Teachers—Compassionate Spirits Who Heal

Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality - Michael Harner 2013

Teachers—Compassionate Spirits Who Heal

The spirit teachers, as compassionate beings of power, are available to help visitors who request personal healings. When the teachers do such healings, they commonly enact the methods used in the form of a demonstration. The reason is simple: they are not only healing visitors, they are teaching methods for them to take home. This enables shamanic healing knowledge to be revived through journeying and ascension even when a culture or group of people has otherwise lost its shamans and shamanic knowledge.

Visitors to the teachers can ask for health advice. Sometimes advice is all they ask, but they receive an unexpected healing. Similarly, a person requesting a healing may receive that as well as supplementary information to help their health condition. Visitors treated by a teacher in the Upper World are frequently surprised to have lost their symptoms (such as a chronic backache) immediately upon their return to the Middle World.

Other ailments may take longer to clear, and follow-up visits to the teacher are advisable to help make the relief permanent or to effect a cure. This is not too different from modern medicine—one may have to take multiple doses of a prescribed remedy or get repeated bodywork treatments. In shamanic treatment, two or three consecutive evenings of work are frequently necessary if the problem is serious. Many Westerners prefer doing it once a week.

Even with a successful outcome, a shamanically treated health problem does not necessarily go away instantly. One of the finest North American tribal shamans I have known, a famous healer on the Northwest Coast, used to tell his patients after doing a session, “This is not a miracle cure. It takes two days!” He also believed in supplementary treatment by Western physicians and hospitals, which he considered to be “alternative medicine.”

Indeed, shamanic healing work is the spiritual part of a holistic approach to health, together with the practical way in which almost all adults in indigenous societies know the basic local plant remedies. Shamanism is not attempting to replace any other system of healing or medicine, but rather to supplement it on a spiritual level. Physicians and other health care professionals should feel no threat from shamanism and instead be glad that they and their patients have spiritual support. They are invited to read Appendix D, “Core Shamanism and Healing: Information for Physicians and Health Professionals.”

The powers of nonordinary reality frequently reveal to shamans their patients’ illnesses in metaphorical or symbolic form. Shamans seeking information on the presence or absence of illness in a patient often look for something alarming or disagreeable with shamanic “X-ray” visualization (which can be taught) in order to see if there is something locally wrong with the patient. If shamans are only shown sweetness and light, or beautiful flowers, such images will not help them find an illness or serious problem to be treated. This is elaborated upon in The Way of the Shaman.1

Shamanic visualization of illness is intended to perceive its nonordinary aspect, which usually shows as a spirit metaphor of its ordinary-reality appearance. These metaphors are powerful, and in recent years many nonshamans have begun to rediscover the usefulness of metaphor in visualization exercises to fight cancer and other illnesses.2


This is a first-person account from a Westerner who first establishes that the being he meets is his teacher before making his healing request. This is the recommended procedure when asking for advice of any kind, as well as requesting a healing, since in a single ascension one may encounter various impressive deities or historical figures who are not actually one’s teacher. Following is his report.

My question was, “Will you please heal my soul of its abandonment issue?”

I entered the upper realms from a mountaintop in Switzerland. There was much fog all about. I felt I was flying over mountains of Tibet. I could see the mountains through a clearing in the clouds. Then I seemed to break through a kind of membrane. There, to my amazement, I met Buddha. I asked him if he was my teacher. He smiled, closed his eyes, and handed me a lotus. I asked him to please heal my abandonment issue.

He put the lotus within my chest. It was connected by the stem to him. He sucked out smoke from my chest and cleaned the cavity with the lotus. Then he put bundles of lotuses in the chest cavity and closed it up with white paper.

He placed a gold crown on my head as he held my shoulders and looked into my eyes. He put a lotus over my left ear and had me sit down. There were rose petals falling all around. Two young female bodhisattvas put a robe of multicolors over my shoulders and more flowers in my hair.

Then I became a lotus of light. I felt the essence of white and orange light. I saw an orange sphere. Buddha said, “This is your initiation.” I was one with the sphere. I was at peace and stayed there until time to come back. When I was to come back, I thanked Buddha by giving him the lotus back. But I changed my mind and decided to give him my heart instead.

Upon arrival back in ordinary reality, I felt the lotus was still connected to me by way of the heart cavity with the lotus inside and connected to Buddha by the stem.3

Afterward, the student talked about the experience: “Following the journey, we were asked to relate our experience to someone in the room. I was at first hesitant due to my fear of sounding pretentious in meeting such a great being. However, I soon discovered that the lady next to me had met Christ, and another friend of mine in the room had met Mohammed.

“This confirmed for me that my experience was one of many spectacular and beautiful experiences, and there is no reason to limit ourselves from going to the most extraordinary places and meeting the wisest of beings in order to be blessed with their help and guidance. It was one of the most freeing and uplifting experiences of my life.”


I made my ascent upward on a spiral of smoke from a campfire in a familiar place that is special to me. My power animal accompanied me to the membrane. I went through the membrane and saw no one. The landscape was sparkling. It looked like diamonds and crystals with sunlight shining on them. I felt a light wind and was then caught up in a whirlwind and went up to another level. Saw no one.

More wind came and I spiraled to another level. I heard music, singing and laughter. I could see a white marble temple. It looked like the Greek Parthenon. I climbed the marble stairs, and when I got to the top I could see in the large, open center people feasting. I was motioned to come to the head table by a man dressed in a long flowing robe.

I approached and asked, “Are you my teacher?”

“Yes,” he answered.

I asked his name and was told it was Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine. I asked, “What can I do to heal this pain in my lower back and abdomen?”

He held out a staff with a snake entwined on it. I was told to take hold of the staff. As I did, the snake began to move. It crawled up my arm and down my back and came around my waist and coiled around my abdomen. I could feel the pain leaving my body as the snake crawled on it.

Then I saw a small fish swimming by and then a large school of fish swam by. I saw a cup filled with tea, bowls of rice, and grapes. I was told by my teacher that grapes would help keep me strong and well physically. I was to use all of the grape plant and fruit and use it daily.

The drum called me back.

The pain did not return, and I am grateful for the healing. I have studied the grape plant and fruit and have found them to have strong antioxidants that protect the body. I have increased my intake of rice and fish, and I have more energy.4


In this visit the Westerner, who suffered from asthma, simply asked the teacher to be shown “the way” to a healing. Probably it would have been even better to ask directly for a healing, but she got results.

I climbed up a special tree that was at a campsite in northern New Mexico where recently I had been. An eagle came by and said that even though it was not my power animal, it would take me to where I needed to go. We flew upward through the clouds, where it then left me. I flew farther up toward a bright star. The pressure on my chest and the cold of the thin air left me feeling breathless. I flew through the star and came to a land of bright lights and shimmering landscapes.

I then called for my teacher to present him- or herself.

Out of the air emerged Merlin. He said to follow him and then he took me into a crystal cave. I asked him to show me the way to my healing.

He sat me down in a chair in the center of the room next to a table on which sat a box. He opened the box. Inside was a huge hot quartz crystal. The room was very cool, but there was an incredible heat emanating from the stone.

He took the crystal out and said, “This is what was taken from you so many years ago: the heat of your passion; the light of your power. It is time to return it. The hot crystal will melt the icicles of fear and grief of the loss that you hold in your chest.”

He placed it into my chest. I immediately felt the heat, and my chest cleared. I asked if there was anything that I should know.

He said, “You are of the fairy folk from so long ago, gentle and fair, but also seeking vengeance when wronged. Your gift and power were stolen so long ago, and it is time to return them.”

I told him I had missed him.

He said, “I have never been away, but now I will be here for you to see and hear. I will whisper in your right ear and guide you in the ways of magic, and of the plant and earth spirits, so that you will remember once again. I will be here to help you once more. My love and my strength will go with you.”

We held each other for a moment, and I was flooded with memories of my love for this man, my first true teacher. Then we were called back.5

She discovered her teacher to be Merlin. She described her health problem, and he produced a hot quartz crystal. (She was not aware that indigenous shamans know that quartz crystals become hot when empowered.) He placed it on her chest and then gave this empowered crystal to her to keep. Among the Huichol people of Mexico, a shaman’s soul may return in the form of a quartz crystal.6

Immediately after returning from the Upper World the journeyer commented: “I had had asthma earlier today while lying on the cold floor during the first two journeys. Upon returning from this journey, my chest feels much more open and all my asthma is gone.”

Months later the same woman commented that prior to this journey her asthma had ranged from moderate to life-threatening. “Since the journey,” she reported, “my asthma has been improved overall. My chest was at its clearest immediately after the journey; since I’ve been home it has come and gone but has never again been as severe [as in the past].… I do feel there is more journey work to do that will clear it entirely.”

She was probably right, for in the case of serious health problems, shamanic healing work should usually be repeated until a cure is complete, as mentioned before.


This ascension to an unidentified teacher was experienced by a woman suffering from uterine cancer (endometrial sarcoma) that had been arrested some years earlier. Fearful that the cancer might resume growing again, she asks her teacher to help prevent the disease from returning. She could have asked the teacher not just “to help prevent the disease from returning,” but “to prevent it from returning.” That would have been an even stronger request.

In response, the teacher provides emotionally charged, multifaceted, classic shamanic healing procedures, including a dismemberment (see Chapter 11), the extraction of an illness from her heart, and the transmission of healing energy or power. Her journey includes other features common in near-death experiences, such as encountering a bright light and a tunnel. She also experiences spinning, sometimes known as the “merry-go-round effect” in journey experiences.

She finds herself connected in a circle, sharing energy or power with all present, including animals. This awareness of unity with the animals and all things is a common theme in shamanism. As Westerners do shamanic journeying, they spontaneously become more aware of this sacred connectedness. The journeyer herself exhibits good shamanic potential, for she not only sees while journeying but also is starting to experience with other senses, such as when she smells the flower.

The journeyer used the simultaneous-narration technique (see Appendix A, this page) and thus was able to describe her experiences as they occurred.

I am journeying to ask my teacher to help prevent the disease from coming back. I am before the fireplace. It’s twirling. I go up through the fireplace. To the sky. I am twirling. Spinning up through the sky. I break through a barrier, and I go up toward the clouds. I come out on the land surface. My teacher is there.

“Help prevent the disease from coming back,” I say.

He picks me up in his arms. We fly up to another level. We keep flying up. We go through another barrier. We go up through another one. We keep going up. Really fast. My body starts getting smaller and smaller. It is really small like a skin. I’m dissolving into nothing. It’s dissolving as we go up. I can only see my cells—they’re clean—and my eyes, and my cells. Farther and farther, I’m disintegrating. Now I’m just energy. My right half still has skin. But the rest of me is just energy. But my teacher is still holding me.

We go farther and farther. We keep going through levels and levels. There is golden light.

My leg, there’s skin, and there’s a dark area on my leg. It seems to be bleeding. Blood is pouring out through the hole in my leg. It is pouring out and the blood is dissolving. I keep flying and I feel really warm, really hot except for my left leg. It just keeps bleeding. Blood is pouring out. Blood and globs of things. Yet I am not whole. I am just energy. I keep going. It is getting hotter. Really, really hot.

Now a disc is on me. A round disc. I am still energy. It’s being put over my head, through my body, and around my legs. It has stopped where the skin is on my right leg and calf. It sits there. I see the leg and the foot floating off to my right. It has separated from me. It is suspended in the air.

Some hands are now around the leg. These hands are rolling off the skin, from one end to the other. Now they are pulling the skin off. It looks like a hide. The leg is energy. They are pulling the skin off. There’s a hole in the leg. There is a hole in the energy.

The hands take the hide and they put it into the hole. It’s black inside.

My teacher is calling me over to look into the hole. There are stars in the hole. He wants me to go through this hole. He takes my hand. And we go through the hole. It is very dark. There are many, many lights. Now there’s a huge eagle. It is huge, as big as the Empire State Building. He places me onto the chest of the eagle. I am lying there in the warmth of the feathers. It’s just holding me.

My teacher gets onto the bird. We start flying up, higher and higher, toward this very bright light. We are going into the light. The light opens. We’re flying into it, into another dimension. A deeper space, almost like a tunnel. Going up. Very far away.

I feel my power animal. The deer [power animal] is with me. We are flying up higher and higher. I feel like I am whole, but I still don’t have the lower part of my leg. It’s gone. Now my other leg is disappearing. My thighs are disappearing. I have no legs. I keep going. Now I have no arms.

My heart … my heart is beating. It is red, and it is beating. There is nothing around it. It is just the heart. Now the hole drops me into the vessel of the heart. It is really dark, very dark. It is almost hard to breathe. It is dark.

I feel the pulse, can feel my heart. I feel my heart beating. Very strong. Very loud. Very deep. Very dark. It is too dark. So empty.

Now I feel arms, and legs, coming out into the light of the heart. And I feel the heart. I can feel my arms. And the heart. It is very strong. Now the heart is dissolving the skin back onto my body. It is going on, shrinking onto me.

Now there is a giraffe [probably a power animal since it is helping her] and I am on it. We start floating. I feel good. We run with me on his back. We start coming down. We are coming down. Farther down the stairs. Farther down. Down.

The giraffe drops me off in this place where there is water, a pool. My heart feels so big—it almost feels too big for my body. I go into the pool. As I go into the water my body starts to expand. It is expanding to meet the size of my heart. It meets the size of my heart.

I am getting out of the water. I am walking down. I see my teacher. He hands me a flower, a gardenia. I can smell it. Now he is giving me fruit that looks like cranberries, and some almonds. I eat. As I eat, I again feel warmth inside. I feel my legs. I feel energy going down my legs.

My teacher is placing me on top of a piece of stone, and burning incense or sage on the four corners of the stone. There are bracelets around my legs, my ankles. There is a band around my head.

He is opening my chest with a knife and pulling my heart out. He pulls out of my heart a huge creature—some black thing. It’s a spider. He pours fluid into the heart. He places my heart back into my chest, and closes up my chest.

The thing that he has pulled out of my body is walking away. It is really ugly. It is leaving. It is going away into a cave.

Now my skin is brown, and my body is better. But my leg is still hot. My teacher is now cutting with the knife and takes my leg off. I’m bleeding there. He is placing this leaf over the place where he cut my leg off. Now my leg is growing back, growing out from my body. It feels normal now. I am still lying here.

Animals and people with headdresses have arrived. The giraffe has returned. There are deer, bear. There is someone with a white headdress. It’s my teacher. There is Turtle. Rabbits. Butterflies. They all stand around in a circle. Beams of light form a circle and are entering into me through my navel, spreading through me to all the animals and the people in the circle. The energy of the circle is spinning, forming a cone shape of energy. It is like a tent, but a tent of light. We are spinning. I am in the center of this bright light. Spinning.

It is time to return. I thank everyone—all the animals. My teacher takes me and we start going back. He again is holding me and takes me down through the levels. Down, down, down. Past the eagle. Down. We come to the first level. I thank him. Now I start to go down through the sky. And down, through the chimney. And onto the floor. I am back.

I am still spinning. It was an amazing healing. Especially with my heart. Something was really removed from my heart, and I experienced my own heart. Everywhere I went something was done to take care of me.7

The removal of an illness seen as an ugly entity (here the spider) is a classic form of shamanic diagnosis and intrusion extraction that regularly occurs whether or not the visitors to the teachers have ever heard of it. The spirits themselves are perennial teachers of shamanic methods, such as extraction.

Spiritual extraction is used to remove illness or pain from a localized part of the patient such as (in this case) the person’s heart, as explained in The Way of the Shaman.8 With regard to extracting spiders and hearts, keep in mind that we are working in nonordinary reality, and these are spider and heart spirits. Likewise, the teachings being illustrated here are for use in shamanic healing, not for use in ordinary reality!

Due to a lack of resources to do follow-up studies in this and the vast majority of cases, we unfortunately do not know if she was cured of her cancer.


Working with an Upper World teacher who has previously been a spiritual teacher in ordinary reality is a widespread shamanic practice, reminding us how the barrier between the dead and living is not particularly relevant to the shaman. In this journey, a woman asks that her backache be cured by her Upper World teacher, a famous deceased yogi. She takes with her a nonordinary opal that he had previously given to her there.

A classic shamanic theme appearing in her journey, something of which she had never heard, is the crossing of a thin bridge over a dangerous chasm to reach a teacher, deity, deceased person, or another realm. The bridge, she notes, is no wider than a thread. The Altaic shamans of Siberia similarly describe the bridge as having “the breadth of a hair,”9 and the thread across a chasm is known to some indigenous shamans elsewhere. She is terrified as she crosses it, which is a good sign, for her fear indicates that she is really in nonordinary reality and is taking it seriously. Now, her journey:

My jaguar took me to the Upper World and through the membrane. He took me up a very rocky ledge. I could hear the stones tumbling down. He took me to a place where there is a long thread and left me there. I had to walk over this thread, which scared me to death. I very carefully put one foot in front of the other because I’m terrified of heights, but I knew I had to go alone.

I’ve done it twice before. It’s like being on this thread with clouds going over this huge chasm. It really scared me and I was breathless and afraid to look down, but I went. I got across. There’s a bush there that I parted and walked through.

It’s the side of a mountain in the Himalayas. I walked up some steps and entered a cave there where he lives. My teacher is an Indian guru whom I know of historically.

I’m a person who never has pain anywhere, but sitting here these last days I have had this terrific pain in my back.

I told my teacher, “I want this pain to leave because it really hurts and I’m not used to it.”

He said, “Let’s sit and meditate. Do you have your opal?”

I said, “Yes.”

He put it in my left hand and sat in the lotus position. I did the same. I meditated with my yogi and then after a short period of meditation he directed me to go outside the cave where there was a little stream.

I walked in that stream and came to a great pool of water. I got in and immersed myself. It turned into—it was really dark—a very narrow opening. I went into that and then I realized I was in my spinal column. I could see the vertebrae as I went down to the lower back area where the pain is. I heard a sound like electricity crackling, and it went around my body counterclockwise. Then the call-back drumming began. I came up my spinal column, back up to the cave; I thanked the yogi, and I walked across the bridge. My panther was there waiting for me. We came back and he brought me through the membrane and back here.

And now the pain’s really gone.10


My journey to the Upper World was very emotional and resulted in much heart healing. It was a journey about relationships with [deceased] people, and I went seeking healing. I had to go to the second level to find light and people. The first level was murky and scary, and I required the help of Whale throughout my first Upper World journey. When I broke through a bank of clouds, I saw a golden city, comprised of many different periods and styles of architecture.

And the people walking the streets came from many different time periods. When I saw my mother, I started to cry. She had died in 1988, and I had not been able to tell her good-bye. She held me a long time and told me she loved me and that she was here for me, as were all the others who had gone before.

Then I saw Jim Smith—he looked just as he had the last time I saw him: darkly handsome, just twenty-seven years old. Jim was the great love of my life, and he died in 1976.

I asked him if he was my teacher, and he said he was. I told him I was requesting healing from my addictive behavior. He disappeared. I found myself walking beside a row of empty graves with blank tombstones heading them.

I floated above the graves and was suddenly surrounded by spirits. They told me, “This is what you fear.”

At that moment, I didn’t fear being with them; we were all one. Next, I was walking down a street, looking in windows of buildings as I passed. Inside each was a scene from my life when I had felt loved or sacred. At that point, the drums called me back. I had been crying for most of the journey, not from grief, but from gratitude for all the spirits I had with me.11

Note her remarks about how the first level was “murky and scary.” From extensive experience, I can say with confidence that this was not the first level, although it seemed like it to her. It was really what I call an “Interworld,” a zone at the edge of the Middle World and Upper World, as well as at the juncture of the Middle and Lower Worlds. The Interworld commonly does not appear unless the journeyer is preoccupied with recently deceased persons and death, as apparently was her case.

When this was the preoccupation of the Westerners who participated in these exercises, they often were shown a “murky” area (just as she said) that is between worlds. It probably could also be called “limbo,” but that is a culturally laden word, and “Interworld” was not inspired by it. The Interworld appears to be a kind of way station for human spirits or souls who forlornly wait, like a mass of listless unemployed people in a colorless, dingy environment.

When a shamanic journeyer passes through, these spirits may reach out their hands to plead for assistance to move beyond. They are needy, but they are powerless and harmless. Indeed, one of the classic tasks of the shaman cross-culturally is to act as a psychopomp, or conductor of souls, to help deceased persons move on to one of the worlds where they will be content. Even without a psychopomp, those in the Interworlds seem to move gradually to a better place.

Incidentally, as I may have said before, in their drum journeys the Westerners never seemed to find anything beyond our Middle World that was a place of punishment or torment. In other words, they did not find anything resembling the stereotypic “hell” except for aspects of our own world!

This account also illustrates how a teacher may “manage” an answer or a healing in a journey after disappearing.


The following experience is a good example of “tough love” by a teacher to produce a successful healing and to educate the visitor at the same time. A student training to be a certified shamanic counselor wanted to know, “How can I stop these headaches?” He might have been better off if he had just asked, “Please cure my headaches.” But he did not; he asked how “I” could do it.

Crow, a power animal of this student, leads him to Owl (a traditional Western sign of wisdom), who then metamorphoses into a man who is his teacher. Upper World teachers are compassionate, but they also may resort to tough love with humor, as in this case. They may also engage in extended dialogue, as in the following. The journey was recorded using the simultaneous-narration technique (information on this method is in Appendix A).

I am overlooking the valley. It is a very clear day and I can see right to the coast. Owl is with me. And we take off. Fly circling around the mountaintop and on upward. Have a beautiful panorama coming up. We are up high enough now. We can see the islands, around the sea coast. In the other direction I can see up on into Quebec. New Brunswick.

Getting higher and higher … just a broad expanse of a sheet of clouds now. We are going through it. Okay, we just made it through. The higher we get, the darker it seems to get. Air is getting very thin. Coming to another cloud bank. We go through it … Owl is just leaving me off along the top of this cloud bank. They are like concentric circles of light that we’re rushing through—like a tunnel again. Except it is not really … it doesn’t really have solid boundaries like a tunnel. It is just these circles. Different-colored light. Red, violet, green, white. And we are just zooming on through with clouds passing underneath us. And now we are coming to a misty area that is kind of … and passing through it. Flying pretty much horizontally.

Okay, now we are coming out of the mist and there is a landscape underneath us of green rolling hills. And I look down on one of the hills and there is a structure that looks like three cones. There is a big cone in the center and a small cone on each side. And we go down and there is a stairway that leads up to the entrance of the center cone. And Owl says to go on up the stairs and knock at the door. And he says he will wait outside.

So I go up and knock on the door. The doors open. And there is nobody there. Now there is a crow. There is a big black crow flying right in front of me. And he leaves me. He is flying right into the center of the building. And there is a little chamber right in the center. A little—like a cylinder. A cylindrical chamber that runs right up to the top of the cone. And there is a doorway there. And as he flies close to it, the door opens, and he goes in. And I follow him. And he sits down on a cushion and he turns into a man.

He is a small man with light-brown skin. And he is now hanging up his shirt. He is wearing pants. Beside him there is a little pouch full of arrows. And he is just sitting there cross-legged. And he is—it looks like he is meditating. He is just sitting there quietly. And then he looks off and he beckons me to sit down across from him. This is really weird—what he says to me—he is saying, “I already know you. But it is not going to hurt you to go through this again.”

He gives me a green arrow and a red arrow. And now he is giving me a feather. And he says to me, “You have got too much going on. You have got a hundred thoughts going in a hundred directions. You don’t know whether you are coming or you are going. I am going to give you this feather. And when you have got too much going on, I want you to take this feather and I want you to take it in your right hand, and I want you to hold it up all of a sudden, like raise it up at a right angle, and when you do that, all that nonsense is going to stop.” And he says go ahead and try it.

I feel a little silly about it. But I go ahead and I take it and I hold it in my right hand, straight out and up.

So here goes. I am turning it. Okay, I flick it up at a right angle to my arm. Just hold it there. And it feels like the drumming has slowed down. It feels like my thoughts have slowed down. It feels like everything is in slow motion. And he says to me, “Now, don’t you have something you want to talk to me about?”

“Yes, I do. I have a question. I want to know how to stop these headaches. How can I stop these headaches?”

And he says, “Do you have a headache?”

And I say, “No, I don’t have a headache.”

He says, “Well, what are you worried about?”

And I say, “Well, I am worried about getting a headache.”

And he says, “Well, why are you worried about getting a headache? You don’t have a headache now.”

I say, “Yes, but I am pretty sure I am going to get a headache.”

So he says, “Well, what makes you so sure you are going to get a headache?”

I say, “I always get a headache.”

He says, “You don’t have a headache now.”

I say, “Yes, but I am going to get one.”

He says, “How do you know that?”

And I say, “I always do.”

But he says, “You don’t have one now.”

“So, okay, look, I don’t have one now. But I get these things like maybe once or twice a week. And they really get in the way of doing what I am trying to do.”

This guy is just looking at me like I am a complete idiot. Like I am not making any sense at all. Okay, now he is looking at me in dead earnest and he says, “You know, I can see that these headaches are really important to you. They have become like a real companion.”

So he continues, “I suppose if the headaches were to go away, you would feel lonesome. And you would start missing them. Probably after you had been without them for two or three weeks, you would start to dream about them. You would make a shamanic journey to the Upper World to ask, ‘Couldn’t I please have just one more headache? Just to say good-bye?’ ”

“Yes, I really have unfinished business with that headache,” I say. “I never really separated from that headache properly.”

And so he says, “I could see how you are really attached to that headache. If you would like, I can give you a headache so that you can begin to separate from it.”

And with that, he reaches behind him and pulls a hammer out of a toolbox.

And I say, “No, no, I don’t really want to deal with that.”

And he says, “I really think you should, because you know it is not good to just go cold turkey with one of these things. You need to phase these headaches out gradually. You know, as long as you have been deriving such torture from having this relationship with this headache, it might be bad for you to just get rid of it and not have it anymore. You might be really uncomfortable and go through withdrawal and start shaking, and you might start acting a little crazy. So I really ought to hit you on the head with this hammer because I am kind of worried about you, about what you are going to do without having a headache.”

I say, “Well, I don’t really think I want to do that. I mean, I don’t want you to hit me on the head with a hammer because that would hurt. And that is what I am coming to you for—I want to get rid of that.”

So he puts the hammer away and he says, “You know, you white people are all crazy. You tell me you don’t want a headache, but it really feels to me that it is so important to you. I am just a teacher who is here to help you. I want to give you what is most important to you. I don’t want you to go away from here feeling like you didn’t get what you wanted. I mean, it is my job to try to give you what is most important to you.”

“Man! I am feeling really confused.”

He says, “That is good. It is good that you feel confused. Yes, that is good that you feel confused.” And then he says, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have a headache?”

And I say, “No, I don’t think I want to have a headache, but I am really feeling confused.”

And he says, “Well, you now have a few minutes left on this [drumming] tape. Are you sure you want to feel confused all the rest of the tape? I know it is not familiar to you to feel confused.”

I say, “Yes, it feels real uncomfortable. Like I don’t know what to talk with you about.”

He says, “Well, if you want certainty, if you think being confused is bad and if you want to be sure about something.…” He reaches back into the toolbox and pulls out the hammer. “I will hit you right on top of the head. You will have a nice headache, and your whole life will be compressed into a nice little package. You would know exactly what you would have to do. And you wouldn’t be confused anymore. And all the rest of your day will be taken care of. It will be real simple. You can feel bad, you can go take a couple of Tylenol, and you can go to bed. Then the problem of living the rest of the day in confusion will be solved.”

I say, “Man, you are a trip. No, I don’t want you to hit me with the hammer. Put the damn hammer away!”

He says, “You sound a little bit angry.”

“No. I am not angry.”

He says, “Well, you told me to put the damn hammer away! That sounds a little angry to me.”

I say, “I guess I was feeling a little bit angry because I am feeling frustrated. Because I am feeling confused right now. This is not what I expected when I came up here.”

He says, “What are you laughing about if you are angry?”

“I am not laughing.”

He says, “Yes, you were. You just chuckled.”

“Well, yes, because this whole thing is so weird.”

He gets up and says, “Come here, I want to show you something.”

I follow him out the front door and I go around the side into the door of one of the smaller cones. Right as we go through the door, he says, “I want you to stop right here. This is going to be really heavy.”

Then he shakes his head and says, “I don’t know. I don’t know if you have got the power to do this. You may not make it through this one. This is heavy duty, this stuff here. I don’t know if you want to be a shamanic counselor this bad.”

I am saying to him, “Come on, why did you bring me here if you didn’t want to show it to me?”

“Well, okay, but don’t blame me if you get clobbered.”

So we go down these stairs and we come out in a rain that is full of all different kinds of minerals. There are crystals—all different kinds of crystals. There is quartz. There is—I don’t know the names of them. There is yellow and green and red. They all seem to be shining by their own light.

He looks at me and says, “What do you think of this?”

I say, “This is really powerful. I can really feel the power in this place.”

He says, “Yes, this is real industrial-strength shamanism, isn’t it? This is big medicine.”

“Why did you say you didn’t know if I could handle this?”

He says, “You really have such a thing going. Such a good thing going with those headaches that I don’t know if you would really be interested in this. Because this is pretty flashy. And the energy is real high here. Yes, you see all kinds of neat stuff here. Sit down here for a while and you will get real confused. Yes, you will see beings of light and all kinds of spirits and real powerful stuff starting to happen here. It is probably going to be real confusing and disorienting to you. You will probably come out of here after a couple of minutes begging me to give you headaches, so you will again know what you are doing.”

This guy has got no sympathy at all.

He says, “What do you mean, I have got no sympathy at all? I understand perfectly what your dilemma is, and I am offering to help you with it. You don’t have a headache right now and you don’t know what to do about it.” He goes on: “You know, you work real hard to create those headaches. Maybe you don’t have one for a couple of days, and during those two days you have been really working steadily to have a headache. I just want to give you what you need. You better go home now, because the drum is sounding [the call-back signal]. Whenever you want a headache, come on by, and I will be glad to oblige you.”

So now here I come. Back down through the cloud layer. Back onto the mountaintop. Now I am coming back into the room. And I don’t have a headache.12

The Westerner in this account was doing his journey out loud in the silent presence of the shamanic counselor. Immediately after the journey the shamanic counselor asked, “What do you believe happened?”

Student: “I don’t even know what to say. I am feeling like I just met somebody who has my number.”

Counselor: “Knows you a little too well.”

Student: “The interesting thing is that I have met this guy before. But I have never had that kind of interaction.”

Counselor: “Do you think your question was answered?”

Student: “Yes. But not in a second or two. I was looking for the solution to this problem.… But this guy! A completely new idea about the whole thing: when I don’t have one, I am hoping I get one. Almost like an addiction. He said, ‘I know it is confusing to you to be without a headache. I can give you one if you want one.’

“I just met someone who saw right through me. I was just as transparent as thin air. I felt some moments of frustration with him because he wouldn’t do it the way I wanted him to do it. And I also feel like he knows me.

“He was giving me information that I needed. You know, that kind of presence in my life has incredible value. I mean, he just … he put me into a completely different frame of reference altogether. That whole experience touched me in a way that it is difficult to find the words to talk about it.

“I really feel like it got through the whole problem of what my headaches are all about. You know, more so than anything I have ever had before.

“It is like I am almost afraid that if I talk about it right now, I am going to lose the impact of the experience. I feel I just need to sit with it, because otherwise I am afraid I will talk myself out of what just happened.”


My intention on this journey was to find a teacher and ask him to heal my fear of separation.

To begin, I go to the top of a mountain in Baja California, Mexico. So I’m waiting for a lift from someone, but I space out. The next thing I know, an eagle swoops up at me and hits me in the stomach. I say, “Hey, what’s the big idea?”

And the eagle says, “I’ve been circling around, but you’ve been in dreamland and I had to get your attention.”

Then, this scene disappears and we’re in a boy’s bedroom in a suburban house. I’ve seen it in a movie called The Boy Who Could Fly. We look out the window and the bird says, “Let’s go.”

I say I don’t want to ride on him, and he tells me to become my bird, a white eagle with gold-tipped feathers. So I do this morphing thing and we fly up into the sky and pass through this blanket of white puffy clouds.

As I look out to the horizon, above the cloud layer, I see a long building with a tower in the center with a flag on it. My first reaction is it’s either a toy store or a school. As I fly to it, and in, I see it is a school. There are children running up and down the stairs. I fly towards the vice principal’s office and know my teacher’s not in there.

Then the children disappear and I am walking down an empty hallway and into a science lab. It is empty except for an old man with bushy hair in the corner. He turns around and I recognize him as Albert Einstein.

My mind says, “Yeah right,” but I ask anyway. “Are you my teacher?”

He says, “You don’t want me to be your teacher.”

I say, “Are you my teacher?”

He says, “I don’t look the way you want your teacher to look.”

I repeat, “Are you my teacher?”

And, finally, he says, “Yes, I am.” Then he adds, “You have a lot of teachers you are not willing to recognize.”

And I understood: teachers in the Middle World may not come in the form of teachers. They could be people we’re in conflict with, or strangers on the street.

Albert says, “It’s all relative” and laughs.13


They do descend, when a shaman respectfully ascends to a teacher, makes a request, and with permission merges with the teacher and descends with it to heal a patient in the Middle World. This involves intense concentration by the shaman to maintain the merging with the spirit, especially when the two do their healing work together in the Middle World. Then the shaman, still merged, returns to the Upper World, thanks the teacher, and comes back to the familiar world.

Why does the teacher not stay in the Middle World permanently to heal and help? One of the reasons is because the shaman cannot long maintain the concentration necessary to continue the merging, or embodiment. There is much more to know regarding such matters, but this knowledge is best acquired experientially with advanced training and practice such as in the Foundation’s “Three-Year Program of Advanced Initiations in Shamanism and Shamanic Healing.”