The Rig Veda includes many shamanic vedic techniques: to call back a soul, the priest addresses the dying man: “Although thy spirit have gone far away to heaven or … the four quartered earth, we bring back that (spirit) of thine to dwell there, to live long.” Another prayer – “May thy spirit … come back again to perform pious acts; to exercise strength; to live; and long to see the sun. May our progenitors, may the host of the gods, restore thy spirit; may we obtain for thee the aggregate of the functions of life”. In other texts, the priest has to summon back various organs from the cosmic regions. The instability of the soul is known, and there are warnings not to wake the sleeper suddenly in case he loses his soul. The siddhis mentioned by Patanjali include the ability to leave the body at will, and even to enter the body of another. Knots, bonds and nets are used to capture spirits, and to cause black magic.
Vedic myths and symbols
Shamans sometimes meet a funerary dog when he descends to the underworld. Shamans can turn themselves into dogs or wolves. Horses are used by shamans to reach ecstasy by travelling through the air. The horse is an image of death, so it enables the shaman to enter other worlds. The hobby-horse is a reflection of this. Eight legged horses are common in shamanic myths, again connected to funerals.
Blacksmiths and their wives are venerated. Smiths are masters of fire and transformations, and often initiate shamans. Blacksmiths are also able to construct chains to imprison evil spirits. The beating of metals can be compared to the dismemberment of the shamanic body. Working of metals also indicate alchemical processes.
Burning is considered to be a sign of contact with spirits.
Bridges across the Worlds
Once, all people had easy access to the three worlds. Dead souls and shamans have to cross a bridge in order to reach the underworld. Crossing bridges are dangerous – the impure will find the bridge reduced to a knife-edge, with many evil spirits waiting to pounce. Initiates cross easily. Some magical rites attempt to create or build a bridge or ladder, and there are parallels in Arthurian legend, Islamic and Christian religions, where the bridge is as narrow as hair, or a sword bridge. The person has to pass through a narrow space guarded by demons. In some cases the shaman is unable to get back.
Ladders for ascent and descent
A common motif – Jacob’s Ladder where he falls asleep on the sacred stone at the centre of the world; Mohammed sees a ladder rising from the temple in Jerusalem, with angels either side. Other cognate examples are seven rung ladders (Seven Heavens), columns of smoke, rope, sunbeams, or a rainbow. Sometimes an arrow is used to pull the initiate upwards.