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

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Dear Drummers,

I’ve mentioned before in my email missives that our drum groups provide me an incredible opportunity to put my theology into practice, because each time a drum approaches, the pressure builds on me to try come up with something brilliant to say and some kind of awesome ceremony to conduct. Of course, whenever I try to be brilliant, nothing happens. And the pressure builds, and I try harder to think of something profound and soon this dull hum begins to rumble just behind my mind’s eye, and before long, I am making those puffing, squeaking rodent sounds of a man who has lifted the veil of pretence and seen himself as he truly is: witless, ugly and worthless to the world. And so, in panic, I go to my library or the internet to find a poem or story, or I go to my behemoth of a book that I’ve been writing for two years, and I try to find something – anything that will look like a spark of spiritual radiance to offer you. And nothing happens. Because I am empty Tupperware, with that slight odor of old food.

So I am faced with three choices. 1) Stay home and sulk on Friday. 2) Do nothing and trust the Spirit—which all of you carry with you from various corners of the Twin Cities as you make your way to the drum—trust that the spirit will bring what it wants to happen, through all of you. 3) Go to nature, become open and ask for guidance.

Today I chose #3. I write this from upstate New York, and today was blessed to go on a long hike through Watkins Glen Gorge, a truly amazing staircase of waterfalls and foaming water cutting its way for 10,000 years down through 400 feet of shale and sandstone to create a primeval, wet, mossy gorge two miles long. I entered the gorge distracted and depressed but after only a few steps I began to feel that crushing presence of failure begin to crack and splinter, and after awhile those clay shards flaked off and fell into the water, where they dissolved and were carried away.

Here is what the earth taught me to see today. We are like this land: layer after layer of time pressed together – each day, each month and year overlaying one another, each love and anger and envy pressing down on one another, shaping our inner landscape. And we often feel trapped inside the crush of layers, and we spend our energy trying to scratch our way out, and we are immobilized. But is there not in us somewhere this very water of spirit cutting its way through all of the old wounds and all of the old pretences and failures, and prides and sins, and past loves and dashed hopes and shattered illusions? From down here, near the rushing waters of Spirit, those many-layered canyon walls gleam wet with dappled sunshine and new life sprouts from the fissures. It is here where that “now-moment” lives in us, that moment that mystics and sages have told us about for eons, the place of the Presence, the Shaper and Transformer, the Watery One who says you are new and new again each day, who says give me your old clay and I will carry it away.

The drum—the spirit in the drum—comes to extract us from between these layers, and take us to that place where the waters of spirit are continually at work on us, making us Gorgeous.

This Friday we will thank this Spirit. If you’d like to bring an offering to this Spirit—something biodegradable—please feel free. Compost, dirt, water, flowers, herbs, tobacco, flour, cornmeal, whiskey, milk, poetry, song, whatever. If you want to make this offering carry a prayer of something you’d like the Water of Sprit to carry away, please feel free.

See you soon.


Oct 30 2007 / Bi-Spiritual

October 30, 2007

Dear Drummers,

We often hear that at this time of year the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, and that is why we speak of the spirit world and do ceremonies for the spirits at this time. This phrase is said so often that it borders on neo-pagan dogma. We hear it, we read it, we repeat it, but what does it really mean?

I’d like to offer this to you: the difference between spirituality and magic is where you locate the action. If you locate the action outside you, then this time of year becomes magical, because some inexplicable veil that science cannot detect and that keeps spirits at bay the rest of the year becomes thin for some ancient reason; the ancients probably knew why, but we don’t really. And so at this time of year the spirits may penetrate through the veil, slipping through to prowl your neighborhood asking for food, and if you don’t disguise yourself in a mask and costume to look like them they may eat you. This is a magical viewpoint.

If we locate the action inside us, then we arrive at this: during most of the year I am able to distract my attention away from the mysterious natural forces of death and dissolution, but when the whole world around me appears to die, the inner veil between me and my comforting distractions is weakened and find myself unable to distract myself from these powers that I know will one day consume me and everyone I know, and all things that will ever be. With my distractions removed, these powers seem very close indeed at this time of year. This is the spiritual viewpoint.

I have two people inside me – the 21st century Carl Jungist who adopts the inner, mythic, poetic, spiritual viewpoint because it is reasonable, yet arty. But I also have the shamanist in me who says that the world inside the human is certainly not the entirety of reality, that there is a world outside us – alive, conscious in some way that my small human consciousness cannot comprehend, powerful, beautiful, dangerous, deadly and therefore deserving of my reverence, attention, and ceremony is the way I give that.

This is why I call myself bi-spiritual. I swing both ways; between the psychological and shamanic, between the goddess and the god, between the reverent and irreverent, on and on, I blend these worlds.

For me “earth-centered” or shamanic spirituality has but one core purpose – to forge a sense of connection with this world – the visible and the invisible (to me) parts of this world, here and now. By virtue of being born into, or currently living in American culture, we are trained daily, down into our very bones, how to disconnect from this world, how to deny this world its life and breath and beauty. The wild man artist William Blake said that the main job of the prophet is to interfere. If, through our gathering together, we can interfere in the daily operations of a culture of disconnection, we are doing good work. If we can interfere with those voices implanted inside us that coax us to disconnect in myriad ways, we are doing good work.

Well, one way or another, this time of year interferes with our ordinary frame of mind. The spirits of death and dissolution come calling, singing their haunting song that reminds us that the earth waits to receive us back into itself, that the worms are gazing lovingly at our sweet bodies.

I look forward to gathering with you this Friday to do some good old fashioned interfering, some connection-forging, some boom-bada-boom-bada-ta-ka-ta-ka bi-spiritual swinging!



Dear Drummers,

As summer wanes and autumn emerges, the Celtic shamanic tradition tells us that we are entering into the mythic west—the direction associated with dusk, the horizon where the sun vanishes, with the element water, with grieving and letting go, and with the theological ideas of destiny, fate, mystery and faith in that which lies beyond the horizon.

Religion is often framed as the path to inner peace, and perhaps it is as long as you don’t say yes when beauty comes dressed in clothing from outside your religious box, or as long as you don’t follow those strange tracks into the woods. Truthfully, I do not believe there is anything wrong with loving your religious box and dedicating yourself to living firmly inside it. As a Rabbi told me once: Adhering firmly to the Law (the hefty set of strictures in Judaism) frees you because it draws in your limits so you can focus yourself and become deep rather than wide and shallow. I understand that. I’m not built for life in the box, and perhaps that is why I am wide and shallow, and I only really object to other people’s boxes when they demand I live in it with them, and they control an army. That makes for trouble in the world.

Perhaps life in the box (or a more gentle term: the walled garden) brings peace of mind. To be religious and to be a seeker are not the same thing. To seek, to be a prayerful pilgrim through this life, is to invite inner struggle.

In every time and every place, to be alive is to struggle. It does not matter who you are or what advantages you were born with or what has been held back or stolen from you. Every one of us struggles through this life, each in our way. Yesterday at the gate to the driveway I looked down to see two tiny black ants dragging some kind of moss green winged bug across the crack in the sidewalk. The winged thing wriggled frantically. The unflustered ants bore it over what, to them, were huge boulders, down into the deep cavern and up again, over the mammoth dried leaf, the winged thing writhing the entire way. Certainly the ants were asking “why must we struggle so merely to attain a meal for our family?” And the winged thing: “Was I born merely to struggle and become food for moronic goons?” And into the west, beyond the horizon, they dragged him.

All religion tries to answer the question of why we struggle, and then tries to provide frameworks to soothe the suffering we all carry. All religions are full of stories of humans struggling with the Holy, for all sorts of reasons and with all sorts of outcomes. But I believe there is a common thread through the stories of humans struggling with the divine: the struggle transforms the relationship—and perhaps it is only through struggle that the relationship between humans and Holy can evolve. Perhaps the Holy recognizes this about us, and therefore regularly delivers new struggle to us.

I believe the entire human race is at a point of transformation in our relationship with the Holy. There was a time when we did not bury our dead, and then we did. This was a major evolution of the relationship between us and the Kosmos. I believe you and I are alive smack at the fulcrum of an equally momentous transformation. The human mind and spirit is on fire right now, and I hope you will try to remember that as you move through your day wondering why everything feels so screwy, why it feels like you are being dragged across the cracks by ants.

A hot new You Tube video says that we are living in “exponential times.” The 8 minute video is called “Shift Happens” (or “Did You Know”) See it here:

Here are a couple of the tidbits from the video:

· There are 540,000 words in the English language today…about five times more than in Shakespeare’s time.
· More than 3,000 new books are published….daily.
· It’s estimated that more new information will be generated this year than in the previous 5,000 years.
· New technology is allowing the transfer of ever more information through existing fiber optic lines. The capacity is tripling every six months and will continue to triple every six months for the next 20 years.

And on and on it goes, blowing your mind with just how on fire the human mind and spirit are right now. We are radically reforming our consciousness, not only the consciousness of an isolated tribe or nation or region as has happened so often before, but of the entire human species. So it’s okay to feel a little geschmoofelkuntzed.

I made that word up. Now there’s 541,000 English words.

When we gather this Friday, we will celebrate the end of summer, and the transition into early autumn, from the dancing of the bright-lit south to the mystery of the dusky west. We will do this with at least one wild whirling exponential throb and at least one sonic wistful meander. In hour two, I hope to tell you a story or two of struggle with the divine. And I hope to set in motion an experience for you to move into the mythic western geschmoofelkuntzen kerfluffle.

See you soon,



Dear Drummers,

One of the main pastimes of shamanist folks is to read signs from the spirit world—to try to understand what Spirit(s) is saying to them, and what Spirit wants from them. We read coincidences, we link disparate events together into a narrative, we try to spot the unusual occurrence and discern what Spirit is telling us through it. We interpret reality against the backdrop of our own mythic structure. An eagle flies overhead and circles a far off rock across the water. It wants us to follow. Or it wants us to stay away. Or it wants us to see the face in the patterns off the rocks. Or it wants to tell us it approves of our actions. Or disapproves. Or a hundred other things. And on it goes.

Bible waving yahoos spend their time looking for signs too. So if you are a dedicated shamanist, don’t let yourself believe for a minute that you are all that different from Jack Van Impe and his perfectly coifed wife, Rexella, who operate the Bible Prophecy Portal of the Internet ( and whose weekly TV show is a masterful and hypnotic hour-long Ferris wheel ride through this week’s news stories as interpreted through bible passages taken out of context. Every show proves that we are in the last days and Jesus is coming very soon, and this makes Jack and Rexella giddy. By the way, Jack is living proof of that old adage “the nicer the hair, the holier the evangelist” and he also shows that holiness is directly proportional to how fast you speak. Lovely Rexella is the calm in the storm, the perfect foil for Jack. Her wide, blank eyes wobble with renewed amazement at each fulfilled prophecy Jack explains to his electronic flock.

So to be religious is to, in some way or shape, look for signs.

And in our mainstream American religion which we call psychotherapy, we look for signs too: patterns in our behavior or sudden anomalies, memories and feelings that burst forth, images that spontaneously flare either in waking or dreaming. As I have said before so many times, the only difference, between religion and psychology is where you locate the “one who generates the signs.” If you locate the progenitor outside of human consciousness you are religious; if you locate it inside the human mind, you are a devotee of psychology. But they work the same mysterious magic and we communicate with either with the same ritualistic structures.

Spirit never seems to speak clearly, and this is one of the enduring mysteries of the spiritual life. Prayers never seem to be answered in the language in which they are uttered. Once I was graced with a dream: A spirit being came to me and handed me a tin can. I could see that the tin can was attached to a long white cotton thread that stretched up into the night sky, away, presumably to the ends of the universe. The spirit being motioned for me to put the tin can to my ear, presumably so that I could hear God speak to me. I warily drew the can up to my ear, and yes! I could hear the voice of the Creator speaking. The creator said to me: “Mrrmphallopenoffennnbobbleontkinginy. Dopplinglywhooffert. Obeerinddyloppingloggnommnotemevvverboooovvv.”

There are countless examples in traditions of the divine speaking in riddles, in absurd logic, in truncated blurps, in non-verbal events or unfamiliar languages, the voice from the fog. Why is it that the less clear God is, the more authentic God seems to be? And the reverse is true as well; when in a scripture or story God speaks clearly with no nuance and no chance for misinterpretation, we tend to see the human hand of the priest or the editor at work, and we trust less in the revelation.

I don’t know why it works like this, but I have two guesses. One is this: Spirit is speaking in perfect clarity, but our human minds and senses are too narrow to understand it. That narrowness comes from being young, or distracted, or in pain, or egoistic, or undisciplined or frightened or a hundred other things. Each religion picks a reason why we are limited and cannot understand what Spirit is saying and then offers ways to move around or through these human limits. Sometimes the solution is obedience to an authority, submission to a teacher or orthodoxy, or a certain kind of discipline, or it’s dancing naked, or reading, or it’s silence or chanting, or working in community or working alone. The solution is going to the wilderness, or the solution is not having sex, or the solution is Olympic-level sexuality, or artwork or a refraining from images, or it’s a time for one and not the other and soon it will be a time for the other and not this one. On and on the Ferris wheel goes. For some reason the drum has been a pretty good solution for me to work with my multiple and severe human limits to hearing Spirit speak. Perhaps the drum is a solution for you right now, too, and that is why you are drawn to the drumming group.

The other guess is this: What Spirit(s) wants most for us is to awaken our sense of beauty. Beauty is not a static objective state, but an ephemeral human skill that must be learned. We have to learn how to see beauty, how to perceive it with more than our eyes, how to hold it and enter into it and how to live in it. The primary skill involved is the ability to hold more than one meaning at a time, to put away our fear of ambivalence, and to resist the temptation to slice away and burn what we don’t understand. Spirit wants us to learn beauty, and so it teaches us through ambivalence and nuance and images that carry more than one meaning. The purpose of our life is to walk in beauty. That lovely sentimental phrase is loaded with intense theology. If you agree with this, this is why you feel like an alien in this culture, which systematically violates all the preconditions for walking in beauty.

So on we go looking for signs, and listening for the garbled rumblings through the tin can.

This week’s drum will focus on this idea of signs. Of course we will renew our ears and eyes with 90 minutes or so of drummin’ thrummin’ tum-tum-tummin’ fun. Then we’ll move into a ceremonial environment where we will seek signs from that Original Voice at the end of the string.

Until then,

Gruffleumlehobbinropple, mrvvillquiddleffitch.

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