Shaman’s Tools: “Four Levels of Perception”

This is part of a series, see Three types of Time and  Ayahuasca Documentaries for the next two and further offerings.

If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. He lives in the “House of the Gathering.” Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world.  He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.    

– C.G. Jung,  “Psychology and Religion” (1938)

The above quote only makes sense when looking at the archetypal: when archetypal dynamics perceived in the world around us trigger us, they are active in our own life as well.  Whatever is wrong in the world can be found within as well, and it is there that one can truly face one’s own shadow, which ‘does something real for the world’ because it shifts the energetics of one’s reality and thus help cocreate one with less triggers, a more harmonious experience.

In this blogpost, I will touch on the ‘four levels of perception‘, one of many teachings I learned more about through the books and classes I took with Alberto Villoldo, PhD., founder of The Four Winds Society [].  

At the center of these teachings is an understanding of the human body’s luminous energy field, four levels of perception, working within ‘sacred space’, ceremonies, rites of initiation, teachings on ‘time’ and ‘conscious co-creation’.  (See book suggestions at the end of this post).   Through exercises and gentle rituals I became more familiar with the human energy field and how to clear traumatic imprints in it.  In these intensive Four Winds workshops, I learned to ‘track’ for patterns at the four levels of perception:

  • In this modern society we’re most familiar with the level of the literal, physical or ‘causal,’ which at the Four Winds they called the perceptual level of ‘Serpent.’  This is the world of physical sciences: solidified physical, causal, predictable, linear.  Most of my posts having to do with Fukushima or Hanford, or climate change, etc. engage the phenomenal world through this very predictable safe perceptual window.

Example:  Let’s say the client’s face looks red.  Red is just the color.  That is literal.  

  • Next level is the perceptional level called ‘Jaguar,’ where we perceive feelings, emotions, social dynamics and its accompanying storylines.

To continue with the example of the red face: at the perceptual level of Jaguar, you see it is shame, or anger, or embarrassment, or suppressed rage, or fear.   Let’s say for the sake of this example it’s rage.  The client is pissed because of something someone did a very long time ago, and deep down this is still affecting him.  That’s the emotionally-charged story-line.  

  • Next is the perceptional level called ‘Hummingbird,’ the level of the mythical, archetypes and being ‘on journey’.  At this level we find mythical ‘archetypes’ and ‘myths’ operating in our lives.  As a shaman we may ‘track’ such patterns as aspects of a heroes’ journey, or entrapment in a victim-bully-rescuer disempowerment pattern, or any of the numerous expressions of the masculine or feminine mythic journeys of empowerment, … See Carolyn Myss’s partial list of archetypes for more possibilities.  

In our example, the shaman tracking the client’s luminous body may pick up images or words, or particular hunches, that do not immediately make sense, but give the shaman clues as to the mythic map operating at the soul’s level of the client. These can reveal where there is stuckness or where a shift in perception can then be brought about through the healing techniques.  Let’s just say there’s a entrapment in ‘the triangle of disempowerment’ (identification with the archetypal role of bully, victim or rescuer).  To move on from that pattern, soul pieces may have to be returned, one may have to face powerful aspects of who one really is, and through the energy healing process, a very powerful soul’s healing can occur within one session.   It’s very session-specific and as this tracking operates outside of the causal realm most of us are so used to, it really has to be experienced.

  • Last is ‘Eagle/Condor’, which is ‘the biggest picture’, the universal level of Spirit, beyond duality, which “can be known but not described”.   It is invoked and worked with.  When perceiving at that level, all is well.

The physical information (which would be pertaining to the Serpent level of perception) often holds hints of underlying patterns.  Additional tracking information from observing the client’s energy field at the perceptual states of Jaguar and Hummingbird will provide more insight.  The client’s mythical ‘story,’ with its embedded beliefs and so forth, always serves some kind of purpose.  Finding out what that purpose has been may also help in shifting out of the old pattern into alignment with one’s highest good.  The actual energy healing work process may involve clearing limiting beliefs and ancestral binds, illuminations, extractions and soul retrievals, to name a few typical shamanic healing tools.

The gist of the perceptual levels can be summed up as:

Perceptual State Level Perceived
Eagle/Condor Spirit, Nondualistic (can’t be put into words) 
Hummingbird Soul, Mythical, Energetic Archetypal patterns, roles and stories
Jaguar Mind, Mental, Emotional, Social Psychological and social patterns, storylines
Serpent Body, Physical, Causal Factual observations

A physical doctor maps at the physical and intervenes at the physical.  A psychologist maps at the mental and generally intervenes at the mental. In Jungian psychotherapy mapping may include the mythical level.  In somatic psychotherapies intervention includes the energetic (though as accessed through the physical body).  In modern psychiatry, mapping and especially intervention increasingly takes place on the physical level (brain CAT/MRI scans, pharmaceuticals, etc.).   There’s overlap, of course, this is just meant as a rudimentary introduction.  

Basically, shamanic healing processes, such as thought at The Four Winds and numerous other schools, assist in the transmutation of energetic imprints from the luminous energy field.  The perceptual shift that results from such a session may be immediate or come later.   I’m not going to elaborate on the basics of these techniques here, or how to actually do such tracking.  For that, as well as more information on this particular healing system itself, I refer to some suggested books below.

A shaman (at least this type of shaman, as there are many who work differently) tracks at the archetypal and intervenes at the energetic while invoking the level of Spirit.

Couple Notes.

The real ‘medicine’ in a situation is never what we think:  The storylines (thoughts) that accompany the emotions (thoughts + energy) are basically irrelevant; the real medicine is always within the energy, which can only be truly known by experiencing it.   Schemes to avoid relating to the energy (which includes beliefs and thinking itself) thus bar its ‘medicine.’  Energy is not dead, it is electric, fundamentally sentient and intelligent, and it organizes itself along mythical patterns.  Myths, from ancient to modern times, are the only actual “laws” governing society.  

Recommended books on this topic:  It would take a couple books to describe the intricacies and possibilities of all I learned, but conveniently, Four Winds founder Dr. Alberto Villoldo already wrote a number of excellent books on this.  It was Alberto’s illuminating classic Shaman, Healer, Sage which introduced me to the basics.  An intuitive counselor in Portland, OR had recommended it to me five years before I finally followed my gut feeling and jumped into it.  His earlier works describe more of his personal journeys and discoveries.  The later ‘The Four Insights – Wisdom, Power and Grace of the Earthkeepers is a great summary of much of the material covered in some classes; and the more recent Courageous Dreaming is about how the teachings could be applied to help co-create a beautiful sustainable harmonious prosperous world for all.

On an unrelated side-note, in the esoteric tradition of Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, which I started training in long before this, I’d say that one would eventually arrive at a self-realization state of ‘direct perception’ in which these four supposed levels of perception are completely unseparated and the true nature of phenomena is known.  But that being beyond conceptualization, it would be silly to get into that here.  That’s just my view.  Another difference is that Laika lineage is not ‘a guru lineage’, while my Kagyu-Nyingma Tibetan lineage is.

This blogpost is part of a series, see Three types of Time (2) and  Ayahuasca Documentaries (3) as well.  


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3 Responses to Shaman’s Tools: “Four Levels of Perception”

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