A Modern Shamanic Journey
by Frankie Lee Slater

"I was returning from the Rainbow Ranch with my friend and mentor Will Sampson when he suddenly veered the car to a screeching halt. Before us lay a mound of bodies, dead ahead in the intersection. I told Will to let me out to investigate. As Will drove off into the distance, I noticed rapid sniper fire for the first time. I remember having to tell myself to duck, though I felt no sense of personal danger. And, despite the hostile confrontation bulleting all around me, I was acutely aware there were really no 'good guys' nor 'bad guys' with which to contend.

"As I made my way across the intersection, I realized Will's body lay on the bottom of the mound -- Will alive and dead in one moment? There was little time to ponder, as terror stricken people scrambled in every direction and huddled in doorways for protection. I found myself comforting an hysterical young mother and her small children, when two Native American spirit women appeared.

"One was young and very beautiful, with long black braids, the other ancient beyond time. Both had sacred necklaces for me. The younger woman gifted me hers first, then the wise old woman, and as she did these words were spoken, 'The Time of Transformation is Now.'

"The Time of Transformation is Now. This is the time which native prophesies throughout the world have long foretold, the time when the rainbow peoples, red, yellow, black, and white will unite as one family in peace. The Earth has been taxed to her limit, and there must be an awakening to secure the future for our children and generations to come. And so it is that the caretakers of the Earth, the native peoples, are sharing 'secret' teachings for the first time with non-native peoples."

The account above is of a dream I had two decades ago, while sleeping in front of an open fire at the Rainbow Ranch in Ojai, California. You might know Will Sampson as the big Indian, the giant silent presence in Cuckoo's Nest with Jack Nicholson. He also played the Native American medicine man in Poltergeist II, The Other Side, which is how we met. I was the unit publicist on the film.

There's a wonderful old Hindu saying, "When the pupil's ready, the master will appear," and this certainly was true for us. I had been seeking a mentor for some time and, while I didn't know exactly how this person would show up, I quite liked the prospect of such a reciprocal relationship. Suffice it to say, Will far exceeded my conscious expectations.

In life, Will Sampson was a leader in the Native American community, a powerful shaman and dreamwalker who appeared in hundreds, if not thousands, of people's dreams throughout the world. Will died in June of 1987, several months after I had the dream and, while I only knew him for a few years, his presence is still with me, and his teachings clearly influenced the course of my life forever.

Soon after Will and I met, he sent me to a Native American spiritual gathering in Alberta, Canada. There I was initiated into the medicine way, the wisdom teachings of the First Americans, as 150 native people and five non-natives did ceremony together on sacred grounds along the Saskatchuan River. The 82-year-old Cree medicine man, Albert Lightening, had prepared the space for a powerful vision quest, and 14 of us were called to participate.

I think its important to point out here that this kind of experience was completely foreign to me, a urbanite, corporate and entertainment communications professional whose last camp outing was with the Girl Scouts in Junior High School. However, if you ever had a drive that goes beyond your rational mind, and touched a part of you so deep you knew it has something very real to do with your dreams, your heart direction, your very purpose in being, then you understand how it was I determined to drive 2,300 miles to turn down a little dirt road in the glacier topped mountains of Canada to participate in this sacred gathering.

Coming as I did without preconceived ideas, in a new inquisitive mind like a child, I was open to discover. When I arrived, some of the men were hauling long poles and carefully securing the frames for the tepees, while others were fitting the canvas. Albert's medicine tepee was artfully decorated with symbols from his visions. There was a rainbow bridge signifying unity among the people, and a trail of buffalo led by white buffalo at either side of the entrance. The symbology represents the native people's equanimity with nature and honors the buffalo for its integral contribution to the Circle of Creation, giving of itself to provide the food, utensils, warmth and shelter necessary to sustain life. And the while buffalo holds special significance, representing the dream and wisdom of the old people, our direct connection with the Great Spirit, and the promise of this time long prophesied.

For four days we 14 would fast without food or water, while the other community members provided support, tending the fire, caretaking the children. The proceedings began with a ceremonial feast of traditional meats, tallo (bone marrow), breads and berries and a sweatlodge ceremony to purify ourselves to receive. In its essence, the sweatlodge experience is one of rebirth and renewal. It honors our relation to all life, to Mother Earth and Father Sky, to the Four Directions. The ritual works with the subtle energies of nature to align and balance, thus creating a vortex to access one's spiritual nature.

The First Americans practiced intuitively what we can now understand scientifically and apply creatively in the modern context of our lives. They would often prepare for the hunt by fasting. This practice is a form of sensory deprivation which operates on the principle that by removing certain sensory input, we are able to attune others and increase our awareness of the part each plays.

As the days passed, city life faded into the simplicity of living on the land. Trees beckoned me to lie in their shade while eagles soared upon the wind, high among the cliffs which surrounded our valley. Even the rain, a real inconvenience to a city girl, took on new meaning as giver, replenisher of life. And so it was that I renewed an old love affair with nature, with my nature, and stepped back into the Circle known to the native peoples as the Sacred Hoop of Creation.

Living harmoniously in nature, the native people knew implicitly of their connection, of their relationship to all life. In the Circle it is understood that each individual has a unique contribution to be made. Each plant, each animal, each person is integral to the survival of the whole.

Modern man has for too long been out of balance with the flow of existence by placing himself on top of a hierarchy and creating the illusion of separation. In so doing, he stepped out of communion with nature, with the planet, with his brothers and sisters. The Earth is sick because of this ignorance and disassociation, and for her to evolve and provide a home for our children and the generations to come, she needs the energy of all who can become sensitive to her.

Among native peoples, life was viewed as a process of expansion and fulfillment, with each rite of passage being celebrated for its part in the cycle of spiritual maturation, marking times of completion and arrival, of initiation into new levels of knowing. Yet, 20th Century society found less and less time for ceremony, and such practices gradually faded into the hustle and bustle, leaving us dangling, only to wonder if any progress really is being made. How many of us actually honor ourselves for the daily rites we pass through -- acing our driver's test, graduating from school, getting that coveted job, dropping those crucial five or 10 pounds, or even the accomplishment of making it through a particularly taxing day?

In these past years I have come to know my life as one continual celebration, with so many powerful rites of passage marking the way to deeper and deeper levels of knowing and feeling connected to the whole.

The prophesy of a new cycle of life on the planet, the Time of Transformation my dream spoke of, is coming into being. Native and non-native peoples are uniting to renew our fellowship with one another, with Mother Earth and all our relations. With love in our hearts we are dissolving boundaries of race, creed and color to step back into the Circle, the Sacred Hoop of Creation. This truly is a magical time, full of infinite possibility to create the world we really want, with awareness.

When Will Sampson came into my life, it was the answer to a prayer which asked for new direction and an enlightened sense of my true purpose. He was the first teacher to come, and many others have followed. I've come to know that all people are teachers, with a unique gift to contribute in the Circle. It is time that all of us give our gifts, to facilitate the transformation, and restore balance and harmony on the Earth. The Time of Transformation is Now.