Have you ever felt one with the universe while gazing in awe at the twinkling stars? Have you communed with nature while hiking on a trail through Vermont forests and woods? Have you absorbed the Earth’s energy while standing on a rocky peak? Feeling our connection to the natural world is a vital part of being human. Ancient cultures and civilizations that survived remained in harmony with Mother Earth by revering and honoring her to maintain balance.
Dad’s love of nature first brought us to Vermont in 1958, the year Killington first opened. While my brother Billy attended Colton ski camp, Dad bought our two acres under 6 feet of snow from Orin Bates, a local legend. Vermont’s the ideal playground for kids to ski and explore mountains and forests and make friends with Mother Nature and the creatures who dwell here.
Four decades ago, a Charlottesville friend loaned me a book by a Hollywood producer (or writer/director, I can’t recall). He dog sat for an actor’s German Shepherd. The brilliant former police dog taught the man myriad lessons, including ESP. The producer worked for hours in his office and realized, if he thought for a moment about going for a walk, the dog leap into action from the house’s other end, rushing in with hiking boots in his mouth, licking his face then fetching the leash.
The man began a series of experiments with the dog, and then with a skunk who lived out back near his home. He treated the skunk with respect and asked him to do the same and not spray his yard. It vanished for a time, then reappeared with skunk kits in tow as his “thank you” and “farewell.” The other creature he described was a fly he named Freddy who arrived when he’d shave, landing on his nose every morning, then on his mirror if brushed away. The man was quite irritated until he asked, “why?” Then an amazing dialog ensued between the two unlikely friends. The man asked Freddy a series of questions then the answers downloaded into his brain. They carried on a profound discussion that included the purpose and meaning of life! I can’t find the book but wish I could.
I discovered I had to beware of my thoughts because our dog, Luke Skywalker, knew right away if I dared let “walk” enter my brain. Luke reacted just like the German Shepherd and raced to my side with tail wagging. I didn’t want to disappoint him so learned to think “walk” only when I really meant it. Luke also knew when I felt blue. He’d fetch and squeeze his Mr. Piggy, then squeak and throw his toy in the air. Luke was our family therapy dog but he also knew, in a crowd of people, if someone were hurting and stayed by their side. All three of our Labrador Retrievers were healers. Luke was our last one. We miss him so much.
I’ve always been drawn to indigenous peoples and their rich cultures around the world. I’ll always remember the Naxi Shaman in Lijiang, China in the Himalayan foothills. We communicated through two translators but felt an immediate connection to each other. He wrote a blessing for our home in Naxi—the only living pictograph language—about our work going out in the world. We learned his shamanic family lineage could be traced back hundreds of years. He works with spirits to heal the sick and holds ceremonies and blessings for the Naxi People. Shamen are medicine men and women healers with knowledge of energy and plant medicine, priests, peacemakers, truth seekers, “dreamers” (like mediums), exorcists, soul retrievers and ancestral healers who care for the people in their community. We also saw shamans dance and chant in similar rituals to Native Americans. Indigenous peoples haven’t lost their connections to their spirit helpers and nature. Shamanism is often passed down, but sometimes initiated through severe illness, a lightning strike, accident or narrow escape.
Our Ukrainian friend Sasha was identified as a shaman by the foremost Siberian shaman at a UN Conference on Shamanism. He blessed our home and helped my husband rediscover his path following his retirement. But Sasha had an incurable illness that he couldn’t find help for. He’d been poisoned in the Chernobyl explosion by radioactivity (which claimed his mother’s life). It caused his thyroid to severely malfunction and feeling hopeless, he committed suicide.
Losing our friend made me want to avoid shamanic studies of any kind, but opportunities to learn more reappeared and continue to fascinate me. Sometimes I wonder if my series of weird illnesses (like arachnoiditis, Lyme, Babesia Duncani—a malaria-like red blood parasite, a tibia plateau fracture in 20 pieces from a Florida bicycle crash, two concussions and Blepharospasm eye lid spasms that cause functional blindness, along with a lightning strike in the Alps) seem to be calling me to learn shamanic practices. So I listen to Sandra Ingerman (American), Roel Crabbé (from Belgium), Sounds True and the Last Mask Center podcasts on shamanism with wisemen like Angaangaq (an Eskimo from Greenland) to rediscover our connection with Mother Earth and her magnificent creatures.
This is how my journey began communicating with the spirits of animals. I’ll share our conversations with you in my next few columns. You’ll likely be as amazed as I was (like the Hollywood director with Freddy the fly) to receive answers to my questions in insightful dialogs with intelligent creatures’ spirits.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who lives in Vermont and Florida.