R – Witchcraft and the Shamanic Journey

By Jodi Lee
Originally Published 2001
(see author/copyright info below)

Author: Kenneth Johnson
Publisher: Llewellyn Publications
ISBN: 1-56718-379-4
Pages (incl. back matter): 262
Release Date: Second Edition 1998

I requested this book to review as a tie-in with my articles on shamanism (see Shaman’s Path 1-4). Although not specifically directed at healing, I have found this book to give a fairly thorough depiction of shamanism practices from several cultures.

Kenneth Johnson takes the reader through the vast expanses of time, exposing various shamanic cultures from India to Egypt, Mayan to Native American. Every culture at some point in history has had methods of contacting the spirit realm, whether it be for healing practices, guaranteeing a bountiful harvest, or providing counselling and spiritual guidance. Mr. Johnson has covered pretty much any question that could arise – What is a shaman? How does a shaman journey into other realms? Were shamans male or female?

As I read through the book, I found I became more interested in the correlation between modern pagan/witchcraft practices and those used by shamans in ancient times. It seems to me that Mr. Johnson holds the belief that witches and shamans are essentially one and the same – just under different names or “titles.” I grant this much – many of the shamanic journey practices described in the book are very similar to the pathworking rituals and exercises used by modern witches.

At the end of the book, Mr. Johnson describes a gathering of hundreds of Native Americans in South Dakota in 1890. These peoples had come from far and wide, to dance the Ghost Dance. Medicine men began the ceremony, chanting and dancing throughout the teepees set up, eventually arriving at the center pole. There, the ritual began in earnest, with at least one hundred shamans taking part. They danced and circled and chanted, reaching a state of ecstasy, where they could then speak to the spirits of their dead. It is described much better in the book, very vivid – almost as if one were actually there!

Here’s a taste of what you will find between the covers. (mid-paragraph 2, pg. 40)

“Scholars acknowledge that Odin is one of the most genuinely shamanic figures in European mythology. He suffers a dramatic initiatory torment on the World Tree which is chronicled in an old Norse poem entitled Havanal (“The Song of the High One”):

I know I hung
on the windswept Tree,
through nine days and nights.
I was stuck with a spear
and given to Odin,
myself given to myself….
They helped me neither
by meat or drink.
I peered downward,
I took up the runes,
screaming, I took them -
then I fell back.

Odin has been wounded by a spear (like Llew) and – a mystical paradox – sacrificed to himself. Bleeding, he hangs from the branches of Yggdrasil, the World Tree, with none to give him food and drink. He peers downward, perhaps into the depths of Mimir’s Well, which lies at the root of the World Tree, for we are told in another place that Odin is privileged to converse with the prophetic head of Mimir because he sacrificed an eye for wisdom. And indeed, wisdom is what he seeks, for to the Norse the runes were not simply a secular alphabet – they constituted a body of lore, each letter rich with magical correspondences and esoteric meanings. Odin wins his goal and grasps the runes, but scream with the pain of knowledge acquired.”

I recommend this book to anyone curious about the history and mythology of shamanism. It’s a good starting point for those interested in learning a new path.

Jodi Lee – is a freelance writer/editor living in southern Manitoba, Canada.
© 2001 – present All Rights Reserved; Republish notice excluded.

This article can be republished elsewhere in its entirety so long as the author is notified (see contact information), a link is provided to the website, and this notice is left intact.

Comments Off