Tuesday 5 December 2023


 I think we all have a bad teacher somewhere in us. By which I mean we all have a self-serving shadow-side that we're not always in good relationship with. It loves praise, it does not like being contradicted, it wants to have its way with some of the women who come along. It's a rat's nest of trouble. 

There's only one thing worse than having a shadow, and that is not having one. By which I mean denying it. If you feel you have a position as teacher to maintain, if you feel you have to give an appearance of knowing something, then the shadow is ready and waiting to seize on that. So being any kind of teacher requires an ongoing struggle, not to control the shadow - that just makes things worse - but to be honest about it, firstly with yourself, and then, to the extent it is appropriate, with others. Then you are a good teacher. For you are showing others how to be in good relationship with themselves.

The shadow will always be there, and I think it has mysterious purposes of its own, like Gollum, without whom the Ring would not have been destroyed in Mount Doom.

I think we can learn as much from the bad teacher as we can from the good teacher. Every teacher has a bad teacher within them, and if you keep your eyes peeled you will see it, for no-one is perfect. Heaven help us from anyone who is perfect.

What do you do with what you have seen? Many people reject the teacher outright once they have seen his/her faults. That is because they feel betrayed. They were expecting perfection. Don't get me wrong, you may need to just walk away. They may be seriously bad news. But teachers usually also have some genuine gift that also needs appreciating: they'd maybe rushed in to teaching early, before they were ready. Or maybe that was always going to happen.

I've yet to see anyone teaching who is young (and that means from B4 middle age) and plenty older than that, where the shadow side isn't playing a significant, and unconscious, part. I've previously been unfriended by teachers for making this sort of general statement, which I think proves the point. My first port of call with teachers is can I level with them, will they talk to me man to man, so to speak, or are they always having to be teacher, always having to know better? And on a feeling level, are they allowing me close to them, or is there a protective wall there? And maybe I do feel close to them, but is that just their charisma?
It's easier to be a good teacher when it is one-to-one. A group situation has its own dynamic in which the teacher becomes the 'special' one who everyone treats differently, and there's not much to be done about that. Except keep giving people their power back by being honest and natural and not trying to sound too authoritative.
Not only does the group give power to the teacher - and this is something that can be difficult for the individual to resist, for we are relational creatures - but the bad teacher will want it, need it. You will find yourself becoming diminished, a different and less free person than when you are around friends and family. It can be subtle, and it can take a while.
I think this is one of the greatest lessons we can have. You may be able to look back and see that losing some of your power, your autonomy to that teacher was exactly what was needed in order for you to properly claim it. Because if it can be given away, you never truly had it in the first place. The bad teacher doesn't truly have their own power either: they need your praise to feel sure of themselves.
'Power' is an overused word in this context. What I mean at bottom is our own ability to guide ourself, that lies deep within. It usually takes unearthing, because it is not something humans naturally have, though we find that hard to see and admit to. Everyone thinks they are their own person. This is why we have religion: we usually need to start with considerable guidance from without. Or from your spirit guides, though that is more complex, because in a sense they also are that deeper self.

I covered some of this in my last piece, 'The Good Teacher', who is always guiding us to find our own answers. A bad teacher will always claim to be doing that too, and think they are doing that. Which they may be to some extent: it is complicated. But their own personal needs will also draw you into a place of submission to their authority, along with the rest of the group.

Just as Gollum had his part to play, so too do the bad teachers, for they expose the ways in which we are not sure of ourselves. Breaking away from them can be a drawn-out crisis. There is a voice in us we need to listen to, but we are uncertain of it. Things do not seem right when we do not listen to it. But the price of listening to it can mean leaving the metaphysical and social security of the teacher and group we are around. And there are good things about the group, so we try to put the doubts aside. But they keep coming back. It is a warrior thing. It requires daring, courage, self-confidence and ruthless honesty. There is a new centre waiting to emerge, around which your whole being will re-arrange itself.

Tuesday 28 November 2023


A friend was telling me what he liked about my book The Medicine Wheel. He began by saying that it had helped him gain confidence in his own spirituality. That hit the nail on the head for me, I was very pleased to hear it. Because that is the best sort of teaching: it's not so much about imparting information and practices and traditional wisdom (though that has its place), as it is about bringing people to the point where they trust the guidance that comes from within: we have all the wisdom we will ever need within, if we listen to ourselves - or to the spirits, depending on how you look at it.

That is what humans find so difficult. We tend to rely on authority for our guidance, though few people will see or admit that. It is a big transition, even a crisis, when we let get of the stabilisers and begin to put our own wisdom above received wisdom. It can feel like chutzpah: who am I to think I know better than these elders who have been around since the year dot? I don't mean this in a blind, rebellious way. It involves listening and taking in what others have to say, but making your point of reference your own genuine response to whatever matter it is. And you will always have your own response: listen to it, take it seriously, and hone it against the views of people who think differently.

It is not just about views. It is, probably more importantly, about knowing what to do, and feeling confident you are doing the right thing with your life. A limited teacher or astrologer or tarot reader will give you answers and tell you what to do with your life. A good teacher will ascertain what it is you want to do, and support that. I think we always know the right thing to do in the moment, that is congruent with how we are within, even though we may have no idea about the long-term. This is a difficult training, but it is about living your own life and not someone else's idea of how you should live. The good teacher always backs that. The only purpose of all the practices and ceremonies and teachings is to steer us to this point, repeatedly, with all our fallings away, until it becomes the way we live. It is a deep thing, and it takes a lifetime to build. It is why, in the Far East, you get the shamanic illness: ordinary humans often do not want to live from this sort of depth. But, if we are lucky, life will not let us away with living superficially.

Above is my other book, on Astrology. Treat yourself for Christmas, or treat your friends and relatives. They are a feast, though I say so myself. And very readable. I defy you to read the numerous reviews on Amazon and not be sorely tempted 😎



Plants, and particularly trees, are the life-form that stays in one place, that has physical roots. They are at home to themselves. If you are feeling out of sorts, talk to a tree and you will come back to yourself. That within you which has yet to unfold will be given the attention it needs.

I recently planted a Japanese Snowbell tree in my garden. It brought the fairies with it from down the road, and I spoke to them, and my prayers were quickly answered in the usual tricksy way the fairies have, where you learn something. The fairies have always taken care of me, which often means leading me by the nose into a difficult situation that acts as a wake-up call.

The top picture is my tree as it will look in summer. Below that is how it is now. 

This picture is of another fairy tree that I visit on my walks over Butterdon Down.

Tuesday 14 November 2023


 I just saw an ad for Contemporary Shamanism - Safe Practices. Harrumph! Is the Sundance, where you dance until you are exhausted and your breast torn open, 'safe'? Is a Sweatlodge, where you struggle to bear the searing steam, 'safe'? Is a Vision Quest, where you are exposed to the elements for 4 days, with no food, 'safe'? Is a trance dance that takes you to the point of possession by the spirits, writhing on the floor and speaking in tongues, 'safe'? No, the whole point of these things is that they are not 'safe'. Think of the young Siberian Shaman, called by the spirits to his vocation, and ill until he accepts the calling. An illness that may kill him unless he yields: an offer he cannot refuse.

The whole point of this shamanic path is that it takes us to the edge, it dismembers and rebuilds us. There is risk involved. And in that process we find gold, a source of guidance and connection that comes from deep within - or without - that can be trusted, that renews us, and that serves the world. If your shamanic practice is 'safe', it will remain superficial. The role of teacher is often safe too, they hide behind it.

Enough of this coddling and safety. There will be trigger warnings next, and a #metoo group for anyone who has had a fierce power animal. We have been prosperous for too long, we have cast out the warrior instinct as toxic and patriarchal, and little that is real can happen in that context. Though the groups we attend may serve our social needs and award badges of shamanic attainment: everyone's a winner. Good luck with that 😎

Sunday 22 October 2023


Don't take your spirits too seriously. That is religion. You don't need to know what they look like, what they are. They show up in a light sort of way, sort of sideways on, not through any kind of demand. They are happy to dance around your life. But they are nevertheless powerful. They are involved in the main currents of your life, and they can be sensed.

Our modern wisdom is literal: we want to know who our spirit guides are, and almost what they have for breakfast. But it isn't like that. The spirits are very real, they can be experienced as more so than this everyday world. And that is because they are very real: this world is a pale reflection of how things are, as Plato's Cave illustrates. The spirits are real in the way that powerful dreams are real. And we always have a choice about how much attention we pay to them.

So there is a dance to be done. Don't get too religious about this thing. We will forget about the spirits, and we will forget about the natural world, because we are human. We need to forgive ourselves for being human.

There is always that wider pattern at work, for which the spirits are intermediary. Don't think that anything major happens in your life without that decisive influence. It is reassuring: we can trust there is something in it for us, that we are taken care of, even if it is bitter.

Trust what is not happening in your life, as well as what is happening. You may have notions about what you want to be happening, or that you think ought to be happening. But that is a merely human perspective, which is a tiny slice of how things are. Have patience, for there is often a deeper alchemy at work that takes time. Let Spirit hold your hand, and feel her presence as you make your choices. Choose gladly that which you have to do.

Saturday 21 October 2023


I've recently created a video course for Watkins Books, as a companion to my book The Medicine Wheel. There are 11 sessions, and I had a fun time doing it: it brings something out in me that writing alone cannot. I think you'll find my style engaging: it's more enthusiastic fireside chat than polished talking head 🤣

 The intro is free and you can find it here

 The course itself can be found here.


While you are about it, I did a talk with Aquarius Severn Astrology group in early October, and you can find that here.


Happy Watching!

Sunday 15 October 2023


Who am I to criticise anyone's crazy beliefs, when I talk to rocks, leave offerings for fairies and seek guidance from imaginary animal friends? But I think Shamanism does for that reason teach us to hang loose to all beliefs, especially those rigid ones that ironically stop our vast collectives from going completely insane. It used to be religious beliefs, nowadays scientific and political beliefs are used in the same rigid way.


We don't really know anything about the important stuff, like where the universe came from, who we are and why we're here, how life started..... we console ourselves with the idea that science will one day tell us, or maybe God is the one who has the answers.

Embracing the uncertainty is the way to go. But that isn't an intellectual position. It's about spending years doing the spade work so that you can tolerate yourself. Then there becomes no need to cling convulsively to those collective beliefs and the massive sense of authority behind them. It becomes natural to be open and fluid. And here's a thing: it means you can afford to think honestly and logically, because you no longer have anything to lose by doing so.

Thursday 12 October 2023


“God is Dead,” declared Nietzsche over 100 years ago. Who is this God who has died - or who, rather, according to Nietzsche - we killed? I think he was the corrupt invention of a desperate people.


It goes this way. The Great Spirit is everywhere in nature. All is sacred. This is the universal experience of early peoples. It is how things are, and far older than God, the new kid on the block. The Jews, a slave race, flee the Pharoah, and spend years wandering in the desert wilderness: this is the book of Exodus. They have fled a tyrant, but tyranny is what is familiar to them. And so, in the absence of a tyrannical worldly ruler, they create a tyrannical Otherworldly ruler. It is the psychology by which adults replicate painful family situations from childhood, because that is what they know.


This tyrannical God is abstracted from the natural world, he dominates it from above. The Jews were living in a harsh, unforgiving reality in which the people's survival was at stake if they did not follow strict codes of behaviour. So there was a practical as well as a psychological reason for an authoritarian God. He is for the same reason jealous of the pagan god Baal. What eventually arose were the monotheisms of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all of which treat the Old Testament as a holy book.

There is, of course, the New Testament, which has a less authoritarian flavour. But even there, right at the start, you have Jesus saying you can only reach God through him. So it is there also. Christianity hit the big time when the Roman Empire, which needed an authoritarian religion to unite it, adopted it. And the rest is history: crusades, inquisitions, witch burnings and so on.

It has been said that monotheisms are desert religions, because their context is just one reality: the desert and the sky. In a jungle, by contrast, there are many realities, which therefore lends itself to polytheisms. Lots of spirit animals! It is why you got saints as Christianity spread beyond the desert.

So good riddance to God and his authoritarian ways. It has left the western world floundering in a sea of uncertainties. Politics has taken its place. Extreme right and left wing politics are a substitute for religion: they give the sense of certainty and belonging, and the prospect of redemption, that religion once provided. We see it too in the causes that young people take up - it is natural to them to do so - but with a religious dogmatism that brooks no disagreement. You are, for example, quickly labelled a 'climate denier' or a 'transphobe' if you question the mainstream narratives around climate and gender. People get 'cancelled'.

Into this brew walks Shamanism, which represents a return to that which was universally true before the corruption of the monotheisms. Shamanism is not true in a rigid sense: it has no holy books or founders. It is nevertheless perfectly possible to become authoritarian about it: you see that on the internet, where some people are quick to correct others about what shamanism is and isn’t. That is just a power thing, that is people wanting to stand above others, and there will always be people like that. You can learn a lot by watching them.

Shamanism, in a way, begins and ends with the experience of the natural world. In that is everything you will ever need to know, but you have to find it for yourself. We are a part of nature, neither above it (as God would have us believe) nor below it, a kind of plague (as many environmentalists would have us believe). The latter is an example of what Jung called enantiodroma, in which one switches to the psychological opposite: from above nature to below nature.


For the Chippewa Cree, we do indeed have a special place: the new-born ones, because we are the only animal that does not know who it is. And so we can learn to know who we are by observing nature – as part of it, not as separate to it – for animals and plants and rocks and streams all know who and what they are, and get on with it.

The loss of our traditional religion has been a mixed thing, and its influence persists: in, for example the scientific quest for truth, with its unspoken implication that the truth will redeem us. It is this passion that drives research scientists. It will indeed redeem us, but not very much if we are using the narrow scientific definition of truth alone. I think the hatred of humanity often found within environmentalism has reverberations of Original Sin, in this case our sin against the Mother, the Earth, for which we must pay by dismantling our whole way of life. I think it is important to look at the mythological roots of what drives us.

The collective needs a new mythology to live by, or it will continue to treat politics as religion, as a philosophy that can set us free. We saw how disastrous that was with Communism. (The far right is as nothing compared to the far left when it comes to mass murder.) We can only ever free ourselves individually. Trying to change the world is usually an avoidance of the responsibility we have for our own souls.

Whether our huge modern collectives of people can have a mythology that is not to some degree authoritarian and crazed is something to which I do not know the answer. When there are fewer people, a tribe can govern itself more through relationships than rules. And that keeps things human, and keeps the mythologies softer. Most people will always want a simple belief of some sort about the universe and how it came to be; you need people who are listened to who can dance around that, in the knowledge that really we know nothing about how the universe came to be, and never will. The healers and medicine people, if you like. Or, in our context, the poets.

I think Shamanism does provide the necessary basis for any society to be healthy. The modern world needs Shamanism. We have a big mission on our hands, we have a whole world to convert! But I don’t mean that evangelically. It is more like a spirit we can convey in a natural kind of way, without actually trying to, simply by being ourselves, and letting people come our way rather than seeking them out.

We do nevertheless have some ideas to convey: for example, that the whole world is alive, inspirited, and why would it not be? That we belong intimately to the natural world, there is nothing in us that is outside of that. And the simple, but world-transforming, idea of regularly expressing gratitude to the earth for her bounty.