A Trip to the Movie House

I like to use the metaphor of a movie house to explain my cosmology. In it, there are:

  • characters/scenery in the movie: what spirits inhabit and are “bound” to in order to gain a specific set of experiences.
  • spirits watching the movie: our true selves which we often choose to forget about while watching the movie. We are bound to the experience until the movie ends. This means that, while it’s possible to take our attention off the movie, we can only observe and communicate with others outside of the movie.
  • Other spirits: these are “unbound”, existing fully in their natural state. Unlike bound spirits, they have the ability to act freely.  Upon death, bound spirits return to being unbound, until such a time that they choose to watch another movie.

Imagine that you and I go to the movies together and sit next to each other. When the movie begins, the lights go down and our reality is what is on the screen. I forget about you sitting there next to me. I identify with the character on the screen. This is a very special movie, though. It’s just one continuous show. In it, everyone in the room identifies with a different character and sees the movie from that perspective. While the character they identify exists, they are bound to it. Once that character dies, they can leave (or stick around and wait for their friends or pick a new character to identify with).

But why bind yourself to a tree or a rock? The experiences are different, but no less valuable. A tree experiences the world in it’s own unique way. Perceiving the surroundings in ways we cannot understand. A rock’s experience is one that can potentially last billions of years. Spirits that choose this experience know this. Time from that perspective is very foreign to us as humans, but it has value.

Sometimes, some of us lose focus on the movie and look around the theater. Those people remember who they are and see the room full of other movie goes. Everyone in the room (it’s a really big movie theater) is a character in the movie, experiencing it, unaware that they are in the theater for the time being.

The movie on the screen is the “middle layer”. It is the illusion we are sharing. The theater room we are all seated in is the “lower layer”, it is where we see the true spirits of all the things in the movie.

If I get up and walk outside the theater, I will see countless people going about the various things they do. This is the “upper layer”. Filled with spirits who are not bound to the characters in the movie.

Even though I walk outside the theater, I’m still bound to my character in the film, and I know I need to go back to it because, after all, I chose to come see it and every moment I’m out here, I’m missing out on the movie back there.

As a shaman, I use my awareness of the worlds and entities outside of the screen to ask for guidance and help on behalf of those focused on the screen. For example: suppose your cellphone fell off your lap while you’re watching the movie (the focused you watching the move, not the character. Yes, I know spirits don’t have cellphones. It’s a metaphor, go with it) . You are really caught up in the story though, so you can’t pull yourself away from it. Instead, your character feels worried sick about something they can’t really put their finger on. The shaman can talk to others in the theater or even go get someone from the outside to come search for it for you and put it back into your lap. These things happen outside your movie persona’s ability to perceive, but it makes them/you feel better.

Thus the shaman works with spirit to fix and recover things for us in the spirit realms while we are too busy to be able to do it ourselves. They do this to help us stay focused on what we want to learn or enjoy.




Concerning Evil

I was asked, “How do you deal with evil spirits?”

Short answer? I don’t.

Good and evil are concepts created within our human existence. Evil describes a person or act that is culturally abhorrent, immoral and malevolent. People can do evil things. But this is a subjective property that only exists within our frame of reference.

Soldiers may travel from one country to another for the purpose of “restoring order and bringing a “better” way of life for the people, which usually involves imposing their way of life on the people.

Back in the soldier’s home country, they are celebrated as heroes. They are doing good things by spreading the ideals of their people. However, in the receiving country many might view the soldiers as invaders, forcing their ideologies upon weaker people who cannot defend against a powerful enemy. They may look upon the soldiers as evil.

So which is it? Good soldiers or evil soldiers? It depends on your point of view.

When I first began working with spirits, there was fear. Fear comes from the unknown. I was afraid that some would do harm to me. Why did I think this? Because that is the way of this world. Every unknown entity could be a predator. It is a primal instinct that our advanced society has done little to eradicate.

But we do know better. I’m reminded by the scene in Empire Strikes Back where Luke sees a cave and gets a feeling that something is not right. Yoda tells him it is a domain of evil. Luke asks him, “What’s in there?” Yoda tells him, “Only what you take with you.

We bring our baggage with us when we journey. If we have fear, we will find things to be afraid of. If we believe we will encounter malevolence and harm, that is what we will find. How we experience the spirit realm is still molded by the physical mind, because it is through this that our interpretations are formed.

In the Stephen Mitchell translation of the Daodejing are some insights that echo this:

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.

This idea had a definite impact upon me back in the mid-nineties when I was struggling with my own fears. I began to question why would spirits want to do me harm? What is their motivation? I understand human motives like greed and jealousy as reasons other people would do me harm, but I knew nothing about what drives the actions of spirits.

Then I asked myself, other than my fear, what evidence do I have that spirits want to harm me? Of course, I had none. While that was comforting to realize, it still didn’t erase my fear. Fear is overcome through experience and knowledge. It took time, and experience working with spirits to fully understand that malevolence is something I bring with me to the spirit world, not something that I encounter while there.

My personal experience with spirits now is that I do not encounter evil. I do not project this upon them and I do not perceive them as evil or malevolent.

Will others encounter evil and malevolent spirits? Absolutely, just like Luke encountered Darth Vader in the cave. What we bring with us is real to us. Belief is a very strong tool, but it can also be a prison. It not only shapes us, but also how we see the worlds around us.


Creating an altar space

The shamanic altar is a place to honor the spirits and show them you welcome their presence. It can be used by you as a focal point for meditation, communion and to add a powerful aesthetic to a room. Altars can be physical or digital. The guidance in this post is about physical altars.

Here is a simple guide to help you build your home altar:

  1. Decide upon the intent. What is the primary purpose of the altar?
    • Is it a place to make offerings?
    • Ask for blessings?
    • Clear your mind?
    • Find peace?
    • Seek insight?
  2. Choose the location. It can literally be anywhere in your house:
    • on a furniture surface
    • on the floor
    • on wall shelves
    • What’s important is that it feels right to you.
  3. Select the basic implements:
    • Start with a base. This can be a cloth cover, a rock slab, or even circuit boards. Something that signifies the boundaries of the space.
    • Altars will typically need to have items for receiving offerings, such as a goblet or bowl. This can be something natural like made of bone or a simple metal or even something very modern like an electronic lock-box.
    • A candle is a useful tool for signifying that you are spending intentional time before it. Or perhaps you prefer an LED light that you can control with an app on your phone.
    • Another implement is a bell, chime, or even a USB speaker that you use to  play whatever sound that signifies purifying the space.
  4. Select the adornments. These are decorations that creates your altar’s “theme”, that beautify the space and enhance it’s sacred feel:
    • Small items of personal significance to you such as crystals or jewelry
    • Carvings relevant to your intent
    • Small found items such as rocks or bottle caps
    • Tools such as a knife or a compass, a remote control

After assembling your altar, dedicate it with your first offering. What you offer is your choice. The most important thing about an offering is that you value what you offer. The altar works best when you also build a habit to interact with it at specific times. This can be daily, weekly, twice a month, etc. Whatever you feel is the appropriate amount, define that from the beginning and stay with it.

Some things I have learned

Spoiler alert: This is my understanding. If it doesn’t feel right to you, let it go. There is no value in debating spiritual matters. I am sharing this for the benefit of those who are seeking to learn different beliefs, in search of their own understanding. The thing to keep in mind is that what we believe is the choice we need to make at the time we make it.

Urban shamanism is not a religion. As shamans, we do not worship gods. We do not pray to deity. We communicate with spirit entities on behalf of others to help them in this world. We request guidance, insight and healing in order to benefit our communities. Here are some of the things I have learned through working with those spirit beings:

  • The universe is not divine.
  • There is no universal “love” or any other emotion.
  • There are no gods or goddesses.
  • The universe does not punish us, nor does it reward us.
  • The spirits shamans work with are kin.
  • We are spirit entities who are experiencing the world, the universe, from the perspective of physical matter and energy.
  • Everything we experience while being “alive” is for the purpose of learning and having fun.
  • Many of the spirits we encounter have experienced countless “lives” here.
  • We choose to be here, in this state. While most of us purposefully forget who we really are while we’re here, this identity we accept is just temporary.
  • Often we meet others here in our physical lives that we also know as our true selves.
  • The spirits are energy beings, just like us but are not directly experiencing the world as we are. Some know us in our true form and stay close during our trip through the middle layer.
  • The spirits want to help us, but typically will not interfere in our experience unless asked.
  • Shamans are able to perceive outside the experience of the physical world, and interact directly with those entities who are not currently inhabiting this layer of being.



The ocean,
It’s motion,
Forces from above.
Washing away love.

Now do you hear my name?
A voice that calls to you.
Can never be the same,
There’s nothing we can do.

Our long forgotten days,
Are gathered at your feet.
We cannot change the waves,
Or who we each will meet.

A potion.
Deadly to the heart.
The ocean,
It’s motion,
Tearing us apart.