Kenn Day: Body and Soul
Author of Post Tribal Shamanism and Dance of Stones, Kenn has been a working Shaman and healer for many years, with his own practice since 1989. He now also offers workshops for those wanting to understand and experience his practice. Kenn was kind enough to chat to me about his work.
Mabh Savage: What does the term Post-Tribal Shaman mean?
Kenn Day: I coined the therm “post-tribal shamanism” many years ago, specifically to differentiate from the many rich and varied tribal traditions. I did this because, on the one hand, I knew that the modern, Western, post-industrial and post-TRIBAL world that I live in, still requires the presence, gifts and skills of shamans, offered in service to a rather different client base than that of a traditional tribal shaman. It was clear to me that there are important differences in how we can work, effectively and appropriately, with folks in this culture as compared to those raised in a tribal setting. In some cases, techniques which are completely appropriate and effective for the tribal shaman, working the tribal culture, would be not as effective, and even potentially damaging when applied to people living in our modern setting.
Further, and equally important, I wished to be absolutely sure that I was not committing cultural appropriation. Respecting those cultures which still have active and thriving shamanic traditions is essential to the post-tribal path.
MS: You’ve been ‘delving into the mysteries of the human spirit’ for over 30 years; what prompted you to write this book, Post-Tribal Shamanism, when you did?
KD: I actually avoided writing this book for many years, before finally realizing that it would be a valuable resource — both for my own students, as well as others with an interest in exploring how shamanism emerges into our lives as modern humans.
MS: What was your biggest challenge during the production of the book?
KD: The biggest challenge was clearly the movement from the spontaneous, conversational way of speaking that I use when teaching, into the necessary rigidity of the written word.
MS: Who do you think this book will appeal to the most? What kind of person will get the most out of it?
KD: First and foremost, it was written for my students; for all of those who attend my workshops and work with me, either in person or at a distance. But secondly, I wrote it to respond to those who have a soul-level hunger to connect with their ancestors, the Earth, Spirit and all the other aspects of the world that we have become so disconnected from.
MS: Would you say this is a follow up to your previous book, Dance of Stones, or is it an entirely separate volume?
KD: Well, Dance of Stones was my most effective tool of procrastination. I literally wrote that book in order to avoid writing this one. At the time, back in the late 90’s, I was concerned that I would come out with “just another book on shamanism,” which would quickly fade into the background of all the other books on shamanism that had been popping out like mushrooms after a rain. Dance of Stones was (I believed it would be) more interesting, in that it is a narrative rather than a textbook.
It helps that Dance of Stones is also based on my own experience. I was trying to decide what I could do about writing a book, when a new friend invited me for a road trip in Europe. Soon after starting off on that trip, it became clear to me that it would form a good basis for a book on shamanism — and it has!
MS: Shamanism is very ‘in’ at the moment. Why do you think this is?
KD: My spirit ally and mentor, Grandfather likes to say, “The nature of the soul is to awaken. The nature of the ego is to avoid that!” At every moment in history, there has been a tension between those parts of us that want to awaken to see everything as it is, and the parts of us that want to remain in the trance of ego — pretending that the world is exactly as it appears to be. Sometimes the soul nudges us toward wakefulness and we find ourselves looking for something beyond the superficial answers of ordinary “reality”. This search for deeper reality eventually transforms the ego into more of a reflection of the soul, rather than its adversary.
Another answer for that question is simply that, the world has always needed shamans, and it needs them now more than ever. We have become very disconnected from some of the most important elements of what it means to be fully human. The response of our collective soul is to put out a call to those who might be able to help us move back into relationship with our humanity. This means connecting to our ancestors, to the Earth, to Spirit and so much more!
MS: Do you consider yourself a Shaman, or do you avoid labels and simply see Shamanism as one aspect of your identity?
KD: I do call myself a shaman, and have done so ever since Grandfather got it through my head that it was more ego-driven to refuse to call myself a shaman, when I was clearly filling that role, than it was to just let it be. After all, shaman is just a word. We use it because it conveys a certain Mystery more effectually than any other word. It connects us with the ancestors and the traditions that come before us and it allows us to work deeply, at a soul level, with those who we are in service to.
MS: Tell us a bit about the training courses that you do.
KD: The training course has always been an expression of my need to share these teachings with others, who might also put them to use in the world.
I began with just a couple of workshops, which have gradually evolved into a foundation series covering 8 weekends, with a variety of advanced coursework for those who are still interested after completing the initial series.
One thing that became clear early on is that I am incapable of teaching the same workshop twice. I can cover the same material, but somehow it comes out very differently with each new class, and of course it evolves over time as well. My intention with the workshops is to provide opportunities for the students to directly encounter the teachings and the Mysteries, in a way that gives them some practical skills to take home with them. Very little of that can be communicated by me talking, or by the handouts I pass around at the beginning of the class. Rather it is done by gradually introducing, one layer at a time, a complex pattern of practical exercises, discussion, trance and direct experience of those elements of the human experience that lay outside of what most of us have learned to think of as “reality”. In other words, the workshops are designed to gently and gradually blow your mind, making room for expanded awareness and deepening connection.
MS: As well as Shamanism, you are versed in shiatsu and qi gong. Do you find that generally a healthy body leads to a healthy spirit? Do you look at fully holistic healing- mind, body and spirit?
KD: Focusing on just one part of the pattern — Body, mind, soul or anything — is counter to the shamanic perspective. In shamanism — at least in post-tribal shamanism — attention is always being directed toward deepening integration, awareness and transformation. Getting too caught up just in the health of the physical can be a very effective way to avoid looking at the whole. That said, if one part of the whole is unhealthy, it generally indicates that all the parts are unhealthy. The challenge is often in determining how that shows up in each part, and what can be done about it.
Going back to your mention of Qi Gong though, the Chinese have been practicing shamanism continuously for thousands of years, and have a well-developed language to describe the various processes we encounter. Since I am versed in Chinese medicine, which in turn is based on those earlier shamanic practices, I often use terms derived from the Chinese traditions. I also regularly teach my clients and students Qi Gong exercises or Tai Chi forms, in order to help them embody principals of shamanic practice.
MS: Have you ever had any clients that were not open to the healing process? How do you deal with this?
KD: This all depends on the individual. What works for one person isn’t going to work for everyone. I try to be open to allowing the client to drive the process as much as possible. If they need to leave and work with someone else in order to move forward, I need to support that. If they need to be challenged to do work that is uncomfortable for them, I will do that. If they need to have appropriate boundaries clarified so that the work is safe for them (and me) I do that as well.
Going back to the idea that the soul and the ego are often at odds over which direction we are taking in our lives, I try to acknowledge and respect the ego, while continuing in service to the soul.
MS: What’s the most common ailment, malady or condition you are asked to help with?
KD: I would describe it as the “invisible wound” of disconnection; the deep trauma that arises from feeling a lack of belonging. I go into this in great depth elsewhere. I even have an entire weekend workshop and a chapter in my book about it. It can show up as anything from addiction and depression to chronic pain and fatigue.
MS: What are the challenges with remote healing?
KD: The biggest challenge for me is pretty easy to overcome, rather surprisingly. That is the simple shift of two people in very different places into a space where we can work together. I do this by extending Medicine Body around both of us and rooting into the land spirit in both locations.
MS: Tell me about your role as a Spiritual Technologist.
KD: I borrow the term from my mentor and dear friend, Elisheva Nesher. Essentially, I use it to refer to ritual, ceremony, rites of passage and related practices. I have served as ritual director for pagan gatherings, officiated weddings and funerals, as well as many rites of passage in between those two. These are powerful tools that allow us to recognize the important shifts. For instance, a lot of people go through their adult lives feeling like they are still teenagers or children. Having some effective rites of passage into adulthood can make a big difference with this.
MS: And also a bit about Soul Solutions?
KD: Soul Solutions is the name of the Systemic Constellation Work practice that I have with my wife Patricia Sheerin. We both went through a two year training with Heinz Stark (http://starkinstitute.org/) in what is essentially a form of group shamanism. It is powerful work, and can often cause healing movement in areas where nothing else seems to work. www.soulsolutionshome.com
MS: Are you currently working on any other books?
KD: I am working on two different books, on and off these days. One is on a set of teachings I received through terma transmission back in the early 80’s. I still have very mixed feelings about publishing anything on those, but I’m closer to it now than I have been in the past. The other book I’m working on is called Grandfather Tales and is simply a series of stories about and from my spirit ally, who I address as Grandfather. And to answer your question, no, he is not my biological ancestor.
MS: What do you hope the coming year holds for you?
KD: More opportunity to teach — to pass these teachings on to receptive students, and to continue to learn more myself through at process. That has always been what draws me forward.
However, more and more, my attention is focused on being the best husband and papa I can be. With a wonderful wife and six year old daughter, that is the most important part of my life right now. I am enjoying life and all the blessings of my ancestors more now than ever before. I would like to continue that for many years to come.
Before I forget though, we are taking another group over to Ireland next year, which is always a lot of fun! We still have a few places open, if you know anyone who might be interested. They can find out more on the event page at https://www.facebook.com/ events/1468464340140809/1488264091494167/