Fire in the Head – the shaman’s halo

There’s a lot of nonsense talked about whether someone in the West can call themselves a shaman, because ‘shaman’ is a Siberian word and we’re not Siberians. The truth is, we are shamans. We do the same job as the Siberian shamans of old. We experience the same mystical heat in our heads as all authentic shamans do. By ‘we’, I mean the people who journey into the Otherworlds, who talk with the spirits to receive healing and guidance for our communities, who bring back lost souls and who guide the deceased to their final resting place in the realms of the ancestors.

Someone once told to me that if I was a real shaman, I wouldn’t tell people. But I said that if we don’t give ourselves a name, a label, then how will people know where to find us when they’re looking for someone who can REALLY talk to the spirits? It’s difficult enough for people to understand what we do without us over-complicating it by coming over all apologetic, self-effacing and fuzzy. Not every mind-body-spirit healer can talk to the spirits and I would go even further to say not MANY mind-body-spirit healers can talk to the spirits. They may have a vague sense or hope or faith that spirit guides are supporting their actions, but they don’t actually see them and talk to them like we shamans do.

My point is, if we real shamans don’t own this word ‘shaman’, then every Tom, Dick and snake oil salesman will take it from us to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear of their own mediocre skills.

Even famous clairvoyants and mediums are usually just highly skilled hypnotists. They entrance you just long enough for you to cross their palm with some suitable plastic and exit through their beaded curtain. They’re mostly successful with clients who are very suggestible. You’d have to be quite suggestible in the first place, to go to one. Also, few of us like to admit to being ripped off and so we just shove the whole tacky experience to the backs of our minds, while clinging on to the straws of the one or two things that the clairvoyant did manage to get right.

But we are the real deal. We are the shamans, the people who feel sometimes like we have fire in our heads, or the ‘mystical heat’ as it’s known in many shamanic cultures from yes, Siberia … but also from Africa, Australia, Scandinavia, the Mediterranean countries and Asia. The fire in the head, or the ‘mystical heat’, is one of the key characteristics which separates the shaman from all other types of medicine men.

Here is what the Professor of the History of the Religion Mircea Eliade wrote of the mystical fire in the head in what is probably the Bible of shamanism: “Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy”.

“Of particular importance, in our view, is the role of “fire” and “heat” in shamanism. Such fire and mystical heat are always connected with access to a certain ecstatic state and the same connection is observed in the most archaic strata of magical and universal religion.

“Mastery over fire, insensibility to heat and hence the “mystical heat” that renders both extreme cold and the temperature of burning coals supportable; is a magico-mystical virtue that accompanied by no less marvellous qualities (ascent, magical flight etc.) translates into sensible terms the fact that the shaman has passed beyond the human condition and already has shares in the condition of “spirits”.”

Eliade then goes on to support his contention that shamans are halfway to becoming spirits …. that they are, in fact, half-living in the realm of the spirits. And yes, this is my experience too.

I talk to the spirits and spend so much time with them that I probably am half a spirit myself. I also get the fire in the head, and increasingly so since I started working more closely with Brigit of the Fae, whose lore was brought to these isles by the fire priests of the Brigantes.

The ancient Celts knew about the fire in the head, as per the last line of this Song of Amergin as he stepped on to the shores of Ireland with the conquering Milesians after the last Ice Age.

I am the wind that blows across the sea;
I am a wave of the deep;
I am the roar of the ocean;
I am the stag of seven battles;
I am a hawk on the cliff;
I am a ray of sunlight;
I am the greenest of plants;
I am the wild boar;
I am a salmon in the river;
I am a lake on the plain;
I am the word of knowledge;
I am the point of a spear;
I am the lure beyond the ends of the Earth;
I am the god who fashions fire in the head.

This is not a metaphor, like the icon for ‘idea’ ~ the lightbulb, although it is probably where the image came from. This fire actually burns in the head and it is associated with great, supernatural feats.

The great Celtic warrior Cuchulainn was said to show the “hero’s light” or flaming aura around his head when he was excited and frenzied for battle. According to the stories, when the light appeared, he could perform his most famous “salmon’s leap” and cover great distances or heights. This aura eventually was co-opted by the Christians and became the halo.

It is said that some Tibetan monks trained in yogic traditions can raise their body temperatures to melt snow. The !King in Africa call this natural body heat “boiling energy”.

The explorer Knud Rasmussen met with Eskimo shamans who told him: “Every real shaman has to feel an illumination in his body, in the inside of his head or in his brain, something that gleams like fire, that gives him the power to see with closed eyes into the darkness, into the hidden things or into the future or into the secrets of another man.”

The Jivaro of the Amazon describe the shaman as one who gives off light, “particularly in a ‘crown’, an aura from the head” when the shaman is in an altered state of consciousness.

My experience is that the heat starts to build when I’m drumming. I’ve been known to stop drumming and start rapidly casting off items of clothing. Then, during the journey, I feel the fire just to the right of my crown. It feels like a flame burning and the deeper and more intense the journey, the hotter is burns.

So I’m sorry but we shamans are not at all fit for polite society. We do talk to real spirits, which we find in other dimensions to this one, and we guide the souls of the dead and retrieve lost souls. Some of us – me included – have even spent the night buried six feet underground in graves which we dug ourselves as a part of our initiation. Others of us – me included – have been gifted with the Tongue That Never Lies (which can be a boon or curse, depending upon your point of view!).

Added to that, we can sometimes be seen lying twitching on the ground with light streaming out of our heads. So you might not want to take us home to meet your mother. But if you need a proper job done, we’re your man!