Shamanism is one of a number of techniques for dealing with life," says Butler. It's a different and unusual experience and a great way to learn

Old Practice Values Ancestral Memories & Wisdom

03.04.2005   Post and Courier article

Barbara Butler is an unlikely candidate for shamanism. Yet, the former lawyer and businesswoman will be among those participating in contemporary shamanism workshops in Charleston this weekend.

Shamanism involves ancient practices that allow a person to experience a different state of consciousness than they normally would. Throughout the ages, people in ancient cultures around the world have used shamanic techniques for spiritual exploration.  "Practicing shamanism puts a person in touch with information that is in his psyche, but usually does not come to the surface," says Butler. When she practices shamanic techniques, including certain types of dance, she learns more about herself through the mental images she gets.  "Usually, the strength is in the images," says Butler. She uses the images to help clarify questions about the direction her life is taking.

Shamanism expands the number of ways people can look at themselves and the world.  "This is what people did thousands of years ago," she says. "There is a lot of value in ancient wisdom. It (shamanism) is not going backward, but taking established, proven practices and bringing them into the contemporary world.   Shamanism is one of a number of techniques for dealing with life," says Butler. "It's a different and unusual experience and a great way to learn."  Butler has recommended shamanism to several friends who have tried and liked it.

New Orleans native Wilbert Alix will lead the shamanism sessions in Charleston. Shamanism is part of the cultural fabric of his hometown. Alix grew up doing ‘contemporary’ Indian trance dances. He studies the relationship between these forms of dance and how they promote spiritual well-being.  He says an increasing number of people are trying shamanism. They are using shamanism as a tool to figure out answers to some basic, yet important questions. They want to know who they are, what they are and why they are -- especially the latter. 

"The question of why a person exists relates to the spirit.  It's about his reason for existing. The answer to that question depends on what he does with his life, whether he fulfills a higher purpose.  A lot of people grow up and are not oriented towards higher purposes in life, without a spirit that allows them to see possibilities,  But all is not lost because of that," Alix says.  His workshops are designed to help people access spiritual qualities that let them soar.

"It is my belief that our spiritual experiences have an organic root.  In DNA studies scientists have learned that everyone on Earth has one mother.  Spiritual experiences are rooted in the genetic line that starts with that mother.  Unfortunately, Americans have become isolated from their ancestry.  It used to be that we had a clear, direct link to our ancestry.  During those times a person who was faced with a challenge in life did not feel alone.  He could recall the experiences of his ancestors to guide him on how to respond.  When you have help, it's easier to solve a problem.  Nowadays, when people approach inevitable changes in their lives, they often are spiritually unprepared to deal with them. Consequently, they experience the changes as a crises. The reason some people have so many crises in their lives is that they are disconnected from their ancestry.  Fortunately, people do have an ancestral memory that lives in their bodies," Alix says.  That's why he will lead sessions designed to help put workshop participants in touch with the spirits of their ancestry during the five-day event:

Alix says, "On Thursday evening, the weekend sessions will begin with a seminar on contemporary shamanism.  I will discuss the relationship between spirituality and science. The purpose is not to understand spirituality, but to get closer to Spirit.  There also will be sessions on trance dance, soul hunting and rites of passage.  The trance dance is an important part of the weekend.   Dance is something that is part of all types of shamanic cultures, and people need not be afraid of the word trance. Trance is really no different than meditation, the participant just exudes more energy. Through the trance dance, people can become more like spirits, transcending their limited perceptions of reality."

"The second exercise will be soul hunting, another shamanic practice. Every time there is a trauma, a person gets through it by giving up a piece of his soul.  It takes something out of them and they are left a little more empty.  That's true whether the trauma stems from a conflict with nature, a more powerful person or a parent who relates to a child in a hurtful way.  During the weekend, every person will have to examine an experience that caused him to give up a piece of his soul," says Alix.  In the process, he will lead participants on a journey to allow them to retrieve the lost pieces and put them in closer touch with their ancestry.

Alix says, "The third exercise will focus on the 12 rites of passage in life. They include passages such as birth, puberty and midlife, where those who have not given up their egos find crisis.  People who arrive at such passages without a sense of their evolutionary links can have deep uncertainties.  They may cling to an 'I'll believe it when I see it mentality.' They also wage battles with themselves and others to cover up their uncertainties about life -- unable to see the future in terms of possibilities.  I want people to believe in the possibility to grow, to change and flourish.  My work really is about transcending mediocrity."