- “The most undervalued people
- that are among the most vital
- to the health of a community
- are the garbage men that clean up the trash
- and take care of the sewage
- Shamans are actually esoteric garbage men
- their primary responsibility is
- cleaning up the psychic sewage
- Joseph Earl Annon
While I was seeking help with my health in the early 1990’s I had not participated in the usual summer gatherings where Felicitas Goodman fed all of her local friends here in New Mexico her prized Hungarian chicken before she returned to Columbus, Ohio for the winter. I had been deathly ill, and/or out-of-town, and ongoing conflict with my mother made a family get-together uncomfortable. My Godfather’s death during that time had also been another enormous transition for me. Much like my father’s death, it left me reeling with the enormity of the esoteric work that needed to be done.
At any rate when my path finally did take me to visit Felicitas, even granted she was entering her 80’s, there was a frailty and a neediness there that I had not seen before. Perhaps because of my relationship with my father and godfather, perhaps because I was the visionary teen who had matured demon-free, perhaps because of the depth of my bond with the land and spirits of New Mexico, perhaps because I was not part of the official Institute, perhaps because of the duration of love and trust between us, perhaps because of my own struggles with my health, we talked about her fears and concerns. And indeed in terms of her health she was dealing with:
- improper dosing of her blood sugar medication for diabetes
- undiagnosed hypothyroidism
- infected teeth
- a long-standing heart irregularity aggravated by altitude and stress
- the occasional TIA also worsened by altitude and stress that were affecting her memory and perceptions
- macular degeneration that had progressed to a lack of vision seriously interfering with her daily activities
- resulting in her feeling vulnerable, lost, disoriented and paranoid
So I rejoined the visionary activity at the institute in a rather complex role of elder care of her personally and participant/observer in the workshops. And boy-oh-boy was that an eye-opener.
Granted Felicitas could be difficult, and no one likes to give up their autonomy and be dependent on others. I was still shocked to realize no one on the board that claimed to revere her so deeply was willing to acknowledge her physical failings, unless it profited them in some way. I came to realize her fear of exposing her vulnerabilities to the board members of her institute was actually very realistic, given their behavior. Her fears for the future of her institute were also grounded in reality.
Again, granted her work was in academic research, granted that her focus was on reintroducing visionary practices to a specific socio-economic and cultural group, granted that she was seeking to control variables in order to document meaningful results, granted that she had her issues with men, power, and belief systems; my personal experience with Felicitas was that she was not only capable of but dedicated to treating every one she encountered as a whole and valued being. As a social anthropologist, she had made and maintained relationships with a wide variety of people. Yet, when it came to her followers at the Cuyemungue Institute, I have rarely been among a group that was so unabashedly:
If you were not an Anglo-American woman of a certain age, income bracket, and education , you were made unwelcome. The Mean Girls Clique ruled and the five Buddhist poisons:
were running rampant.
Now, I had grown up with the understanding that these emotional poisons are the fuel and foundation for black magic; that they are destructive not just to the target, but to the environment, and ultimately fatal to the practitioner indulging in them. Part of the esoteric house keeping in Northern New Mexico is a cleansing of the communal soul of this sort of negativity. In a functional and whole indigenous community, those who revel in the suffering of others are considered to be empty and or rotten inside, needing to parasitize others to survive. Without that outside source of life energy, they die.
An example of this may be found in the literature published about the Coronado State Monument. It is written that an informant was going to explain the sacred paintings in the kiva there but died before they learned anything from him. That informant had been a student of one of the Casiques , one of the religious leaders, among the Pueblos, had betrayed his teacher, taken the sacred items from their own kiva and sold them for drinking money, and was going to sell the living tradition as well. Instead, he died of his own inner rot. These deaths are typically abrupt disruptions of the life force in the outer forms of violence and accidents, or inner disruptions such as strokes and heart attacks.
While my godfather had prayed for and supported the lost souls of western civilization finding their way home to the shamanic realms, his view was not widely shared. The relentless outpouring and the volume of five poisons by neo-shamanic practitioners into the alternate reality is devastating to those few indigenous holdouts attempting to maintain the sanctity of the natural worlds as well as their own traditions and community. Relentless egoism, self-promotion, and denigration of others is effectively witchcraft, and if people die because their practice is so persistently and fundamentally distorted, that is part of the healing of our incredibly damaged and destructive society. Far from the idyllic playground my father and grandfather held for Felicitas as a neophyte; as responsible adults, knowing that the consequences of ones actions affect not only the quality but the very fabric of all life, especially that of the practitioners, is paramount.
How much of Felicitas ill-health was rooted in her efforts to hold a safe space for her students in this poisonous atmosphere, and how much was her own misunderstandings of the process she was involved in, and how much was her own traumas, I will never know. What I did know was that it was an ugly situation and that every time I participated in a workshop , I got slammed with the frustrations of the Grandfathers and others of the alternate realities. It became all too apparent that just because people change the names of the steps of their religious hierarchy doesn’t mean they have abandoned it.
Stepping into the experience of a web of interconnections instead of a fixed bureaucracy was terrifying for many. Instead of board members looking to cleanse their inner environment, postures became labeled as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It also became possible for workshop participants to be publicly chastised for having the ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ visionary experiences. It was fast becoming a cult-like atmosphere, but I’ll spare you all most of the sordid details.
I truly do not know how much of this was Felicitas, and how much was the board and instructors. There were many days where Felicitas’ short term memory was so unreliable, she was so disoriented, and she was so frightened of be taken advantage of, that she asked me if I would remind her of what she wanted to say, and even if she could not remember herself, she could maintain at least a facade of being present and aware by agreeing with me. I am sure that I am not the only person she made this request to, and in the unscrupulous hands of the then board members it was thoroughly destructive to the work of the Spirits and the Institute as well as to Felicitas herself.
I ended up staying at the Institute for about 18 months. My first summer was partly focused on getting Felicitas’ health in order, and indeed once her teeth and medications were stabilized she regained a great deal of her vitality. It was a rough road getting there however and culminated in her falling shortly before her last workshop of the summer. She had been using a bucket next to her bed as a chamber pot because she could not see well enough to walk to the bathrooms at night. She might have had a TIA, but regardless, she injured not only her head but also her right hand when she fell. It was a black and blue lump the size of a dinosaur egg, and besides being extremely painful, it meant that for the first time ever she would not be able to rattle for the workshop participants.
Among all the other problems, Felicitas’ heart issue was acting up. She refused to go to the doctor, even though her breathing would become shallow and erratic , she would turn greyish blue, and when I took her pulse, it would be faint and fluttering faster than I could count. One of my (many) callings happens to be Japanese meridian therapy. So I would apply my emergency first aid pressure points between sessions and she would burp, fart, color would come back to her face, her breath and heart would settle, and we would be good to go for another couple of hours.
Our compromise, after many hours of discussion, had been that she would do all of the ceremony, including the invocation of the spirits, but I would actually shake the rattle. On the esoteric side, when I shook the rattle, she would leave her body. Then the Grandfathers and I would have a long discussion about the future (click here). Eventually they would slam her back in her body, I’d work on her, and that’s how we made it through the weekend. Thankfully it was an advanced work shop and a number of the participants had come strictly for the purpose of honoring Felicitas, so I had some acknowledgement and support. Those people know who they are and I am still grateful to them all.
There were some interesting after effects to this episode. One was that every housing option I looked at when I was ready to move back into town fell through. After weeks of this, Felicitas said that I should stay over the winter and pay her a bit of rent instead. Along with this came a wave of phone calls to the institute saying that they were sure that along with her more controlled and organized workshops, that she offered an introductory evening where people could come experience the postures. This made Felicitas furious as it appeared to cross her boundary between academic research and ceremony, but since people persisted, she told me that I should hold an open session once a week at the Institute while I was there. As soon as I agreed, Daniel Statnekov appeared with a set of Peruvian Whistling vessels he had made for the Institute. As he was adamant they be used, not just set on display, there I was with people, place, postures, and Peruvian Whistling vessels.
I had been severely scolded during the workshops I did that summer because the people participating saw it as entertainment not ceremony. It was made quite clear that while I could observe and support Felicitas in her intent, I personally was always doing ceremony. I was given the details, had been showed how to open the sipapu, or earth navel, in the center of Felicitas’ classroom/kiva; and away we went. It was a horrendous experience. No one had cleaned house esoterically since Felicitas had first begun her work, she brought all of her wartime trauma with her, all of her participants had lost and traumatized ancestral lineages, and the trauma and clash between cultures and belief systems here in Northern New Mexico was producing more psychic sewage all the time.
Over the months I was there, I had anywhere from a couple to a couple of dozen participants each week, I often ended up with all male groups as a surprising number were men, and the first shake of the rattle always started moving the gunk. I preferred not to know the details, so often what I saw was the room fill with ice and tears, or wind and dust, or old blood, or black karmic sludge. Sometimes it was the killing fields of wartime, torn earth, mangled dead bodies, and old munitions. Regardless, I would rattle until the field cleared and the participants found their own inner experience of resolution and peace.
Felicitas allowed me do all this because she and I both knew that the person shaking the rattle, or drumming, is the person holding the entire field together for the participants. As the facilitator, you are both guide and mediator between realms. I was the one person she knew who could stand in at least two realms, cross cultures, and manage multiple responsibilities. Up to this point I had been invisible to the board of the Institute. Felicitas wanted it that way and I was more than happy to agree. But shaking that rattle during that workshop and through the winter made me the target for all of the poisons accumulating in the Institute.
Nearly 20 years later, I am still astounded at the virulence that continues on from that weekend. Although board members did remark on how nice (!?) the classroom/kiva felt the next summer, I was no longer incognito and it was hellish. The tension came to a ahead when an East German hedge-witch (complete with three nipples) arrived at the Institute. He (yes, there are male witches) was lost between worlds himself. How much was physical brain damage from apalling abuse as a child at the hands of his Russian POW father, how much was psychological, how much was trauma to his lineage, I do not know. Not only was he was not stable, he was not fluent in English, and I was not fluent in German. But there he was, the living embodiment of Felicitas’ worst war-time night-mare, and there was a positive feedback loop escalating between their shared war-time fear and trauma.
And the ladies of the board of the Institute? Well, they saw him as intruder and fair game. He was younger, male, uneducated, working class, foreign, unstable, and vulnerable to their attack. Now in my experience when the trickster appears, when an unwanted, foreign, disruptive and dangerous entity appears, it is heads up. You do your very best to find a peaceable and constructive resolution no matter the personal cost because all hell is breaking loose. So I sat with this man. I touched him, because touch transcends language, I shielded him from the worst and most overt attacks, and I mediated for him in the spirit realms.
I did this because this man was what needs to be healed if we are to avoid recreating the insanity and violence of WWI and WWII. In German men who join the police or military are called bulls, not pigs. They tend to be hardliners, the best metaphor I can think of for them is the white blood cells in our body. Their job is to recognize boundaries and maintain order. Bulls are problematic to provoke at the best of times, and wounded ones are down right dangerous. When they go bad; well, think Hell’s Angels or Auschwitz. And that trauma is where Felicitas’ work began.
This man went home without experiencing a psychotic break, which was a great relief to me. However I had been found openly and unrepentantly fraternizing with the enemy, the board members had grabbed onto their leverage point, and ultimately this led to my de-institionalization (click here). I was glad to go. Felicitas had stabilized physically, I had done my service and more, I had and still have limited physical resources, and I had a whole lot more on my agenda than bickering with her board members.
I had also completed part of my responsibility to the broader community. My weekly sessions kept going through that years International Gathering of Indigenous Elders where the South American Condor met with the North American Eagle in Nambe, New Mexico. While I was far too busy to attend myself, as I was summarily booted out of the Institute and moving at the time, I was quite startled when I eventually met the instigator for the first time as Mayan Elder Don Alejandro looked so familiar. Then I remembered where I had encountered him before.
In one of our weekly sessions at the Institute, a wild-eyed and sickly wolf appeared at the esoteric doorway. I asked if there was anything I could do for him and he turned into an Indian Elder and showed me a trance posture. When we completed the session, I told the group what I had seen, and asked if they would be willing to do another round focused on healing this wolf. We did and the wolf became healthy and vibrant. We acknowledged each other and said our thanks. He went on his way and I went on cleaning house.
That Elder was Don Alejandro, and his spiritual name is the Wandering Wolf. He had been so ill before the gathering that he was afraid he would not be able to travel, but had a sudden recovery and was able to come anyway. This experience brought home to me the importance of doing my own work and keeping my own esoteric house clean. It has effects far beyond my small personal egoistic awareness at any given time, just as shitting in the drinking water can sicken thirsty people far downstream.
Some acquaintances once remarked how they admired how true I was to my spiritual path. My reply was that:
- When I was on track I was able to stand up
- When I was not on track, I was laid out on the ground
They were vastly entertained by this and howled with laughter despite my protests. For me it is simply a statement of fact. This was only one of many instances where I was struck with how the reality and vitality of the invisible realms, the alternate realities that actually keep me embodied, were and are dismissed and belittled by others. It is this kind of reaction has made me reluctant to discuss my relationship with spirit, never mind facilitate others finding their way.
However guidance and information is what was and is needed in our trying time, and will-ye nil-ye that is the path I was and am called to walk, regardless of institutions and bureaucracy. Once I received my walking papers from the ancestors, despite my health issues, I am usually able to get up and around as long as I stay on track. Currently, that track seems to be getting these stories out where they can be read.
And in the end, once again the Beatles said it best: