Becoming a Plant Medicine Shaman

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“I see this being a hit tv show: Becoming a Shaman,” wrote a friend of mine who works in the television business.

Although I doubt it will ever become a tv show, it is what I’m doing. (Sort of).

This post was originally published in 2015. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

Since publishing my musings on san pedro and ayahuasca after two months of working with these plant medicines last year, so much has happened. Firstly, I decided to establish a home base in Peru; a lovely place to live peacefully and explore to my heart’s content.

When I returned to Peru and to my new home base last September after a few months of travel, I continued to work with these plant medicines. If the list of accomplishments I outlined in my first post seemed like 10 years of psychotherapy, the next two months held another 50 years of psychotherapy.

I also started assisting my teacher with ceremonies. This happened serendipitously; after my very first ceremony with san pedro six months prior, I had a strong night of dreams about a number of things that came true. The only thing that hadn’t come true from those dreams was that I would be assisting in ceremonies; and there I was, six months later, assisting.

Time for a Change

Mountain fields in Peru

I’d known for at least a year that my life was (is) ready for another transition. After over eight years of wandering the world, I started to regard world maps with a degree of apathy, responding to the imploring gaze of the map’s as-yet undiscovered gems with “Meh. Sure, there are lots of places I haven’t seen. But they’re all kind of the same anyway.”

Now of course that isn’t true, but it was reflective of my decreased desire to “conquer the world” by seeing and doing everything. I don’t compare my country-count with others, nor am I interested in racing from one destination to another. I’ve long been a proponent of slow travel, and now it seems it’s getting even slower. (It’s not stopping, mind you; I traveled for two months to three countries just earlier this year, and I’m about to hit the jungles of Peru for a month, followed by a few weeks in the U.S.).

But I had no idea what I was transitioning to. I knew I liked Peru, and I knew it was time to slow down, but that was all.

And so I toiled. Amidst the beauty and serenity of Peru’s Andes, I wrought my stomach in knots. “I’m doing what people dream of! Traveling the world full-time and making a living with an internet connection. How can I be tired of it?” I said to myself. It seemed almost disrespectful to no longer appreciate this dream lifestyle.

But I was tired of it. I needed a new form of stimulation, and to engage the world in a different way.

Assisting a Shaman

Even after I started assisting my friend and teacher with his ceremonies, I couldn’t envision becoming a shaman. “It’s not like I’ll ever be leading ceremonies myself,” I said to friends, who looked quizzically at me when I told them I was assisting.

“Why not?” was their honest reply, to which I never really had an answer.

A few months of assisting later, the feeling of something new coming into my life was irrefutable. And something about this unknown transition felt even scarier than it was to sell everything I owned to travel, so many years ago.

Flashback to 2006: In the throes of a bit of a breakdown in my “former life”, while I cried, a friend held my hand and said “what do you want to do?” (Find out what I said – and did – here).

December 2014: Once again, I was crying, unable to stand this whirling pit in my stomach that was urging me towards….something. A friend took my hand in his and said “what do you want to do?”

Tears were streaming down my face, which was pale with fear and disbelief at my own response: “I want to be an apprentice and work for san pedro and ayahuasca”.

Nora Dunn, The Professional Hobo, wandering through a san pedro garden


Apprenticing With a Shaman

As ludicrous as it seemed when I said it, something was released inside me with this admission.

I called my Mum for a gut check: “Mum, you know I’m living in Peru now, next door to this shaman guy who works with san pedro and ayahuasca, right? Well, what would you say if I said I want to become a shaman and do the same thing?”

Her response to this seemingly left-field question? “I’m not surprised, honey. I think you’ve been working towards this for quite some time with what you’ve done in your life so far”.

Well. If Mum said I could do it, then there was no stopping me.

I marched up to my teacher and said “I want to be your apprentice”. He registered only a modicum of surprise before saying “Okay.”

And that was that.

I haven’t as yet received the handbook on apprenticing with a shaman (I’ll bet money there isn’t one). I don’t know what this apprenticeship will look like, nor how long it will take. My teacher and I are simply taking things slowly and naturally, as I continue to work with the plant medicine myself, assist ceremonies, and gather experience and knowledge about these ancient and sacred practices.

Becoming a Shaman

So you would think that this apprenticeship would be the precursor to my becoming a shaman in earnest and leading ceremonies myself. And this could well be.

But I’m also not committed to any particular outcome with my apprenticeship. It’s something I simply know I must do in and of itself, and I’m confident that it will lead me to my next step in life…whatever that is.

In the meantime, my apprenticeship allows me to engage people (heart, body, and soul) in a new way, keeping my mind open and ready for whatever the future may bring.

Me as a shaman's apprentice in Peru


What is a Shaman?

It bears mentioning that my teacher dislikes the term “shaman” and doesn’t call himself that (he refers to himself – or rather, his career – as an ayahuasquero). “Shamanism” has become something of a cliché; an empty word that encompasses a variety of indigenous healing modalities, but that also can result in a sense of egotism on the part of the “shaman” in their own perceived ability to heal others, rather than using tools (such as plant medicines) to help people heal themselves. There is a lot to the art of working with plant medicine, and in order to learn what there is to be taught, humility is required.

But in a general sense, what I am learning to do, is to administer plant medicine (san pedro and ayahuasca) in a ceremonial setting, and to guide people through their own processes of opening their hearts, healing old wounds, expanding their horizons, and integrating the lessons they learn into their daily lives.

What About The Professional Hobo?

I’m still here, and I’m still traveling the world, and always a traveler at heart. So The Professional Hobo isn’t going anywhere, and you’ll continue to read about travel experiences and how to travel full-time in a financially sustainable way.

I am, however, getting offline more. I’ve stopped most of my freelance writing gigs, and I’ve scaled down the number of weekly posts on this site. Over the years I’ve developed various forms of passive income (not the least of which are from my books), and given the low cost of living in Peru, the truth is I just don’t need to work that hard to pay the bills.

I’m using my newfound free time to pursue my next big step in life (wherever it may lead): becoming a shaman – or rather, ayahuasquero/medicine woman/insert-your-own-term-here.

Your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen next in this crazy plot. Stick around, and we can all find out together.

(If you want more information on plant medicine, check out my older post about San Pedro, Ayahuasca, and Plant Medicines in Peru). 

Note as of June 2016: after 2.5 years of studying, living, and working with Javier, assisting him with all his ceremonies, and apprenticing under him, he pulled the plug on everything. Every coin has two sides. Here’s what happened

Note as of June 2017: I later went on to Ecuador to live at a retreat centre and assist the shamans there with ceremonies. Here’s an overview of my full experience of learning to be a shaman.

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88 thoughts on “Becoming a Plant Medicine Shaman”

  1. So glad you wrote this post so I know what the hell is going on around there.

    (P.S. That handbook could be your next source of passive income?)

    (P.P.S. Very happy for you, my friend.) 🙂

    Reply
    • Dalene – LOL! Now you know. 😉 And thanks for the new business idea: “How to Become a Shaman”. Ha ha!

      Reply
  2. I congratulate you. I think it’s wonderful and a beautiful path. I’ve often joked around that I’m afraid in my travels I will become a monk;).

    You deserve applause for following your heart. :).

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  3. Congratulations, Nora! This sounds like a great decision.

    When I retired ten years ago, I never imagined I would become deeply immersed in yoga philosophy and write and teach about the Bhagavad Gita.

    But that’s what happened. Part of the reason I retired was to be open to completely new experiences and to be able to pursue them.

    Best of luck with your new-found passion. I’m sure you’ll be great at it.

    Bob

    Reply
    • Hi Bob,
      That’s why I started traveling in the first place as well: to be open to new experiences and be able to pursue them. Somewhere in the mix I put myself in a box and didn’t allow myself to truly explore all the options – which is why this transition was initially so difficult to understand. (But I’m feeling much better now)! Ha ha.

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  4. Wow Nora. It was years ago we first read a post by you in a Loblaws grocery magazine. From that post we were basically introduced to the concept of travel blogging. Fast forward a few years and our engineering careers and possessions are gone. We are now traveling full-time, but we are also looking for what our passion is. It’s tough to figure out. Seems like your one step ahead of us again. I hope your new experience is great.
    Tim & Heather

    Reply
    • Hey Tim & Heather,
      Wow that’s so funny that you found me through the Loblaws magazine!
      And even more amazing that you took such amazing action with your own lives.
      In my experience, passion is an ever-changing entity, so don’t worry about finding the “ultimate thing”….chances are, you’ll find many things to be passionate about in life.
      This reminds me of a post I wrote a few years ago about how “destiny is a direction”:
      https://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2011/06/destiny-is-a-direction/

      Reply
  5. Congratulations on finding something that you want to immerse yourself in. Even if it isn’t forever, it’s amazing to be able to pursue it and see where it goes.

    J

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  6. I decided I would not return to my home country a couple of years ago, but have not found anywhere I want to stay or what ever I want to do. I am glad to see someone so content, even if it is just for now or forever.

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah,
      I’ve been there! Hopefully you can enjoy the process of exploration – both of the world outside, as well as your inner world to find your own passion and “home”.

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  7. Nora, I’m happy for you that you are following what you are passionate about but in all honesty it terrifies me. The use of any mind altering substance, whether man-made or plant based can have some pretty serious ramifications as well, ie: addiction, psychotic episodes, a trigger for mental illness, break from reality, and/or personality changes (not always for the good) to name a few. Having seen some catastrophic results from “natural plant based products”, I wish you only the best, but sincerely hope that you move forward with caution.

    Reply
    • Hi Joanne,
      Thank you for your concern – I appreciate it! Studies have actually shown that plant medicines can be used to cure many of the conditions you list above, such as mental illness, addiction, etc. But a lot of it boils down to set and setting, and who is administering it.
      The documentary about Ayahuasca that I reviewed (here: https://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/2014/11/the-path-of-the-sun-qero-culture-ayahuasca/) cites a number of scientific studies about the nature of healing using ayahuasca and dispels many of the myths and cautions around it.

      Reply
  8. Nora, you have been leading with your heart and soul for years, is it any wonder they would become your life’s work? Congratulations.

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  9. we also have similar rituals here in this part of the Philippines.. and it is really interesting how they use plants to heal people… i just mainly drink coconut and eat malunggay vegetable and i feel healthy already ^_^.. cheers to your passion!

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  10. Hey Nora,
    I remember the last time we talked you had mentioned a bit about this transition that was going on with your site/lifestyle – cool to finally see what that means. All the best with your new path, and I’ll be waiting for the ebook that Daleme mentioned 🙂
    Andrew

    Reply
  11. congratulations, Nora. As someone who has still grappling with the question of “what do you want to do?”, I can only imagine the sense of peace that comes with finding your answer. I do believe in destiny, and that there are never really any forks in the road, only detours. After meeting several travelers and Peruvians who have engaged in healing retreats, have I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to meet the right healer. Perhaps this is a sign. 🙂

    Reply
    • Hey Vanessa,
      I too waited for the right opportunity to visit Peru, as well as for the right opportunity to work with plant medicine (which I’d known about for years). Patience is a virtue in this realm, because as they say, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. 😉

      Reply
  12. Hi Nora, I almost never comment on anything, but somehow feeling compelled to tell you I am so moved by your courage to embrace this calling. Your post came as I am about to go into my second ayahuasca ceremony, and it connected with my own reverence for the power of plant medicine.
    In a couple of months I will be setting off on my long-term travel adventure, and Peru is definitely on my radar, so maybe I’ll see you there.
    All the best!

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  13. Brilliant, Norah. You continue to be an inspiration. I look forward to learning more as you continue your journey.

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  14. Absolutely wonderful, Nora. May your journey be fulfilling, full of growth and beauty, and a great boon to the world. I look forward to hearing more about your path as I think about my own.

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  15. Wonderful Nora. I think you were always a Shaman – you ‘knew more’, were always a seeker. But it needs time “to arrive, to recognize” and let it happen.

    I grew up surrounded by healers (physical and psychological). They were one with creation, had access to more than one world, saw more but didn’t make a big fuss about it. For them, it was ‘natural’. My neighbor (long passed on to another realm), who many considered ‘weird’ was the most wonderful teacher because he was so much in touch with his intuition and the natural world, it was ‘healing’ just spending time with him. He was also the best story teller I knew. Later, I often realized that what I perceived as one of his fairytales was actually much more than that. He also taught me – intuitively – to listen to my dreams – especially when I asked him a question. He never explained. Instead, he told me another of his stories. And always with a chuckle 🙂 But he never considered himself as different. He was a farmer, and that was that 🙂

    Anyway, all I wanted to say was congratulation on continuing your path!

    Reply
    • Hi Fida,
      Wow – thanks for sharing! What a wonderful teacher your friend was. Indeed, some of the most “enlightened” people I’ve met are also the most down to earth. Spirituality is kind of a fashion statement these days, and as far as I’m concerned, those who try the hardest to convince you of their spirituality, are usually trying to convince themselves of the same thing.
      Thanks for your kind words!

      Reply
  16. “Nothing can stop an idea whose time has come”
    My heart soars for you…and brings a huge smile with every post I read

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  17. Nora, i’ve just read your article, and it came exactly in the right moment for me… =D

    i’m planning a long time travel too, but knowing that, if i decide to travel to just, let’s say, 2 or 3 places, and find something that makes me happy in that place, there will be my next “home”…. meaning that, what we should look for is our happiness and feeling that we are doing something that is worth not just for ourselves, but to the “whole”….

    so i’m very pleased to read that you’ve just followed what your heart was telling you to do, and accepted it… =)

    hope you’ve lots of great experiences and happiness, whatever and whenever you decide to… =)

    cheers for you!! =D

    Reply
    • Thank you, Francis!
      I think I’ve just (re)learned the beauty of lifestyle design (of which travel is just one possible option)….it’s about doing whatever makes us happy, and designing our lives and careers to allow us to do just that.
      Good luck with your travel plans!

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  18. Hi Nora,
    This is a wonderful and true path you are taking. It sure feels right — from what we all know of you through your words here. This adds to your mystique and uniqueness!
    I’m looking forward to hearing about your journey as a Shaman.
    Regards,
    Josie

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  19. Another fine article Nora. Heartfelt comments from admirers as well. Ayhuasca appeared to me for the first time on David Suzuki’s show, The Nature of Things, with Dr. Gabor Mate. Have been running into it ever since. So, does your teacher do ceremonies regularly? I ask for the simple reason that there are many unscrupulous centres springing up and am searching for one with credibility. Since discovering you over a year and a half ago, you qualify. Thanking you in advance.

    Laird

    P.S. Just got my first credit card in years so will be ordering your book asap.

    Reply
    • Hi Laird,
      Yes, my teacher holds ceremonies regularly, in Pisac Peru (and I assist him most of the time)! You can contact him through his site at http://www.ayaruna.com. Thanks for your support, and maybe I´ll see you in Pisac!

      Reply
      • Cannot believe you replied to us all. No, I can, which is one of the reasons I follow your adventures. I thought you would be busy preparing for the month in the jungle. Happy trails. Going to check out Ayaruna presently.

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      • The Universe certainly works in mysterious ways. Just read up until the dates of the next, and last, ceremonies for this year on the site. They happen to coincide exactly with the two weeks immediately prior to and the two weeks right after my two month excursion into permaculture and solar energy installations. The more I tune in the less I switch stations. So, off to check flights. Now I have two books to buy to keep me company.

        Reply
        • Hey Laird,
          Cool! Hope that your travel plans work out and that you’ll be able to do a retreat! If you can’t make it for one of Javier’s retreats, he offers ceremonies every three days in general, so you can still do some good work with him. Just send him an email prior to your trip to confirm that he will be offering ceremonies. Hope to see you in Peru soon!

          Reply
  20. Awesome! I have plans to visit Peru in the coming months and will look into the center you’ve been at.

    Hope you can really enjoy your time offline. I’ve spent months at a time with very limited internet connection and I think it really helped to feel more engaged socially, more in tune with nature and a higher level of happiness and awareness in general. Hopefully you can automate some of your business or and put some things on hold so you can fully immerse yourself. Good luck!

    Reply
    • Hi Adam,
      Greetings from Iquitos, where I came into a cafe for a day to do a wee bit of internet work. But all in all, the digital detox is going excellently! Back online officially at the end of June.

      Reply
  21. You inspire me so much. If you want a place to stay near the river in Oregon, let me know. I’m happy for you. I love the way you take a step at a time.
    I’m trying still to sell my home. Then I’ll go to Amsterdam for a hemp oil treatment. I had cancer surgery last year. That has really made me determined to sell my home for less and just go. Things always work out. Take care and enjoy the jungle. Hope you write a book on healing. Your style really engages me. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thank you so much, Kay – and good luck with your own travels and journey. Thanks also for the offer of a place to stay….you never know… 😉

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  22. Nora I like what your doing and want yo learn more, so I’m going to order your book, thank you for being you!

    Reply
  23. Congrats Nora, your voyages have always been–or so it seems to me anyway–a melding of external (geographical) and internal (spiritual). You are a seeker and many of us follow you and appreciate everything you do. Many thanks, Michael

    Reply
    • Hi Michael,
      Thank you! Indeed – to seek (as in the world at large or our inner spiritual world) is an amazing journey, and very similar too.

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  24. Congrats Nora! Your blog has inspired me in many ways and continues too. I am thrilled to read your on your next step in your journey, and identify with what you are going through. Wishing you all the best.

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  25. Nora, I totally support you on this if only because I’m also treading the same path (mine is more on the energy healing/divination/priestess/Egyptian deity kind of thing). But Like you, traveling the world is no longer enough, it’s time to engage the world in a different way, to do more inner journeys. Here’s to more travels within!

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  26. Hi Nora,
    I follow your blog regularly, with joy and excitement. So does my younger brother and we speak of you like you are a part of our reality. It’s hard not to feel connected to you because you put forth your genuine self for us to see.
    For the last little while we both sensed that you were traveling a bit reluctantly… Maybe you were satisfied with how much you had done …maybe you were ready for something new. There is somehow always pressure from “the other” to continue on a path we have been walking on. So I wished you peace, contentment and your next path to joy. (I also wish these for myself daily.)
    This article you wrote above & about Destiny being a Journey shows me you found that path. This article is also just what I needed to read as I am about to make the biggest decision I have made in 13 years.
    I see that you have embraced the unknown and are doing something that your heart is guiding you to. What a wonderful gift. I love your courage. I love your openness. Thank you for sharing these precious moments of your life with us. I hope to embrace my dreams and my destiny soon.
    Much love to you.

    Reply
    • Hi Milada,
      Wow – Thank you so much, and the same well wishes and love to you! I hope your own big decision turns out well…however it turns out it will be as it´s meant to be. 🙂

      Reply
  27. I just discovered your blog and have been devouring it quickly on my own hobo adventures… Currently in Miami reading from the beach! I just set off two months ago with my partner on a big us roadtrip, we plan to never go back! I have a lot of interest in plant based healing, especially via things like ayahuasca and psylocybin, having had some powerful, compelling personal experiences with the latter. I hope to someday find someone to apprentice under as well. Your story is very inspiring, I wish you the best!

    Reply
    • Hi Casey,
      Thanks for your kind words and comment! Who knows – maybe one of these days in your travels you’ll find yourself in Peru and in a ceremony with me and my teacher. 🙂 Happy travels!

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  28. Well Nora, it seems I missed the post in May so I am way behind your exploits. What comes out of today’s post though is your sense of contentment. This comes from our inner being and is not reliant on the place we are in. But to have found it in such an inspiring way is fortunate indeed – and you inspire others. Just re- read that and I sound so sanctimonious, sorry didn’t mean to. Looking forward to updates. Love Pamela

    Reply
  29. Hi Nora,
    I discovered your blog about a year ago, around the same time I first started looking into ayahuasca / plant medicines. I’ve felt called to visit Peru since I was a teenanger. I finally went to Peru in October 2015 with Andy Metcalfe’s ‘Outer Travels Inner Journeys’ group, which included a week in the Amazon jungle, and a San Pedro ceremony at Javier’s beautiful home in Pisac (surrounded by those magical mountains:). Since returning, I have felt a very strong pull to study the plant medicines, and had even been thinking how wonderful it would be to study with someone like Javier at some point. And then, coincidently (or not!), I read your blog post about your own apprenticeship as a shaman. Kudos to you, Nora, and I look forward to hearing much more about your journey ahead. I’m not sure how or when (or if) my own study of the plant medicines might unfold (perhaps I need to ask aya) … but I will relish reading about your journey in the meantime! Thank you for your continued inspiration. Much love, and my warmest wishes to Javier too.
    Love, Rondinne xx

    P.S. If you ever need a place to stay in Melbourne, Australia, please stop by!

    P.P.S. I highly recommend listening to Terence McKenna’s lectures – I’ve been having them for breakfast lately! I love his style, his depth of knowledge and humour. There are MP3 downloads of several of his lectures freely available on the internet.

    Reply
    • Hi Rondinne,
      How cool that you’ve been here and drank with Javier! I’ve met a few people from Andy’s groups over time, and it sounds like he puts together some great trips.
      I haven’t been back to Australia in quite a few years, so thanks for the invite – you never know when I might appear on your doorstep!
      And if we don’t meet in Australia, maybe I’ll see you again, here in Peru. Javier has some great retreats lined up for this year and next (most of which I’m assisting him with)….you can check them out at http://www.ayaruna.com.

      Reply
  30. Hey,

    I just came across this and I must admit that the feeling of not knowing what to do in your life is pretty horrible and scary at the same time.
    Ever since taking part in an ayahuasca ceremony, mother ayahuasca told me that I have to help people. The maestro who guided my ceremony told me that mother ayahuasca became very fond of me and he told me that he would guide me to become a shaman as well. I am so glad that I read your post now and I am in a way happy and satisfied that Im not the only one that has taken this path.
    Thank you.
    Nothing is a coincidence.

    Reply
    • Hi Washington,
      You’re absolutely right – nothing is a coincidence!
      Earlier this year my arrangement with Javier completely fell apart. (https://www.theprofessionalhobo.com/apprenticeship-update-big-changes-professional-hobo/)
      Since this all happened, I’ve realized many things about the situation I was in, and learned many more things about how it ultimately didn’t serve me.
      I’ve since been led back to plant medicine – in Ecuador – at a beautiful centre called Gaia Sagrada. I don’t know to what extent (or how) I’ll be a “shaman”, but my talents have been truly honoured and I’ve been encouraged to flourish here, which is a great blessing.
      Good luck with your own plant medicine endeavours!

      Reply
  31. It was sooooooo absolutely wonderful to see you in action in the ceremonies, you really do it well! Everyone fell in love with you, and I hope someday you bless us again here at Gaia Sagrada with your wonderful presence, you are just amazing and your songs carry an energy in ceremony that no one else can carry. You literally bring a calmness and peace to the people in a way no one else can. May the medicine ways be with you in everything you do. Little do people know a 007 shamana walks among them! The first time I heard you sing and carry energy in a ceremony just knocked me over, I have never seen anyone do it like you do. You’re a natural!

    Reply
    • Oh, Christine!
      You bring tears to my eyes. Thank you, thank you, thank you! For all that you are, and for all of the amazing opportunities you gave me at Gaia Sagrada. 007 shamana – ha ha! I like it. 😉

      Reply

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