A shaman can enter the spirit realm via trance, which is oftentimes induced using rhythmic percussion (a drum or rattle) and/or shaman songs; this is the safest and purest method of reaching these altered states of consciousness.
During these trances, the brain enters the Theta brainwave state. The Theta state exists between being awake and asleep — it is where clairvoyance and creativity thrive, and deep spiritual connection can be experienced.
As well, shamans can be guided in their spiritual journeys with the help of various plant medicines. Plant medicines are highly respected and generally brought into awareness by previous communication with spiritual entities; however, shamans also report that the plants, themselves, told them of their power. These plants contain highly psychedelic properties and are oftentimes looked up to as spiritual entities, themselves — for example, Mother Ayahuasca.
Some of the more common plants used in shamanic journeys are Ayahuasca, Iboga, San Pedro cactus, psychedelic mushrooms (though not exactly a plant), Salvia, and Peyote cactus.
During shamanic journeys, there exist a variety of helping spirits; these spirits come in the form of either spirit guides (humanoid beings) or power animals (also plants and insectoids) — they take on these familiar-looking forms in order to better relate with us. Helping spirits guide shamans and spirit travelers through these other worlds and assist them in healing individuals, the community, and the planet.
Power animals play a key role in the shamanic practice. According to shamanic wisdom, every person is born with the spirit of one or more animal. Animal spirits remain with us throughout our lives and help to guide and protect us. They are highly akin to the Christian concept of a Guardian Angel, and are essential guides to any venture undertaken by a shaman.
As well, power animals graciously lend their wisdom and attributes. For example, a Jaguar can teach one to walk fearlessly in the darkness and to pave the path in the midst of chaos. For that, as one moves through life, they can lose old and acquire new power animals, depending on where they currently need guided; it is also quite common for a single individual to have more than one power animal.
Spirit guides tend to come forth in these altered states in human, or humanoid, form. They help to guide shamans and spirit travelers through unfamiliar realms with ease and comfort — they establish a bond and are very trusted. A spirit guide is a teacher, a protector, and also a companion (some shamans even form a spiritual marriage with their spirit guides). These guides are oftentimes the gods and goddesses of the community, as well as ancestors wishing to help.
Not only do these spirits work with the shamans for the purpose of healing, they also provide wisdom when and where it is needed. Shamans sign a kind of spiritual contract with these spirit guides: “When I call, Spirit listens. When Spirit calls, I listen.”
The 3 worlds of the Shamanic Journey
In shamanic cosmology, the world is divided into three equal parts: the lower, middle, and upper worlds. These worlds are oftentimes symbolized by images of a “World Tree,” which is commonly referred to as “Axis Mundi.” The roots represent the lower world, the trunk represents the middle world, and the branches represent the upper world — it is the shamanistic trinity. Similar to how every part of the tree is necessary and equal, every world is necessary and equal; each world contains it’s own vibration, wisdom, and methods of healing.
During a shamanic journey, shamans must travel between these 3 worlds to access the wisdom and/or healing methods they need, whether for the individual or the community. Typically, a shaman must travel to the lower and upper worlds through a type of non-physical portal, creating a sense of “popping out” or, “popping through” to these other realms.
Contrary to popular assumptions, the Lower World is not one of shadows and evil goblins — it is in no way the same as the idea of “hell” or “the Underworld.”
Actually, the Lower World is the world of the invisible interconnectedness of nature; it is a place where natural spirits, like our power animals, vibrate and live. It is where all aspects of nature, from mountains, to rivers, to fireflies, can be communed and connected with.
One may experience the lower world, for example, by transporting to an African-like safari scene, where they may commune with spirit animals of recognisable form, such as lions and zebras, or mythological — and even legendary — creatures.
Albeit an Earthly scene, the normal rules of Earthly physics don’t necessarily apply. For that, it is possible to breathe underwater while dancing with whales, fly in the sky with eagles, and even ride river rapids on a giant leaf. Being in this world feels much like a terrestrial lucid dream.
The Lower World is said to be a place of creativity and healing, and, much like a dream, represents the subconscious mind.
The Middle World is the spiritual dimension of our physical world — it is where our ordinary conscious/waking reality resides.
However, it can also be accessed in non-ordinary states; such states include astral projection and remote viewing/seeing. The non-ordinary Middle World is generally where a shaman first enters upon leaving their physical body; it is in this world that they can communicate with spirits that live in this physical reality, such as the spirits of the moon, plants, animals, and living human beings.
However, this is also the world in which “lost souls” often reside — souls that have not yet been able to pass over (popularly called ghosts). In fact, because of these lost souls, there is an entire sector of shamanic training called “psychopomp work,” which aims to help these souls complete their process of crossing-over. The Middle world is a tricky one to travel; spirits met and communicated with in this world are not to be taken seriously, as there are really no moral grounds or standards.
Typically, though, shamans journey to the Middle World to commune with nature (where they usually discover new plant medicines) recover lost and stolen objects, or to do long-distance healing work.
This world is said to be the place of our ego, or our conscious mind.
The Upper World, unlike the Earthly Lower and Middle Worlds, is abstract, imaginative, and other-worldly, often referred to as the “heavens.” It consists of fractals, prisms, and all things geometric and kaleidoscopic. One may experience an emerald green world with pyramids built upon clouds and DNA-looking strands spiraling in and out of the stars in the sky — in the foreground, can be found a spirit guide.
In this world, spirit guides appear in all shapes and sizes: young, ancient, god-like, animal-like, and a mixture of animal and humanoid. It is where star nations, celestial and planetary beings, and angels and archetypes will be found… This world consists of anything and everything one can — and can’t — possibly image.
A shaman’s main purpose for visiting the Upper world is to commune with spirit guides, or spirit teachers. These teachers help shamans in both divination and in healing; their wisdom teaches of our deepest and truest selves and allows us to flower into harmony within ourselves and the greater whole. Shamans go to the Upper World to attain this wisdom; it is where pure Spirit resides, and unlike the Middle World, these spirits can — and should— be taken seriously.
These Upper World spirit teachers are to provide shamans with their education. From the spirit’s perspective, this is an important communion as they are otherwise unable to reach physical, or ordinary, reality.
The Upper World is said to be the place of our higher selves — of our super-conscious that permeates all space and time.