Dr. Pat Moffitt Cook’s revelatory book and compact disc, ‘Shaman, Jhankri & Nele: Music Healers of Indigenous Cultures,’ chronicles numerous first peoples around the world who continue to perform ancestral healing rites driven by a transformative soundscape—sacred chants, resonant instrumental music, and expressive vocalizations—all of which are couched in symbolic, dramatic gestures. Without knowing why and long before I conceived a similar path, I was intuitively drawn to the spectral world she revealed. Pat’s archives, which have rested by my bedside since I first discovered them, have profoundly shaped my life.
Another trailblazer (a true ‘Vor-reiter’) whose vast body of work enchanted me early on and never let go was Edward Sheriff Curtis, the intrepid ethnologist who took it upon himself to travel the length and breadth of the North American continent at the dawn of the 20th century to document the multitude of indigenous cultures that once thrived there. His comprehensive canon of photographs, field notes, recordings, and films is nothing less than awe-inspiring. Today Curtis is particularly renowned for his twenty-volume masterwork of sepia-toned images of Native Americans and their traditional lifestyles, which he raced to document before their customs irrevocably disappeared.
So moving was Curtis’ work that I visited galleries exhibiting his photographs, poured over books about the Native Americans he documented, and read biographies that revealed his solo journey, his singular passion, and the hardships he endured to accomplish such a monumental feat. My esteem for Edward Curtis the man and his work came full circle when I purchased two of his photographs, one of them seen above.
It is for this that I juxtapose Edward Curtis’ photograph of a Kwakiutl shaman, pepahala, captured in British Columbia, in 1914, during the Klasila Festival that heralds the advent of winter, with my image of I Gnow, an Eng shaman, khun song, taken in 2006, nearly a century later, in Myanmar during the Fertility Festival celebrated on the Harvest Full Moon.
Thinking about Pat Moffitt Cook and Edward Curtis’ influence on my life prompted me to recall the mesmeric spirit mediums whom I have met over many years of far-flung explorations of musical rituals. These men and women have been divinely chosen, often after grave physical or mental illness, and have dedicated their lives to navigate the mysteries of the universe to protect the well-being and prosperity of their community.
Please enjoy the following Photo Gallery of some who have graced my path—the shamans, clairvoyants, clairaudients, fortune tellers, mystics, sorcerers, soul guides, channelers, shape-shifters, astromancers, numerologists, ascetics, priests, adepts, intuitive healers, herbal medicine healers, speakers of inscrutable tongues, and mortals endowed with supernatural powers.