On January 25, 2019 Aimee Shaw of The Urban Shaman sat down with Robbie Warren, Medicine Woman and Shaman.
AS: Hello. I have Robbie Warren with me here today and I'm very excited to actually interface with her in person and get some more information about her practice. So Robbie, I believe you call yourself a “medicine woman”- is that right?
RW: You know I use the term medicine woman. I use the word shaman. So yes. There are so many different terms out there and we have to be really clear about the work that we do, and so the work that I do falls into several different categories.
AS: So what exactly do you do- can you talk a little bit about your practice?
RW: Yes, I'm happy to! I think first and foremost I sit with people one-on-one in shamanic sessions (as I call them) or healing sessions, and within those sessions there's a lot of different things that could unfold. Mostly I open myself up and I listen to Spirit. I allow Spirit to move through me, becoming that hollow bone, and I really just connect with my client’s Spirit guides. They're the ones who really call the shots on what we do and sometimes it's just conversation- it's a new perspective for people. In other times it can go as deep a soul retrieval work or ancestral healing work, physical healing, physical removal of emotions or cords, and then pretty much anything that they tell me to do- with my client’s permission of course.
AS: Yeah that makes a lot of sense to me. So I'm curious about your path, how you really got on the path and who your initial mentors were, and how that influenced your practice.
RW: Well I kind of got on the path by accident. I think that may happen for a lot of us. My opening-up to this path really started on September 11th 2001- at 9/11. And then it was a slow journey from there. But that event really shook me to my core and opened me up to a place of curiosity- to start exploring, and I actually ended up in New York City about three weeks after 9/11. I was already scheduled to be up there on a trip and they had just started letting planes get anywhere near there, and I flew actually into New Jersey. We were rerouted but I spent extra time in New York and I went down to Ground Zero. I never really had a big spiritual experience even though I was raised in some traditional religious teachings, but I went down to Ground Zero and everything opened up for me, everything changed for me and when I came home from that experience, which was quite profound, I think that's probably the first time I actually had an experience of moving into the different dimensions and into the different realms. In a nutshell- I was able to get past the barricades because I felt compelled to walk into the center where they were doing all the clearing and the cleaning, and the debris. I felt so compelled to go in. I just walked past the barricades; I walked past the police; I walked past the hazmat suits, the National Guard, and no one saw me. I got as close as I could. There was a friend who was with me and she followed me into this place, and when we got there she just looked at me and she said, “now what?”, and I said “I think I have to pray.” I never really prayed out loud in my life other than the little prayers we’re taught as children- you know, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep and the food blessing and things like that.
As soon as I started praying everything went silent. I could no longer hear the machinery- everything that was happening around me. And then as soon as I finished the prayer, which really was praying for everyone who had been in the towers, everyone who had been affected by it, everyone in our country, everyone in the other countries, even everyone in the planes and including the people who took over the planes- and that the prayer just started coming out and I couldn't really stop it, but as soon as I was complete with that prayer it was just like suddenly everything snapped. I could hear sound again and then someone saw me. I was standing so close to all of the action that was going on. I don't know how they didn't see me, but I think that was my first experience of maybe moving into a different dimension to do Spirit work, to do this work, and then suddenly when it was complete there I was and they kind of chased me out of there.
But I came home from that, down to North Carolina, to Charlotte, and I had a lot of feelings of heaviness. I never really understood what it meant, what energy work was or any of that, and someone suggested to me that I was carrying energy that wasn't mine- something that I had picked up being down there. So she had suggested that I have a purification ceremony, which I had never heard of, and she explained what a sweat lodge was- a Native American sweat lodge. So I found a place that was doing sweat lodges and it was a four-hour drive from where I live and I called them. The most amazing man answered the phone and he told me that he would hold a lodge, a private lodge for me so that I could do that work. I didn't know what it meant but when I got there and I saw what this lodge was, and when it was time to go in and I got down on my hands and knees and I'm a little- I get a little nervous in a crowded elevator- so the thought of getting down on my and knees and crawling into the small little space that was very dark, not knowing what it was about, it was quite intimidating. But as soon as I put my head into the lodge, into that dark space, and I could feel the heat that was already in the space I just I felt like I was home. It made so much sense to me. I think that was about a three-hour sweat lodge and I didn't want to leave. Finally the medicine man who was leading the lodge, he said ‘you really have to get out- you must go, you must go.’ It was after that he told me of another medicine man who was coming to this Center where I was in Tennessee, and this man's name was Joseph Rael- Beautiful Painted Arrows. And as soon as he told me his name I knew I had to be there. So I went back two months later and that's where I met Joseph, and so Joseph and the people at this Center in Tennessee were the first ones who really opened-up the space for me to just step in and see what all of this is. I've had other teachers since then, but Joseph Raal and the people at the Center for Peace in Tennessee were those door-openers for me, who really held the space for me to step in. They're very patient with me, with all of my questions, and I still go up to Tennessee now, almost 20 years later. That's my spiritual home. So a lot of teachers since then, but the Center for Peace and Joseph Rael are my first introduction.
AS: Wow- that's quite a profound story!
RW: Yeah- it's still kind of knocked me for a loop and I think about it. You know, everything had to just fall into place for that to happen.
AS: I’m interested- and I'm going to get just a little bit political for a minute. I try to avoid that, but as a practicing shaman myself I know the political pressure that we often face from indigenous people and people who do have very definite lineage and tradition. It's hard for some of them to make room for white Americans and not coming from a lineage. So we often get accused of cultural appropriation and all these kinds of things. I'm sure that you've had these experiences and know exactly what I'm talking about. So I'm curious- because your initial experience being on the path was with, I'm assuming they were Native Americans (RW: Yeah, yeah)- and it sounds like they really were giving their blessing to you, as you know they do (RW: Yeah). I mean they really do want to share their medicine with us, so do you encounter that [prejudice] in your practice or in the greater culture and how does that fit in your practice?
RW: It's a great question and it really is something that I feel strongly that we all have to be so conscious of. Joseph is Native American. He is Ute and his parents are Ute and from Picuris Pueblo and so he's Tiwa. He grew up in the Pueblo and he was sent off to residential school. He went through- and he’s in his 80s now- and he went through all of those trials that so many Native Americans went through. Joseph, I believe from his teachings and from what he has said, he holds a deep belief that the more people that understand these teachings, and the deep connection to the earth and to each other, and that we are children of the earth- all of us are children of the earth- and his deep belief that the more of us that know this and understand this, the sooner we're going to bring peace. So he did not believe in withholding, or does not believe in withholding. Now there are some very specific tribal ceremonies that he would not share outside with the greater community, but the broader teachings and the deep teachings he does share. But very specific ceremonies he does hold those sacred to those who carry his bloodline in his community. And he had visions for other ceremonies that are in the Native American framework, but they were his visions and his vision to carry forward. So I feel very blessed that my teacher is Native American and that he's open to teaching somebody who looks like me. And Joseph teaches or taught- he's retired now- but he taught all around the planet and he had such a deep, deep belief in peace, and that was the driving force. He's a mystic. If you read any of his books you can go off into another world just from reading his words- it can take you into another realm.
But you know it's a good question and it did come up for me a few years ago. I had a group of Native Americans who were questioning me and really pushing quite hard at me. I understand where that's coming from- I get it now. In the moment it was hard and it was painful. It was emotionally difficult because I was so caught by surprise from it because of how giving my teachers were. So I had to do some really, really deep soul-searching and I put everything on a shelf for months, and I prayed and I held my own ceremonies, and I offered tobacco and I just kept praying, and really digging deep because of those words ‘cultural appropriation’ and how deeply, deeply Native Americans have been injured and hurt and for generations in this country. I have such a deep respect for that and everything that I do is about holding up in a sacred way all of this. So it was very hard for me to reconcile this, and after a lot of soul-searching and talking to my elders, who are Native Americans and some who are not, but talking to my elders and my teachers I was finally able to come to the place where I realized that I have to stand in my own beliefs. And my belief and my path to God, my path to Creator, cannot be dictated by someone else.
I have to be able to stand with all respect that I can to all of those, and to recognize all of the pain, all of the hurt that has been created here. So it is very hard- it is very hard. For me, holding this work up and holding these teachings up in a sacred way is a way of honoring and I know that some people may still see this as cultural appropriation, but I'm on a spiritual path. I don't pretend to be of a culture that I'm not of. I do just as much work with my Viking ancestors as I do with my Native American ancestors, and I do have Native American ancestors even though I don't look like it. But I didn't learn from my native ancestors. They made a choice several generations back to not follow this path, so I learned from another Native American. It's a lot to reconcile. It's just so much and I feel like I'm still learning and I'm still paying attention. I just went last night to Duke University to listen to an amazing Native American woman speak about all of this. I wanted to be front and center to get her perspective and listen to her and understand where she's coming from. She's a Canadian Anishinaabe, and I have so much respect for what she's teaching and for what all of our teachers are giving to us. So I don't know if that answered your question?
AS: It really actually did and it brought home this idea that for those of us who come from broken lineages, our path is very windy, and the aspect that's hard is that people who have these strong shamanic lineages, it's a very clear path [for them] and they're not dealing- we live in a very self-deterministic society as well, so it’s not like we have the support system telling us ‘yes, this is what you are’ and so it doesn't happen like that for us. And so that’s the kind of criticism we get from people who don't understand, because they come from very strong, straight-lines. Our path is very winding and we can have many mentors and many teachers. I think you really expressed that.
RW: Well, you know it is and I do my best with my students to- you know, we're losing the old ways of learning these practices and I did learn by showing up to ceremony, by showing up and standing next to the medicine people and asking questions. I never had someone who had a bond with me as a teacher. Joseph- he's so giving, but he didn't make those personal bonds. So it is hard, and like you're saying, it does end up being a windy path in a lot of ways. And so I am doing my best to create a little more straight-line lineage from Joseph to me to those who come behind me and being very, very specific about it, sharing Joseph's teachings. Because one of the things that we do in this lineage is always, always honor our teacher, always honoring where that came from and where we were given- I don't know if ‘permission’ is the right word- where we were given the gift to carry this forward is so important. There are many who are stepping up, so I do teach. I teach in two ways- I teach through my apprentices who learn from me the the old ways. They show up, they help me, they carry my firewood. We do all of this in the old way and they are the closest to me, so they get the deepest teaching. And then my elders shared with me that we're living the old ways, but that we need to bridge from the old way to this new way- which everybody wants this instant gratification.
So I do teach, but I teach a year-long course and it's very intense, and even at that I have people who will say to me, 'well if I take your course will I be a shaman?' My answer is always, ‘that's between you and God. That's between you and Spirit and your Creator. I cannot tell you who you are, what you are, but I can share with you my experiences and what's been taught to me. And I can give you good foundational teaching so that you're safe, so that the people you hold ceremony for are safe, so that you know how to do this work. What you call yourself and what you claim for yourself really is your personal decision.' A lot of people in the culture, especially in our Western culture, they don’t understand that. We work so much on labels and all of this, so it's hard to stand in that middle ground. I still honor all the old ways. I see a lot of things and there are a lot of groups for shamanism on Facebook and I'll see a lot of things that come up and blow my hair back and make me go, “whoa! What are we doing?!” And then I see so many other of our elders stepping up to share and to teach and just speak up into these groups, which is beautiful. But for somebody who doesn't know, who doesn't have a teacher, it's hard to discern where the “whoa, wait a minute” is and where the really deep teachings are- really hard these days.
AS: It's very hard and it doesn't help when we do have prominent people in the shamanic community who have extreme views and kind of do perpetuate that same political pressure, that there can't be wisdom because there's no lineage for us. I really respect and appreciate what you're saying about how a lot of us are here to bridge that gap between brokenness and- I'm wondering, as you were going along on your path, at what point did you realize you have become the elder essentially, in that your next stage of work is to actually mentor and create that strong reconnection?
RW: I don't know if I would call myself an elder because that to me, my elders, I hold them in such high regard. So I am honored when there are others who are younger than I am refer to me as elder, and I'm still finding how to be in that space, so I have to be really honest about that. You know in our teaching and our lineage ‘elder’ is not about your age, it's not a number, it is about your wisdom and your experiences. In that I do see that I hold more wisdom and experience, if you could say that, then say someone who's just starting out. So I can appreciate that, but then I look at my elders and I think (whooo) those are such big shoes to fill. I just don't know that I'm ready. But I was recently sitting in circle and I had three different occasions from three different people in the circle referred to me as the elder in the circle and I kind of looked around and I went ‘okay, you know’, and then I immediately called my grandmother- and not my blood grandmother, but my teacher grandmother- and I said ‘okay, I had three people call me elder. Does that make it official?’ And like any good elder would, she said ‘it depends on who called you.’ I had to laugh. In my lineage, in my community, which is really beautiful and so connected- I'm very lucky that I have a community- but our elders are tough, as they should be. When my elders say, when they speak to me and say this is needed, this gap needs to be filled, and they look at me with that look that comes through 86, 87 years of living, my answer is always ‘yes’, and then I have to figure out how to do it. So, that’s kind of where I sit.
AS: So you mentioned community and I really want to talk to you about that because I think a lot of people are really struggling with that, with connection, with community. I'm curious how you built community locally?
RW: It's a really good question and it is one that I'm asked often. I think the only answer I have, because there was no plan, I did not set out to create community, I didn't even originally know that I was setting out to be in community, but once I stepped into this community in Tennessee, where there was land and there were ceremonies that were going on on a regular basis and I was invited to lodges, to medicine dances, to teaching circles. I realized what community was and how strong it is and I think I just longed for that. It's what I really desired and so in my desire to be in community I just began to create it. And like I say, it wasn't a plan and I'm still a part of the community in Tennessee, but I'm also now where I live in North Carolina. I have a beautiful, strong community here in the same ways, emulating those that came before me. We have sweat lodges and we have medicine dances here and I'm blessed to live at a retreat center that holds all of my teachings in high regard and so I can do this here and I don't even own this place. So I'm just lucky to live here and I can hold that space for others to come, and then as I have been asked to go to other countries and teach and to bring these ceremonies, specifically the medicine dance, the fire dance, then these communities are being created there. And I'm not even there but maybe a few weeks or even a month out of the year, but I'm so connected and truly social media does help us connect in. About nine or ten years ago I created a little group on Facebook called Otter Dance. I think I had 10 or 12 of my friends in it and now this group on Facebook, along with my business page, we're reaching over 4,000 people around the world who are like-minded. There are people who say to me, ‘you're a leader of such an amazing community’, and I say ‘no! no! I am part of an amazing community full of healers, and teachers, and speakers, and amazing, amazing people.’ I am just kind of like the hub in the middle of it, but I don't feel like a leader of it at all, and I'm so grateful to be a part of this. I think it's all just because it's what I desired in my life.
AS: So I hear you saying it just sort of organically manifested itself from you and having medicine and being in your soul purpose really?
The second half of the interview with Robbie can be viewed below: