Where the Spirits Ride the Wind
by Felicitas D. Goodman, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Laura Bryannan

Dr. Goodman has spent the past twenty years researching trance experiences from a very unique perspective. She searched through the world's neolithic art and artifacts, looking for representations that might depict meditation postures. Then she and her group of researchers experimented with each one, noting the kind of trance experiences each posture produced. She was able to identify thirty different postures in all, and has compiled her research in Where the Spirits Ride the Wind, published the summer of 1990. For any student of meditation or trance journeying, this book is a must!

Goodman has found that each posture produces a predictable experience or journey, generally falling into one of ten categories. For example, she has discovered four postures that take the meditator on a spirit journey. The first posture she ever worked with was of this type, and was found in one o the famous Stone Age cave paintings in Lascaux, France. The second spirit journey posture hails from the nomadic reindeer herders of northern Europe, and the third from South America. The fourth artifact whose posture produces this kind of trance was found in a seventh-century grave site in Georgia.

Goodman describes the spirit journeys like this: "People fly away on birds' wings, peacock clouds spread their shimmering tail feathers, a woman with stars in her hair guards the entrance to the world below, and humans turned into albatrosses alight on the waves of the ocean." The experience produced by the Lascaux posture seems to raise the kundalini; people describe intense orgasmic energy surging up through their bodies before flying off into the wild blue yonder.

The next category of postures are used for divination; one assumes the posture to receive an answer to a question. Goodman discovered three postures of this type: one from sub-Saharan Africa "that addresses principally social relations," one from an artifact found in Tennessee from approximately 1200 A.D., and the last from Cholula, Mexico from approximately 1350 A.D. Goodman notes, "...the wise woman from Cholula and the Tennessee diviner are more interested in personal problems. In seeming contradiction, however, the old master from Tennessee is also an expert in ritual matters."

The next category of postures are healing postures; Goodman found two that produce this kind of experience. It's interesting that the artifacts depicting these kinds of trances can be found all over the world. The first one, which produces trances of the birth experience, were found in the Near East, Mexico, Africa, Hungary, Crete, new Zealand and Polynesia. The modern metaphysical thought of such people as Leonard Orr and Stanislav Grof has shown how influential the birth experience is in the emotional and mental health of an adult. Neolithic peoples must have had an understanding of this too, for artifacts depicting the "birthing posture" are widespread.

Artifacts depicting the second healing posture, that of the "Bear Spirit," are the most widely found of all the postures. They've been discovered in Alaska, Canada, the Americas, Africa, Europe, Asia and Polynesia, ranging image from 6,000 B.C. to the present. Students of prehistorical culture know that bear cults are some of the oldest known forms of religion. This posture produces an "opening" and then an entering of healing energy. "Without any prompting or prior knowledge, the Bear Spirit readily appears to the participants, visible partially or in his complete mask, either as a furry force holding or warming them from behind, or actually examining his would-be patients."

The next two postures produce experiences specifically tailored to feminine healing. The first posture, whose artifacts have been found in Tennessee, Romania and Columbia, seems to invoke the help of particular beings or energies: "It seems that in Inner Asia, in the valleys of Uzbekistan, shamanesses ask for the help of a group of spirits called Chiltan when they are called upon to cure. The Chiltan are said to be forty-one young girl knights." This posture produces energy, healing and initiation experiences.

The second feminine healing posture is very old; the artifacts depicting it were found in Romania and date from 5,000-3,000 B.C. This is a unique situation, for there were two artifacts found, one of a man and one of a woman, both in different postures. The experience produced by assuming these postures is persuasive evidence that some women were functioning in positions of power at that time. As Goodman notes, "What takes place, apparently, is a ritual during which it is the female partner who does the shamanizing, while the man's experiences are minimal. Yet he ends up totally exhausted. The reason seems to be that he is the one who provides the energy. 'He is the battery,' one participant commented."

The next set of postures produce shape-changing journeys. One, from Mexico, turns the meditator into a jaguar. The second posture, found in Aztec ruins and also in Georgia, changes the meditator into more varied things, animals as well as plants and insects!

Goodman has categorized the next three postures as ones to be used during celebration or ritual. The names she has given them practically speak for themselves: The Singing Shaman, Calling of the Spirits, and the Maya Empowerment Posture. The Singing Shaman is one of two postures in which the voice is used, holding an "a" sound during the trance. Goodman does not specifically discuss the trance produced by this posture, but she hints that what often occurs is glossolalia, or "speaking in tongues." The Mayan posture sounds particularly interesting: "...participants report the accumulation of a radiant, 'peaceful' energy, experiences such as falling through smoke and heat but then ending up in a refreshing bath, of having access to learning and wisdom, of being 'able to do anything,' and quite generally, of joy and empowerment."

In the next category we find a posture that elicits a trip to the realm of the Spirits of the Dead. Representations of it have been found in Central America and Mexico, Africa, Turkey and Central Europe, some as old as 3,000 B.C. Since finishing this book I have seen two different representations of this posture myself, one in the Chicago Tribune and the other on "Art of the Western World" on Channel 20! Figurines holding this particular posture are wide-spread because they are often found in grave sites. Goodman believes they were placed there to help guide the soul of the departed to the Realm of the Dead.

The second posture in this group Goodman calls the Psychopomp, because the experience seems to turn the participant into a guide of souls. This is the other posture in which the voice is used during the trance. As one participant stated, "This is about guiding, with sound, the energy of the dying, of the spirit, so it can get where it needs to go. When we assume the posture, it's like we are agreeing to be those guides."

On the flip side of postures producing death experiences is a posture that provides a journey of regeneration and life- everlasting. Goodman calls this one the Feathered Serpent posture, for meditators often encounter such a beast, right out of the mythology of Peru, during the journey: "...it was an occasional source of merriment when participants confessed that they had taken it for 'a seal with feathers stuck in' or 'an eagle, but maybe more like a caterpillar.'"

The last group of postures are unique in that, rather than providing a specific healing or journey experience, they seem to tune the meditator right into a particular myth or story from the culture they were culled from. Goodman was able to piece together the various experiences of her researchers and found that they often told a tale. Sometimes she was not able to understand what was happening until she researched the mythology of that particular culture, and found the myth that the meditators were participating in.

This book is written in story format, a fact that disappointed me when I began to read it. I had hoped that Goodman would set forth each posture, and specifically explain the experience that each one produces. However, after finishing the book I decided it was a good thing she wrote it in the style she did. Her particular biases and the weaknesses in her approach are very apparent because of this. I'd like to note a few of the problems I found in her research; readers who investigate further may find others.

Goodman is honest enough to state a strong bias she has in favor of the hunter/gatherer way of life at the end of the book. It explains why she has done no research into the yogic asanas, or even into Eastern meditation philosophy--a natural follow-through for anyone exploring trance experiences, one would think.

"Agriculturalist societies also utilize the trance, but it is used for possession, an experience where an alien entity penetrates the body and takes over its functions. The poses of agriculturalist religions, the kneeling, the folding of the hands, the bowing, are not designed to tune the nervous system for specific experiences, for participating directly in events in the alternate reality, but are intended rather to express symbolically such contents as surrender and humility. Agriculture ushered in the unbounded exploitation of our earth..."

Practitioners of yoga and other Eastern meditation techniques will probably be surprised to learn that they have been practicing possession postures all these years! Ironically, the processes that Goodman used to research these artifacts posed a serious danger of such an occurrence to her participants. For example, the posture Calling of the Spirits does just that. Goodman demonstrates throughout her narrative a complete ignorance of the possibility that there are spirits and energies out there that one may not want to have around when folks are meditating. Her practice is a "come one come all" approach. At one point, early on in her work, an American shamaness warns her of this potentiality, yet she obviously never heeds it.

Goodman's obvious unfamiliarity with the wealth of knowledge provided by Eastern teaching, especially where energy is concerned, poses another danger to the unwary meditator. The position found in the caves of Lascaux is an example of this. I read the experiences noted by her researchers to several of my friends. Every one of them said something like, "It sounds like that posture raises the kundalini; couldn't that be dangerous if you're not very careful?" The answer to that question is yes, of course! Nowhere in the narrative does Goodman show that she understands this occurrence, or the potential problems it can manifest.

Another thing that made me uncomfortable was the description of her work with "The Couple from Romania." These were the postures that produced a healing journey for the women and a draining of the men. Goodman's procedure for researching the artifacts was to not tell the participants the type of trance the postures produced--nothing wrong with that in a scientific study. However, I found it highly unethical that, knowing the kind of experience the male participants would have in this particular case, she continued to work with these postures without their consent. That the men might be seriously damaged on an energy level by being human "batteries" did not seem to enter her awareness.

My final complaint concerns a posture from Australia, still used today, that Goodman calls the Bone Pointing Posture. She describes it as such:

"The aboriginal societies practicing it believe that only the deaths of young children and of the old are due to natural causes. When mature adults die, it is as a result of murder by 'magical' means. Bone pointing is used to take revenge on the murderer by hitting him with an invisible but deadly missile."
This posture was not discussed earlier for obvious reasons; one might think this is a clear case of "let sleeping dogs lie." Goodman, however, has her researchers play with this psychic gun. They did experience "...a tremendous flow of energy which seemed to come from the earth, course through their bodies, and explode out of the end of the stick they were holding in lieu of the bone." One of her researchers had a little more sense than she, and refused to repeat the posture, understanding that these psychic zaps could be affecting the world around him in negative ways.

Barring the above-mentioned cautions, there is no denying that what Goodman has done is incredibly valuable to anyone interested in meditation, trance and psychic journeying. She has, in no uncertain terms, provided a library of postures that reliably produce specific experiences for the meditator. Because they are essentially culled from neolithic hunter/gatherer societies, they produce a class of experiences that are earth- and animal-oriented. This is in contrast to yogic and other Eastern meditation postures, which seem to take the participant "higher," into the soul or spirit realms. Reconnecting with the earth and animal worlds is an important thing for many New Agers to do, especially those who have a problem staying grounded and functional in their day to day lives. Too many spiritual people have a wonderful relationship with the higher planes, yet can't scrape two pennies together to pay the rent. Practicing Goodman's postures may provide the necessary counterbalance that can help us develop as a whole being--to take our bodies with us as we evolve instead of leaving them behind!

Go to Laura's Home Page

Last Updated: 1 feb 99
Laura Bryannan