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Shamanic Healing Journey at Pine Gate

The July opening at Pine Gate Mindfulness Community in Ottawa on Thursday July 3 is a shamanic healing journey. Appendix 1 of my new book Trailing Sky Six Feathers: One Man’s Journey with His Muse gives a description and background.

http://www.ianprattis.com/TrailingSky.html

Appendix I: Shamanic Journey
From my intensive training with White Eagle Woman and Dawson I carefully put together a shamanic journey suitable for non-Natives. This was part of White Eagle Woman’s intent in teaching me, so her knowledge could be passed on to a wider audience. I based the healing ceremony on considerations of safety, sacredness and responsibility, and drew from two traditions that I had extensive experience with, shamanism and Buddhist meditation practices. I begin the healing ceremony with conscious breathing, so that everybody’s awareness becomes attached to in-breath and to out-breath. I emphasize the circle motif during the opening symbol of external purification where individuals gather in a circle. Burning sage is smudged over each person in a clockwise direction. During this opening process sacred Native American flute music is played softly, as people gather for the ceremony. I always encourage participants to validate their experiences from their own internal recognitions. This can be discussed and verified at the end of the ceremony through guidance from the ceremony’s shaman facilitator.

The next step is a symbol of internal purification, a simple heart centre meditation. During this meditation the sound driver changes from the opening sacred flute music to religious chants. The sound of Gregorian or Blessing Way chants accompanies this stage of the ceremony. People are instructed to fill their lungs on the in-breath and visualize white light coming in to the middle of the chest, the heart center. I tell them:
“You can visualize this as light floating gently down to the area behind the sternum, or as a funnel of light coming directly into your chest from the Universe. If you do not visualize easily, then think the light coming into your heart center. Feel this white light as a gentle glow and take it through the heart center, inside the chest and throat, up to your crown. All this is on the in-breath. At the end of the in-breath, at the top of the crown, hold the breath for a moment with a thought. The thought is: “Send this light to every cell in my body.” Then on the out-breath imagine the white light moving from your crown, filling your entire body right down to the toes. Complete the breathing cycle by grounding the energy through your feet into the earth. Do this ten times until you feel something different in your body, a different sensation or a greater feeling of relaxation. Remain within the energy of the meditation for approximately ten breaths. If thoughts distract you from the process, simply come back to the focus and direction of breath, light and word.” This meditation is a centering vehicle, as it grounds the person in their body.

For the next stage of the healing journey, I introduce two drivers used in combination. The first breathing cycle begins: deep breaths – then explosive breaths – on to death breaths – and finally a pause. It is accompanied by a different sound to that of the chants used in the prior meditation. Changes in tone and rhythm intensify the driving effect of the breathing cycle. For the initial breathing cycle I use a tonal musical driver that has an insistent, repetitive beat, the electronic synthesizer music from Chariots of Fire for instance. After the first breathing cycle is finished, everybody relaxes their breathing during the pause and prepares for the next breathing cycle. The second cycle begins and the sound driver changes to chants of the Eternal OM mantra. The final cycle of breathing is to ten minutes of repetitive drumming, after which I take a small hand drum and play it over each individual so the rhythmic sound of the drum penetrates their whole being. Each breathing cycle is associated with distinct sound drivers, synthesizer music, OM mantra, drumming. Once the last breathing cycle is complete, normal breathing ensues.
The individual by this time should be extremely relaxed and in an altered state. It is at this point that the shamanic journey begins, which introduces extended symbolic imagery and a different sound driver. For the actual journey, the participants are accompanied by nature-based music that incorporates animal and birdcalls, and other sounds drawn from the world of nature. This is played softly. I use Dan Gibson’s “Algonquin Suite” as an appropriate tonal musical driver for the healing journey.

There are many variations to a shamanic journey, into the past, into the future, under the sea, into the earth, beyond time and space, and they can be guided or non-guided. The careful preparation leading up to the journey is to ground the person in their body. This care is essential so that past fears and future anxieties that arise during the shamanic journey can be dealt with from a solid foundation. I will document only one form of guided symbolic imagery and ask the reader to suspend disbelief sufficiently to accompany me on this journey. With the Algonquin Suite playing softly in the background I start to speak:

See yourself walking through a beautiful meadow, full of flowers. You hear the sounds of insects humming, and birds singing. The sun feels warm on your face and a slight breeze ruffles your hair. As you continue walking, look up into an endlessly clear blue sky and for a moment allow yourself to merge with it and enter such clarity. (Pause)
Notice a small shape hovering in the sky that gets bigger as it comes closer to you, and see a golden eagle slowly circling above you. He is your guardian and will watch over you and keep you safe on your journey. As you walk, the meadow slowly gives way to a river that runs over rocks before eddying into deep, still pools. Follow the bank of the river in the direction of the sun. There is a path to walk along. Notice the mallard ducks at the water’s edge with their ducklings, and a kingfisher sitting patiently on a branch overhanging a deep, still pool. The sun filters through the trees at the river’s edge and the light dances on the rocks and water like a crystal cloak that shimmers and moves with every swirl and eddy. (Pause)

Walking round a bend you see that the river runs from a clear lake fringed with forests, reflecting snow-capped mountains in its still surface. Find a spot by the side of the lake, sit down and enjoy the intimacy of nature that is around you. At the end of the lake you see a cow moose with her calf at the water’s edge. In the distance you hear wolves calling to one another, then you notice two rabbits beside a shrub close by. A doe and two fawns walk slowly and tentatively from the forest into the sunlight. Skylarks hover motionless in the sky then descend to earth with their lilting song. Your eyes are drawn to a stately blue heron standing motionless in the reeds at the lake’s edge. These creatures and more are there to remind you of your connection to the world of nature. Take a moment to be with the grass, the trees, animals, birds, insects, and bring to this place your favourite animals. (Pause)

Ask one of the creatures to accompany you on your journey and wait to see which one comes forward. It does not matter if none come forward, the golden eagle still circles overhead as your guardian. (Pause)

After sitting by the lake’s edge for a while, stand up and slowly walk into the water. It is icy cold, fed by glaciers from the snow-capped mountains. But it is a cold that is easily bearable because it purifies, stripping you of your anxieties, stress and worries. Slowly walk into the water up to your hips, your chest and then submerge yourself in the icy cold embrace of purification. Underwater you can breathe and move around with ease. Notice the rays of sunlight coming into the water, fish swimming swiftly past and see the rocks and submerged tree trunks on the lake floor. As you move around and adjust to the water you see a cave at the bottom of the lake and you swim strongly and powerfully to it and enter the cave. There is light at the end of a long underwater passage and you swim through and emerge out of the water into a cavern covered in crystals. The sound from the crystals shimmers through your body. At the edge of the cavern is a waterfall. Stand underneath it and feel the water washing over and right through your body. Feel the energy of the waterfall taking away any anxiety, tension and distress you may feel inside. (Pause)

Leave the cavern and follow a trail that takes you through a pine forest. Beautiful tall pines are on either side of you, stretching up into the sky. Take a moment and see the entire blue sky endlessly clear and enter such clarity. (Pause)

Then see how the forest opens up into a large clearing with a big flat rock in the centre. There is a fire prepared for you by the rock. As you warm your hands by the fire and feel its warmth on your face, you feel a presence next to you. Turning around you see a beautiful old woman with clear brown eyes that look right into you. She smiles in welcome and you feel she knows all about you and embraces you in a simple, heartfelt love. She is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you. (Pause)

Standing next to her is a handsome old man, with weathered features and a gentle smile that lights you up. From his eyes you feel an overwhelming compassion and understanding. He is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you. (Pause)

Between the old man and old woman is a young woman who sparkles. She is fresh, vibrant and beautiful, aglow with life’s vitality. She also greets you with a smile, and a love and understanding that you know is unconditional. She is the feminine source of Earth Wisdom and a lightning rod for your transformation. She knows very well the suffering and chaos of modern times. She is a very powerful healer and a wise shaman and is there on your journey to serve you, particularly if you are at the crossroads of new beginnings, ready to discard the old damaging tapes you run in your mind.Her power has an infinite depth and force. (Pause)
Know that these three shamans come from the deepest part of yourself and they represent your own powers of creativity and self-healing. The three shamans approach you and invite you to speak to them. Choose who you wish to communicate with, and talk to them about whatever distresses you; the anxieties of the day, the stresses at work and at home, then if you so wish, go deeper into your distress. Talk to them about growing up, the neglect and abuse you may have experienced, the isolation, separation and lack of understanding you encountered as a young person, adolescent and adult. Talk about the damage caused to you and the damage you may have caused others. Talk about the hatreds, angers and insensitivities you experience and perpetuate. You can say anything to these three shamans. They understand and love you and are there to heal you. Talk about whatever you feel free to communicate and feel the distress and trauma leaving your body. And when you run out of things to say, just be with their loving and supportive presence. For now, open up and speak to one of these immensely powerful shamans placed on your path. (Pause)

Ask each one of them if they would transfer their power of creativity, understanding and healing to your awareness. And of course they agree. Look into the eyes of each one of them in turn and feel the transfer of their healing power with a jolt or energy circulation within your body. Thank them for this gift then ask if you could speak to someone from the other side. Someone who has passed on that you did not have the opportunity to say what you wanted to say, or hear what you would have liked to hear. Wait and see if anyone comes and do not be disappointed if nothing happens. It is not the time. (Pause)

Take your leave of the three shamans. Thank them for their support, love and power of healing. Turning round you see a beautiful child surrounded with a golden aura. This golden child is you, without trauma, wounds or damage. The child comes directly to you and takes your hand, and leads you to a cliff edge where the beautiful golden eagle is waiting for you. He has been there as a guardian throughout your journey and is now ready to take you home. (Pause)

Ask your golden child if he or she wants to come with you, then climb onto the back of the eagle, and feel him take off from the ledge and soar high on the updrafts. Below you, see the mountains, lakes and forests of your journey. Smoke curls lazily skyward from the fire by the rock and as you fly with the eagle feel how beautiful this earth is. Then when you feel ready to do so, part from the eagle and fly on your own with your golden child next to you. With your arms spread wide as wings, catch the air currents and soar, then swoop low over the streams and mountains and enjoy the strength of flying on your own as your golden child merges with you as one unified being. (Pause)
Slowly fly back to the edge of the lake where you were sitting. Once again notice the animals, birds and insects and see how happy they are to see you again. Sit there for a time. (Pause)

Now see yourself sitting or lying down in the healing circle. Form a circle of brilliant white light around where you are sitting or lying down, then step through the light and slowly return to your body. Breathe deeply on the in-breath and deeply on the out-breath. As you breathe in, say quietly to yourself: “I have arrived.” As you breathe out, say quietly to yourself: “I am home.” Continue to do this breathing exercise for at least five minutes or until you feel “arrived” and “home” in your body.

After the safe return I conduct a final meditation with light. A tray of lighted candles is passed round the circle in a clockwise direction. Each person in turn, acknowledges the light and healing in the next person from the light and healing that is in them. The internal dialogue with the shamans at the rock is with the powerful inner material of creative self-healing that exists in everyone. Throughout the breathing cycles and journey other material from the depths of consciousness will surface. It is essential to be aware and dialogue with it, so the energy of trauma is steadily diminished. Participants are made fully aware that distress may come to the surface. These aspects of interior suffering cannot be left there on their own, as they may be dangerous and destructive both for the individual and others they will inevitably project onto. It is necessary to bring to the surface the awareness of mindfulness and the power of self-healing to take care of the trauma. Then an individual can begin to see deeply and take the steps to transform the energy of trauma. The final meditation with light acknowledges that there is more to consciousness than trauma, suffering, blockages and energy “sinks.” There are seeds of happiness, joy and grace that acknowledge the inherent Divinity within everyone. The acknowledgement in the final meditation nurtures these seeds in consciousness and creates a crucial finale to the healing journey.

DCF 1.0

Wolfie’s Life in Death

Wolfie in Kingsmere

Our first meeting was outside a cabin, close to Mt. Currie. He was standing in the shadow of a tall spruce, inspecting me. I noticed distinctive white markings on his head, chest and forelegs. He moved silently like a wraith to gain a different vantage point. I went inside and opened a tin of salmon, placing the contents outside on a stump. He stealthily came up to it. His fur was a reddish brown color and he was big – around ninety pounds. The salmon offering was soon gone and he retreated to the surrounding forest. I opened another tin of salmon, putting it on the same stump. He consumed this offering then disappeared as silently as he had appeared. That evening after turning in to bed, he came up the steps and settled on the verandah. He was nowhere to be seen in the morning, though fresh strands of his fur were caught by knots in the wood. The same ritual occurred the following evening. I was out of canned salmon, but did have a large box of Arrowroot cookies. Placing them one at a time on the stump – he delighted in snatching them up and burying each cookie at the edge of the clearing. He kept his nightly vigil on the verandah.

The next occasion I took refuge in this mountain cabin, he turned up within minutes. He made it clear that I was to follow him. He ran to the edge of the clearing then back to the cabin steps – several times. I laced up my boots and took my small pack and walking stick. He took me on a tour of his territory – through thickets, over hills and forest until we came to a wide mountain stream in a high pasture. He swam across and waited to see what I would do. As I was indecisive, he plunged back into the chilly stream to where I was standing and led me further downstream to a shallower crossing. I took off my boots, socks and trousers and carried them above my head, entering the icy cold water. Once we were both across he showed sheer delight. Bounding along the bank, running circles round me – if he could turn cartwheels he would have done so. This beautiful creature then sprawled beside the stream – studying me very closely. He stayed there, prone on the grass for a long time. Suddenly, he bounded away. I slowly retraced my steps. By nightfall I was back at the cabin, tired, scratched by thickets and thorns. There he was on the veranda.

His thoughts registered once I was home in my hermitage in Gatineau Forest Park in Quebec. I had vivid dreams about him – all located in the forest around my home. Perhaps he was dreaming me so I would bring him there. And I did. Some months later I arranged for my son, who was living several hours away from the cabin, to pick him up. There was a family that occasionally put out food for this lone wolf. Their home, near the cabin, became the rendezvous. My son drove in his pickup truck – wondering why his dad was going to so much trouble. He had collected the strong crate I had purchased in Vancouver. The lone wolf was there – patiently waiting. The journey to Vancouver Airport Cargo started with the wolf in the cage resting in the back of the pickup. By the time they arrived at Vancouver Airport, the wolf was on the front seat sitting next to my son. I had also sent my son a sedative from my local vet to calm my friend on the cargo flight to Ottawa. The sedative pills were spat out and this magnificent creature quietly settled into the cage. He knew where he was going. My son told me later that he was reduced to tears about the departure of a creature that had captured his heart.

I gave my new friend the highly original name of “Wolfie!” I hope he forgave me for that. My small hermitage in the Gatineau Forest became his new home. I made the mistake of trying to train him – realizing how totally redundant this was. He could read my mind and would always respond. Obedience training was not part of the deal. Wolfie was instrumental in getting Carolyn’s attention. She and I were taking ballroom dance lessons at a community centre in Ottawa – quite separately. In one class I asked her to dance with me. At the end of the evening I said to her, “Would you like to see my wolf?” I immediately felt she must think this was the worst pick-up line in history! But she consented and came out to my truck. There he was in his splendor. He placed his paw on her shoulder and licked her cheek. Carolyn fell in love with Wolfie first of all. And decided that anyone who had a creature like this could not be too bad. So began our wonderful togetherness.

I was down in Arizona a few years later and met up with my friend Dawson for further training in medicine wheels. A sweat lodge he conducted proved to be pivotal. He introduced the third round as the round of the Red Wolf. During this round I suddenly felt Wolfie’s presence. My neighbour Lisa was looking after him at my home in the forest. That evening she left a message where I was staying, with the news that Wolfie had died. I was stunned and devastated. When I phoned to Lisa in Canada, I learned that the timing of Wolfie’s death in Canada coincided precisely with the timing of the Red Wolf round. I knew I had to talk to Dawson. I put on my jacket and picked up the car keys and opened my cabin door. Dawson was just pulling up in his truck.

In characteristic manner Dawson came straight to the point. “Something strange was going on with you during the Red Wolf round in the sweat lodge.” I gasped and burst into tears, as Dawson put his powerful arms around me for comfort. Through my sobs I told him what had happened. Dawson was quite gentle but firm. “We must do a journey for this one Ian. I took the precaution of asking my fire keeper to prepare the grandfather stones for a sweat lodge. That’s where you can journey and find out just what happened. And don’t tell me you don’t journey, for I know different.” On the drive to his home near Cornville, I related the story of Wolfie. By the time we arrived at his sweat lodge I was in a suspended, yet clear, state. There was only Dawson, the fire keeper and me. The opening round was for chanting to the animal powers, the second – prayers for the Earth Mother, the third – the round of the Red Wolf, though with a difference. Dawson had me move to the West door of the lodge. He was at the East door. He took me through a long session of deep breathing, using drums and chants to take me into an altered state. My journey was to visit Wolfie.

Dawson guided me with visualizations by trek and canoe to find a stream deep in the mountains. I paddled for a long time until my arms felt very tired. Turning a bend in the river I came to a clearing straight ahead. There stood Wolfie with a female spirit guardian behind him. I beached the canoe and knelt before Wolfie, putting my arms round his strong neck while he licked every part of my face. I asked Wolfie, “Can you tell me why you died when you visited me during the Red Wolf round?” It was the guardian who replied, “This creature so loved you that when he tuned into energies that could harm you in that Red Wolf round, he placed himself in their path so you would be spared damage. That is what took his life.” I received this news in silence, placing one hand on Wolfie’s back. We just sat side by side watching the flow of the river. The guardian gently spoke again, “It is time for you to return.” I took my leave and did not look back, as I could not bear to break down. I pushed the canoe off the beach into the grip of the river. Wolfie bounded across the clearing and jumped into the canoe. “He will always be with you in spirit form – protecting you still.” As I began to paddle away I felt the female guardian also step into the canoe. She had sent Wolfie to provide me with protection. I came back from the journey in the sweat lodge when Dawson splashed some water on my face. The final round was a thanksgiving round to keep Wolfie and The Guardian in my mind and heart. Dawson smiled. I bowed deeply to him.

Remembering

Remembering                                                                                    

 

Deep breaths rattle in and out of my chest.  My legs are shaking and sweat pours down my face and body.  My eyes are stinging but I can’t wipe the sweat away.  If I do I’ll lose my balance and so I kept my arms extended.  I close my eyes and slowly as I stand there, suspended in time and space, my breathing calms.  My legs and arms stop trembling and the sweat is no longer coursing down my body.  I open my eyes. Several shafts of light penetrate the darkness and I realize I am standing on one strand of a giant spider web stretching across an abyss, from one side of the cavern to the other.  This strand is my sole source of support – a gift from Grandmother Spider. I can feel the fibers of the strand beneath each foot as they cradle and balance my slow progress. Eternity seems to pass and I inch along until finally my left foot comes down on solid rock. Flooded with relief, my heart pounds and I look behind me, but only for a fleeting, dreadful moment, peering into the deep, dark abyss plunging forever below the hard rock platform I now stand on. I can see around me a massive dark cavern that I could so easily have fallen into. The grip of the fibers still pulses through my feet as I stand, trembling on solid rock. I breathe deeply to steady my nerves, then without hesitation start to walk along the rocky incline leading away from the abyss. Ghouls, snakes, creatures and phantoms of all kinds move through the cavern but I pay no mind to them as I walk with determination away from the danger that had entrapped me.

The shock of sunlight.  I’m blinded for a moment until I see a verdant valley stretched out in front of me. A trail leads to a river and without hesitation I follow it and take off my clothes and submerge myself into the crisp, cold waters and all the fear and danger I carried from the abyss washes away.  I warm myself on a rock and then dress. There’s a pair of shoes in a leather satchel and I slip them on.

Walking onwards lightly and beautifully, I follow the the river in the direction of the sun  Mallard ducks preen at the water’s edge with their ducklings, and a kingfisher sits patiently on a branch overhanging a deep, still pool.  Sunlight filters through the trees and the light dances on the rocks and water like a crystal cloak, shimmering and moving with every swirl and eddy.  The river leads me to its source – a beautiful lake cradled by high snow-capped mountains where I rest for a while. At the end of the lake I can see a cow moose with her calf at the water’s edge.  In the distance wolves call to one another, and there are two rabbits beside me. A doe and two fawns walk slowly and tentatively from the forest into the sunlight, unafraid of my presence.  Skylarks hover motionless in the sky then descend to earth with their lilting song.  Being close to all these creatures fills me with a feeling of well-being, but I know I cannot remain at this peaceful spot.

As I stand to leave a huge golden eagle circles above me, my guardian. Tall pines mark the edge of the forest and I follow a path to a large clearing.  A fire flickers beside the flat rock in the centre of the clearing. And there’s a woman tending it.  She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, tall with long black hair loosely braided on either side of her oval face.  In her crafted buckskin garment she moves as gracefully as a deer. She stops putting wood on the fire and stands tall, watching me. Her dark eyes are riveting and she gravely observes my progress to the center of the clearing where I stand in front of her.

“We have been expecting you, though wondered if you would get through the dangers of the abyss. The Ancient Shaman of the West is waiting to talk to you. Take the path ahead of you and follow it to the mountain.”

I remain silent, making no reply – smiling shyly in thanks for her directions.

The path leads towards the mountains and I feel as if I have been transported to a valley deep in the Rocky Mountains.  There’s a small cedar building ahead. The heavy wooden front door is wide open and as I enter, a deep melodious voice greets me.

“Welcome Ian, it is about time that we met.”

Oil lamps cast a glow over simple wooden furnishings with animal skins thrown over them. Spears and traps adorn the walls. There’s a central fire and an altar on the east side. I smell the aroma of burning sage and feel the intense sacred nature of this abode. Standing in front of me is a magnificent old man dressed in a splendid embroidered buckskin tunic and trousers. His hair is white, as is his trimmed moustache and beard. His dark skin makes his smile all the more dazzling. He’s easily six feet tall with an athletic body underneath the bearskin robe thrown over one shoulder. All of this vitality seems at odds with his obviously advancing years, his weathered skin evidence of his life’s journey. His dark eyes penetrate every aspect of my being as he regards me for a long moment.

“Come sit with me. We will share some tea.”

I make myself comfortable on a bench by the fireplace, feeling at rest and at peace with this man and we sip tea together for quite a while in silence,

“There is someone who wishes to meet with you. She passed on to the other side many years ago. Yet she still carries a great burden of sorrow. And that sorrow has to do with you. Are you prepared to meet your favorite Aunt?”

“You mean my Aunt Ruby is here to speak with me?”

He nods and there is my Aunt Ruby sitting opposite me on another bench. She’s just as I remember her, wearing a fashionable pant suit, her greying hair pulled back in a bun to display the beauty of her cheekbones and elegant face.  But she looks troubled, sad. Ruby had been my favourite aunt. When I was seriously ill as a young teen, she took care of me and nursed me back to health. I suffered from a general malaise that my family’s doctor put down as rheumatic fever – but it was not that at all. Had I been born into a society steeped in shamanism, the elders would have seen that this was a shamanic illness, announcing that I was ready for training. But I was not born into such an alert society, and so my shamanic training was postponed until my middle years. In the meantime my Aunt Ruby healed me with her boundless source of love and incredible intuition.

It hurts, seeing my aunt so distraught and miserable. Very softly I ask her “Can you tell me why you seem so troubled Aunt Ruby?”

“Oh my Ian, there is no “seem” about it. I knew, as did your other aunties, about the abuse you endured at the hands of our second cousin, when he was on leave from the army after World War II. We all felt that we had failed to protect you and did not do enough to keep him away from you. We took some solace in that you seemed not to remember. So we kept quiet about it, keeping it as a family secret. But I have carried this deep suffering into the grave and beyond. My sisters and your parents too. I am so sorry Ian for not protecting you in time.”

I sit patiently, waiting for her sobbing to subside

“My dearest Aunt Ruby – please stop your tears. I became aware of the abuse and its effects on me as I got older. In my middle years I had wonderful help from powerful healers and shamans and was able to release the energy of abuse so it no longer harms me as it once did. I even found forgiveness for the man responsible – your second cousin. If I can let go totally of the suffering, then surely you can do the same. And your sisters and my parents can let go of any grief they still carry. None of you need to suffer on the other side.”

Her crying stops, as she collects herself and in a tremulous voice Aunt Ruby asks, “Is this really true Ian? You are not just saying this to placate me? I could not bear that.”

“It is absolutely true. The pain, suffering and violence from the abuse are no longer with me. It is only logical that it is no longer with you. Don’t you think so?  You must share this news with your sisters and my parents on the other side. Can you do that for me?”

She nods, silent for a while, pre-occupied with her thoughts and suffering. Then she looks up at me and smiles her great broad grin. “You were always my favorite nephew Ian – the little philosopher. How well I remember our conversations about insects, God and the universe. When you stayed in my home when you were so ill – that was one of the happiest six months of my life.” Her eyes light up. “And do you remember how I used to chase you and your cousins at our parties and give you big red lipstick kisses on your foreheads and cheeks? You never rubbed them off, not like the others, though you must have been embarrassed at being out run by your auntie!”

Ruby’s sorrow has been lifted and then, in an instant she is gone.

The Ancient Shaman of the West who has observed our exchange looks at me with those penetrating dark eyes, “This is what you came to do Ian. It is now time for you to go back.”

“Come back Ian.” The voice calling to me grows more and more insistent. “Come back.”

And so I travelled back. I was lying down on a bear skin with a pillow under my head.  White Eagle Woman, medicine woman of the Ojibway, sat in her armchair – very carefully observing me on the floor of her home.  It was 1985 and I had already received seven years of training with this all seeing magnificent mentor.

“I will help you stand up as you will be shaky after that journey. And brush you down with an eagle wing. Then you can sit down on the sofa and tell me every part of your journey. First – drink this glass of water.”

With one hand on my shoulder she brushed me from head to toe with the eagle wing in her other hand and I felt the strength of eagle medicine enter my body and mind, knowing I was coming to rest in a stable state. I sat down on the brown sofa and White Eagle Woman listened intently as I spoke, occasionally asking me to repeat and clarify the sequence of events I was describing. She pointed out several vital components of the journey that I had missed. She was very thoughtful once I finished speaking. I respected her silence. Then she looked at me shrewdly, as if through new eyes.

“This journey had more than I ever expected of you. Grandmother Spider rarely shows herself as a helper. Her job is to spin the threads of the Universe, yet she took time out to build that web across the abyss for you. It is only thanks to her that you could walk out of the darkness of the cavern and begin your intended journey. You were totally unaware of how much that gift means and of the other gifts placed on your journey. In time that will all be brought to your attention. But what sticks with me the most right now is that you offered gifts to your Auntie so that her suffering could diminish.”

She paused, tapping her feet on the floor in concentration, and considered very carefully her next words to me: “The Ancient Shaman of the West is very pleased with your compassion and courage. And so am I.”

With that rare acknowledgement, White Eagle Woman stomped off to the kitchen to make tea – leaving me to wonder about what else I had missed and still did not understand. This was the state of unknowing from where I began the process of remembering.

It was during a gathering of elders in 1978 that I first met White Eagle Woman where she announced that she did not like me at all! Her rebuke was perhaps well deserved, given how dense and unaware I must have seemed. My disjointed education and experience with the Native American domain of mysticism did, however, slowly evolve into a seamless pattern rather than remain as random knots stretching across an abyss.

The blunt introduction to White Eagle Woman was a prelude to a thirty year period of training and healing under her guidance. She was a heavy set woman with a round face and long black hair, but it was the air of quiet authority that pervaded her presence that immediately struck me. She rarely smiled, but when she did it illuminated the entire room when her dark eyes lit up with mirth. I was very fortunate to be in her hands.  She was the first of four incredible medicine people who provided me with shamanic training and teachings over the next three decades. White Eagle Woman directed the shamanic process of my healing from childhood sexual abuse, and this allowed the mosaic of the past to start revealing itself.

Shamans and medicine people from far and wide came to consult with White Eagle Woman. Elders from the Amazon would come to see her. She was a holder of the Medawin lineage, an unbroken tradition of medicine people known far and wide across the Americas. At that first encounter at the elder’s gathering she told me about a Vision Quest on her reserve in Sault Ste. Marie in south western Ontario. I was to be there, as she had received instructions from her ancestors to train me. That humbled me and was enough for my attendance. The eight day Vision Quest began and finished with a sweat lodge. In between were six days of fasting, prayer and ceremony in the wilderness. White Eagle Woman located me in a small grove of birch and oak trees and I had to stay within a strictly designated area. The other seven participants in the Vision Quest were located in a different part of the forest – distant and unseen. I found some level ground for my tarp and strung it over a frame built from what I could find within the grove. I placed my coloured ribbons at each of the four directions, also for the realms of above and below. One of the oak trees became the symbolic stem of my pipe. The bowl of the pipe was a clamshell with tobacco in it. As the sun moved the tree’s shadow, I had to be alert and move the clamshell in the same direction around the base of the tree.

I was very still and silent, observing my territory’s nuances – the leaves, smells, insects and the rain – all while in a constant state of prayer and thanksgiving. White Eagle Woman located herself in a trailer close by for anyone who needed guidance. She indicated that a medicine bear would visit one of us and to report that to her. Time passed in a seamless flow, scarcely existing before we gathered for the final sweat lodge once the Vision Quest was over. On coming off the land, a surprise awaited. I had to consume a half cup of blueberries and then drink vast quantities of a foul tasting concoction created by White Eagle Woman. This was a cleansing medicine to make me throw up the blueberries. It was quite disgusting. Especially for me, as it took a long time before I vomited up the blueberries. White Eagle Woman’s comment to me was terse. She pursed her lips and looked at me quizzically:

“Hmmm – you’re holding on tight to resist the truth you need to know!”

I had no idea what she was referring to. White Eagle Woman asked about the medicine bear. Nobody reported experiencing it. In exasperation she turned to me and announced that she had seen the medicine bear visit me twice. What did I remember? I recalled dreaming about a tall, gangly and somewhat goofy creature that was not a bear to my mind. I had also noticed the creature on another day, out of the corner of my eye, sitting next to the sacred oak tree.  White Eagle Woman immediately threw tobacco on the fire to absolve my ignorant gaffe and instructed me that a medicine bear can take on many forms. The goofy creature was the most receptive one to an idiot like me. Though the medicine bear had been easy on me, White Eagle Woman was certainly not. She chastised my lack of insight while we were all in the sweat lodge. Later on, in private, she quietly revealed the door that had been opened wide due to the medicine bear experience. The visit was to assess whether I was capable of receiving medicine gifts from the past.

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