Winter, Covid and Other Endings, Rebirth, and the Shamanic Medicine Wheel
“On the day after the winter solstice, I went for a walk to my axis mundi, the place in this world which I use as my starting point for my shamanic journeys. It is, for me, a place where the veil that separates this world from the other worlds is thin, and where I can easily step into the shamanic realms. It is a place I have visited many hundreds of times and know well. This time was magical though. Normally, the place is alive with birdsong and the noise of wind and animals rustling in the trees and undergrowth. Today though, was a bitingly cold, clear and crisp winter day and as I entered the area, I was struck by an almost overwhelming sense of silence, hanging thick and heavy in the air. I felt it push against me and slow my pace as I walked into it. The only sound I could hear was the noise of frost crunching under my feet. I stood there for as long as I could stand the cold, breathing in the peaceful stillness and welcoming it as it soaked into my body. At the same time, as I stood there, I was also aware that only a mile away, in the center of town, tens of thousands of people were rushing around in a stressful frenzy of Christmas shopping. The contrast could not have been more stark.”
That was 22 years ago. Although still struck by the contrast between the human busyness of Christmas and the stillness of nature, as I write this now, we are entering the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, here in the UK at least, things are considerably quieter than they usually are at this time of year and many of us are, in effect, being forced to slow down to some extent. Rather than ignore or override the quiet and stillness of winter as we usually do, we are being made to align ourselves with it more, whether we like it or not. Or, at least, we can do so – many people will, of course, try and carry on as “normal” as much as they can and rail against what is happening. [It is the winter solstice time where I am writing this from my home in North Wales – apologies to those of you reading this from the southern hemisphere or from warmer climates!]
The cycle of covid outbreaks and restrictions don’t necessarily coincide with the cycle of the seasons of the year, of course. However, the covid cycles we have been through so far, and the energy of winter, have the same energy when from the perspective of the animist/shamanic “Wheel of Life” (sometimes referred to as the “Medicine Wheel”). On the Wheel of Life, spring represents new life, beginnings and possibilities. Summer is full of flowering, fertility, and energy. Autumn is fruition, harvest and letting go. Winter is the end of the cycle, the death that is necessary to allow a new cycle, and healthy new life, to emerge in the following spring.
Whilst not all endings are painful (some can even be a joyous release), many are, and bring grief in their wake. The pandemic has brought pain and grief to a lot of people, of course. As well as literal deaths and bereavements, for many people it has also brought the death of old ways of being – businesses, livelihoods, dreams and lifestyles, and even of health in terms of long-covid and mental health issues. And in this culture, where we have tried to sanitize death, we are not good at grief. Psychology tells us that grief is a process with stages. The early process usually involves denial, then bargaining, then anger (and other emotions such as grief itself). Then, if people move through those stages, can come acceptance, and then reinvestment and renewal.
Looked at in that way, the pandemic, if we understand it as an ending and move healthily through the stages of grief, has at least the potential to be a process of rebirth and renewal too. And indeed, for some people this has been the case, with people re-evaluating things like their work-life balance and other priorities (if their financial and other realities allow). On a wider social scale too, it could offer us a chance to reset society; to look at what hasn’t been working, and what we could do instead, and hopefully when we look back on this time we will see that at least some constructive things emerged on those lines. It is also true though that many people are still stuck variously in anger, bargaining, and even outright denial (and understanding this can help make sense of what we see going on around us). Consequently, there is no moving on to a renewal or rebirth, but a desire to get back to normal again (even if “normal” wasn’t working in the first place). Because as the Wheel of Life shows us, there can be no spring or renewal if we persist in clinging on to the things that need to be released.
As for the Three Ravens College, right at the very start of the pandemic in early 2020 it was clear to me this was going to be a very long haul, and so I made the decision very early on to experiment with moving all the courses online. I had no idea if it would work, and in fact, had some very big doubts about it (that, thankfully, turned out to be unfounded!). In making the decision, my main shamanic Human Guide, the one whose college this really is, said to me: “You need to treat this as a total death and rebirth of the college. You can’t just try and adapt the courses. You need to completely take them apart, take everything apart, and rebuild from scratch.” Her saying this really made me sit up, not so much because of what said, but because she hardly ever communicates with words, and if she does then it is usually only a single word or two. In the thirty years I have been working with her, this was by far and away one of the longest things she had ever said to me. I completely trust her though, and did as she said, and she was (as always) completely right. In applying the wisdom and teachings of the Wheel of Life and fully embracing and honoring this as an ending, the college has been refreshed and reinvigorated. It has been a lot of hard work, and involved some grief and partings too. The outcome though has been a joyous renewal.
The main point of the college is to get the teachings of Therapeutic Shamanism out to as many people as possible, and in terms of that, 2021 has been the best year so far and we will be going go into the coming year invigorated and with lots of new plans. Before coming to those though, I want to briefly come back to the energy of wintertime. Unlike our ancestors, who until recent times lived much more in tune with seasons and cycles, in this culture, as with all endings, we are not great with winter either. Viewed from the Wheel of Life, we live in a culture that over-emphasizes the fire element and summer energy; a culture that fetishizes continual growth, being always being busy and productive, consumption and expansion, and one in which we often only stop when we are on our knees or when forced to. We try to ignore winter energy on so many levels, including wanting access to summer foods all year long, keeping our homes at summer temperatures if we can afford to, flying to warm climates for winter holidays, and turning Christmas into one of the busiest times of the year and the time when we consume the most.
Winter is meant to be a time of quiet and inactivity. Of conserving energy. Of turning inward. Of stopping and ending, to allow for renewal and a fresh start in the spring. So, if this is winter time where you are, then maybe really embrace the energy of this time of year and, if you can, go with it and spend time slowing down and being quiet and still. And if it is summer where you are reading this, plan ahead! Maybe make your next winter a much quieter time. And if you live nearer the equator where the seasons are less pronounced, or where you don’t really get a winter as such, your body and soul still need times of winter-like energy if possible. At least a month or so every year when you can stop doing, and just be.
Change of personnel and roles
In December, we said goodbye to Jayne and Marie, who had been part of our teaching team. Both left due to personal circumstances. We are very grateful to them for all the hard work they have put in over their time as tutors, and in particular their role in moving the courses online. We warmly wish them all the very best in all that they do in the future.
Like all ending, this as a new beginning too, and has given us an opportunity to restructure the college. For all the online sessions, I will now be delivering all the teaching (theory, introducing exercises, answering questions, etc.), with a team of people who we can draw on as needed in a support role (handling tech issues, monitoring chat, facilitating breakout rooms and so on).
Cat, as well being the main teaching support, continues to handle the college admin. Colin has been doing an amazing job with the college website, including most recently working on setting up a much smother online booking process. And in the new year, we are delighted and very excited that Kaja Gulič will be joining us, as our social media manager, to help bring the courses and books into more peoples’ awareness. You can read more about our core team here.
Free podcasts, videos, articles, and book excerpts etc.
Starting in the new year, we plan to start making much more free information available, and to work towards making the website a “go-to” hub and recourse for information on shamanism and animism. To keep you informed about this, we will release a monthly newsletter, and from now on, each newsletter will include links to things like:
- Our own podcasts and/or short videos. These will cover various topics, and seek to answer the questions people often have about shamanism and related issues.
- Excerpts from the Therapeutic Shamanism series of books.
- Free articles.
- Links to external podcasts, videos, articles, websites, books and other resources that we recommend, to help people with their shamanic studies.
New dates and courses
If you want to know more about the shamanic Wheel of Life, we have a course starting in the new year. Students often describe it is the course that really brought their shamanic practice together for them, and one of the courses they find most useful, in many areas of their life. Details are here.
We have new dates for our First-Steps courses here.
Our Next-Steps course, “Exploring the Lower-World: Hollowing-Out, finding Human Lower-World Guides, and the Air, Fire, Water and Earth Transformation Practices.” Has new dates and starts in February. Details are here.
With all the changes to the college over the last two years, publication of the next book has been severely delayed. In this time though, whilst I haven’t been able to do much actual writing, I have very much still been working on the book in my head and developing its ideas, and hopefully it will be a better book for this slower gestation. It is now called “Soul Roots, Spirit Branches” and I will include an excerpts from it in the next few newsletters. And, with the college’s new roles and personnel, and a team now handling admin, the website and social media, I should finally be able to get back to writing in the new year and publish before too long.
Foreign language editions
In other book news, the first book will be available in Slovenian in the new year – the first foreign language edition! I have also recently been approachd by someone who wants to translate it into Chinese, so I am exploring that. So, if you want to translate the book into another language, do let me know (although, sorry, but finances mean there is no money in it – just the satisfaction of helping spread the word!).
Having spent years thinking about it and exploring all the options, I am going to have a go at narrating an audiobook myself. If that turns out okay, then the first book should be available as an audiobook sometime in the next year, and if that proves successful then I will release the rest of the books, and all new books, in audiobook versions too.
Thank You For Reading This
Waes Hael (“be well’, a traditional Old English greeting for this time of the year),