Stuart's First Journey to the Lower World

I often tell this story in our beginning workshops, but usually after everyone has had a chance to try it on their own first -- I don't want to color folk's expectations and contribute to the question of whether they "made it up", or if it was "real".

This was my first journey. (Journeys come in all degrees of sensory detail -- mine was particularly rich and emotionally compelling, but even sketchy ones can be very powerful.) I was in a large workshop that Michael Harner was teaching -- over 100 people! We were in the banquet room of a San Francisco college. I had a lot of anxiety about it -- whether I could do it, what might turn up, and even if it was "OK" to be doing it!

The lights were darkened and the drapes at the end of the room pulled. I put on a bandana over my eyes and lay on the floor, and the instructions were repeated. A drummer began the now-familiar "journey beat", and I began. I imagined a large animal hole I'd seen near where I lived, and then imagined myself small enough to walk into it. The hole closed in behind me and it got dark. I worked my way down through the soil and sandstone, down a dark damp tunnel, going down. It went down a very long time.

Eventually it opened out to some light and I found myself on a hillside, covered in sparse chaparral like much of coastal California. Then I looked around, and next to me was a large Grizzly Bear.

I jumped -- as a child I had recurring nightmares of being chased by a bear. And now here it was -- no escape. I said (mostly to myself): "Well, you finally got me!"

I spent some time, partly aware of myself lying on the banquet room floor listening to the rapid drumming, and partly being in the presence of this wonderful bear, feeling its love for me. I cried into the bandana over my eyes.

Then I was riding the bear, feeling its powerful haunches and thick fur under my legs. We were passing through a clearing, and the bear was showing me the deer people, coming out to honor us. The forest itself, the salmon in the streams, the birds, all came out to honor us. Then the bear became the seven stars of the Great Bear in the northern night sky. Then I was riding again, and as the drumming signaled us to return, back to the open hillside where I said Goodbye, then just "myself" into the tunnel up to the surface, and back to the banquet room in San Francisco.

I was deeply humbled and amazed that all this had happened -- in less than 15 minutes. Was it just a reverie, or was it "real"? I later learned it was very real, and that this was a major turning point in my spiritual life.