Eagle Spirit Ministry
  Adaptation of

Shamans Cave

  Dancing Shadows On The Wall

So far, we have discussed many of the principles of reality and magick. We have discussed the importance of our childhood training, our belief system, our perception of reality and the importance of what our reality does and does not include. These are all vital parts of our everyday lives and determine very specifically what our lives will hold in store for us, but as one of my dear friends pointed out after reading these pages, everything to this point has created the illusion that Shamanism and the occult practices are little more than the sleight of hand of a well practiced magician.

Nothing could, of course, be farther from the truth. A magician, using sleight of hand, appears to make things happen with no pretence that his or her magical tricks actually altered reality, while a trained occult practitioner, using tried and proven methods, actually changes the fabric of reality in accordance with his or her will and plainly states to have done so.

This being true, I would like to begin to touch at the heart of the matter of Shamanism and its practice. To do this, I am going to refer to an allegory, or a metaphoric story, derived from the renowned Greek philosopher, Plato.

  Plato's Allegory Of The Cave

'The Allegory of the Cave' as it is commonly known, clearly describes the Shamanic experience from the shaman's initiation through the full spectrum of the life and challenges of the trained, practicing shaman. It is for this reason that I have chosen the title Shaman's Cave for these pages.

Let's begin with the Allegory of the Cave. In this allegory, Socrates is in a conversation with another man named Glaucon. Socrates is using this allegory to describe the extent to which human nature is 'enlightened or unenlightened'.

The allegory begins with a description of a group of people, who from their childhood have been imprisoned in a cave, chained to the cave wall directly opposite the mouth of the cave, such that the cave's mouth was constantly at their back. Because of the manner in which they were chained, no one is able to move their head or body to see anything except the cave wall directly ahead.


Just outside the mouth of the cave is a large, constantly burning fire which casts its light through the mouth of the cave and illuminates the interior of the cave. As people and animals pass between the fire and the cave entrance, their shadows are cast onto the cave wall directly in front of the cave's prisoners, including the shadows of the prisoners themselves.

The shadows within the cave thus constitute the entire understanding the prisoners have of the outside world. Thus, it is also the basis for their knowledge, their beliefs, and their consensus reality. Should they hear an echo within the cave, they might suppose it to be the voice of one of the shadows passing by. But this is their world, it comprises all that they have ever known, all that they have ever experienced. They have nothing else to compare to their world; thus, their world is the finite end of their existence, there is nothing else.

But what would happen should a single prisoner be liberated from his chains? The prisoner could stand up, turn around, and face the mouth of the cave. Do you suppose this sudden liberation might cause some apprehension or fear in this person? Would you return back to your place and pretend you were still chained? What about the illusion of reality of the liberated prisoner vs. the consensus reality of the group?


Now suppose the liberated captive is now guided outside the cave to the source of the shadows. Would you not be blinded by the glare of the light and bewildered by your strange environment? What if you were asked to name all the things which now passed before you that were the source of the shadows before. Would you recognize anything passing by and give it the same name it had in the cave?

Now suppose that you were guided up a steep and difficult ascent to a hilltop and compelled to look at the sun. How much pain and fear would that create? Would you believe that all the things you see are real?

Alas, should you remain and adapt to the outside world, would you not ponder your friends and relatives who are yet prisoners in the cave? Should you ever return to the cave and tell them all that you have experienced, how would you be received?

There it is in a nut shell: 'The Allegory of the Cave'.

Allegory of the Cave

What does all this have to do with Shamanism? Just suppose for a moment that we, modern man, are the ones who live in the cave. It would be totally undetectable, because our illusion of reality would be complete. Whatever we can experience is what there is. If enough people experience the same thing then we begin to construct a consensus reality. From the point that consensus reality solidifies, the cycle is complete and thoughts, beliefs and behaviour will be dictated from then on by those beliefs.

If we do in fact, live in the cave chained as prisoners staring at the wall, then what becomes of the one who is liberated and wanders outside the cave? Mind you, the liberated captive is not trying to escape. You cannot escape from a prison that you do not know that you are in. The liberated captive is being forced beyond his or her (in the remainder of the text, the male gender noun will imply either gender) illusion of reality and his consensus reality. Through no choice of his own, he is thrown into a new world completely foreign to any of his previous experience or understanding.

The liberated captive is the Shaman. As I stated earlier, Shamanism is most frequently initiated by a traumatic physical or psychological event. Why is this true? Well, maybe the more correct question to ask is; why is it necessary to undergo a traumatic, life altering event in order to accept new levels of insight? That question seems almost self-answering. When everything in our lives is going well, we have no need for change, especially radical change. The Shamanic event must be sufficient to leave the recipient open to radical new possibilities.


Take the instance of an individual with terminal disease. I would like to begin with the premise that every illness is the result of an imbalance (or internal conflict) within the overall body or the consciousness of the individual. Furthermore, that every illness is an attempt at healing, and every healing is an attempt to arrive at a new state of balance. I would further like to expound that, by virtue of this new equilibrium, a new and higher state of consciousness is achieved.

If the person fails to heed the message of the illness and arrive at a new balance, the condition of imbalance continues to expand and amplify until the life-force of the individual can no longer sustain the mortal experience and the physical body dies. Any imbalance that is severe enough to propel an individual into such traumatic physical illness is also severe enough to create a psychological imbalance sufficient enough to force the perception of insights which the conscious mind would have never previously allowed.

Such is the situation of many terminally ill individuals, who, upon realizing the finality of their situation will resort to any treatment, regardless of the apparent absurdity. Desperation, the attempt to escape unbearable physical, mental, emotional, or psychological pain and suffering forces the conscious mind to expand and allow for the acceptance of radical new insights. It is no wonder then that people in these situation are the ones who most frequently have miraculous insights and experiences. They are the ones most emotionally tied to their lives and high emotion coupled with a clearly defined blueprint produces results.


Notice that throughout the above text, I constantly refer to reaching a point where the conscious mind must let go of its illusion of reality and override all or limiting parts of consensus reality. This should be a significant insight into how our illusion of reality and consensus reality are created and maintained.

The conscious mind operates like a computer. It takes the empirical data that it receives and analyses, associates and stores it. The conscious mind is also synonymous with the logical mind. The conscious mind is not your high or spiritual self, nor is it your lower or emotional self. It is the middle, logical self. Most occult practitioners will tell you that the training and discipline of the logical, conscious mind is the single most difficult and vital factor in occult work. The conscious mind works constantly, generating information, usually anticipating the future or rehashing the past.

Having said all that, it is not a far stretch of the imagination to find the correlation between illness and the first steps on the shamanic path. Is a traumatic event or illness a prerequisite to shamanism? Definitely not, but the degree to which one's illusion of reality must be fluid usually demands some interruption of normal consciousness.


As one of the prisoners still in the cave, you might ask, is it not possible that all the experiences which the supposedly liberated captive had are not simply a stress induced self-hallucination? This question is one of the most difficult questions ever asked. That depends on the individual, the verifiable validity of that individual's experiences (to the extent possible) and the extra-ordinary abilities the individual exhibits which were not present previously. Please remember, for all intents and purposes, the only person you are trying to convince is you. If that person believes themselves to be 'divinely endowed', your scepticism is not going to affect them.

Back to the cave. There are several possible outcomes. How that liberated captive deals with this aspect of freedom is critical. The first possibility is to run back into the cave, reassume his original place and pretend that nothing ever happened, despite the fact that he's no longer chained to the wall. In this case, the original illusion of reality and learned consensus reality have prevailed.

The second option is that he remain outside the cave. This second path forks quickly once you're on it. The first option is to simply accept your new environment and form a new illusion of reality based on your experiences there and accept the consensus reality found there. Option #2 is to realize that the cave was but one reality and now I am experiencing another, and there may be an infinite number of other possibilities. On this basis, the individual maintains a very fluid illusion of reality and abides the present consensus reality without buying into it.


This last option is the path of the Shaman. It is also the most vulnerable path. It is my firm belief that mental institutions around the world are full of individuals who have experienced this last option and are floating about in realms and possibilities like a ship without an anchor. In many traditions around the world where shamans, witches, sorcerers, and healers are an accepted part of consensus reality, the 'Wise Ones' observe the general population for signs of 'Shaman's Disease' (one who is not oriented or tied to normal reality) or in fact, pick a particular individual according to their criteria for an apprentice, and deliberately induce 'Shaman's Disease' as part of their training.

The learning experiences of the captive in his new world simulate the learning experiences of the aspiring shaman as he is introduced into the his new world as well. For both the captive and the aspiring shaman, the presence of a guide, mentor, or teacher becomes a critical aspect of the time and effort required to adapt and master their new world and their role in it. Having achieved a level of proficiency in his particular art, the aspiring shaman will receive recognition within the society, group or culture as a practicing shaman and begin receiving visits from the population for his specific help. In societies or cultures where the supernatural or shamanism is not socially acceptable, an entirely new set of challenges begin.

That pretty much brings us back to the captive's choice of returning to his fellow prisoners still in the cave. How does anyone who has experienced extra-ordinary events present the story of those events and the changes that the events effected on that individual back to their fellow man. The captive has braved to move outside the cave, learned and adapted to a broader awareness, successfully navigated unfamiliar terrain, and the last challenge is to take what has gained back where it can be of use to others.


This challenge can be more threatening than any previous challenge the captive or shaman has previously faced. Social acceptance does make a shaman any more or less a shaman, but it will set the precedent for how the shaman or captive will interact with society and the extent to which the knowledge, wisdom, and gifts gained will be shared with that society.

As humans, we are multi-dimensional beings. We consciously tap into only a very few. I cannot stress enough how our childhood training and experiences, our learned illusion of reality and our prevailing consensus reality affect what we will experience in this lifetime and countless lifetimes to come. The more fluid our belief system, the less anchored our conscious mind set, the greater our potential to experience a much broader spectrum of reality. Once you have been guided outside of the cave, you can pretend that you never left, but you will never be the same person that you were before.

Before I end this page, I would like to recommend a very interesting parallel to Plato's Allegory from a Native American perspective.

Jumping Mouse

Rev. Ronald S. Eppich, PhD

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