Imagine Being A Rock Shaman

By Bernie Bell

At the moment, I’m reading ‘Hutton’s Arse’ by Malcolm Rider. This is an interesting, and entertaining, approach to the geology of the Northwest to Scotland, which  mentions how Charles Lapworth, while Professor of Geology in Birmingham, had “visions and nightmares about the whole weight of the Highland mountains grinding slowly over his own body, and had a severe mental breakdown”.  In contrast, Messrs Peach & Horne did astounding work, did it steadily, and progressively, producing illuminating results, whilst keeping their sanity.   I started to think about how people can get so immersed in their subject, to the exclusion of all else, and, sometimes, to the detriment of their health.

I also thought about how that must have felt, to feel that you are actually part of the earth, forming, the rocks, moving. Your own body, being part of the land in such a way, that the rocks are moving over and around you. This reminds me of shamanism. Shamans can sometimes ‘become’ animals, birds, plants. The shaman needs years of training, to be able to take these journeys, and come back safely. They are often not quite part of their community – folk are a bit wary of other folk who have these abilities – but they were needed, and highly regarded, in some ancient societies.  Folk still look to them, today, for guidance and help in a world which becomes ever more complex, whilst we humans are ever more inclined not to follow or even be aware of our instincts, feelings and connection with the rest of LIFE. We look to those who are consciously aware of, and develop their connection with LIFE, to guide us.  It took training then, and it takes training now. Those who try to take the journey, unprepared, can risk losing their minds, or their lives.  In the heyday of LSD, many thought that was a short-cut to enlightenment and connection, and temporarily, for some, it was. Some of the stronger minds could deal with it, and even learn from it, but the many ‘acid casualties’ of the 60’s and 70’s, show that a short-cut, really is not the way to go about seeking enlightenment of any kind.

So, back to Charles Lapworth, and his ‘visions’.  Imagine being a rock shaman.  Some years ago, I sent a link to Fred Turner ( about Suiseki – the art of stone regarding,  and Fred answered thus………….

“Stones are very old entities, ‘living’ at 5 events per century, unlike

we, who live at about 3 events per second.”

I sent this on  to friend Shayla , who lives in Hawaii, and her response was………………………

”Much Aloha to you from Hawaii… the Stones here are young,  vigorous and

full of life and stories.”

And I replied………..

“Hawaii is volcanic, and therefore very young, so the stones will just be zinging with life!  They’re still fresh from the earth!

Vulcanicity was a pet subject, when I did Geology ‘A’ level at school.  I didn’t realise, then, why I chose Geology, I just liked stones and the landscape, it was many years later, that I learnt how much we can inter-act with rocks, and that we need to respect them.  They changed from geological specimens, to active entities.

When people question this, I point out where a lot of the stones have come from – inside the earth, from dramatic volcanic activity, or as the result of terrestrial upheaval – is it any wonder, that they should be full of energy?

I hadn’t really considered that before though, that stones in places such as Hawaii, would have a very different aspect to the older rocks of, for example, Wales, and Scotland.”

Think about it – to be able to become one with those rocks, or even just envision being able to do so – straight from the earth, still forming. That would take a strong mind, indeed.

A strong part of how I see LIFE, is to do with the connection of all things – that, to quote Robert Plant in ‘Stairway to Heaven’ –  “All are one, and one is all”.  I constantly am aware of this connection, as are other folk. Some just live it, some write about it. An awareness of being part of everything, is one thing, though, and actually becoming part of other forms of life, is another – much harder to deal with. Not only “to see a world in a grain of sand” (William Blake), but to be that grain of sand.

Imagining/having different ways of being, as C.S. Lewis does, here…………….


Paracelsus somewhere in his writings tells us

A gnome moves through the earth like an arrow in the air,

At home like a fish within the seamless, foamless

Liberty of the water that yields to it everywhere.


Beguiled with pictures, I fancied in my childhood

Subterranean rivers beside glimmering wharfs,

Hammers upon anvils, pattering and yammering,

Torches and tunnels, the cities of the dwarfs;


But in perfect blackness underneath the surface,

In a silence unbroken till the planet cracks,

Their sinewy bodies through the dense continuum

Move without resistance and leave no tracks.


Gravel, marl, blue clay – all’s one to travel in;

Only one obstacle can impede a gnome-

A cave or a mine-shaft.  Not their very bravest

Would venture across it for a short cut home.


There is the unbridgeable.  To a gnome the air is

Utter vacuity.  If he thrust out his face

Into a cavern, his face would break in splinters,

Bursting as a man would burst in interstellar space.


With toiling lungs a gnome can breathe the soil in,

Rocks are like a headwind, stiff against his chest,

Chief ‘midst his pleasures is the quiet leaf mould,

Like air in meadowy valleys when the wind’s at rest.


Like sylvan freshness are the lodes of silver,

Cold, clammy, fog-like, are the leaden veins

Those of gold are prodigally sweet like roses,

Gems stab coolly like the small spring rains.

C.S. Lewis

Reading this, some might think I’ve lost my mind – well, if I have, I’m in good company!

The images used here, are photos I took in the ’Beginnings’ section at the National Museum in Edinburgh. Beginnings………Geology.

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