In the winter of 1974, it was my great fortune to fumble
into the friendship and tutelage of an elderly Indian couple, Domano and
Chea Hetaka, from the western Amazon basin of Brazil. We met in Santa
Cruz, California, shortly after I moved there. I became their adopted
granddaughter, and through the years that followed, they taught me about
their religious belief system, which they referred to as shamanism.
There are many types and degrees of shamans throughout the world,
ranging from herbalists and curers to ceremonial leaders and even
clowns. Each culture has its own traditions, standards, and names for
those who fill such roles.
My elders refer to themselves as belonging to the kala keh nah seh, or
the medicine storyteller tradition. They help the group through the
development of individuals in relation to themselves and their world;
they do this by leading people to direct experience with the help of
their stories and jesting.
The development of the shaman never ends. One spends one's whole life
perfecting techniques and learning about oneself and one's world.
For the sake of clarity, I do not claim to be, by the definition of the
North American Indians, a "medicine woman." I have been trained
specifically as a kala keh nah seh and as a servant of the Earth.
The Hetakas required of me only that I not speak of their teachings to
others and most important, that I not write down any of what I learned
or record it in any other way. That kind of activity, they insisted,
would only keep the lessons and my attention locked in my thoughts, and
I would never be able to fully grasp and use the knowledge with the rest
of my being.
Someday, they said, if things went well enough, they would ask me to
teach what I had learned to others, perhaps many others. But until that
time, I was to honor my promise.
In 1987, at our last meeting, they said that the time was well suited
and I had learned what I needed, and they asked me to write about and
publish the experiences that I had had with them. I was to do this for
them, certainly, because they asked. But the true reason I should help
them give these teachings to the public was and is for the sake of the
healing and growth of humanity and our Mother Earth today and tomorrow.
The Hetakas reminded me of the many prophecies around the world that say
it will take the efforts of all people working together to pull the
world back into balance.
I have received a great deal of help and support from my family and many
others through the three years of preparation for this book and I would
like to express my deepest appreciation to all of them.
The Hetakas requested that I change only proper names and some dates and
locations for the sake of their privacy and safety and that of their
people. Even though they had been in the United States for several years
before we met, they spoke with a thick, guttural accent, and their use
of English syntax was very poor. In spite of this, their vocabulary
seemed more than adequate, and as we spent more time together, I was
able to understand them with increasing clarity. And so, to accommodate
the need for accurate communication in this book, I have presented their
dialogues in a more standardized English than they actually spoke.
As we were about to part, in that last meeting together, the Hetakas'
final word of advice to me was to suggest to the readers that they read
with more than their thoughts, that they enjoy the pages slowly, that
they experience with their whole selves as they proceed.