Once upon a time there lived people in northern Siberia, at the top of the planet in a place we call the North Pole. These people depended on reindeer for their lives. The antlered animals provided clothing, housing materials, wares, tools from bones and antlers, milk and even transportation. The Northern Tungusic people, known as the Evenki, even rode reindeer. But maybe….it wasn’t so long ago.
Like many tribal societies worldwide, theirs was a shamanic culture. A shaman is one who knows or sees and takes journeys of flight through altered states of consciousness to gather information and wisdom. Those who practice a more modern form of shamanism today use the drum beat to alter their state of consciousness but traditional shaman often used psychoactive plants as a way to induce heightened states of awareness.
Shaman are keen observers of nature. The Evenki shaman watched their beloved reindeer’s behavior after eating the fly agaric mushroom and realized there were psychoactive properties in the fungi. They began using a dried version to enhance their journeys of expanded awareness as the fresh version is toxic to humans…poor guy that learned that.
One of the side-effects of ingesting fly agaric is the sensation of flying. Another is seeing others fly, including reindeer. The shamanic journey is a flight of the spirit to non-ordinary reality so the Evenki men and women that took their spirit flights journeyed with ‘flying’ reindeer.
Their spirit journeys were not about escaping reality or getting high. Instead, they used the journey to seek wisdom and knowledge and to honor the spirits, animals, plants and the natural world that gave them life. By connecting with the spiritual aspect of their world, they gathered information that helped them learn when to hunt, when to gather, when to move to other locations and how to treat illness of body and soul.
Shamanic cultures know the magical and mystical properties of the natural world by living in close affiliation with nature. In this way they maintain balance and harmony with the environment that supports and nurtures them.
We don’t need to ingest toxic mushrooms to take flights of spirit. We can use meditation, drumming and even sitting in stillness and silence to enhance our ability to shift our consciousness. Never before has it seemed so urgent that we connect with nature and alter our mindset and cluttered consciousness so that we might learn, once again, how to live in harmony with our planet.
The flying reindeer remind me to connect with nature in a sacred way every day and allow my imagination to take flight and envision a world where we once again live in harmony with nature and all life. And then to take steps every day to engage in helping that vision come to pass.