Thursday, 18 October 2018

Lewis Mehl Madrona in the UK

Lewis Mehl-Madrona wrote the best book I have read on how healing works in his autobiographical book Coyote Medicine. He is part Cherokee/Lakota, and lives in the USA. He is coming to the UK this October with his wife to run a long weekend in Penrith. I've applied to go. If you are interested, details are below:

Coyote invites you to join Lewis and Barbara in the beautiful Lake District this Autumn (26-29th October 2018) to share their knowledge and skills around the treatment of psychosis within community and with non-pharmacological means, narrative approaches to chronic pain and its use in primary care, and healing within a narrative/indigenous framework.

Day 1 Friday evening “Saying Hello” and planning 6-8.30pm
Day 2 Saturday Narrative Story Telling 9.30am—5.30pm
Day 3 Sunday The Ancestors 9.30am—5.30pm
Day 4 Monday Cherokee Bodywork 9.30am—5.30pm

Melmerby Village Hall Church Road Melmerby

You are invited to attend the whole weekend, or parts of it, and you are welcome to camp etc, or bring kip mats and sleeping bags to sleep in the Hall, with showers at the nearby Leisure Centre.
There are various Air B&Bs around.
Cost Whole weekend £150.00

Single days at £65.00 per day
Places are limited so please book early with non returnable deposit of £50 to avoid disappointment.
Please bring your own food, or the Village Bakery provides wonderful food too.
Email: for further details and bookings.

THEN at the Quaker Meeting House,Penrith
Talking Circles
30th October 2018, 2-4pm £10
Talking circles is one of the ways that indigenous populations sort out issues. They enable people to be heard and for a deep listening to occur. Communication is in a strikingly different mode from standard western ways of talking and listening. The effects can be profound in even a short time. This method marked the foundation of restorative justice

Getting the Magic back into Medicine
30th October, 7-9pm £10
Getting the magic back into Medicine shows how a GP working closely with a psychotherapist can achieve so much more by seeing and hearing the whole person. Their enthusiasm for their craft is infectious. Previously GPs have sent thanks to them both for reminding them of the reasons they became doctors.

To reserve a place please email
Or phone 07788 661772

Dr Mehl Madrona is a GP and psychiatrist working on the North East coast of the USA - Bangor ,Maine. He has published extensively and provides workshops internationally.
The meeting is being convened by Dr Venetia Young retired GP and Family Therapist. She will explain how their joint working enabled her practice to deal more effectively with its frequent attender population and with practice meetings. Their collaboration and its measurable effectiveness has recently been published in the Kaiser Permanente journal.

Saturday, 13 October 2018


We were asked on the recent exploration, at Cae Mabon in North Wales, to write some lines using the phrases of the title, in the style of Taliesin, or Merlin. Here's what I wrote:

I am the witness to the dark soul-journey
I am the dead leaves you have painfully shed
And the still-green leaves, reminder of spring.

I have been the soul in search of its power
The bearer of darkness not understood
Yet with openings enough to let in the light.

I know that this dream is vital and tangible
Yet deeper than I will ever fathom
I know that I must answer its call.

I sing of initiation, of setting sail on the night journey,
To die and so to grow.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Embodying the Spirits

Now this is something I wasn't taught when I learnt journeying, and I've been fishing around for years wondering how what happens to me fits in, and here it is, from a Mongolian shaman. (I guess our closest comparison is Trance Dance, which I love). 

"One of the things that distinguish Mongolian and Siberian shamanism from some (but not all) other shamanic traditions is the idea that the shaman actually embodies the spirits in many of the rituals he performs. This state is known as being 'ongood orood' or 'embodying the shamanic spirits' and is often accompanied by an experience of great ecstasy for the shaman.....Always remember that it is through the powers of the spirits that you have partnered with that these things are possible."

Does anyone else work in this way?

Wednesday, 3 October 2018


I had a dream this morning in which Prince Charles had renounced his claim to the throne. It felt good, like he was claiming his own power. It did not feel like a dodging of responsibility.

This dream followed on a conversation about a Pipe Ceremony that I had run, over at the ‘Shamanism’ group on Facebook, which at 62000 members, seems to be by far the largest FB Shamanic group. And it is also guided by, let's say, some quite definite ideas as to what is and is not Shamanism.

I’m not an ‘anything goes’ sort of person, but nor am I a traditionalist in the sense of adherence to forms as though they are the main thing that keeps everything ‘sacred’. I have a strong sense of tradition, but it is more to do with personal connection to Spirit. This is what really matters. The real tradition, the secret, perennial tradition is the unfoldment of Spirit in our lives. And I think if we have put in the years and the work, then it gives us the right to be flexible, even creative with the forms. But not before that!

I was asked at one point if I am a ‘Pipe Carrier’, and I said no, and that I have no intention of becoming one. I am not part of that tradition, and that if anything is Cultural Appropriation (a term I am skeptical about), claiming to represent a foreign culture is. It was suggested that I was therefore coming close to disrespecting the Pipe. And that I shouldn’t have put a photo of a Pipe up – I can see the reasoning, but I say it is helpful. I also made the point that I do not regard the Pipe Ceremony I run as Native American. It is inspired by them, and I was shown the heart of the ceremony – the prayer – in a Native American way over a period of years. I was also told in the group that I cannot do this, that the ceremony has to be seen as Native American.

But I trust what I was shown and not shown, because of the way it came to me.

And here is the point: WE NEED TO CREATE OUR OWN TRADITIONS. In the case of the Pipe, we need to start at the heart of it, and build our own forms and symbolism around that.
I have been through quite a journey of self-doubt around this. I have felt wrong-footed at times by those who claim to know all about the sacred protocols that have to be followed.

“If it’s real, it works; if it works, it’s real.” (Jim Tree, The Way of the Sacred Pipe).

But last night was a bit of a watershed for me, a moment of clarity. I have it within me to carry the spirit of the Pipe in a way that is authentic. And because of that, the freedom to create and build over time in a way that works here, where people are not beholden to a tradition from several thousand miles away. I am claiming this, and it feels right, like I’m being asked to. Like Prince Charles, who chose his own power above institutional power.

It’s quite a thing, because the Pipe IS sacred. And we often don’t know much about the sacred anymore, and we need to spend years learning and reflecting on it. You don’t mess with the sacred. But the sacred also wants us to be able to adapt, to present in ways that are appropriate and close to home.

Saturday, 29 September 2018


Early people lived closer to their experience, and trusted it more, than we do. This became clear to me reading James David Audlin's 'The Circle of Life' (2012), based on his wide experience of Native American peoples. 

If for example, you saw an owl sitting on a tree, and as you got closer you saw a pine cone in the same place, you would not say, as we do, that you had been mistaken. No, you’d say that the Spirit of what was there presented itself to you first as an owl, then as a pine cone. And then you might read something into that.

And I think that metaphysically as well as practically, these people are right. Because what else do we have apart from our direct experience? Only abstractions. 

And these days, much of our ‘knowledge’ consists of abstractions, of realities that we do not experience, but which we are told are how things ‘really’ are. And that, to my mind, is a great cultural disempowerment. It leaves us weak, and vulnerable to manipulation and to control.

This is the bit where some of you might think I am being a bit crazy, or wilfully contrary, but I am not. Take the earth and the sun. Our EXPERIENCE is of the sun making a daily journey across the sky, of the sun going round the earth. But we are told that ‘REALLY’ the earth goes round the sun. Does it ‘really’ do this? 

If you went to space, it seems you would have the experience of the earth going round the sun. How interesting, I would say: from this perspective I see the earth going round the sun, yet back home I see it the other way round. Wow! In both cases I would give value to my experience, I would treat them both as equally real. I would not set one above the other.

I have worked with this one a lot, because I have been told all my life that other people with their equations and equipment and PhDs know how things ‘really’ are. That head knowledge is more real than experience; that authority for what is real lies, crucially, with others and not with myself. Just as it did with the medieval church - it is the same mindset.

I think this is so important, that we reclaim the power of our experience by treating it as real. Because without it, we have nothing.

Another example, perhaps, is the 'flat' earth. Which is closer to your direct experience, round or flat? 

There is no deeper reality behind our experience. There is just our experience. 

"In the seen, just the seen. In the heard, just the heard." (The Buddha)

This is the crazy wisdom of the shaman, the yogi, the mystic. But it is only crazy from the viewpoint of public reality and the tramlines along which we are trained to think.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018


I had a very real dream recently in which I was going to be leading a Sweatlodge. It is about 14 years since I have done so, but it is in my mind and heart again, quite strongly. The dream lodge was what could be called ‘New Age’. The lodge itself was an inflatable, and no-one quite knew what they were doing. I was happy with that, because I knew it would work, because I knew what I was doing, even if not many others did. And people were coming in naked: I had reservations, I didn’t want others to feel pressured to be naked. But it also says that people were being real, open, genuine, spontaneous.

Then it all started to go wrong. The native teacher who used to come to my house turned up for the lodge, and took ages blessing and smudging everyone while the stones grew cold; and a pupil of his who can be quite rigid about what is respectful and what isn’t also turned up and would barely talk to me, and then the firekeeper got into a power struggle with me and wouldn’t talk about the stones: it is also about my own power.

So it brought up my unsurenesses around this Traditional vs New Age debate that you see so often on Facebook. I think the term New Age is now often used as an automatic derogatory. When what people are really trying to do is find their own way.

The teacher who used to come and stay with me was very good at what he did, he was a great source of wisdom about traditional ways. But he was very dismissive about the shamanism that we are trying to build here and particularly about the ‘New Age’. And that put me in something of a quandary, because I still have great respect for who he was and what he had to say.

So this dream was showing me the way out of that quandary, by being so real, and by having so much that was genuine and helpful going on in this ‘New Age’ situation. It is saying that I need to reject that aspect of the native teacher friend of mine that was not open or tolerant to how people actually are. Because if you are not open to that, if you can’t grasp after the good in people…… I do not need to elaborate. I need to purge this in a thoroughgoing way.

And you sometimes see native Elders being quoted, as though that is the last word on a subject. Well it isn’t. Here is my theory. What we have in the West is an upsurge of the individual and his/her own unique spirit, finding its way outside of a traditional framework. It has its strengths and its weaknesses. But it can be hard for those who only know a traditional framework to understand. And they can judge it unfairly. And that means Elders. I think this is potentially a very interesting area for discussion. Which includes my observation that those of us who do take a 'traditional' stance are often fantasists who are hiding from themselves; it becomes an identity that is rigid and intolerant, and we see the results on Facebook.

So take the beauty and depth of what they have to offer. But do not be afraid to translate and run with it in your own way. Keep your own authority.

Saturday, 22 September 2018


I used to attend Sweatlodges in a field on Exmoor. run by a guy called Bethlehem Taylor.The guy had something, there was a power to the lodges. He said they were Lakota lodges. Now I'm not sure Bethlehem had been near a Lakota in his life. But what he said was that spirit guides who were Lakota turned up and showed him how to run it. And of course from some people's point of view, to do this is charlatanry, cultural appropriation and probably a host of other sins that we could enjoy damning him for. I was never quite sure what to make of it, all I did know was that the Sweats worked, which in my view is what matters.

And then more recently I was on the UK Shamanic Gathering, and someone there had been shown by her spirits how to perform a particular traditional healing ceremony over the last 2 years, one she knew nothing about, and then they suggested she run a workshop on it at the Gathering. Someone else who had grown up around this ceremony was at the workshop and said that it had indeed been done correctly.

So for me this adds another layer to the complex issue of what is traditional and authentic, and that the Spirits may well be intervening to move things along, and why not? 

I think there are 2 principles that need to be deeply honoured, and sometimes they can seem to be in conflict: on the one hand, there is the sense of tradition that indigenous people have, that has been built up over long periods, that has a lot of power and which we can learn from. And this takes a lot of time and a lot of self-knowledge, and any replication is not to be done lightly.

And on the other hand, we have no long-standing traditions of our own, and it would be wrong for all sorts of reasons to import foreign ways of doing things wholesale. We are in the early stages of creating something that is our own. And we need to honour our own creativity and openness in this, and really run with it.

And there is a pitfall from both sides: on the one hand, we have lost respect and understanding of tradition and its depth, and we can launch in as healers or whatever without the long training in self-knowledge that is needed, we can be too quick to make it up as we go along. But on the other hand, there are plenty of paralysing voices that tell us we can hardly breathe without the permission of a foreign elder, and that we must stick to tradition and certainly not adapt.

So we need both a feel for the integrity and power of tradition, and the message that this is a slow path that needs a lot of self-knowledge; and we need at the same time to be very open, to be creative, to do things that speak to people, that are indigenous for us. And part of this openness is the idea that the spirits will show us what to do, and they may even show us ways that originate in foreign cultures, and that it is fine to regard that training as authentic.