An accessible, enjoyable and informative perspective from a full-time shaman, actively practicing in a professional setting for over 25 years.
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About the Author
Kenn Day is a working shaman, with a full-time practice since 1989. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with his beloved wife and daughter and offers workshops covering the teachings used in his practice.
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Dance of Stones
A Shamanic Road Trip
By Kenn Day
John Hunt Publishing Ltd.Copyright © 2013 Kenn Day
All rights reserved.
There is a gangly kiwi tree that climbs along the wall from the small garden and up to the roof of the Askevold's, Soli's parents house near Bonn, Germany. The soft grass feels like moss beneath my bare feet, as I move through my taiji form. The air is deliciously cool and the light still soft, the sun hovering just out of sight beyond the garden wall. I know that I am in an altered state of consciousness, but for a change it is completely unintentional.
My body, mind and energy are all still catching up from the flight over from the States. I have only a vague memory of the drive in from the airport yesterday where Soli's parents, Detlev and Christine, met us with the big red Mercedes station wagon.
I wobble a bit as I balance for a kick and my breathing is out of synch. I'm realizing just how much this sort of travel can knock me out of whack. As I bring my hands up and then settle them to my sides, completing the form, I notice Soli's mother, watching from the back patio. She is standing with her arms crossed and her head slightly cocked to the side with a no-nonsense expression, as if measuring me for a suit or considering my sanity.
"Well," she says. "At least you're not waving some shiny plastic sword around like her last American friend. What do you eat for breakfast?"
"That was not any friend of mine mummy, and you know it," Soli puts in from behind the kitchen door where I hear her running water into a kettle. "It was Wilbke's boyfriend and I am not responsible for my friend's taste in men."
"Whatever you're all having will be fine," I answer as I step through the door.
"That's not helpful," Christine replies. "We all eat something different."
"He'll have fruit salad with me, Mummy." Soli interjects, saving me from having to make a decision for myself while running on low batteries.
I obediently settle in at the broad breakfast table with Detlev, Soli's father—a man with clear grey eyes and a warm disposition. He is reading his morning paper and drinking a glass of strong black tea, allowing me a moment to take stock. This is only the second day of my trip to Germany. Soli continues to intrigue me, though not in a way that I can really pin down. There is no romantic attraction—either direction—and yet, here I am, having taken her up on her invitation to "come meet the family and take a roadtrip." I smile to myself, thinking of the new age 'Mystery School' in New York State where we met. We were approaching it from very different places. Soli was attending as research for a possible documentary for the German TV and film company that she works for. I had been looking at it because of the husband of the school's charismatic leader. Some of my friends in the magickal community had suggested that I look into studying magick with him. However, I soon discovered that he was really only interested in taking on students who were young, attractive and female. I had heard that his wife was very active in the New Age movement and thought I'd take a look at what she was doing. She runs a Mystery School, which appealed to me on principal, and I went with high hopes. Those hopes were disappointed in every way—except that I had met Soli, and we had struck up an immediate friendship.
Detlev clears his throat and folds his paper carefully before placing it beside his tea and removing his reading glasses. I can easily see him presiding over a classroom of students, benignly dispensing wisdom. "So—we are, of course, very curious about what it is that you do," he begins. "Soli tells us that you are a ... shay—man? –but we are not sure what this means, exactly."
I'm not sure I'm up to the conversation—the jet lag slows my thoughts to a crawl—but I attempt to respond. "Hmm ... I guess I can start with what the word 'shaman' means and go from there. There are a lot of different definitions floating around at the moment, but basically they are all talking about a person who uses altered states of consciousness to access information that couldn't be had by ordinary means."
"For instance?" queries Soli. I get a strong sense that she is enjoying this interrogation, but she smiles innocently.
"For instance, in a tribal setting, away from the tools of a modern city, blood tests are not readily available, but a shaman can go into a trance state and speak to the soul of a patient to get the information needed to diagnose the person's illness. If the soul can't answer, the shaman can speak to the guardian spirits of the patient or even deities or ancestors of the tribe."
"So a shaman is like a medical intuitive?" Soli smiles again.
"That would be one of the ways that we refer to shamans in our western culture."
"Then why don't we just call all medical intuitives shamans?" Detlev asks as he spreads soft white cheese on a slice of dark German bread.
"In some cases we do. But the term shaman is really pretty recent in our vocabulary, and it comes to us from anthropology, so it gets clogged up with a lot of academic theories." I take a sip of my rapidly cooling coffee. My jet lag is hitting me hard and I feel like I'm not making any sense, but I labor on. "There are even some strong opinions in certain circles that we shouldn't use the term shaman to refer to anyone who isn't an aboriginal," I say. "But we Westerners have co-opted the term so completely, it seems rather absurd not to make use of it."
Soli's phone begins its distinctive—and irritating—chirp and she rises to answer it in the hallway. We can hear her conversation in German, and I can understand enough to know that it is yet another call from the office. She comes back into the dining room to snag an apple and a chair while listening to the voice on the other end of the line.
The mobile phone wasn't an issue at Mystery School; she couldn't get overseas service. Otherwise, I suspect we might never have become friends. Our friendship was difficult enough to strike up as it was. Part of this was simply because Soli was German, and my family had raised me to have an irrational distrust of Germans—a core belief I thought I'd overcome until I met Soli. It was her humor that ultimately cut through it.
I remember sitting our second morning in the Mystery School seminar, listening to our leader channel the Greek goddess Athena. Soli leaned closer to me, and in a distinctly German accent, whispered, "It sounds like she's reading from a Greek menu, no?" We both burst out laughing; it was all very rude and irreverent.
Now, here I am, sitting in her family's house in Germany—enjoying one of the warmest welcomes I recall. Detlev is rubbing his shoulder and making slow circles with his arm. I am not surprised when he says, "My tennis arm is acting up again. Is there anything you would recommend for that—as a shaman, of course?"
"Frozen spinach," I reply. "Applied externally, of course."
"Externally ..." Detlev smiles hesitantly.
"Or frozen peas, or frozen ham—it's the cold, dear." Christine shakes her head in exasperation.
"Oh—of course!" Detlev blushes a bit and smiles at my little joke, and I feel just a bit guilty.
"I'm afraid that most of the work I do is really very ordinary and down to earth." I explain. "Though, of course, my idea of 'ordinary' is probably...."
Soli appears at the doorway, hand over the mouthpiece of her phone and completes my thought with a smile. "A bit out of the ordinary?"
The front door bangs open and a strong feminine voice calls out, "Ich hab meine Waesche mitgebracht ..." A fashionably dressed young woman in high heeled boots appears in the doorway carrying an overstuffed laundry basket. She stops suddenly as she notices me at the table.
Soli turns in her chair. "Oh, Sue. This is ..."
"Your shaman!" Sue exclaims. She pauses then turns back to the hall. "I'll be right back." We can hear her footsteps clomping down the basement stairs.
"That" Soli says, holding her phone away, "is my little sister, Susanne."
"You know," Detlev begins. "Soli had her own connections with the invisible world when she was growing up."
Plugging one ear with her finger, Soli gets up and walks into the kitchen to continue her call. I realize that this is one of those moments all parents wait for, when they meet their children's friends—the chance to tell embarrassing stories from childhood, better told when their children are not in the room. "Yes?"
"Oh yes!" He continues. "You know that Christine and I met when we were working together in Ethiopia? Well, Soli was born there and we didn't move back to Germany until she was nearly six—just before her sister was born."
I nod and he continues his story. "When she was—oh, about four I think, she began talking about a little friend she would play with who she called Neenah. We naturally assumed that this was one of the native children in the village and thought nothing of it, until one day ..." Detlev pauses dramatically to take a sip from his tea.
Soli finishes her call and appears in the doorway behind him, listening to his story. Her eyebrows are raised; she looks none too pleased. "One day, she did not return home when she usually should and both Christine and I went out looking for her. Her nanny told us she was in the wadi behind the village, playing. I went looking there and found her building a small house—like one of the native houses—from sticks and mud. She was talking away in the native dialect—to this Neenah of course. But there was no one there!"
"It was only after I had brought her home that she told me that Neenah was really a little blue rabbit—apparently a nature spirit of some sort that had become displaced when the villagers built some new houses above the wadi. This blue rabbit apparently had persuaded her to make a house for it as well—ah! She told us quite a lot about Neenah once I got her back to the house. Apparently it helped her find lost objects and told her secrets about the other children—which naturally frightened away all of her more human companions."
Detlev pauses, as if considering this for the first time. "That was all rather uncanny—all the things it seemed she did that scared off the other children. But for some reason the little blue creature did not seem to travel well. When we moved to Stuttgart shortly after that, Neenah was not heard from again." Detlev finishes his story with a flourish like a stage magician. He obviously finds the whole thing quite amusing. I glance up at Soli leaning in the doorway behind him. Just as obviously, she finds the story anything but funny.
Where does the shaman come from? There are quite a few answers to this deceptively simple question. We can talk about the historical source of what we call shamanism today. We can look at the various initiatory practices of indigenous people. However, perhaps the most important answer is that the shaman comes when and where he or she is called, emerging in response to the need for a shaman. This is true in many ways, on many levels. When you have an illness of the spirit or soul, there is a deep part of you that will reach out instinctively to any resource it can find. Our soul instinctively recognizes a shaman as one who can work with these deep wounds of the spirit, to bring us to wholeness.
When your soul is in pain, it may reach out unconsciously, leading you into a place where the pain can be addressed. I have had many clients come to me for something simple and purely physical—like tennis elbow—only to find that, once the tennis elbow is repaired, the real wound arises and can then be addressed.
It's important to point out at the beginning that very few are actually called to this shamanic work. Most people are blessed with other, more ordinary, talents.
But what are the needs that call to a shaman, these wounds of the soul? The need for connection; the need to know where we belong; the need to know where we come from; the need to feel that we are a part of something larger than ourselves; the need of all the parts to realize themselves as one complete whole. These are the needs we all have as human beings. When these needs are not met, we loose something of our humanity and our soul naturally seeks to reconnect with that wholeness. The shaman is one who helps us to rediscover the healing power of this deep connection.
This answer is only one of many answers. It might seem to be in conflict with the idea that the shaman is a healer, but what is healing if not the integration of all disparate parts into the whole?
Bear in mind that the shaman does us no good today, if we leave him wearing skins and feathers, dancing for pre-technological aborigines somewhere in Australia. Only by bringing him into this moment, in an office dressed in sweater and khakis (as many of us are) and making him a real part of the real world, can he be the healer of all those things that need to be healed, many of which are not addressed by modern medicine.
The shaman also does us no good if we turn him into someone he is not today; if we make him more than human. The shaman serves community in much the same fashion as a plumber, a gardener or a garbage collector. While the job description and qualifications are unique, and the training can be rather stressful, the shaman is just a person doing what is natural and right for him or her to do. There are effective shamans and ineffective shamans, just as there are good carpenters and bad carpenters, but they arise from our need for them—from the need for the healing and integration they bring to us as individuals and communities.
To put it more simply: the shaman is a naturally occurring phenomenon, arising when the individual or community has need of the talents they have to offer.
We are on the road! It has already been a long morning. We have driven non-stop for three hours since crossing the French border—eight hours since leaving Bonn early this morning—through perpetually winding roads, quaint farm houses and lumps of cows and sheep and trees. As much as I tell myself that I should be enjoying and appreciating the scenery, it is all a bit much. I feel like the tourist who has already been to one too many cathedrals—a bit overfed and under-rested, and I'm longing for the comfort of the Askevold family home. I'm more than a little relieved when Soli decides that we need to stop for provisions.
We pull off at the next junction and into the unpaved lot of a market. Its cinderblock facade is painted like a 19th century circus wagon, in deep shades of red and gold, reminding me of the boxes of animal crackers I used to eat as a child—gleefully depicting lions and monkeys and buffalo. It feels good—restful—to be reminded of something that I already know for a change.
A long melodramatic sigh escapes me as Soli gathers her wallet. She looks at me in unspoken exasperation and it occurs to me that this is not the first time she's shot me such a glance in the last 24 hours, and that she is easily exasperated. On the other hand, here I am complaining after a relatively short road trip. Considering the fact that I spend so much time traveling in other worlds, I should be expected to deliver a little more than the ordinary traveling companion might. At the very least I shouldn't be so exhausted at 3:20 in the afternoon. I wonder if just one day of missing my meditation and QiGong has this much impact.
As I unfasten my seat belt and stretch the kinks out of my spine, an old man in a sagging tweed coat emerges from the door of the market. His shoulder brushes roughly against a string of old, brass bells hanging in the door frame, and they jangle as though disturbed from a long sleep. Their muffled jingle passes through me, as I open my own door, stepping from the car. Walking slowly past, the man does not seem to see us; he simply mutters what sounds to me like rambling incantations –ce chien foutu n'arrête pas de mâcher ouvert la porte; ce chien foutu n'arrête pas de mâcher ouvert la porte —and trails an odor of unwashed vegetables. Untying the rope leash of a small white dog, which looks as old as its master, he whispers more strange sounds beneath his breath, and disappears round the corner.
"He reminds me of the Fool," I say to Soli, gesturing toward where the man was only moments ago, "of course, he's too old ... not the youth that is usually pictured on the card." She looks at me askance, as if wondering about my sanity; then she returns her attention to her mobile phone—the third time she's checked for messages in the last few hours. I consider explaining myself—that what I meant was not that the old man really looked like a fool, but that, with his little white dog, he reminded me of the Fool card in the tarot deck. I decide not to bother. In fact, I wonder if she even noticed him.
Excerpted from Dance of Stones by Kenn Day. Copyright © 2013 Kenn Day. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Forward to the Second Edition.................... 1
1 Soli's Home.................... 5
2 The Marketplace.................... 14
3 The Call of the Shaman.................... 31
4 Rocks.................... 48
5 Swallowed by Stones.................... 57
6 Blood on the Road.................... 67
7 Les Korrigans.................... 76
8 Dragon Lines.................... 83
9 Dreaming on the Beach.................... 93
10 Hotel Ys.................... 105
11 Onward & Inward.................... 115
12 Crossing the Water.................... 123
13 A Walk in the Rain.................... 128
14 Crossing the Tamar.................... 137
15 Soli Dives in.................... 144
16 A Hidden Treasure.................... 151
17 Into the Labyrinth.................... 159
18 Dreamtime.................... 171
19 Staying in Practice.................... 180
20 The Merry Maidens.................... 189
21 The Boleigh Fogou.................... 196
22 Crossing the Threshold.................... 211
23 Stone Cross.................... 219
24 Other Stones.................... 227
25 Waiting for the Door.................... 233
26 Opening to Change.................... 244
27 No Beginning – No End.................... 253
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