In shamanic journeying, it is common to experience shamanic reality as being divided into three distinct realms. These are sometimes referred to as the ‘Upper-World’, the ‘middle-world’, and the ‘Lower-World’. This is because we usually experience the realms as being organised spatially, with the Upper-World being above us, the Lower-World below us, and the middle-world being the everyday world that we live in (and some more besides).
The three realms are quite different to each other. Each realm has distinct qualities, and different ‘inhabitants’. Each realm needs a different set of skills from the journeyer, and a different awareness and approach.
A GLIMSE INTO THE UPPER-WORLD
In terms of what the Upper-World looks like, it is important to bear in mind that shamanic reality, in its raw form, is as strange as quantum reality (in some ways, it is quantum reality). Our human brains simply are not equipped to perceive it, understand it, and process it as it “really” is. So, to make any kind of sense of what we are perceiving, we have to fashion what is there into some kind of imagery, symbols and metaphors that we can relate to. In his second book, ‘Cave and Cosmos’, Michael Harner in his research found that:
Given this, if you are of Christian orientation you might experience the Upper-World as being full of monks and nuns, saints, angels of various kinds, and at the top, the holy trinity. As a Hindu, you may experience it as full of Hindu gods and goddesses – Lord Shiva, Vishnu, Krishna, Ganesh, Parvati, Durga etc.. A Buddhist may experience it as being full of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Taras, and other deities. Harner found that secular people often experienced meeting people like Mandela, Gandhi, philosophers, poets, and so on.
ETHEREAL QUALITY AND LITTLE NATURE
Although there are definitely female energies and beings in the Upper-World (in the form of goddesses, Taras, and suchlike) it is primarily the realm of what, in Therapeutic Shamanism, we call Father Sun, in comparison to the Lower-World is more the realm of Mother Earth. Whilst the Lower-World is the realm of nature, in all its myriad forms, the Upper-World is more rarefied. It has an ethereal quality to it, which can make it feel vague and insubstantial at first, until you get used to it. It can appear to be a bit floaty, wispy, and spacious to the point of appearing almost empty at times. There is an amazing quality to the light. Colours are beautiful. There is a palpable sense of majesty and awe. There is usually less nature (compared to the Lower-World), and what nature there is might be formal gardens of some kind, although there are often mountains too. Animals are much less common than in the Lower-World, and can appear as more mythological ones (dragons, pegasus, griffins, and so on).
Mostly though, it is filled with beautiful awe-inspiring buildings such as temples, cathedrals, monasteries, and fairy tale castles. Indeed, the cathedrals and temples we build in this earthly, physical reality are often a deliberate attempt to recreate a sense of the Upper-World here on earth; to give people that sense of the numinous – of awe and of being in the presence of “god”. In the Upper-World, there are also huge libraries, hospitals and convalescent homes, and alchemists’ workshops. The technology usually appears to be anything up to early medieval times, in that there is metal working and jewellery, but no modern technology (no steam engines, computers, cars, televisions, or mobile phones etc.).
PLACE OF WISDOM, LOVE, ETHICS AND COMPASSION
It is a place we can go to if we are struggling with an issue, to ask “What action would be for the greater good”. Or, ‘What would be the most compassionate and spiritual course of action for me to take?”, or “What would be the ethical thing for me to do here?”. It is also a place we can get help and healing, in order to be able to align ourselves more with the Upper-World; in a sense, help with coming more from our own “higher self “.
THE WORLD OF SPIRIT
The Upper World is the realm of Father Sun. Ultimately, Father Sun is pure consciousness, pure Spirit. And, looked at in one way, there is a part of us that is part of this. Much in the same way that an individual wave is simply part of the ocean, or an individual spark is part of a fire, or a grain of sand is a minuscule part of a beach, the Upper-World aspect of us has some degree of individuality, but not much. The Upper-World is outside of space-time. There is no linear time in the Upper-World. Instead, everything in it is happening at the same time. Our limited brains are hard-wired to experience the passage of time, and so if we journey in the Upper-World we experience time passing and events happening one after the other. But this is just so that we can make sense of things. It is the way our brain interprets what is there. In reality though, there is no past, present or future. In that sense, the Upper-World aspect of us (or, depending on how you look at it, the part of the Upper-World that is in us) is eternal. In that it always was, is, and will be.
BUILDING A BALANCED SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
In contrast to much modern-day spiritual practices, animism is a balanced practice. It is not a top-heavy, disembodied, or ungrounded practice. instead, like a healthy tree, it has strong roots and strong branches. It values and works with the Lower-World and the Upper-World equally, and understands that both are necessary, and both are sacred.
EVERYTHING IS SACRED – RISING ROOTED
UPPER-WORLD PRACTICES HELP US TRANSCEND OUR SENSE OF SEPARATION.
They help us move beyond our limited self and experience non-duality in the sense of everything being part of an undifferentiated whole. They can help us see the bigger picture, and gain perspective from the agendas and concerns of our ego and its stories and desires. Furthermore, they can help us align ourselves with good ethics, and in cultivating healthy detachment, discernment, compassion (including self-compassion), tranquillity, serenity, and living in the present moment.
LOWER-WORLD PRACTICES INVOLVE THE EQUALLY SACRED AND SPIRITUAL JOURNEY OF DIGGING DOWN AND DISCOVERING THE TRUE NATURE OF OUR SOUL.
The descent to the Lower-World can also help us move beyond the limitations of our middle-world self, and in finding our Soul (which is both in and of the Lower-World) become what we were truly meant to be. Then, we can finally take our unique and sacred place in the web of life. In doing so we realise that we are unique, loved by the world, and of value to it. At the same time comes the understanding that we are but a part of something vastly greater; a part of an immeasurably greater whole. Our Soul is both our place in the greater world and our gift to it. This gives us a healthy template to rebuild our middle-world self so that it becomes a vehicle for expressing our Soul in the world.
BUT WHILE THEY ARE SIMILAR…
Upper-World and Lower-World practices have similarities. Both are transpersonal and transcendent. Both are outside of the limitations of the middle-world, of matter, and of space and time. Both take us far beyond our own ego and its limited concerns and understanding, and allow us to re-make our self/ego in such a way as to be of service to the world, and to express the sacred within it. In both practices, we find healing, endless love, and compassion. As such, it may seem that it does not matter which we choose, as both ultimately are just different ways to arrive at the same place.
… HOWEVER, WHILST THERE ARE SIMILARITIES, THEY ARE FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT TOO.
Yang is not the same as yin. Feminine is not the same as masculine. You cannot understand the feminine by spending your life focused entirely on the masculine (or vice versa). You cannot come to understand Goddess by steadfastly refusing to focus on anything other than God (just look around at patriarchal religions to see how that one has worked out). You do not come to love and revere the Earth by resolutely ignoring her and focusing only on the Sky (look around at see how that one has worked out too, in terms of the environmental apocalypse that we are now living in). We can never understand what is missing in us by continuing to ignore it. We can never be whole in that way. To be whole and healthy, we need Soul roots and Spirit branches, and we can never embrace and cultivate our Soul by focusing only on Spirit.
Unpacking Sky-Religion’s Influence
SHAPING OUR PERCEPTION: UP IS GOOD, DOWN IS BAD?
To develop a balanced shamanic practice, a balanced spiritual practice, it is important to take on board the sheer extent and depth to which our view of the lower-world and Mother Earth has become distorted. In modern times, in what the author and radical environmentalist Derick Jensen refers to as ‘the myth of human supremacy’, there is often an assumption that we are the pinnacle of evolution, the most highly evolved species.
Notice the language (most people do not)! Behind the words are a set of value judgements that, since the Fall and the rise of the sky religions, most people accept without question. As a culture we are so deeply steeped in these judgements that we generally do not even consciously notice them (let alone challenge or question them). They have soaked right into us, into the way in which we think and perceive the world, and into the language that we use. We take them for granted.
We use the word ‘higher’ to mean better than ‘lower’, as in ‘a higher state of consciousness’. We talk of ‘raising’ our vibrational energy, and to aim to resonate at a ‘higher frequency’ as if this is simply obviously a better thing. We talk about ‘ascent’ as if it is better than ‘descent’, as in the ‘ascent of humankind’ or a ‘descent into chaos and darkness’. Evolution is generally seen as an upwards movement — most drawings of evolution are of a tree with the most ‘evolved’ species nearer the top. We see ourselves as the pinnacle of evolution. We talk about arriving at a pinnacle as if it is somehow better or more desirable than arriving at the depths. Outside of depth psychology, ‘plumbing the depths’ is generally meant as a bad thing. Moving ‘up to the light’ is generally seen as better than moving ‘down into the darkness’. ‘Down’ is associated with ‘lesser’, ‘less evolved’, ‘darkness’, less ‘spiritual’ and even with hell itself. By contrast, ‘up’ is associated with ‘spiritual’, enlightenment, ‘light workers’, and even heaven itself.
Our modern, Fallen, left-brained culture sees the other-than-human Peoples as lesser. We are told that stones and plants do not have our ‘higher’ consciousness. In fact, we are told that stones have no consciousness at all. Our fellow animals are seen as less conscious than us, and so do not merit the same rights as us. We name our species ‘Homo sapiens’, which means ‘wise man’, the ‘pinnacle’ of the evolution of the Hominid genus. In fact, we even name modern-day humans ‘Homo sapiens sapiens’, wise wise man, to elevate our sub-species (that emerged somewhere between 50,000 and 30,000 BC) above our more ‘primitive’ human ancestors. We deem ourselves ‘above’ our earlier human ancestors, and above the rest of life. We talk of ‘animal nature’ as being ‘lower’. To say that someone is a ‘bit of an animal’ or ‘acting like an animal’ is an insult. Sky-religions tell us that animals are further from ‘god’ than us; that ‘god’ made us in ‘his’ own image and that, if we are to get close to ‘god’, then we must ‘transcend’ our animal nature and instincts and the earth itself. We are told that the lower-world is full of demons and pain, to scare us off from ever venturing there. We are told that this earthly plain is one of corruption and suffering, and that it is to be renounced and rejected. Anyone seeking out the Goddess is to be persecuted and even tortured and murdered (‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’ – Exodus 22:18) all in the name of saving them, of course. Any knowledge about how to know the lower-world — shamanic journeying, power-plants, how to use the drum and the rattle, ecstatic dancing, and so on — is rooted out and destroyed. Anyone who has this knowledge is persecuted and killed with such a ruthlessness and dedication of purpose that, to all intents and purposes, we end up effectively eradicating shamanism in the West, leaving us with a broken lineage that we are only just now beginning to try and repair.
Shamanism is an entirely non-hierarchical spiritually and way of looking at the world. It is entirely free of the idea that up is good and down is bad. In shamanism, the upper-world is not a better place than the lower-world. God is not superior to Goddess. Humans are not superior to animals. Animals are not superior to plants and stones. Everything is equal and deserving of equal respect, not just when journeying, but in day-to-day life.
LEARN TO JOURNEY IN THE UPPER-WORLD
EXPLORING THE SHAMANIC UPPER-WORLD
Spirituality, Mindfulness And Meditation Practices
Live Session Dates: Saturdays April 22, 29, May 6, 13, 20, and 27.
4 pm start (UK time), each session is 3.5 to 4 hours long.
The course will cover (amongst other things):
- How to find true Upper-World Guides.
- Finding your Upper-World “Self” or “Spirit”.
- How the Upper-World can help you develop healthy perspective and detachment (whilst staying grounded too).
- Upper-World healing practices, including the use of shamanic artefacts, light, song and sound.
- Upper-World places of convalescence and healing.
- The “Council of Elders” and its role in the removal of entanglements, unhealthy contracts, and “curses”
- The difference between gods and goddesses on the one hand, and Gods and Goddesses on the other.
- Honouring of both the Sacred Masculine and the Sacred Feminine.
… and more!