Gavin Marshall looks a bit like ‘The Dude’ in the Big Lebowsky. He is a musician, a magician and a bit of an explorer when it comes to the mind and spirituality. A former evangelical pastor, he recently attended a guided retreat under the auspices of a Peruvian Shaman.
Tell us about how you moved from being an evangelical pastor to becoming interested in shamanism?
It was a long journey. I grew disillusioned with the church and decided to take a break. The break then became a bit more permanent and I found that I now had the freedom to explore what I really believed. The exploration involved studying different religions, magic, guys like Jung and Joseph Campbell and so-on.
I also made good friends with some very interesting people, one who had spent some time in Peru with some of the shamans there. What he experienced sort of resonated with me and I researched all I could find and when the oppurtunity arose to experience it – I took it.
How did you feel about “submitting” to a South American Shaman?
I was a bit nervous – like when you go for surgery, or are about to go bungi jumping. You know it’s supposed to be safe – but there’s this thing at the back of your mind telling you this could kill you..
What techniques were used?
We did kung-fu, meditation and went on journeys into other worlds guided by the singing of the Icaros and with the help of a few sacred brews.
What are the Icaros?
The Icaros are special songs sung by a Shaman during an Ayahuasca ceremony. My experience of them were a kind of life line at times – pulling me back when I was lost. The Icaros also seem to guide you on the journey – they somehow create a path for you to find your way.
A friend described them to me as archetypal lullabies. Just like we comfort and give a newborn baby a sense of “it’s ok” in this new and crazy confusing world they find themselves in – so the Icaros can have a similar function.
You mentioned the similarities of the “worship leader” and your guide.
I did? But yes – I think a comparison can be drawn in that what I tried to do when I fulfilled that role was to provide an atmosphere, or the space in which people could open up spiritually. I think a DJ’s role is similar in this respect – music is very powerful in that it connects us and makes us open to the rhythm of the universe. It moves us beyond the ego to the realm of the Soul.
What aspects of your experience stand out as highlights?
The whole thing, and how my life has been since then. I think the thing that stands out most, though, was finding my Soul – becoming aware of who I really am – The Self, Awareness, Atman, – whatever term one would use.
What role does music play in your life?
Music plays a huge role in my life. Everything in the universe has rhythm – from energy vibrating at different frequencies, to breathing, to day and night, the seasons etc. The whole of the universe is one big symphony of which our lives are a part. Music is one of the ways that I connect, or rather become conscious of that rhythm. It has also been a way that I can express myself.
Music has a way of getting inside me and opening up areas that I forgot were there – emotions, memories, feelings of vulnerability – or it can just relax me and energise me. Music for me is also a form of meditation. When I’m in the groove – I’m in the moment, the Now.
Are there questions that you could not answer in the context of the church, that were answered for you by the shaman-guided experience?
Definitely – well I think it was a much deeper and more real experience than I’ve had in any church. In the church I struggled with the superficiality of a lot of what we were supposed to believe – like it didn’t fit. This was real and it was as if everything I had been reading and exploring now made sense.
Where do you see the church heading?
hmm – to be honest I don’t really care too much any more. My feeling is that as long as people are thinking in terms of ‘the church’ – this system to which people feel they need to be a part that is somehow separate from the rest of humanity – then it will never be able to really go anywhere except down the same path it’s always gone. William Blake said
“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create”.
I think that’s the thing for me now – we need to create our own systems that work for us.
Do you think Christianity and Shamanism are irreconcilable?
The term ‘shaman’ is quite a broad term. Traditional christianity and shamanism – I would say are worlds apart, simply because the church is so convinced of it’s ‘rightness’ that it sees everything else as wrong, evil etc.
As for the teachings of Jesus – I would say they’re pointing in the same directions. I would go so far as to saying that Jesus was a shaman of sorts – in the broader definition of the term.
What might that broad definition be?
A person who connects people with that which lies beyond what we perceive as real and in that process brings about healing – of the body, and a reconnection with the Universe. Well that would be my broader definition.
Do you have “nagging evangelical doubts” about your current trajectory?
I don’t consider myself an evangelical – so no.
How does you family relate to your investigations?
They’ve seen the change in me – so they’re pretty much behind it all.
In modern western society, who do you think has taken on the role of the shamanic practitioner?
Psychologists, psychiatrists, doctors, ministers – in that those are the people that we have traditionally turned to, but I think people are starting to realise that this kind of healing doesn’t always deal with the whole person. I think that’s part of the problem with western society – we’ve forgotten our Soul and we’re in desperate need of people who will help us find it again.
Who would you trust more, the shaman or the minister?
Depends on the shaman or the minister – it’s not so much about the role that they’re fulfilling, but who they are as a person. I think a shaman has a much richer mythology to draw from and is probably more skilled in what he does, and understanding ‘how it is’, than the average minister – but there are also a bunch of charlatans calling themselves shamans – so you need to be careful.