Life Etc: Spirit: Close Encounters ; DIY Shamanism? Is This for Real? Peter Carty Enrols in a Day Course for Those Who Want to Commune with the Forces of Good and Evil

Article excerpt

Welcome to the shaman's path," says Leo Rutherford, a suitably white-haired and venerable-looking man who will be our leader and mentor for today. A dozen of us have gathered in a church hall in north London for Leo's introductory workshop on shamanism. The building is used by a playgroup during the week and the children's colourful paintings and piled-up toys lend an air of fun to the proceedings as Rutherford begins, in a rather unexpectedly straight- forward style.

"This will be a zero-bullshit day," he says, "and all of you are free to challenge me on anything." He then launches into a detailed explanation of shamanism, the oldest of all religions, which is based on the notion that the world is inhabited by good and evil spirits who can be influenced and controlled by those who understand them. Shamans, Rutherford explains, can learn how to enter trances and travel on psychic journeys down into underground worlds, to commune with spirit guides who take animal forms.

But will one day be enough for us to acquire some of these impressive- sounding powers? Rutherford certainly has a down-to- earth way of explaining the other-worldly - perhaps because of his previous career, as the managing director of a tin-can factory.

In the church hall, a hangover from his corporate life appears: a flip chart, which he uses to unroll the Medicine Wheel. The Wheel, he explains, is a concept borrowed from Native American groups; it symbolises a creation myth - Father Sun coupling with Mother Earth to produce animals, humans and everything else - it is also a kind of astrological chart employed for divination. All the while, his discourse is punctuated with dramatic slogans, such as: "Sex is a great way to get in touch with your inner child." Who could possibly argue? Anyway, his key conclusion is that shamanism says we are all part of nature and that everything, including us, is part of God.

Rutherford's interpretation seems to be a pick-and-mix of Hinduism, paganism, environmentalism and quantum physics. It's easy to see its New Age appeal, and while the number of people interested in shamanism in the UK is unknown, the perception is that it is growing steadily; Rutherford is one of several shamans around the country who are now organising regular workshops and courses. …