Interviews and Book


"Your book is stunning, Jaime. Thoughful, insightful, practical and poetic at the same time, honest, brave, and, unlike any other book on shamanism, laugh out loud funny! Thank you!"  -Jeanne

Click the book to read an excerpt!


How to work with the ancestors at Halloween 

Give yourself 60 seconds to be with the spirit of autumn. Feel that grey-sky breath moving across the land- the long exhale as the dancing melody of green summer fades into the quiet, interior song of autumn. Let yourself exhale right now, and let go, as the summer must release its grip, as the leaf must open its clenched hand and leap away, as the tree must let go of its collected treasures. Breathe out, release. What happens in nature happens in us.

In many northern hemisphere traditions Halloween is the time to honor the ancestors, to honor the spirits of unseen nature, the powers of destiny, wonder and mystery that surround us and permeate us. 

People ask me how to honor ancestors. Many of us don't know much about our ancestors, and some of us despise our ancestors.

One of the keys is that we are not necessarily honoring the behavior of our ancestors. We are honoring that every life that has ever passed across the skin of this Great Mother Earth has been a hard life, full of turmoil, dilemma, joy, grief, wrong choices and bravery. 

We are honoring the fact that our ancestors carried the Life Force their entire life and they passed it on to us so that we may carry it, so that we may protect and defend and work with it. For those ancestors who we admire, we ask that we work with the life force with as much courage and beauty as they did. For those ancestors who we despise, we ask that we do a better job with the life force than they did.

And for those ancestors whose behaviors disappoint or horrify and wound us, we do the hardest and most wonderful act: we bring them beauty and food through ceremony in order to heal what was unhealed in them during their life - and in that unhealed state they perpetrated things that were wrong. It is a tenet of shamanic practice that life exists on a circle, and to heal any part of the circle brings healing to other parts of the circle. Here is the secret: When we heal our ancestors we are healing ourselves and our descendants. We cease the generational distribution of spiritual poisons. Here is the other secret: unhealed, we repeat the perpetrations of our ancestors. Healed, we awaken and bring different actions into this world. 

The shamans remind us that we have our human ancestors, but we also have our nonhuman and pre-human ancestors: the fertile earth, the fruitful sea, the rocks, the winds, the stardust, the tides, the lightning, the creatures great and small - all of these are our ancestors and we will honor them and feed them the food of beauty this Saturday.

I invite one and all to join us this Saturday for Spiritual Halloween, I can virtually guarantee you he will come away feeling blessed and in the state of wonder. 




How to cast out Demons

Dr. Tony Evans shouts the Truth about demons to me through my radio. I'm on a highway in the middle of the August-baked New Mexico high desert, 40 miles from any town, a place where Jesus himself might be shouting about demons.

Dr. Evans explains the reason why animals eat one another, and by extension why there is evil in the world: All of nature is demon possessed.Demons only want one thing: to sow chaos and disorder in God's ordered world. Therefore, anything that is disordered to you, anything that confuses you, is demon possessed and should be cast out. When you cast out the demon, the void left must be filled by obedience to Christ, from whom all order flows. It makes sense!

Maybe you scoff at Dr. Tony Evans, but his theology underlies all of western culture. It's in you and me, whether you are a godly bible banger or a scientific big-banger. The European enlightenment of the 17th century rejected biblical superstition, but held onto the core theology: the earth is a spiritually dead place fallen from the stars, whose purpose is be exploited for its resources. Both scientist and missionary see the world through the same lens, and argue over who sees the world more clearly through it. 

This theology of the spiritually dead earth is injected into us each day by advertising (capitalism's never-ceasing scripture reading). And even earth-loving, post-Bible, shamanistic whoo-hoos like me, cannot escape the fact that I have to wrestle daily with the realities of having this cosmic story injected into my spiritual cells.

If you wonder why football is held sacred, why city after city sacrifices the education of young and the health of its vulnerable in order to build stadium-shrines, it's because football is our purest mythic expression of the theology of victory over demons. The ball is the seed of sacred power and both the godly (our guys) and the demonic (their guys) try to plant their seed in the other's garden in order to sprout a world of good or evil. But I digress.

This ancestral injection of dead earth theology is the reason why so many white people say to me that they don't want to do ancestor work. They hate their ancestors for this poison.

Dr. Tony Evans and I agree on one thing: demons can and should be cast out. What we disagree on is the demon's name, how we perform the exorcism and where it goes after it's cast out. I name the demon "Dr. Tony Evan's theology," and I've dedicated my life to casting it out of me and others who want it cast out.

When we do shamanic ceremony to attend to our ancestors and to heal them, we are healing the spiritual decimation injected into them by this theology, and the industrial machine-mind that emerged from it to enslave us to manufactured comfort at the expense of sacred beauty.

When we do ancestor work, we heal this spiritual wound that bleeds internally in us and bled in our European ancestors. It's the demon, not the ancestors, that needs to be cast out, and casting it out heals them and us. 

How do we cast out this demon? Not by shouting the dogma of the dead dirt from behind the mahogany pulpit, but by gathering in a circle where we may look into one another's spirit-sparked eyes, and by drumming and dance to remember who we truly are: not machines, not consumers, not shame-filled fallen souls, but gleaming wave crests kissed by sun, moon and stars. As we remember who we are, and as we drum and dance, we shake the demon that preaches of the dead earth out of us.

And where does the cast-out demon go? It is sucked safely down through the ceremonial vortex we have erected in the middle of the room, sucked down to be loved, forgiven and composted by the great Dark Mother who swallows all dead things and transforms them into nourishment for the next generation.

When that demon leaves and is safely escorted to the other world, the void left in us by its exit is filled with wonder, curiosity and beauty. The frenzy of constant warfare in order to gain more wealth subsides, and we may allow ourselves to stand beneath the glowing autumn maple leaves and celebrate with them as they, too, leap into the arms of the Dark Mother to be forgiven, loved and composted into nourishment for the next generation of life on this sacred earth. 


This is my hope for you, and for me and for us all.



Why Shamanism is not Psychotherapy

I like therapy. The times I’ve sought therapy have been very helpful to me. I often recommend that clients do therapy at the same time they are seeking shamanic healing.

Shamanism is not therapy, and I do my best to remind clients that I’m not a therapist. But in our culture, we all know at least a little of the language and concepts of psychology. I believe that that psychology is America’s actual mainstream religion (and that money is our actual holy scripture and shopping malls are our actual churches, but I digress). The temptation to mix shamanism with western therapy is great, and some people are trained in both.[1] My training is shamanism, formal academic theology, theatre, myth and creativity, but not psychology.

The great archetypal psychologist James Hillman said, "Of all psychology’s sins, the most mortal is its neglect of beauty."[2] The “father of modern psychology”, William James, was grounded in the philosophy of pragmatism: the function of thought is to solve problems leading to practical actions. These two ideas point to my view of the difference between shamanism and therapy.

Psychology began inside the western medical model that espouses a mechanical universe, including mechanical human bodies. Psychology is grounded in a basic goal to help the patient (the sick person) return to functioning smoothly in society. In other words, you are sick because you have fallen out of being able to function in society. The medicine (therapy) makes you well, and able to function once again in society.[3] The trouble is, what if you are returning to a sick society? (By society, I mean the larger society and also the more intimate one of family, marriage, and personal expectations for "success" and "happiness.") Is it really the goal to funcion better in an unhealthy system? Is it your goal to live happily in “the system of economics [that] promotes its communal senselessness by substituting "more" for "beyond.”?[4]

Shamanism’s goal is, of course to transform suffering, to bring peace to the body, mind and spirit, to help improve your relationship to yourself, your life story and to other beings. But the core goal in shamanic healing is not necessarily to return you to society to function smoothly.  Its goal is to return you to functioning as a member of a sacred world. Shamanism’s goal is to restore beauty. Shamanism’s goal is to help you become a “walking blessing” who feels blessed and who blesses others.[5] In a society that has forgotten that beauty is a fundamental nourishment to our species, that actively disdains beauty as a waste of time and resources, or as dangerous to the power structure, becoming someone who "walks in beauty" is not an act of functioning smoothly in society.   

Therapy is grounded in reason - rational analysis separates, tosses away the useless, then labels and fixes the problem. Therapy is also boundaried by the human mind and human experience. Our problems are contained inside our mind and inside the timeline of our life. “Childhood has been declared the source of our disaffected behavior…every therapy session searches memory for traces of unhappiness...bad mothers, absent fathers and envious siblings are the demons and ogres in psychology’s fairy tale.”[6]  

Shamanism’s geography is more expansive in its reach, and it is founded on the irrational, the mythopoetic and mysterious – the realms that reason says do not truly exist. Shamanism says that our current issues may come from outside of the human mind and from well beyond the confines of our biological, linear life span. Where psychology acknowledges and addresses family patterns, shamanism says it can heal and nourish the ancestors, and that will affect our daily life here and now. Psychology can acknowledge the impact of our DNA and our parenting, but shamanism says there is a spiritual DNA embedded in us that no machines can detect, and we are actively parented by the Unseen. Shamanism acknowledges that our symptoms may be a form of communication to us from the gods.

Shamanism throws its arms open to metaphor: the strange, the wondrous, the frightening, the ridiculous, the poetic, the emotional, and the mythic. In shamanic healing, “beauty is itself a cure for psychological malaise.”[7] Beauty is a holy power, the breath of God, it is the energy found at the Source, the life-force animating the quantum flux. Shamanic healing gathers this energy, condenses it, and directs it toward the issue at hand.

Shamanic work does indeed heal - in ways unexplainable by the rational mind. A million more words written here won't help you grasp intellectually why shamanic healing actually works.  Check your heart and belly right now to feel if anything said here sounds right to you.  If you want more words, a decent place to start is with this collection of articles by Stanley Krippner, PhD.[8] 

[1] There are nearly uncountable books and articles that delve into the blend between shamanism, western medicine and therapy. For a good starting resource I recommend Cecile Carson, Editor, Spirited Medicine, Otter Bay Books, 2013. It’s put out under the auspices of the Society for Shamanic Practitioners, Buy it here:

[2] James Hillman, The Soul’s Code, New York: Warner Books; 1996, 35

[3]For more on this see James Hillman and Michael Ventura, We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy--And the World's Getting Worse, HarperOne; 1993). Buy it here.


[4] Hillman, The Soul’s Code, 82

[5] I’m indebted to José Luis Stevens for this phrase. See his book Awaken the Inner Shaman, Boulder, CO: Sounds True; 2014. Buy it here.

[6] James Hillman, A Blue Fire, New York: Harper and Row; 1989, 234

[7] Hillman, The Soul’s Code, 38. This is a quote from Aristotle.



How to be spiritual but not religious

When people say they are spiritual but not religious (SBNR) what they often mean is they don't want to be told what to believe. They want to discover for themselves what is sacred. They reject what I call the obedience model in which the story of the universe and your place in it is told to you and you are urged or compelled to believe it and to follow the other moral or behavioral dictates of the ones who control the story. The obedience model rests on threat, and that is a very small place for God to live, especially a God of love.

SBNRs embrace what I call the experience model - they want to discover for themselves and (crucially) experience the sacred directly. SBNRs want to decide if what they have witnessed for themselves, what they have felt and learned is real, viable, usable, beautiful, and helpful to them as they try to make meaning of their lives, right now, today. 

SBNRs want their natural mystical, artistic and prophetic energies to be allowed and honored in their spiritual path. And they want to use both their reason and their faith as they construct a spiritual container for themselves. They want to be able to live a story of the universe that makes sense to them, and they want to be able to work on behalf for a universe story that brings beauty, power and purpose to life.


The conundrum for SBNRs is trust. On the wandering path of experience, how does one trust which of their experiences are sacred and which are the wish fulfillment of the Freudian Id? Which are ego-driven affirmations of personal power and which are actual contact with Spirit? The number one question asked to me by scores of students of shamanism over the years is "how do I know I'm not just making stuff up?" This question is not unique to our modern time or to SBNRs. It's one of many perennial questions asked by the spiritual seeker.

My answer is four-fold.

First, know that all of our experiences are filtered through our ego and through our culture (what the German theologians call our sitz im leben, our social location in time and culture). We always need to be on guard against the ego, the small self, the false personality, the deceiver, the Nafs-al-Amara - the names  are endless for that part of us that seeks power, status, and advancement for ourselves instead of wisdom and service for the world.

Second: Find a trustworthy non-human teacher. The angel, the higher self, the power animal, the ancestor, the writings (scripture, poetry, story, writings).  Feel in your abdomen and your heart energy centers - not just in your mind - when you have complete trust of this teacher. Belief is a mental activity - an "assent" which means a yielding, a giving in against doubt. Trust is a belly energy, a function of the enteric nervous system, sometimes called the "second brain." 

Third: being in a community of seekers helps regulate us when we go off the rails, as we all do at times. A true spiritual life comes from our actions aligning with our spiritual words. Hypocrisy is the constant shadow companion of the spiritual seeker. When we become inflated, misguided, or under the influence of the ego, the community is there to tell us so. The community who knows you is best able to tell you when your actions and your words don't align. Being chastised with love by a community is one of the hardest things we can experience, but it can also save us a great deal of grief.

Fourth: finding a human teacher that you trust is very helpful. Reading books is one thing. Doing work on your own is another thing. Working with guiding spirits is another thing. But having an actual human teacher who is farther down the path than you is helpful. Find a teacher who readily admits the mistakes they've made, who admits to their gaps, and who pays homage to and gives credit to their own human teachers. Find a teacher with a sense of humor about themselves and their spiritual path. The day we stop laughing at ourselves is the day we become dangerous to the world, and this applies double to spiritual teachers.

The blend of these four elements will help guide you into a path that gives you the best chance at growing and deepening, living with the best alignment of words and actions, and becoming a person whose spiritual life brings love, beauty and health to the world.



How I Bargained with Death in New Mexico

This is a small story of how I bargained with Death in New Mexico, decorated by a few random miracles and some thoughts about shamanism as a spiritual path.

First, I want to thank any of you who participated with prayers or thoughts for me while I was on this adventure. My experience was deeply powerful, often glorious and often painful. My reentry back into ordinary life has been marked by a palpable sense that something in my core self has shifted – hopefully deepened and matured. My life will change because of this experience with Spirit.

In our group meeting the Wednesday evening before we all went out on the land, someone made a comment about being afraid. José (one of the teachers) said, "Well if you were certain you were going to live through it, it wouldn't be much of an initiation would it?" I love that phrase so much and intend to say it whenever I can from now on.

He and Lena, the other teacher (and his wife) have worked with a variety of indigenous shamans for more than 25 years. Another comment that one of them made came from their teacher in Peru. In that tradition the shamans say that our main job as human beings is to become "walking blessings." We become a force that blesses everything around us: other people, animals, the land, the spirits, the ancestors – on and on. We become "walking blessings." That, too, is a phrase I want to hold close to me.

It made me think about something that Martìn Prechtel, a Mayan teacher, said to me so many years ago about the same topic. He too said that the shaman's main job is to bless. And I remember a Unitarian minister telling me once that the archaic meaning of "blessing" is to expand one's palpable relationship with the Holy, and to "curse" is to separate or shrink one's relationship with the Sacred.

But Martìn also put a caveat on the idea of blessing: it's dangerous to be blessed by an unblessed person. This implies, and I think the Peruvian might agree, that to become a walking blessing entails work that involves deep cleansing of the ego (or the false personality, "the parasite," the small self, the Nafs-al-Amara - it has many names). If the person blessing hasn’t done this work, and followed it with the work to align themselves with the Big Love, it is quite likely that they are merely projecting their unfinished psychic business into the people they are supposedly blessing. So there's a lot of work to be done to become a walking blessing, and some care to be taken by those seeking to be blessed. 

During the three nights and four days on the mountain I had many bizarre miracles and visions, many times of extreme emotions and it will take me months, perhaps longer to integrate the teachings given to me by that land.  

So much of the shamanic path is about wondering if you are “just making this up,” and wondering if things that happen really did happen. If you were kneeling over your little smoking coal, making prayers of thanks to the land and the elements, and when you say “…and thank you to the winged ones who are here with me-” and suddenly two little yellow birds fly a few inches over your head and land playfully in a nearby branch and stare at you, followed by a hummingbird that suddenly appears three inches from your eyebrows, hovering for 20 seconds before departing, followed by a crow flying over and croaking one deep caw seemingly directly at you, you may too wonder if it really happened.

And when, on the very first day at the communal camp (perhaps because you are decaffeinating) your head feels like bursting open with pain and you are nauseous, and sweating profusely with some kind of weird fever that just seemed to jump into you, and you are waiting for  the shaman leader to make his way around the circle of people with his ridiculously large cigarette of Peruvian sacred tobacco, blowing huge clouds of purifying smoke on each person’s head, and you think, “Oh God, I’m for sure going to barf on the shaman when he blows that on me” and when he does, instantly the headache, nausea and fever  vanish completely, you may also wonder if this was real.

And when the Woodpecker Boy appears to you and says, “When you get up on the mountain my people are going to peck you open and give you a healing” - and three days later they do - you may also think this is not real.

For us, shamanism as a spiritual path is fundamentally about learning to expand, or to redefine what is “real.” We have been sold a small universe by the powers of western culture. Shamanism is all about expanding that small, hard, and often cold universe that has been given to us.

Well, enough of that. The 500 details of what happened to me in New Mexico actually don't matter. What mattered was becoming open, vulnerable, throwing my body and spirit and psychology open to Spirit, to be worked in whatever way it chose.

Now the story of bargaining with death.

Friday afternoon: I have not felt hungry this entire time, but I do feel myself getting weaker and slower from lack of food. I’m only 30 hours in, but I’ve conducted several ceremonies and experienced many sudden tidal waves of emotion – anger, regret, grief. Not much fear, which surprises me. I’ve wandered in and out of the stone circle I constructed with the quartz rocks abundant on the mountain, but mostly I’ve spent time inside the circle.

I'm now sitting quietly in the pine-tree shade inside the medicine circle, the sun sinking behind the tops of pines to the west. My chest suddenly swells with pain, and I'm filled with fear. Three years ago I went to the emergency room with chest pain.  The doctors said they didn't know exactly what had happened but “let's just call it a heart attack.” I always knew it was not primarily physical, but a call for a change. But since then, I’ve had to carry the idea that I could blink out of this life at any moment.  My father did that - he was sweeping my brother's garage and he was "dead before he hit the ground."

So my chest pounds and hurts and I think to myself “My time has come. This life is over.” I grieve that I won’t be able to say those final one hundred important things to my boys. A giant wind - and I mean immense - whirls up behind me. It doesn't blow on me - it's blowing 15 feet behind me, bending the pines with a toranadic shushing sound, wrenching brown needles and dust up from the earth, whipping them into frenzied mini-cyclones, and carrying everything to the west. At least my death is mythic, I think: literally being picked up and carried across the western horizon by a breath from the great abyss. That’s really good, although no one will ever know.

I cry out a loving goodbye to my children. And then cry out a loving goodbye to the drummers.

And to the wind, I say, “Take me if you want, I know I can't do anything about it." And then I add, "But I really don't want to go. I have a lot of love yet to give and receive, and I have a lot of healing work to do for people." The wind rushes, my chest pounds. I go on, “So take me if you will. But if you decide not to, here's the vow I will make to you: I will live with more joy, I will become a walking blessing. I make that vow to you.” The wind rushes, the trees bend and my chest pounds. I add on. “And you can take me now, but if you don’t, I’ll deepen my shamanic work. I’ll work even harder on releasing the grasp my small self has on me. I’ll get tidier in my ceremonies, and I’ll doubt less and trust more.” I make this vow to you.” The wind rushes, my chest pounds, and I add on, “Take me if you will, but if you decide not to, here is the third vow I make to you: I will allow myself to be loved. This vow I make to you if you let me live."

The wind dies down. The pain in my chest vanishes. All is quiet. One crow caw from a distance. 

After a few moments of absorbing exactly just what may have happened (did I seriously just successfully bargain with Death?), I notice the sun is almost sitting on the hilltop across the valley. About now, back in Minneapolis, drummers are gathering at my house to make prayers for themselves, for others and for me. I had decided earlier to climb the 80 or so feet up the craggy rocks near my site to make my prayers for the people in Minneapolis from the crest of the mountain. So I gather my supplies and start scrambling up the rocks, unsteadied by fasting, thin air, and the lingering fragrance of Death’s breath. I begin thinking that it would be the height of irony to negotiate my way out of a fatal heart attack only to stumble clumsily off the mountain and die a few minutes later.

Near the top, I look up to see a noble pine tree, one of those trees with powerful presence, growing  impossibly out of what seems to be bare rock.  Twisting limbs reach in every direction like some kind of divine dancer, green-needled fingers gathering power from the four directions and feeding it into the earth - or perhaps dispensing it outward to the world from the depths of the Mother. Reddish bark makes the tree look alive and warm in the slanting dusk light.

As I reach the top, breathless from altitude and Mystery, I stand up and am stunned by what I am suddenly a part of: a 360 degree vista of valleys and hills reaching out hundreds of miles. To my left, a giant pulsating rainbow arcing over the entire eastern horizon, like a forgiving gateway flung open to admit new life. To my right, a western sky aflame in orange and red, kissing the delicate undersides of indigo clouds that visibly roil and undulate from this celestial caress.  

And me, having just made three vows to Death which had, apparently, stayed his hand for the time being, my back against the tree of power at the center of creation, gasping a few rudimentary prayers of gratitude that I lived to be here for this moment.

I kneel, light a little coal, burn tobacco and make prayers for my people. Specific prayers for those who emailed me, and prayers for those who wanted to email me but didn’t. Prayers for wholeness and peace of heart for those who always open and read my emails and those who instantly delete them, for those who have come to the drums for years, those who came once and never returned thinking I was a kook or a charlatan, for those who returned after six years gone and for those who just cannot ever seem to make it – for all of them, prayers from as deep in my heart as I can reach. When I pray I nearly always weep, and I’m heartened to remember José relaying to us the words of his Q’ero teacher: “When you pray, pray with tears.” Martìn echoed this when he said that tears shed during ceremony are one of the sweetest foods for the spirts and the ancestors.

I pray for my people to receive whatever it is that fills them with such heart-twisting yearning, for them to receive the love that they deserve, for them to be whole again, to retrieve what has been lost or what has been stolen from them, for them to let out the song hiding inside of them, for them to feel wanted at long last, to stop fearing abandonment and entrapment, and to have the courage to resolve what needs to be resolved between themselves and others, and between themselves and God. I pray that they are forgiven and that they forgive. I pray that whatever veil hangs between them and Beauty be lifted, that whatever wall has been erected between them and their inborn soul-power begins to crumble, and whatever role I can play in that inner renovation, that I am given the grace, the skill and the clarity to work on their behalf.  

Standing on a desert mountaintop between the great gateways of birth and death, blessed unimaginably by this land and by Spirit and by people back home, I pour prayers into the earth for my people, who are everyone, whether or not we have ever met.

Down from the dark hilltop and at my site once more, I thump heavily onto my sleeping pad mumbling that already I can barely believe this day has happened, and I hope that I can trust that these things actually happened, and hang onto that trust. In the distance to the south, the mournful howl of a farm dog: a welcoming song to the stars shyly appearing in the blue black sky. To the north, a sudden low, rumbling, whooshing through the trees: a nighthawk is hunting. Something’s time has come, and the hawk gratefully lives another day.

And, by the loving Grace of all that is mysterious, so do I.