We dance the shining mind change,
boundless connections that we are . . .
Linda Crane, from
“The Crane Dance” in How Wild?
I am running through high desert country, and the smells of sage and bitterbrush welcome me as I revel in the chance to stretch my legs and run like the wind. The breeze shifts around from one direction to the next, encircling me with its enlivening presence, much as the surrounding mountain ranges enfold the valley of my home.
I am heading for the wind-sculpted, old cottonwood tree as it stands alone in all that spaciousness of land and sky. In greeting, I briefly caress its trunk and then climb toward the top branches, not at all minding the feel of rough bark on my skin. As I reach the top, a large winged one swoops in and we’re off, ascending with incredible speed to the vast and numinous realm of the upper world.
I find my spirit ancestor-teacher surrounded by a vast openness of sweeping vistas. Up close are lichen-covered rocks nestled among a variety of plants growing low to the ground, and everywhere the winds restlessly weave all around and through us. He tells me that for our ancestors, weather was kin. They were aware of it each day, all day and night, in one way or another, as they lived intimately with all kinds of weather.
I see visions of our ancestors interacting with the weather, greeting the first weather of the day and commenting to one another about “who” is here. I see people offering acknowledgment to the beings of weather directly through their words, songs, gestures, and offerings of food or other substances. I see a group of people singing and dancing in a circle, and I ask my ancestor-teacher if this is a ceremony about weather. He nods, and I understand that throughout their lives our ancestors were deeply conscious of the life-sustaining workings of weather. The old ones knew their lives depended upon their ability to live with and relate to these powerful forces.
My teacher sadly adds that I would be surprised at how asleep many, many people are today in their most basic awareness of weather. The drumbeat changes, and my ancestor-teacher invites me to return to learn more about the old ways, even as I work to discover new ones. I respectfully thank him and return to ordinary reality.
Remembering the Wisdom
Native traditionalists of today have not forgotten any of this wisdom and still work, much as they have for thousands of years, to ensure that life continues not only for their own communities, but for us all. They, too, understand and demonstrate the importance of personal attitude for the greater well-being—how necessary are our individual expressions of love, honoring, and gratitude for our lives and all others, seen and unseen, with whom we share this middle world.
The longevity and genius of shamanism is that, in part, it is not hidebound to methodology. As such, shamanism is always metamorphosing as it evolves in response to the current, always-changing circumstances of the world (like the weather!). When we don’t have to push against a codified set of established traditional ways, we can more readily receive the gifts of core cross-cultural knowledge and practices in our search for what is needed and effective, here and now.
Those of us who wish to practice weather shamanism today but have no known ancestral lineage of weather workers can take heart from the fact that we may, nonetheless, be at something of an advantage. To be sure, there are significant challenges to our growth as shamanic practitioners (our worldview for one), yet unshackled and cut loose from cultural moorings as we may be, rather than considering ourselves adrift, we can benefit from one of the primary strengths of shamanism: its inherent spontaneity. Shamans tend to be eclectic in their practical willingness to utilize what works, and a lack of unquestioned allegiance to a particular tradition or religion can be an asset for our spiritual growth.
Spiritual Dilettantism vs. Spiritual Strength
However, we have to remain wary of our culture’s predilection for dilettantism regarding spiritual ways. It is all too easy to play at things and risk deluding ourselves into thinking we are living our practice.
Johnny Moses, master storyteller and traditional healer of the Northwest coastal tribal peoples of British Columbia, teaches that the spirits and ancestors are “always there in the forests and the mountains, waiting for us to visit them, but we are the ones who have to visit.” Furthermore, we have to show that we are truly willing to show up for the teachings and are worthy—strong enough to receive and carry the work, the medicine, the power.
Ancestral teachings and traditional peoples today say that this requires suffering. Johnny Moses describes his people’s meaning for the word suffering as not “a negative thing; it refers to forces that are pressing or pushing on us that we can feel very strongly. Suffering helps us become strong so we can withstand the winds and storms of life.”
If we do feel called to work with the weather for purposes of greater harmony and balance in our world, then it is imperative to keep our sights focused on the spiritual nature of this path. The world doesn’t need more acts of weather modification and relationships of power-over. Though the ancestral, indigenous ways of weather working vary from people to people, underneath it all is the understanding that “rainmaking is regarded as a sacred occupation. There is a mental and spiritual preparation.” [Native American Myths and Mysteries, Vincent A. Gaddis]
A Working Relationship With Weather
George Wachetaker, a Comanche shaman, stated that it takes him at least ten days of spiritual preparation before an actual ceremony of weather working can begin. During a drought in Florida in 1971, a radio station in Pompano Beach hired Wachetaker for his rainmaking services. It is reported that approximately 1,500 people gathered in a circle in a parking lot where the ceremony took place. What the onlookers saw was Wachetaker lighting a fire, chanting, dancing, and sipping from a bowl of water. What they experienced, four minutes after the ceremony, was a torrential downpour, and a moment where, according to the radio program director Casey Jones, “we just didn’t believe it.” At first people bolted to the storefronts for shelter, and then they broke out into “wild applause.” [Native American Myths and Mysteries, Vincent A. Gaddis]
If the helping spirits beckon any of us toward a path of weather shamanism, then we’ll need to learn how to create our own unique, working relationship with the spirits and forces of weather. As weather dancers, the truly important calling is to love the weather and to relate to weather from a place of personal authenticity. No one else can prescribe exactly how to do this for any one of us. Essentially we’re on our own, unless we come from and live within an indigenous, ancestral tradition of established ways of relating.
What we can find, however, is a “bare bones” map, something that in the spirit of core shamanism reveals the underlying common ground, the bedrock shared by a variety of similar and dissimilar traditions that shows up over and over, no matter what direction we look toward.
From the ancestral traditions of Africa, Malidoma Patrice Somé’s description of human relationships with the sacred reflects that bedrock of shared understanding found wherever the shamanic worldview exists: “The connection to Spirit and the Other World is a dialogue that goes two ways. We call on the spirits because we need their help, but they need something from us as well. . . . They look at us as an extension of themselves.” [The Healing Wisdom of Africa by Malidoma Patrice Somé]
As shamanic practitioners, we have to understand that the need and the desire for harmony between the worlds is mutual—yet it’s not all up to the spirits. And so we, too, have an important role to play in our willingness to work with the helping spirits. Somé’s tradition is not alone in its recognition of the necessity for intentional collaboration between humans and those of the spirit world. As he says, “If Spirit is looking up to us, and we are looking up to Spirit, then we are looking up to each other, and human beings should take from this a certain sense of dignity.” [The Healing Wisdom of Africa by Malidoma Patrice Somé]
As we grow strong and sure enough on our path, we’ll be better able to appreciate the freedom to learn directly from the helping spirits—who, of course, can be the most demanding taskmasters of all, so we aren’t getting off easy. Someone from an established tradition may also learn directly from the helping spirits, but he or she has to reach beyond cultural prescriptions or bonds to bring in something new.
What counts most in shamanism, other than ethics, is the willingness to bring forth what is needed in the world now. And that may be something that is entirely new or something ancient that is renewed for today.
Intentionally Creating Favorable Change For Our World
Those of us practicing shamanism within our culture have a doorway through which we can intentionally create favorable change for our world. Through appropriate acts of spontaneity, we can continue to follow the lead of the helping spirits so that the work and knowledge can evolve and stay fresh. Throughout, the presence and power of love makes it all worthwhile—and possible—as it weaves everything together.
There are many among us who do have an innate spiritual connection with the weather, and if this ability is consciously nurtured and intentionally developed in service to greater balance and harmony, then these people can offer healings that are real and useful—and essential to our times. And if we aren’t aware of any inherent gift or ancestral lineage, yet we have a love for the weather, for the earth, and for our lives, then it is enough. This is all we need to begin on our way of successful weather dancing, in every sense of the metaphor.
Hear me well . . .
You have all that you need within you
to add a greater light to the web.
Dream me a new dream,
Weave me a new web,
Spin me a new song,
Make me a new world.
Let the Peace of the Light and the Storm
be within you.
Blessed be us all.
“Spider Woman Speaks,” Ramona Lapidas,
received during a shamanic journey
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Bear & Co.,
a division of Inner Traditions International.
Weather Shamanism: Harmonizing Our Connection with the Elements
by Nan Moss with David Corbin.
Weather Shamanism is about transformation--of ourselves, and thus our world. It is about how we can develop an expanded worldview that honors spiritual realities in order to create a working partnership with the spirits of weather and thereby help to restore well-being and harmony to Earth. Through a unique blend of anthropological research, shamanic journeys, and personal stories and anecdotes, Nan Moss and David Corbin show how humans and weather have always affected each other, and how it is possible to influence the weather.
About the Authors
Nan Moss and David Corbin have been faculty members of Michael Harner’s Foundation for Shamanic Studies since 1995 and also taught courses at Esalen Institute in California and the New York Open Center. They have been researching and teaching the spiritual aspects of weather since 1997 and have had a private shamanic practice located in Port Clyde, Maine. (David passed away in 2014.) Visit their website at www.shamanscircle.com.