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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 8

The Reluctant Shaman

Healing Spirits




On the spring equinox I was to meet Chea by the little waterfall. Our concentration had been on the many aspects of sight through these last months and the whole training of the senses was drawing to a close.
I rarely had the opportunity to spend time with Chea alone. Although I had no idea of what to expect I was really looking forward to it. She explained that it was time she taught me about women’s knowledge; my culture had lost a tremendous amount of our understanding of not just sensual experience but of what that means in terms of femaleness and maleness. She was going to teach me the vision quest ways of a Bleeding or Moon Ceremony.

The day was warm and the moisture from the damp soil of the forest floor made the air thick and sweet. Chea asked to meet me at this location because she said the waters of our planet are the blood of the Mother Earth and in that way are similar to the blood within our own bodies. For a woman it can be a special benefit to her at her bleeding time.

As I walked down the middle of the little river I could see Chea sitting on the boulder near the fallen tree. She was quietly looking at the falls and dangling her feet into the water.

“Hi Chea.” I said as I got close enough to be heard. “This is sure a beautiful day.”

“Come.” She smiled and motioned for me to sit on the rock next to hers. “Here. Sit so you can see the white water as it tumbles down.”

The rock was wet but I didn’t care. My jeans were rolled up to my knees and I had slipped into the creek often enough that they were now soaked. We talked about my work at school, the weather, my family.

Chea looked around breathing deeply, taking in the banquet of smells the forest had to offer and went on to say, “In these days while we are here I’m going to tell you the knowledge my Grandmothers told to me and their Grandmothers told to them all the way back to the time of the land before. These are the things we learn in our Bleeding Ceremonies.

“To begin our time at this place we need to ask the folks who live here, our relatives here, for permission to share their home with us for our ceremony. We offer of our hearts and ask for their help.”

Chea and I stood up on the bank. She pointed and said, “We walk all the way around the area this way, clockwise, and talk to everybody.” She tapped her chest. “We talk to them this way.”

When we finished the circling we sat back down on the big rocks at the edge of the waterfall. She studied my face the way she often does. “You’ve applied all your senses now but they only work as fully as your awareness and acceptance is of your whole self. You must understand what it means to be a woman. You must perceive through your awareness of your body as female.”

She paused as if giving me time to ask questions. I realized then that my conceptions of sexual roles, whether they were genetically defined or culturally mandated, were uncomfortably haphazard, but I could think of nothing to ask.

“Women,” she said, “are the center. That is what it is to be a woman.”

She waited again, splashing her feet in the water. Her words confused me even more. I still couldn’t think of anything to say.

“We are the center of the family,” she added. “And the center of the tribe, the nation, even our species. Everything moves around us. It is the women who naturally set the rhythm, the mood, the pace. We are the fire that is at the center of the hut, the smoke that rises up like a pillar to the Creator and the spirit nations. For the generations of the Humans we are the source - the key to the future, the survival of our kind. We carry the future inside us and we mold the makers of the world of tomorrow.”

I looked up at her. “How does that make us the center? Why do you say ‘center’?”

“I say it because everything comes from a womb.” She looked back at me as though I should understand her reference, but I didn’t. “We start there and we return there. You knock the woman out of her place at the center and your world begins to spiral backwards into destroying itself.”

I stuttered as I shook my head nervously. “I don’t think I understand what you mean when you say ‘center’. Please tell me you aren’t saying I’m only supposed to do one job: make babies and chase them around all day.”

“No.” Chea laughed. “You can still wear your women’s-lib hat. Nobody is going to make a breeding cow out of you. Jobs are just a product of a culture. Don’t give them a priority they don’t deserve. It means we are the way babies get here no matter what other tasks we find in our path. That gives us a certain way of thinking. Women think in terms of making life continue. In terms of creating. Of balancing.”

“Women actually think differently than men? You’re saying there’s an actual difference?”

“You mean you haven’t noticed?” She asked back.

“Well...” I hedged. Sometimes she still made me nervous. There was a quality about her, of her incredible knowledge and abilities that I was never quite sure how to relate to. I felt transparent and trite and was always a little afraid of saying something stupid. “Sure. Kind of. Do you mean a cultural thing or is this genetic?”

She raised an eyebrow at me. I wondered if she was amused at my reaction. “It is in our cells,” she said. “In our spirits. It is in the design of things.

“To be the center means we are the first and biggest influence on the tiny newcomers from the time they are conceived. It is us who make the crucial shape of the generation being born and we keep affecting for seven generations to come. We are the biggest influence on our mates. That makes us the biggest influence within our group. You have to come to know that, to know the weight of that.

“I’ll tell you about the way it is back home. A girl in our tribe, when she begins her first bleeding, the old Grammas give her a bleeding hut to carry out her first Moon Ceremony in. She takes only water and fruit and stays there for her whole blood time, praying. Praying night and day. She seeks her vision of who she is and what it is for her to now be a bringer of the next generation, a starter of a brand new life that wasn’t there before. Her Grandmother instructs her to think on being the maker of life who protects life and protects the making of new life. She seeks to understand how it is she can live best to help herself and her people be healthy and happy. She is to begin to find her power as a woman. Her spirit helpers come and teach her. She talks to her Mother Earth. She learns that to be a woman is a great responsibility.”

“More than a man’s?” I asked. I was beginning to feel uneasy and pressured by the weight of her words.
“Sure.” She said as if everyone knew this ‘truth’.

I couldn’t tell if she meant women just had a rotten deal in life and men were somehow not required to carry the big loads or if there was something I was missing. My frustration started to take my attention. I couldn’t think of what to ask that would clarify it.

The Sun was getting hot. I leaned down and splashed some water on the top of my head. “Well,” I blurted, not knowing what else to say. “What happened to this equality and fairness stuff?”

Chea pointed to her heart and to the things around us. “Equity in relating and loving and sharing does not take away the fact that all things are different from each other. Each with its own abilities, its own burdens, to be accepted and honored as such. With equity.”

This time the way she stated the concept of different in structure, content and purpose but equal in acceptance made it more understandable and usable to me. I could see how it would become a basic cultural foundation. “And this girl is taught this from a very young age?”


“And they teach her about power?”


“How is that?” The Hetakas’ whole use of the word ‘power’ always confused me. It was something I had never grasped completely. “You’ve told me before that women are more powerful than men. What does that mean? Is that part of this difference and responsibility thing? What is it they teach her?”

Chea seemed to understand my difficulty and thought hard for the right words to use. “It has to do with ability to collect attention and to alter inner atmosphere. And about ability to connect with other beings. Because women bear and nurture the new life they have a greater need to do this. It is a matter of survival.

“In my tribe, as a girl grows into a woman, her Grammas will encourage her to take her right to be in her ceremony and pray alone at her bleeding times. They will help her to quest and discover her own center, her place as center, her place among the nations of the planet, her place among the star people. They will guide her to learn about her awareness and to see that during her blood time she can collect her attention even better. The dream that hides some things and beings from our notice most of the time is no longer a burden, and she can reach in. Her prayers have no blocks. What she prays for has great influence. And she learns that her thoughts and emotions can cause even more effect than at other times. “Her task, Kay, is to take responsibility for this.”

My immediate reaction was to judge this a grossly unreasonable weight to ask anyone to take on. The words jolted out of my mouth before I could think. “Good grief! That job’s just too damn big for anyone! I sure wouldn’t want it.”

“It’s yours anyway.” She said with the power of great assurance. “When a woman doesn’t stand up and honor herself and the center place where she belongs, then balance is lost. Just look around you. This struggle to get your power back isn’t about getting fair wages or equal jobs. It’s about learning how to pull yourself back to the center place. How to take responsibility for your woman power, your birthing power, your influence, and to see that when actions are taken they are to the benefit of the generations. “It’s about acting and living in such a way as to earn the honor and privileges of the center place - not force them to be given to you no matter what. A woman who doesn’t have her head screwed on right trying to take the center place is only a little better than a man trying to force himself into the center place.”

That seemed like an odd thing for her to say. I found myself feeling irritated by it as though the rules for being “correct” were beginning to appear impossible to live up to. I turned to catch her eyes. “What do you mean? What kind of woman?”

“A woman who has been taught to override her natural way of being and think like a man of your white culture. To think with the same walking-dead masks that he is preoccupied with serving and imprisoning himself in. “This is like you were telling me about your baby boy when he was born. You wanted to touch and hold him, feed him from your breast. But the white culture said, ‘no, we have to take him away.’ You knew it was not good. It was wrong. But you talked yourself into trying to believe they knew what was best for you, that they were right. Do you see?”

I hesitated. I didn’t want to know about those things. It was too disturbing. “Yeah. I see what you mean. Well, then, you’re going to have to describe a woman who is able to take the center place.”

“She is all that I have been talking about,” she answered. “I’ve told you before, my people say women are sacred. It is not just your men who need to live with this as their guide. The women need to discover this for themselves, to know and honor this sacredness within their own hearts. It is part of their Song, their identity as a unique individual and as a whole group.”

“OK, Chea. If she is the center of the group how come she’s kicked out of things when she’s bleeding, like in the tribes up here? Do your people do that? Isn’t she not allowed to be around ceremony things? Isn’t she forced to keep away? I’ve got to confess. I have a real hard time with that!”

“This is how the white man chose to see us when he first came here. And he hasn’t changed his idea since. It was the only way he could understand what he found. He carried on his heart, like a great spear in his chest, the belief that women’s blood was something to be avoided, something dirty and evil. He was terrified of women and their blood. They were a threat to him. So he assumed everyone else thought these things too. His church is the one that condemned women in their blood. Cast them out and called them ungodly, a curse sent by the devil. “Among my people it is just the opposite. Women’s blood is the most sacred and powerful, the most beautiful, of all the medicines. Women usually choose to be apart from the other things happening at their blood time so they can honor their own natural ceremony that comes on them, each praying in her own way, seeking answers to her questions, giving thanks, restoring herself, maybe seeking counsel with the Grandmothers or the spirit nations. It is a source of wondrous joy and pleasure and honoring. My people cherish and nurture this because it is her nature and she is to be without distractions at this time if she chooses. She is to be honored.”

Her entire premise was so foreign to me I was going to have to consider and weigh these things for a very long time. The “undesirable” concepts reminded me of the attitudes I had heard from church as a child. “I never did buy that ‘unclean’ stuff. Good god. It sounds like she has leprosy or something.”


“Isn’t that prejudice kind of dying off here with this century, though, Chea?”

“Is it? Why don’t the Catholics have women as priests?”

“Well,” I answered, “I don’t know.”

She gave me that “see what I mean” look.

“Now, wait a minute. I don’t understand this,” I said. “I met some Indian men here who acted like they were going to catch something from getting close to a woman when she was bleeding.”

“What I can tell you,” she answered, “is that across the lands here each of the peoples had their own rituals and customs around bleeding. But the one thing they all held in common was the belief that women and women’s blood are sacred. Women are always to be highly honored and cared for. Without women they are nothing. They have no future. Shaming and shunning came here from the white culture; that fear and attitude is only one of the things that many Indians took on from the white people. It’s had 500 years to creep in on them and they don’t even see it.

“In my world, down in the wilderness areas of the Amazon, when a man who is a holy man, a medicine man, wants to make the most powerful medicine and prayer that he will ever be able to make he uses the woman’s blood. He must find a woman who is worthy and ask her for the most powerful medicine that can be given to him: her Moon blood with her special prayers on it for this one ceremony. He offers her something sacred like tobacco or pollen and humbles himself greatly, more than at any other time, because she is very likely to refuse him. But, you see, it is done only very, very rarely. That is how special it is!

“And it is common that he, and other men sometimes too, will go to a strong and powerful woman when she is in her bleeding and offer her something like tobacco or pollen, asking of her only to pray his prayer for him. He does this because he knows where the real power lies: in the womb.”

I had never heard ideas like these before and I just couldn’t face them. They were so different from anything I was familiar with that even my body felt stressed. “Did your people always do this?” I asked. “Do you have stories about the women from the really old times?”


“What did they do? What was the structure, the way they did things? Has it changed?”

“Yes.” She looked up from the water at me. “It has. My Grammas told me that a long time ago, even on the homeland that was before, before things started to get knocked out of balance, they said the great medicine people were all women. The Grammas. They led all the ceremonies. And the most important ones were done when certain of these women who were still young enough were in their bleeding times. These women had to be very strong, clear and pure of intent. They had to control their attention completely. That means controlling all the thoughts and emotions so they would not abuse their power.

“People today are not that clear. Even among my tribe. They don’t have that strength of their attention. That is the other reason a woman might choose to stay away. Maybe she had an argument that day, or something, so she doesn’t take the chance of disrupting things with a bad thought or feeling. But you see, any of my people would choose to stay away from sacred things if they had bad thoughts or feelings. By doing this they honor the works and prayers of others.”

I sat there silent for a time. All the things she had said were charging through my mind like animals stampeding in a wilderness.

Finally I asked, “You’ve only mentioned a little of this in all the time we’ve been together. Why haven’t you ever told me these things before?”
“Because you wouldn’t have heard me,” she said softly.


“You have a hard enough time to see these ideas today. They are very strange to you. Things that will just sit in your mind that you will toss back and forth until the day you have actual experience to show what they truly mean.”

“Yeah...” I hesitated and stammered. “You’re right...After all, that’s a big jump. To go from slightly sub-Human to most-powerful. Even sacred. Wow. That’s quite a turn around.”

“Yes.” She said. “These are interesting times we live in.”

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