Hank Interviewed by Deepak Chopra
Originally posted on Deepak Chopra's site www.howtoknowgod.com in March, 2001.
Research paleoanthropologist Hank Wesselman, PhD is one of those rare cutting edge scientists who truly walks between the worlds. He did his undergraduate work, as well as his Masters Degree, in Zoology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, then went on to receive his doctoral degree in Anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley. For the past 30 years, he has worked with an international group of scientists, exploring East Africa's Great Rift Valley in search of answers to the mystery of human origins. He is also a shaman in training, now in the 19th year of his apprenticeship...
COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT THE KIND OF WORK IN WHICH YOU ARE CURRENTLY ENGAGED AS AN ANTHROPOLOGIST?
Since 1994, I have been working with a research expedition along the Middle Awash River in northern Ethiopia where our team is excavating a series of sites between 4.4 and 5.8 million years old from which we are recovering the fossilized remains of an early form of human called Ardipithecus ramidus. This species preserves a suite of primitive characters unlike any seen before. Not only have we found humanity's earliest ancestor, we may also have discovered the famous missing link between apes and humans that Charles Darwin predicted would eventually be found. To say that this is an exciting discovery is an understatement of vast proportions.
JUST HOW DID YOUR WORK AS A SCIENTIST LEAD TO THE WRITING OF YOUR BOOKS--FIRST SPIRITWALKER, THEN MEDICINEMAKER, AND NOW VISIONSEEKER?
In the early 1970s, while working with an expedition in southern Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley, I began to have spontaneous mystical experiences strikingly like those of traditional shamans. In an attempt to understand, I went beyond scholarly research into direct, personal contact with the ancient methods for achieving mystical states practiced by tribal peoples. In the 1980s, this search brought me face to face with a series of visionary encounters while I was living on my farm in Hawai'i. They began as particularly vivid dreams, or so I thought at the time. As they grew increasingly intense and insistent, I became aware that they were not dreams, at least not in the ordinary sense, but rather, extraordinary, epic journeys across time in which I found myself connecting with the conscious awareness of one of my descendants--a man named Nainoa who lives in a slice of the future radically different from that of today. The initial experiences are documented in my first book SPIRITWALKER.
THIS STRANGE STORY CONTINUES IN MEDICINEMAKER, DOES IT NOT?
It does. In 1989, I returned to teach for a year in the Anthropology Department at UC San Diego and much to my amazement, these visionary episodes continued, revealing the true purpose of my profound, yet cryptic contacts with Nainoa. Without abandoning my scientific objectivity, I came to understand that I had stumbled across some inner doorway, some crack between the worlds, giving me access to a transcendent life force and an intelligence that possesses the keys to personal power, and possibly, the healing of all humankind.
YOUR NEW BOOK IS CALLED VISIONSEEKER: SHARED WISDOM FROM THE PLACE OF REFUGE. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT?
VISIONSEEKER casts light on the current emergence of a modern Western shamanism,the phenomenon of spirit possession, the conveyance of the souls of the dead, authentic shamanic time travel, and the true nature of the human spirit. It also reveals some of the secret spiritual wisdom of the Hawaiian kahunas as well as details of my own training in the shamanic tradition. Toward the end of the book, my visionary voyages finally bring me face to face with Nainoa, and we engage in a journey to the mysterious Source of all existence. To claim outright that we had a direct encounter with what people in monotheistic cultures call God would be presumptious, and yet the statement would not be inaccurate.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A SHAMAN?
All true shamans are men and women who can achieve expanded states of awareness in which they can perceive and communicate in ways not possible in our ordinary waking state of consciousness. Through training, shamans typically learn how to induce these expanded states in which they separate their conscious awareness from their physical bodies and journey into the timeless inner worlds where they encounter entities or personalities that the traditional peoples call spirits. With the assistance of compassionate spirits, shamans are then able to accomplish various things, initially on behalf of themselves, and then increasingly on behalf of others.
WHAT SORTS OF THINGS DO SHAMANS DO?
Well, that depends on what is required. In traditional cultures, shamans may work with individuals, with families, or even with whole communities. They typically journey into the inner worlds to access information from the spirits through divination, to restore power to those who have lost it, and to engage in healing work at various levels. Directed by strong altruistic motivation and furnished with their guardian spirit helpers, the shaman is a spiritual activist who is able to restore balance and harmony in those who are suffering. As practitioners of spirit medicine, their goal is to nurture and preserve the soul of the individual, facilitating the shift from disharmony and illness into a state of healing.
YOU HAVE SPENT MUCH OF YOUR LIFE WITH INDIGENOUS PEOPLES RARELY, IF EVER VISITED BY OUTSIDERS. WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT TRADITIONAL PERSPECTIVES ON HEALTH, ILLNESS AND HEALING?
Traditional people make a clear distinction between physical medicine and spirit medicine and view them as complimentary. If a man comes staggering into camp with an arrow sticking out of his butt, that is not the time to grab the rattle and go into trance. It's the time to get the arrow out of the wound, staunch the bleeding, prevent infection and promote healing. That's the time for physical medicine and all traditional peoples know quite a bit about it.
HOW WOULD THE PRACTICE OF SPIRIT MEDICINE DIFFER?
In dealing with illness, the traditional shaman and medicinemaker pays a good deal of attention to the relationship between cause and effect. It is understood that as we pass through life on the physical plane, things happen. We become ill with flus and viruses, we have accidents like falling off our bikes as children, or getting in car accidents as adults. In the process we get bruises, cuts, sprains, and sometimes broken bones. Sometimes we acquire serious injuries or illnesses of an internal nature--cancer or multiple sclerosis, hepatitis or heart disease, and eventually we pass through old age, and the infirmity and death of the physical body. These are all to be expected--they are part of what it means to be a manifested organic life form, but the examples just given are all effects. What the shaman is interested in is the cause. For true healing to occur, it is not enough to simply treat the effects and suppress them with medication. The cause must be addressed.
WHAT ARE THE CLASSIC CAUSES OF ILLNESS IN THE TRADITIONAL PERSPECTIVE?
There are three classic causes of illness from the shaman's point of view, and interestingly, they are not bacteria, microbes, and viruses, but rather internal states. The first of these is disharmony. This is what occurs when individuals lose an important connection in life or when they are deprived of their sense of belonging to. Disharmony is what happens when you have an elder couple who have been together for most of their lives, and suddenly one of them dies. Within six months or a year, the surviving spouse often comes down with something serious like cancer, and before you know it, they are gone too. Disharmony causes a diminishment of our personal power that in turn renders us vulnerable to illness.
WHAT IS THE SECOND CAUSE?
Fear. A person who is walking around with a chronic core of fear gnawing away at them is vulnerable to illness because fear diminishes the ability of their immune system to function. This is, of course, no great news to Western medical pactitioners who know full well that fear and disharmony can manifest themselves as illnesses recognizable to modern science.
AND THE THIRD?
The third classic cause of illness is the phenomenon known as soul loss. And here is something curious. Soul loss is regarded as the most serious diagnosis and the single greatest cause of premature death or serious illness by the traditionals, and it's not even mentioned in our Western medical textbooks.
JUST WHAT IS SOUL LOSS AND HOW DOES IT HAPPEN?
Soul loss implies serious damage to a person's inner core--to the inner essence of who and what they are. The damage usually results in a fragmentation of this essence, parts of it often dissociate and do not return to the one who has lost them. In a traditional society, soul loss or damage often occurs through the practice of negative witchcraft or sorcery, in which individuals try to eliminate their enemies by attacking them through the psychic channel. In our culture, soul loss is most often associated with trauma. Examples might include a child being mercilessly teased in school or molested by the one who is supposed to be caring for them. Soul loss occurs in response to abuse as in the case when someone is raped or assaulted. Soul loss can happen as a result of a serious betrayal, a bitter divorce, a traumatic abortion, a terrible car accident, or even surgery. Many of those young men and women we sent to Viet Nam and Kuwait came back as damaged goods because they had suffered terrible soul loss. Unfortunately, our modern Western doctors had little to offer them in terms of true healing, and many of them are still traumatized by what happened to them.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SYMPTOMS OF SOUL LOSS?
Feelings of being fragmented, of not being all there; the inability to feel love or receive love from another; blocked memory in which an individual cannot remember parts of their life; a sudden onset of apathy and listlessness; a lack of joy or initiative, or a failure to thrive; addictions and suicidal tendencies. The loss of parts of the self often manifests as melancholy and despair, which brings up the classic symptom of soul loss--depression.
AND HOW IS ILLNESS PERCEIVED IN RELATION TO THESE CLASSIC CAUSES?
Illness in the traditional perspective is seen as an intrusion--as something that enters the body from without and which doesn't belong there. This is true whether we are dealing with a virus, an arrow, or a negative thoughtform. But the primary problem is not the illness intrusion. The primary problem is the loss of power or the loss of a soul part that allowed the illness to enter and manifest in the first place. That's the problem and this is where the shaman does their best work.
HOW DO SHAMANS ACCOMPLISH HEALING IN SPIRIT MEDICINE?
In the shaman's tradition, healing occurs in stages. The first stage involves what we might call power augmentation, a process in which the shaman empowers their patient by augmenting their personal power supply with the assistance of their spirit helpers. This is very easy to do if you know how. The second stage involves diagnosis of the problem, divining the cause, and perceiving the effect within the person's body. Often this involves accessing the expanded state of shamanic consciousness in which the shaman can perceive the illness intrusion. The third stage involves extracting the disease-causing intrusion from the patient's body while in the expanded state, and once again, this is not difficult to do if you know how and if you have spiritual healing masters working with you. The fourth and final stage is the critical one. This is the mysterious practice known as soul retrieval.
COULD YOU SAY SOMETHING ABOUT HOW SOUL RETRIEVAL WORKS?
All of us had ancestors who were hunters if we go back far enough. In doing soul retrieval, the shaman teams up with the spirits who assist them, and then they go to work together, tracking the lost soul parts, finding them, and bringing them back to the one who lost them. Only in this way can the soul be restored to it's original undamaged state, and only in this way can the patient be sure that the illness will not reoccur. In traditional societies, soul retrieval specialists are regarded as being in a class of their own and are often known as soul catchers. They often say that real soul catchers only come in every hundred years or so. I discovered quite by accident that I am married to a great soul catcher. My wife Jill Kuykendall is a trained medical practitioner who used to work as a physical therapist in acute care rehab. She is now in private practice specializing almost entirely in soul retrieval work. The word is out and people are frequently flying in from all over the country to work with her.
DO YOU ALSO DO SHAMANIC WORK?
I do. I currently teach shamanism workshops all over the country at centers like the Esalen Institute in California, the Omega Institute near New York, the New Millennium Institute in Hawaii, as well as the various Learning Annexes and Learning Exchanges. My wife Jill joins me at the week-long retreats at which we usually teach together. Virtually all of my workshops end with a healing ritual, utilizing the principles of spirit medicine to give participants the experience of working in a powerful focused group to alleviate pain and suffering in someone in the circle. When the shaman uses their own body as the bridge between the realms of the sacred and the everyday world, miracles happen. And this is true magic. I have written about several of the more interesting cases that have occurred in the last several years in VISIONSEEKER.
THERE IS A GROWING INTEREST IN SHAMANISM TODAY, IS THERE NOT?
There is indeed. The rediscovery of shamanism has emerged as a major thrust in the current spiritual reawakening sweeping the Western world. In my experiential workshops, I use some of the traditional shaman's time-tested techniques for accessing the sacred realms, providing non-tribal Westerners with an extraordinarily effective and easily learned method for connecting with their inner sources of power and wisdom to facilitate healing and problem-solving.
IT SOUNDS LIKE YOUR REMARKABLE BOOKS FORM A BRIDGE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND SPIRITUALITY.
Exactly. I have tried to reveal something of what it means to be a scientist, a mystic, and a medicine man in an age if high technology and super science, VISIONSEEKER also gives us an unprecedented glimpse into the origin as well as the destiny of our species. Taken together, these three books document a true hero's journey--one that reveals who and what we may all become when we accept the call to adventure, experience authentic initiation, and return from our quest as world redeemers.