THE GREEN AND BURNING TREE:
A FAERY SHAMAN'S HANDBOOK
by Tira Brandon-Evans
Shamanism is the world's oldest spiritual path. We have cave paintings dating back to the Stone Age showing shamans dressed in animal skins and antlers, surrounded by the animals, just as they are depicted today. Shaman means 'spirit-walker' or 'walker between the worlds'. A feminine form -shamanka - we do not generally use. The word shaman comes into our language from Siberia. It was only in modern times that anthropologists brought the term into general usage. Some have said that to apply the term shaman to non-indigenous people is really just 'ripping off' their ancient spiritual practices and beliefs. It is true that when one hears the word shaman the picture most usually called to mind is that of an elderly American Indian wearing a mask or face paint and beating a drum. In reality, most First Nations 'shamans' do not use that term at all. They prefer the term Medicine Man or Medicine Woman. Shamanism is practised all over the world and no one clan or tribe, people or nation can claim to have the exclusive right to practice and teach the shamanic traditions. Nevertheless, it is important that each clan and tribe, each nation and people teach their own traditions.
Shamanism is more correctly termed a spiritual path rather than a religion for several reasons. First, the word religion usually implies a standardised body of belief. While it is true that shamanists throughout the world hold the same general beliefs, there is no system of standardization, unless one considers Harner's groundbreaking work in the field to be an attempt at such a system. Secondly, in a religion there is usually a credo as a statement of what the all followers of that particular religion ought to believe. Although the shamanic worldview and the spiritual values arising from that view are very similar the world over, this view and these values do vary widely from place to place and epoch to epoch. Finally, most religions have rulebooks, standards of behaviour that must be strictly followed in order to obtain the final goal of that religion - whether that goal is salvation, enlightenment, or eternal union with Deity. Shamanists do not generally see the world in terms of sin and grace but rather in terms of conduct that is honourable and/or dishonourable, noble or ignoble, thus allowing each individual to express their own ethics in accordance with their own conscience.
Shamanism is based on the belief that everything: the deer and the forest, the spider and the web, the salmon and the pool, the bee and the flower, the flame and the hill, the rainbow and the crystal, the serpent and the eagle, the winds of heaven and the earth beneath our feet, you and I and everyone and everything are all one thing. All is one, One is all, and the One and the All are contained within the heart and mind of the Dreamer of the Shining Dream. Shamanists believe there are worlds other than the one we see about us and experience with our physical senses. We believe that each of those worlds is inhabited by otherworldly created beings. We believe that through spiritwalking the shaman can enter those Otherworlds. All over this world, from Siberia in the North to Africa in the South, from Mongolia in the East to British Columbia in the West, shamans speak of the Great Tree, the World Tree, the Tree of Life, the Axis Mundi.
The roots of the Great Tree grow down into the Underworld. The trunk grows in Middle Earth and the branches spread into Upperworld. Underworld is within the Earth. This region bears no resemblance to the Christian's hell. The Underworld is lit by the stars within the Earth. Here dwell the ancestors and ancestral totems. Shamans travel to Underworld to learn the deep wisdom contained within blood and bone, wisdom traditioned to us from the Ancestors by way of the pattern of life itself, DNA. Middle Earth is the spiritual dimension of this world. This is the realm of the faerys, devas, elementals, animal guides and dragons. Here we learn how to use the energies of this Earth for healing and balancing others, our Mother Earth and ourselves. Upperworld surrounds Middle Earth in the same way that Middle Earth surrounds Underworld. The Upperworld is also called the Shining Country or the Bright Realm. Here dwell the Shining Folk and the Gods and Goddesses our Ancestors called upon. Here we learn all spiritual truths and to lift our eyes to the stars.
Long, long ago, in the dawn times all tribes were hunter/gatherers. We all lived nomadic lives within our territories. If you could become aware of your lives you in those times you would understand how you hunted the fur folk, trapped the fin and feather folk, and gathered the green folk. All fed you. After a time you died and your body returned to the elements and was food for the green folk. The green folk you fed, fed the fur and fin and feather folk. And these feed your descendants who also die in their time. Thus, the great circle of life was maintained. Thus, the great circle of life is maintained, even though we have forgotten this.
In those dawn times, it was very important for the folk to know where the deer and the boar, the salmon and the goose, could be easily found. Travelling to the Inworld, the shaman spoke with the animal spirits to discover where hunters could find those animals who were willing to share their lives with the folk. The shamans also brought back news from the Inworlds, stories of the animals and the elementals, stories of the Shining Folk, the High and Lordly Ones. In times of trouble or need, they returned from the Inworlds with advice from the Ancestors. The shaman also met with the Green Folk in the Shining Countries. From them shamans learned the healing properties of the herbs and which plants were willing to share their lives with us. Above all, the shaman was and is a mediator between this and Otherworlds. Today, this is the Great Work of the Shaman: To stand where all worlds meet and dwell in the eternal, sacred shining moment at the heart of All That Is and know you stand on sacred ground that everything is sacred and to be love.
In past times becoming a shaman was simple. When a child showed signs of unusual shamanic abilities the clan's shaman would go to that child's family and ask to be allowed to raise the child. The child was taught the shamanic wisdom of their tribe or clan. Today, it is not as easy to develop one's shamanic gifts. It is hard to find a teacher, especially if you are of European descent. You may study what is called core shamanism, which includes the methods of Michael Harner. You may study with a First Nations or Aboriginal Medicine Man or Medicine Woman. Unfortunately, many of European descent have found that these paths eventually lead to dead ends. Core shamanism is generic and there is no such thing as a generic Ancestor. The paths of the First Nations folk lead to the tepees, hogans and wickiups of their Ancestors. Unless you have the good fortune to be of both European and First Nations ancestry, you cannot make the deep connections that the shaman must make with their Ancestors. These connections can only be made through the blood and through the bone, through the DNA.
In this life, your ancestors consist of all the human beings from whom you are descended. Who you are, the very pattern of who you are - your DNA - comes to you from your ancestors. Through the vehicle of DNA, your ancestors are physically and psychically present in your blood, your bone, in every cell of your body. How does this fit in with reincarnation? If we have lived many times before and in many different cultures and ethnic groups, can we not connect to the Ancestors along any path? The answer here is both 'yes' and 'no'. One needs to consider this fact: you chose to be born, in this life, in the physical body you presently occupy. Moreover, that physical body contains the DNA patterns of those who were the ancestors of your physical body. You could have chosen to be born in Tibet or India. You might have chosen to be born into a family of First Nations folk or Australian Aborigines but you did not. Given this, perhaps it is best to trust your choice and learn to walk in the paths of your present-life physical ancestors.
So, just who are your Celtic ancestors? What is their history? About 5000 years ago, around the time the Great Pyramid was being raised in Egypt, in an area that we today call the Russian Steppe, there lived many groups of people who all spoke languages that had a common root. Today we call this family of languages Indo-European languages and the earliest form we have of the Indo-European languages is Sanskrit. This language is the mother of almost all of the tongues today spoken in India and Europe, hence the term Indo-European language or IEL. The Indo-European language speakers who lived in the Russian Steppe were generally pastoral, keeping herds of sheep, cattle or horses. They did not practice agriculture to any great extent. They do not seem to have been a genetically homogenous group but to have been bound together by their common languages and customs. They were clever metal workers and loved bright colours. It was not nice to have them as neighbours because they were aggressive and inclined towards raiding their neighbours herds and flocks.
Sometime around the 2nd millennium BCE, for reasons now unknown, but perhaps related to changes in climate, these early IEL speakers began to migrate out of the Russian Steppe. Some travelled south, down into India. Some travelled south and west, into Afghanistan and then even further west into Europe. They eventually settled a huge area extending from Ireland and Northern Spain in the west to Transylvania, the Black Sea coasts, Galatia and Anatolia in Turkey in the east. By the time they were conquered by the Romans these Steppe Culture descendants had developed into many tribes, among them being the Britons, Gauls, Toii, Galatians, and Celtiberians. Their languages survive today as Irish Gaelic, Scots Gaelic, Manx, Welsh, Breton, and Cornish.
Some of our oldest archaeological evidence of the Celtic Culture is found at Hallstatt in Austria where the graves of Celtic chieftains, dated to around 700 BCE, have been uncovered. The Hallstatt was an Iron Age culture and the gravesites reveal that the Hallstatt People traded with the Greeks. Beautiful examples of bronze and pottery vessels have been discovered. The Hallstatt culture extended from Bavaria to Bohemia and depended on the Rhône, Seine, Rhine and Danube rivers as avenues of trade. One of the earliest of the Celtic peoples to use iron, the Hallstatt folk conquered the other Celtic tribes around them and introduced iron working to their neighbours. Around the 5th century BCE the La Tène culture flourished in the Rhine valley. Pieces bearing the distinctive, stylised bird and animal designs of the La Tène were used in trade with the Etruscans, the forerunners of the Romans, who had replaced the Greeks as the dominant civilisation in the Mediterranean. This relationship between the Celts of the La Tène period and the Etruscans lasted until the latter were subjugated by the Romans.
In the year 390 BCE the Celts sacked Rome. For about one hundred and sixty years roving Celtic war bands raided the Italian peninsula and Sicily. In 335 BCE, Celts living near the Adriatic Sea sent ambassadors to treat with Alexander the Great. Only fifty-six years later, in 279, the Celts sacked Delphi but were driven back by the Aetolian Greeks. Their penchant for annoying their neighbours was to be their undoing. Rome established supremacy over the Mediterranean around 192 BCE and in 124 the Romans conquered Celtic territories in Provence. Provence lay beyond the Alps, in modern day France, which had until then served as a bastion against invasion.
At the beginning of the Roman Conquest, the independent Celtic-speaking peoples controlled much of Europe. Their territories extended from the Rhine River and the Alps westward to the Atlantic Ocean. If the only threat had been Roman, our ancestors would probably have been able to maintain their independence. There were, however, Germanic tribes in the east moving westward towards the Rhine. They first attacked the Boii, a Celtic tribe of Bohemia. During this period, many Celtic tribes moved west of the Rhine seeking refuge with their neighbours. In 58 BCE, this concentration of tribes allowed Julius Ceasar to sweep into the area and annex all of Gaul.
As war and conquest devastated the Celtic peoples in Europe, many tribes and individuals sought refuge in the West beyond the sea, migrating into Britain and Ireland, seeking to escape the Roman terror. Here they were sheltered by their Pretanni and Scotti cousins and remained, for the most part free, until the final dark days of the Roman conquest of Britain. This conquest was finally accomplished at Mona, present day Anglesey, when the Roman legions over ran the last bastion of Druidry in Britain. Only in Ireland and the Isle of Man, the wilds of Scotland and Wales, and in Brittany did the old ways linger throughout the centuries.
After the Romans came the Saxons and Normans. Our ancestors were also greatly influenced Christian doctrines. Until our present generation, it was assumed that the Celtic peoples, unlike all of the other peoples on this fair Earth, had no shamanic tradition. Recent scholarship, however, suggests otherwise. Through careful study of ancient texts, we have come to see that our Celtic ancestors did, indeed, walk the path of the shaman. Today, Celtic Shamanism is a path based on the Faery Faith of the Celtic peoples of Western Europe and especially of Britain, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Cornwall, Isle of Man and Brittany.
The Faery Faith is the belief that everything in this and otherworlds is alive. That each thing is possessed of its own soul or spirit. This belief is called animism and was prevalent in the Western world before the advent of the Christian religion, which insists that only man has a soul or spirit and that everything else in the world has been placed here for the use of mankind. This attitude, that humankind is superior to all of the rest of creation, does not prevail in those parts of the world were animistic beliefs are still held. Those who follow the Faery Faith believe that faerys are beings who occupy another world or dimension that lies close to our own. Associating faerys with small, insect winged beings, such as Disney's Tinkerbell, is a modern misconception regarding the Fair Folk. Although there are races of small faerys, others appear to be as large as we are. There are also gigantic faerys the size of trees and of mountains. Sometimes they appear as beautiful shining people with rainbow auras about their heads and shoulders. These are often called the Shining Ones or the Shining People. They are able to interact with humankind and contact between the faerys and humans was quite common before the advent of Christianity in the Celtic countries. In an effort to wipe out the Faery Faith, the Fair Folk were demonized or else assigned the roles and attributes of Christian angels or saints but they are not demons, angels or saints. The Faerys still exist in the bright realms that lie all around ours. Faery Shamans are able to enter those realms and interact with the Shining Ones.
Faery Shamans follow the spiritual paths of their Celtic Ancestors, just as American Indians follow the spiritual paths of theirs and Australian Aborigines follow the paths of theirs and so on. Each of the Earth's tribes has their own shamanic traditions and their own ways of walking in this and Otherworlds. None of these ways are 'better' or 'worse' than any of the other ways. None of the tribes are 'superior' to the others. We are of different clans and different tribes but all one people.
Some hidebound scholars still contend that there is not and never was any such thing as Celtic Shamanism. To this I reply, "Yes, there is." Shamanism is the world's oldest spiritual path. The fact that we in the West have forgotten our spiritual roots does not mean that those roots are not still growing and flourishing beneath the Earth, waiting to spring into evergreen life if only we will break the ground to allow them freedom once again. For too long the paths have been choked with weeds, the doors sealed and the locks rusted shut. Today many are once more walking those ancient pathways, clearing them for others who will follow. We are rediscovering the keys that will open the locks and throwing wide the doors that open into the secret groves and crystal caves of our ancestors.
Why would anyone today want to walk the path of the shaman? Do we need to know where the animals wait for the hunter in the Greenwood? We can go down to the butcher's or to the super-market when we need meat. Have we the need to know the healing properties of herbs? We can go to the pharmacy when we need medicines. Is there a need any longer for the shaman to stand between the worlds and balance their energies? We have churches made of glass, steel, and stone to provide us with spiritual sustenance instead. Why, then, do we feel so empty? Why do our bodies sicken and our spirits faint within us? Why do we seek the paths of wisdom so frequently in the camps of other tribes, only to discover that their ways are closed to us, their doors barred? It is because we have forgotten the paths to our own Ancestral wells of wisdom. Long ago, we bolted the doors and locked them and then we tossed away the keys that would open them once again. Because we no longer walked in the old ways, the paths to the Otherworlds grew choked with weeds, trees grew up, and now we can barely discern where those paths led.
It is not too late! Today many are working to clear the choked pathways and rediscover the lost keys. A few of the rusted locks have been opened. Some of the ancient doors are now flung wide to admit the spiritwalker to the Faery Realms. Once again, the Faery voices call to us. If you hear that song, high and clear, ringing like silver bells across space and time, know that they are calling to you. You would not feel drawn to Faerie if they were not calling you. Come; tread the paths of Avalon and sail to Tir na nOg. Shelter beneath the Green and Burning Tree. Discover the ancient ways and return to the wisdom of your ancestors. The end of your journey is in the land of Heart's Desire. May you walk always in peace and may you and yours receive one hundred thousand blessings along the Faerie Way.
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From: The Green and Burning Tree: A Faery Shaman's Handbook, copyright © 2001, Tira Brandon-Evans. All rights reserved. International copyright laws prohibit reproduction of or distribution of this page by any means, electronic or otherwise, without first obtaining the written permissions of the copyright holders. We retain legal counsel to enforce our copyrights.
Copyright © 2003, Elder Grove Press and content providers. All rights reserved. International copyright laws prohibit reproduction of or distribution of this page by any means, electronic or otherwise, without first obtaining the written permissions of the copyright holders. We retain legal counsel to enforce our copyrights.