned shamanic journeying, we were told over and again that the spirits know you perfectly, and that we need to learn to trust what we get told or shown in our shamanic journeys.

I don't think it's quite like that. Shamanism came in on the counter-cultural wave of reaction to western one-sided rationality. And I think that rationality can need reclaiming. What is needed is a sense of attunement to Spirit, and if you're having a bad day, what you see in your shamanic journey may well be bilge. Just like someone who functions psychically, if they haven't trained themselves well, personal stuff and moods will get in the way.

So far from blindly trusting 'the spirits', we first need to develop self-awareness, and that takes time. It is ridiculous to ask someone to trust everything they get shown in a shamanic journey. What they need to find out is what they can trust and what they can't.

And it's the same with prayers and calling on Spirit for help. I read someone the other day saying you need to 'know' you will be answered. Again, that is blind faith. It is our Christian heritage. If you are wanting 2 plus 2 to equal 5, that ain't going to happen. You need to ask and to pray from a sense of attunement to Spirit: then you will be answered, but quite possibly not in the way you intended!

There is This World and there is the Other World. A solid grounding in This World is needed as a basis for navigating the Other World. Practices in self-awareness are, I think, needed alongside practices such as shamanic journeying. The dis-identification of the North of the Medicine Wheel, the bodily awareness of the West, the awareness of the emotion of the South are all needed to encounter the Spirit presence of the East.

8/ I think that shamanism needs to find ways of integrating some of the understanding of ourselves that western psychology, particularly perhaps the transpersonal forms, has developed. Many western Buddhists have found that Buddhism is not necessarily very good at addressing the particular psychological issues that we in the west have. And I think the same can be said for many indigenous ways, acute as their psychological understanding can be. At the same time, we can bring to psychology some of the transformational methods that it does not have so much: energy work, putting back bits of soul, ceremonial work. This is a big subject.

9/ How long are we going to keep looking over our shoulders to the indigenous people for authority and for authenticity? Especially when the great majority of us have no direct experience of them, certainly in the matter of what counts, which is personal relationship.

What we DO have is our own inner knowings, and that is what any tradition worth its salt promotes. Religion goes in the opposite direction, encouraging reliance on the teacher, which as I have said is what many teachers are doing when they advertise their 'special' experiences.

And I think if we do look to indigenous people - and remember some of them can be dodgy too - then it is the spirit and attitude we need to look to, and if we encounter that, it is a great gift.

But quite possibly not the letter. I will never the learn the letter of a pipe ceremony done traditionally. But I have been around them enough to get at least some of the basic attitude, and it is a beautiful and helpful and connecting ceremony, and currently I do them on my own and kind of make it up as I go along.

So I think absorb the indigenous attitudes where you can, if you have the chance, but ultimately it is our own inner knowing that matters, and that will go on to create a distinctively modern shamanism, which I think is the thing that the world needs more than anything.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Confessions of a Cultural Appropriator

The Mexican Indians allegedly have a story that Jesus visited their land, and where the blood from his wounds fell, there grew the sacred peyote plant.

So why aren’t the Christians protesting ‘cultural appropriation’? Humans have always borrowed shamelessly from other cultures, and made what they want of what they have borrowed. Shakespeare took stories from all over and re-wrote them into his plays and never credited anyone! Nowadays you have someone suing Led Zeppelin over Stairway to Heaven saying a riff in it sounded a bit like theirs. LZ won the case.

I am in favour of what is now, usually pejoratively, called cultural appropriation. I want it on my gravestone: “He was a shameless cultural appropriator.”

Currently, in the world of this thing we call ‘shamanism’, politics and guilt are standing in the way of this natural and healthy process. The idea is that if you are pinching rituals and teachings from a culture that is now in the minority, because your ancestors were brutal to their ancestors, then this is not OK. It is all they have left, and now we even want to take that from them.

I just do not buy this. The reality is a human who is being influenced by the culture of another, as has always happened. The 'cultural appropriation' is just an abstraction, a political layer being added on, telling one person he is a 'coloniser' and so can't do this or that. It's a piece of nonsense. The Tibetans don't seem to have this problem, if anything they are the opposite, spreading their teachings widely (and often in dilute form!) in the hope that some seeds will take.

Of course, claiming that what you are doing IS, say, American Indian when you haven't been trained properly in it is wrong and dishonest and there are valid grounds for complaint there, but maybe you just want to laugh at it instead, depending on who you are. But what I'm principally arguing against in this piece is the people who are going to cry foul almost whatever you do, and their white defenders (who can be cases of 'a little knowledge is dangerous'.) It is suffocating. Yes, there has been and continues to be a ton of pain and suffering. But these teachings and practices, however secondhand, have value, they show us what it is to be human, and what could be more important than that?

Religious fundamentalism gets in the way too. “These are the teachings, you do not understand them, please bow down and worship in front of us, who have been properly instructed.” The thing is, they are right: we usually don’t understand them, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t, in our own modern way, found something profound there.

I think the Medicine Wheel is a good example. Its origins are obscure. You get stone circles in the USA, which were doubtless used for ceremonial purposes. What it has become in the modern west is a tool for personal psychological transformation as well as ritual.

It is a wonderful map of the human mind, rooted in a map of the natural universe. I first encountered it in the late 90s, taught by Leo Rutherford. I’ve always loved it, and I’m also very aware that it probably bears little relation to any tradition in the Americas. But it started there, and via a few Indians of questionable ancestry, teachers and charlatans rolled into one (aren't humans fascinating?) found its way down to us.

And it works, it really does, both as a map of personal development and as a tool for personal and community ritual. I’m slowly creating one in a field right now, and yesterday when I put down the stone of the ancestors in the South East, I felt their presence and power.

Shamanic Journeying is another one. All most of us know is you get these guys in Siberia who bang a drum and it helps them talk to spirits and do helpful work for people in the community. How much relation it bears to our Upper Worlds and Lower Worlds and Middle Worlds and soul retrieval (with its psychotherapeutic perspective) and soul theft and de-possessions, I do not know. How much relation it bears to the idea that everyone can have a power animal, you just need to go on a workshop, I do not know – probably none at all! But this stuff works, it is often a profound initiation for people.

I think we really need to run with these things and re-invent them as we go. And not listen to the voices that are quick to shout cultural appropriation and New-Age (whatever that means) and fake. There will always be these voices in whatever tradition you are in, forever banging on about what is and is not the ‘authentic’ tradition. It is the voice of fundamentalism and it will disempower you if you listen to it, and sometimes our path to personal integrity involves learning not to be affected by those voices.

Indigenous teachers can be fundamentalist just as much as anyone else can, and they can be good teachers at the same time.

A living tradition is always changing.

So let us be respectful to the indigenous traditions, and acknowledge we know little if anything of their ways and the spirit of their ways. But let us grasp with both hands that which speaks to us, in the trust that we too are humans with our own inner means of knowing that can guide us, and make something real out of this mixed bag of teachings and traditions that has, often through a glass darkly, come our way.

Saturday, June 25, 2016


In Tibetan Buddhist terms, the UK is in a Bardo, a space between existences that is fluid and full of potentialities. Astrologically, our homeland has been abducted by Pluto (which is starting to oppose the UK Moon) and taken to the Underworld for dismembering and for the planting of a powerful new seed. In Psychosynthesis terms, we are having a crisis of meaning, and trying to find a new synthesis between our sense of who we are and our place in the world. 

And in terms of the Tarot, we have drawn the Fool Card: we are stepping out into the unknown, without a real plan, leaving our security behind, but in the trust that new paradigms will emerge. This has required courage, whether or not you agree with it. Shamanically, we need to beat our drums and draw in a new vision for the people, because now is when it can happen. 2 days ago, it could not have happened.

But it will also take time. It will take years. This is something western shamanism doesn't get, with its one year courses in becoming a healer. Real change is slow and not under our control. Anything that has depth takes years even decades even a whole lifetime and is largely unknowable. But we can plant a seed, even though we don't know what it is.

So we need patience. Above all, right now, we need to deal with the anxiety that is created by uncertainty. You cannot have deep change without uncertainty, for the old has to die, and it is dying as we speak. As an astrologer, I know about the anxiety that people go through when change happens. Well we have a whole nation going through that anxiety, and it is inevitable but it doesn't help.

The part we can individually play is to understand that uncertainty is the price of big change. Put aside whether you voted in or out, for that is in the past. Recognise the courage of those who voted to step over the cliff, even if you think they were wrong. Recognise the desire to be connected of those who wanted to remain. All these qualities are needed.

At the moment, it is an energy thing. If you can dwell in the uncertainty without feeling anxious or despondent, that will create space for something creative to happen.

It was not a party political decision. The Tories were the tools of much bigger forces stirring in the UK collective unconscious. In the short term, you may not have the government you want. Put that aside. The referendum has shown that the people CAN make a difference, and it is the seed of that which we can work with. We are not helpless against the big corporations and the forces of globalisation. We can vote in the government we want, and we have a chance to re-dream what this country is about. We can write laws that protect people and the environment that Brussels couldn't even have dreamed of. We just need patience and determination and a recognition that things are now possible that were not possible before.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

The Depth Psychology of Shamanism

In 1997, I was organising some shamanic journeying at a small festival in the UK, and the space was packed for each session, like 70-80 people. The word shamanism had a buzz to it, and I think it still does, even though it can also be a cliché.

But the buzz was genuine, and I think it was about people wanting a taste of the Otherworld, something which has almost become a race memory, because it has been so squeezed out by religion and then science. But it is still there in us, this desire for an untrammelled experience of Spirit, that feels ancient, and that is not hedged around by dogmas of what is and is not possible.

It is Spirit that ultimately teaches us about Reality, not humans and their books. Shamanism – a recent, western phenomenon – is about that return to a direct experience of Spirit, that connects us to a universe that is so much more than the literal, material universe of modern science.

That taste of the Otherworld is, for some, enough as an accompaniment to their regular existence. For others, it is not enough. Or we may think it is enough, but the spirits have other ideas!

And this is where the idea of the 'shaman' comes in. A slightly problematic word, as it carries connotations of spiritual stature, which ain't a good thing to claim. And a shaman is technically also a healer and diviner, a spirit consultant.

But the spirits can drag us kicking through that initiatory journey without the end result being a healer. You may end up as a counsellor, or an artist, or a stand-up comic - or as Mozart: what was it that spoke through him if it wasn't the Otherworld? Or you may be nothing in particular that you can put a name to! You just have that look in your eye that says I've been somewhere else.

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As Leonardo da Vinci said: “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Or as the Ancient Mariner said:
"I pass, like night, from land to land;

I have strange power of speech;

That moment that his face I see,

I know the man that must hear me:

To him my tale I teach."

The Ancient Mariner
The archetypal event has become, for us, the shaman's illness, which will often bring him or her to the gates of death or madness, and once she has accepted the wishes of the spirits to be a vehicle for them, he recovers.

And I think this illness, this trial, this ordeal, needs to be interpreted broadly within our shamanism, even though the original definition was quite specific. And I think we need to be quite broad too about 'the spirits'. Yes, some of us will have guys upstairs that tell us stuff, or who work through us. For others, it may just be this other place in us, and when we speak or act from it, there is some kind of deeper wisdom or insight there, that may not even make sense to us at the time, but we learn to trust it. The so-called 'mid-life crisis' (which can go on and on - see The Middle Passage by James Hollis) has a resonance of this type of ordeal.

As an astrologer, I encounter these trials in the form of Neptune and Pluto acting on people's charts. I had my own experience of Pluto for much of the 90s: after 10 years running Buddhist institutions, I was unable to do anything for several years. Anything I tried to do wouldn't work. And it was like the plug on my life-force had been pulled. I realised that it is not 'I' who lives, it is something from deeper within that calls the shots, and it was saying we're not going to let you carry on in that wilful way, we're going to fuck with you until you listen to us. And there was this deep, magical pull towards that other voice. 

Abdominal Surgery

At the same time, I felt like I’d had major abdominal surgery, and that I’d been brought about as low as I could be, to this faraway place. And after a few years I had a dream telling me to pursue shamanism - as well as something else, which was a trick dream that catapulted me out of my old life.

And since then there has always been this place within me that is a kind of dark wisdom, that I can forget about sometimes, but when I'm coming from there I am aligned with my life. It is the glittering eye of the ancient mariner. And in the last few years it's been happening all over again, but under Neptune's rule, and I'm still in the thick of it, so I can't say too much. But it's been like this overwhelming call that I haven't quite known what to do with.

Pluto with his hellhound
The classic story behind Pluto, who is Lord of the Underworld, is that one day he abducted Persephone, daughter of the nature goddess Ceres, who went into mourning and the earth went into permanent winter. Eventually it got sorted, but Persephone was by now Pluto's wife, and spent half her time in the underworld.

So this is a good way of understanding the shaman's illness. There is another side to life, beyond what is presented to us by society, and you can be taken there forcibly by the demands of the spirit, which has no regard for conventional niceties and sanities. And in a deeper kind of way, you grow up, move on to the next stage - as did Persephone, in becoming Pluto's wife.

A traditional society understands this ruthless dimension to Spirit. As Holger Kalweit writes in Shamans, Healers and Medicine Men: 

“The suffering and exhaustion that accompany a vision quest do not correspond to the mild and gentle style of modern psychotherapy. Westerners do not want to have to exert themselves to solve their problems.” (p102)

And Goethe understood what happens if you resist the call:

“And so long as you haven't experienced this: to die and so to grow, you are only a troubled guest on the dark earth.”

So this initiatory journey that the shaman undergoes isn't just about acquiring magical powers under duress. I don't think it is like that. The main emphasis is on the development of psychological depth, in the sense of moving beyond the narrow, conventional self that tells us how to live, and whose rules are shared by the other members of society. That kind of living is 'normal', it gives a kind of psychological security to many people, and it is necessary for the stability of society.

But that ain't what the shaman lives by. No, he/she has another loyalty, a deeper loyalty, that is not to the rules and 'shoulds' of the tribe, but to the spirits, to the daimon, to the Otherworld, to the Jungian Self. And that other place to which we have our loyalty is more real, for it recognises that the world isn't what it seems, it is not to be taken at face value, for it is only one pole of existence, the other being the spirit world, and these 2 poles are profoundly interconnected. The world is not an absolute, it is fluid.

So it is this loyalty to the Otherworld that is the real qualification to be a healer - or whatever. It is the shaman's wholehearted response to the imperatives of the Otherworld and its values that make him/her a shaman. Once you have that new basis to your life - that look in your eye - then the spirits will allow you to be a healer, or require you to be.

Of course, this is a kind of ideal scenario, because we are human, and we fuck up, and sometimes people have real healing abilities who seem in other respects to be such messes.

But the principle remains, and it is the 'depth psychology' of shamanism referred to in the title. It involves a radical turning about, so that the guiding principle of our lives becomes not what society expects, nor is it based on our personal desires, but on a commitment to something beyond us, that also is us, and that is more real than a purely conventional notion of existence ever can be.

It is a completely different basis for living, and that is why the shaman's illness can take him/her to death's door: the conventional, which is so deep-rooted, has to die. It can almost be like I cannot continue to live like I have been, so how can I live? And the answer is there within, and always has been.