From 1985 to 1990 I read all I could find in the anthropological literature relating to shamanism. One thing struck me. Reading transcripts of shamans (such as Mazatec shaman Maria Sabina) chanting in trance clearly lost something in the translation from spoken word to print. It was like someone telling a story, and suddenly realizing they weren’t communicating properly: “You had to be there.”
I found the same thing to be true recording my own incantations, thinking I might be able to record them as poetry. Repetition, rhythms, voice inflections, and an immediate quality of trance did not translate well into the written word on a page. You had to be there. Sometimes, to my surprise, the same seems to be true for my most eloquent spirit sauna prayers. They were intended for a specific audience at a specific time.
That doesn’t mean that the muse does not inform poetry. Without inspiration, the written word, in my opinion, can become a technical, cutting edge, or an avant-garde exercise. But even with the voice of a muse, the poetry needs to be crafted. Poetry is a partnership between muse and poet.
Which is why I am willing to share this particular shamanic poem. The poem is based on shamanic incantations, which varied each time they were spoken – improvised on themes and calling to spirits. The incantations themselves are more powerful than the poem, very different, and less interesting as words on a page. Shamanic incantations are an invocation (even when drum and rattle or other shamanic devices are absent). A connection with Power is called upon. Incantations are useful for deepening connection with Power. Incantations can act to intensify an intention. Incantations can bring balance to a troubled mind. Incantations can bring protection and guidance while walking through the valley of the shadow (or in some more mundane spirit-leaking situation). Incantations can be spoken out loud or silently. Incantations are…different than poetry.
I’m not even sure what follows makes good poetry. But after about ten years as various incantations, it felt like homage to try – like carving a statue in someone’s honor. Obviously, the statue is not the person. It points to a memory. That’s why it can stay in one place for so long a time.
Five years later I’m sharing it here. Sand will cover this poem faster than a statue – it will be invisible soon enough. In the meantime, a line here or there may provide someone with the inspiration to begin their own shamanic incantations with words shared between themselves and Power.
Animal Power Jaguar
Shifting, am I, into a numinous dream,
gathering intention for the will of Spirit.
The black jaguar is patiently waiting.
He has found me again.
can see in the dark, stalk through the undergrowth,
guide me as a way is made clear through the wilderness –
in the depth of experience, in the blending of worlds –
until we are eye to eye, tickled by whiskers.
Teaching me to speak without sound, devouring
the heavy shadow; shedding the weight of shortcomings.
I am digested until my name dissolves in light.
Then we take nourishment from Dream.
Feeling the breath so close that it whispers in my ear,
spreading across my skin in waves of hair on end;
fur from the night’s current.
We are breathing as we breathe together,
breathing from a single lung, where worlds connect.
Beating between worlds, an invocation
to live more fully with the wild Spirit
that carries the pulse of creation, a doorway,
an interface exchanging breath for Life.
the pulsing brilliance that warms the skin;
the drumbeat that makes a body one.
I am moved through Space like a jaguar.
I feel the force of wild in my veins.
I can see inside dreams, explore the places
where human form is not allowed, the forbidden
spaces where harmony and chaos swirl together.
I am the Jaguar,
leaving its trace in the world; the tracks of the ancients.
I am the Jaguar heart
that beats in rhythm with hidden purpose.
I am that which moves with Earth.