Traditionally, some sort of initiation happens to a person called to do this work. And usually, this involved them becoming very ill, almost mad, or almost dead. It's not something you want or even see coming, but it does. Going through the altered states in the experience is the initiation; if you come out alive and not insane, you have a new relationship with the elements, the spirit world, and the unknown.
I had one at 16 and another at 21, although I didn't realize that's what they were until I was in my apprenticeship, in my 40s, when it became obvious, and my guides gave me more info. Here's the short version of these events.
At sixteen, I was at boarding school back East, and one Saturday nibbled a little square of blotter acid. During that experience, I became aware of my guides, clairaudiently, more than ever before. They told me quite plainly to walk out of there and go west, with nothing, right now. It'll be fine they said. Obviously I had urgent personal situations affecting me at this time, but that's another story. Long story short, I followed their guidance, and they did not fail me, through days, weeks, and months traveling from east to west coast, with nothing. I became strong, lucid, able to think fast, listen closely, hike the mountains and hitch the highways, learning and writing as I opened to the elements and the universe. Developing your relationship with your guides and helpers is key in doing this work, and mine led me unfailingly to the wild woodlands of Southern Oregon, where I co-founded the Meadows and began my new life as a medicine woman. I even lived in a tree.
Around my 21st birthday, I spent six months as a weaver's apprentice in Placitas, New Mexico. My teacher and I headed south in December, to study the weavers of Oaxaca, intending to travel through the Yucatan and end up at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, weaving with the women there. But as we were heading out of Oaxaca City, I dropped in convulsions. I had malaria, and spent the next ten days convulsing with a high fever in a windowless room, only knowing somehow I had to soak my sheets each day with sweat or I would die. When the fever lessened, I went to the pyramids at Monte Alban, but felt too ill to go see them, and stayed in the van, where I experienced convulsions and visions as if I was a rattle being shaken by the gods. I recovered, tho, and felt an altered relationship to being human afterward. My ability to see and hear the invisible worlds heightened. Later, during my shamanic apprenticeship, my teacher and I both received information about this initiation, including past lives serving in the culture of the pyramids.
photo © Duane Neufeld
El Mundo Magico de los Mayas by Leonora Carrington