Shapeshifting for Writers

Rainbow Warrior
Rainbow Warrior

I can’t write a book until I can shapeshift into the characters. This often takes time and I seem to have to wait for it, full of expectancy but with as few expectations as I can manage *g*.

Writing a story is so like journeying. I’m in the characters skin. Several skins in fact as, even for the minor characters, I must be in them when I write them or they turn out flat and two dimensional. And I must be in them in order to react/respond as they would in each situation.

This gets exciting in conversation. The whole thing is flick-flick-flick, flicking from one to the other and so getting the right words and actions for each. The feel as the character hears the words of the person they’re with and sees the body language. I am amanuensis for each of them. At least translators usually only deal with one person. Writers always have multiple personalities going on! And writers must stay rational and conscious as they work between the characters or the reader just gets badly written mush instead of a good story.

All of this is what shamans do – journey to somewhere outside everyday reality, shift into other beings as necessary, and return to Earth with the goodies. Consequently I find my shaman training invaluable for writing.

As a shaman, I can and do journey on demand – a bit like POD, print on demand, for writers *g*. I have to for clients and to find what I need for myself as well. Journeying for a story is the hardest. All journeying requires incubation – putting the idea in the cauldron along with whatever other appropriate ingredients; stirring for the ritual year-and-a-day; being there at the right moment to catch the three drops of wisdom on one’s thumb; and remembering to put that thumb in one’s mouth to suck up the wisdom! That’s the standard preparation process on the Brythonic Celtic path … Taliesin’s journey.

In Taliesin’s journey he is then chased, by the goddess Ceridwen, through the four elements and finally eaten by her in order to be reborn. A standard initiation ritual. All this has to happen in writing a story too. I, the writer, am chased and harried through earth, water, air and fire to come to the climax of the story – rebirth.

Joseph Campbell has his own way of putting this in the “Hero’s Journey”. Taliesin is just the same, if far older than Campbell, only expressed differently. Campbell was right, all stories follow this pattern.
• Some crisis happens that brings the hero to a first awakening, as Gwion Bach is when he is called to stir Ceridwen’s cauldron.
• There follows a learning period with the “master”; Gwion stirs, learns a little, feels as if he’s Ceridwen’s chosen one.
• Then comes another crisis – the cauldron boils, the three drops of wisdom jump out onto Gwion’s thumb instead of the intended one. Gwion has to run or he will die.
• The goddess chases him and this forces Gwion to realise what he’s truly learned, so he shapeshifts into forms for each of the elements.
• He succeeds in escaping three times but, on the fourth time, just when he thinks he’s made it Ceridwen eats the grain of wheat that is Gwion.
• He spends nine months within her, going through the equivalent of Butterfly Soup – going back to the basic elements of his being, that make him, and reforming them into the new self.
• At nine months he is reborn, and so beautiful Ceridwen names him Shining Brow – that’s what Taliesin means – as a tribute to his wisdom.
• She then sets him free in the river of Life where he is fund by someone else in trouble and so is able to begin his new life by helping someone.

All good stories, the ones we want to read over and over and over, have this format. It’s how humans live their lives if they want to grow and be conscious – and most of us do want that. Campbell knew this. So do all shamans and they always have. This is what being a shaman is about – helping others to grow and become conscious.

Whether they know this consciously or not this is what all writers, storytellers, Cyfarwydd – as they’re called in Brython – want too.

I have to do all that journeying and shapeshifting for each story. It takes time and preparation that I, as an impatient human, rail at some of the time. Why can’t it be easy? Why can’t it just flow through me without all this work and travail. Oh, I know the answers but I need a good whinge as much as anyone else! When I was practising as a transpersonal psychotherapist on of my adages that I would offer to clients was, “A whinge a day keeps the therapist at bay!”. It works too. I use it myself … so I do walk my own talk *g*.

It’s an incredible moment – better than orgasm – when I click with the characters of a new story. Suddenly, they’re there. I’m there. We’re together, two consciousnesses in one being. I call it “thread twining” after a practice I learned while working in the Lucis Trust school, Alice Bailey’s lot – look it up on Google *g*. Once I’m there, with the characters, the writing does flow. It’s not easy though! It’s just like Gwion’s chase through the elements. Sometimes it’s so hairy I come out literally shaking and panting, eyes crossed. My husband, Paul, sees me and promptly makes a pot of tea, settles me down to get back to Earth, return to my everyday self. He’s a great support mechanism at these times *g*.

But, without the shift, the writing is dull and boring, it plods, is a very effective sleeping-draught! With the shift I can fly …

PS – the drawing is the logo for Rainbow Warriors, the shamanic school I lead,  and comes from my own interpretation of the shaman on the Gundestrup cauldron.

4 thoughts on “Shapeshifting for Writers”

  1. I so agree with you on this. You have to be the characters to tell their story. Once you’re one with the characters the writing flows smoothly. They have a tendency to get annoyed with you when you have interruptions such as errors to fix and close back off. It feels like forever before you really connect back with them. Impatient little muses

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    1. Chuckle! they sure do get cross when you don’t get it done in time for them – we have arguments and negotiations *g*. But I can’t do it without them and, being totally addicted to writing I can’t give it up LOL

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  2. Now here is my argument for when we watch movies and then (a group of friends of mine) discuss them. They will rip a good movie apart because in their mind “I wouldn’t do that…I wouldn’t say that…that’s stupid.” And I say…maybe not but you are not you….you have to be the character. You have to jump into their shoes and think with their mind and be in THAT world and situation. They usually just ignore me lol

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  3. Hey Scarlet, that must be a real pain. You have to get into the then and there and who of the movie, or book/story. And they’re not like you, necessarily.

    One of my beefs is when they try to make Jane Austin, Dorothy Sayers, Daphne du Maurier, Titanic or Narnia or whatever characters behave like 90s or 21st century people. The wouldn’t, couldn’t and didn’t. We have to go back to their time, shift into how it was to be them. That’s the fun of it … not being yourself :-). You can do shifting just as well watching a movie as writing a story.

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