THE CAULDRON JOURNEY
Instructions for a shamanic-style journey of personal growth
Most of what we think of as “the world” are actually projections of our own minds based on what we want, what we fear, what we hate and can’t let go of, and what we think we love.
Thaddeus Golas, in The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment (click here for full text), defines love as “the action of being in the same space with other beings.” We could be living in an expanded state of consciousness, sharing infinite space with our brothers and sisters, if we didn’t have the habit of noticing things we don’t like about our experience and projecting these things out onto other beings. Every time we do this we contract, and this is painful.
We have a bad habit of splitting reality into opposites like good and evil, pure and impure, cowardly and brave, selfish and generous, etc. and identifying ourselves as having the good qualities and projecting the bad qualities on others. In reality the opposites can’t be separated. We only fool ourselves into thinking they can. To know the truth of existence, we have to accept All-That-Is.
We’ll be using the idea of the cauldron to speed up the process of coming face to face with the things we’ve denied and projected outward, so we can let them back into our world, and by doing this, we can expand. It feels good to be expanded. When we can accept everything into our world, with nothing to deny or fight against, we can experience bliss.
Cauldrons are potent symbols in European mythological traditions. In Irish legend, Ceridwen’s cauldron was a place where souls could be reincarnated back to newborns.
The cauldron is also the alchemical crucible. Medieval alchemists trying to turn lead into gold would seal up the reactants in a closed crucible, heat them, dissolve them, and so on. This was a metaphor for transformation of the soul as well. First, they heated the cauldron until everything in it turned to ash. This was called “calcination” and corresponded to burning away the ego. Next came “dissolution,” dissolving everything in water, which stood for the emotions and corresponded to taking charge of our own emotions. Then came separation, corresponding to our learning to decide what’s important and what’s not; then conjunction, corresponding to acceptance of our earthly nature; putrefaction, corresponding to accepting the “garbage” we previously denied and projected outward; fermentation, where a catalyst is added and we take on a new form; distillation, where we share the thoughts and feelings of the whole universe; and finally, coagulation, where true wholeness is revealed.
The Cauldron journey isn’t about going through these stages in a rigid order. The beauty of shamanism, compared to established methods for reaching enlightenment, such as Buddhism, or alchemy, or the cabala, is that as shamans, we go back to the beginning, to the very earliest archetypes, and work from there instead of following what other people have built up. We go back to basics and have our own experiences.
We will journey to a place inside a sacred cauldron – a cauldron with a magical transformative property: once something comes into the cauldron, it can never get out. The sides are slippery, and when you’re inside, you’re there. There’s no way for you or anything else to to get out again. And you can’t throw anything out. You have to stay in the cauldron with it and deal with it.
You are committed to calling back your projections, mingling with them and being in the same space with them until the transformation is complete.
Because the cauldron is such a powerful archetype, once you journey into it, it’s easy to keep yourself there. It has its own magnetic power.
To give you the feeling of what it might be like to be trapped in a cauldron in which anything can enter but nothing can leave, I’ll describe an experience I had when I was a child of four, in the hospital having my tonsils out. I trusted the nice man standing behind my head administering the ether, as he told me to count backwards from one hundred, and relied on him to take care of me. At about 97 I noticed a vision of a black and white pinwheel making a gentle droning noise as it whirled. Then everything turned white. After that a giant discus thrower appeared, poised to throw his discus at a distant planet. He was so big I could see the curvature of the earth beneath him and the sky behind him layered with gorgeous colors fading into the blackness of space.
Then the pinwheel came back and its whirling grew tighter and tighter and faster and faster, emitting a loud, nasty buzzing sound as it morphed into a vortex pulling me in and downward with a force too great to resist. I was frightened and thought of the nice man standing behind me. But as soon as I thought of him, I realized, with horror, that he too had fallen into the vortex and could no longer save me. Both of us were doomed. No one could save us.
Perhaps this was a step in dying, to feel not only one’s self violently sucked down into oblivion, but one’s whole world as well.
I didn’t die that day. I lived to tell the tale. But I’ll never forget that desperate sensation of knowing I was beyond the help of anyone or any thing in the world, in the relentless grip of an irresistible force, buzzing and whining with malicious cruelty as it whirled me down, squeezing relentlessly, compressing its captives into a tight prison of pain beyond the reach of all kindness and mercy. Nothing and no one could escape. If those left above — the doctors and nurses, my parents, or any other grownups — even tried to save me, they too would fall in and be lost.
To face the terror of annihilation is to take a giant step in spiritual growth. The cauldron journey is designed to reproduce that situation. Your goal in the journey is to experience for yourself the sense falling into a black cauldron, a confined space where salvation from outside is impossible. You are required to stay there along with everything else that enters the cauldron – everything you know, think, feel and ever experienced of the universe — because you will have invited it all to come into the cauldron with you.
You are imagining this situation of course. You have set the law of the cauldron yourself, which is that everything can fall into it, but nothing can escape . . . until the journey is ended.
You’ll have to suspend belief the same way as when you go to see a scary movie. You won’t be taking an overdose of ether to put you to sleep or being whirled down into a bottomless pit. But you’ll get to face the fear and loathing that would accompany being in a tight place where everything can pile in with you and nothing can escape.
It’s a powerful transformative experience to come face to face with things you fear and feel disgust for — and things about yourself you can’t accept. Perhaps in this process you’ll come to understand that you don’t have to be so hard on yourself any more, as you’re forced to accept people and energies you dislike and ordinarily try to avoid. You may find out you’re not a bad person for allowing such things to be part of your world.
The things to invite into the cauldron with you are things we don’t like in ourselves and try hard to project into the outside world, telling ourselves that it’s others who are disgusting, or evil, who lie, or feel embarrassed, or act in uncaring and cruel ways.
Feelings of stress and contraction dissolve as you accept more and more of what is into your awareness and find out it’s not as awful as you thought. At the least you’ll learn to be more compassionate toward yourself. At most, with practice in ways to accept everything that arises in your awareness, you’ll be taking a giant step toward becoming one with All-That-Is and feeling free and expanded — a taste of Enlightenment itself.
You may remember the movie, “Dark Crystal.” What happens in the cauldron journey is similar to the scene at the end of the movie where the missing shard of the great crystal is restored and the ancient rivals, the cruel Skeksis and the gentle Mystics, merge with each other to become giant beings of light. (See a short video “review” here, explaining the symbology of the movie with critical scenes, including the scene where the rival Skeksis and Mystics unite.)
Instructions for the journey
This is a long journey -- half an hour. Ask someone to drum for you or put on a recording of shamanic drumming (at a frequency of about 4-7 beats per second), e.g., a half-hour drumming CD or MP3 file available from the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.
We begin the journey to the cauldron by asking all spirits, beings, thoughts, fears, soul parts, and everything that exists in the universe to come and join us in the cauldron. We especially invite all the beings, things, thoughts, emotions, situations, etc. that we fear and hate. Remember, the cauldron has slippery sides, and once something comes into it, it can't get out, and you're stuck in there with it. This journey can be uncomfortable, but very effective for integrating things we've rejected.
After the journey starts, while you’re in the cauldron, you can continue to invite things and people into the cauldron, and you’ll find that everything and everyone you think of, whether you like them and want them there with you for comfort, or hate them, will automatically be drawn into the cauldron by your thoughts of them.
If, during the journey, something gets into the cauldron with you that you just can’t stand, and you hate it and don’t want to be there with it, remember that it’s only ugly because it’s partial. Like the Mystics and the Skeksis, it’s a fragment of the whole, and it’s ugly only because it’s a fragment. Once it is united with the rest and takes its rightful place in the whole, it becomes beautiful.
If something comes up that makes you uncomfortable enough to want to end the journey, ask for an energy, or a spirit or being that can unite with that ugly thing and make it beautiful to come and join you in the cauldron. Ask, “What does this need to make it good?” and call that into the cauldron with you. Remember the scene in the Dark Crystal movie where the Mystics and the Skeksis unite into one glorious being of light.
You might find yourself getting bored and wanting to come out of the journey, but just make yourself stay in. Go back into the cauldron if you find yourself outside. You may get paranoid and think someone is playing a trick on you – maybe a stranger has come in the room and you’re in danger. Don’t give in to such fears. Treat them as projections. Feel these unpleasant emotions, ask for balance, and continue to BE WITH whatever joins you in the cauldron until the journey ends.
When the drumming stops, remember where you are in ordinary reality, become aware of your body, perhaps by moving your arms and legs, open your eyes and come back to ordinary consciousness.
When you’re ready to begin, rattle to the six directions, East, West, North and South, the Sky and the Earth. Rattle to the Past and Future. Ask all spirits, deities, animals and beings to join you in the cauldron.
When you finish the journey, write down what you learned, and if you are doing the journey in a group, share your experiences with the others.
If you would like to share your experiences with Ellen, feel free to email an account of what happened for you on the journey.
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