BESTSELLING AUTHOR | COLUMNIST | TEACHER
Born and raised in Scotland - and still a Scot at heart - Manda has been, variously, a veterinary surgeon, veterinary anaesthetist, acupuncturist (people and animals), crime writer, columnist, blogger, economist - and author. In between, she teaches shamanic dreaming, creative writing and concept-based dog training.
COLUMNIST & TEACHER
My own shamanic dreaming
‘This is who we were; this is who we could be.’ That was my line in the months and years after the first of the Boudica:Dreaming books was published. At the Edinburgh Literary festival, at Libertas, the lesbian arts festival, at conferences, in libraries, to university students studying the books for their English Lit degrees…wherever and whenever, I started with this: ‘The books were my own act of dreaming.
For six years, I sat with the fire in the evenings, and during the days, I walked in Thetford forest, in the fens and on the beaches of East Anglia. And whenever I wasn’t walking or sitting – which was most of the time – I was writing the product of the dreaming that arose. I was not in the usual frame of mind for our culture. I got rid of the TV, I had ditched the sound system a long time before (sometime I’ll write a blog post about how canned music is our deepest and most insidious addiction), and I gave up tea, coffee and alcohol.
So the fire was my thing, my dreaming, my connection to the other worlds… and the books were the result.
Wake up from the post-Roman nightmare
When I did the first vision quest that led to the books being written, the gods said, ‘These will change the world’ and I believed them. The writing took the six most intense years of my life and there were times when I was entirely lost from current reality. But as they grew, it seemed as if we – me and the characters – were creating a world that had echoes of our own. Or that our own had echoes of this. That if the Romans hadn’t won that last battle, if we hadn’t descended into the hell of organized religion, of marriage as ownership, of straight roads and taxes and disconnection from the land… if we could shed all of that, we might actually stop destroying ourselves and our world. And I thought that if the books lived this, if they drew in at least a proportion of the readers, then we could wake up from the post-Roman nightmare.
The old gods of Britannia are still alive if you know how to connect to them
‘This is who we were, this is who we can be.’ The old gods of this land are still alive and if you know how to connect to them, they’ll listen. The Romans were a plague on the land that has gone on for far too long, but we can get rid of their legacy and rediscover the cleaner, truer, brighter connection to ourselves and the places we live. I have said this a hundred times on platforms, at conferences, in libraries. And some people hear. In the early days, inevitably there’d be a good ten or twenty percent of the signing queue afterwards who wanted to know how to make it happen. How do we reconnect to the old gods of the land? How can we ask for help?
Every act of dreaming (aka druidic practice) I have either done or seen done.
For three weeks, I had the answer, ‘It’s all in the books. They’re the instruction manual. The first book, particularly, was written to my own internal set of rules: Every act of dreaming in this book I have either done or seen done. The setting is different, obviously, but the dreaming is the same.’
And then I started recognizing the faces in the queues.
‘I’ve seen you before, three weeks ago.’
‘Yes. You said it was in the books, the dreaming.’
‘Maybe, but not in a way we can take home and use. They’re not exactly an instruction manual, are they?’
‘Well… no. They’re historical thrillers that are trying to tease out the realities of the world our ancestors lived in, in all its duplicitous, heroic, magical, wondrous, grim-and-bloody glory. The dreaming weaves through everything. I thought you’d be able to tease it out.’
‘Well, we can’t.’
Teaching the dreaming is not teaching druidic practice. But it heads to the same place.
Hum. So I went home and did what you have to do in circumstances like this: I did another vision quest. I used to be a vet. I used, in fact, to teach veterinary anaesthesia at the Universities of Cambridge and Dublin. So it’s not that I’m shy of teaching: actually, I love it. But I had read enough about the hubris of people who think they can teach spiritual practice – and suffered under the egos of (some of) those who think they can teach shamanic practice, which is essentially what we’re talking about and…
I’d strongly recommend you walk away from anyone telling you they’re a western shaman.
OK. I’ll do it. But I’ll do everything I can to make it safe. Because the thing about being the tribal shaman, in whatever culture you’re in, is that it’s not easy, it’s not trivial: people die training to be a shaman. Some people choose to die to avoid becoming the tribal shaman. It’s a position of enormous responsibility and my own solid belief is that we in the west, although we can (and do) petition the old gods for help… we’re not being shamans. We’re using the tools of shamanic practice to help our lives and, if we get beyond the point of projecting, if we do the work hard enough, diligently enough, for long enough to at least begin to see our own stuff, then we can help those around us.
That doesn’t make us shamans and I’d strongly recommend you walk away from anyone who tells you otherwise, particularly if they’re offering to take your money.
And if enough of us do it, we can bring the old gods back to full power.
So I started teaching. I thought I’d teach a couple of courses and that would be it. That was in 2014. My most senior students have just, last year, stepped through the final gate on the wheel. Next year, we head back into the center for five days as a group of peers, dreaming together. It’s been an astonishing, humbling, mind-bending, glorious, terrifying journey and I have loved every moment of it. I was born to do this. The writing fills in the gaps between. But nothing – nothing on this earth – comes close to being part of a dreaming circle that is working as one: when a dozen or more minds come together with clear intent, wholehearted compassion and a focus for action: then we can change the world.
So this is who we were. This is who we can be. And if enough of us do it, we can bring the old gods back to full power. And between us, we can change the world.
This year, my senior students will begin to teach with me and we can begin to expand the range of courses on offer. Watch the Dreaming Awake website for details of what and who and when and where.