At first, the shamanic workshop felt perfectly ordinary. Thirty of us assembled in the city of Bath on a sunny autumn day. We sat on floor cushions in a circle, chatting a bit nervously, waiting for our introduction to shamanism to begin. Although intrigued, I didn’t know much about the subject, but quite a lot of the participants had read John Matthew’s books. John and his wife Caitlin are among the most respected practicing shamans in this country, and his reputation went before him, but John looked ordinary, sitting cross-legged in the circle, and he opened the workshop in a quiet, almost muted voice.
“I’d better warn you now,” he said, without drama. “Shamanism will alter your life.”
Although I was keen - really keen, I’d paid money to be here - I couldn’t help thinking...yeah, right.
But John meant it. Things were never the same again.
Shamanism is not thought of as a religion. It can be a spiritual path, but, from its very early beginnings, it has been a tool which allows a method of getting close to another world - the world of spirits. It’s a very ancient practice indeed; there are those who think shamans are responsible for (or depicted in) the Neolithic cave paintings found all over Europe. Shaman are considered as special people by the communities they function within. They enter a trance, often using nothing more than a drum beat or the rhythm of a dance, and move between the solid world we live in and the otherworlds which the rest of us don’t experience. They bring back answers to questions that have no answers.
It is said that to become a shaman, one must be called by spirits, but I think the spirits are calling us...it’s just that only some people are listening. When I talked to the other workshoppers that weekend, I found several mention the ‘shaman’s sickness’ - a health crisis that showed a glimpse of an otherworld, or a high temperature that had brought them visionary dreams. Other had found their minds opening when walking in deep countryside, during a sleepless, dark night, or when coming face to face with a wild animal.
The more I delved into shamanism, the more fascinated I became. By closing my eyes, listening to a fast, regular drum beat and allowing my mind to steady and focus, I found I was able step into another world that seemed as real as this one, and during these ‘walks between the worlds’ I was always accompanied by a guide that had my welfare in mind. He came to me in the guise of a mole, able to burrow down into lower realms. When I stroked his back with one finger, his coat felt as soft, warm and sleek as any mole of this world. In our journeys, Mole and I would come upon otherworldly presences who spoke to me, either in perfectly normal conversations or in mysterious symbols and signs. They often advised me, or directed me, or simply offered universal wisdom. I’d emerge into this world feeling refreshed...amazed…enriched.
As a writer, I soon discovered I could also use these trance techniques to explore the stories I was writing, so that they almost ‘wrote themselves’ before I even got to a keyboard. And at that point, a character arrived in my life - a zesty twenty-something therapeutic shaman called Sabbie Dare, who kept telling me that I should write about her. “I see a lot of clients,” she told me, “who don’t really know what’s wrong with them. And some bring me some very...difficult…problems.”
She’s not the sort to use the word ‘scary’. Not much scares Sabbie Dare. But in my first Shaman Mystery, IN THE MOORS, things get very scary indeed for her, as she tries to help a client in trouble.
I respect shamanism so much, and have found it both mind-blowing and sustaining. Writing about it is a privilege. I try to offer my readers a glimpse into the real world of the working shaman, while also creating a crime thriller that readers can’t put down. I aim for a terrifying build-up with a gratifying conclusion where all the stories are nicely sewn-up.
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Nina Milton lives in Wales with her husband and is now writing the third in the Shaman Mystery series. IN THE MOORS is out now, and UNRAVELLED VISIONS will be released in the autumn; it can be ordered in advance on Amazon. For further information visit Nina’s blogsite, http://www.kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com. You can contact Nina on firstname.lastname@example.org