The core practice of shamanism, I'm convinced, is the use of the physical to embody, attract and manifest the spiritual.
This seems counter-intuitive when we consider that idea that nothing physical manifests without an energetic genesis. How then does the physical manifest the spiritual?
The answer lies in the understanding that, before we use the physical to manifest the spiritual, a seed of the spiritual has to precede it. Let me illustrate.
One of the practices I've been taught is the "sand painting" (pictured above). This is a tool that uses natural elements - in this case, sand, stones and wood - to physically "illustrate" an intention. While I generally don't make it a practice to share my prayers publicly, in this case, I obtained "permission" to do so in order to illustrate this process.
As you can see from the picture, I built a basic wood box out of 2x4's, approximately 24 inches square. I then filled it with sand I bought at a local hardware store. Over the years, I've collected many stones that mean something to me. Some have been gifted, most were found. I can name where I got most of the stones that can be seen in this picture because I've used them and have developed a relationship with them. Most of the wood pieces are from the branches of a Sun Dance tree and are also sacred to me.
The process is this: I smudge myself and the area, and open sacred space. Then, looking inward, I place the objects where my Soul wants them to go in order to represent His desires (while being careful to control for ego). When it feels "done," I close sacred space and let it "cook" for 24-48 hours before again opening sacred space and dissembling the artful prayer, and closing sacred space with gratitude.
The picture above is a relatively simple and general example, but looking carefully, the crystal in the middle represents myself. It's leaning Southward, as if traveling that way. A black arrowhead is pointing South, indicating my desire to continue to walk the Red Road, the road of health and life that courses from North (difficulty and wisdom) to South (ease, abundance and preparation). The white arrowhead is the South rising to meet me. The other six stones represent West, North, East, South, Grandfather Sky and Mother Earth, who are gathered around me, supporting me and watching me.
The idea is, when I wish to communicate in a physical manner with the Earth Mother - who I see as the Governing Goddess of the Material World - I can open sacred space, draw a boundary circle in the sand, and then use these stones and wood pieces to illustrate in a physical way the intentions or desires of my soul. This can also be used as a divination tool with slight variations in process and intent, a highly recommended practice.
Either as a divination or a manifestation tool, it's almost like the subconscious is communicating with the ethereal by means of poetry-metaphor using the language of the earth. This acts as a precursor to the manifestation of one's soulful desires, kind of a interim birthing process for what we want to bring into the world; a blueprint.
Why is this necessary? What's wrong with a prayer, or even a meditation? Aren't those just as effective?
Jesus once said in response to some disciples who were unsuccessful casting out a demon, "this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting." The idea is that some things in our lives take extra effort to bring into being. This is not because they're "extra hard;" to Creator, nothing is difficult. Rather, they're for us. Sincere prayer and ceremonial fasting - or sand paintings - work to focus the mind. There may be, in fact, an aspect of "getting the attention of" attendant unseen Guides and Helpers in this and similar practices. But this is more icing than cake; our biggest hurdles to manifestation are generally our own minds.
Extrapolating this out, we can see why a sweat lodge "works" for manifestation. Sure, we acknowledge all the Directions as aspects of Creator. Yes, we sing honoring songs and feel for the voices of our Ancestors and Guides... but even without these aspects of this ceremony, there's something about staying in ones prayer, one's intention, while physically suffering through the heat and thirst that are part of the inipi ceremony. The prayers are more visceral, more a part of us physically and, therefore, easier to remember energetically after the ceremony ends.
When it comes to shamanic practices, those that involve natural items and processes to shift energy in one way or another, the physical and spiritual are forever intertwined, an experiential manifestation of the yin-yang symbol; each contains aspects of the other, and one cannot exist without her counterpart.
It's my intention to bring these ways into the light, so that we can begin to begin, in the face of withering distractions and low energetic identification, to reclaim our connection with ourSelves, and with Earth and Sky and their attendant Helpers. By so doing, may we manifest the Life of Beauty and Love we know is possible.
(If this is helpful or interesting, please share on social media or in your circles. Blissings!)