Last year at this time, a dove made a nest in the evergreen tree outside my kitchen window. This coincided with a burgeoning depression and seeing that dove land on the sideview mirror of my truck in the mornings gave me hope. When another dove landed on the fire escape railing outside my therapist's office while I was in the midst of dissecting my demons, it seemed more than a coincidence. When it happened again for a second visit, I started to suspect something was up.
The portal to shamanism for me was meditation. During the first session, I listened to the drum beat, and my feet sank into the earth, but it was nothing like being buried alive. It was a trap door to my unconscious and the myths and archetypes that live there. I touched down somewhere in the Salem Woods, where I used to roam with my dog, Ralphie, and that's just who showed up to greet me. I thought about a kinder, more nurturing god then. Crows coagulated around me and the light in the sky was squashed by gray clouds, but it was nothing ominous. I felt at home.
Shamanism began with the primitive hunting people; their work can be found in caves in France, drawings that depict a person wearing an animal mask, dancing joyously in front of a troop of animals. The shaman was drawn with an erect penis--an emblem of desire and passion: he was the animal master in charge of sending and receiving animal souls. He sent them to the tribe to be hunted and killed, then raised them up to linger in the underworld. It is the first religion we know of.
For the second journey, I touched down in Sedona, at a chapel in the hills. I had visited this place on a cross country trip with my brother and mother. Ralphie greeted me again, only this time he was panting anxiously. What's the matter old boy? I asked. I followed him down to a room excavated in rock and bones; he lay down on the cool dirt floor. I went to sit in one of the pews to pray and noticed an altar at the front with candles burning. After a few moments, Ralphie got up and went toward the altar and I followed him. My father was sitting there behind the altar in the dark, and he looked worried. What? I asked him. Anything not of the Church is of the devil, he said.
I left my father and followed Ralphie, who was still panting anxiously. He lay down a second time to rest and shed his coat. There before me stood a nobleman-- at least that's what I interpreted him to be-- a man with a robe and a papal tiara. The nobleman turned into a copper statue of a robed figure with birds around his head. The drum stopped beating and I left, apprehensive. Is this shamanism or is my imagination's prowess getting the best of me again? And when the hell am I going to stop caring what my parents think?
That night, I had a dream I was in my parents' basement with their friends, the Schmidts. I told them our house was haunted and proved it by sitting cross-legged on the floor and allowing myself to be pushed from one room to another by an invisible force. It was a queer thing to be manipulated like that, to be powerless for a few moments; I felt as if I temporarily blacked out. Afterward, I went upstairs to tell my mother. It's the shamanism, she said. You called them into this house with that devil magic of yours. And then my mother started to levitate and move across the room as if she were flying. I chased her around the dining room (which was not our dining room at all, but one from a catalog or maybe a movie) shouting into her face, GET OUT! The words were difficult to say, and somewhat jumbled, as if I were pushing them through water. I was trying to exorcise the fiend from her. And that's just how I woke myself up, shouting GET OUT!
Later that day I told my mother about the dream. Well I don't believe any of that Native American spirituality is of the devil, she said. Those people were healers. And with this, I felt reconciled.
Is there a meaning to this story? I looked through pictures of my trip to the chapel and found the green copper statue; it was an artistic interpretation of Saint Francis, patron saint of animals. Saint Francis is the perfect bridge from Catholicism to shamanism.
I researched Saint Francis online and found the story of the wolf of Gubbio. In the town of Gubbio, Italy, during the time Saint Francis lived, a wolf was eating the townspeople's livestock. When the mayor of the town sent guards to slay the wolf, he killed two of them and wounded the third. The mayor asked Saint Francis to go to the wolf and solve the problem. Saint Francis went into the forest; when he came upon the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and the wolf cowered at his feet. When asked by the saint why he was killing livestock and men, he told him he was wounded and his pack abandoned him. He preferred to eat deer, but they were too quick for him; livestock were easier to kill. What was he supposed to do? He was hungry. He ordinarily left men alone, but when the two guards attacked him, he let his instincts take over. Saint Francis ultimately made a deal with the wolf and the townspeople: the townspeople were to feed the wolf and the wolf, in turn, would protect the town. And peace was made.
So here we have a story within a story. The dove, Saint Francis, the wolf, even the erect penis, all have secondary meanings. The dove is the peace I longed for during my depression: it was an oracular consciousness of sorts. If nature communicates with the the body's DNA through natural selection, then the divine --spirituality--communicates with the mind through archetypes. The dove is an archetype, a universally-known model of peace. Saint Francis is an archetype, the Catholic model for shamanism, the wolf is an archetype, symbolizing all that we interpret as evil is just misunderstood. And the penis, well the penis represents rapture, what we feel when we are closest to nature.