PTSD and Shamanic Initiation

I woke up repeatedly last night in IBS pain and despair. This has not been an uncommon experience since getting off meds in 2012. I keep reminding myself of the message I received in a dream a year ago.

No way am I going to bore you with all the details. I remember Lawrence Saunders listing the top ten ways to instantly lose a reader and describing a dream was number one.

But since it inspired this piece, I feel I need to include it. I’ll sum it up in one sentence:

I was accepted as a fire fighter and told, by marvelously loving, luminous firemen, that what I was going through – releasing buried trauma energy and pain — was my initiation.

I didn’t ask them what I was being initiated into. I automatically assumed it was firefighting, (which, by the way, is a career path I never considered – although I admire and appreciate firemen. My husband was one.)

Anyhoo, when I am in a lot of pain, I try to remind myself of that dream and have faith I’m on a meaningful journey.

I believe there is a purpose to our suffering.

Once upon a time, I did not believe this. I had no spiritual life. I did not believe in the paranormal. I did not believe in spiritual intervention — for surely, I thought, if there was an Interventionist God, He would have intervened during the Holocaust, anytime children were abused, etc.

But then my meds stopped working and all heck broke loose. I thought I’d lose my mind with apparitions, pre-cognitive dreams, psychic moments, messages from spirits who passed, and visits from spirit animals. Reality forced me to have a change of heart and open my mind.

The nature of being is still a mystery to me, but I do know this PTSD life is not all there is.

So if what I’m going through is an initiation, what does that mean? And is it shamanic?

From what I’ve read, initiation is a turning point or crossroads on a journey of potential transformation. You leave the path you were on and take up another.

A crisis usually marks the beginning of shamanic initiation. It can be a trauma, serious illness or some involuntary experience or condition that disrupts a person’s life and transforms them so that they are irrevocably changed and have no choice but to see the world and themselves in an entirely new way. Joseph Campbell said they have a psychological break with reality. This is followed by alienation, isolation and despair, and often a nostalgia for the safe, certain world they once knew.

There is also a lot of fear because they don’t know what’s going on. They’re making their way in the dark. Their health unravels in unpredictable ways. They become uncomfortably aware of all their character flaws. That which previously brought comfort no longer does.

This kind of initiation isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a process over time with crisis points, dark nights of the soul, and periods where nothing seems to change.

Hank Wesselman says this initiation of tests, trials and tribulations, aka the “shamanic illness”, comes after the experiencer is involuntarily drawn into a direct, transformative relationship with Death, usually in the form of a spirit who acts as teacher and guardian and invites the potential shaman to experience the immense Power of the Universe, which includes entry into the Other World.

Whatever order in which all this happens, one way or another, the initiate hooks up with a spirit guide and journeys into non-ordinary reality, returning enlightened to help others — although they don’t have to. It’s their choice.

I think a lot of people with PTSD might be familiar with aspects of this experience of “shamanic illness” or initiation, given the change in a person’s soul and consciousness after trauma. I imagine a not insignificant amount of people with PTSD have the potential to become great healers, if they don’t block out reality with drugs and alcohol.

It would be so cool to be a healer. I’d love to heal people. But I don’t think I have the shamanic calling at this point. I certainly don’t have the healer’s ability and I definitely have not met the Angel of Death.

I know I’m being initiated into something. I just don’t know what.

 

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