“Doing shamanic work with children is magical and luminous, even miraculous…”
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It is late autumn, 2009. I am 30 years old and pregnant with my third baby. He dies during the early part of my second trimester and I give birth to him in my bathroom, on my own with only my husband as witness. The blood comes, welling up over my fingers and spilling from my body in clots the size of grapefruits. I feel myself losing consciousness and am unable to distinguish whether I am fainting or dying. As my mom drives me to the emergency room, I lie on the back seat, humming: “Woman am I. spirit am I. I am the infinite within my soul. I have no beginning and I have no end. All this I am,” so that my husband and mother will know I am still alive.
I do not die.
This crisis in my life and the complicated and dark walk through grief is a spiritual catalyst for me. A turning point in my understanding of myself, my purpose, my identity, and my spirituality.
It is my 31st birthday. May 3rd. My baby’s due date. I go to the labyrinth in my front yard alone and walk through my labor with him, remembering, releasing, letting go of the stored up body memory of his pregnancy. I am not pregnant with him anymore. I have given birth. This pregnancy is over. I walk the labyrinth singing and when I emerge, I make a formal pledge, a dedication of service and commitment to the Goddess. I do not yet identify myself verbally as a priestess, but this is where the vow of my heart begins.
I do not know at the time, but less than two weeks later, I discover I am in fact pregnant with my daughter, my precious treasure of a rainbow baby girl who is born into my own hands on my living room floor the next winter. As I greet her, I cry, “you’re alive! You’re alive! There’s nothing wrong with me!” and feel a wild, sweet relief and painful joy like I have never experienced before.
A couple of weeks ago I started exploring some of the ritual postures we find in Minoan art, mostly in the form of bronze and terracotta figurines. I began with the famous Minoan Salute and then had a look at the posture I call Shading the Eyes (and no, that’s not an ancient Minoan Weeping Angel, I promise! LOL).
This week I’ve done some experimentation with a posture that’s most common in Cycladic art, one that appears to link the user to the Realm of the Dead. You can see an example of it in the photo at the top of this post. These figurines, usually made of marble, show a person (most often a woman) with their arms across their abdomen, the left arm above the right....
One aspect of ancient religious practice that’s not terribly familiar to modern Pagans is ecstatic postures. No, I'm not talking about what you do at the local nightclub when your favorite music is playing! But ecstatic postures are kinda-sorta related to that kind of experience. These are poses or positions of the body and arms that are designed to produce specific experiences during shamanic trance work. At least a dozen different Minoan ecstatic postures appear in the form of little bronze and terracotta figurines from ancient Crete. Many of these were votive offerings at peak sanctuaries and cave shrines, but some have been found in the temple complexes as well.
A while back I reviewed Belinda Goodman’s excellent book Ecstatic Body Postures which includes a couple of poses that are found in ancient Crete. Reading that book was the inspiration for the shamanic work I’ve done since then that centers around the Minoan postures. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you my experiences using these poses. I encourage you to try them out on your own and let me know what you experience....
Throughout time, shamanic practitioners are known for their ability to enter an altered state of consciousness, called a “journey trance”, and visit other worlds. These initiated, trained and chosen spiritual leaders practice as mediators between community members, the spirit realms and the natural world. Understanding the mechanisms for how energy moves, how illness operates, and how healing is bestowed are all the domain of the shamanic practitioner.
A lot falls under the umbrella of the shaman. Many get caught up in web of all the different directions one can go in the study of shamanism. It is important to come back to the foundation from time to time and realize that in the root of the practice springs forth much of what shamanism has to offer....
Today I’m reviewing an unusual book: Ecstatic Body Postures: An Alternate Reality Workbook by Belinda Gore. What on earth does a book like that have to do with Minoan spirituality? Well, the Minoans left us a wide array of artwork that depicts ritual postures, from the one-armed ‘Minoan salute’ to a woman who shades her eyes with her hands to the Poppy Goddess who holds her arms up in an ‘American football touchdown’ type of gesture. Over the years I’ve often wondered if these postures were meant to do more than just symbolize certain aspects of Minoan religion. In fact, like many other ritual postures from around the world, they appear to be designed to induce particular states of mind, especially trance states in which we can receive healing, learn about ourselves and the divine, and undergo spiritual changes for the better.
The introduction to this fascinating book was written by the late Dr. Felicitas Goodman, who founded the Cuyamungue Institute in New Mexico. The institute is dedicated to exploring the effects and practical uses of ritual body postures that are evidenced in figurines that go back in time as far as the Stone Age. The book is essentially a collection of the institute’s work over the years in a well-organized, easy to comprehend format. It details 39 different postures, including several that are attested in Minoan art, so I was particularly interested in trying them out....
There are many aspects of the ancient world that I’m happy to do without: the danger of infection in an era before antibiotics; the difficulty of communicating over long distances at anything other than a snail’s pace; the lack of sanitation and running water in many places (though the cities of ancient Crete did have well-planned sewer systems). So yes, it’s good that we have left some things behind. But in our progress, we have also left behind something beneficial, something the human spirit needs: ecstasy.
I’ve recently been reading Belinda Gore’s book Ecstatic Body Postures and working with some of the postures she describes. This is an extension of the trancework I’ve done for years, and it relates to my activities with the Minoan salute and other gestures the Minoans used in ritual to induce trance states. (And yes, I recommend the book.) One thing that struck me as I was reading Ms. Gore’s book was her comment that the modern world is in a state of what she calls ‘ecstasy deprivation.’ If that’s true, it would explain an awful lot....