Category Archives: Thoughts

Where In The World Is Shamanism?

Bodø Norway harbor
The city and harbor of Stian Berg’s hometown, Bodø Norway.

This is a continuing story of a shaman friend from Norway, Stian Berg, who first appeared here back in December, 2016. His country was the first in the modern world to officially recognize shamanism as a bona-fide religion, and to devote public funding to sustain it. This extraordinary and unprecedented gesture is, I predict, only the beginning. And it reveals something bigger. So that is why I will enlarge upon Stian’s story and kindness in submitting additional photos of his beautiful country to include a larger overview of how the world is changing, coming into a new spring so to speak.

I can start by offering you a very short answer to that question in the headline, Where In The World Is Shamanism?

It’s everywhere. Always has been.

While Stian lives in a geographic stretch of the world where many researchers say shamanism was born, an assertion that certainly underlies the ease with which a modern day government in that region can openly underscore its importance, it is widely recognized that the practice of shamanism is at the base of mostly all of the world’s known civilizations throughout history and right up to today. It’s not always as easy to spot elsewhere as it may be in Norway, but you can find it if you want to.

Most holidays, days of the week (and being a maker of Lightning Drums, I most admire Thursday, named after the Norse God Thor, “Thunder”), place names, planetary designations, and countless cultural and mainstream religious practices and celebrations bring forward the expression of shamanic cultures. And even this though may affront some, there is certainly ample evidence that it was practiced in ancient Palestine by none other than Jesus. For the purposes of this short article, I should point out that I am using a broad personal definition of “shamanism” to collectively refer to nature/spirit-dependent healing practices based on altered state spirit journeying. In that regard, it is still in use today in any number of places and settings.

Norway's beautiful scenery
A scene of serene and stark beauty of Norway’s coastline, courtesy of Stian Berg.

Simply put, there is a rise in the practice of shamanism because there is a decline among believers in mainstream religions.

Founder of the Four Winds Society, Alberto Villoldo, PhD, recognizes the need for shaman storytellers and healers to bring forward an updated mythology to replace the outdated religious stories written when “the Earth was flat…and before the Hubble space telescope showed us that we are one of a billion galaxies in the sky. The old stories [written 2,000 years ago] have exhausted themselves.” (Excerpted from pg. 287, Awakening to the Spirit World: The Shamanic Path of Direct Revelation, by Sandra Ingerman & Hank Wesselman, Sounds True, Inc., 2010)

Indeed, according to an influential book published in 2000, upwards of 140-million people in Europe and America, so-called “cultural creatives” are challenging long-held beliefs about religion and practically everything else that underpins Western civilization. (Wikipedia link.) For sure, a small percentage of them embrace shamanism, and a larger percentage honor the Earth and other shamanic concepts. It’s a tiny ripple now, but it nourishes the wave about to come. Just ask Stian Berg up there in Norway.

Spring returns to Norway 2017
Once in darkness, Norway has now seen the sun return in Spring. Photo, courtesy Stian Berg.

And with the return of Spring in the far north, we find that the light of shamanism spreads everywhere, even in the hearts of moderns who usher in a new dawn of a different sort.

Aho & Namaste,
Bob

A Thunder Drum Customer From Norway Shines Light On The “Dark Time”

stian a drum customer of thunder valley drum lives in norway
Stian and his Thunder Drum painted by Glenn Lewis.

I am the most fortunate individual on Earth, for practically every time an order for a drum comes in, it signals the start of a new friendship. We swap a few emails, discover our common interests, and share a common goal. Then, by the time the drum is born a few weeks later, we — customer, drum maker and drum—are all friends.

That’s why you are looking at Stian, a resident of Norway, and his drum, pictured here. He ordered the drum a few months ago, but it did not take long for a friendship to take root. After all, theories abound about how shamanism started in Siberia and soon spread in all directions, down into the Scandinavian countries and around the world, so I was interested in its influence in Stian’s Norway. I began to ask questions about life in the far north, and Stian indulged my curiosity with wonderful email replies. Our dialog continues even now, as that recent photo (above) and an earlier one he sent (below) reveals.  Here’s his latest email (reprinted with his permission).

“Hello. Hope it goes well in Kentucky. Here in Norway goes just fine. The days spent on shopping for Christmas gifts to make clear for Christmas. We’ve got some snow. I hope the snow for Christmas.

northern lights in norway
Northern Lights near where Stian lives. (Photographer unknown)

“Since we live north of the Arctic Circle, the sun gone from the sky. The sun does not come back until January. We call it dark time. When the sun comes back in January, we tend to have sunshine party. When we celebrate the sun is back in the sky. We have lots of Northern Lights in the sky, there is one lovely light.

“Otherwise I must say att it’s gorgeous sound of the drum. Love it.

Wish you all well.
Your friend Stian”

Norway drum owner's hometown
Stian used his phone to capture this shot of his hometown.

My reply.

“Hello, Stian. Wondrous to hear from you, my friend, and to read about the ‘dark time.’ It is so refreshing to know that your people embrace the land and its seasons in such a joyful way. I can imagine the wonderment of living a few months in a place without sun, and of how special it must be when the sun returns. It is like a time of incubation before being born. Amazing…and mysterious.

“And I am so happy that your drum is adjusting to your environment and sounding good!

“So very delightful to hear from you. All best wishes to you and to all of those around you in the land of the long night.

Aho & Namaste,
Bob”

I wish to thank Stian for his emails, photos…and friendship from a faraway place!

stians painted thunder drum
Stian’s drum. (TVD Photo)

A drum in the Artic Circle is so perfectly symbolic. It’s only natural, too, as the drum is both a circle in shape and in representation of the greater circle of friendship that can and should include all of us in this world.

 

And I say the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. —Black Elk (quote)

 

Aho & Namaste, Friends Everywhere
Bob

UPDATE 12/11/16:

Here is Stian’s wonderful and informative email follow-up to this post:

12/11/16: “That was a beautiful article. Really liked it. Did you know that shamanism is religion in Norway?

“As the first country in the world Norway accepted shamanism in 2013 as a religion in the country. Sjamanistisk Forbund (” Shamanistic Association”) can now perform weddings and other rites in public. The Norwegian government also gives money to support this. Denmark and Sweden are following this and has started the same associations in their countries.

“That’s my religion.

Your friend, Stian”

____

Thank you, Stian!

Survivor Drum’s Story

survivor drum on its drum stand

Thanks to all of you who have written, called, posted and otherwise commented on the Survivor Drum following its debut a week ago. You have touched my heart, and based on your expressions, this lovely drum and its hard-earned right to exist touched your hearts. Several asked that I post the story I read in the audio file on the site, so here it is, edited and shortened a bit.

Reflections On The Survivor Drum

What? What is this mysterious thing called life? That we often despise but fight mightily to hold on to? That we disregard so easily but embrace so passionately? That we generally identify as existing only in flesh, devoid of spirit or soulful connection? Oh, we know, we know the answer.

We know.

This Lightning Drum is a quintessential symbol of shamanism and of defiance against the odds. Of hope when there is none. Of beauty where it counts.

It is well known, though not necessarily universal, that people called to shamanism walk a tortured path. Fires of adversity forge healers. Suffering spurs awakening. A shaman is known to be a “wounded healer.”

It is sometimes true of shamanic drums, too.

This drum typifies it all, beginning with its apparent death from a powerful lightning bolt, but ending with its birth as a sacred healer. The transformation was not easy – they seldom are—as it once believed itself to be one thing, but found its true identity after a fiery initiation.

By the time I discovered the ragged remains of the hickory tree blasted by lightning, it had suffered years of assault from ice storms, insects, worms and birds that had cracked, scratched and eaten away some of its pitching bark and pithy wood. There were no branches or smaller limbs on the ground, a sure sign they had already crumbled back into the earth on that wind and weather scarred West Virginia mountaintop that was a part of my family’s farm.

My friend Eddie, a veteran logger and tree trimmer for over 30 years, and I could easily tell what had happened as we saw it sagging in a small clearing in the forest. I knew he had questions about why I had asked him along to look at a ruined tree, and then particularly why I had asked him to hold back while I went ahead to be alone with it. After a few minutes I waved him forward and he dutifully yanked his chainsaw to life and downed the skeletal hickory with one swift buzzing cut and a series of quick slices to make a few dozen cookies. That’s what wood turners call cross sections cut from trees, often used to make bowls and other beautiful implements.

Not this tree, though. The wood wasn’t strong enough to withstand a lathe. In fact, for most purposes, it appeared useless. Dead.

Later, at the bottom of the mountain, Eddie helped me empty the small load of cookies into the barn before we sat in the old milk house for a cup of coffee. “Why cut that old dead tree, then block it?” he asked.

“I hope to help some of them turn into drums,” I answered, adding, “if they want to.”

He leaned toward me a little. “Is that why you talked to the tree before we cut it?” The tone of his voice suggested no incredulity, for he had no doubt talked with trees too in the past.

“Yes, I was asking the tree’s permission to cut it down, and when it agreed, I said a prayer for it and offered some tobacco to honor it.”

“Nice,” he said. “Nice the old tree will survive in this way.”

Months later and after they had dried, it was time for the cookies to undergo triage. I’ve written a lot about this sacred process over the years, but it’s a period during which each precious being embraces the vexing questions of existence. For me, it’s a humbling, often sad, often exhilarating exercise as they teach me about the Great Wheel while I remove rotted wood, dirt and debris from their wounded bodies.

With this collective family of a few dozen, only about six chose to serve as healing helpers, while the others preferred to be taken back to the site of their original mother tree where they could return into the Earth. Their choices inspire, either way, because they, like all of life, can continue on a while longer in their present form, or freely give their essence to the eventual rise of newness on the turning of the Great Wheel.

I’ve experienced this beautiful practice many times over the years with several trees and their offspring. But there is always a moment when I experience such great joy with the ones who remain. It’s the same as hearing of someone who narrowly escaped death and who fought against the odds, whether knowingly or through the intrinsic power of life itself. Survivors.

Though it’s been several years and my memories are no longer crystal clear, I recall making four or five drums from the bunch. But one, the sixth, somehow resisted. Its shell was too weak to become a drum, but it had such a strong spirit. It would not give up.

Later, and almost as an oversight I packed it with some other things when I moved to Kentucky. It lingered in the old box for two years, but even when I discovered it one idle day and started fiddling with it, it resisted. This occurred again and again over five or six more years. I repeatedly tried my best to help it, but I failed. A new crack would form, or the frame would fracture. And finally, when failing at one last try over a year ago, I again sat it aside for a later time when I could give it a respectable burial.

Then it happened.

Six weeks ago I was walking alongside a shelf in the shop and the drum called to me. “Ready.” Just like that.

And this time, it was ready. So we started together to mend its broken heart in a new way. Both of us simply gave up resisting anymore. We entered into a blissful union with Spirit. The scarred drum and the wounded healer were joined at last. And in no time the drum was singing.

Epilogue

You will note in the photographs on the TVD Site of the bottom of the drum a curious feature. While the outside bark has long fallen away, there is an interesting dark brown inner circle of hard bark-like growth circumscribing the entire drum. (I’ve drawn an arrow pointing to it in one photo.) It is as tough as nails. And that’s the key to understanding this drum, shamanism and perhaps even life itself. There is an inner core in each of us, just like

in the drum. It is as tough as steel. It is the beautiful stubbornness that each of us carries, the desire to endure. To live, despite the odds. To stand fast, to hold to life and in service to life.

This little drum holds to that like a champion. It is a survivor.

###

finished powwow drum
A finished drum, and a sacred ally.

Flashback to drum triage over the years…

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Aho & Namaste,
Bob

A Man With a Lightning Stick, And How To Find and Use Your Own

andy with lightning stick
UK friend and fellow seeker Andy poses with his Lightning Stick.

Every year or so good friend Andy over in the United Kingdom sends along a photo to let us know how he’s doing. This time he is displaying the Lightning Stick he obtained a few years ago. I remember it well, as it came from a farm where I used to live, and where one night I happened to see a wide arc of lightning hit a cherry tree on the hill behind my house. Next day I gathered the energized sticks and added them to the bundle which I carried for years. Most of those wonderful sticks are now in the hands of healers here and there around the globe.

If you know of a lightning-struck tree where you live, perhaps you could make a Lightning Stick of your own. I sure encourage you to explore this idea.

First, go to the tree and sense whether you feel drawn to one of the precious sticks that has fallen from it. If so, smudge around the tree, if you are familiar with that ceremony, then pick up the stick and be with it a while. Sit next to or lean against the tree and still your mind. Then, holding the stick, close your eyes and open your senses to any sensations. (This could take some time, or even perhaps a few more visits.)

If, at some point, you sense an energy in the stick, chances are that you are at the edge of a path which may open for you and on which you may discover some latent healing gifts. Perhaps you can take the stick along with you, after asking for the tree’s permission. But whether you recover the stick or not, be sure to leave a gift for the the tree in return, a pinch of tobacco, some bird seed, herbs, something of value to you and the Earth. From there, you can learn to shape and use the healing ally stick in many ways.

Now, I know that this may all sound rather obtuse if you aren’t familiar with shamanism, but if nothing else, it is sure a wonderful exercise in connecting with Nature in a unique, deep and reverent way. I am certain too that you won’t look at lightning-struck trees the same after that, either.

To help understand a bit more about this, I’ve written a short e-Book about Lightning Sticks, which you can download for free. Look for the link on this page of the Thunder Valley Drums Website. You can read even more by poking around the site a little, as I’m discovering more and more, largely from many anthropological books written in the 1920’s and since about how the ancient peoples relied on lightning tools, beginning with the shamanic cultures in North Asia (Siberia, Mongolia, and such), and spreading down into Celtic lands and into North America, among others. I’ll be adding more to the site and probably to the book over time, including a bibliography. Even if you are an accomplished healer, I think you’ll be surprised how knowledge of this kind can open new ways to enhance your practice…and your connection with Spirit.

Meanwhile I want to thank Andy for the photo. Good to see you again, my friend!

Aho & Namaste,
Bob