Maybe you can say something about how your first encountered shamanism?
I think I had heard about it for years. I was always fascinated by religious traditions and read people like Ninian Smart and Mircea Eliade and of course I read Joseph Campbell until it was coming out of my ears. And so I knew about it theoretically. As to how I got involved with it personally, I was researching a book on menopause called “Passage to Power” and I had a very strong sense that many people in mid life find that they have climbed to the top of the ladder only to discover it is against the wrong wall. So they experience what I called soul loss, they can’t find their soul.
And I came upon a book, Sandra Ingerman’s “Soul Retrieval”. It was completely different from what I meant by soul loss. I didn’t know that there was this tradition in tribal cultures of people losing part of their life essence or soul and then the shamanic technique for bringing it back. I read this book and I loved it. It has a very, very beautiful spirit in it. So I got into touch with Sandra and I said I really loved your book have you done any work specifically with mid-life women? She said no, just for everybody. I said I would love for you to do a soul retrieval for me and she said that she would be happy to. I asked what was necessary? She said she always insisted that people come to her but it would be silly to come all of the way from England. So she would do it sometime in the next few days and she would get in touch with me afterwards.
I thought shamanism sounded quite interesting, but there are a lot of interesting things in the world. So I said when you do the soul retrieval would you just ask the spirits should I learn shamanic journeying I thought if they said yes, I might do it, and if they said no… I knew when she did it because I awakened in the middle of the night with the sense of this very beneficent energy all around me. Sure enough the next day she rang me and said she had done the soul retrieval. And what’s more she had asked the spirits and they had said it was very appropriate for me to learn to journey. So I went to New York and did a basic course with Michael Harner in some ghastly school in the Village, full of sirens zooming by, with a filthy floor and all of that. And then did their two week course at Esalen and then did Sandra’s soul retrieval course and then went onto the advanced training programme. It just fascinated me.
I was really honoured and very, very surprised when Sandra asked if she could send people to me to do soul retrievals. Me who at first saw power animals as cartoon cut outs, who was I to do soul retrievals? She said not at all, its the results that matter. And so she began to send me people to do soul retrievals. I don’t take money for it. I do it as a hobby, sort of like building model aeroplanes… I love doing soul retrievals by the way, because no-one ever told me that when you do a soul retrieval you are actually privy to the nature of someone’s soul. Its like walking in a garden and seeing flowers you have never seen before.
I was doubly honoured and again quite surprised when Michael again asked me if I would teach for the Foundation here. So that is basically how I got involved. I was in fear and trepidation the first workshop I did, because I didn’t think I could drum long enough. To let people down who were journeying for the first time… and so Simon drummed along with me as moral as well as physical support.
How do you feel it has changed your life?
It has made me more authentic, more on the outside what I am on the inside. Its has lightened everything. This is recent that I have noticed this. Everything that was a struggle isn’t anymore. I am still struggling with some irritating things on the outside but the inner things all work and flow. I can’t explain that.
I was really interested that in the workshop you spoke a lot about compassion. How does that fit into your shamanic work?
For me its the core of shamanism is compassion. Compassion and intention that is what it is all about.
I’m interested because its something Jonathan Horwitz (my own teacher) stresses a great deal, and I didn’t get that from Michael Harner.
Michael has it. He is an interesting character. I always describe him as a latter day Indiana Jones – he even dresses that way. What I like about Michael is, when you work with him a lot, you really see the compassion he has for the spirits and for other people. But its all unspoken. I am very, very fond of him. He has the worst sense of humour in the world. When I first went to his workshop, I thought I’m not going to be able to stand this man. He says himself, look I make really bad jokes, please don’t laugh because it encourages me. And then laughs. He is a Taurus, a very deep character. And his compassion is very internal. Its all there. Michael’s love of the spirits I adore. He has such respect for them. And he speaks very highly of Jonathan. He really has a lot of respect for him which I think is very nice too….
How do you see the Foundation developing in the UK?
Well I hope that what will happen is now that we have got a foundation of people with the basic skills, I think we will be able to do other things – like extraction and soul retrieval. That is why I like core shamanism so much, it is such a good, solid foundation, and then you can go off and you can do your Toltec thing or your Hawaiian thing and it all begins to fit together.
You have been teaching some of our own courses too?
In this country I have done two of my own. One was called Passage to Power, which was the best workshop I ever taught, and I got more out of it than anything I have ever done. That was when I was ill with this abscess. It was so amazing. The thing about teaching shamanism is that the spirits do all the work, all you have to do is show up.
I am doing a really interesting residential course at Samhain, in the autumn, looking at the hero’s journey with relevance to each participants’ life. What myth are you living in and how do you use the different energies to bring about the kind of transformation that is associated with the hero’s journey.
Is that drawing on Jungian approach?
No its drawing on Campbell. The hero with a thousand faces is the same experience in every culture going back centuries. I’m not very Jungian, I respect Jung a lot – he was a brilliant man – but I am not psychologically orientated. When I first came to England over 30 years ago I was trained in social psychiatry and Reikian bio-energetics and I used to lead encounter groups. In fact I led some of the first encounter groups in Britain. When you lead encounter groups people think you are Jesus Christ.
When you tell them that you are not, they are sure you are because you are humble with it. I wasn’t having any of that and I quit because my experience with most psychotherapy is that it is of limited use because a psychotherapeutic system is created through the consciousness of one human being primarily. And if that consciousness is Freudian, then the structures within which the therapy takes place are only so big and if its Adlerian they are so big and if its Jungian so big again….. You know the size of the human spirit? That is why I love shamanism. You are cutting through all of the emotional and psychological stuff and are getting down to the level of energy and shifting and transmuting energy. Its more efficient.
Its not that it is not valuable, however I am into working with something as long as it serves you and then breaking through it to go to another level. The book that I am writing is called “Journey to Freedom: Thirteen Quantum Steps for the Soul”. Each step is a quantum leap in consciousness and accessing energy and it is based on the shamanic tradition. The reason there are thirteen steps is that twelve is the circle, is the completion, is the months. Everything is in twelves in the structure of our society. Basically the book is set up to go from step to step to step to create the skills and techniques you need. And the thirteenth step is that you use these to climb to the top of the ladder to get to the second floor and then you throw the ladder away. Shamanism is ultimately about freedom and its ultimately about human autonomy and trusting the soul and having the experience of spirituality yourself not filtered through the religion or the guru or whatever. I love this. I really, really respect the human soul.
Where is your own work taking you right now?
I value freedom more than anything else in the world. I have more respect for the human spirit than anything else in the world. And I need freedom to be able to celebrate that spirit in myself and also to be, even in a very simple way, instrumental in helping other people celebrate it in themselves. I look at the world as a living organic system, and each of us plays a role like a cell in the body of Gaia. If we are furthering the truth of our own, individual soul quality then each cell plays its role in a way that is harmonious by Nature. This is the way organic systems work. I’d like to feel in some way that I could make some small contribution to that.
Also from a very, very personal point of view I am writing my second novel based on the selkie legends set in western Wales. And I want to make movies. I feel that film is such a wonderful media for touching the soul. I look at some of the incredibly skilful films like Seven (which is about serial killers) and its so beautifully put together. And I think to myself, its a shame we are using it to incite people’s passion for death and whatever… when these skills could be put towards making people aware of the power of their own soul and to honour its beauty. That is what I would like to do. How I do that I do not know, but I am very serious about it. I have already done a masters course in filming. I have only made little films for the BBC, I have never made a movie. And I intend in the next eighteen months to get on some movie sets. I want to work with commercial directors because they are the ones who really have the film making skills. Where it will take me I do not know, but that is what I want to do.
Leslie Kenton is an award winning writer, broadcaster, social activist and shamanic practitioner. She has written over 30 books on health and well being. Since 1996 she has been the UK faculty member for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.