Transforming From Caterpillar To Butterfly: A personal journey into Shaman Doorways, Medicine Walks and Authentic Leadership from Embercombe’s The Journey programme
By Simon Blackler
Many moons ago, some 9 years and 3 months to be precise, I embarked on somewhat of a baptism of fire onto my shamanic pathway. Last weekend I completed a Shaman’s Doorway course with Northern Drum, which is an introduction course that operates as a stepping stone to all of their teachings. ‘Well, what’s extraordinary about that Simon?’ I hear you say. To be honest, it was actually the second time that I have completed the course with them. For in late April 2013 not only did I open myself up to the teachings of Chis Luttichau but that of Embercombe Founder Mac Macartney too.
For some strange reason, I decided to do Embercombe’s Journey Program right on the back of my first Shaman’s Doorway experience. I literally drove from the completion of Chris’ course in Sancreed, Cornwall to Higher Ashton, Devon on the same afternoon, traversing some 120 miles in total, so as to amalgamate seven days of personal development work together. I had met Mac some five years previously when I approached him about Authentic Leadership, which I had just learnt about through Neil Crofts. I rather naively thought at the time that this was a fairly new and innovative leadership concept.
I remember walking into Mac’s living room the day that we agreed to meet just thinking that I must be a natural shoe in to life at Embercombe, the fact that I knew about Authentic Leadership and Mac practiced it, both were a natural fit for one another as far as I was concerned and an immediate collaboration together was surely the only course of action ahead! To say that I was a little wet behind the ears was a bit of an understatement I think. Mac tried his best to paint a little more realistic picture of the likely way forward for me given the fact that Authentic Leadership had been around for the best part of two decades as far as he was concerned and he had all the team he needed all around him already. He advised me that a pathway that involved volunteering at Embercombe Friends Weekends from 2008 – 13 was perhaps a better way to start my association with the Valley Of The Fire than what I first envisaged.
Gathering together my shattered illusions I set out upon that trail instead, and met a huge number of incredible people connected to Embercombe in the process. In my early training with Neil, he introduced me to a nature based practice that I later found out, is what First Nation people call, a Medicine Walk. A stroll out into nature that is designed to ask a question of the flora and fauna all around us and then to witness the answer that comes back to us through synchronicity and metaphor. It was an exercise that made my heart sing, as if it was given to me as a tool for me to use for the rest of my life for my own sake and that of others too. Having had a taste of this one nature based practice it only whetted my appetite for more. I enquired with all sorts of organisations like Bill Plotkin’s Animas Valley Institute and even Embercombe itself to do an apprenticeship in this field. However, it was only through taking a walk with Mac one day on his land that the possibility of engaging with Northern Drum arose. Mac recommended Chris to me as they both shared the same Native American teachers, the Metis people.
Having both men as guides, utilising both of their strengths and wisdom in order to help me along my own personal path seemed like the way to go for me and hence when the possibility of engaging in both schools of thought within a week presented itself to me I jumped at the chance to engage with it all. However, a twist in the story lay up ahead that I wasn’t wholly prepared for. It was spelled out to me, in no uncertain fashion, upon The Journey Program itself how much I projected in Mac’s direction with my own life purpose, vision and dream. Being presented with the mirror that I was given to look at myself through came somewhat of a shock to me. I no longer liked the look of what I was seeing and I immediately became very conscious of how I was being and behaving around Mac. I became fearful of my own positive or ‘golden’ shadow, my own potential. I wasn’t living my own full life.
I began to realise that even though I had embarked on two community builds that year to continue to offer support to Embercombe in the building of The Linhay, which I had pledged to do through its match funding application, I was finding it increasingly difficult to be on the land and remain in the company of the founder of the organisation itself. I had lost the ability to communicate with Mac, man to man, brother to brother. I knew I had to step away no matter how much of a wrench it felt like at the time, for how long I was not sure. Part of me wondered if I would ever return. I had to go and find myself as a person in my own way. To really become aware of my own strengths and weaknesses and where I sat on the whole spectrum of masculinity. I had to fully immerse myself within not only a Vision Quest Guardianship Training through Northern Drum but also a longer term Three Year Shamanic Training with them too.
It was only through this experience that I began to find out the man I was destined to be. Through that process I would discover a joy of flowers, of all things, the essences of which would become my ultimate teachers and to whom I had to connect with more deeply to be closer to both the feminine and masculine aspects of myself, to bring myself back into a place of wholeness and balance.
So that was the way of things for a while, as a fully accredited Shamanic and Flower Essence Practitioner trying to build up the Allies Of Nature brand with all of the experiences that I had accumulated in my own life. That was before I started to hear the land of Embercombe whisper to me again on the wind. Mac, himself, from time to time would pop up on my radar, in one of my dreams perhaps, or there was this course or that program from the Embercombe newsletter that peeked my interest, until that is an opportunity to back row on The Journey Program came in my direction with an unmistakable shout that I just couldn’t ignore. My soul was ushering me home and I seemingly just had to attend that September, for reasons I could not fathom. It was such a simple way to re-engage too where all other routes to a return had proven to be far more difficult to negotiate.
Little did I know on re-entering the gates at the top of the hill as to what the real purpose for my re-engagement was. Apart form bringing a fair degree of peace to my own and Mac’s connection I believe, I was soon being presented with an opportunity to have a look at an Embercombe Men’s Weekend that was struggling to fill its places. It was an invitation that was being offered to me by our much loved, and now sadly departed, Fiona Barnes.
I saw a sign upon the Embercombe land that week, or more accurately in the heavens above, that was calling me like no other thing had done before. I had witnessed the constellation of Orion in the sky when exiting the furthest yurt in the West village at 4.00am to take a stroll into the wood. As I looked up to the mythic character above, so a shooting star flashed through that part of the zodiac. It was an omen for sure I thought, of what was to come next in my life, even if I wasn’t fully aware of the significance of it at the time. In the end it wouldn’t seemingly matter that I pitched an alternative Men’s Weekend idea to the core team and for this notion to seemingly fall on stoney ground compared to what other people’s offers were like of a similar ilk. The die had been cast in my own heart, for my own purpose had been discovered, I had found my love.
The Orion Reborn Mens Program had been conceived and although it would still take time to form within the creative womb and be birthed, when it finally came fully out into the light it started to become a project of real gravitas and integrity for me. Operating outside of the confines of Embercombe was liberating, soon a new, more aligned venue for the concept would present itself to me to host the program, along with a chef totally onboard with the ethos and then four women began to appear to hold space with me in what I am now calling ‘next level’ men’s work. That is men’s work that is to be witnessed by women and not solely to be conducted within a male only environment.
The myth of Orion has been slowly percolating away within me since last autumn when I first really became aware of it. More fervently it began to come forward after serendipitously visiting the Aboriginal Songlines exhibition in Plymouth in February where I synchronistically bumped into Rachel Fleming of Embercombe too, someone who I had given a complimentary Medicine Walk to when she was the editor of Source Magazine that I believe helped light her own path forward back then. Orion, in Greek Mythology, is known as ‘The Great Hunter’, however he is so good at hunting that he brags that he can hunt any species to extinction. Mother Earth doesn’t take very kindly to this notion and hence sends a scorpion to poison and thus kill him and so he is then banished to the heavens seemingly forever.
However, a more fuller story according to the Aboriginal Songlines is that Orion was a male figure that pursued ‘The Seven Sisters’, the seven archetypes of women, across the planet for his own gain, driven by lust and desire, so much so that he ended up taking Merope against her will. Orion is a raper and pillager of the Earth and the deep feminine. This is ultimately a story of toxic masculinity. This myth is played out upon the heavens nightly as Orion pursues The Seven Sisters, The Pleiades, across the night sky through Taurus as a reminder to us all of the toxic masculinity that is still in existence around the globe today.
When Orion eventually comes back to Earth however and is reincarnated, or reborn, he attempts to avenge the atrocities he has administered in the past by becoming the protector and guardian of the planet instead. He embodies a more divine way of being, to truly honour the deep feminine. He therefore begins to chart the necessary transformational journey that all men have to face today if wishing to bring more alignment to our way of being and happiness back into our hearts.
As part of my second Shaman’s Doorway experience this past weekend I took a Medicine Walk around the lanes of Manaton asking nature the question as to whether I was on the right path with the Orion Reborn Mens Program and how to fill the course for the start date in November. I got presented with a whole smorgasbord of inspiration saying that everything I was currently doing was all as it should be. One of the most notable sightings of which was a thrush that had just recently caught a snail and was in the process of eating it. The tap, tap, tap of the snail shell hitting the road had gathered my attention. My teacher Chris had told me that if you see any hunter within nature swoop down and catch its prey whilst you are on a Medicine Walk then that normally means that you are right on track to what you are meant to be doing in life and here was such a sign to back up at least three other signs I had seen of a similar nature in previous weeks, with numerous cats and kestrels catching all sorts of mice and shrews.
The Journey ahead now seems set to me and maybe at last I am beginning to fully embody the pledge I made at the end of the Journey program itself ‘to live a sacred life and so help create a sacred body for the Earth, giving a voice to all the inhabitants of the Earth that as yet cannot speak for themselves’ and this is my joyful vow.
And so I must continue upon my joyous way in bringing this program more fully into existence for the benefit of one and all honouring the second sacred law of the First Nation people that ‘Everything Is First Born Of Woman’. I now see my two Shaman Doorway experiences as bookending my journey from caterpillar to butterfly. One allowing me to enter into the wilderness of my chrysalis for the transformation to begin the other to complete that passage of my life where I am able to exit more fully into freedom, to truly fly with all the gifts that I have to offer the world and be in a place of true servitude to both humans and the planet.
Reposted with permission from Simon’s blog found here.