I have been a mostly full-time shamanic practitioner for 17 years now, and that translates into many hundred, if not a thousand, sessions with clients of all kinds.
I have asked the helping spirits to do cures on people and on wild animals. On land and companion animals. Businesses that are folding due to suffering spirits who were attached to buildings, and phenomenon enacted by suffering spirits to get my attention when they needed help.
Here’s an example of a phenomenological event. Some years ago I was sitting on my small deck while living in a house in Seattle. My husband was at work, and my dog Star Gazer was with me. It was a bit cool, and a bit cloudy that night. As I lounged, with Gazer curled near me, his head jerked sharply and then he sat up alert and began watching something behind my back. A small grrrrrrr warned me that something was wrong.
He was watching a conch shell sitting on the deck behind my lounge chair. My parents visited the Caribbean many decades before, and had brought me the shell as a present. The pink had long since faded, and the outside of shell was polished by weather.
The conch shell was moving. Not fast, but it was coming toward us. I immediately thought a mouse or something had climbed in and couldn’t get out. I got up, watched for a moment, and then I lifted the shell. I was cautious. I couldn’t imagine what might be trapped in there.
I got a stick from the yard and probed the curved interior as best I could. There was nothing trapped in there. It was empty.
I put the shell down and it started to move again. Gazer was now sitting, watching with his head cocked, and then looked at me as if to say, “Well, what are you going to do about this?”
It had been a long day. I had seen two clients, and had done a lot of intense work. I had already been outside of my body for more than three hours that day, and was tired. So as I watched the moving shell, I thought, “OK, I’ll journey if I must, but maybe whatever is there can wait for a night.”
I said aloud, “I understand you need something from me, and I will serve you, but I will come to you tomorrow. Please stop moving if you understand me.”
The shell stopped moving. I went to bed almost immediately, and woke up fresh the next morning. I immediately journeyed to the helping spirits, and asked them what the spirit in the shell wanted from me.
It was the spirit of a small child who had drowned in the ocean. She was wandering looking for her mother, and was, of course, suffering. She did not know she was dead. So in the journey, the Helping Spirits and I performed a pyschopomp. This is work I dearly love, and had learned about it from the spirits themselves, the FSS class Dying and Beyond workshop as well as the FSS Three Year program.
Pyschopomp is a Greek word, which means “conductor of souls.” Shamans have been serving the dead as well as the living through time immemorial. I love the work; the spirits taught me how to do it very early on in my shamanic training. I never had a name for it until I took the FSS training, and was awed (as I often was in FSS workshops) to discover it was an ancient practice with a distinguished lineage.
When you have worked with many, many clients – both sentient and nonsentient – you begin to get accustomed to phenomena. I wasn’t, and am still not, especially fond of the drama inherent in phenomenological events, but have lost any fear of them. I see them as a red flag, an urgent communication that something needs to be done.
Over the years, I have learned a lot about shamanic work, but, as I tell clients and students when they ask about phenomena, all shamanic work happens in the heart of mystery.
I have long since proven to myself, through empirical evidence, that the helping spirits I work with are omniscient. Sometimes I think I am a slow shamanic study; I err on needing a lot of proof before I will accept an event as being a spiritual entanglement or message. Through the Helping Spirits' tutelage and my FSS training, I have learned to completely trust the helping spirits to tell me if they know that shamanic work is necessary. Sometimes, as Freud would say, “A cigar is just a cigar.” Sometimes, ordinary reality measures are necessary for a situation to resolve.
I dislike woo-woo, and I think shamanism is one of the most practical and grounded of all spiritual practices because of the way its success is measured. When working shamanically for others, I have learned that when I request a cure, a cure always happens. It may not be a total cessation of all symptoms, but the work attenuates illness – sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically.
And sometimes shamanic work unfurls in what seems to be a nonsensical order, but years and years of experience have taught me that the helping spirits are never wrong when working with a client. The trick here is to let go of any expectation of what a cure may look like.
What may seem like an odd prescription or curative practice when seen from an ordinary reality view, there is always a through line in the helping spirits work.
Which brings us to back to mystery. I work in mystery always. My shamanic helping spirits always know what to do and when. In some ways, I am a both handmaiden and a partner, serving as I am directed.
All of this has taught me something fundamental about our spirits and our souls as well as the spirits and soul of all the animate and inanimate beings in the world. And that is this:
Mystery is safe.
If I have been witness to the spirits unraveling cures to complex illnesses as is appropriate and perfectly timed, I have also had the very pleasant job of delivering one message over and over to clients. In so many of my sessions, my helping spirits tell me to let the client know “you are always being held and cherished.”
I have been privileged to see many cures over the years, but this oft repeated message to clients almost always evokes tears. How many times have we all felt alone when battling illness and difficult life circumstances? How many times do people feel their backs bend from the responsibilities they must carry?
I believe this message touches clients so deeply because their experiences in life have taught them that change and trouble are dangerous. That they are alone in their struggle.
That the spirits are always willing to serve with their power of love is one of the greatest cures any client can receive. It is a cure for believing we are alone, that we are isolated beings with no relationship to nature or to the souls of all the beings who share our reality.
For me, this teaching that mystery is safe has forever changed me. Of course, I still get stressed sometimes, and the more I do this work, the more I discover that I am always a beginner.
Every journey is unique, and I always ask the spirits to let me do the work if I am supposed to, but to not let me go if I am not supposed to. It has been rare when the spirits do not want me to do the work, but I have complete trust that if I cannot journey, there’s a good reason. It may be that I am simply tired or it may mean the client is not ready for that work on that day.
I do my very best to be sure that the journey work I do for myself and for others is proceeded not only by the ceremonies and rituals that my helping spirits have taught me, but by expressions of gratitude and reverence for their many gifts.
It’s no accident that we sit in circle when we work in shamanic classes or drumming circle. We work offering ourselves to the spirits to ask for help. They give their love and help, which we receive with gratitude. This circle of love given and love received strengthens our relationship with our helping spirits.
And, although we live in times that are, at least, challenging, knowing that there are omniscient helping spirits who work with us in the name of love and compassion for the greatest good of all, there is an ultimate safety in the mystery. I know that our personal and world problems are not insolvable. We can work in unity to unify, knowing that we are indeed one tribe only.
 Core shamanism as taught by the FSS includes cross-cultural, near-universal shamanic practices.