Category Archives: Faiths & Religions

Black Elk (Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota) E-Book

Chapter I

Black Elk was a famous medicine man from the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) and second cousin to the famed Native American warrior Crazy Horse who rebelled against the Federal Government for intruding on Native American territories.

Born on December 1st 1863 in Little Powder River Wyoming he was a medicine man of substance and his experiences, during which he becomes aware of the Seven Sacred Rights of the Lakota, reaffirms the outer body experience as propagated by Jung, which occur as a result of either natural sleep or induced sleep i.e. hypnosis. It confirms what parapsychologists like Jung have asserted for years in that the mind is a vast untapped resource and has never been fully explored.

When Black Elk was nine years old he was struck by a sudden illness that left him unconscious and unresponsive. During this time, he experienced visitations from cosmic entities who he described as thunder beings (Wakinyan) and who he perceived to be the forefathers or the ancestors of the Oglala Sioux. According to his accounts these spirits were kind and loving, and were very giving in their paternal affection.

His experiences further reaffirm the shamanic principle ardently advocated by well-known exponents of shamanism like Mircea Eliade in that, the shamanic gift is bestowed upon a person or an individual after a prolonged and sustained life threatening illness or experience. From all expert accounts, Black Elk’s narrative of his experiences are most likely true. He died on August 19th 1950 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

According to Black Elk, it started with repeated visitations from an ancient man, whose head was filled with white hair and who was wise beyond reason. The man was always alert; his eyes were constantly looking in all directions and he was full of fatherly affection. The old man surprisingly enough bears a striking resemblance to the heavenly father. He then imparts the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota to Black Elk.

The first of the Seven Sacred Rites is Inikagapi or Inipi (the rite to renew life). A sweat lodge is held in a dome shaped structure made of saplings and covered with hide or tarps and it symbolizes the shape of the universe or the womb of a pregnant woman.

Heated stones are placed in a large crevice located in the center of the lodge and water is poured over the stones by an itancan (leader) to create steam. The purpose of the ceremony is to pray for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of all sentient beings. The lodge utilizes all the powers of the universe: earth and the things which grow on the earth and powers derived from the other elements, water, fire, and air.

Before embarking on any type of spiritual journey the body has to be detoxified, and any remains of toxic residue in the body will be removed by sweating. The result of sitting or meditating in a dome shaped structure with heated stones placed in the middle is excessive sweating.

It is also important to realize that Black Elk specifically mentioned the shape of the structure. Dome shaped structures are symbolic to all religions and theologically the dome acts as a transmitter. Any vibrations resulting from chanting in this type of structure will be carried to the heavenly father.

The second rite is Hanbleceyapi (crying for vision). The vision quest is undertaken by an individual with the help and guidance of a holy man. A person elects to go on a vision quest to pray, communicate with the spirits, and to gain knowledge, strength, and understanding.

The person pledges to stay on an isolated hill for one to four days with a blanket and a pipe, but without food or water. Upon returning, the vision may be discussed with the Wicasa Wakan (holy man). Often the meaning of the vision is not readily apparent and the individual may be told to wait for knowledge and understanding.

The second rite is the seeking of visions or an attempt to bridge the gap between the conscious and subconscious mind, through the medium of sleep or deep meditation or dreamtime, whereupon, the subconscious mind will reveal the mysteries of the world to the dreamer in the form of vivid images.

Experts in the field have suggested that implanting the thought of bridging the gap between the conscious and the subconscious mind or seeking visions prior to falling asleep will help the subject achieve dream quest more easily.

The subject in short is instructing the conscious mind to abate or to stop resisting and thereby allows or permits the subconscious mind to take control.

The act of abstaining from food and water further weakens the body and the conscious mind and it debilitates the ability of the conscious mind to resist and allows the subconscious mind to assert itself.

Chapter II

The third rite is the keeping of the spirit (Wanagi Wicagluha). Death is a transition from one existence to another. The demise of the body does not mean death of the spirit or the soul and the spirit or the soul continues to exist long after the body has turned to dust or has been reduced to ashes.

The third rite of the Lakota is similar to the death rites of many other ancient cultures in that the spirits or the souls of the dead linger around their families or their prized possessions for a period of time before they crossover. It is a time that is used to coax the spirit into continuing with the journey.

The spirit especially in cases and circumstances of unnatural deaths has to be made to come to terms with death. Normally a special place is erected in honor of the spirit and it is done to commemorate the passing and to remember the deceased.

This special place may or may not correspond with an altar (what an altar is or isn’t is a question of perception) and friends and relatives are sometimes invited to join in during what is called a feeding ceremony or an occasion during which offerings of food are made and shared with the spirit.

The rite continues for a year and after a year the spirit is freed or released. During this rather testing time close family members of the deceased are forbidden or prohibited from taking part in any celebrations or festivities.

It has to be made clear that the mourning period is undertaken with love for the departed in mind. It is a grieving period that allows both the family members and the deceased to say their goodbyes. It is in essence a period of letting go and abstaining from celebrations and other festivities allows everyone to come to terms with the passing in the appropriate manner. It is also a time for silent reflection.

In 1890 there was a religious movement that consolidated numerous Native American believes. It was called the Ghost Dance and among other things it advocated that proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with the spirits of the dead and would bring spirits to fight on their behalf. It is reflective of the importance that is attached to spirits in Native American culture and tradition.

Spirit keeping is also a common facet among many other shamanic cultures and features prominently in Tungus cultures and its variants. The Tungus people are of Siberian origin and the near-death phenomenon similar to the experience Black Elk went through when he was nine is a prerequisite to becoming a Tungus Shaman.

Now, if Black Elk had been born in Siberia he would not only have been a medicine man but he would also have been recognized as a capable shaman and would have been accorded a position befitting a shaman in the community.

In these ancient cultures that adhere to time honored traditions, the shaman is also a healer (it is possible that there were early Siberian migrants to the Americas. The distance between Siberia and Alaska is only 55 miles. The territories are separated by a body of water known as the Bering Strait).

According to the near-death principle, once a shaman prospect has gone through the near-death experience he or she would not only be able to see spirits but he or she would also be able to communicate with them.

Similar dynamics also apply to the Tamang shamans (hill shamans) of Nepal and they too acquire the ability to see and speak to spirits. Hence, the ability to see or commune with spirits is an ability that is accepted in certain communities and societies.

These spirits also require sustenance and it is the duty of the shaman to provide the spirit with the type of sustenance that is deemed suitable and that would differ from community to community or from society to society. Likewise, it is the duty of the deceased’s next of kin or the keeper of the spirit to provide the spirit with suitable food.

Therefore, the notion of relatives and friends sharing a meal with a spirit is not at all far-fetched and to the contrary it is, depending on the culture, something of a norm.

It is also an accepted principle that the spirit after death needs to be coaxed into undertaking the journey that follows and the mourning period or the “keeping of the spirit” is a time during which relatives of the departed help the spirit to cross over.

Let me cite the practices of another ancient culture as an example. Let us briefly go to Leh and Ladakh in Western Tibet. Here the mourning period is forty-four days i.e. it takes forty-four days for the spirit of the departed to cross-over and during that time a priest is close at hand and he or she reads verses from the Tibetan Book of the Dead or the Bardo Thodol to help the spirit to cross-over.

According to the death rites of many of these ancient cultures, the period following death and prior to the crossing over is a perilous time for the spirit and it is confronted with a series of images conjured by the mind that are a result of its fears and inhibitions and therefore it needs the assistance of its family members to help it along the way.

It is slightly different from the Ghost Dance which according to my understanding is more akin to the summoning of the spirit and this normally applies to spirits of some fortitude or spirits that have been around for some time and it is more or less like the induced trance state. It is practiced to this very day.

The mourning period differs from one culture to another and from people to people but the one year period is similar to that of the East Indian culture where relatives of the dead are required to mourn the dead for a period of one-year and during the mourning period they are prohibited from taking part in any festivities. Therefore, we won’t be wrong in stating that the mourning period among the Lakota is strikingly similar to that of the East Indians.

Another amazing similarity is the feeding of the spirit. In the East Indian culture offerings of food are made at periodical intervals at an altar over the duration of a year. It includes offerings of vegetarian dishes and the favorite sweets of the deceased and relatives and friends are invited to be a part of the somber occasion.

Chapter III

The fourth sacred rite of the Lakota is the sun dance and once again it is reminiscent of the Tungus Shaman. The dance is conducted around a tree or a pole that symbolizes the tree. In Lakota cosmology, the tree represents the center of the universe.

It is possible to draw parallels between the tree in the Lakota sun dance and the shaman tree of the Tungus shamans. It is difficult to speculate if Black Elk ascended a shaman tree during his life-threatening illness or otherwise but it is an accepted principle among Tungus shamans that a shaman acquires his or her abilities to see and communicate with spirits after he or she ascends the shaman tree. The top of the tree or its highest tier according to Siberian folklore is occupied by Gods of the highest level.

Among Yakutian (Siberian) shamans, each shaman is allotted his or her own tree and the well-being of the shaman is dependent on the tree. Chopping down the tree spells death for the shaman. In some instances, dead shamans are entombed in the hollow of a tree and this it is where the shaman’s spirit resides i.e. it becomes the shaman’s spirit tree.

In Altai shamanic circles the tree is symbolic of the world’s center and the tree is the dwelling place of many magical animals and each of these animals have a specific function. Like spirit guides, they have the ability to foretell the future, determine destinies and act as celestial guardians.

Sitting perched on the upper boughs of this tree are two birds who call out the days of the living and who have the ability to see where the spirits of the dead will go following their demise. In the middle branches sit two silver clawed eagles that act as guardians of the living. These eagles also call out to lost heroes directing them as to the proper cause of action.

At the base of this tree there are two black dogs, with flashing eyes that gaze constantly at the underworld. Altai folklore also suggests that all trees have spirits for example when a hero in an epic poem leaves his son in the care of the spirits of the birch trees.

Trees are also worshiped in Mongolian shamanic circles. These trees are like normal trees i.e. they are not the dwelling places of spirits but by virtue of worshipping these trees one is blessed with good fortune and therefore it is possible to say that it is the spirit of the tree as opposed to the spirits of the heavenly deities that reside on the tree that bring about a turn of good fortune.

It is also possible to equate the tree with the Hungarian Tree of life and draw inferences from the legend of the sky-high tree. Interestingly enough the legend also mentions a horned buffalo. According to the legend the tree is divided into many tiers and the highest tier is occupied by the legendary bird-hawk, Turul, and other celestial and heavenly beings.

As a matter of interest it is import to realize that shamans are divide into white shamans and black shamans i.e. those that commune with white spirits and those that commune with dark spirits and as a result most shamans draw their energies from one source or another.

It is also further possible to surmise that the strength of the spirit that guides the shaman depends on the tier it occupies i.e. the higher the spirit is on the tree, the stronger its abilities and these are the spirits that guide warriors through the valley of dreams during vision quest or the seeking of visions.

The sun dance reaffirms the connection between spirits and nature. The dance is held every summer on the day of the full moon and is blessed by the radiance of Celeste. The festivities are accompanied by music and dance and various plain bands gather to perform during the dance. It is from all accounts a lively and entertaining occasion.

Dancers, pledge to make offerings of their flesh to strengthen the nation and to fulfill personal vows. The choice to participate is always at the discretion of the dancer and it is usually the result of receiving a sacred dream. It is also sometimes undertaken to seek the assistance of spiritual entities in healing a sick loved one.

Chapter IV

The fifth sacred rite of the Lakota is Hunkapi or the right to foster or forge new relationships and it solidifies existing bonds and paves the way for new alliances. It is reflective of the personal relationship that one shares with the center of the universe or the tree that symbolizes the center of the universe.

It can also be interpreted as the rite of procreation or a rite that facilitates the expansion of familial bonds which of course is essential to perpetuate the continuity of the people and to preserve the longevity of the nation.

The nation is strong for only as long as its people continue to foster and forge new relationships and persist with repairing any damage that may have resulted with the passage of time or from past indiscretions. It is also a means to address grievances and to set aside any past disputes and in certain cases to start anew.

The rite may also be a means to enhancing the bond one has with the totem pole (the totem pole may at times represent the sacred tree that is synonymous to the center of the universe).

A totem pole in short, is a sacred object that is relative or unique to a clan, a tribe or even a family and it is perceived to be a spirit-being that is sacred to a specific person or a group of people and it is in the interest of those that are connected to the totem pole to keep the spiritual relationship alive. In more contemporary terms the spirit-being that the totem pole represents is akin to a guardian angel.

The fifth rite may also equate to fostering better relations with one’s spirit guide. According to Native American legends and traditions there are many spirits that may act as guides for example animal spirits, elemental spirits and tree spirits. These spirits not only act as guides in the valley of dreams during vision quest but also as guardians and in certain cases healers.

Spirits in Native American culture and tradition are synonymous to deities in some other cultures and these spirits are the harbingers of good tidings and the bearers of good fortune.

These spirits are similar to deities in eastern cultures (many of these deities are peculiar to specific localities) and just as there are numerous deities, there are also numerous spirits, too many in fact to list down or compile.

It is a rite that is reflective and parabolic of cultures that are keen on fostering better relationships with all beings, regardless of whether these beings are spiritual or corporeal, and to some extent it is an admittance that we share this world with many other beings, some that may not be visible to the naked eye.

It would be a good idea to keep an open mind and to acknowledge the fact that spirits may not always equate to the lingering spirits of the dead and may equate or may be synonymous to the spiritual matter that forms the core of all things, both animate and inanimate.

The sixth rite of the Lakota is Isnati Awicalowanpi or the puberty ceremony. The ceremony takes place after a girl’s first menses, and it is held to ensure that the girl will grow up to have all the virtues of a Lakota woman and that she understand the meaning of her new role. It is also conducted to formally announce her eligibility as a potential wife and a mother.

There is an exact same ceremony that is held in the East Indian culture as soon as a young girl reaches puberty. It is viewed as an important event in the life of all young girls and celebrated accordingly.

The seventh rite is Tapa Wankayeyapi or throwing the ball. It is a game which represents the course of a man’s life. A young girl stands at the center and throws a ball upwards and to the four corners as others vie to catch it. The first person to catch the ball is considered to be more fortunate than the rest – the ball is symbolically equated to knowledge.

This rite acknowledges that all persons have a right to knowledge but they must be willing to work hard and compete to obtain it. Among other things, it instills a sense of fair competitiveness especially among young children.

Vision Quest

Vision quest or the seeking of visions is undertaken to seek random visions. In most instances the seeker is searching for an event that will unravel or manifest itself in the future and the event at the time it appears to the seeker may or may not make sense to him and the seeker may require the help of an elder or a medicine man or a shaman to help him interpret his vision. He may or may not be part of the vision.

Let’s compare these visions to visions of clairvoyance or precognition and let us try and identify the common factors and determine the factors that differentiate vision quest visions from visions of clairvoyance or pre-cognition.

Clairvoyance and pre-cognition are abilities to see into the future and from that aspect they are sometimes comparable to visions that appear during meditation but the subject does not have the ability to control the visions that appear in the form of a dream. The visions often appear in sudden flashes or bursts of images and disappear as quickly as they’d come leaving behind a lingering memory and days, months or years later when the event does unfold the subject is left with a sense of déjà vu.

This in simplistic terms is what clairvoyance or pre-cognition really is. It happens to most of us at some time or other and we are often left searching for answers and we often put it down to the unexplainable or divine intervention.

Those who know what these visions really are, these visions more often than not occur when the body is asleep, are deemed to have the gift of clairvoyance and pre-cognition and they use it for their own benefit (which is the way it should be) and some use it to help others.

Vision quest or the seeking of visions however is slightly different in that, it not only reveals future events but it is also reveals past events, i.e. a vision from the past, and this becomes of use when we are trying to come to terms with the present. There is a valid reason for most things and the answer sometimes lies in the past.

The images appear, for those who have experienced them; in full Technicolor i.e. they are identical or synonymous to actual images, sometimes with sound and at other times without. These images are very real and sometimes the dreamer or the seeker experiences an outflow or an outpour of emotions and it may be love, anger, hate, or any of the other normal emotions that we are all subjected to.

This outflow or outpour of emotions can leave a person sagged, sapped or drained until he or she learns to appreciate them for what they are i.e. they are merely intimations for future events or a blast from the past, maybe from a previous existence (regressive hypnosis or past life regression therapy proves that we can remember or recollect instances from our past lives).

Someone may well ask the question, what is the significance or relevance of going over something that has happened in the past? Well the simple answer is if we knew what happened in the past then we can make amends in the future. Past life regression is also used to remedy lingering illnesses like joint pains which according to same sources may not be the result of an injury sustained in this life but a result of an injury sustained in a past life that makes itself evident in the present life.

Vision quest or the seeking of visions takes the innate ability that most of us have to another level in that it tries to stimulate or induce these images or visions i.e. they do not occur naturally during sleep or meditation but are the result of subjecting oneself to a rigorous process.

It can be done in the manner which the Lakota do it though I must admit that going without water does make me slightly apprehensive and therefore it should only be done with the help and guidance of a holy man or someone who is well versed with the process.

The seeker pledges to stay on an isolated hill for one to four days with a blanket and a pipe, but without food and water to experience these visions. During this time he may seek the guidance of spirits to help him with his quest and therefore it is somewhat possible to surmise that guidance from spirits helps us channel our innate abilities. The smoking of the pipe may also stimulate the process.

Spirit Trees

The bond between a shaman and his or her spirit tree has been a long-established principle of shamanism and many cultures of antiquity adhere to the principle that the abilities of the shaman are very much dependent on the shaman’s spirit tree, to the extent that the metaphoric tree has taken on a life of its own and has become a central feature or facet of shamanism.

The shaman tree can be divided into two types. The first type or category of shaman trees are trees where spirits or spiritual entities reside. These trees have their origins in the realm of folklore and are often divided into different tiers. The strength of the spirit is dependent on the tier that the spirit occupies. Spirits that reside on higher tiers are stronger than those that occupy lower tiers. It is therefore possible, in this manner, to distinguish between inferior spirits and spirits of a higher capacity.

The second type of shamanic trees are trees that have a spirit i.e. these trees have a soul and it is the soul or the spirit of these trees that help and assist shamans during shamanic rites and rituals. The tree that is most commonly associated to having a spirit of its own is the birch tree and the use of birch trees, milk, white colors and white ribbons are prevalent in Altai shamanism. The color white symbolizes purity and this aspect of Altai Shamanism is also known as the milk faith.

In addition to that there is also a tree that is called the world tree which without doubt has its origins in popular myth and it is more commonly referred to as the eternal poplar. According to Altai shamanic principles, the roads to the lower and higher levels of the world run along the trunk(s) of this tree and the tree unites the various levels of the world.

In ancient Turkic-Mongolian circles, these trees along with the sun, moon and the stars were venerated as deities and the bond between the shaman and the spirit tree is strengthened by repeatedly performing shamanic rituals in honor of these tress.

The worship of trees was also rampant among animistic cultures. It is a common precept among followers of the animistic faith that all things for example trees, mountains, rivers etc. have spirits. Tatar oral narratives handed down for generations give us an example of the spirit of the Alps. He is, according to legend, strong, swift, tall and proud.

It is usual among animistic cultures to characterize and attached tangible attributes to natural objects. In his book Religion in Primitive Cultures, Edward Taylor defines animism as the doctrine of Spiritual Beings.

In addition to birch trees, other trees like oak, cedar and ash were also worshiped in ancient Europe and it was widespread in pre-Christian Europe. This type of worship also extended to plants especially plants with healing properties and it’s not unheard off or uncommon to assign plants especially those with medicinal value some sort of divine status.

Animism, as a religion, gives all things, animate and inanimate, character, and that includes attributing salient or prominent features like gender, strength and height to name a few, to the object(s) of worship and the characteristics that are attributed to the object(s) are a general perception of what the object(s) represent and this representation becomes the soul or the spirit of the object.

The spirit of a tree for example may be described as strong and uncompromising if the tree remains and has remained stolid for years. The spirit of the tree may be described as tainted if the bark is covered with blight and it is beset with insect infestation. Similarly, a withering tree that has lost its leaf cover may be described as a dying tree and the spirit of the tree can be described as being on the verge of being set free to either become an acorn that will grow into a new tree or achieve salvation or liberation.

Likewise, a monolith that has stood the test of time may be ascribed with attributes of being strong and enduring and may even be worshiped in some circles as bestowing providence and good luck.

It is very similar to the ancient Persian belief that all things have at their core a soul. It is practically impossible of course to determine if a tree actually does have a soul or otherwise but according to most sources, the worship of trees can bring about a turn of good fortunate unless of course the spirit of the tree is tainted or polluted.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Black Elk IV

The fifth sacred rite of the Lakota is Hunkapi or the right to foster or forge new relationships and it solidifies existing bonds and paves the way for new alliances. It is reflective of the personal relationship that one shares with the center of the universe or the tree that symbolizes the center of the universe.

It can also be interpreted as the rite of procreation or a rite that facilitates the expansion of familial bonds which of course is essential to perpetuate the continuity of the people and to preserve the longevity of the nation.

The nation is strong for only as long as its people continue to foster and forge new relationships and persist with repairing any damage that may have resulted with the passage of time or from past indiscretions. It is also a means to address grievances and to set aside any past disputes and in certain cases to start anew.

The rite may also be a means to enhancing the bond one has with the totem pole (the totem pole may at times represent the sacred tree that is synonymous to the center of the universe).

A totem pole in short, is a sacred object that is relative or unique to a clan, a tribe or even a family and it is perceived to be a spirit-being that is sacred to a specific person or a group of people and it is in the interest of those that are connected to the totem pole to keep the spiritual relationship alive. In more contemporary terms the spirit-being that the totem pole represents is akin to a guardian angel.

The fifth rite may also equate to fostering better relations with one’s spirit guide. According to Native American legends and traditions there are many spirits that may act as guides for example animal spirits, elemental spirits and tree spirits. These spirits not only act as guides in the valley of dreams during vision quest but also as guardians and in certain cases healers.

Spirits in Native American culture and tradition are synonymous to deities in some other cultures and these spirits are the harbingers of good tidings and the bearers of good fortune.

These spirits are similar to deities in eastern cultures (many of these deities are peculiar to specific localities) and just as there are numerous deities, there are also numerous spirits, too many in fact to list down or compile.

It is a rite that is reflective and parabolic of cultures that are keen on fostering better relationships with all beings, regardless of whether these beings are spiritual or corporeal, and to some extent it is an admittance that we share this world with many other beings, some that may not be visible to the naked eye.

It would be a good idea to keep an open mind and to acknowledge the fact that spirits may not always equate to the lingering spirits of the dead and may equate or may be synonymous to the spiritual matter that forms the core of all things, both animate and inanimate.

The sixth rite of the Lakota is Isnati Awicalowanpi or the puberty ceremony. The ceremony takes place after a girl’s first menses, and it is held to ensure that the girl will grow up to have all the virtues of a Lakota woman and that she understand the meaning of her new role. It is also conducted to formally announce her eligibility as a potential wife and a mother.

There is an exact same ceremony that is held in the East Indian culture as soon as a young girl reaches puberty. It is viewed as an important event in the life of all young girls and celebrated accordingly.

The seventh rite is Tapa Wankayeyapi or throwing the ball. It is a game which represents the course of a man’s life. A young girl stands at the center and throws a ball upwards and to the four corners as others vie to catch it. The first person to catch the ball is considered to be more fortunate than the rest – the ball is symbolically equated to knowledge.

This rite acknowledges that all persons have a right to knowledge but they must be willing to work hard and compete to obtain it. Among other things, it instills a sense of fair competitiveness especially among young children.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Black Elk III

The fourth sacred rite of the Lakota is the sun dance and once again it is reminiscent of the Tungus Shaman. The dance is conducted around a tree or a pole that symbolizes the tree. In Lakota cosmology, the tree represents the center of the universe.

It is possible to draw parallels between the tree in the Lakota sun dance and the shaman tree of the Tungus shamans. It is difficult to speculate if Black Elk ascended a shaman tree during his life-threatening illness or otherwise but it is an accepted principle among Tungus shamans that a shaman acquires his or her abilities to see and communicate with spirits after he or she ascends the shaman tree. The top of the tree or its highest tier according to Siberian folklore is occupied by Gods of the highest level.

Among Yakutian (Siberian) shamans, each shaman is allotted his or her own tree and the well-being of the shaman is dependent on the tree. Chopping down the tree spells death for the shaman. In some instances, dead shamans are entombed in the hollow of a tree and this it is where the shaman’s spirit resides i.e. it becomes the shaman’s spirit tree.

In Altai shamanic circles the tree is symbolic of the world’s center and the tree is the dwelling place of many magical animals and each of these animals have a specific function. Like spirit guides, they have the ability to foretell the future, determine destinies and act as celestial guardians.

Sitting perched on the upper boughs of this tree are two birds who call out the days of the living and who have the ability to see where the spirits of the dead will go following their demise. In the middle branches sit two silver clawed eagles that act as guardians of the living. These eagles also call out to lost heroes directing them as to the proper cause of action.

At the base of this tree there are two black dogs, with flashing eyes that gaze constantly at the underworld. Altai folklore also suggests that all trees have spirits for example when a hero in an epic poem leaves his son in the care of the spirits of the birch trees.

Trees are also worshiped in Mongolian shamanic circles. These trees are like normal trees i.e. they are not the dwelling places of spirits but by virtue of worshipping these trees one is blessed with good fortune and therefore it is possible to say that it is the spirit of the tree as opposed to the spirits of the heavenly deities that reside on the tree that bring about a turn of good fortune.

It is also possible to equate the tree with the Hungarian Tree of life and draw inferences from the legend of the sky high tree. Interestingly enough the legend also mentions a horned buffalo. According to the legend the tree is divided into many tiers and the highest tier is occupied by the legendary bird-hawk, Turul, and other celestial and heavenly beings.

As a matter of interest it is import to realize that shamans are divide into white shamans and black shamans i.e. those that commune with white spirits and those that commune with dark spirits and as a result most shamans draw their energies from one source or another.

It is also further possible to surmise that the strength of the spirit that guides the shaman depends on the tier it occupies i.e. the higher the spirit is on the tree, the stronger its abilities and these are the spirits that guide warriors through the valley of dreams during vision quest or the seeking of visions.

The sun dance reaffirms the connection between spirits and nature. The dance is held every summer on the day of the full moon and is blessed by the radiance of Celeste. The festivities are accompanied by music and dance and various plain bands gather to perform during the dance. It is from all accounts a lively and entertaining occasion.

Dancers, pledge to make offerings of their flesh to strengthen the nation and to fulfill personal vows. The choice to participate is always at the discretion of the dancer and it is usually the result of receiving a sacred dream. It is also sometimes undertaken to seek the assistance of spiritual entities in healing a sick loved one.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Black Elk II

The third rite is the keeping of the spirit (Wanagi Wicagluha). Death is a transition from one existence to another. The demise of the body does not mean death of the spirit or the soul and the spirit or the soul continues to exist long after the body has turned to dust or has been reduced to ashes.

The third rite of the Lakota is similar to the death rites of many other ancient cultures in that the spirits or the souls of the dead linger around their families or their prized possessions for a period of time before they crossover. It is a time that is used to coax the spirit into continuing with the journey.

The spirit especially in cases and circumstances of unnatural deaths has to be made to come to terms with death. Normally a special place is erected in honor of the spirit and it is done to commemorate the passing and to remember the deceased.

This special place may or may not correspond with an altar (what an altar is or isn’t is a question of perception) and friends and relatives are sometimes invited to join in during what is called a feeding ceremony or an occasion during which offerings of food are made and shared with the spirit.

The rite continues for a year and after a year the spirit is freed or released. During this rather testing time close family members of the deceased are forbidden or prohibited from taking part in any celebrations or festivities.

It has to be made clear that the mourning period is undertaken with love for the departed in mind. It is a grieving period that allows both the family members and the deceased to say their goodbyes. It is in essence a period of letting go and abstaining from celebrations and other festivities allows everyone to come to terms with the passing in the appropriate manner. It is also a time for silent reflection.

In 1890 there was a religious movement that consolidated numerous Native American believes. It was called the Ghost Dance and among other things it advocated that proper practice of the dance would reunite the living with the spirits of the dead and would bring spirits to fight on their behalf. It is reflective of the importance that is attached to spirits in Native American culture and tradition.

Spirit keeping is also a common facet among many other shamanic cultures and features prominently in Tungus cultures and its variants. The Tungus people are of Siberian origin and the near-death phenomenon similar to the experience Black Elk went through when he was nine is a prerequisite to becoming a Tungus Shaman.

Now, if Black Elk had been born in Siberia he would not only have been a medicine man but he would also have been recognized as a capable shaman and would have been accorded a position befitting a shaman in the community.

In these ancient cultures that adhere to time honored traditions, the shaman is also a healer (it is possible that there were early Siberian migrants to the Americas. The distance between Siberia and Alaska is only 55 miles. The territories are separated by a body of water known as the Bering Strait).

According to the near-death principle, once a shaman prospect has gone through the near-death experience he or she would not only be able to see spirits but he or she would also be able to communicate with them.

Similar dynamics also apply to the Tamang shamans (hill shamans) of Nepal and they too acquire the ability to see and speak to spirits. Hence, the ability to see or commune with spirits is an ability that is accepted in certain communities and societies.

These spirits also require sustenance and it is the duty of the shaman to provide the spirit with the type of sustenance that is deemed suitable and that would differ from community to community or from society to society. Likewise, it is the duty of the deceased’s next of kin or the keeper of the spirit to provide the spirit with suitable food.

Therefore, the notion of relatives and friends sharing a meal with a spirit is not at all far-fetched and to the contrary it is, depending on the culture, something of a norm.

It is also an accepted principle that the spirit after death needs to be coaxed into undertaking the journey that follows and the mourning period or the “keeping of the spirit” is a time during which relatives of the departed help the spirit to cross over.

Let me cite the practices of another ancient culture as an example. Let us briefly go to Leh and Ladakh in Western Tibet. Here the mourning period is forty-four days i.e. it takes forty-four days for the spirit of the departed to cross-over and during that time a priest is close at hand and he or she reads verses from the Tibetan Book of the Dead or the Bardo Thodol to help the spirit to cross-over.

According to the death rites of many of these ancient cultures, the period following death and prior to the crossing over is a perilous time for the spirit and it is confronted with a series of images conjured by the mind that are a result of its fears and inhibitions and therefore it needs the assistance of its family members to help it along the way.

It is slightly different from the Ghost Dance which according to my understanding is more akin to the summoning of the spirit and this normally applies to spirits of some fortitude or spirits that have been around for some time and it is more or less like the induced trance state. It is practiced to this very day.

The mourning period differs from one culture to another and from people to people but the one year period is similar to that of the East Indian culture where relatives of the dead are required to mourn the dead for a period of one-year and during the mourning period they are prohibited from taking part in any festivities. Therefore, we won’t be wrong in stating that the mourning period among the Lakota is strikingly similar to that of the East Indians.

Another amazing similarity is the feeding of the spirit. In the East Indian culture offerings of food are made at periodical intervals at an altar over the duration of a year. It includes offerings of vegetarian dishes and the favorite sweets of the deceased and relatives and friends are invited to be a part of the somber occasion.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Black Elk I

Black Elk was a famous medicine man from the Oglala Lakota (Sioux) and second cousin to the famed Native American warrior Crazy Horse who rebelled against the Federal Government for intruding on Native American territories.

Born on December 1st 1863 in Little Powder River Wyoming he was a medicine man of substance and his experiences, during which he becomes aware of the Seven Sacred Rights of the Lakota, reaffirms the outer body experience as propagated by Jung, which occur as a result of either natural sleep or induced sleep i.e. hypnosis. It confirms what parapsychologists like Jung have asserted for years in that the mind is a vast untapped resource and has never been fully explored.

When Black Elk was nine years old he was struck by a sudden illness that left him unconscious and unresponsive. During this time, he experienced visitations from cosmic entities who he described as thunder beings (Wakinyan) and who he perceived to be the forefathers or the ancestors of the Oglala Sioux. According to his accounts these spirits were kind and loving, and were very giving in their paternal affection.

His experiences further reaffirm the shamanic principle ardently advocated by well-known exponents of shamanism like Mircea Eliade in that, the shamanic gift is bestowed upon a person or an individual after a prolonged and sustained life threatening illness or experience. From all expert accounts, Black Elk’s narrative of his experiences are most likely true. He died on August 19th 1950 in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

According to Black Elk, it started with repeated visitations from an ancient man, whose head was filled with white hair and who was wise beyond reason. The man was always alert; his eyes were constantly looking in all directions and he was full of fatherly affection. The old man surprisingly enough bears a striking resemblance to the heavenly father. He then imparts the Seven Sacred Rites of the Lakota to Black Elk.

The first of the Seven Sacred Rites is Inikagapi or Inipi (the rite to renew life). A sweat lodge is held in a dome shaped structure made of saplings and covered with hide or tarps and it symbolizes the shape of the universe or the womb of a pregnant woman.

Heated stones are placed in a large crevice located in the center of the lodge and water is poured over the stones by an itancan (leader) to create steam. The purpose of the ceremony is to pray for the spiritual and physical wellbeing of all sentient beings. The lodge utilizes all the powers of the universe: earth and the things which grow on the earth and powers derived from the other elements, water, fire, and air.

Before embarking on any type of spiritual journey the body has to be detoxified, and any remains of toxic residue in the body will be removed by sweating. The result of sitting or meditating in a dome shaped structure with heated stones placed in the middle is excessive sweating.

It is also important to realize that Black Elk specifically mentioned the shape of the structure. Dome shaped structures are symbolic to all religions and theologically the dome acts as a transmitter. Any vibrations resulting from chanting in this type of structure will be carried to the heavenly father.

The second rite is Hanbleceyapi (crying for vision). The vision quest is undertaken by an individual with the help and guidance of a holy man. A person elects to go on a vision quest to pray, communicate with the spirits, and to gain knowledge, strength, and understanding.

The person pledges to stay on an isolated hill for one to four days with a blanket and a pipe, but without food or water. Upon returning, the vision may be discussed with the Wicasa Wakan (holy man). Often the meaning of the vision is not readily apparent and the individual may be told to wait for knowledge and understanding.

The second rite is the seeking of visions or an attempt to bridge the gap between the conscious and subconscious mind, through the medium of sleep or deep meditation or dreamtime, whereupon, the subconscious mind will reveal the mysteries of the world to the dreamer in the form of vivid images.

Experts in the field have suggested that implanting the thought of bridging the gap between the conscious and the subconscious mind or seeking visions prior to falling asleep will help the subject achieve dream quest more easily.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Tonpa Shenrab

According to the Bon faith Tonpa Shenrab was born approximately 18000 years ago in land called Olmo Lungring. Legend has it that Olmo Lungring occupies one-third of the known world. The kingdom is described as an eight petal-ed lotus that sits beneath a sky that resembles a dharma wheel (these descriptions may be purely metaphoric) and right in the center is the triangle shaped Mount Yungdrung.

At the base of the mountain there are four springs that flow into four sacred rivers that run concurrently in four different directions. Each spring bursts forth from four different rocks, each shaped like a different animal.

The river Nara flows from a lion shaped rock and continues towards the east. The river Pakshu flows from a horse shaped rock and continues towards the north. The river Kyim-shang flows from a peacock shaped rock and surges to the west and the river Sindhu flows from an elephant shaped rock and journeys to the south.

Tonpa Shenrab was the son of King Thodkar and therefore a prince by birth. In time he married and had children and they became his first and earliest disciples (this is a more contemporary version of the myth).

Tonpa Shenrab was born with the ability to see and communicate with spirits and other invisible beings or deities that are not visible to the karmic eye or the naked eye, be it, heavenly, celestial or otherwise and the secrets and the nuances of the Bon faith were revealed to him by the spiritual entities that he came in contact with.

He was a very special person in all aspects of the word but having said that, it is also important to acknowledge that anyone born in Olmo Lungring may be born with spiritual sight.

He strived to propagate the faith but his work was consistently interrupted by a demon called Khyabpa Lagring who was his nemesis and sought to destroy his work. Eventually however the demon was caught and converted and it became one of his disciples.

They obviously fought numerous battles with each other, prior to Khyabpa Lagring becoming a disciple and it was during one of these battles, when Tonpa Shenrab pursued the demon to recover a herd of stolen horses, that he set foot in Western Tibet, which once again reaffirms my believe that Tonpa Shenrab was originally from the South-West of Tibet.

The pursuing of horses also brings to mind the horse sacrifice which is an ancient rite that is synonymous to Hindu Kings. Among other things it is an invitation to war and it was a means for ancient kings to expand their fame and fortune.

In the case of the horse sacrifice however, it is only one horse that is freed. The horse is set loose to roam freely for a year while it is followed by a small contingent or detachment of men. If the horse is captured, in the space of the year in any of the kingdoms or territories it finds itself in, it is a call to war and both armies i.e. from the kingdom the horse started off in and in the kingdom it was captured in will meet on the battlefield.

If the horse is not captured by the end of a year, the horse is brought back by the contingent or detachment of men that were sent out to follow it discreetly and the horse is then sacrificed in honor of the Guardian Deity (this may differ from kingdom to kingdom). If anything it suggests that Tonpa Shenrab was truly of noble blood.

It was the first time Tonpa Shenrab had been to Tibet and according to most sources he found the people to be very apprehensive and unprepared for his teachings. The fact that they weren’t prepared to receive his teachings here, I think, simply means that they still viewed everything with karmic sight or from the materialistic as opposed to the spiritual perspective.

In order to be successful at Bon, one must be able to open the spiritual eye or the third eye and when that happens, the person will encounter many beings, spiritual and otherwise. It is fair to surmise that Bon is a polytheistic religion and it is also fair to say that this particular aspect of Bon is not at all shamanistic.

Tonpa Shenrab disseminated his teachings to the locals and told them that his teachings would flourish in time before returning to Olmo Lungring where he remained until the age of 82. Now, a year in Olmo Lungring corresponds to a 100 human years and therefore Tonpa Shenrab lived for 8,200 years.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Bon IV – Olmo Lungring

The Bon faith revolves around the yungdrung which according to popular myth originated from an ancient kingdom west of the Himalayas called Olmo Lungring. The myth further goes on to say that the inhabitants of Olmo Lungring were/are cosmic beings who descended from beyond the sky in pure spirit form i.e. are not visible to the naked eye and occupy human bodies.

They are referred to as enlightened beings or Vidyadharas (wisdom holders) and come under the auspice of Shiva. According to most sources Olmo Lungring is located at the foot of Mount Yungdrung. The knowledge that the Vidyadharas embody, in short, is knowledge that transcends the stars.

There are two possible variations as to the origins of the Vidyadharas and we’ll examine both of them. According to the first variation Vidyadharas are analogous to cosmic entities that reside in Indra’s court for example Gandharvas, Apsaras and Urvasis, to name a few, and they left their celestial kingdom to reside among mortals and occupy a body that is clothed in flesh and bones.

The second variation of the myth is that they arrived on earth in spirit form from another location, possibly another planet, and like the first variation, they inhabit human bodies.

Both variations present us with a problem in that we are left to speculate as to what happens to the soul that originally occupied the body or does the principal soul (the soul that the body is allocated to at birth) co-exist with the spirit form of the Vidyadharas? I would suspect so and this facet of the myth once again highlights the shamanic aspects of Bon. The principle of two souls co-existing in the same body is shamanic in substance.

The fortunate persons i.e. those who share their bodies with the Vidyadharas acquire the knowledge of the saintly beings and thereby not only have the ability to become shamans but they also have the propensity and tendency to become mystics. This adds a new dimension to Bon i.e. mysticism and it is somewhat safe to say that Bon is a multi-faceted religion.

Olmo Lungring is a kingdom that resembles Shambala in many aspects. A salient feature of both kingdoms is that they are hidden from the naked eye and these kingdoms are only visible to those who embody the qualities of dharma. A physical representation of dharma would be Yama, the God of Death, and most sources have him as dharma per se.

Another variant of the myth though similar in concept is that Olmo Lungring is a kingdom that is hidden by occult and it is only visible to a select few. According to both variants of the myth the kingdom is not visible to normal people i.e. those who try and see it with karmic vision but it does exist nonetheless.

In order to see the kingdom one must go through a rigorous process of mental conditioning and must abstain from indulging in any form of materialistic pleasures. The myth further goes on to say that if one were to stumble across this kingdom without first having acquired spiritual vision i.e. the ability to see celestial beings and other heavenly deities, one would stumble across a dry, windswept land, devoid of rivers, valleys or lush fertile pastures, surrounded by crass dunes or barren monoliths. The land would be inhabited only by impoverished nomadic tribes who live in dirty squalid encampments.

Because most people are not gifted with spiritual vision they will only be able to perceive Olmo Lungring as a dry wasteland inhabited by sporadic nomadic occupants. The only place that I can think of that would fit that description west of the Himalayas is the Thar Desert.

Legend has it that Olmo Lungring occupies one-third of the known world. The kingdom is described as an eight petal lotus that sits beneath a sky that resembles a dharma wheel (these descriptions may be purely metaphoric) and right in the center is the triangle shaped Mount Yungdrung.

At the base of the mountain there are four springs that flow into four sacred rivers that run concurrently in four different directions. Each spring bursts forth from four different rocks, each shaped like a different animal.

The river Nara flows from a lion shaped rock and continues towards the east. The river Pakshu flows from a horse shaped rock and continues towards the north. The river Kyim-shang flows from a peacock shaped rock and surges to the west and the river Sindhu flows from an elephant shaped rock and journeys to the south.

The fourth river gives us more clues as to the location of Olmo Lungring because of the similarities in the name to the Sindh province in Pakistan which coincidentally borders the Thar Desert to the east.

Olmo Lungring is also the birthplace of Toenpa Sherab who was the son of the King of Thogar (Thodkar) a principality towards the northwest of Kashmir and that gives us a bit more information as to the whereabouts of Olmo Lungring.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Bon III

Upon the completion of his sentence Padmasambhava returned to Oddiyana and he took the Princess Mandrava as his consort. Now it’s interesting that the myth says consort and not wife because Padmasambhava did not wed in the formal, orthodox or traditional sense of the word and this may imply that he had a spiritual consort.

The Kings of Angkor were proprietors of a similar version of Tantrism. We’ll go into it in depth later when we cover Angkor but it suffices to say for now that the Kings of Angkor did not have one but nine spiritual consorts who they communed with on a nightly basis.

Many of the concepts that I touch on here may be hard or difficult to grasp but in order to understand Tantrism it is crucial to come to terms with some of its basic concepts.

In addition to Mandarva (India) and later Yeshe Tsogyal (Tibet), Padmasambhava had 3 other consorts, Kalasiddhi (India), Sakya Devi (Nepal) and Mangala (Bhutan). According to some sources, all of Padmasambhava’s consorts had the hallmarks or the trademarks of the dakinis and are worshipped in some circles as the 5 wisdom Goddesses.

Yeshe Tsogyal was the most prominent, followed by Mandrava the daughter of the King of Zahor, a Kingdom in Northeast India.

Now it is important to mention that the word dakini in its most simplistic form basically means “an enlightened female” i.e. someone who has attained spiritual liberation or is freed from the birth and death cycle.

In some circles these dakinis are worshiped as bodhisattvas i.e. enlightened beings who have been freed from the birth and death cycle but have chosen to remain on earth in spiritual form because of the compassion they have for humanity. It is entirely different from a dakini who derives her powers from the mahavidyas. The latter is purely tantric in essence and substance.

It may or may not be of relevance but the number 5 is significant to the Goddess Varahi. For starters, she is the Goddess who sits on the fifth Chakra. In addition to that, in Indian classical music or traditional music, the 5th swara (a note in the octave) is synonymous to the Goddess Varahi. Varahi is also the 5th of the 8 matrikas.

Padmasambhava’s consorts may also be perceived to be 5 different manifestations of the Goddess Varahi, each synonymous to 5 different aspects of the Goddess or to take it further the 5 different weapons that are associated to the Goddess i.e. a bell, a yak’s tail, a discus, a mace and Sharanga (Vishnu’s bow given to him by the craftsman of the Gods, Viswakarma).

Varahi is also alternative worshipped as Satya Ekakini, she who reveals the inner truths and this aspect of the Goddess is particularly important to seers. Those who are blessed by the touch of Satya Ekakini need only to look into their inner-selfs to discover and uncover all truths.

Because the Goddess Varahi is an incarnate of Vishnu’s boar avatar, those who are touched by her, exude tremendous strength. All in all, we can safely say, from the tantric perspective anyway, that Padmasambhava didn’t really require any external help because he was blessed from birth. Being surrounded by his 5 consorts only enhanced his abilities.

I have thus far tried to exclude the Buddhist influence because we are here solely concerned with the Bon faith and the Bon-Tantric fusion that occurred post the arrival of Padmasambhava in Tibet.

Following his union with Mandrava, Padmasambhava journeyed to Nepal and there he and Mandrava were conferred the gift of longevity and were granted eternal life. Presumably this is where he met Sathya Devi. He then journeyed to Tibet and according to some sources to “tame a wild land that was rife with shamanic practices” which was most likely a reference to the Bon practices that were prevalent at that time.

It is to some degree an unfair reference to the Bon faith especially because we know so little about it.

It must also be said that there are some scholars who divide Bon into white Bon and black Bon. The former is with reference to Bon rituals that are used to produce good results or positive results and the latter is in reference to Bon rituals that are performed to bring about or produce negative results and is likened to black magic.

One of the salient aspects of Bon is that it is a polytheistic religion and therefore it is a religion with numerous deities and like most polytheistic religions it has the potential to evolve either with the archeological discoveries of new deities or when someone who is exceptionally pious is elevated to a near god status.

The fundamental principle behind all polytheistic religions or faiths is that all deities are representations of the one God and each manifestation represents a different aspect of the one God. God being both omniscient and omnipresent will undoubtedly have numerous aspects.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Bon II

Before we continue with the topic on hand it is worth looking into the exploits of the Indian monk Padmasambhava to help us understand the fusion and amalgamation that took place after his arrival in Tibet and it is worth mentioning, briefly at least, the two other Hindu deities that have become central to Tibetan mysticism and have risen to iconic proportions in the ancient South Asian kingdom.

Padmasambhava is also known as Guru Rinpoche and like the name implies he was first and foremost a teacher. Padmasambhava is also referred to as the “Lotus Born” and that is simply because he was never physically born but sprang from a lotus when he was 9 years old.

He was the adopted son of King Indrabhuti who was the ruler of the Kingdom of Oddiyana which according to most sources was located in the Swat Valley though other sources have concluded that because of the similarities in the name, Oddiyana could also have been an ancient kingdom in either Orissa or Haryana.

The kingdom would have existed somewhere at about the 6th – 7th century and we can safely say that it wasn’t located in either South or Central India because the prevailing dynasties at the time were synonymous to a different blend or facet of Hinduism.

Without doubt the kingdom was located somewhere in the north of India at a time when both Pakistan and India were one country. Having said that let’s not take anything away from Orissa because it has a rich historic legacy of its own.

The Sun Temples built by the Eastern Ganga Dynasty and its predecessors are ample testament to its vibrant and colorful history. Orissa was also the scene, many centuries prior to the rise of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty, of the final battle between the Mauryan Empire and the Kalinga Empire, which devastated both armies.

Now Indrabhuti was childless for many years and after much prayers and devotion he was granted a son. As the story goes, he was out hunting with his men one day when he stumbled across a large white lotus in the middle of a lake. Taken aback by its size he sat on his horse staring at it when the petals opened and out came the 9-year-old Padmasamabhava.

Indrabhuti dutifully adopted the boy and made him his heir apparent but young Padmasmabhava was a mischievous boy and would often get himself into trouble and therefore upon attaining a certain age he was sent to a graveyard to reflect on all the things he had done and serve out his sentence in silent meditation.

A graveyard is selected for the purpose of meditation for two reasons. Firstly, because it is silent and peaceful and there is very little interruption and secondly because it is also a form of getting used to spirit-beings, to come to terms with the fact that there are other entities that we share the world with and not all of the them occupy the same shape or form as the rest of us.

It is relevant at this stage to elaborate on Indrabhuti’s and Padmasambhava’s religious practices to understand the fusion that took place in Tibet after the monk’s arrival. They practiced a form of Hinduism that is known as Tantrism (i.e. tantric in essence and substance). All the texts available on Tantrism were originally translated from Sanskrit but I dare say a few things would have gone amiss during the translation because it is not always possible to translate from one language to another.

Tantric rites and rituals revolve around the 8 Hindu Matrikas one of whom already occupies a place of significance in Tibetan religious circles (Varahi). The other Matrikas are Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Mahesvari, Indrani, Kaumari, Chamunda and Narasimhi and the 10 Mahavidyas.

Tara who is one of the ten Mahavidyas is one of the most venerated Goddesses in Tibet. The other Mahavidyas are Kali, Sodasi, Bhuvaneshvari, Bhairavi, Chinnamasta, Dhumavati, Bhagalamuki, Matangi and Kamala.

There are a few salient points that should be mentioned here. Firstly, all the 8 Matrikas and the 10 Mahavidyas are female and therefore the power that is derived from them is feminine in essence. It is very potent and dominant.

Secondly, some of the Matrikas and most of the Mahavidyas are represented in an intimidating manner and sometimes associated to places that most people would rather avoid. The reason is as follows: – to harness the power of the Matrikas and the Mahavidyas one has to be able to confront his or her own worst fears.

Thirdly from the association to the Matrikas it is possible to ascertain the nature of a person. No doubt he or she may acquire special abilities from all 8 Matrikas but from the 8 there is always one Matrika that the person has a greater affinity to than others. In the case of Padmasambhava it is Varahi and therefore we can surmise that Padmasambhava was a seer, because Varahi is the Goddess of Seers.

Padmasambhava was also able to harness the collective powers of the Mahavidyas because he was later in his life closely associated to the Dakini (those who obtain their spiritual powers from the Mahavidyas) Yeshe Tsogyal and like all those who harness the power of the Matrikas, there would have been one Mahavidya that Yeshe Tsogyal was closer to than the rest and I would suspect it was Tara (she who embodies the power of compassion).

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

Bon I

Bon is the native religion of Tibet and it originated in the Western Himalayan kingdom of Zhangzhung. It is divided into two facets. Bon, prior to the arrival of Padmasambhava and the aspects of the religion that survived after the amalgamation with other religious components subsequent to the arrival of the Indian monk (7th – 8th century).

Bon in its original form was realized and propagated by Toenpa Sherab or Gshen-Rab and according to popular myth, Toenpa Sherab, was born with the gift to see spirits and other cosmic beings and was able to communicate with them.

At the age of 12 he was abducted and taken to the underworld where he was taught the secrets of spirits or demons and he reappeared or resurfaced 12 years later at the age of 24 to claim his rightful place as the son of the King of Thogar (Thodkar) a principality towards the northwest of Kashmir.

Central to Bon is the yungdrung which is interestingly enough represented by a symbol turning anti-clockwise. Many commenters on the subject have mentioned that Bon is shamanistic in essence, not that there is anything wrong with shamanism because most ancient religions are shamanistic to some extent or another, and I tend to agree with them because in most orthodox religious circles the symbols are represented clockwise and when the motion is reversed, then it falls outside the realms of orthodox religion and falls into the folds of shamanism.

Let us take it a step further and look at it in a different light. The general presumption is that the yungdrung is a key. When the key is turned clockwise it produces a certain effect and when the key is turned anti-clockwise it produces another effect or a counter effect and if we look at Bon per se without the influences of other orthodox religions, it is in essence and substance propitiation by means of incantation and in this aspect it is without doubt shamanistic and to some degree ritualistic.

According to most sources Bon is similar to Hinduism in that its adherents believe in the laws of karma and reincarnation and therefore are subject to the birth and death cycle.

The exploits of the tantric monk Padmasmabhava may shed more light on the matter. When Padmasmabhava arrived in Tibet, it is said that the prevailing religion was shamanism, though no mention is made of Bon, and the monk had to combat demons and other spirit entities that had been conjured by shamans to free its people.

However, it is worth keeping in mind that Bon adherents were subjected to a period of long-term persecution post the arrival of Buddhism and some of the facts may have been distorted. There have been attempts to dismiss Bon as another branch or sect of Buddhism and nothing could be further from the truth. Bon is a religion that is unique by itself.

By the 8th – 9th century the pre – Buddhist religion of Tibet had been suppressed and supplanted by Buddhism and many of its adherents and followers existed in small pockets scattered around the country.

There have been accusations by some scholars that Bon adherents mimic or imitate Buddhist rites but these accusations are baseless and unfounded.

Bon adherents observe similar rituals as some Hindu schools or sects. The similarities include an altar and offerings of fruits and flowers. They burn incense at the altar and some adherents even chant mantras. Such practices are common not only in orthodox worship but also in shamanistic rites and rituals and it is evident in every nook and cranny of the subcontinent. This type of worship has existed for eons and predates Buddhism.

Likewise, the concept of births, deaths, reincarnation and enlightenment have existed for thousands of years and therefore it is not unusual for any religion that originates from this part of the world to have at its core the aforementioned concepts or precepts.

The differences however would lie in the deities that are worshiped and the status that is accorded to the respective deities and not in the concepts. The determinant factor is if the deities can be classed as orthodox deities i.e. deities that most of us are familiar with or unorthodox deities i.e. deities that most of us have not heard of. With Bon I suspect it is the latter.

The other distinguishing feature with Bon is that worship according to most sources is not conducted from translations of Sanskrit based texts as it is with Buddhism but it is conducted from texts originally written in the Zhangzhung language and later translated into Tibetan which tends to suggest that Bon had its own series of texts which outlined the principles and the canons of the faith, all of which adds to its uniqueness.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward