Power Animal Shamanic Journey Weekend with Georgien Wybenga 18th-19th May 2024

One of the legendary events in the history of modern contemporary Druidry is the sweat lodge that the Chief of The British Druid Order, Philip Shallcrass, attended at the first ever OBOD camp in 1994. That sweat lodge was facilitated by a lady called Georgien Wybenga. In his 2017 blog post Finding Spirit Animals Philip tells the story:

We lit the huge fire to heat the rocks for the lodge, and as sheets of flame spread sparks on the evening breeze, we drummed and danced and sang. It was beautiful.

In the lodge, we did four doors, or rounds, guided by Georgien. The lodge was incredibly hot. I had no point of comparison, but folk with years of experience later told me it was the hottest they’d ever been in. Recalling it many years later, Georgien commented, “Great balls of fire! The fire was so hot that the sunglasses of our fire-keeper, Walter, melted on his head!” The heat was indeed so intense that I struggled to remain upright and conscious, and it took a real effort of will to do so.

During one of the rounds, Georgien called to the animal spirit guardians of the four quarters, as she had been taught to do by Lame Deer. One of them was Coyote in the south. This jarred with me, since we were in a field in southern England, and I was pretty sure we’d never had an indigenous Coyote population. I wondered what our native equivalent would be. In British folklore, the answer should have been Fox, since Fox fulfils the same kind of trickster role in our traditions that Coyote does for many American First Nations. The answer that came, however, was Wolf.

As soon as the word ‘Wolf’ popped into my head, a large, stocky, full-grown adult Wolf appeared in the centre of the lodge. He was curled up in the central pit that held the hot rocks from the fire. The glowing red rocks were inside his body. He raised his head and looked at me, then stood up, the hot stones still inside him. Still looking at me, he jerked his head towards the door of the lodge, gesturing for me to follow. He then walked out through the closed door of the lodge. Leaving my physical body behind me, I got up and did the same.

When we got outside, instead of a field in southern England, we were on the snow-covered lower slopes of a mountain. About a mile away from us was a dark treeline, and the Wolf padded off through the snow towards the trees. I followed, taking care to step in the Wolf’s pawprints so as to leave the pristine snow undisturbed.

We reached the edge of a thick forest of tall pine. A path ran off into the forest, vanishing into its deep shadows. A short way along the path, the Wolf stopped and turned to face me. Speaking directly into my mind, he told me I had to go back to my body, but that next time we met he would lead me deeper into the forest. I went back the way we had come, again stepping in the pawprints. Re-entering the lodge, I rejoined my body, becoming aware again of the darkness, lit only by the faint glow of the hot rocks, and of my brothers and sisters in the lodge with me. A physical memory of the snow outside stayed with me and enabled me to cope with the heat of the lodge much better.

When the lodge came to an end, I crawled out onto deliciously cool dewy grass and a starry night sky. I couldn’t stand. All I could do was roll over onto my back. Eventually, I managed to get to a water barrel by the side of the lodge and drink deep of the icy water. I felt an amazing sense of elation and a new openness to the universe. It was a genuine experience of rebirth.

Eight days after the lodge, back home in Sussex, a friend invited me to a garage sale at his parents’ house. On arriving, the first thing I saw was a large animal hide draped over an old water tank. I looked at it and thought, “No, it can’t be.” But, of course, it was. A Wolfskin rug had been in the house when my friend’s parents bought it in 1947. They hadn’t liked it, so bundled it into a bag and stowed it away in the loft. There it had remained for nearly half a century, until the day of my sweat lodge vision, when my friend had found it and added it to their garage sale.

I told my friend and his mother about my Wolf vision and they gave me the hide. It was made from the hides of six Wolves, stitched together and given a woollen backing. The lanolin in the wool had preserved the skin in very good condition. I removed the backing, added a couple of ties, and made the rug into a ceremonial cloak. 

From that point on Philip was known as Greywolf. The video below shows Philip wearing his wolfskin ceremonial cloak at Avebury:

Philip’s blog post also gives details in Georgien’s own words of how she began her path with sweat lodges and shamanism and some of the spiritual teachers she has trained with.

When I first saw Georgien there was definitely a sense of the familiar about her even though we had not met before, and she gives out a very similar energy to other great spiritual teachers I have worked with previously such as Caitlín Matthews.

The Power Animal Shamanic Journey weekend was advertised on the BDO Facebook page and the OBOD website but I would say that rather than being a specifically Druidic event it just had a ‘sprinkling’ of Druidry. Most of the participants apart from myself and one other person were not Druids or studying Druidry, but were all interested in energy work such as reiki and sound healing as many of them work regularly with Samantha Surtees who organised the weekend. Georgien did use the beautiful Druid Animal Oracle cards around the altar for people to pick up and get further inspiration about their Power Animals.

The Altar at the Power Animal Shamanic Journey Weekend
The Altar at the Power Animal Shamanic Journey Weekend with the Druid Animal Oracle cards turned over

She also had a folder of inspirational images, many of which were culturally relevant to the island of Britain, which included this one I particularly loved illustrating the story of Taliesin, central to the OBOD Bardic course (sadly it doesn’t say who the artist is and Georgien could not remember).

The Saturday started with Georgien talking about Shamanism and Power Animals and Creation Myths, before we all chose one of the many instruments she had brought with her such as frame drums, rattles, shakers, rainsticks and kalimbas (thumb pianos) and sat in circle and made some lovely relaxing percussive sounds with them.

After this we moved into the first journey, which was to lie down and listen to the sound of Georgien rattling and ask to meet your Power Animal. The journey lasted about half an hour and once everyone had brought their awareness back into the room and written down in their journals what they had experienced we went into the second journey which was to work with someone else and bring back a Power Animal for them and vice versa. In a previous Introduction to Shamanism workshop that I did years ago in London with the wonderful Shaman Jonathan Horwitz it was at this point that someone actually ran away and we never saw them again for the rest of the weekend! Luckily everyone stayed in the room and I found it interesting and quite affirming to work with someone who I had only just met but to be able to bring back an animal spirit which, although quite unexpected and surprising, they felt made sense and was meaningful to them.

After lunch we did a very deep journey which was to meet a being who Georgien described as ‘Reindeer Woman’ and to be symbolically ‘eaten’ by them and re-born – this Shamanic ‘death’ is an experience of initiation that is sometimes experienced in dreams or during the course of a shamanic journey that may have originally been about something else. Although it was a deep journey, the workshop was a safe space to explore this and in the later sharing session many people recounted quite profound experiences. For myself, ‘Reindeer Woman’ did not connect with me as I relate more to the birds and animals and Gods / Goddesses of this land, but I had a vivid experience with the Goddess Cerridwen which has made me want to deepen my relationship with her.

The Sunday morning was filled with making our own individual ‘Power Instrument’. In many cases this was a rattle, using rattle heads prepared earlier by Georgien, who is also an artist who makes and sells rattles and she had some beautiful ones with her for sale at the workshop. As it was my birthday I treated myself to this one that seemed to call to me and had a lovely pleasing tone to my ear:

As I had this rattle, plus another at home made several years ago by the Yorkshire-based Shaman Alan Tickhill, and as I had a small branch I had saved from an old Aspen tree that used to be in the park behind my house which was felled around 20 years ago, plus an old string of bells which used to hang on my door handle in my university hall of residence years ago, I decided to use them to make a Druidic Bell Branch. It is bronze rather than silver, but bronze is traditionally the tool of the bard in training and it is hung with many small objects that are meaningful to me and it feels right in my hand:

We spent a lovely morning with paint and glue and bits and bobs and some wonderful tools were crafted – some pictures of us busy at work and of our completed tools can be seen on Georgien’s Facebook Page.

Our final journey that afternoon was to journey using our power instrument or one of Georgien’s instruments to perform healing on another person (and vice versa), entering the body and finding the place that needs healing. As my druidic bell branch is very loud and bright in its tone I decided to use my new rattle instead. Immediately I saw a Red Fox – the first spirit animal that Georgien encountered in her Shamanic path was the Red Fox and it is still one of the main animals that works with her. I figured that it must be due to using the rattle for the first time that had been made by Georgien, but the fox was very insistent the he was there to help the person I was working for.

Red fox painted by Georgien

He changed from a Red Fox to a Fennec Fox of the desert with huge ears, listening for something at the bottom of a deep well, to an Arctic Fox, ready to pounce as they do when they hear creatures underneath the snow. Whatever he was waiting for did not appear, but he’s there when it does.

Georgien is running a Shamanic Art Weekend at The Barnes Institute in Whitburn near Sunderland on Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th November 2024, booking via Samantha Euphemia Soul Song.

Some Recommended Reading & Viewing on Power Animals & Shamanism:

The Druid Animal Oracle by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm (illustrated by Will Worthington)

Celtic Totem Animals by John Matthews

Animal-Speak : The Spiritual & Magical Powers of Creatures Great & Small by Ted Andrews

Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman (2002) by John Matthews (updated version of Taliesin: Shamanism and the Bardic Mysteries in Britain and Ireland, 1991)

Fire In The Head: Shamanism and the Celtic Spirit by Tom Cowan

Shaman Circle Centre – videos with Jonathan Horwitz and Zara Waldeback – also check out their website the Scandinavian Center for Shamanic Studies and the library there, especially Jonathan’s article Power In Your Hand: A Short Introduction to the Rattle

Singing The Soul Back Home by Caitlín Matthews

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