In this project I am investigating the potential of bringing together shamaninc journey and sound journey. It is known that in various cultures musical instruments and sounds are used in order to achieve altered states of consciousness.
According to Sandra Ingerman in her book Shamanic Journeying “Cross-culturally, most shamans use monotonous or rhythmic drumming to alter their state of consciousness when they journey. There are also traditions that use rattles, sticks, and bells. In Australia the shaman uses didgeridoos and click sticks. The Sami people of Lapland and Norway use their drums or monotonous chants called joiking. The monotonous sounds generated by these instruments put the shaman into an alternate state of consciousness, allowing him or her to successfully journey into the invisible worlds.”
Sandra goes on to say that “there are scientific instruments that can measure brain activity during altered states of consciousness. When we are in an ordinary state of consciousness, our brainwaves are in what scientists call a beta state. However, when we listen to monotonous drumming, scientists have discovered that our brains slow down. First they slow down to the alpha state, which signals the beginning state of meditation. Then our brain waves slow down even more into a theta state. This is the brainwave state in which we do our shamanic journeying.”
In shamanic cultures across the world the use of drum and rattle are commonly used to help shamans to enter shamanic state of consciousness (SSC). Micheal Harner in his book The Way of the Shaman says that “the repetitive sound of the drum is usually fundamental to undertake shamanic tasks in SSC. With good reason, Siberian and other shamans sometimes refer to their drums as the “horse” or “canoe” that transports them into the Lowerworld and Upperworld.”
Many of the instruments used by shamans to enter an altered state of consciousness are used in sound journeys, for example singing bowls, drum, rattle, didgeridoo… So it is my belief that anyone who can do a shamanic journey will also be able to go on a journey when joining a sound bath/journey if they wish to do so.
2. A brief introduction to shamanism.
Shamanic practices are prehistoric, there is evidence for them that traces back to 65,000 years ago. The word shamanism probably derived from the Tungusic word šaman from the Manchu-Tungus tribe in Siberia, which means “one who knows”.
Although shamanic culture is present around the globe, the places where shamanism remains strongest are Siberia, Tibet, Korea, Mongolia, Alaska, the Amazon, Canada and Scandinavia. All shamanic cultures have a few things in common. There are two core principles which appear to be universal:
Shamanic cultures have a spiritual practice that honours the earth and living beings. We can presume that shamanism is one of the oldest, if not the oldest healing practice that exists.
Shamanic journey is one practice that all shamanic cultures have in common, this is the heartbeat of shamanism. When journeying a shaman enters altered states of consciousness where she/he can connect with other worldly beings to ask for information, support or healing.
The shamanic world is made up of three parts, the lower world, the upper world and the middle world. The Upper World above is the realm of unrealized potential, higher knowledge and enlightenment, the Middle World is our reality as we know it, it is our day to day lives and the residing place of our physical bodies and our normal waking consciousness and the spiritual dimension of our physical world. The Lower World is the realm of animal, plant and nature spirits, spirit guides and the land of the dead.
A shaman has her/his feet grounded in both ordinary and non-ordinary realities. In non-ordinary reality shamans are able to see, hear, smell, feel and touch what others are unaware of, they journey into non-ordinary realities to obtain information, ask for guidance and to perform healing.
3. Shamanic Journey
In her book Shamanic Journeying a beginner's guide Sangra Ingerman says that “the practice of shamainc journey helps us to part the veils between the seen and unseen worlds and access information and energies that can help awaken us and restore us to wholeness.”
Sandra also says that “when we travel to non-ordinary reality in our shamanic journeys, we learn how to communicate with the spirits of trees, plants, animals, insects, birds, fish, reptiles, and rocks, as well as the spirit of the elements of the earth, air, water, and fire. We directly experience the web of life.”
Shamanic journey is a valuable tool that can help restore balance in our lives. It also gives a profound sense of self-empowerment as we understand that the answers to our questions lie within ourselves. “The helping spirits have a great deal to teach us about restoring balance and harmony into our lives by reconnecting with nature’s cycles and by living in unity with the natural world.” (Sandra Ingerman)
Shamanic journey varies from one individual to the other, some will be more visual whilst others will have a deep sense of knowing what is going on. During shamanic journeys we can hear, smell, taste, feel things like we would in ordinary reality. To better understand what senses are the most acute during shamanic journey and how our allies communicate with us we must practice. As we journey we will develop our own unique language that might not be how we experience ordinary reality, although the benefits of it will spill over into our regular life.
Something that it is important to make clear is that allies/spirit guides communicate using metaphor and symbolic language during the journey, weaving together many layers and many possibilities to deepen our understanding on a subject.
4. Sound, Meditation & Altered States of Consciousness.
According to Wikipedia “An altered state of consciousness (ASC), or altered state of mind, is any condition which is significantly different from a normal waking state.The expression was used in 1966 by Arnold M. Ludwig, and brought into common usage by Charles Tart. It describes induced changes in one's mental state, almost always temporary. A synonymous phrase is "altered state of awareness".
Altered states of consciousness can be associated with artistic creativity, or different focus levels. During an altered state of consciousness, brain waves occupy different frequencies (i.e. Epsilon, Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta, Gamma). These waves can be measured by electroencephalography (EEG). Also, subjective reports and observer reports of behaviour are used to identify the altered state.”
“Most meditations are about clearing the central nervous system from the stream of thoughts that go in all directions, by Taoists called the 'monkey mind'. As soon as the mind is stilled, the dominance of Beta waves in the brains (with a frequency of 13-40 cycles per second - Hertz or Hz) is replaced by a dominance of Alpha waves with a frequency of 8-12 Hz, representing a mental state of rest and focus, yielding increased capabilities for creativity. Going lower, to Theta waves (4-7 Hz) and even Delta waves (0.5-3 Hz), we enter states of well-being and deeper meditation, with more room for spirituality, the 'Higher Self', God.”
DIAGRAM ILLUSTRATING DIFFERENT BRAIN WAVE BANDS CHARACTERIZED BY FREQUENCY (HZ). ASSOCIATED COGNITIVE STATES FOR EACH BAND ARE ALSO DISPLAYED.
In our day to day life we are accustomed to being in the Beta brain rhythm, we are consciously alert, awake dealing with daily tasks. It’s the default and dominant brainwave for most of us, most of the time. It is the wavelength we use for focused mental activity. We are also in Beta when we feel agitated, tense, hurried, pressured, afraid and stressed.
When we alter our brain rhythm to Alpha, we are slowing our brainwaves down, becoming physically and mentally relaxed. Here we are soft and daydreamy. It’s the state you slip into when you are drifting off to sleep, often associated with a meditative state of deep relaxation which can aid the reduction of our stress hormone levels. You can experience emotions such as joy, peace, tranquillity and bliss. Some forms of meditation, relaxation exercises, and activities that enable a sense of calm, also naturally create this Alpha state.
According to neuroscientists, the effect of decreasing the brain rhythm from Beta to Alpha via deep relaxation techniques, sound therapy and the use of binaural beats entrainment, changes the levels of certain beneficial brain chemicals.
“Ancient cultures were aware of how the brain could be entrained through sound repetition long before modern science was able to explain the process. They didn't refer to this science as binaural beats, but what they did know was that consistent, rhythmic sound had extremely powerful healing and spiritual benefits.
Scientist Melinda Maxfield, PhD, conducted research on drum beats used during rituals of ancient cultures and found that they generally beat at a steady rate of 4.5 beats per second. This consistent beat induces a trance-like state for the tribe, due to the brain shifting into a 4.5 beats-per-second brainwave frequency, which is a low Theta brainwave state.
Barbara J.Crowe says that from a physiological perspective, drumming creates this effect in the listener because of the action of the reticular activating system (RAS) located in the brainstem. This structure alerts the brain to incoming sensory stimulation. Loud, repetitive sound such as drumming floods the brain with input and overrides the other sensory channels. Normal brain activity is suppressed, and the consciousness is freed to explore other forms of perception.
It is known that “through the use of repetitive drumming and chanting, Tibetan monks, Native American shamans, Hindu healers and master Yogis have been able to induce specific brainwave states for transcending consciousness, healing, concentration and spiritual growth.”
I also believe that singing bowls can help us to enter altered states of consciousness. Along with rhythms produced by striking the edge of the bowl, the vibrations and tones slow down breathing, brain waves and heart rates, producing a deep sense of calm and well-being.
“The first singing bowls were said to be made in Mesopotamia over 5,000 years ago. As such, singing bowls are believed to be one of the most ancient artisan crafts in human history.”
In the himalayan region where singing bowls were also made (from around 2000 years ago) “singing bowls could be found inside monasteries and homes, it was said that monks were not allowed to discuss anything about these bowls. As a matter of fact, the monks’ sacred text, called the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, also contained no information about the bowls. Anecdotal references say that Tibetan lamas and monks used these bowls for secret, sacred rituals. It is even said that these rituals were so spiritual in nature that it gave the monks the ability to astral project and travel into other realms and dimensions.”
“One study published in the Journal of Evidence-Based Integrative Medicine found that an hour long sound meditation helped people reduce tension, anger, fatigue, anxiety, and depression while increasing a sense of spiritual well-being. The sound meditation used a range of Tibetan singing bowls, crystal singing bowls, gongs, Tingshas (tiny cymbals), dorges (bells), didgeridoos, and other small bells. The main instrument used was the singing bowls for 95% of the session. People who had never done sound meditation experienced significantly less tension and anxiety afterward, as well as those who had done it before.” (The Healing Power of Sound as Meditation by Marlynn Wei, M.D., 2019, para. 6, PsychologyToday.com)
For my project I rented the space at the Yoga Mill in Galashiels. The sessions happened on three consecutive Tuesdays, on the 22nd of February, 1st and 8th of March from 7pm - 8:30pm. I advertised the sessions on Facebook and I used Bookwhen as my booking system. From the 16 people booked in, only 10 showed up.
In the first session I simply offered a 45 minutes sound journey. On the second I taught them how to do a shamanic journey and we did two journeys that evening. In the 3rd session we attempted to bring the two together. At the end of each session they answered a questionnaire so I would be able to compare the results at the end of the project.
As I predicted, a person is able to do a shamanic journey during a sound journey, as long as the person knows how to do a shamanic journey and has a clear intention to do so at the beginning of the session.
In the group of ten people only three knew how to do a shamanic journey.
5.1 First session - Sound Journey
In this session I offered a 45 minute sound journey. As you would in any sound journey the participants were asked to lie comfortably and to simply relax and enjoy the sounds. I also asked them to be curious about the sounds that pleased them, the ones that triggered them and to simply enjoy the process with the curiosity of a child.
Most of the participants had never taken part on a sound journey and felt super relaxed at the end of it. From the group 6 out of 10 said they entered an altered state of consciousness, 10 out of 10 felt relaxed, and 10 out of 10 felt physical sensations. From the participants 5 out of 10 saw colours, 6 saw imagery, 4 saw shapes, 3 met allies and/or guides and one saw nothing. From the 10 participants 2 heard voices, 5 received messages, 2 received gifts from their guides and 7 had relevant insights.
In this journey the instruments I used were aura chime, singing bowls, crystal bowl, my voice, rain stick, thunder maker, ocean drum, rattle, peruvian flute and frame drum. At the end of the sessions none of the participants said that they had gone on a shamanic journey, including those who knew how to journey.
5.2 Second Session - Shamanic Journey.
To begin this session I firstly gave an introduction to shamanism.
I spoke about the core principles of shamanism and about shamanic journey. I explained to them that shamanic journey is the heartbeat of all shamanic cultures and that anyone can journey, they might not journey on their first journey, but that it is a technology that is available to us all and that with time and practice they would be able to journey.
I also explained that for the journey to be successful it is necessary that we have a clear intention - a sentence that we say just before journeying that expresses our intention.
Once they all asked their questions and I made clear the process of shamanic journey, we began. I used my Remo 22” Buffalo Frame Drum to drum for them.
On this evening we did two shamanic journeys, the first journey was to the lower world, the intention for the first journey was ‘I journey to the lower world to explore it and to see if there is an ally there for me’. The journey lasted 15 min and nine of ten were able to journey to the lower world and to find an ally.
For the second journey we journeyed to the upper world. The intention for the second journey was ‘I journey to the upper world to explore it and to see if there is a guide in human form there for me’. The shamanic journey lasted 15 minutes. From the ten participants nine were able to journey to the upper world and find a guide.
At the end of the session I paired them up so they could share their experiences with each other and I also opened the space for anyone who would like to share their experience with the group. Most of the participants did go on a journey, 9 out of 10. Those who have journeyed found it very interesting, some were wondering whether they journeyed or made it all up themselves. I explained that shamanic journeying is very practical and that it is only with practice and by seeing the results of the journeys in their daily life that they will learn to trust in the process of shamanic journeying.
In this session 8 out of 10 said that they entered an altered state of consciousness, 7 felt relaxed and 6 had felt physical sensations. From the participants 6 out of 10 saw colours, 9 saw imagery, 5 saw shapes and 9 met guides/allies, 1 saw nothing. From the group 4 out of 10 heard voices, 7 received messages, 3 received gifts and 6 received valuable insights.
5.3 Shamanic Sound Journey
We were all quite excited and curious to see what would come out of this session!
The intention for the shamanic sound journey was ‘I journey to non-ordinary reality to explore, to meet my ally and to see if he/she/it has a gift for me’.
For this journey everyone chose to lay down, as they did in both past sessions, apart from the woman who didn’t manage to do a shamanic journey in the previous session, she remained seated which allowed her to move with the sounds throughout the session. Once everyone was ready I began the sound journey.
I started with the drum, which I played for five minutes, followed by the rattle for about 3 minutes. After the rattle I moved to the singing bowls followed by the crystal bowl and my voice. I then weaved in the ocean drum and rain stick, followed by the chimes. To bring everyone back from the shamanic sound journey I used first the rattle for about two or so minutes and then the drum. I also used my voice with the drum.
This journey lasted for 45 minutes in total.
This time, everyone was able to go on a shamanic journey.
. After everyone had responded to their questionnaire we had time for sharing and discussing the difference between journeying with the drum and journeying during a sound bath. Some thought that with the drum the journey was more continuous and that because of the change of instruments they felt that they were jumping from one place to the other. Others preferred journeying with all different instruments, they felt that the sounds weaved the journeying process, helping them to move through non-ordinary reality.
On this journey 9 out of 10 felt that they entered an altered state of consciousness, 8 out of 10 felt relaxed and 8 felt physical sensation. From the participants 8 out of 10 saw colours, 9 had imagery, 6 saw shapes and 8 met allies/guides. From the 10 of the 5 heard voices, 9 received messages, 6 received gifts and 8 had insights.
It is possible for someone to do a shamanic journey whilst taking part in a sound journey. This is likely because both sound and shamanic journeys involve changes in brain waves of participants
It is important to understand that for it to happen consciously a person must know how to go on a shamanic journey and have a clear intention to do so.
I do believe that people who never learned about shamanic journeying will be able to experience non-ordinary reality during a sound journey. However the journey won’t be consciously experienced and thus may be possibly dismissed.
6.1 Interesting observations
Looking at the questionnaires and also speaking with participants I realised that 10 out of 10 people felt relaxed during the sound journey, but only 8 felt relaxed after the ‘shamanic sound journey’. Because the intention was to relax and receive the sound they were able to do so. When the intention changed into going on a shamanic journey a few weren’t able to relax possibly because they have taken a more active role to be able to journey or because the journey itself wasn’t relaxing. I find this valuable information because if I want to create a space for people to only come and relax I wouldn't mix both shamanic journey and sound journey, I would offer a sound journey only.
If my aim is to have participants to look for insights and messages for situations in their life, or from the elements, from the moon, from allies or guides for example I would then focus on a shamanic sound journey, with a set clear intention before starting the sound journey.
Something I found interesting is that the only person who wasn’t able to do shamanic journey in the second session found it much easier to journey during the ‘shamanic sound journey’. She told me that she had tried to do shamanic journeying many times, but she wasn’t able to. For the ‘shamanic sound journey she chose to sit down and found that all the different sounds helped her to go on a shamanic journey. Sitting also allowed her to move with the sounds and the journey itself. In shamanic cultures quite often the shamans will be moving and describing their journey to the community as they journey, some people prefer to move rather than remain still whilst undertaking a shamanic journey.
When looking at altered state of consciousness (ASC) in the graph we can see that people are more likely to enter it when they have the intention to do so. One of the attendees wasn't sure whether or not they had entered an altered state of consciousness. I have decided to leave her as a “NO”, hence why there are only 8 confirmed ASC in the 2nd graph of sound journey and 9 in the 3rd graph of ‘shamainc sound journey’. In my opinion if this person has gone on a shamanic journey she must have entered an altered state of consciousness to do so.
Another interesting observation is that 10 out 10 had physical sensations during the sound bath, compared to 6 on the shamanic journey and 8 on the shamanic sound journey. I will bring forward the idea that on the sound journey the only intention was to receive the sound, so participants were completely open to it whilst on the following two sessions their focus and intention was on going on a shamanic journey, so they weren’t intentionally open to receiving sound.
7. The Power of intention
As I wrote the results for my project it became very clear the power of intention on sound journeys.
Intention meaning - Noun (from the dictionary)
An act or instance of determining mentally upon some action or result.
The end or object intended; purpose.
Individuals can do amazing things when animated by intention and purpose. Carlos Casteneda says, "In the universe there is an immeasurable, indescribable force which shamans call intent, and absolutely everything that exists in the entire cosmos is attached to intent by a connecting link."
As a yoga teacher I understand that two people can be doing the same posture, but if the intention they hold is different what they receive from it will be different. The same goes for sound journeys.
Jonathan Goldman in his book ‘Healing Sounds - The Power of Harmonics’ says “Frequency plus intention equals healing” this emphasises the power our intention has in what we do. Every action we perform has a conscious or unconscious intention behind it. We can see the principle of intention at work when a mother sings her baby to sleep. In a Sound Healing treatment, the sound carries our intention to the person receiving treatment and in the shamanic journey we must have an intention to be able to do so.
Intention is the key to what we want to create.
I want to share my deep gratitude to the ten participants that have joined me and committed to the three sessions at the Yoga Mill. I am grateful for their time and their trust in my capacity for holding them in a safe space as we explore sound journey and shamanic journey. The ten participants are, Jan Barr, Sophie Morris, Heather Mackay, Georgi Ivanov, Susan Steele, Barbora Hovorkova, Catherine Drysdale, Alexa Seagrave, Vivienne Louise Walker and Rachel Tisdall.
I also want to acknowledge Alistair, my husband for his support, giving me the space and time to focus on learning one more skill and for reading over and correcting this project for me.
Last, but not least, my deepest gratitude to Suzy Nairn for her teachings, her guidance and support throughout the course and for bringing forth the idea for this project.