This time in Spiritual London virtual realms we are honoured to have a conversation with a shamanic practitioner, a fellow Londoner and a beautiful wise woman, Zoë Brân. Hope you enjoy as much as we did learning more about shamanic wisdom and it’s simple yet profound applications in out modern, urban realities.
I must confess, interviewing Zoe really inspired me to, hey, just sit back & enjoy the London living as it is. Full on spirit adventure. So scroll down, grab yourself a cup of tea and enjoy a stream of wisdom and warmth.
SL.: As a shamanic practitioner, how do you weave your practice into your everyday life in London?
Zoë Brân: Almost everything that I do is connected to my shamanic practice; seeing clients, teaching students, writing, even walking my dog in a London park is a part of my spiritual life. I’ve been working now with Core Shamanism for 12 years and this way of being developed gradually over that time. It is all about connection: connection between all things living and not living, organic and inorganic, and the shamanic journey allows you to experience this directly and personally which makes it easier to live with a sense of everyday connection.
SL.:What solutions does your work, your own practice and shamanism in general offer for the modern spirit-matter split?
Zoë Brân: In shamanism there is no spirit-matter split. The separation between spirit and matter came to us primarily from the Judeo-Christian tradition in which the body was seen as intrinsically bad and spirit intrinsically good. Shamanism does not make a distinction between these things because everything has, indeed everything is, spirit; a leaf, a car, a dog, the wind, everything is spirit. As well as exploring this from a shamanic perspective, I consider it in terms of contemporary scientific thinking, which describes the connection of all things at a sub atomic level. However different humans may appear to be from each other, and from the things that surround us, at some very profound level we are the same in terms of our material being. I believe that shamanism is simply a spiritual expression of this fact, a way of seeing the world which allows us to overcome the illusion of separateness. Because shamanism is not about belief or faith but about experiences and action it is uniquely placed among spiritual practices in being able to help people overcome the spiritual-physical duality that many of us grew up with. In the shamanic journey, which involves altering our state of consciousness, we can simply and quickly step beyond our ordinary everyday selves and experience non separation.
SL.: What would you suggest to a fictional Londoner who wants to improve the quality of his/her life right now?
Zoë Brân: A fairly well known and much quoted thought is that we are all searching for the meaning of our lives, the purpose of our existence, even ourselves. Why am I here? What is my true path in life? How can I be happy? All these are questions that most of us will have asked at least once, and they’re the kind of questions that most of my clients hope to answer. However, it is not meaning or even purpose that we are really seeking, but simply the experience of being alive, which ought to be the simplest thing to do, but isn’t. There’s something about the spirit-matter split, which you asked about earlier, that affects our experience of living in a very negative way. Many people try to resolve the split by reading some of the countless self help books that are out there, but second hand knowledge is rarely the answer. In my personal experience, and that of most of my clients and students, it is face to face, loving familiarity with Spirit and with our own spirit nature that improves quality of life, sometimes magically. So, I’d suggest learning the techniques of shamanism as a simple but profound means to improving anyone’s life, regardless of where they live!
SL.: … you call shamanism a technology for the modern world. Why do you use the term ‘technology’?
Zoë Brân: That’s an interesting question. We often think of technology as referring only to mechanical or industrial items and uses, but it also means the ‘knowledge and skills available to any human society’. For many people, including myself, shamanism is a spiritual path; it is also a highly practical tool. Our cave- dwelling ancestors probably used shamanism to help them survive, to answer questions about day to day living. The ability to make the shamanic journey, the ‘soul-flight’, is thought to be hard wired in the human brain and, if you think about it, virtually anyone is able to sit in one place while visualising of themselves in the past or projecting themselves into the future. Shamanic journeying is simply a more sophisticated, focused and intentional version of this human ability and skill, which is why I sometimes refer to shamanism as a technology.
SL.: Shamanism, spirit guides and soul retrieval can sound very mystical and even scary, what can we expect from your workshops and teachings?
Zoë Brân: Shamanism is the world’s oldest spiritual practice, it is the heritage of virtually everyone alive today. It has nothing to do with religion of them, or even with good or evil. While I understand that some people may feel that shamanism his bizarre or even scary, I see this as a hangover from the religions that we’ve grown up with: notions of hell, heaven, angels or demons. All the world’s big religions developed out of shamanism, but a great deal of what shamanism was was lost in the transition. For example, the Lower World of shamanism is like the roots of a tree, it supports the tree, its grounds the tree, the tree draws nourishment from the roots, from the soil and water. In Christian and Islamic traditions the Lower World has become Hell. Many people imagine that the words ‘spirits’or ‘spirit’ refer to the dead. In some shamanic traditions this is the case. In the core shamanic tradition which I practiced, spirits’ refers to everything that is. My spirit helpers are parts of the universe presenting themselves to me in particular ways in order to teach me particular things. They are also the thing that they appear to be, a Deer, a Horned Man, a Vulture. They are also a part of myself, because if everything is one and there is no separation how can anything not be a part of me?
I call my courses ‘Adventures in Shamanism’ because for me that’s what this practice is, the most exciting adventure in my life so far. What people can expect from my workshops and teaching is an intensely pragmatic approach to healing life’s everyday difficulties. Typical questions while learning to journey might be, “I’m going on a journey to meet my spirit helpers and ask show me practical ways to have a better relationship with my mother?” Or “Show me how my life will be if I take the job offer in Manchester?” Shamanism can of course be applied to existential questions such as,”Show me what I need to know about death so that I can live life to the full”, or “Help me to experience my true potential”.
SL.: How do you experience the spiritual side of London? What is there already, what is changing and what is needed?
Zoë Brân: There is undoubtedly a growing movement towards spirituality across London, and across the United Kingdom. You can almost feel it. I work in places now, such as businesses in The City, where what I do would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. However this movement, this groundswell, is very definitely fragmented. Even the shamanic community, if it can be called that, is highly fragmented. Whether it’s desirable for things to come together, or not, I can’t answer. While I’m not particularly in favour of regulation, there is a need for people seeking help to be able to distinguish between trained, skilled and ethical practitioners and people offering services without training or skills. Greater clarity about what’s available, so that people can get a sense of what might benefit them, would be big step forward, Spiritual London, and other groups working in this area are a great help.
SL.: What are your three favourite places in London?
Zoë Brân: My favourite place is a small fenced-in area of Hampstead Heath overlooking Kenwood House. I discovered the place some years ago and found a beautiful ‘altar’ made from a tree stump covered with little offerings of feathers, leaves, pennies and with the branches above hung with beads and ribbons. This ‘altar’ has been destroyed several times and all the bushes around cut back. Each time it is destroyed, it reappears. Here is a photo of it taken a few years ago.
My next favourite place is Roundwood Park in Willesden; it’s where I go almost every day to walk my dog. I have a special tree here, which is also one of my Middle World spirit helpers and it’s nice to be able to see and touch it, particularly as I often get unexpected insights or advice while doing so. My third favourite place in Soho. In 2011 I will have lived in London for 30 years and for me Soho has always been the heart
of London, the place to socialise, to meet friends and watch the world pass by. London is one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting cities and Soho is at the very centre of that, with a unique spirit all its own!
Zoë Brân (pronounced Brahn) is a Core Shamanic practitioner, writer and educator. Born in South Wales her earliest professional post was working for the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as a writer. Zoë was the first woman in Britain to be involved in managing a national AIDS organisation and her groundbreaking PhD explored the relationship between society, culture and HIV disease. As a writer of travel literature her work focussed on troubled areas of the world such as Burma, Bosnia and Cuba. Zoë taught Writing and also Creative Thinking at several London universities and is a former Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund and a Writer in Residence at the University of the Arts, London.
Zoë was introduced to Core Shamanism (aka Harner Method Core Shamanism) in 1998 and trained in shamanic practice with the Centre for Shamanic Studies, (formerly the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies) and with other notable British and North American teachers. This training, which is ongoing, included working with the concepts of spirit, healing, problem-solving and power. Zoë currently offers workshops, courses and seminars on Core Shamanism in London and the South East.
The next ‘Adventures in Shamanism’ course starts Monday October 11th at 6.45pm in Islington. For details of this and all Zoë’s upcoming courses, workshops and seminars, http://www.shaman.uk.com.
For further details of shamanism historically and around the world www.shaman.uk.net