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Excerpt from "Trance Journeys of the Hunter-Gatherers"

Chapter 4: Spirit Guides

by Nicholas E. Brink, Ph.D.


When you start experimenting with ecstatic postures, one early experience is to find a spirit guide that in some way leads you to new discoveries about yourself. Hunters-gatherers, ancient and contemporary, see the world as full of spirits--spirits of specific animals, plants, or other substances of the Earth with personalities from which they have something to learn. Clan names are generally an animal that is considered an ancestor of the members of the clan. This animal is protected by the clan and is considered a guide in their lives. The clan members are sometimes extended family, but members can be assigned by various methods, such as the result of a vision quest or a specific rite of passage in the person’s life, by the person’s role in the community, or by some other means. A person may have more than one spirit guide. These spirit guides are central in the rituals, celebrations, and dances of the tribe as a way of showing the guide honor and respect. The costumes and masks worn by tribe members during these rituals are generally of their spirit guides and are to call these spirits to join them in the rituals. 

Spirit guides have specific personalities that have something to teach us. For example, a common personality assigned to the coyote is a playful trickster and to the bear a nurturer and healer. Trees are often experienced as the axis of life and rivers are a guide to our flow of life. Paths across the Earth can also be spirit guides. In this chapter we will examine some spirit guides--our four-legged, winged, and finned brethren as well as other earthly kin including reptiles, insects, trees, and rivers--and how they lead us to a greater valuing of being one with nature. 

The Guiding Tree 

Trees are typically the Tree of Life or the axis of a person’s life. The tree’s health, strength, and rootedness may reflect the health, strength, spiritual height, and rootedness of the person. 

While using the Tlazolteotl Cleansing and Healing posture, Violet had the following experience: 

6-18-08: I walk into the woods following the song of a wood thrush. The woods become more tropical as I walk, more dense with large leaves and very tall trees. The path narrows and widens alternately. At some point I climb up a tree to the top and look out. I am above the tree, higher than the other trees. I step out into the air with enormous strides and walk until I stop and climb down another tree. I find 


myself in another place; it’s Hawaii where I lived in the late 1960s and I’m on the beach. I wander around a few of my old haunts, especially where I lived the last year I was there. 

Then I am up in the top of another tree I’ve climbed, and again I step out into the air and walk until I stop. This time I’m in Japan. I do this for three more places, Bangkok, Kabul, and Paris. From there I wind up at my parents’ house. I climb down the tree that was in the middle of the backyard. In each place there is a sense of eased anxiety, of possible healing. I return to hearing the wood thrush. 

These trance experiences are written down right after they occur and I often e-mail them again years later so that the person can reflect on the experience over time. In response to my email five and a half years later Violet elaborated on the meaning of her experience: “I do remember this one--climbing up into the trees following the wood thrush song (my favorite bird call) and stepping off the tree in Hawaii. 

My journey from there to Japan, Bangkok, Kabul, Paris, and on to my parents’ house is actually the reverse of what I did when I was 21. I left my parents and went to Europe where I lived in Paris. After a few months, I took off with a new friend to Japan via Kabul and Bangkok among other places, but Kabul and Banagkok were two of the most memorable. I wound up in Hawaii where I lived for four years. 

“I have a strong sense of the trees in the dream as being powerful friends, perhaps guides, leading me home. Trees are important energies for me--I do relate to and even talk to them, mostly those I live with, and I have done this for years. I tend to see them as guardians, incredibly strong and powerful.” 

The following is my own ecstatic experience in which I recognized the tree as my spirit guide and as the axis of life. The experience used the Jivaro Underworld posture: 

3-27-11: I slide into the opening at the base of a tree and four men I have been with in many previous trances are sitting on two roots that form a circle in the cave. We sit silently in the circle, then one stands and starts climbing up the root and we follow. We are all wearing bear skins, and as we emerge in the middle world, we become bears and walk in a circle around the tree. I can feel myself swaying as I walk like a bear. Then the leader climbs the tree and we all follow him into the upper world where we sit in a circle around the tree on branches. Then we come down again as men and the four men walk away in the four directions, leaving me at the tree--my center of life. 

In this defining experience I realized for the first time that the four men I have frequently visited are my spirit guides for the four directions, but also the tree was the guide leading me to this discovery as we climbed it to each level--underworld, middle world, and upper world.

Nicholas E. Brink, Ph.D., is a psychologist who has maintained a private clinical practice since 1977. He is board certified by the American Board of Professional Psychology, on the board of directors of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and a past president of the American Association for the Study of Mental Imagery. A certified teacher of ecstatic trance with the Felicitas Goodman Institute, he lives in Coburn, Pennsylvania. 


Trance Journeys of the Hunter-Gatherers by Nicholas Brink, Ph.D. © 2016 Bear & Company. Printed with permission from the publisher Inner Traditions International.  www.InnerTraditions.com

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