Last week my dear friend Fernando Ortiz Monasterio called me. We met quite by accident more than a decade ago while watching the sun set on an isolated beach in Baja California and bonded immediately. He was an engineer from Mexico City and worked with the Huichol Indians who live in the inaccessible canyons of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Mountains.

When he found out that I was a psychiatrist who worked with Native peoples he told me about a 10-year epidemic that affected children in boarding schools; they became possessed by demons that transforming them into aggressive animal’s, and it lasted for days, sometimes weeks’.

In my work as Chief of Psychiatry at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center for many years I learned about the profound impact that witchcraft/ the casting of spells/ demonic possession/ could have on people. I also came to appreciate the profound impact that rituals, ceremonies, prayer, drumming, and natural medicines could have in opening channels into the unconscious mind. It changed people’s behaviors, even their crazy thoughts, and as a result I have come to incorporate such healing practices In my own work.

Fernando asked me if I thought I could be helpful in dealing with this problem, and told him I might, but if I became involved I would need an invitation from the tribe to do the work. It took us a year to work out the details and gather the team of three Americans and three Mexicans all with specialized skills to participate, and it has been the most profound healing I’ve ever participated in, (Kindling Spirit, Hammerschlag, C. A., Turtle Island Press, 2011)

When Fernando called, he wanted me to capsulize in a sentence what the critical elements were that promoted healing? I said, at its core it was belief in the practice and in the practitioner. It didn’t matter if you were a neurosurgeon or shaman, you needed to believe in the system, and trust the person treating you. You also had to want to get well, and be surrounded by a community of loving support.

You don’t have to be possessed by demons in the wilderness to experience how to get healthier; want to see how to get well when surrounded by a community of support; come to the Clown Town Healing Fest ( in Phoenix, Feb. 27, 2016 and experience how we can heal in community.


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