Healing or hooey?
Alaskan shaman shares his wares, pitches his prowess in workshop
As the first few workshop participants mingled on the deck overlooking Big Chico Creek Canyon, the shaman sang in his native tongue while striking a skin-covered drum with a small mallet, consecutively facing the four directions in succession.
He wore an intensely turquoise ceremonial shirt from which hung strips of blue, pink, and black ribbon, and his dark hair streaked with silver was pulled back into a ponytail. Short and stout, he had a weathered face that boasted prominent eyebrows and a salt-and-pepper mustache. Around his neck hung an amulet with carvings of a polar bear head and a human head, along with a bear claw.
His name was Greywolf, and as he sang his songs to the four directions, he moved with a notable deliberateness. Out beyond him, punctuating the blue sky over the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve, flew a solitary red-tailed hawk.
Greywolf’s companion, Paahpooh (which means “singing rain, light as a feather"), also wore a ceremonial outfit—a long, blue print dress with white moccasins and a sterling-silver feather amulet around her neck. Her long black hair hung loosely upon her shoulders, and she carried Greywolf’s skin- and feather-wrapped staff and a large eagle feather. She attentively stood by his side.
After the singing, Greywolf shared with workshop participants, many of them medical professionals, how elders of his Inupiat tribe in Alaska had identified him as a healer when he was born. Starting around age 6, he spent a couple hours a day with his tribal elders. “We studied the universe, and the energy that comes into the Mother Earth from the universe,” he explained, noting that Mt. McKinley was his tribe’s sacred site, while the Yukon River was their sacred source.
Until about age 12, he’d lived with his tribe; then, like most Indian children of that time, he was forced into government schooling. He wound up earning a degree in counseling from the University of Iowa and served a stint as a Catholic deacon, but eventually he returned to his native teachings.
A few years ago, physician Kelley Otani, who heads Enloe Medical Center’s rehabilitation center on East Avenue, heard about Greywolf from a colleague and became interested in what the shaman had to teach about healing. “I was ready to make some changes,” Otani recalled.
Instrumental in bringing Greywolf to the Chico area for the workshop, held in mid-July, Otani said he’s been on a quest to broaden his view of the nature of healing—admirable for a modern doctor, considering how Western medicine often offers such a reductionist view of health and medicine.
Greywolf shared about Otani that “he wants to live a long time,” but, like most mainstream healers in Western society, he didn’t know how to “cleanse” himself of the “negative energy” he took on from his patients. That, Greywolf implied, was something Otani was learning about. The shaman pointed out that native ways of healing are gaining attention partly because of the rising (and prohibitive) cost of pharmaceuticals. He also observed that doctors are beginning to understand that “there is more to healing than just giving pills.”
Throughout the workshop, Greywolf talked at length of what he called “the shift"—which, according to various healers, indigenous and otherwise, is a time of great change that the planet earth and its inhabitants have already entered.
This shift—which purportedly is typified by an acceleration of planetary and universal energy—will culminate sometime around 2014. Some term the shift “the Venus transit"; others insist it concurs with the ending of the Mayan calendar. In any case, alternative healers all around the planet, especially indigenous ones, agree that something “big” is underway, Greywolf said.
The shaman claimed throughout the day that really anyone can do what he learned to do in his native culture—that is, use universal and earth energies to conduct healing upon one’s own self and others—and he doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same room with a person to conduct a healing. “I do long-distance healing, and people get well from it—it happens all the time,” he said. He contended he’s an “intermediary for the Creator.”
Recounting that he had “healed AIDS” while living for several years in Australia, he shared that ultimately he was “kicked out” of that country for what he claimed was his successful eradication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
As the sun slowly made its way across the sky, Greywolf, in a typically nonlinear Native American fashion, told a lot of stories from his diverse life experiences and also led workshop participants through a variety of exercises—which, while all had their own value if approached with the right attitude, felt a little like New Age psychology more than anything else.
For example, at one point Greywolf instructed everyone to write down their bad memories of an incident from their lives and then to write “I release, I forgive, and I love __________________ (fill in a person’s name).” Finally, all of these writings were burned in a little clay stove so that the “negativity” dissipated back to the air and earth. While this may be a useful exercise for some, it probably wasn’t developed in an Alaskan village in the last century.
Then there was the “aura-reading” exercise: For a few seconds, Greywolf held an object in front of a white screen, then removed it. “What do you see?” he asked. People responded with descriptions of various colors, none of them the same. The shaman insisted the workshop participants were seeing auras.
While it was difficult not to feel a certain skepticism about some of the shaman’s methods, which seemed reminiscent of the humanistic psychology movement of the 1970s, it was hard to dispute that Greywolf was “the real deal"; after all, he was raised in a traditional village where elders guided his education in the reading of nature and in the use of healing plants and in the practice of “moving energy"—ancient ways of healing that beg for further exploration.
Still, some of those present appeared a bit unsettled after some of the workshop activities, when Greywolf would address them in a somewhat confronting manner. At one point, the shaman led participants in a guided visualization—again, an activity that didn’t seem very “Native American” in origin—and then he fired off questions to individuals such as, “Why do you avoid doing what you really want to do in life?” and “Why are you needing so much approval for everything you do?” He presented these questions as if he were “seeing inside” people and knew exactly the problematic areas of their lives.
But, in his laying on of hands on top of people’s heads and in his almost eerie-sounding humming, the Indian healer did incite participants to think about alternatives to generating health and well-being. Antibiotics and defibrillators aren’t the alpha and the omega of restoring health, perhaps—although many of the workshop participants were members of the health care community who avidly use such mainstream methods in their everyday practices.
But maybe that’s where people like Greywolf and Paahpooh come in. If nothing else, they encourage people to think and see beyond Western culture’s circumscribed, customary ways of seeing the world. They invite humans to challenge the typically left-brained, scientific approaches of Western culture. And healing, Greywolf said, is for those healed just “an opening up of a door of their own energy, so they can do what they need to do in their lives.”
In terms of “the shift” that ostensibly is underway, Greywolf said that around the world “people are beginning to think about what they will do to help others during the changes that will be happening.” He was a bit vague as to what these changes will be, but he hinted some of them will have to do with climatic changes on the earth and will be emblematic of “Mother Earth cleansing herself.” He emphasized that when humans can’t “let go” of material and financial things, then, “that’s not spiritual.”
And confronting our reality as spiritual beings freely able to use the planetary and universal energies all around us is, apparently, the task at hand.
The price for "learning" about their easy access to universal and planetary healing energies (something that is, supposedly, every human’s birthright) didn’t come cheaply to workshop participants: It cost $125 per to receive the wisdom Greywolf had to impart.