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  • Karen Hamilton-Viall

Treading the Shamanic Path

Updated: Aug 11, 2021

In this interview, we explore shamanism with John. He's been interested in shamanism since he was a young man and has been practising it for many years. I'm indebted to him for taking the time to speak with me and to my friend Helen for providing me with more erudite questions than my own:

Many people may have heard of shamanism but don't really understand what it is. Can you describe what a shaman is, please? If I was going to describe myself, I would put myself into the reluctant, dragged into the underbrush type shamanic worker because sometimes you do this work because you just don't have any other choices. Just to clarify I do not call myself a shaman. It's different for everybody. It's definitely a curious thing to get yourself involved in.

In a nutshell, it's somebody who communicates with and has spirit helpers, they help you with what you do. There are lots of different types of shamans. I've got a load of books here. This one is by Michael Harner and is called The Way of the Shaman. Michael Harner is probably the grandfather of modern shamanic practice as a therapy. The curious thing about Harner is that I read one of his books when I was a schoolboy, which was The Jivaro: People of the Sacred Waterfalls (1972). He studied the Jivaro in South America.

It's a really nice intro to shamanic work. He describes the different types of shaman. Have you seen The Green Mile? It's a really interesting film because it's about what you would call a sucking shaman, somebody who draws illness out of a patient and takes it on into himself. Then they have to get rid of it, otherwise, it'll obviously make them very sick. So, there are lots of different ways of working within shamanism. You could leave yourself pretty vulnerable if you're not careful with what we call intrusions, energies that bring on addiction, ill health and such like. One thing that you do as a shaman is remove intrusions from people if you can. You can't always and you can't make promises you'll cure somebody. I saw your question about curing and I think a shamanic worker becomes a kind of channel to help somebody help themselves in a way. There was a really good book, called Imagery in Healing by Jeanne Achterberg which I read back in the nineties. I was doing a lot of studying of imagery as a kind of therapy and these were all related to shamanic work. The inner picture, the work with outside forces and things like that. I feel there are layers within shamanic work. You have to be wary of how you work and the information that you get as well. Spirits are tricksy and you can lull yourself into a false sense of security.

Do you do any healing? That's a hard one. I guess so, but I wouldn't call myself a healer. Not in any way. I often get out of touch with this work and have to re-establish. Curiously enough, before you got in touch with me, I was thinking that I miss shamanic work. It's a bit of a burden in a way, but I love it. I've been fascinated by it forever. Healing wise, I've done cleansing for people. Sometimes all people need is someone to guide them through something. To help them through a shamanic journey. If you do the drumming for them, you're holding space and you have to stop them from falling asleep. I ask questions every now and then, just to keep their attention going and you have to get them back from that space that they're in. You also have to recognise when it's time to bring them back. I once did a session for a friend and ended up drumming for forty-five minutes. Usually, you wouldn't do it for that long, but they really needed that. So much stuff was coming up. I just felt I'll hang on and do the drumming for as long as possible. Half an hour is usually more than enough. What I also noticed at the end was that they couldn't get out, having got into a position in the journey that was not resolvable, This tells you a lot about what's happening with a person when it occurs. I said, "It's time for you to come back." You get them out gently and you change the rhythm of the drum and to get them out of that trance state. If I'm doing a body cleansing with smoke or sound, that's often interesting because you use lots of different things, you can use feathers, stones or a rattle which is a really good tool. When you're working, the client is lying down, and you're working on an energy level. I work with a rattle, and I move around them. I just go with the flow of it, and then you might find that something about a part of their body, a chest, for example, feels different and you end up doing a lot of work there. Afterwards, they might say to you, "Yeah I've always had a bit of a problem there, or I'm just feeling a bit odd." Something like that.

Another aspect of shamanism is soul retrieval. It's a very interesting therapeutic part of shamanic work. If you want to read about it, read Sandra Ingerman's book, Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self. It came out I think in the nineties when shamanism really took off in this country. Think of it like this. As we mosey through life, we meet people who hurt us, damage us and it's about retrieving those fragments that we lose.

You know when someone pisses you off and you're angry for weeks on end about it, this is because what's happened is part of that person may have attached itself to you or taken something from you. You can see if someone needs a soul retrieval because they've lost a fragment, damaged by that person. You would then journey to look for that lost part.

Sometimes the shaman would retrieve the soul part or you get the client to bring it back. One of the first things you do is get them to meet an animal which is going to be their helper and do the searching for you. The inner guide finds the fragment, then brings it back to you. As the person running the session, you take that fragment and blow it back into the person, often through the head or chest.

How did you start with shamanism? I think probably since my teens. If I watched a film about tribes and there was a medicine person, usually a man in those days, I would be fascinated by it as a concept of that spooky world thing, that other world. I used to have really powerful dreams as a child as well as out-of-body experiences/sleep paralysis. They were horrible when I first had those in my early teens. I thought they were just one of the nastiest things that could happen to you as you were trying to get to sleep. They were thoroughly unpleasant.

I liked that animistic thing that people have. That connection with nature. I noticed it when you go into a shopping centre or something like that and if there's a pool there; people do what they've done for thousands of years; they throw coins in. What is it about water that draws us so much? It's not just the fact that it keeps us alive but it's this other connection to waterways that we have probably always had, ever since we started dickering around with our inner space, say for example through dreams. I enjoy seeing sacred wells. These days, they're often associated with the Virgin Mary like at Lourdes. There's one in Ireland I've visited and I went to one in Costa Rica. They're basically all the same. You know, someone sees a vision of The Virgin but the most important thing is, there is a spirit form there, and there is water, and then that becomes a sacred spring. Chances are it has always been a sacred spring, ever since Neolithic times at least. I've always been drawn to that kind of magic place. From my late teens, I was reading self-help books and stuff like that. I got into shamanism properly in the late nineties. That was after an interesting traumatic time. Everything was going wrong around me and that was when I picked up Michael Harner's book. Then I started to understand that I had no way of controlling the messages that I was receiving.

There was a woman I used to work with, I knew what was going on with her; she was in an extremely abusive relationship. The awful part of that was that I was picking up on negative energy. She was being beaten up. I picked that up, and that made me physically sick. So, I had no way of controlling that kind of horrible dream state place. I didn't know how to control them.

The peculiar thing about her was that I could find her in a crowd, and she's the only person I've ever been able to do that with. I remember once, in the underground, I hadn't seen her get in the lift but I picked up she was there and ended up looking straight at her.

She said, "Oh, I was trying to hide."

I replied, "It didn't work, did it!"

That's why I ended up joining a shamanic workshop. At the time it was beneficial, as it grounded me. I left eventually, I could see it was going in the wrong direction for me.

When people get into shamanism, they have medicine objects. We all ended up with them. I'm as guilty as everyone else. What we all ended up doing is having this incredible sort of altar space, but it looked like a bloody shamanic supermarket. It was like "Oh, here's a piece of bone I found in my backyard, it must be shamanic."

Shamanism was like that in the nineties with the people I knew: it was all over the place. People read Michael Harner, they read a few books about native American stuff and almost everything was native American orientated. And that's what we had to go on. I did a vision quest in 1991, that was my first wilderness quest, and I learnt something powerful. If you go into a wild place with a bunch of preconceptions, and you're not open-minded, then all you're going to come away with is a bunch of preconceptions.

On a vision quest, you sit with the land and it does literally talk back to you, one way or the other. I started getting imagery. The interesting thing here is that I saw images appropriate to this land (UK). This is where we have to learn from. If you go out there with your native American mythology, you won't learn anything. We had somebody who did exactly that, they were absorbed in native American imagery and the way it was portrayed in the movies. They went out and did a vision quest, but came back after twenty-four hours and said, "I was expecting grandfather eagle to come and talk to me or papa bear." He'd closed his mind so completely that he was just expecting what I call comic book shamanism. It just didn't work for him. So you know you have to adapt to what you're given.

What would you say the differences are between psychic mediums and shamans? One thing about shamanic work is it's probably the oldest spiritual and psychotherapeutic type of work that's ever been around. I think the two are very similar. I used to work in the homeless sector where there's a phenomenal amount of mental health issues, I met people who said they were chased by spirits.

How our brains work and how we hear voices and how we interact with the spirit world is not always a good arrangement and for many people, it's an extremely bad one. I think if you get drawn into working with Spirit and doing it properly, I think it helps protect you. You can use those skills as a benefit. The methods that you use. I think that mediumship and shamanic spirit work are different sides of the same coin, but they're certainly in the same field because you're still working with spirits.

Whenever I read about spirit guides who interact with mediums they're often humanoid. I find it interesting that many people I've known who've had helpers seem to always latch on to a native American type, medicine man, wise woman, something like that. I don't know why that's normal; I have to kind of accept it. I used to get a bit annoyed about it because it just seemed clichéd but I feel that is obviously how these entities, whatever they are, shift themselves to what you need. Most of my helpers are animals.

I think that's probably the big difference I've noticed so far in chatting to you, the animals, because that doesn't seem to be something that the psychic related to at all. Helen asked, "How do you like to contact and work with your spirit animals?"

I thought that was a good one, it's a very interesting one, because of my relationship with the spirit animals. Your helpers come and go. You may have a helper for a temporary period of time. It's the helper you may need to do a job. Then you might have helpers who become your constant companions. For me, I have three constant companions and all of them have slipped into the real world, or the real world has merged with that entity. I'll try to clarify that because it doesn't make a lot of sense I realise. One of the creatures I relate to a lot is the fox. Foxes are the trickster but the trickster is also the trickster who falls flat on his arse because he does something stupid. He's the trickster who teaches you through trickery but he's also the dog fox, the dog is also a guide of souls. An aspect of shamanic work that's also very interesting, is the role of psychopomp as the guide of souls, the guide of the dead. So there again it brings through another level of what shamanic work involves.

I once saw something which I still smile at. I was waiting for a bus and I saw the most curious thing; a dog looking up at a tree, really looking up high at the tree and I thought “that's you isn't it ?” in a jokey kind of way. I watched that dog, and the most amazing thing was that this tree gave it a stick. Suddenly, a piece of wood fell out of the tree and landed in front of the dog. The dog picked it up and walked away. (Laughing). I love spotting silliness like that.

When I was walking The South Downs Way, I wasn't well prepared; I was knackered. I was carrying too much weight, and it was about six in the morning. I was in the middle of nowhere and this guy walked past me with a black and white dog carrying a stick. They were over a hundred yards ahead of me and suddenly the dog turned around, came back to me and dropped the stick at my feet. As if it was saying, "I think you need this more than I do, mate." Then it turned and walked away. It was weird and I always think it's those experiences that are the really magical ones because they're part of your living mythology when you work with stuff like that. You haven't got to do miracles and all the rest of it, sometimes it's just a really simple little gift like that, that's part of that interaction that you have with the world around you.

The other animal that I work well with is the sheep. Sheep don't get a lot of look in, they just get eaten mostly. I was doing a retreat, and I was coming back one evening and again I was tired. There was this massive ram standing on the same path that I was walking on. I looked at him and I thought, "Man, this is your path. I'm out of here!" I stepped aside, and it trotted past me. That night I shut my eyes, and I saw that same animal. It had changed into a really powerful spirit form that did all sorts of incredible things. So I work with that particular energy.

When you do your first shamanic journey; one of the first things you invariably do is go into the underworld. You have the lower world; you have this world, which is the middle world, middle earth, and the upper world, where you talk to your upper teachers. The lower world is where you meet your animal helpers and that is one of the first principles that you do. You travel to the lower world and find an animal, talk to it, ask it if it wants to be one of your guides and then bring it back. And this is why we use images and parts of animals because we relate to them. You use them for ceremony.

Do they give you thoughts? How does it work, the relationship with the animal? It's an interesting one because yes in a sense you find that if you're doing say a healing ceremony for somebody, then their imagery will come in as helpers if you want them to. For example, the dog, if the dog comes, the silliness of that dog, of the trickster, that will come through into what we think of as the real world.

I think when you do this work there's definitely a blurring of boundaries, of how you interact with everything around you between the spirit world and the real world.

A friend of mine once gave me a bear skull. It came out of a rescued trophy skin that was moth-eaten I took it but it was knackered and it ended up sitting in the loft for two years. I forgot all about it. The jaw had broken apart, and it sat up there in a plastic bag. One day I thought, I've got to do something with that skull. It wasn't a case of I need to do something with the skull, it was that I had to do something for it. So I went up in the attic, brought the skull down and glued the jaw back into place. I then did a ceremony for the bear. There obviously needed to be some interaction between me and bears and that's how that particular relationship started. So I don't think you have a choice about how you do things, how things happen.

Interesting. My friend Helen has seen a black dog since she was a child. Could the dog be connected to shamanism? It would certainly be worth her looking into it. The thing of the black dog, I'm sure you're aware of the stories of Black Shuck as a spirit dog? But what is a spirit dog?

She feels it's helping her. I think she'd know if it was a menacing sort of entity. If it just feels like it's a guardian animal, it's just watching, it's plodding along, just a companion. Sometimes I think these energies just want to be companions. Which isn't a bad thing.

Do you cleanse houses as well? I have done houses. House cleansing is definitely interesting. I did my first house cleansing before I worked with my teacher. I got introduced to that by my friend Mike-not-his-real-name(😊). The curious thing here which I didn't understand was that he'd done house cleanses for a long time, but he fasted before a cleansing. And that seemed ok to me I didn't think it was an issue. When you do a house cleansing, you ask for the owner to get out of your way. You have to clean them to make sure that they're in a good place. You have to work with them. You then do the house and the client would leave you a bit of food to recharge yourself and perhaps a drink of water or spirits of the whiskey kind. Now I did this afterwards. I once cleansed a flat that had some really funky energy. When I finished I did what Mike had shown me and ate some food. When I got home I was really very ill. I started to dry retch, and I had to get rid of that. Despite the fact that it was just dry retching, I stood over the toilet, as part of me knew that what I needed to do was get rid of whatever I'd taken in. When I told this story to my teacher, she laughed at me. She said the problem there was that you had a drink after you finished the work. Because these things hide. “You might have driven it out of the room, but you didn't cleanse the glass that you drank out of, did you? You've got to be very careful with the food that you eat."

My attitude now is to eat before I do the work. You can easily leave yourself open to pretty unpleasant intrusions. I know people sometimes talk about spirits in a bit of twee way but if you don't accept that there's darkness or bad things, then you're going in unprepared. If you're doing shamanic work you've got to be prepared for some pretty crappy things to take place. Some really horrible energies that can latch themselves on to you. They can latch themselves onto whoever it is that you're working with.

Did you practice shamanism a lot before Covid struck? Once or twice a year.

Did people who knew what you did come to you for help? Yeah, I tried doing it as a business. I'm not a good businessman and I had to give up because mostly what I got weren't genuine enquiries. Mostly they were people who wanted free teachings, or people who end up stalking me or things like that. I like to help people; I feel that shamanic or spirit work, whatever you want to call it, should be there for anybody who needs it. Not always somebody who can pay you. Hence being a crap businessman but you know, if somebody needs help, then you give them your help. I realised after a while that there were people who weren't prepared to help other people. They were in it for themselves and I had to give up on it as a business.

I worked with someone who, I later realised, had a pattern of asking for spiritual help, then stalking people who had helped them and then getting somebody else to spiritually attack them. They tried that with me. I just wouldn't do it. I said, "I don't know these people. I don't know what they've done, I'm not doing it because that's against my ethics." You shouldn't be doing it, unless someone openly attacks you and if they do, send their garbage back to them – it’s not yours. I don't have any qualms about doing stuff, because sometimes you have to protect yourself. This person was preying on mediums and psychics. I was constantly receiving phone calls and texts. I did a journey, met them in spirit form and said, "I know what's going on, you're not being bullied, you're the bully! You're the one who bullies psychics who help you. If you don't leave me alone, I'm going to tell everybody what you are." You know what, I never heard from them again. Why that worked, I don't know. It worked.

I have another very curious story. It was a very similar series of events. It took me a while to understand someone was attacking me. It started out as very intense dreams of having to get past a ghost. One of which was very similar to a banshee type spirit. She had a half body floating in the air in front of me. She'd be blocking a path, and I had to get past her and I thought, “What's going on here?” All sorts of things started to happen. I'd dream of being locked out of places, very obviously locked out. One day, this energy attacked me in a vivid dream. It was such a nasty piece of work that I actually punched it in the face. I knew at that point exactly who it was and where the energy was coming from, and I did the same thing as before. I went into a trance state and said, "You need to leave. If you don't leave, I'm going to attack you." The problem stopped after this.

So, you notice what I've done here; I haven't openly attacked any entity that's attacked me. I've given them the option of buggering off. Very rarely have I had to use that as an obvious threat. The only time I actually did any attacking was when I was working with my cancer. I did do a lot of attacking then because I was being physically attacked. It helped me stay focused and positive during a dire time.

You don't always know why something is behaving the way it is, so you have to give it an option. I think I'm a bit too fair to be honest. You have to learn to defend yourself as well, otherwise, you will get completely buggered up.

That's interesting, that ties in with a lot of paranormal shows I've been watching where people talk about shadow entities attacking people and feeding off any problems they have in their lives, particularly if people are down. When you're really down, you become a buffet. I know this because I went through an episode just over twenty years ago. When I came out of that, I had lost pretty much any beliefs. I describe myself as becoming my own apprentice, I had to relearn everything. But one important thing I learned - the more negative you become, the more negativity you attract. I've become a very strong believer in that. You can't be positive all the time, Life doesn't allow you to be like that because it's pants. Once you start digging that hole, of being in a dark place all the time, it gets harder and harder to get out. I call it the Deep Dark Shithole of the Soul. Which I think is actually quite appropriate.

You enter a trance state when you commune with the spirit world. How do you put yourself into a trance? I often use recorded drumming, because it means you can just relax. Otherwise, I drum or use a rattle. Sometimes it's a way of readjusting how you're working with a place. I did a house cleansing quite a few years ago now, and it had once been a school. We were asked to go in and cleanse it. There's one thing we don't do, and that's go charging in there like bulls in china shops and start flashing mirrors and incense and banging away. You don't know what's happening in a place so you get information from the owners, then you go in and get information from the place. It was an enormous site. I have to admit I was not in the right headspace at the time. Someone had annoyed me and that kept intruding, and I had to keep flushing that aside. I was trying to keep myself focused on what was going on. Eventually, I centred myself, The owner was telling us all kinds of stuff, but I just wasn't getting anything. We were in a room and I thought, "This is the one." I almost collapsed into myself, As soon as I did, it was as if there was a child, a little boy, perhaps three or four years old standing next to me and he said, "Don't throw us out, Mister." I thought, "OK!" We then finished there for the day.

This wasn’t about getting rid of stuff, this is about helping and I came up with an idea. The next day we went back and did a very gentle ceremony. The building was an old school, large and with loads of rooms. Each of which had one of those old-fashioned fireplaces that you see in Victorian buildings. We put a tea light and a small bunch of flowers in each fireplace. We did the whole place and left. Of course, the people who owned the house then went and did a séance a few months later. We told them not to, we didn't agree with a séance, because it's not what the place needed. You have to get the feel of a place and keep an open mind. If you don't keep an open mind, you'll always get tricked.

What do you mean by tricked, exactly? Another example of a house cleansing that was not what it appeared. We were given information about a building that had all sorts of funky energy in it. It was Amityville Horror level energy. We thought, there's a bit too much secrecy here. We try not to get too much information, otherwise, it can cloud the way you work. So off we went. We're walking around and we don't say anything to each other, we just walk around. If one of us picks up anything in a room, we just point. So we're not influencing the way each other thinks. We're just wandering around.

All of a sudden, I had the need to lie down. Mike-not-his-real-name(😊) was halfway down a flight of stairs and I suddenly had the most…Have you seen the film Constantine? You know that bit when the demon tries to come through the mirror? I saw that, and that's when I realised things were not what they appeared to be, and as I saw that, Mike started laughing. I said, "This place is ridiculous, this isn't what we were told. I've got images from a movie."

Mike-not-his-real-name(😊) said, "Well, I've got images of a guy who died upstairs. He was sitting on the stairs and said, 'I can't even go to my own funeral'." So, we were misinformed about what was going on there. Our brains had filled in some of the gaps, and part of us realised on some inner level it wasn’t what it appeared to be, which is why silly things occurred. It could have been really unpleasant for both of us, but thankfully it wasn't. Oddly enough, we did a very similar thing as before, flowers and candles. Sometimes entities don't want to move on. They can't move on, for whatever reason. They might be fragments of something that doesn't want to leave. You have to learn to dialogue with what's going on. Leave these people alone, they don't mean you harm, etc. Or if you mean them harm bugger off, kind of thing.

I had an interesting experience in Lincoln Prison. It's a museum now. I walked into one of the exhibit cells, it was empty but as soon as I stepped in, I felt terror. Not my own terror, but whatever was in there was utterly terrified. We had to go out. We went back about twenty minutes later and did a ceremony.

How do the candles and flowers help? I think you're looking at something light for a start, something pleasant and beautiful from the outside world. They felt appropriate. Flowers are used a lot. Flowers are something we've been using for ceremonies for a long time.

Do you do any daily rituals, or is it just something you do a few times a year? Well, I try to do a little something for equinox and solstice times of the year. I'm terrible at becoming disillusioned. I remember just before I started this process with you; I was saying it had been a long time since I'd done any shamanic work and I really miss it; then you got in touch. Well, I think this is its way of working. I don't do a great deal. I have a little space and on that is this little image. It's from South America. It's female on one side and male on the other so it's the Great Mother and the Great Father so each day I turn it so the other side faces out to the room.

What are the tools of your trade? Do you use totemic items? Yes, most people will use something. It helps you connect with whatever you're working with. The thing with that is if we go back thirty-odd years, when shamanic work really grabbed the culture in the UK, some people I met seemed to latch on to anything and end up with too much gear to work with.

What sort of things are totemic items? Imagery of an animal that you relate to is a totemic item. An image of a deity or spirit. Using the sort of central Asiatic, Siberian concept, that item becomes an ongon, a home for the spirit that you work with. It also helps you link to whatever you're working with. If you have to work with bear energy for a particular ritual, what people used to do was dress up as bears. Now you might just have a toy bear with you, it's the same thing. We can't all have bear skulls or dress up as bears to do a ceremony.

You have to make do with what you can find but what it does do; is it helps you focus your attention in a way on a particular energy. I have a shamanic coat that I wear. How you dress for ceremony I think makes a difference, because before you do some work you should cleanse yourself and it's very easy to forget to do that. Wear something that you wouldn't normally wear in your everyday life. Think of it as a disguise. You probably have a favourite T-shirt. You wear it to work; you wear it at home or in your garden. What you don't want to be doing with your favourite t-shirt is wearing it when you're doing, say, a house cleansing. Because you're going to be using that item for far too many things. You're going to be dragging it through some pretty unpleasant energies so you want to change into something else. Ritual has always involved dressing up as somebody else. That's why a priest dresses up. It's kind of why a judge dresses up. A judge could probably pass sentence dressed in a t-shirt but it's not the ritual. It sets boundaries as well. It's not Bob from the golfing club anymore, it's somebody doing something completely different. But I also feel if you're doing any kind of spirit work you should always wear something that you wouldn't normally wear. When we were doing house cleanses, I used to wrap a red cloth around my left wrist.

Why a red cloth? It was a protective thing. I just had an image in my head that I should wear it, so I did. Sometimes you get something that appears to be quite out of place when you're doing this kind of work and you just have to go with the flow. As long as it’s not too stupid and doesn’t put you or anyone else at risk. As long as it makes sense to you. Because that's what you have to be careful of.

How important is sound in your practice? I think it's very important, to a lot of shamanic work in particular. I don't think mediums use sound, going back to the comparison of earlier. From a shamanistic point of view, you're often using sound. The thing with shamanic work is your brain waves change with a trance. You're aware of what's going on outside and what's going on inside and the time inside isn't the same. It's actually the sound of a drum, a rattle, a bullroarer, a didgeridoo, whatever you use, that's setting a frequency that alters the brain and puts you into a trance state. I remember the first time I experienced that trance state which is very similar to the out-of-body experience kind of situation, but without the unpleasant electric shock therapy sensation that I used to get with it. So it's being aware of what's going on, on two different levels. And that's what the sound is doing. It has to be rhythmic. One thing that happened in the nineties was that shamanism basically went to the clubs because what was being played in the clubs was trance music. It was that beat which changed the way people behaved while they danced. So that was quite interesting. There was a really interesting crossover there, of where it went because it was all about what that sound was doing.

You might already have answered this, but what's been your most memorable shamanic experience? Yeah, I've had a few. I think that my encounter with the ram is my favourite. It's certainly one of the most powerful. There's another one. I'm trying to think now. There was the rather silly one that Richard mentioned to you with the glass. We were at our friends.

The exploding glass? Yes. The issue there was: the person who set the spirit off in the house was Richard because he kept saying to our host stuff like, "We know that weird shit happens around you." He said that quite a few times and suddenly this glass blew up underneath the table. I said to him afterwards, “you were the one that triggered that”. Whatever it was that lived in that house just got totally pissed off listening to it. There's interesting, weird shit in the world. It's not always bad, it's not always healing. The thing about that world is you have to take it for what it's got to offer you. It's what I said earlier, sometimes these entities just want a companion.

I just remembered one. We were running a retreat in Wales. They hired an old cottage. I remember walking into that room during main group and thought, "There's somebody missing," but there wasn't. It really bugged me. It was as if I’d walked into the room; part of me had seen someone and then blotted it out. I didn't think too much about it after that. Then someone said they saw a little girl in the building. One night I had awful insomnia, you know when your head's all over the place. Suddenly, everything about me changed. I felt a tap on each of my feet, and my left wrist was grabbed because it was outside my sleeping bag. I felt really guilty actually because whatever this was, it just wanted to play. There was nothing malicious about it. It was actually trying to cheer me up, and I said, "I'm really tired," and it left. But that's exactly how it was, two quick taps. A tap on each of my feet and then a light grab of my wrist, and it was gone. A few days after that I was having a bath. There was a pull light switch, and suddenly it started to spin and knock against the wall. The thing about weird stuff is, because I worked in science, part of me always has a scientist kind of brain, where if it looks weird, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is weird. So I look around. Is there a draft, is there this, is there that? Did I make that sound? I kept looking at it and I realised, oh no, it's you. This bit of wood kept going round and round and knocking against the wall. That's all she did. So again, sometimes these things just want attention.

I used to live with a poltergeist. It kept getting worse and doing more things, then I spoke to it and said, "I acknowledge you, but I have to live here too. I don't have anywhere else to go." Then things got better. That's because you dialogued.

That's what the medium said as well. It's because you chatted to it. Which is why, whenever I've had issues, I've always given them the chance to back off. This isn't the way we do things, back off. Sometimes it's like the situation with you or this little girl entity. It was just like she wanted to play. What it was, I don't know.

People ask me, "What are the spirits?"

I say, "I don't know. All I know is weird shit happens." Because I don't know what it is, I honestly could not explain what happens to us when we encounter these things. Are they real? Are they part of us? What are they?

Another question from Helen, What would you say to anyone who suggests Western shamanism is cultural appropriation?

I will honestly say first, that the concept of cultural appropriation is like chilli oil in the eye for me. I really dislike it. I think of it as a western guilt trip of post colonialism. The fact that shamanism is in that sentence is an appropriation because that's not an English word. It's a corruption of an Asiatic word with an -ism stuck to it.

I don’t like to see religion or belief forced on people, yet many spiritual beliefs and religions adapt, adopt and even steal from themselves and other cultures. I think you have to acknowledge the thing about spirituality is it constantly feeds off a previous owner. I don’t come from a culture with a shamanic background, I was bought up Catholic but I was drawn to a nature-oriented path from an early age, it works for me.

I think what people are forgetting is that we're starting to edit history, which I think is abominable, and what you have to look at is that human beings have always appropriated something from their neighbours either through trade and war primarily.

I used to work with someone who used the subject of cultural appropriation as an almost daily sermon, one day I said, “I know you're into this whole cultural appropriation stuff but are you going to stop eating potatoes?" There you go, you see. Look at it on every level. The potato is a culturally appropriated vegetable. Cocoa is a culturally appropriated seed. What are you going to do? Give everything back? Imagine what your curry is going to be like, curry without a tomato? Without chilli? I mean, where do you stop?

I believe in keeping an open mind and I believe people need to share and not disown history because it was crappy. You're a historian, you know how crappy history is. It's nearly all crappy. If we are going to adopt something from a culture do it with respect.

Everything I've told you is from my own personal experiences so it's nearly all first-hand information. I feel you have to be able to pass on information of weirdness, otherwise, it makes no sense. Remember; keep an open mind, if it has no logical explanation, it could be just some weird shit!

Sheep Image by suju-foto from Pixabay Bear image by Janko Ferlic from Pexels Other images by John

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