“There is an opportunity for us in the twenty-first century, with our industrial ills, diseases, mental unrest and wars, to re-harmonize ourselves with the planet using shamanic techniques,” says Nancy Sherwood, a contemporary shaman, intuitive dancer and healer from Upper Vaughan, NS.
Sherwood is a member of the Shamanic Grandmothers Council of Nova Scotia, a non-profit group interested in supporting shamanic practice by organizing yearly gatherings, or convergences.
The group will host the 4th Annual Shamanic Convergence at the Dorje Denma Ling Retreat Centre in Tatamagouche from Sept. 27 to 30. The gathering welcomes participants from all cultures and traditions, and “aims to foster an expanded concept of shamanism and how shamanic practice can be used for healing individuals, communities and the planet.”
The theme of this year's convergence is ‘Awakening the Dragon,’ represented by the element of fire. Over the course of the four-day gathering, shamanic practitioners with experience in the shamanic traditions of Ireland, and North and South America will lead ceremonies that will support participants in “igniting and reclaiming their passion.”
I interviewed Sherwood to gain a better understanding of shamanism, how it can benefit individuals and communities today, and what it means to “awaken the dragon.”
Lindsay Dobbin (LD): What is shamanism?
Nancy Sherwood (NS): Shamanism goes right back to the origin of the human race as a spiritual and psychotherapeutic technique. The premise is that when we are in disharmony with the heavens and the Earth, we manifest illness and disease.
Shamanism is alive and well in many cultures. It is the official spiritual path in Siberia; shamans are active in places such as Thailand, South America and Africa. Some shamanic paths have mingled with Buddhism or Christianity such as New Bon in Tibet or Mayan in Mexico. It has survived despite persecution and prejudice because it is effective. There is an Indigenous point of view that sees the practice of shamanism as scientific as Western science, and that it actually has a more complete understanding of reality that considers all life to be sacred, rather than separating what can be measured and seen from the invisible and felt world.
LD: What drew you to become a practicing shaman?
NS: I was living in the woods in Nova Scotia as a land steward and artist when our family went to Africa. During our time in Botswana I gifted a traditional doctor (sangoma) at her coming-out ceremony and made friends, not knowing that I would be "one of those people" soon myself.
After our extended stay on a work project there, we came back to Nova Scotia to steward a park. A trio of women, Maid, Mother and Crone, travelling with a child, came there and I received a healing and initiation from them that changed my life.
The results of meditation practice and my own intuitive nature got amplified, so that I started learning directly from the spirit of the land and from the teachers on the other side. My teachings come from the energetic level of Light that comes before any one culture, element or form and reveal themselves so that I can embody them.
LD: How do you balance your shamanic practice in today's busy and demanding world?
NS: My balance is to spend time outdoors remembering that we are interconnected with all species and to act on the visions I receive from those contemplative and ceremonial times that I spend alone or with others. Putting action to the inspirations I receive has involved a healing and teaching practice, communicating in many modalities — movement, sound, arts — so that I can share with people.
Of course at this stage of life, I am less the Mother in charge of everything a mother does, and more in the Grandmother stage, offering support and encouragement. I also offer a Protector energy to events and situations, which I initiate, co-found, or participate in as a member of a community. I have carried out many different roles, so dancing between them and keeping flexible is part of my way of being by now.
LD: Do you sense a new wave of interest in shamanism in the West? What do you feel shamanism has to offer the contemporary world?
NS: The new wave of interest may be coming because we in the West sense something is missing from our point of view and lifestyle that has led us to environmental destruction, corporate abuse of people and land, imperialism and aggression. The shamanic approach to these symptoms of an unsustainable future is to reconnect with ourselves, one another and the universe, the seasons, the place where we live and to live in awareness of the larger picture of ordinary and non-ordinary reality.
I feel what shamanism has to offer is very earthy practices that join us back to our ancestral roots; ceremonies that offer a chance to express our gratitude for our earth walk, and the embodiment of spirit in a body aligned with the cosmos. Some Indigenous people call it the Beauty Way.
The shaman is the trained medicine person but he/she cannot operate unless the society agrees that it needs the holistic view that goes with the practices, and so they are interdependent, and indeed based on the belief that interconnectedness is a way of being. Many people can be connected to ceremony without being the person who others confer with when there is an illness or disaster. Ceremonies keep the society in balance and their ongoing effectiveness need those who have other obligations of work and family to take part and assist in the ceremony. Without those people there are only the shamans trying to do it all and ceremony is only one of the duties they might have to do.
LD: Are there some shamanic ideas or tools that someone can apply to their own life without becoming a practicing shaman?
NS: A person can attend drummings, sweatlodges, workshops of various kinds, carry on their own private rituals, within the context of a shamanic view and integrate what they learn for personal growth and benefit to others. Regular attendance at seasonal festivals, rites of life passage such as marriage and death, become part of the expression of a life rich in sharing and being in touch with the soul.
LD: What can one expect to learn and do over the course of the Shamanic Convergence?
NS: Over the course of this coming event participants can be exposed to ceremonies like firewalking and the sweatlodge, as well as taking part in drumming and dancing and singing.
The workshops will be from different traditions, so that there will be an experience and understanding of each culture's relationship to the elements and/or the dragon. Participants are exposed to the view that all life is sacred and to see how ceremony can support that view.
Convergers, if there is that word, are given opportunities to have individual or group experiences like shamanic counselling and sharing circles that aid in healing the soul loss of our time.
LD: What does it mean to ‘awaken the dragon,’ the theme of this year's convergence?
NS: ‘Awakening the dragon’ is to become conscious of the primordial, elemental energy within us that can be wise, outrageous, compassionate, playful, and a source of power that can protect the beings on the Earth to live harmoniously with her. We say that the dragons are sleeping because we are not using all the potential energy that is available to us; we have fears about using our power and so to awaken is to be aware of our loving and passionate dragon nature. We speak as if we are awakening something outside ourselves, where we see the effects of using our strength and beauty, but it has to start within.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
For more information on and/or to register for the 4th Annual Shamanic Convergence, please visit www.shamanicconvergence.org. For more information on Nancy Sherwood, please visit http://www.travellersjoy.ca/nancy-sherwood.html.