Revivalist Shamanic Practice in Non-Indigenous Communities in the US

Crow Swimsaway PhD and Bekki Shining Bearheart LMT

An Academic Paper Presented to The 8th Conference of the International Society for Shamanistic Research (ISSR), Dobogókõ, Hungary, 2007 


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We have been doing shamanic healing and teaching in the eastern United States for the last 25 years, and England and Ireland during the last five years. Our own paths to shamanism have come about through diverse directions, Crow initially as an anthropologist, and Bekki as an intuitive and mystic studying Western metaphysics. Both of us have family backgrounds in western medicine. Bekki’s family background includes people following religious callings and mental health callings as well. Another thread that has led us to shamanism is our deep connection with nature and our choice to live self-sufficiently and sustainably in rural Ohio.

We are of European descent and have lost touch with ancient European shamanic practices, so we do our work as the spirits guide us, finding teachers on the earth plane but also in spirit. Though indigenous tribes have intact healing practices passed down through many generations, they too depend on their connection with the spirits to keep their work vital and growing.

We have chosen not to learn our primary shamanic work from Native elders, though we know many of them. We are often invited to participate in ceremonies of our Native friends, and we do that. We do not teach indigenous traditions from any group. We have studied the healing practices of shamans worldwide and we share that knowledge with our students. Our students, like ourselves, are able to establish powerful connections with animal and plant spirits, ancestor spirits, deities, teacher spirits, elemental spirits, and spirits of place. Often in journeys they are given information, later verified, that they do not have access to in this world. Sometimes they are given information by their spirits that only a scholar specializing in a specific tradition or a shaman or other indigenous person of that tradition would know: the connections made, the information received, are truly archetypal.

For 25 years we have worked successfully with hundreds of clients; have taught the elements of shamanism and shamanic journeying to hundreds of students; and have trained about 40 students in the advanced practices of shamanic healing. We have inspired our students to start shamanic healing circles. Our home circle has met weekly since 1989 to do healing and provide shamanic help for each other and for family and friends. We have published 39 articles and reviews; a collection of these called Bear Walks, Crow Talks; and two books: Rooted in the Heart, Seeded in the Soul: Shamanic Journeys to the Spirits of Healing Plants and Spirit Knife Soul Bone: The Ancient Art of Extracting Negative Energies. We are currently working on books about shamanic ancestor work and the spirit lover phenomenon.

We walk between two worlds: the world of the academic and the world of the “average” person. We consider ourselves a bridge between those worlds. Shamanism has become a household word in the U.S. in the last 20 years. When we began our work few people in America knew what a shaman is. Today there are many people who think they know what a shaman is—and some do. The word “shaman”, and many words in the lexicon of the scholar of shamanism, are used and often misused by people who are well meaning but ignorant of the vast scholarship that has been done in this field. Part of our work is educating those who seek a deeper understanding of shamanism and who often have the gifts of the shaman, but who haven’t the tools, the knowledge, or in some cases the opportunity to study shamanism as the scholar has done. Nor do they have access to indigenous teachers. We understand the frustration many scholars in this field feel about the casual way shamanism is treated in popular literature and in the New Age movement. Also some Native people in North America are angry that White people “steal” their spirituality by “playing shaman”. We spend much time educating people about the shamanic heritage of humans around the globe. We teach the students who study intensively with us about the scholarly literature on shamanism world wide, and we share with them not only the commonalities and differences of shamanism from culture to culture, but introduce them to shamans we know who are working within a particular tradition.

25 years of working with shamanism has shown us that humans are “hardwired” to experience trance, and to use it to heal, and to change physical reality, with the help of Spirit. We may be starting anew the process our ancestors experienced when they first discovered shamanic trance and healing. We share here stories from our students, clients and ourselves that, we believe, demonstrate the power of shamanism to revive itself even when the thread of indigenous practice is broken. Clients’ names have been changed throughout. Michelle Sampson, Churaig MacNaill, Aria Walker, Papillon DeBoer, Daniel Foor and Dr. Chris Forester are graduates of our intensive shamanic training program. Karen and Sara are friends and clients who eventually studied with us as well.

It is our hope that this paper will stimulate a lot of dialog. We have devoted our lives to the study and practice of shamanism, and we have faith in our connection with Spirit. Can we claim to be a part of the revival or continuation of shamanism? We ask you to be open to the possibility that we are.

Stories  of Healing Performed by Our Intensive Graduates

Michelle Sampson: Shamanism and terminal illness – AIDS (Ohio, USA)

Kathy came to me in March 2006 to ask for help for her brother, Will, who had had AIDS for several years and who was undergoing new drug therapies. Will lives in a distant city, and Kathy wanted help for him. She was concerned about his health and also about his morale. She wanted to know what she and the family could do for him, since he was very secretive about his condition.

I had focused my initial journey on healing Will and his family while accepting his transition to death. I was shown that his sisters needed to help him prepare for death, and to live with him and care for him. I was also shown that as part of Will’s spiritual healing process he needs to help other younger people who are struggling with the disease, and even write a memoir of his experience to help others. This was helpful, but Kathy wanted to know how long he had to live. This type of specific request always disheartens me. My allies often refuse to answer such questions. They seem annoyed by these requests. I told her I would try, but made no promises. I was told by my allies her brother had between six months and a year to live.

Kathy wanted me to heal Will from his disease. In a journey I had made brief contact with a spirit entity that identified itself as the virus, so I journeyed to where I had found the spirit before and talked with him. I tried to persuade him to leave Will’s body. The spirit told me to tell Kathy that diseases are neither good nor evil; they are part of the balance of nature. I stayed with the spirit a while and made offerings. He said he would consider my request, but did not give an answer.

A month later, I received news from a mutual friend that Kathy had gone away to attend a family funeral: her brother, I was told. This distressed me greatly! Later when I offered my condolences to Kathy, she corrected this information. It was her brother in law that had died, not her brother! She told me Will had just discovered that his viral load was at zero. This meant there were too few active viruses in his body to measure. This was a huge improvement in his condition. According to latest reports he is still doing well.

Churaig Mac Naill (England) Removal of Traumatic Energy to Enhance Physical Healing

It is sometimes best to work with less information rather than more. I learned this when a young woman accepted my offer of help with her back pain. I knew that she had fallen from a tree: a serious accident. I journeyed and retrieved soul energy shocked from her body by the accident.

I was told by my spirits to return for a second journey. An intrusion needed to be removed from her body. I was shown two metal swords that criss-crossed her back, behind her sternum. It was quite difficult to remove them. I used smudge and my rattle several times to get them free. Eventually, I pulled them both out of the client's back at the shoulders.

I wanted to know where these 'swords' had come from but I could not get clear information, so I returned and told the woman what had happened. She was stunned! During the surgery for her accident the surgeon placed two metal braces inside her back that did indeed come together where I had seen the swords crossing over. This was aggressive surgery and she had argued with her surgeon about doing it, but in the end he got his way. I believe I was removing either the doctor's emotional energy or the client's energy of resistance to the operation. Perhaps both. I am pleased to say that the extraction gave her a good deal of relief from the pain and has assisted in her recovery.

Aria Walker (Georgia, USA)  Distance Healing and Bilocation in the Middle World

In addition to the clients who report improvement in health or other issues, a modern shaman may receive other information.

One night in 2006, I was restless in bed, unable to sleep. As I blinked my eyes closed, an image flashed, as if seared to the insides of my eyelids. My eyes flew open, and then I closed them again to search for the man I had seen in my vision. Now the image was gone, but I was driven to search the Internet.

Finding that hotels in Jordan had just been bombed, I searched through the news photos as they came in online. A few moments later, I found images of the man I had seen lying on the ground. I left the computer and journeyed back to the place and then slightly back in time. There was a car that one of my guides informed me must be righted and kept from being blown onto its side. I managed that task and then moved on to a hospital, where I comforted shocked, grief stricken family members. Once I returned from the journey, I searched the Internet again. More pictures had come in, including more with the man I had seen; now I found ones with the car also.

Days later, I talked with a friend had been in US Special Forces and trained in Japanese shamanic work. He confirmed he had seen me by the car at the scene of the bombings.

Papillon DeBoer (North Carolina, USA) Removing Spirit Attachments

A young woman contacted me who has suffered from fibromyalgia for over ten years. The pain was preceded by three years of mysterious nightly panic attacks, from age 9 to 12. At  age 12 the panic attacks suddenly vanished and the fibromyalgia began.

I  began with energy work, sensing what was happening in her upper torso. Immediately I felt blocked, so I chose to do some journeywork. The journey confirmed that this woman had an untapped gift as a spirit medium. I was shown a piece of her soul to bring back to her, which I did. When I asked her about any relationship or ideas she had about ghosts, she remarked that during her panic attacks she saw black spots and felt as if she was being "haunted", rather than the usual symptoms of panic: being unable to breathe or inexplicably afraid of imminent death.

I shared my journey with her. I then removed some highly inappropriate energy from the base of her neck and restored her soul piece to her. I then did more energy healing, and finally some massage. I gave her information on how to protect herself more effectively from spirit attachments, and also information about where she could get mediumship training. After 9 days of intense flu-like symptoms, she reports growing relief from her debilitating pain.

Daniel Foor (California, USA) Healing Phobias

Sara was in her mid-twenties with no prior contact with shamanism. In 2003 she and I had become acquainted through a shared professional training. At a social event, while encountering a spider, she shared with me her terror of spiders. I asked if she had explored possible meanings of this phobia. She said she had not. While she would not have sought clinical treatment for the phobia, the fear was intense and real when encountering spiders.

A month later Sara attended a shamanic practice circle I had convened. She and I agreed that I would do a diagnostic journey to consult with my guides about her fear and determine if any intervention was called for. I was shown an intrusion located in Sara’s abdomen, related to her fear. Spirit help was offered to clear the intrusion. I sat up and asked Sara’s permission to proceed with the extraction work, which she agreed to. I knelt next to her and closed my eyes. I saw that the intrusion took the form of two spiders clinging to her third chakra. This caused me to hesitate, wondering if extraction was called for. I asked Spider Woman to be present to guide the process. Spider Woman called three times for the spiders/intrusions to release from Sara’s abdomen. They did not respond. Spider Woman indicated that the spiders/intrusions were no longer under her care and protection. They were then extracted and ‘atomized’ by use of fire. I then cleansed and balanced Sara’s energy body using sage, rattling and intention.

Afterward, Sara reported a vivid physical sensation of something rolling off of her abdomen as well as a shift in the energy in that region of her body. In the months that followed she reported to me with enthusiasm that she was no longer afraid. Also she became curious about the spiders in her home and felt happy for their presence. Larger and larger spiders appeared in her home, yet her threshold of tolerance expanded into a strongly positive sense of connection and appreciation for spiders and ‘Spider Medicine’. As of January 2006 her fear of spiders has not returned. She maintains a felt sense of connection with Spider as an ally and companion.

Reports of Healing Received from Bekki or Crow by their Clients

 Karen (New York, USA) Healing for  Long-Standing Back Pain

Some years ago I had a massage therapy session with Bekki Shining Bearheart. I have had pain in my lumbar spine for most of my life. When Bekki began the deep tissue massage, she sensed that there was an emotional issue involved in my lumbar pain. Bekki saw that I needed some soul retrieval work done concerning an incident that happened when I was a young child. I agreed to shamanic healing, and she began her shamanic journeywork.

Bekki saw me as a young child. I had fallen to the ground and hit my tailbone. I was crying and quite upset. At that point in the journey, Mother Bear came to scoop me up and take me away. She carried me through the woods and to a cave. Mother Bear told me that she would always be there to protect me and I didn’t need to be afraid. She held me like a baby and comforted me, and sent me back to my adult self.

I had never discussed with Bekki what had happened to me as a small child. I had been playing with soap bubbles in the yard and had decided to go down the slide. I did not think about putting the container of bubbles down and climbing up the slide, I wanted the bubbles with me. I blew bubbles at the top of the slide and when I wanted go down the slide I did not know what to do with the bottle, so I held it in my mouth. As I slid down, soapy water gushed into my mouth and the shock of it made me forget to put my feet down at the end of the slide, so I fell on to the ground and hit my tailbone. I had experienced pain in the lumbar spine since that time.

After the soul retrieval, I felt a sense of comfort and relief. I have not experienced the pain in my tailbone since then.  A few months after the retrieval I found a bear claw in a truckload of topsoil I had had delivered for my garden. I can often feel Mama Bear’s energy near me since that time.


Dr Chris Forester MA (Oxon.) D Phil EmFHS EmFCPS FRGS FRSH (England): Healing for Auto-Immune Disease

I was first diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis in around 1990, at age 22. I was in constant back pain and at, best, very inflexible in the spine. At worst, I was bed-ridden and in agony for several days a month. My prognosis was poor: according to my doctor, my spine was to fuse by the age of 30. After extraction work from Crow, I noticed an immediate overnight improvement in my condition. I subsequently stopped having anything but occasional stiffness in the back. I am 39– there has been no progression in the disease. My doctors now tell me it has burnt itself out. (Excerpted from the Introduction to Spirit Knife Soul Bone: The Ancient Art of Extracting Negative Energies. Note: there is no known cure for this disease, which is progressive and considered an autoimmune disease.)


The most recent report from Dr. Forester in 2012 indicated that this condition has still not recurred.

Sara (Ohio, USA)

Sara has been a member of our drumming circle for many years. Her relationship with a Muslim man from Morocco was helped to blossom and bear fruit by our home shamanic circle.

The relationship with my husband Mohammed began in 2000, when a married couple we know introduced us via email. It was re-ignited a few years later, as a business relationship. After many months of deepening conversation via e-mail, I realized that Mohammed could be more than a business partner, quite possibly a life partner. I shared this development with Bekki and Crow.

In March 2006, Crow made a Mah Jongg (card) reading to give me insight and clarification, for a weeklong trip to Morocco I was considering.  I wished to know if Mohammed was someone I could spend my life with.  Crow helped me to focus the question on, "Will it be worthwhile to make the trip overseas to see Mohammed and continue communication with him afterward?"  The answer was “Yes, if you are willing to work for it to happen.”  Crow did a second reading: I wanted to know if the spark of love would be ignited between Mohammed and me.  The cards were favorable, if I resolved some emotional issues and entered the situation with my eyes open.

The Drumming Circle did journeys and energy work for us several times from March to November of 2006. We were facing many challenges: getting an affordable ticket for me during a high travel season (initially I could not find one); clarifying the nature of the relationship and helping me heal emotional wounds from past relationships; easing my father's anxiety about me marrying a man from a very different culture; expediting my fiancé’s paperwork; and getting him to the U.S. from Morocco safely.  Bekki and Crow shared their knowledge of shamanic work, healing herbs, flower essences, nutrition, astrology and body work with me, so that I could be ready for such a an important partnership.  

 It is now exactly a year to the day that I was on an airplane, flying to meet my husband-to-be for the first time. We are married and he has been living with me for nearly 4 months, and we are about to sit down to a wonderful breakfast together- one more step in nurturing our relationship.  Thanks to the support, knowledge and training that Bekki and Crow have provided (and the marriage ceremony they officiated at Dragon Waters under the pine trees), I have a life partner, and I am and will be physically, emotionally and spiritually healthy enough to enjoy this blessing.

Update, 2013: This couple is still happily married, with twin girls who were born several years ago.


Notes:

Michelle Sampson began shamanic studies in 1998 with Bekki and Crow, and took their Advanced Shamanic Intensive in 2000. She resides in Dayton, Ohio, and does core shamanic healing work through the Ayurvedic Natural Healing Center in Beavercreek, Ohio. She facilitates a journey circle at the Center.

Churaig MacNaill has been on the shamanic path for about 20 years. He took the Advanced Shamanic Intensive with Bekki and Crow in 2001. His practice was in Surrey, England, for 5 years, where he assisted us on our tours in the UK and Ireland and taught journeying at Festivals and in private workshops. In recent years he relocated to Australia, his home country where he continues his study and practice of healing.

Aria Walker began shamanic studies in 1991 with Bekki and Crow, completing their Advanced Shamanic Intensive in 1993 while earning her Bachelors Degree at Ohio University. She is a licensed acupuncturist and TCM doctor, massage therapist, a Reiki Master, a massage instructor, and herbalist. She has also trained with Sandra Ingerman.

Papillon has been practicing the healing arts since his first Reiki attunement in 1997. His studies have included shamanism, exorcism, herbalism, Chinese medicine, Wicca, hermeticism, tarot, ifa/santeria/voodoo, and psychology. He has worked in a free healing network for low-income clients, and a wilderness therapy camp for troubled teenagers in Asheville, North Carolina.

Daniel Foor has a B.S.S. degree in Religious Studies from Ohio University, a Masters in counseling psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, and is completing his Ph.D. in Psychology at the Saybrook Graduate School, focusing on the intersection of indigenous wisdom with Western psychology. He works as a bilingual counselor in community mental health. His core training in shamanism has been with the Church of Earth Healing, Phillip Scott, and Sarangerel Odigan.

Crow Swimsaway PhD took degrees (BA, MA University of Chicago and PhD London School of Economics at London University) in Social and Cultural Anthropology. He has traveled and studied extensively in the U.S., Mexico, Europe and the Far East. He has taught shamanism with Bekki since 1982 at universities, conferences, religious institutions, festivals and gatherings throughout the Midwest and Eastern U.S., and Britain.

Bekki Shining Bearheart LMT is an intuitive and mystic who has been guided by her relationship with Mother Earth since age 2. She has been a student of metaphysics and healing since age 14, and a student and practitioner of shamanism since the early 1980s. Her degrees are in Art and Art Education. She is also a licensed massage therapist specializing in Structural Therapy. She is a self-taught musician and artist, using both music and art in her shamanic practice.