A Case Study of Astroshamanism: New Paradigm of Spirituality and Religion (by MaryCatherine Burgess)

indexMaryCatherine Burgess, Associate Chaplain at the University of Edinburgh, in her book New Paradigm of Spirituality and Religion:Contemporary Shamanic Practices in Scotland, published by Continuum, illustrates a field research and case study on three shamanic practice groups in Scotland, among them astroshamanism. Burgess explores the historically difficult relationship between religion and spirituality by applying cross-cultural elements of shamanism and Daniele Hervieu-Leger’s analytical model of Religion as a Chain of Memory. In her work she uncovers a shamanic worldview that carries in its memory and practice a lineage of spirituality, not belief. This distinction sheds critical light on a new paradigm of spirituality and religion that reflects how many in Western societies currently respond to institutional religion.

As for astroshamanism, Burgess describes her experience during two Franco Santoro’s workshops held in 2003, The East Gate held in Edinburgh and the Original Quest: An Astroshamanic Journey into Time and Space at the Findhorn Foundation. The book contains a detailed account of both workshops, interviews with Franco and an extended description of his shamanic approach, including his early years and initiation.

We include herewith some excerpts taken from Chapter 6, titled “Exploring Connections Between Cross-Cultural Shamanic Elements and Neo-Shamanic Expressions in Scotland”. Here Burgess employs a model based on seven key elements existing cross-culturally on most shamanic communities, i.e. “vocation and initiation; cosmology; soul flight/journeying; consciousness; spiritual allies; soul healing; and community support.” In her field study she first explored the approach to, and understanding of, shamanism for each practitioner (Shamanism Defined and First Discovered), and then applied the above seven elements through questions relating directly to each of them.

Shamanism Defined and First Discovered

Franco considers shamanism to be an ancient and widespread spiritual method or system of healing – one in which shamans, who are familiar with states of consciousness that enable communication and collaboration with spirit guides in the exploration of the spiritual dimension of reality, help themselves, their communities and their planet achieve a direct and experiential sense of the unity and interconnectedness of all life. He defines astroshamanism as “a spiritual system of healing aimed at enlarging human perception through the integration of the basic principles of shamanism with experiential astrology, the ancient Mystery Religions, pagan and early Christian traditions in the context of contemporary society”. Shamanism for Franco, especially astroshamanism, offers an alternative to the prevalent world belief system of separation by revealing a sacred way of receiving information about the original and continued unity of the world –one which helps people come to know their multidimensional selves in a very practical way. […]

Shamanic Vocation and Initiation

Shamanic vocation and initiation can occur in ways that typically include heredity or a spontaneous call; illness and/or dreams; death and resurrection experiences; and/or the bestowal of spiritual allies or a possible power song.

Raised a Christian in Italy and later drawn to study yoga and astrology, Franco began to understand how apparently unrelated experiences throughout his early life were actually part of a long initiation and learning process for him. One of those early experiences had been the ability to “go through” a door and leave his parents without their knowing it. When that happened, he had a strong sense of déjà vu – that this was not new or unusual for him.

While still a small boy, he also began to notice things that the adults either did not appear to see, or that they had decided should be only for adults, not children. Among the “things” he saw were the Bhi Jinah, spiritual beings that were to become friends and allies for him throughout his life. At about four or five years of age, he spontaneously began playing games that involved spending time in a different world – one with twelve states, for which he drew maps to describe them. In these maps, his family’s house became the world, and the various rooms in their house became towns or villages. The cosmology of this other world also developed its own mythology. There were even football teams with entire divisions. Each of the sectors in this world had a name, which Franco created as variations on family and environmental names he already knew. Though this was a creative way to integrate much of what he was learning in school, and it brought him great joy and ecstasy for many years, it was clear to Franco that this game was a fantasy.

Between sixteen and eighteen years of age, he began to question what he was doing, especially when he realised others did not share his enthusiasm about this game. As with many young people, this realisation left him feeling inadequate when dealing with ordinary reality, and he decided to destroy the maps. At age eighteen, he experienced a very powerful response to reading a book by Alan Watts, which then awoke something else within him. A short time later, he spent eight years exploring what he called “the dark side” – namely, the “provisional order” that keeps ordinary reality alive and separate from non-ordinary reality. All of these experiences from childhood into adulthood joined together to form a shamanic initiation for Franco. Among the challenges he continually experienced was his ability to see power, and other multidimensional selves, while having to accept that others often say they have not had those experiences and do not see what he has seen. […]

Shamanic Cosmology

Shamanic cosmology initially refers to the distinction between ordinary and non-ordinary reality, but then further divides non-ordinary reality, or the spirit realms, into an overall geography that includes upper, lower and middle worlds. These non-ordinary realms are generally accessed from an ordinary-reality starting point on earth. These points are often associated cross-culturally with the axis mundi, the tree of life, because that image seems to portray the connection between all the “worlds”.

With Franco’s background in astrology, non-ordinary reality is what he calls the Sacred Circle – something with a structure that includes sectors, energies and archetypes that help all beings eventually come to awareness of ultimate unity. In this “transitional” structure there are physical, mental, and spiritual levels. Also within it are a vertical axis that reflects the higher, lower and middle worlds, and a horizontal axis that contains the four major directions of east, south, west and north. The structure possesses twelve sectors, which are the signs of the zodiac. This entire cosmology is described in Franco’s book, Epic of the Sacred Cone. Franco says he can travel to any part of the Sacred Circle to learn something important about life. He believes that each part of the Sacred Circle represents a way that leads to the Centre and is also an emanation from the Centre, since there are no true separations. As a shamanic practitioner, astrologer and spiritual explorer, Franco sees how all these dimensions fit together, and he easily travels within these realms. […]

Shamanic Soul Flight/Journeying

Shamanic soul flight, or journeying, refers to the ecstatic experience of travelling into the non-ordinary realms of the spirit world and then returning to ordinary reality. The one journeying generally ascends or descends, though middle world journeys involve travel into the spiritual dimensions of what appears to be ordinary reality. On these focused and interactive journeys, one meets and works with spiritual allies who function as partners with the journeying in the provision of healing and/or information.

Franco journeys to all the realms he describes in his cosmology of the Sacred Cone and in this process he works with a variety of spiritual allies. Though he talks about the journey and teaches people about the importance of holding a clear intention prior to and throughout the journey, his best description of the method itself is in his book, Astroshamanism, Book I. There he not only discusses intention, but also draws upon the work of Michael Harner for a specific methodology of journeying. […]

Shamanic Consciousness

Rhythmic music, drumming, rattling, chanting and dancing are typical ways of achieving a shamanic state of consciousness that facilitates the shamanic journey into non-ordinary reality. Other ways of assisting this process include the use of costumes and fasting.

All of the practitioners use drums, rattles, bells and other rhythmic instruments; ritual, ritual clothing and ritual objects; music, song or chant; dance; and incense or sage. Franco also uses drawing, meditation, silence, gibberish, physical movement, body postures and elements of nature (e.g. earth, air, water, fire). […]

Shamanic Spiritual Allies

Spiritual allies in a shamanic context are experienced in a number of ways by humans who work with them. These allies form protective and supporting partnerships – becoming sources of power and guides to information and healing. They generally appear in human, animal and plant form; and in some cases, they unite with their human partners in a kind of spiritual marriage.

Franco tends to draw upon the spiritual energy of the Sacred Cone – the overall cosmology that connects the non-ordinary reality worlds – when he works shamanically. For him, that includes all spiritual guides, which are inter-connected and part of the whole anyway. When he works with groups, he calls upon whatever images make sense, are relevant, and help people access their spiritual support. Because of his own Christian background he sometimes uses saints, especially the Madonna. Due to his understanding of astrology he calls upon the planets, the sun and the moon. Furthermore, his experience with the Epic of the Sacred Cone prompts him to call upon Bhi Jinah, beings who populate the empty spaces and help keep whatever exists together. […]

Shamanic Soul Healing

As soul doctors, shamanic practitioners work on the soul level to help people in their healing process. Some of the classic methods of soul healing include: divining for important information; power animal retrieval; soul retrieval; extraction; helping people prepare for death; and performing psychopomp work for those who have died.

Franco has experienced spiritual healing himself and has helped others in that process. For him, the most important thing in healing is to create a relationship with what the illness represents – as in the Pythagorean tradition. He strives for luminosity out of darkness, and refers to the temples of Apollo and to underground caves where those seeking healing would go through a stage of darkness, then face the difficult reality that their illness had helped them deny, and finally experience the authentic light of integrating those first two steps of darkness and confronting reality. Though Franco can use the shamanic method of extraction, he does not consider that as part of his tradition, because it perpetuates the illusion of separation and fragmentation. […]

Community Support

Included in the concept of community support are aspects of a shamanic system in which members of the community somehow acknowledge that the call they recognize has come to a potential shamanic practitioner; support the work of that person by encouraging continued training and seeking spiritual assistance from the identified person; and monitor the effectiveness of the shamanic services that are provided. This may happen in different ways, depending upon the nature, size and location of the community.

Franco said that community reflects the inter-relatedness and interdependence of all life. His worldview is that all is one, which by definition draws people to each other in mutual support for their individual work of releasing any sense of separation, and discovering connections with each other. […]