Last weekend, I completed Taz Thornton’s year-long shamanic/spiritual empowerment training circle. It took a lot for me to go – I couldn’t take Husband with me, I had to meet new people, I wasn’t convinced we could afford it, I had to get driven there and back by my parents and feel about 12 years old…However, certain Deities were quite keen for me to attend this course, and Husband heard ‘Em much louder and clearer than I did – as in, he saw a sign at Pagan Pride and knew instantly that I needed to go on that course, and flat out insisted that I do it. So I went lol.
I can’t tell you how glad I am that I got my arm twisted into this, though. There’s no way I could have made the progress I’ve made, in both spiritual and ‘mundane’ spheres, if I hadn’t gone – and that’s true even though I missed one and a half of the five weekends.
The circle runs at the Clophill Centre in Bedfordshire, and if you’ve had far to come then there is a ger (sort of like a yurt) you can stay in at night. It has a fire and radiators, but you’ll still want to bring about fifty thousand blankets with you (though bear in mind that I am the fluffiest fairy at the party and get cold really easily, so maybe it’s not so bad for normal people). The site also has plenty of loos, some outdoor showers and, most importantly, a warm kitchen with an oven, a hob and a microwave. The other practical consideration is that everyone brings food to share over the weekend (which runs from Friday to Sunday). It’s fine if you need to bring just for yourself, if you have food allergies/intolerances or you’re on a diet or something, but mostly everyone chats on Facebook and fixes to bring food to share (the group keeps up to date on Facebook, so it’s really useful if you have an account).
The first weekend is a sort of getting-to-know-one-another thing. Each year is different, but my first weekend involved walking around the site to get to know it, learning ‘building block’ things like how to greet the directions and what the rules are for being in circle, trust falls – there will be several adorable chickens to cheer you on and encourage you – and ‘the Dance of Darkness’, which I hate and will always hate (most people love it, though. It involves drumming and making lots of noise). After that, each week is focused on one of the four directions.
Taz teaches core shamanism, and the directional correspondences she uses don’t gel with me at all. My brain just refuses to accept anything other than Northern Tradition correspondences. But I found that this wasn’t really a problem; I just focused on the element of the weekend and went with the flow. People come to the circle from various traditions and with all kinds of life experiences, so it’s not a big deal if your whole spiritual practice isn’t built around core shamanism.
I don’t know if the weekends always follow the same pattern or not, but for me the second weekend was Fire. Annoyingly I missed half of this weekend, but I got some very powerful lessons from it anyway – fair warning; if you engage with this course properly, you will have to deal with your issues (possibly issues you weren’t aware you had) and just generally grow and change as a human being. It can be rough, but the tribe are a very supportive and accepting group of people. Fire weekend involves an ‘optional’ (ha!) firewalk, which I missed. Earth was the next weekend, which I missed entirely, but that included digging graves and then spending the night either sleeping in the ground or watching over your grave buddy as they slept. I finally got back on track for Water weekend, which was great. Again, each year is different, but this year we did a trance dance, spoke to some plants and walked around a field in a blindfold, trying not to feel stupid. I’m not convinced that last one was for our spiritual development; I think Taz just fancied a laugh. Finally, we had Air weekend. I think this was the most journey-intensive of the weekends, and also involved a glasswalk. I would like everyone on the entire planet to be aware of the fact that I walked over broken glass bottles in my bare feet.
I have to write about the tribe, because everyone on the course is so important to it’s success. I’m not generally speaking a fan of human beings, but even I’ve become quite fond of the tribe of people who went through this year with me. It really is a group experience, even if you’re convinced that you’re the cool gothy lone wolf who’s going to just hang out in the corner and do his own thing. The tribe support and help one another, and you’ll find yourself wanting to keep in touch with them. You can also phone or e-mail Taz, Asha or Jackie, all of whom are lovely, if you need help between weekends.
When I came home after my first weekend, everyone said I looked taller and spoke differently. I have indisputably gained a lot from this circle, and I completely recommend it – in fact, I’m going back for round 2 lol. And that probably says it all – it’s a significant financial sacrifice for us, it’s not near to my home, and yet everyone in my family, including my Christian parents who have to drive me there and back, actively want me to do another year, and have donated both time and cold, hard cash to see that this happens.
More about Firechild Shamanism; (http://www.firechild-designs.co.uk/index.html)
More about this course, including testimonials from others (click the small link at the very bottom of the page for testimonials); (http://www.firechild-designs.co.uk/oneyearcircle.html)
More about the Clophill Centre; (http://www.clophillcentre.co.uk/)