If we describe the core experience of shamanism as the shamanic journey, and we describe the shamanic journey as being a voluntary inward journey to experience entities and wisdom, most often driven by drumming, then in that sense, mine wasn’t technically a shamanic journey. I did not volunteer, I had no volition, and I was driven by drugs, not drumming. Nevertheless, I contend that I was in the shamanic space, whatever that means.
This ties into my heart attack in general and my inner experience of the Descent and Ascent stages in particular. I’ve been on shamanic journeys under the guidance of experienced teachers before (power animals: brown eagle, zebra) and I know I was in that same space.
Was it BPM-II?
Experiences of BPM II are best characterized by the triad: fear of
death, fear of never coming back, and fear of going crazy. -Stanislav Grof
That was clearly the dominant theme — the no-escape/hell scenario — though not birth-related. The heaven of the womb turns into hell when the contractions start to squeeze and there’s nowhere to go, no action that avails, just a progressively worsening crushing, like being buried alive with no hope of rescue or reprieve.
I often felt as if I were lying in the bottom of a ten-foot-deep hole — metaphorically, not shamanically — especially as it concerned my real-world surroundings. I could hear real-world voices but not well. I couldn’t see anything or make out who was speaking, I only knew at that time that anyone who opposed my escape was the enemy. I had many enemies, both within the shamanic realm and without, because all I wanted was to escape.
The dominant theme in virtually all of my many hours of shamanic narrative was being trapped and unable to communicate; having no voice and no power. I could think and form words, but I couldn’t get them out, couldn’t express meaning. It seemed like every day, or every new chapter, I’d begin by swearing not to get caught again, and swimming as if for the surface of lucidity, but somehow, every time, some malevolent, deep-water Kraken would wrap a tendril around my ankle at the last minute and drag me back down. That was the lethargy-inducing, stupid-making drugs at work, and once they were administered, there was nothing to do but await my next episode of limited agency and swim for the surface again.
The long, straightline narratives continued but were mainly of a helpless prisoner nature. I could get the attention of others within the shamanic space, but I could not transmit a message. I could intend meanings I couldn’t convey. My personality was easily and repeatedly hijacked and misrepresented, every day in every situation. Nearby authority figures could depict and represent me and my situation as they wished.
Helpless? Hopeless? Not quite. I did manage to rip out all my tubes and cords and make a few real-world bids for freedom. Fortunately, I was saved by friends I didn’t yet know as such.
So what? So I don’t know. Maybe we look closer and find out together. I’m not super comfortable talking about stuff I know nothing about, but this is obviously an exception. Does everyone under the effects of this drug or drug combination find themselves trapped in a remote and seriously unpleasant corner of the wonderful, mystical shamanic space? Harner mentions endless mansions of a magnificent hidden universe, and I know that to be true — I consider shamanism the proto-religion of mankind, the one for all — but my experience was of one small, shitty crossroad of all that. Stuck in a hole but never quite buried.