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Musings of an Awakening Spirit

Stories, poetry & general musings of Rebecca Haywood, a modern-day Shaman with a penchant for bringing the divine into the human experience.

The Human Heart of the Shaman

This weekend, as I was honoring my grandmother and teacher, Madre Sarita, for Dia de los Muertos, she came through me with such force. It is still working on me and thus I don't yet have the words. But I wanted to at least share this with you.

It is the original opening to my chapter for "Shamanism in the New Millennium". I was planning on sharing it last month for the book's one-year anniversary, and now I am glad I waited. Sharing this was not meant to celebrate a book, but to celebrate her and all that she was. This version of my chapter aimed to do just that. It honors her story as much as my own, and reveals the human side of our individual journeys into shamanism because...

"Truly, there are two narratives to any healer’s journey, for we each walk the path spiritually and personally. We tend to focus on the spiritual when it is the human inside the story that we learn from."

Enjoy! And gracias infinitas Madre Sarita!
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I inherited more than a lineage of healing; I inherited the lineage of a woman. Sara Vasquez was one of the most formidable healers of our time and a phenomenal example of shameless feminine power— the perfect reflection for a twenty-year old girl awakening to herself as a healer and as a woman.

When I met her, she was an 87 year old Mexican curandera (healer), affectionately called Madre Sarita, who stubbornly spoke only five words of English— “kiss”, “makeup”, and “I love you”. Born into a family of Toltec Naguals (shamans), Sarita had developed her gifts from a young age and became a pioneer for bringing its practice to the United States. She was renowned for her miracles, curing everything from blindness to paralyses, even bringing rains to drought-struck lands... all while raising thirteen children. Like I said, she was a phenomenal woman, and she was honored as such. In the last year of her life, Madre Sarita was inducted into The San Diego Women’s Hall of Fame for her influential role as a healer, teacher and mentor.

Sarita and I shared a special connection that began long before I met her, teaching me through dreams and psychically calling me to her. It is a magical tale about a suburban girl who became a shaman. It opens with my mountaintop moment in which a voice commanded me to find my teacher, and the spiritual ride takes off from there—a month in the woods in silent preparation, a recurring dream with my soon-to-be teacher, a journey that fell into my lap and led me right to her doorstep—arriving at the pivotal moment she claimed me as her spiritual granddaughter and the one to carry on her lineage.

I could tell that story, but there is greater medicine in the personal side of my calling. Truly, there are two narratives to any healer’s journey, for we each walk the path spiritually and personally. We tend to focus on the spiritual when it is the human inside the story that we learn from.

Living with Madre Sarita revealed the human, the woman, the mother, and even, the little girl. We would fall asleep to her favorite novella (soap opera) and wake at 3am to pray; tend to a morning of clients and sneak off to the casino to play. She embraced her humanity and her divinity as one, and that’s what she instilled in me.

A shaman is a bridge to the divine mystery within all things.

Though my magical tale would certainly inspire you, it could equally mislead you into a sense that I was simply born under the right stars, that it was easy for me, or that all spiritual callings come packaged in fairy dust. I was given such a magical story because I needed it.

I really was just a girl and, like many young women, I was struggling to find my power. Though I was fiercely independent and even defiant, I was masking a strong undertow of self-doubt. My spiritual calling had to be bigger than my doubt and my denial. It had to pluck me from my world, plunge me into a new family and give me a mission I couldn’t refuse. Even still, this ‘chosen one’ was a reluctant shaman and many years would pass before I was ready to choose myself.

The personal story of Rebecca had to be reconciled, but it was the larger story of spirituality that held me the longest. Rooted in that original wound of separation from divinity, it asked me to abandon my humanity.  Perpetuated by centuries of religious abuses, it showed me that they were not to be trusted. Magnified by patriarchal indoctrination, it condemned the flesh of the feminine as the cause of the fall.

There was no place for me in this story and yet it lived in my cells, silently betraying truth and holding my power captive to its shame. Though I was a religious rebel from a young age and was raised to be a feminist, even I got stuck in the primordial mud of this wound. I cast myself out of Eden and encased my power in a false image of spiritual perfection that was impossible for me to embody.

I suppose that’s why my teacher was as far from my own image as possible. I could recognize feminine power there— in the wrinkles of her aged skin and in her eyes that held such a foreign world. In the organic mystery of her ancestral ways, my feminine found a home and a power free from the mud of my wounded inheritance.

Life threw in an ironic but healing twist when, a full year after we met, I finally received a translation for her prayers. Her work bridged the traditions of her ancestors with the faith healing she learned later in life, so she prayed both in the name of Pata de águila (Eagle’s Foot) and Jesus, with an emphasis on Jesús.

It threw my faith for a moment, but I had already experienced the power of her words and even my cells couldn’t override that. I guess you could say, I asked Jesus into my heart. And I did. I reconciled a big piece of my spiritual inheritance that day. Though it still gripped the throat of my feminine, I had found the voice of intent that lives beyond form which was a significant step for Rebecca the shaman.

A shaman must be free to move between worlds and, in order to do so, we must be free from ourselves and the mediums we use.

Around the same time, I stumbled upon an old newspaper article which spoke of Sarita’s life. It was then that I discovered her personal calling and glimpsed her own battle with doubt.

She had actually abandoned her ancestral ways, discounting them as mere superstitions and ignorance, until the age of fifty-two when a life-threatening illness forced her to seek alternative healing. It was the faith healing that she would eventually weave into her practice. It cured her body and awakened the spiritual gifts of her youth. She committed the rest of her life to being a healer.

Learning of Sarita’s personal calling created a necessary shift in me. It showed me her human side which gave me hope that, despite my boring suburban roots, I too could become as powerful as she. It also opened my eyes to how deeply one’s personal calling influences their eventual practice and the gifts they bring to it.

Sarita’s specialty was physical healing. Her prowess in diagnosing and curing the body was matched by only a handful of healers in this world, and anytime a client came to her with a physical imbalance, I could see her passion ignite. Though she practiced everything from readings to exorcisms, physical healing was what she was personally called to do.

This is often the case with healers— what truly calls us is that which needs to be healed within ourselves. But there is more to it it becomes the call that we have to answer.

A shaman’s power is called to action by the compassion born of their suffering.

Madre Sarita used to say that healers experience suffering in their young life as a preparation. Our suffering creates the compassion which connects us to those we are meant to serve, and our journey of self-healing shows us the way. It is our personal lineage of healing, inherited from a different kind of bloodline—the blood we have spilled for them. Yet, all those moments of suffering were transformed into medicine, and if we claim them, they can reveal our greatest and truest power.

It would be some time before I made sense of my personal calling. Like many healers, I was so intent on being spiritual and transcending the personal that I had swept it aside. Yet it was perfect, as always. I still had healing to do and thus my personal calling wasn’t done with me yet. It was calling just as loudly as the day it began.
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I remember the moment so clearly now. The words came out of my mouth and landed with a gravity that cut through my adolescent world, “Let me take it for them.”

I had been raped just months before and the painful memory of the act lingered in my cells and weighed on my heart. It wasn’t the first sexual trauma in my life, but this one jarred my world awake. Its betrayal went beyond the sacred ground of my body and cast uncertainty onto my whole world. Nothing was safe and no one was to be trusted.  

The fear in my body had no refuge to turn to. It flitted about inside me like a restless bird in a cage. And I had been starving it, starving my body, trying to erase myself from this world. I wanted to disappear and yet there was an anger that called out. “I won’t let him take this from me, not from any of us.” It was that anger, that fire, that fought to rise up inside of it all.

The only way I knew to fight back was to turn it into something good. I thought about all the women and girls who didn’t yet know this pain. I wanted to protect them— to shield them from what I had failed to defend within myself. I was changed, but they didn’t have to be. I would stand in their place as many times as needed.  

The compassion born in my pain had harkened me into service. Yet it was more than a desire to bleed for them; I wanted to heal for them.  

Though I was unaware of it at the time, this declaration was my personal calling and it initiated a new agreement with Life— my journey was no longer my own but one taken in the name of healing. From that moment on, my life became my training by amply delivering my demand over the next twenty-four years with trauma after trauma, each one teaching me and leading me deeper than the last.  

It has been a journey that I carried into my ten years with Sarita and beyond; it continues even as I write these words. Yet, through shamanic healing and the reflection of the divine feminine, I have walked from victim to survivor to healer. It has become my medicine and a gift I wouldn’t trade for anything. And it is no mistake that Madre Sarita was chosen to lead me here.
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She saw it right away— the trauma that gripped the throat of my feminine power. She described it as my sadness and my curse, touching her hand to my heart, “but we can heal it, Mija. Gracias a Dios. You are in the right place now.”  

One was always in the right place with Sarita and she always had just the thing. That was part of her magic. It was all about faith. So whatever brings us here is God’s will, and what we already hold in our hands is the perfect medicine for it. Her reflection of absolute acceptance was a healing in itself.

Until then, I had been wearing my trauma like a badge of honor that was more like an armor, shielding me from my own pain. I was too proud to admit the fear I felt. I pushed passed the victim and held up the survivor, yet even she, I secretly loathed. ‘Survivor’ was an identity tethered to a shameful victim that I refused to be. In truth though, I was refusing myself. It was time to put down my sword and embrace. 

A shaman becomes the medicine by embracing the poison.

The first time Sarita saw my trauma, she turned my world on its head by telling me to go have sex. It was great— an 87 year-old grandmother, holding a Guadalupe candle, asking me how long it had been. I’m not sure what I was more embarrassed about— admitting the length of the duration or my excuse for it. With my false image of spiritual perfection telling me to be a nun and my neglected trauma telling me to run, I was a righteous prude.

It was in my very first Egg Cleansing with her— an energetic cleansing and reading in which an egg is rubbed on the body, absorbing the negative energy and taking an imprint. The egg is then cracked into a glass of water and read like an x-ray, revealing the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual influences. Sarita used an Egg Cleansing as the first step in her healing protocol to diagnose a client’s imbalance and to cleanse them in preparation for the deeper healing techniques of Fire Cleansing or Psychic Surgery.

In my case, the egg revealed a sexual imbalance that was blocking me spiritually. The yolk was encased in sinewy cobwebs and topped with a layer of fog which pressed it down onto the bottom of the glass.

When I finally admitted that it had been over a year, the cause for blushing only increased.

“Mija!” she said as she slapped my knee. “This is not healthy. Sex is good for the body and for your energy. It is not a sin. It is consecrated by God. I have thirteen children. Where do you think they came from?” She laughed, holding her womb, then got serious as she examined my face and the emotion it was attempting to hide. “Your body was made for procreation and for pleasure— your pleasure.”

There, in that moment—with her eyes so full of unconditional love—my armor fell away and my heart broke open to my sexual shame. In time, it would be entirely transformed into a source of power— a reverent sensuality that connected and opened the shaman to Life. For now though, as I reflected on my newfound Grandmother telling me that God wanted me to have sex, all I could do was smile through the tears and know that I really was in the right place.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
The Virgin and the Slut

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