Last year in 2010, I went to Kathmandu, and stayed with a friend I know living out there; a born Nepalese man who befriended me in 2007 when I first visited Nepal. My stay was for a month the purpose of which to trek and take photographs of Kathmandu. Prior to this, I had been sent a video by an internet friend. The video was called the ‘Psychoactivity the Fountain of culture’ and is of a lecture by Christine Ratsch regarding the use of psychedelics by the Shamans of Nepal (and other related shamanic practices).
Shamanism in Nepal is rare but is still a living tradition. Nepal is mainly a Buddhist and Hindu country, but these two religions sit very comfortably alongside one another and in my experience, it is just as likely that a Buddhist would accept elements of Hinduism into their religious and spiritual practice as well as vice versa. Nepal is home to over sixty distinct ethnic and linguistic tribal groups, more than half of which practice some form of shamanism apparently with an unbroken line of a tradition dating all the way back to the Stone Age. It is likely that many of the healing practices of Buddhism and Hinduism share a common origin with Himalayan shamanism. However, Nepalese shamans belong to different religious groups and do not see themselves or their shamanic roles as “religious”.
The Newari shamans (jhankri) say that “the way of the shaman is the way of love”. They seek to bring love, harmony and peace to those who suffer from diseases of a spiritual nature, like the shamans the world over. As in other cultures, the shaman’s role is recognized by the community, not claimed by the individual: he is only a jhankari because others are healed by him, not because he says he can heal them.
There is another shamanic practice called the Kirati
shaman (or mangpa) His role is generally to invoking the spirits, to remember his roots in nature, and to put his actions to the service of the good; this is mundum, the path of the shaman. Both these groups believe that the Path of the Shaman was brought to the world by Shiva, and that people are called, rather than chosen to be shamans. The chosen person may try to avoid the call because he knows it will mean a difficult life. The jhankri have everyday occupations like everyone else, but must make themselves available for healing work at the “transition times” of the day: at daybreak, or just after sundown.
Well, the trip went well. I arrived and my friend picked up at the airport. We trekked in the Himalayas as planned, in the Annapurna region. I had mentioned to Hari, that I was interested in meeting a shaman and did he know anyone who could arrange it? He gave me no indication that he did and I wasn’t even sure whether he knew what I was talking about. We came down from the trek and arrived back in Kathmandu. Then one day Hari told me in rather a quiet manner, not only did he know what I was talking about but he actually knew a practicing shaman. This was a man in the community, somebody I had already met. Although the person he was referring to seemed to have a normal life, job, and family, Hari, rather dramatically said this man was into black magic and was a shaman and that I could meet up with him for one of his ceremonies.
It was sunset and we were sitting in a bar and the man came in. He greeted me and then quite nonchalantly went off to sit with his back to me, only looking over and staring occasionally. We drank quite a lot that evening. I was keen however to meet the man properly and witness the ceremony. After a while of knocking back the potent Nepalese wine, Hari informed me we were to go to the back room of the establishment. It was very dark and candles were sort. For a while we sat in the pitch black in an eerie silence. Then the candles arrived as did the shaman. Without further hesitation he took some very hard pulls on what looked like a cigarette but which could have been anything. He lit some joss sticks and started chanting in a language I did not recognise and banged a drum as he went along. After a time he seemed to go into something of a trance. Then there was a pause – the man looked exhausted. The whole ceremony lasted about forty five minutes. Finally I thanked him and was ushered out of the room.
I thought no more of this – I trusted Hari as a good friend and knew he wouldn’t introduce me to a fraud. But somehow it seemed uneventful considering the build up. We went home and I carried on with my holiday.
The principles of the shamans of Nepal is that they have been given a mantra by Ganesh – the god of the shaman, that allows them access to the spirit world. Some days later I was having a smoke of some potent hash late at night. I was staying with Hari and his family and we all slept in the same room. This night everybody had gone to bed and I was the last one up smoking on the balcony. I turned in at around 2 am and went quickly to sleep.
The dream I then entered was an amazing one –
I was in a cartoon like environment with a river flowing through it, it was like a painting someone was imagining. The world and his wife seemed to be there, everybody in fancy dress; dressed as a superheroes. At one point I went into a side room of the dream and met my brother who was dressed as a mad scientist (he’s a doctor in real life). I was shown another room with my other brother dressed likewise as a superhero his costume being something like a news reporter hack (he is a journalist). I came back to the river that seemed to wind off into the distance in a slightly apocalyptic setting. Even President Obama was there dressed as ‘Obamaman’, he was wearing a mask and had a big ‘O’ on his chest with a suit that had underpants on the outside as all good superheroes do!
From this I awoke. I had another smoke and remarked to myself how vivid this dream was and how well I remembered it. I went back to sleep and straight away went headlong into what can only be described as the second half of the dream. I was on the first floor of a building which was somewhat abstract in its design. I couldn’t work out its purpose, something like an office or perhaps a hospital. But I had no time as soon as I realised I was there I was under attack. The place was being bombarded by all manner of unlikely assailants. I could see myself in the dreaming position as from behind and above looking down on myself. I managed to rally the other occupants of the building to block the invaders. Greater and greater foes came to try and get into the building and all the while what ever came to attack us we repelled. Finally the special forces were called for but failed to gain access.
The dream at this moment melted into the abstract altogether. I was suddenly in an underworld – a dark red environment. Across a chasm which was not very deep but filled with many countless people, I could see clearly the image of Ganesh. Ganesh like his statue had many arms and an elephants head. He was a deep red in colour and was moving – swaying.. I suddenly realised not swaying but SHIMMERING…
The vision of Ganesh was engulfing – Ganesh was alive!! – I had a moments thought or rather I was able to focus on what I was seeing and realised he was in fact a statue…But then equally, I suddenly understood that the statue itself was ALIVE! – It Shimmered harder and harder and to my disbelief a mantra started following forth from my mouth. I woke with this mantra still on my lips. I was utterly amazed and realised the possible connection of this dream, the Mantra and the Shaman.
The shamans of Nepal believe Ganesh being the son of Shiva is the God of the Shaman; since he too has gone through the transition of death and rebirth akin to that of the shaman. Ganesh is the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. Ganesha’s head symbolizes the Atman or the soul, which is the ultimate supreme reality of human existence, while his human body signifies Maya or the earthly existence of human beings. The story of Ganesh is that once the goddess Parvati, while bathing, created a boy out of the dirt of her body and assigned him the task of guarding the entrance to her bathroom. When Shiva, her husband returned, he was surprised to find a stranger denying him access and struck the boy’s head off in rage. Parvati broke down in utter grief and to soothe her, Shiva sent out his squad (gana) to fetch the head of any sleeping being who was facing the north. The company found a sleeping elephant and brought back its severed head, which was then attached to the body of the boy. Shiva restored its life and made him the leader (pati) of his army. Hence his name ‘Ganapati’. Shiva also bestowed a boon that people would worship him and invoke his name before undertaking any venture.
I discussed this dream with a friend on my return to the UK, someone I know who is very much into divination, shamanism and dream interpretation. He said the first part of the dream – the superheroes, was like that of the real self – that identity being like that of the soul the ‘Atman’ I presume. He also told me that the second half of the dream the invincibility was like the manifestation of this identity. It was like the opening of a gateway to me another rebirth – at this point, I realised I was everything I had set out to be or that in some way I was going to become – the real self perhaps.
“Psychoactivity the fountain of culture”:-