Shamanic Revival: The Spirit Boat
My dreaming teacher Vidar calls the spirit boat a tradition with many rituals and ceremonies, comparable to the one with the medicine wheel. This ceremony teaches one to observe the cosmic assemblage point which is a crucial element in shamanistic knowledge according to my teacher.
“You become conscious of your connection to the Earth and the universe and it gives you an image of your totality.”
“Vidar clearly defines the trip to me. “Guided by shamanic drums you row along the river upstream in a heightened state of perception towards the dwelling place.
The ritual always starts late in the afternoon. You navigate in the middle of the river to be able to see the reflection of the stars – a strong medicine for enlightenment – in the water.
“Why do I need to row upstream first?” I ask.
He continues: “The spirit paddle absorbs the experience. You can compare it to the shield of medicine. In the beginning, you look at the symbolism and after the journey, you look at it again and discover that it is liberally filled with personal medicine, colors, and symbols. The spirit boat is a rich experience to release your resistances and stimulate you to continue on this path.”
Vidar directs me to the left side of the deerskin and places four large pebbles next to me. Then he goes to the other end of the deer. To visualize the outline of the spirit boat we both place four big pebbles along each side and we try to do this simultaneously. Vidar places a cushion in the front and at the back of the boat and asks me to take place in the front.
At his cue, I take the paddle which drifts up from the water. I look at it in detail, it is carved with heads and animal figures. It starts at the top with a head of a white man with a green hat who sticks his tongue out in a silly or funny way. Right below it, I see the head of a black man with his mouth wide open.
The white and the black figureheads both remind me of the “Gaper,” an old-time pharmacy symbol (a colorful bust of a man with a pill on his tongue, that was placed over the door of the old-time Dutch pharmacies and is still seen today). Below that there is a snake curled around the oar, followed by the head of a tiger showing his teeth dangerously. Together with a crane, he is the last figure.
Vidar and I use our paddles to push us from the waterfront and start rowing upstream as fast as we can. There is reinforcement from an Indian paddling in the front of us to the left. He has long lank hair, short bangs, a red band around his head, and is dressed in a waistcloth. When I describe him afterward my travel companion recognizes him as a Tlingit Indian.
Many kilometers down the river we pull the canoe on the shore. I look out over the open plain with a hill in the distance on which a row of trees stand. We climb the hilltop at high speed. Vidar asks me to choose the tree that appeals to me most. I choose the one on the far right, a bare birch tree with branches that stick out questioningly towards the cloudless blue sky.
Vidar asks me to stand in the tree. Under his directions my feet become merged in the tree’s roots, the rest of my legs and my torso become one with the trunk and my arms and hands automatically stretch out like the branches. Earth-energy runs from the roots and my feet upwards and cosmic energy enters my crown through the branches.
The energies meet somewhere halfway through my chest and together they form a cosmic assemblage point. I compress the energy into a ball increasing the pressure more and more until it is followed by an explosion and millions of enlightened parts of energy shoot out in every direction. Vidar tells me that the released energy is used by Shamans for healing and promises to tell me more about it at a later stage.
We descend the hill, walk over the plain back to the river and push the boat from the waterfront. With the Indian in front we navigate the river and effortlessly go downstream. Before we get out I look at the paddle once more and notice a salamander has been added who studies all the other carved heads and figures up close.
I turn the paddle around and discover the colors white-red-white beneath each other, a painted white, red and a black feather below that and the profile of a chief with an impressive headdress made of eagle feathers.
Vidar listens attentively as always, nods once in a while and is silent. “What is exactly the meaning of those figures and symbols?” I finally ask. “It is not about the meaning,” he replies. “It is an exercise in summoning the signs and symbols and tonight you have made a start. You can use the strength, or the healing vibration of the symbols by drawing spiritual objects on your own body or on someone else,” he concludes.”