- The inferior man is not ashamed of unkindness
- and does not shrink from injustice
- If no advantage beckons he makes no effort
- if he is not intimidated he does not improve himself
- if good does not accumulate
- it is not enough to make a name for a man
- If evil does not accumulate
- it is not strong enough to destroy a man
- Therefore the inferior man thinks to himself:
- “Goodness in small things has no value”
- and so neglects it
- He thinks
- “Small sins do no harm”
- and so does not give them up
- Thus his sins accumulate until they can no longer be covered up
- and his guilt becomes so great that it cannot be wiped out
- Confucius from Richard Whilhem’s Book of Changes
A common search term that brings viewers to my blog is ‘how long does shamanic initiation take?’ My answer is nearly 20 years, or a full Metonic cycle of the Moon (click here). Most of the grandiose shamanic steps and missteps are made in the very beginning and most of the next twenty years are spent riding the waves rippling out from those actions. Oh, you can hang out your shaman’s shingle offering psychological assistance, solace, and support after a weekend workshop, learn the techniques of acupuncture, herbalism, massage, or midwifery in a year or two, but until you understand the dire consequences of your actions, how they influence the birth and death of those around you as well as yourself, you are dabbling in the shallows and fooling yourself if no one else.
It is easy to do. Parzival went dashing off after his dreams and does acquire a horse and a wife rather promptly. But on the way? Well, having killed off the birds that would guide him, he mistakes the passing knights for god, he rapes and robs the first Lady he meets, insults and deceives the King and Queen, murders the Red Knight, ignores the anguish of the Fisher King, takes, uses, and abuses his gifts from the Grail Castle, abandons his pregnant wife, attacks his only friend, shatters the companionship of the Knights of the Round Table, and finds that his mother died when he left her.
This is not unusual, it may not even be avoidable. Although neo-shamanism is rife with Parzivals completely oblivious to the mayhem they create in their mindless pursuit of gratification, as a stage it is tolerable. Just as parents tolerate the terrible two’s and endure obnoxious adolescents, there is a certain amount of grace carrying neophytes through their first steps. The really serious errors come from assuming that one is both all-powerful and should never be held accountable for their actions. What power we genuinely have is the possibility of choice within limited circumstances and until we are capable of recognizing and acknowledging what is, we can’t even exercise that.
The seventh generation is a popular meme, it is even a brand of ecologically focused cleaning products. But 99% of the people who speak of the seven generation see themselves as the cap on the pyramid. And those people are forever children looking into the past. As infants and well into childhood we are the focus of an infinite number of generations, and we are so engrossed with our own state of becoming that we perceive everything through that lens. It looks kind of like this when I is father and O is mother:
- IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO
- IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO
- IO IO IO IO IO IO IO IO
- IO IO IO IO
- IO IO
- I O
The truth is a little less flattering. We, the living, are a transient bottleneck in the flow of energy through time. That looks something like this:
- ********************Future generations*******************
At any given moment, the living are vastly outnumbered by both the dead and those yet to be born. This is one reason shamans are considered mediators, negotiators, and advocates. Their job is persuade both the set patterns of the ancestral past AND the infinite realms of possibility in the future to focus on the precarious precious fleeting state of the living. In order to be able to do that the shaman has to be able to be present in the here and now. That doesn’t mean they give themselves over to any random impulse that passes by. That means they must be aware of the flow of the energy through the generations, see both their place and yours in that flow, and follow the patterns of their actions as they ripple through time and space.
If you think that is going to win friends and influence people, think again. The second gate in Parzival’s journey (click here) opens when the Moon passes over Antares in what we now call the constellation of Scorpio at the Winter Solstice. Scorpions are not native to Northern Europe, but the Red Fox is plentiful in the north, popular in mythology, and appears as a spy and a villain in both historical characters and folklore. The Red Fox shares many traits with the Scorpionic personality: dark secrets, narrow crevices, hidden poisons, backstabbing enemies and so on.
Combining that with the Winter Solstice, the ending of the Solar Year, makes for an exceptionally dark cold harsh and lonely time. Antares actually translates as ‘against Ares’ and it is the opposite of Ares (or Mars) as the Hero and the Warrior; think Gollum in the Lord of the Rings instead.
Even realizing that it is his petty, small, hidden, grasping, mean-spirited, self-deceiving, impulses that are deadly, the Hero can, at best, ride the waves he has created until he finds his still point, the central impulse that has set it all in motion. When a pebble is dropped into still water, concentric waves ripple out. The more stones that are thrown, the more waves, ripples, and interference patterns are created. It often takes that degree of chaos to bring the Hero to his knees.
Realizing and understanding mistakes is an essential first step, but thought alone is not enough to actually set things right. As it takes nearly 20 years for the Sun and Moon to return to the same relative positions with each other and the horizon, we can take that as a guide to how long it takes for the opportunity for Parzival to be able to rectify his mistakes to arise. Then, he has to allow the Gollum part of his nature to act. For it is not the wise, the good, the beautiful, the faithful, the doubting, the hero, the victim, or even the villain, that can bring about change. They are too invested in the story.
It is returning the most primal impulses of our existence to a pure and undistorted expression of awareness that heals and transforms. It is the Gollum within who precipitates genuine change and drops us, willing or not, into a different realm, into the fires of transmutation:
How are you to persuade the inner Gollum of your clients to journey towards and leap into the alchemical fire if you have not emerged from it yourself?
So I will say it again: the shamanic initiation in its most basic universal form consists of learning to perceive and acknowledge what is. And for all in the physical realms of the body, that takes time.