In Mystic Vancouver, the world of the spirit is closer than you think.
In mystic Vancouver, the world of the spirit is closer than you think by Louise Phillips. God moves in mysterious ways. These days, healing with crystals, balancing chakras and drawing mandalas, along with New Age events like the lantern procession, co-exist with traditional belief systems as legitimate ways to connect with the divine. In Vancouver, whether you adhere to an organized religion or follow the do-it-yourself route, chances are you can find a spiritual pick-me-up here.
People who pray or meditate regularly as a means of making contact with a universal truth, use rhythm to achieve an altered state of consciousness: such as the mystic syllable “om” used as a mantra in Hinduism and Buddhism, or Christianity’s Gregorian chant. Aboriginal cultures, too, employ steady beats in drumming ceremonies. The power of sound vibration, which can alter brain waves to theta levels, has long been used in healing. At the West Coast Institute of Mystic Arts (1591 Bowser Ave., North Vancouver; 604-982-0099), visitors at drop-in “healing circle” sessions using hand drums or rattles learn to achieve a natural high. Instructor Alannah Jantzen’s training employs science and old wisdom: she’s a registered massage therapist, psychotherapist, drum-maker and shamanic spiritual healer. “When you open to the mystery of the spirit,” says Jantzen, “magic begins to open to you.”
It’s also possible to attend a traditional Cree prairie pipe ceremony at the institute. A trained First Nations ceremonial leader, expressing respect to the appropriate elders, first has participants sit in a circle and engage in a smudging ceremony. The leader burns sacred herbs such as sage in a bowl or shell, and all present pass the smoke over themselves. The smudging, an acknowledgment of sacredness, is used to release negative energies. In the dignified, simple pipe ceremony, each person takes a turn to pray, everyone smokes the pipe, and all pray in unison.
Unlike most religions, says Jan McConachy, Wicca is not listed in the Yellow Pages, but devotees conduct workshops, or sabbats, at the institute. McConachy belongs to the Reclaiming Tradition of witchcraft, a branch that wishes to “reclaim” the ancient connection to the Goddess. These modern witches of both sexes respect that “all of life is sacred and interconnected.” They see no need for an intermediary between this world and the spirit world, maintaining that everyone is an expression of the divine with the potential to be a shaman.
In other institute workshops, would-be mystics can also learn to channel divine energy, choose crystals and read a tarot deck.
While tarot holds no religious significance, it’s probably the most available and popular of the “mystic arts” locally. A pre-Renaissance divination tool, the deck is used to reveal spiritual insights in the subject’s life journey. Institute founder Kelly Oswald says that a good psychic reader is accurate 80 to 85 percent of the time. “As a clairvoyant,” says Oswald, “I pick up on people’s energies.”
Visitors looking for ghosts need stray no further than local art museums. The Vancouver Art Gallery (750 Hornby St) reportedly boasts its own wandering spirit, nicknamed “Charlie,” supposedly the restless shade of murdered immigration inspector William Charles Hopkinson. At the time he was shot, during a high-profile trial in 1914, the building served as the courthouse. Staff are divided about Charlie, some dismissing his spectral presence as a media myth, others insisting he creates cold spots in the basement “catacombs,” the maze of former cells now used for storage. They are not in the public area of the gallery, whereas hauntings at the Gallery at Ceperley House (6344 Deer Lake Ave., Burnaby) are well documented all over the former mansion. The image of a woman thought to be Grace Ceperley, wife of the original owner, occasionally appears to visiting art lovers and employees.
For souls still wandering in mortal guise, Wiccan Jan McConachy says, “Winter is the time for going into the dark, for inner contemplation, like the Earth.” In Vancouver, the path to spiritual regeneration is well lit.