Shamans are the guardians of a mystical body of ancient practices that they use to achieve well-being and healing for themselves and members of their communities. These shamanic methods are similar the world over, despite differences in race, culture, and religion and the fact that these groups have been separated by oceans and continents for tens of thousands of years.
Generally, the shaman is a man or woman who enters an altered state of consciousness often induced by drumming or other percussion sounds, chanting, fasting, temperature regulations, sensory deprivation, or mind-altering substances in order to make journeys in what are technically called the Lower and Upper Worlds. The shaman usually believes that the universe is thought to have three levels–Sky, Earth, and Underworld–connected by a central hole in reality often designated as a tent post or pillar. It is through this opening that the ecstatic soul of the shaman can fly to the heavens or hells often accompanied by gods and spirits, as well as guardian and power animals. These spiritual teachers give advice, instruction, and other forms of assistance in order to aid people in a variety of ways, though health matters tend to be the most common issues. The shaman can often see illness, for it is sometimes perceived in the form of some creature which should be removed. The shaman commonly works by extracting it, or by restoring power to the patient.
Archaeological and ethnological evidence suggests that such shamanic methods are at least 20 or 30 thousand years old. Modern-day custodians of these ancient techniques are essential to our understanding of them, for almost none of their cultures left written records. Thus, it is only from their remaining representatives that we can learn the shamanic principles.
One such source is Kwesi Dapaah Nendomagemeh (Tony) who has lived in Cambridge (Hespeler) for seven years and in Canada since 1986. Originally from the market town of Kintampo in Ghana, West Africa, Tony was one of many shamans there who followed a variety of forms of ancestor worship or fetishes (the belief that magic or spirit animates an object). Tony learned his skills from his father, who was a fetish priest, as was his father before him. Tony’s eldest brother has inherited the post in this generation.
Like ancient shamans around the world, Tony prays to a particular god–
Seneokupor–as well as the spirits of his own ancestors to heal people. In Ghana, some of his patients visited him every day in order to receive his spiritual insights.
Tony has also been taught how to use herbs to cure both physical and psychological illnesses. This is done by bathing in the herbs, or drinking a tea made from them. Using these natural medications, he was able to cure a patient at home in Ghana who suffered from severe depression. Unfortunately, he does not have access to these natural medicines here in Cambridge and has not been able to treat locals who have approached him for herbal healing. He does, however, continue to make offerings to Seneokupor and ask for the spirit’s assistance. Tony, who is now 62 and works in the food industry, believes Seneokupor takes good care of him and his family. His son was once in personal crisis: Tony killed a chicken at his summer place and made an offering to Seneokupor on his son’s behalf.
Yotanka Coicou is another contemporary shaman who is based in Montreal, but who was born in St. Boniface, Manitoba on the gravestone of Louis Riel, father of the Métis nation. He is not blood, she says, but comes to her in vision. She now considers him part of her ancestral heritage. But like Tony, she believes her gift was passed through genetic and cultural influences. Her father was a Lakota shaman and a descendent of Sitting Bull. When her father died, he chose Yotanka as his replacement in the tribe. Her mother is a German pagan witch. Through her she learned about the major religions and minor cults.
Yotanka practices her craft in both English and French (and even the psychic language of the Holy Spirit) and was recently named Métis shaman for the Contemporary Métis Nation of Quebec. Her duties involve blessing the environments in which they meet and addressing the many needs of the members, including their health concerns.
Now 57, she left home at age 14 and learned her skills from teachers she encountered along her journey. She has lived all over the world. On a trip to Mexico, she met up with a Mayan shaman who imparted her with “deep knowledge, gifts and wisdom within a short period,” she says. In Haiti and Cuba she also encountered locals who offered her “strange and special powers and knowledge.” In turn, she shares as she learns. She works from home, but will also travel to her clients who include presidents, princes, movie stars, musicians, and writers. She welcomes many diverse nationalities, including Caribbean people, for she specializes in removing voodoo curses.
Like traditional shamans, Yotanka serves her clientele through the use of drums and other instruments to create different states of consciousness. She passes through many openings (her first out-of-body experience was at four months) and works with ancestors and elders, though warns against some spirits who can be “tricky, mischievous and problematic.” “There is a whole hierarchy and different levels out there,” she says. Still, she has visited the underworld a few times. “One of my gifts is that I can carry souls. Many come to me specifically just to die, I can see them through that passage,” she says.
Perhaps there is such a renewal of interest in such shamanism because its roots are pre-political: participants can have spiritual epiphanies and revelations unmediated by structures ordained by church or doctrine.
Tags: Cambridge Hespeler, canada, Caribbean, Cuba, family, Ghana, Holy Spirit, home, Kwesi Dapaah Nendomagemeh Tony, Louis Riel, Quebec, Sitting Bull, West Africa, Yotanka Coicou