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                                                                Transpersonal Experience in Shamanism
                                                                               Prem Das (Paul C. Adams) 



Transpersonal experience is essential to the practice of shamanism. The shaman is a healer who skillfully journeys into other world regions such as the “Sky Realm” and the “Underworld” in order to obtain valuable information and experience in order to facilitate the survival of his or her people. Due to the tremendous survival value, transpersonal experience is fully encouraged and endorsed by the shamans community.

What kinds of experience and revelatory information is to be found out there, in the beyond, in the regions of transpersonal experience? “Climb to the top of the Cosmic Mountain” the shaman replies, “and take a look for yourself”. Another shaman might say, “At the top of the Tree of Life awaits your answer”, or Fly with Sister Eagle to the center of the sun, and then you will know.” We find intriguing analogies or metaphors such as these at the heart of shamanic myths, legends and sacred songs.

Don Jose Rios (Matsuwa) and several other Huichol Indian shamans of Nayarit, Mexico guided me through a six year apprenticeship (1971 - 1977). It became clear to me in the early phase of this apprenticeship that experience is of paramount importance. Cognitive interpretation of transpersonal experience was not of particular interest to my teachers. Instead they sought to facilitate actual experiences from which I would be free to develop my own models, belief systems or personal cosmology.

The techniques we find employed by shamans to facilitate transpersonal experience are numerous: fasting, isolation, dreaming, ingestion of psychedelic plants, exposure to heat or cold, pilgrimage to places of power, contact with spirits, drumming, chanting and all night ceremonies. The list is not comprehensive, yet it does indicate the primary techniques used by Huichol shamans during the course of an apprenticeship. Some of the methods are dangerous and require the guidance of an experienced shaman, and with such guidance the apprentice is able to make positive progress into the transpersonal domains.


All of the above mentioned techniques when properly practiced reveal the “nierica” or passageway, and allow the “eye of consciousness” a spectacular view into transpersonal regions of experience. The esoteric meaning of the Huichol term “nierica” refers to a passageway, or interface between the personal and transpersonal regions. The nierica is commonly portrayed in Huichol yarn paintings as a colorful kaleidoscopic pattern with a central focus, similar to the mandala portrayed in Hindu and Tibetan sacred art.

With the guidance of elder shamans, and within the a societal context of moral support, an aspiring individual or apprentice practices the various shamanic techniques until the nierica is found. Dedication and endurance is required if the nierica is to be discovered. Upon passage through the nierica, a person’s sense of identity fades, a transpersonal experience of the death - rebirth variety occurs, enabling one to explore regions of experience beyond the range of consensus beliefs.
“You can see anything and everything in the nierica” don Jose told me some years ago when we were on a pilgrimage to the Huichol Holy Land of Wiricuta. “By traveling through it” he added, “it becomes apparent who we are...that we are everywhere, everything, always.” (condensed and paraphrased)
                                                                                                                                                                     The above statements may make no seen at all to the logical mind operating within its language - symbol system which orbits around a firm sense of personal self or identity. However, shamans and a growing number of modern health practitioners today are concerned that people and nations worldwide are suffering precisely as a result of excessive attachment to identity or ego, and nationalism respectively. Allowed to go unchecked, this “disease” may lead to more than just a mild case of environmental pollution and international tension.

Shamans tell us via myth and metaphor that if we are to be healed, our ego or sense of personal self needs to perceive empathic relationship to everything , and with everyone. This human potential can be realized, they assure us, through transpersonal experience. The techniques shamans teach for access to this kind of experience have been time tested for thousands of years. Furthermore, we find that the techniques are essentially the same in all shamanic cultures. Will they work for us,  people of modern - technological cultures ?  It is my belief and experience that they can, and safely if practiced with the guidance of shamans in a conducive setting. In the last analysis we are left with a personal decision, to venture first hand into transpersonal experience, or be left with stories about a “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”.

Northern California, 1982
Published in: The Summer Newsletter 1982 of the Association of Transpersonal Psychology


May 2006:  
Can transpersonal experience be pursued safely? It is far more dangerous now that it was in 1982. To let down all personal barriers near others is potentially very dangerous. AIDS was not an issue before, and the flux levels of EMF were only a fraction of today’s metropolitan levels, and this is now known to cause significant autonomic stress responses. Psychoactive drugs like pot and its THC level is much higher and more likely to yield panic attacks and accelerated cardiac functions (pulse and blood pressure). In addition, to talk about and share your private transpersonal experiences with friends or relatives, who are extremely conservative individuals, can backfire. There are many people who do not want to look into these areas, and they feel violated or confused hearing about these subjects. Caution! Their reactions might be detrimental to your reputation, career and social well being.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Transpersonal Experience:  Options to drug use:
                                       (Caution: all transpersonal experience has some risks)

Extraordinary new age music on headphones or loud hi-fi systems; personal or group drumming sessions; nitrous oxide at the dentist office; tantric sexual practices (a vast, ancient subject coming to light); bramacharya or sexual continence - chastity; high altitude hiking and camping; meditation and concentration techniques - which will lead to samadhi states; fasting - metabolizing body fats yields natural psychedelic compounds; lucid dreaming techniques; legal herbs such as: damiana, passion flower, hops, catnip, ashwaganda, ginseng,  dozens of PEA containing cacti of the USA southwest deserts (and not illegal); hyperventilating and or multitude of pranayama exercises; chanting and singing; all night rituals or ceremonies; sweating - sauna & sweat lodges; air ions at high elevations and near waterfalls or  the beach; and electronic air ionization devices; natural places or power - power spots; new technologies such as the “vibe machine”    are now appearing and will soon be a huge category of options for energetic experiences comparable to those found in certain rare (power spots) locations; focusing on Mandelbrot set computer generated kaleidoscopic patterns on a monitor or wide screen combined with some of the above techniques; isolation in limestone (safe) caves or samadhi “tanks”; long distance walking or running induces an altered state before you “hit the wall”; hypnosis and age regression or time travel, and the list goes on...

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