The Shamanic Artist

This article was first published in Indie Shaman Magazine Issue 22 (October 2014). 
With the start of my Facebook art group, It now feels like a good time to make it available online. 

The Shamanic Artist

©Cat Hawkins

©Cat Hawkins

It has taken me almost as long to to call myself a shaman (or rather, class what I do as shamanic) as it has to call myself an artist.  You never feel that you could possibly be on such a path... surely that kind of thing is for fairytale.  Then you realise there is much power and symbolism in the things you see around you, the things that come into your mind and heart, the messages that flow through you and manifest in colour and shape, and they are the only things that excite you and make sense!  Following a Shamanic path brings as many doubts and challenges as it does when you follow a path in the arts.  Few people take you seriously or understand what you do, quite often you're not even quite sure what it is you do!  You can find yourself wishing you were just happy and content in a 'normal' job as it would be much more reliable and straight forward.  Art? Spirituality? Shamanism?  not exactly the easiest paths to take.

Being a shaman, working shamanically, means being fully present, living your truth and walking your talk.  It calls you to find your authentic self.  It calls you to help others and to share your gifts.  As an artist, I feel the same level of calling.  My art has been the one true and centred voice throughout all my years of finding myself.  It helped to unravel and sort through the intense mix of emotions and problems I have had.  My art is as important to me as my spirituality, my beliefs and my healing.  I look back over my life and I see a dark time.  Many people who come to shamanism do so after or during a difficult time in their life.  For me, it was depression, a hormone disorder, anger and childhood trauma.  Over the years of illness and depression, when life felt it was too hard and unbearable, I would draw, paint and create.  I had not been able to finish my degree at art college due to the birth of my second child, but decided that art was at least one subject you could do without going to college.  Leaving university gave me the freedom to experiment with my art, try new things.  I have always loved mandalas, folk art, symbolic and abstract art, and anything to do with colour healing and symbolism.  In fact, over the years of self study into witchcraft, paganism, tarot, colour healing and seasonal festivals, I had developed quite a knowledge and passion for symbols and correspondences.

After years of fighting and learning to survive living with the hormone disorder PMDD, I re-connected to to my shamanic path.  It had felt like I had abandoned my spirituality through years of feeling unwell, doctors appointments, psyche assessments, gynae and hospital appointments.  Truth is, I had never abandoned it, I was actually going through the most important part.  To me, my re-connection was as simple as making a conscious choice to beat my demons, to ask the universe for help and to learn to trust again, accompanied by some deep learning and understanding of how my dis-ease was presenting itself.  I'd hit rock bottom many times believing that my birth here was a mistake and that I was not able to live in this world.  My children acted as my anchors to earth through these times.

©Cat Hawkins

©Cat Hawkins

So, how do you begin to live and work shamanically?  You learn and develop ways of transmuting pain. You understand it's origins and learn creative ways to deal with anything that affects us negatively.  During the times we are feeling depressed and blocked, we are being given time for deep understanding and contemplation.  I have ended up feeling very grateful for the years of illness, as it gave me the time to use my art and develop healing creative practices.  Now I find myself at what seems to be the morning after the 'dark night of the soul'.  I know what I know, I've seen what I've seen and I am who I am.  I feel a new life before me, and it's one that includes art every day.  I know many people go into shamanism to heal others, but I believe the most important person to heal is yourself.  Sometimes this can be done alongside offering help to others, the insights that others offer help you on your own journey and give you some kind of human perspective.  Going through intense healing of the soul and the past changes you forever.  It is the most authentic Shamanic initiation.  Every low point helped me get higher the next time.  In fact, I have noted the harder the fall, the stronger, more passionate and more dedicated I get.

My art practice is versatile and adaptable.  I use colour, shapes, symbols, paint, pencils, found objects...  I have come to realise there are no limitations.  Materials can be sourced, time can be made, and healing can occur.  It faces the same challenges as any other practice, but once you realise it's benefits, you find yourself making more time, life changes and you feel clearer and more balanced.  Drawing can heal. It's no instant fix, although the relaxation benefits of drawing and painting are well known, but also, to draw, drawing something, can take you into new realms.

Let's just stop and think for a moment about the word draw. I've always been fascinated with words and their origins and meanings.  Words and language are an art form of their own.   One of the most interesting is to DRAW.

In the artistic sense we know it to mean to produce a picture or diagram by making lines and marks on paper or a surface with a pencil, pen, etc.  We can draw things we see, we can draw shapes to help us describe things, we can also just make marks with no intention of drawing anything in particular.  In life, we also use the word to describe when we pull or drag something, as in horse drawn cart..  Draw in this sense describes a forward movement or motion, usually in a slow, steady or gentle manner.  It can also mean the coming to a conclusion or arrival at a point in time or process, like 'the train drew into the station' or 'the concert drew to a close'.  Already, we have a word, that not only means making marks but also means movement, steady pull, conclusion and closing (drawing the curtains).  Other meanings (there's more!) are to pull something through, like draw through a straw, or drawing something out, which means to take, obtain or extract from something else.  We draw a bath, we draw a pint, we draw out flavour, we draw from our emotions or past experiences and we draw certain people to us.  So it symbolises the taking out of something, but also means the taking in of something.  We draw breathe everyday to keep us alive.  The exchange happening inside our body, we take in and release out with every breath.  We draw in, we draw out.  The two have to be in balance for us to be healthy.

Other fascinating meanings are to attract, to draw our eye to something or draw the crowds, and to induce someone to reveal or do something "he refused to be drawn on what would happen".  We also draw to a conclusion or draw clear distinctions, so the word draw also acts as something that brings clarity.

©Cat Hawkins

©Cat Hawkins

There are also the uses of drawing in a game of football, or drawing winning tickets from a raffle. We can also be drawn to certain places people or things, often inexplicably as if our past lives or unconscious is trying to remember something.  We also draw blood, draw blanks, draw someone's fire, draw a line, draw up plans and draw the short straw.  We can be quick on the draw, draw back and draw down.   The nights draw in the autumn and draw out in the spring.  Nights draw on.  We can draw things out of people when we can see something they can't.  One very specific spiritual technique in witchcraft is a ritual to draw down the moon.  Soaking in and absorbing the lunar power and energy.

You can see how drawing can become a Shamanic act in itself, and the more you work with your own creative flow, the stronger and deeper the flow becomes.   As you create and release, you in turn get fed with more.  An exchange happens.  Being creative leads to more creative ideas.  Keeping it flowing is the most important and challenging task.  For me, I need to be creative every day.  At the very least, every other day.  Long breaks due to other life commitments can see me end up depressed and anxious.  This proves to me that my art and spirituality is my way of life.  I have no desire to get a 'real' job.  The work I create and that comes to me is real.  It feeds my soul, heals my spirit and brings me a joy I can't describe. 

Art is more than a passive healing technique, it's a powerful healing path, just like shamanism.  It's not an easy path, but it is wholly worthwhile, and for me, is the only path that allows me the freedom to use my art skills for more than just creating something to hang in an art gallery.  The process is key, the journey is what matters.  You don't need expensive art materials or art classes to use art and colour shamanically.  Use whatever you have.  Accepting artistic impulses as part of a the spiritual experience, as part of the fabric of your life can lead to revelatory experiences.  Maybe you just want to paint in red paint.  Maybe it's all you have.  We could question whether the fact you only have red paint is part of the training... being called to create and having limited resources just calls for more creativity.  Remember all the meanings of the word draw.  To sit and draw is to bring something out of yourself, or maybe it's something that fills you as you draw it in.  The transformational ability of drawing means you can literally draw out your pain, or draw in positivity.  You can draw something that gets you moving, you can draw to bring something to an end.  You can draw to get clarity to situation, you can draw to attract something into your life.  Just look at how past generations used symbols to connect to spirit, to Gods, to invoke, to banish and protect.  Talismans and amulets, medicine wheels and cave paintings.  Were the bison painted on the cave walls because man had caught one? or because he wanted to catch one?

Mandala with Antakarahana at the centre ©Cat Hawkins

Mandala with Antakarahana at the centre ©Cat Hawkins

Symbols are powerful.  Some invoke and some banish.  I would like to mention here the Antakarahana symbol.  This symbol is said to emit a healing frequency.  We see the same principles of healing and symbols in traditions such a Reiki, where shapes and symbols invoke and direct the intention of the healing.  The Antahkarana can be used to charge a glass of water, be placed on a chair or worn as a necklace.  Wherever you place the symbol it works to change the vibration of the room or wearer.  If a symbol can carry an energy, then we can use symbols in our spiritual practices as a focus or reminder of the path we are currently on.  We identify with symbols, we wear symbols, we get tattooed with symbols.  They are a way to communicate, unite and identify with others.  They often represent our beliefs, our allegiances or make some kind of statement.  Symbols, signs, omens and strange happenings are often commonplace for people following a Shamanic path.  As shamans a lot of our time is spent in symbolic worlds experiencing visions that need interpreting.

I allow myself to follow my creative desires.  I am slowly challenging myself more and more.  I am experiencing life differently as I have a better understanding of how I work and I am experimenting with ways of using my gifts to help others .  I have my own very specific ways of journeying and vision questing.  My meditation practice is often combined with my art.  This keeps me healthy and able to live in this world without going 'crazy'.

My visions come to me through dreams and visual thoughts all day long.  If I didn't have time to create at least some of them I would truly go insane.  So, I think what I'm saying is that up until now, I didn't know how I fitted within the Shamanic traditions.  I didn't see what skills I had that were that special.  I am not one to go on lots of spiritual courses, my path has been much more solitary, and sometimes I feel quite inadequate next to someone with lots of Shamanic qualifications or training.  Realising my art is as much my path, as it is my skill, my magic or my Shamanic power has meant I feel I have something to offer that is unique. 

Creating, painting and drawing is much like drawing tarot cards.  You can interpret any symbols painted, the colours it's painted in, the time of the month and year it's been painted and even the astrology of the time.  In tarot, I believe you may draw a card because it's energy is already in your aura or because you need it in your aura.  I believe the same of all art.  It's already there, or it needs to be there, or it needs to be drawn out and cleansed or it's power utilised.  The most important thing is to allow yourself to paint what you feel like painting.  If something has inspired you to create, you should create!  I do take commissions, but I enjoy allowing myself to play freely with new ideas and experiment with new materials.
I paint all types of symbols from all faiths and I also often get called to paint spirit animals. This leads me to research, learning, connecting to and understanding the subject.  My connection to nature and animals inspire many ideas, as does my menstrual cycle, lunar cycle, ancestry, quotes, myths, poetry and music.  

©Cat Hawkins

©Cat Hawkins

I often look at a blank piece of paper, canvas, or space and far from being overwhelmed or scared, I am excited.  I am the creator, the blank page is the universe, I can create whatever I want.   It's spell working and manifestation at it's finest.  A blank piece of paper ends up as a unique creation, of which only one exists, and out of the millions of possibilities, just one image emerges.  Drawing is influenced by mood, emotions, life, energy, the season, the time of month...  Every creation is as unique as life itself.  The trick is to just go with it, create, don't analyse or worry during creation, enjoy the moment, let it flow and detach yourself from the finished piece.  Who is really judging anyway?   We don't need to know where we are going to end up, or what our creation will eventually look like, we just need to make the most of the journey and learn as much as we can along the way!