John Lockley Transcript

John Lockley Interview

Rick: Welcome to Buddha at the Gas Pump. My name is Rick Archer. Buddha at the Gas Pump is an ongoing series of interviews with spiritually awakening people. I’ve done over 420 of them by now and if this is new to you and you’d like to watch previous ones, please go to, B-A-T-G-A-P, and look under the past interviews menu, where you’ll see all the previous ones archived in various ways. This show is made possible by the support of appreciative listeners and viewers, so if you appreciate it and feel like supporting it to any degree, it means a lot to us, and it makes it possible for us to do this. There’s a PayPal button on every page of the site. My guest today is John Lockley. I’ll read his bio here and I’m going to pronounce a couple of these names incorrectly, but John will pronounce them for us correctly as we go along. John is a traditionally trained African shaman known as a Sangoma from Nelson Mandela’s tribe. Say that, John.

John: Kosa.

Rick: There’s a click in there which I can’t do. The Kosa Nation. He also has a background in Zen Buddhism and was a student of the late Zen master Su Bong from South Korea. He holds an honors degree in clinical psychology and specialized in health psychology with an interest in trauma and how people recover from life-threatening illnesses like cancer. For the last 10 years he has been running Ubuntu, humanity retreats, worldwide, helping people to reconnect to their essential humanity, their bones, which means their ancestors, their dreams, and ultimately their life purpose. His mission in the Western world could be summed up in the Kosa word, Masiembo, involving a profound remembering of the human spirit. As John says, when people can remember their dreams and connect to their life purpose, then their true vocation surfaces, namely being in service and acting as guardians to our planet. John has written a book which I enjoyed very much, read cover to cover, called Leopard Warrior, a journey into the African teachings of ancestry, instinct, and dreams. So, welcome John.

John: Thanks Rick.

Rick: I’m going to start by having John do a little chant that’ll kind of get us into this. This is a traditional chant from the tradition in which John is a shaman. So, go ahead John.

John: So, I just ask people to just drop into their hearts. So, the more available you are in your heart, the easier it is for me to chant, wherever you are. So, here we go. [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting] [Chanting]

Rick: Thank you.

John: I’m just doing a prayer to the Great Spirit of Tikva and the ancestors and I’m asking them to please help, to help open the road. And I’m giving the names of my ancestors and my lineage and I’m asking the Great Ones to come and be with me and help me to help the people remember the old ways of our collective humanity and in particular to remember Ubuntu Bubuntu, which means the depth of humanity and what that means is I cut my arm, red blood flows, I cut your arm, red blood flows. We are all part of this human family and part of my mission is to help people to remember this.

Rick: Good, well I’m glad you made that last point because in your bio we said that you’re from Nelson Mandela’s tribe and there’s an obvious difference between you and Nelson Mandela although your blood would be the same color. So how is it that a white man with Irish ancestry ended up following the path you followed?

John: Yeah, I’m sure a lot of people ask that question but it all starts with dreams, so it all started with my mother’s dreams and feelings of Africa and my mother was brought up in Dublin in Ireland and in the 1950s and 1960s she had this calling to go to Africa and it came with this great love of the wilderness and one day she’s walking along the sea, along a very well-known pier in Dublin and she had the vision of all these African elephants coming to her and that compelled her and inspired her to leave Ireland and to leave her work that she had in London and to go to Africa and she went to Zambia and then she went to Zimbabwe, Rhodesia at the time and that’s where she met my father, and then she encouraged my father to go into the African bushveld and as she said to me years later, she wanted to go into the African bushveld and see wild animals, wild elephants while they are still roaming free and wild, and anyway, my story is a long story and if people are interested I encourage them to read the book but I’ll just shorten it slightly and just say that

Rick: We have about two hours here so we’re going to talk about your story and I’m going to ask you questions.

John: Okay, sure, so when I was born I was born in Cape Town below Table Mountain and I was born with this white clay around my eyes which is one of the markings of a Prosa Sangoma .

Rick: It wasn’t really clay, that was some white pigmentation or lacquer pigmentation, right?

John: We call it clay, we call it just the white birth skin, that’s what it is. So, I was born with that and then when I came out of the womb, my mother said I looked like a little aborigine and of course that was the early 70s in apartheid South Africa and the white consultant doctor was really shocked, and of course, the nurses utilated and my father laughed.

Rick: What does utilating mean?

John: u-u-u-u-u

Rick: Right, which is a sign of celebration?

John: just celebration, I mean every birth is sacred so it might not have meant anything special, there’s the baby and there’s the white skin, there you go. So anyway, it was many years before my mother forgot the fact that I had this white birth skin around my eyes and it was only many years later when she met my Prosa teacher who came into our property, into our home. She arrived with the beautifully white clay around the eyes and these beads around her and then my mother remembered my birth, and she sat down with my teacher and she described my birth and my teacher said yes, That’s the way all Prosa Sangomas, we have this strong calling, that’s the way we are born.

Rick: So anyway. Did you have a past life memory of having had this kind of life before, perhaps as a black man?

John: I can’t really recall as such, not clearly but maybe there was some of that, but anyway I had these dreams from the age of about was 16 and that’s what started everything going for me. I was obviously going through puberty and in this dream I was in the jungles of South America and I was walking very, very clearly with a lot of mindfulness through the jungle and I was in search of gold and I remember that I found this gold in the jungle and as I woke up from the dream having found the gold there was this woman’s voice that said to me very, very clearly, “John, in order for you to find your calling, and connect with your destiny you have to come close to death” and then I woke up from the dream with this sense and I wasn’t afraid but I was very aware that I had to make a decision, because a lot of white boys or white men were conscripted and drafted into the South African army, because it was still apartheid and my brother was going to be drafted soon and a number of people I knew had been Drafted, so I had a choice to decide what area of the armed forces to go into and after that particular dream it was very clear for me to sign up for the medical corps because I wanted to train to become an operational medic, go to the front lines and do some good and experience. My sense was I was going to experience death but I had a sense of jubilation around that, the sense that that’s what I needed to do. So when it was my time to go into the South African army.

Rick: You wanted to be able to help people rather than kill them, right?

John: That’s right, yeah. So, my choice was to do some good and learn some healing arts and fortunately I had a chance to choose what area of the armed forces to go into. So, I chose the medical corps and then a couple of years later the South African war with Angola ended in December 1989 and I was drafted, still drafted to go into the army and so I went in January 1990 just after a major offensive in Angola and I started my military service at one military hospital in Pretoria and that was the start of my journey in working with African soldiers, most of whom were special forces and these African soldiers started teaching me these old ways and I had a number of experiences which I’ve written about and one of the most powerful experiences for me, was the experience of dealing with these or working with these special forces soldiers and one story in particular which I can share with the listeners was how I went into the ward every day and I used to ask if they had any good dreams and every day I’d walk into the ward and open the curtains and the soldiers would be quiet and I’d ask them if they had any good dreams and they’d still be quiet and after the third day I opened the curtains and I said, “Good morning guys, did you have any good dreams?” and they all said, there was again answered by this sense of quietness and then at the back of the ward there was a sergeant and he said, “Come over here medic, I want to speak to you.” So, I went to the side of his bed and I said, “Yes sergeant sir, how can I help you sergeant?” and he was this big Zulu sergeant, very powerful man, great leader and he said to me, “In my culture dreams are very sacred, when I dream my ancestors come to me and show me who’s going to live and who’s going to die in my platoon. I tell the men, the ancestors are calling you, this could be your time. They laugh at me, but they still die. So, in my culture dreams are very sacred, don’t ask me again if I’ve had any good dreams.” And I said to him, “Thank you sergeant, yes thank you, sir.” And he was actually apprenticing to become a Zulu Sangoma, he was an initiate at the time, he was going through his time of calling, his time of twaza, his time of illness and then I went through this process of, I was very happy when he shared that with me because I’d already had my calling dreams to become a Sangoma and when he said this to me, I had a sense that something was being stirred and shown to me in a very profound way. At that stage I was only 18 years old and that experience with Sergeant Ndlovu actually propelled me to go to the matron of the hospital and ask if I could go into a more intense helping situation. So, I asked to go into the intensive care unit so that I could be more front lines in terms of helping people who were dying and the matron was quite shocked, because she said it was the first time she had ever experienced a conscripted soldier who wanted to do more work, not less and I explained to her that I wanted to study psychology and I wanted to use my time in the army and the military for good use, I didn’t want to waste my time. So, she said “okay, the intensive care unit is full at the moment but the neurology ward needs medics.” So, I said fine, so it was literally the next week she got me into the neurology ward and that’s where everything started taking on a whole different shape, because I was working with very, very sick soldiers, a few of them actually died and one in particular had a very profound effect on my life. So, within the first few days of going into that ward I helped put a another sergeant, sergeant major, I helped put him into a body bag and that was quite traumatic for me. I never knew how I was going to deal with something like that.

Rick: You were just 18 years old too.

John: I was just 18 years old and no one really helps you deal with that kind of thing, you just deal with it you know. And then each medic is assigned different patients to look after during the course of their shift. So, I was assigned about three different patients and this one patient I was assigned was in a coma, semi-coma and he had been, he was only 22 years old so only a couple years older than me and he had been in this horrific car accident where he had probably broken many bones in his body and he was in a state, like I say semi-coma, and every day his mother would come to me and ask me if he was going to live or die. I mean it’s quite a thing at 18, every day his mom would ask me how how her son was doing and whether he was going to live or die and it was quite a heavy thing. But anyway what happened with him was I nursed him for six weeks until it was decided by the nursing staff and the doctors and the family that it was best to turn off the machines keeping him alive. So that’s what they did and then I was asked to do the final observations. So, a lot of the medics in the ward, some of the more senior medics found this particular case very, very traumatic and it was very difficult for them, so they asked me if I could do the observations. So I literally felt his pulse underneath my fingers and near his neck. I watched him die and it was quite traumatic because I mindfully watched him die and that was my job to be with him, and as I left his ward because my shift was over and as I left the room, I looked at him suffering and looked at the family and I prayed, I prayed like I never prayed before and I had a background then in Catholic, as a Catholic, a Christian Catholic, and I prayed to Mary, I prayed to Joseph, I prayed to all the angels, to God and I just Said “ This suffering here is wrong,” the way he’s suffered is wrong and I call on the great spirit and God and all the angels to help me find a way of healing where I can connect to the soul of the person, so if anyone is ever sick again in future that I can connect with the soul of the clients, of the patient and speak to the family and give a message because here I don’t know what to do, we have all the best medicine in the world but yet this man is dying and there’s no peace for anyone. So I said this in such a strong way, such a strong prayer from the heart and as a soldier I prayed and then I left the room and went home and then the next day I came back and his room was empty, that was it, hewas gone and I just carried on with my life and about two weeks later a friend of mine introduced me to Zen Buddhism and all these mysterious things happened so I was called in to train in Zen Buddhism with a friend and that’s how my journey started and I like Buddhism, because Buddhism was showing me how to deal with suffering, how to deal, it says life is suffering, it’s the first thing I learned when I went to meet this Buddhist nun, she said life is suffering, I was like right, you’ve got me, I’m right there, so anyway I think I’ll fast forward for the listeners because you asked me the question of how this white boy becomes a Sangha

Rick: Don’t skip anything important but keep going.

John: This is an important part, the Zen training was important because anyway, I’ll explain to the listeners, I started Zen practice meditation and the question was “what am I, why do I live every day? why do I eat every day”? These were the questions I was asking while I was meditating and then I went on my first Zen retreat which was about four days and it was in a very old kind of forest in South Africa. So, I went there, and I meditated like a soldier, I just gave it everything, and then I went home again because I was just about to start my shift in the hospital and just before I returned home, I had a dream that night and in the dream, I was in another world, it was one of the most powerful dreams I’ve ever had, and I saw this man who was draped in all these animal skins and he had beautiful black skin and he had these piercing eyes and he was just staring at me, and I could smell the herbs around him, I could see the animal skins and I started to speak to him with my mind and I started telling him about the army and my experience and all the suffering and apartheid and I said to him, “please teach me, teach me about nature, teach me about how to deal with suffering” and I said “teach me everything to do with nature and how to help people with Suffering.” And he was quiet and then I remembered looking to my left and seeing another man next to me and we were both lying on the ground naked like in the old ways with our stomachs on the ground and there was a man on my left who was a black guy and I was this white guy but we’re the same age and there was a sense of this brotherly love between us and we were both lying at the feet of this, what I called him a witch doctor because I didn’t know what else to call Him, but he was this medicine man, a very powerful medicine man, so I asked the medicine man, the witch doctor, three times ,“teach me about nature, teach me about suffering, show me how I can heal people using the art of nature, the beauty of nature.” And he kept quiet, he didn’t respond to me and after the third time of me asking him he started to speak, and he said to me in order for me to teach you, he said you’re going to become very, very sick and you’re going to become close to death yourself and he said this is the way of my people, in order for me to teach you, you’re going to come close to death and then you will start learning these old ways. So, I said to him “teach me”, I said “I’ve already come close to death, I’ve had to put my favorite dog down because she was sick and I’ve experienced so much suffering around me and I’m in the apartheid in the South African army and I’m only 18 years old” and I said” if you don’t teach me, my life is over because I’ve seen enough suffering and I’m only 18.” So, he nodded his head and the next thing he showed me a vision of the future, five years into the future and our friends of mine who were struggling what they were going through and he just showed me all the suffering and the dynamics he’s showing me and five years later it came to pass. But when I woke up from the dream, I had boils all over my legs and the night before I went to bed there was nothing, not even a scratch and when I saw the boils on my legs I smiled and I was happy because I knew that the witch doctor of my dreams had accepted to train me as his apprentice. So, I went to the hospital because that’s where I was working and obviously I went to the to the clinic and I was diagnosed with tick bite fever and from then on I got one illness after the next. It was like my immune system was compromised. I got all these different illnesses for over seven years but something mysterious happened during the time of me getting all these illnesses. I also became very intuitive and very psychic and I had incredible dreams where the spirits or ancestors or angels, whatever you want to call it, from the Xhosa nation and the Zulu nation, they came to me, African ancestors came to me and started teaching me things as well as Zen Buddhist monks came to me in my dreams. So, at that stage it was still apartheid and I wasn’t able to go and find a Xhosa teacher to work with.

Rick: Before you go on, let me ask you about dreams a little bit, okay? Because that was an amazing dream that you had. As you told the story, it’s easy to almost forget that you’re talking about a dream and think that it was a real life situation that you were actually engaging with this guy. I know you placed tremendous importance on dreams, as as a representative of your lineage or tradition. So, what is it about dreams? Some people would, some people are interested in lucid dreaming, there’s a whole field that studies that, and some people would say that dreams are just sort of these hallucinatory things that are a result of brain activity while the body is resting and sleeping. But most traditional cultures place tremendous importance in them And, I would tend to agree with the traditional cultures over the sort of modern materialistic perspective. So why is it, what do you think are the mechanics of what’s actually going on in a dream like the one you had? Does that shaman that you interacted with actually exist on some level and he’s able to get through to you because you’re in a more open receptive state during the sleep, during sleep, during dreaming? Or is it still a fabrication of the of your own unconscious or of the collective consciousness or what? What do you think is really going on there?

John: I think with dreams, there’s all different kinds of dreams and when I’m teaching people, I talk about the levels of dreams. I think when we are working with clients and patients at Sanghaumas, our job is to help people to connect with their soul, and when you’re connecting with your soul it’s a particular kind of dream, and those dreams are the ones that open up to you, you could say past life experiences or lucid dreaming, but these are all words and I’m a Mystic. I work in a mystical way which means I’ll go beyond language and beyond concepts and it’s to connect with the soul of life. So how do you know you’re connecting with the soul of something? Well, you feel everything is alive, like I talk about the leopard, when the leopard is going through the African bush, its whole body, its whole spine is shining, it’s alive like this lightning conductor. So, these dreams, these soulful dreams are very important for every human being and we will even say amongst the cross and the Zulu that if you don’t remember your dreams, then you’ve got an illness and you need to see a Sanghauma. And what they are talking about, they’re talking about dreams with a capital D, they’re talking about soulful dreams that are impacting on we say your ummoya, your soul, the soul inside of you, because in the Xhosa and Zulu system and other traditional African systems, we see the soul of man as growing as you’re getting older, it grows, it’s continually growing, however, it needs to be watered and one of the ways your soul is watered is through you observing your dreams and taking action on your dreams. So, in that situation I was awake in the dream and was it a dream, or not? Well in the traditional sense we would say it wasn’t really a dream, it was me meeting a spirit, meeting an ancestor, meeting a guide, it wasn’t really a dream, I was entering the other world, we call that other world the world of the river people, Imlan Djani, because it was so powerful. But I don’t want to confuse listeners, I just want to explain that when you’re getting certain kinds of soulful conscious dreams, it opens up many different doorways and the reason why I do this work is because the western world is dealing with a great sense of forgetfulness, forgetting the power of the human spirit, the human soul and what we need to do is connect with our dreams more. So, these dreams, everyone gets to a certain extent, I was primed to call it my karma, call it whatever you want, but through a lot of suffering, people pray. When people are really suffering, they pray, they don’t think about material objects, they don’t think about new shoes or new cars or when people are really suffering, they pray. And so, this is a common, I wouldn’t say my experience was a common experience, but I’ve spoken to a lot of Sanghamas who have received a calling through a lot of hardship and a lot of suffering.

Rick: And I heard you say in your book, well one thing before I say that, is, in my own life the most profound experiences I’ve ever had have happened during sleep and I wouldn’t have called them dreams, They were just so powerful that it was like a real blowout mystical experience that happened to happen while I was in the sleep state, but it’s very different from ordinary dreams. And my sense was that in sleep there’s an an innocence and surrender which you don’t really have usually in the waking state which makes you amenable to, or open to that kind of experience. Would you concur with that?

JOHN: Yes and what I want to say to people, is that, I had a client today actually and I mentioned dreams and she said “Dreams. when during the day?” and I said “that’s a daydream, that’s your imagination.” She was a young client and she was very funny and I said to her, I said honey we’re looking at dreams at night, capital D, when you’re sleeping and why important is because your ego is not being engaged, your personality is not engaged, you’re in a state what they call tabla rasa which means a blank slate, so you don’t have I, my, me. You don’t have your wants engaged in the same ways and there’s different levels of dreams, certain kinds of desires can come through in your dream state of course, but by and large when you’re sleeping and there’s no gender and you’re just sleeping, those are the dreams to watch because it’s showing the deep longings of your soul, it’s showing things that you might not be aware of when you’re in your waking state.

Rick: Okay, regarding the topic of dreams, a question just came in from a fellow named Raymond Schumann in Olympia, Washington. He’s saying the benchmark for North European shamanism is the flight of the spirit, out-of-body experience, is that part of your tradition?

John: Yes, sure.

Rick: Okay, want to elaborate?

John: I don’t want to get caught up in words, I think the whole idea here, is to go beyond words, because that’s the mystical approach, flight of spirits, that sounds nice, it sounds nice but in the African tradition our focus is the dreams and if you want to call that a flight of spirit then you can say that, yes, but it’s how you can engage your spirit in the dream state and how you can, what kind of information is given to you, how do the ancestors come and give you knowledge and information. So yeah, I could agree with the listener there that that’s the correct word but in Africa we just talk about it in a different way.

Rick: Okay, and you know what they mean by out-of-body, I mean some people have these dreams where they seem to go someplace and they travel, they see other lands or whatever and then they come back to their body. So, I guess that’s what he was asking about.

John: Yeah, I think he’s right, that’s right, the same for us in South Africa, yes, correct.

Rick: Okay, good. Now we were beginning to talk about “twaza” if that’s the correct pronunciation or this sort of purificatory cathartic suffering that you went through and that seems to be almost a universal thing in many cultures around the world, many traditional cultures. It’s a metamorphosis and I think there are degrees of severity and perhaps it depends upon how deeply entrenched a person is and impure they are or something, how severe it’s going to have to be. But I guess, would you say that some degree of this sort of thing is going to be necessary for anybody who really wants to make a profound transformation?

John: Yes, we have a saying in the course when I was going through the twaza, they say the depth of your twaza illness is the depth of your job as a healer. So if you have a really tough time then it’s a sign, they say, it’s a sign that the ancestors have a big job for you. Unless you’re born as you would say in a in quite an evolved way already and you just have to have a small illness to remind you of certain things, but generally, I’m generalizing now, according to the elders who train me, they say that if you have a very strong twaza where you got very sick and close to death then it’s a sign the ancestors have a very big job for you and you’re going to have a lot of healing work to do in the future.

RICK: Yeah, I have seen actually that some people seem to have a pretty easy ride and then they’re flying high, whereas, but most I would say really have to go through years of intense stuff. Sometimes it takes the form of incredible kundalini experiences where they’re lying on the bathroom floor at 3 in the morning with their body burning up, contorting various ways and going through various sicknesses and so on and it can be quite Dramatic But I do know people who’ve gone through that kind of thing and have come out the other side.

John: Yeah, it can be quite dramatic, you’re right, that’s for sure.

Rick: All right, so pick up the story. I want to be asking you questions but I don’t want to interrupt your train of thought.

John: Yeah, well maybe I’d shorten it actually because there’s a lot of energy in it and I just think if the listeners really want all the details they can read the book, because that’s why I’ve written the book. So the question is, a lot of listeners are like, what’s this white guy doing as a sangoma and so, let me just explain that it’s not about the color of your skin, it’s about how you’re called by the ancestors. So, in my particular case, I had this very profound calling where I was being called by African teachers and guides to become a sangoma but I never went looking for it, as such in a overt way. So, I remember I was learning in the townships of South Africa, I was there working as a student helping with AIDS relief and education and my professor got us to go and work with an herbalist and he was asking the herbalist all these questions to understand African healing and after that experience I asked one of my friends who was an interpreter in the psychology department if he could take me to a sangoma that he would go to or a member of his family.

Rick: This is after your sojourn to South Korea?

John: Yes, that’s right, yes.

Rick: So, you spend like three months in a South Korean Zen monastery sleeping three hours a night and meditating your brains out.

John: Yeah, that’s right.

Rick: And they wanted you to become a monk there and you said “I think I better go back to South Africa”.

John: Yeah, and vote for Mandela and my sense when they asked me to become a monk in Singapore, in the Korean system I was training and Zen Master Daesun Sim invited me to become a monk and it was such an honor, but when he pushed me to that point of becoming a monk I realized that my destiny was to become an African monk, an African priest because of all the dreams that were pointing in the direction of Africa. So, I went back to South Africa and I voted for Mandela and then I went back to university to finish my degree in psychology and that’s what took me back to the townships in South Africa working with the local people. So, my friend organized for me to go and have a meeting with a Sangoma that his son was being treated by and he said she was a very good Sangoma and she was helping his son deal with, his son was only three years old at the time, he had a skin condition, so, he said that she was helping him with a skin condition and she spoke the truth and she was very good. So, we organized to go the next day and then the night before I went to go and see her, she had a dream, she said where the great spirit came to her and said to her that she needed to prepare herself to train someone to become a senior Sangoma like her and she said this person is going to come from another culture, not the same culture as you and you need to prepare yourself for this. So, the next day when I walked through her gate she was sweeping the yard, she looked up and she saw me and she said that she realized I was the person she had to train and I was there with my girlfriend at the time and my friend, my interpreter friend. So, when she sat down she spoke about the last seven years of my life in quite a lot of detail in terms of what had happened to me and then she spoke about my future and she said that I was destined to become a senior Sangoma and that I had a very strong gift and that my gift would manifest in certain ways in the future and she was right about that, and then she also asked me if I’d like to become her apprentice. So, this is the crux of the story for all those listeners looking at this white umlungu, what is this white guy doing? Listen to this and listen very carefully because I’ve got a lot of prejudice from people and I feel that as a human being we need to practice the art of listening and the art of kindness. So please listen to this very carefully. She asked me if I would like to become her apprentice and I didn’t say yes straight away. She asked me a few times if I’d like to join her and become her Sangoma apprentice in the Xhosa Nation and I said to her “What does it mean to become a Sangoma and to become your Apprentice”? She said to become a Sangoma means that you’re going to stop being so Sick, because I had still been sick up until that point and she said and you’re going to be able to heal people in all different ways. The ancestors are going to move through you and you’re going to be able to heal people in multiple ways. So, I thought that sounded pretty good because all I’d been brought up with was this idea of witch doctors from apartheid South Africa which I already knew was nonsense. So, I said to her okay mom. I’ll accept and I’ll accept the calling to become your offer to become your apprentice and then I said “oh one more thing” and she said “okay what’s that?” And I said “I will become your apprentice if you can agree to train me as if I’m a Xhosa man. Don’t make any shortcuts because I’ve got white skin and I don’t speak Xhosa”. And she said of course that’s the only way to do it. So, I said “okay, I accept I’ll become your Apprentice” and she said “great” and she said “okay well then tomorrow come tomorrow and I’ll give you your first white beads. Signed apprentice and we are walking this road together.” So, I said great so that next day- that night we went to sleep and then in the morning we saw a neatly folded goat skin was left outside the meditation center that I was running that we were practicing at. It’s a neatly folded white goat skin and we had all these dogs in the area, township dogs, stray dogs and not one of the dogs touched this white goat skin. So, we took the goat skin we wrapped it up and we took went over the hill to my teacher and she said to me… I said to her “Did you leave this goat skin outside my home where I was praying” and she said “no” and I explained to her the situation and she said the ancestors have done this she said is in yanya ziavoma she said the ancestors have accepted to train you and she was quiet and she said you’re going to be trained in the old ways of the Xhosa people and then her husband came into the room and he’s an elder in the Xhosa nation and she explained the situation to him and he said “welcome this home will always be your home you are now going to be like one of our sons in this family, you are very Welcome” and then three weeks later my teacher had a dream that her ancestors came to her, Xhosa ancestors and they said you must call him Uthingo Lendaba. Uthingo Lendaba means the messenger, the bridge, the one who joins someone over long distances. So, then we had a ceremony together and a lot of sanghormas came from the community and they said that actually, it was a small group of people but it was a very powerful group and we did lots of drumming and singing and when they asked what my name was my teacher said Uthingo Lendaba everyone was quiet and they said that’s a very powerful name. it’s very auspicious and they said the ancestors have got a big job for you and at that stage I just was 25 or 26 years old and I traveled to South Korea and only visited Ireland once or twice as a child I hadn’t done much traveling and since then I’ve traveled all over the world and each time I’ve traveled I’ve spoken to my elders about where I’m going and I come back and speak to them and before writing this book I discussed it with my elders and they gave me permission to share some of these basic teachings and how people can connect with their ancestors and their dreams because I said to them there’s a crisis in the western world that people don’t know their ancestors and they don’t remember their dreams and amongst the traditional Xhosa people and amongst the elders, it is seen as a serious illness if people do not know their ancestors and do not remember their dreams- it’s considered a very serious illness. So, I said to them this is what I’m coming across and I’d like to use some very simple techniques of prayer to teach people how to remember their humanity and all my elders said we give you our blessing, siavoma, we agree. So, I’d like to say all this so people can be aware that the red blood of our humanity is what binds us and this is very important.

Rick: Good, I want to ask you about ancestors but before I do that, I just want to ask, you were in a South Korean monastery, did a lot of Zen Buddhist practice your South Korean Zen master said that he got enlightened at the age of 22 or something, So you’re well familiar with the notion of enlightenment and what it is and so on. Is there an equivalent in the Sangoma tradition and the Xhosa tradition to enlightenment or is it just a completely different track of of spiritual growth?

John: I wouldn’t say it’s a completely different track but I’d say it is different so it’s very Zen and it’s a good question because I have thought a lot about this. So, what I could say in the Sangoma Tradition- it’s about how you can help your community and your clients, it’s about service. What I learned from my Sangoma community was about the action of, you could say Sangha, the community and it’s all about how much you can give your community and how much you can help, and it’s also very important, what’s very important and it’s very stressed in the tradition is we say “Torbeka” which means humility in the face of the ancestors and the spirit world, incredible humility and the action of service. And then if you are deemed worthy by the great ones or the ancestors, we say you will be given certain gifts and your gifts will get stronger as you get older with your career as a Sangoma because you have shown the action of we say “Torbeka” of humility and grace. And when that happens you will have a Dream, and as you have different dreams, even once you finish your training, you go to the elders, and you describe your dream and what you’re seeing in terms of what the ancestors or the spirit world is offering you. And that’s how people know, I won’t say the level of a Zen master but that’s how people know your development, your spiritual development and then we’ll have a ceremony and the whole community will be brought in. But the interesting thing in the Sangoma world it’s not about how powerful the Sangoma is, it’s about the action of helping the community and helping and bringing the teachings and bringing the message of prayer and helping, helping the community is the most important.

Rick: Jesus said you should know them by their fruits and a lot of that in Christianity and also eastern traditions there’s a lot of emphasis in some of them at least, on seva, on service and both for its intrinsic value to the world and also because it’s considered to be a powerful spiritual practice because it sort of attenuates the ego and ego and gets you out of the sort of me -me -me mentality into like a more selflessness, which is characteristic of enlightenment really. You’ve transcended in the individual ego and entered into a more universal awareness and seva can be a conducive tool to that.

John: Yeah, good point. And it’s about letting go your story because the story is powerful and you can write a book as I’ve done or you can have a dream journal or you can paint and draw but it’s important to be aware of your personal story, but not to be attached to it because once you get attached to it it makes it difficult to grow, whether the attachment and the story has got to do with being a victim or being someone who’s famous or powerful. Whatever the story is it’s like we have to be available to let go of that, so we can connect with something a lot more mysterious and mystical.

Rick: Yeah, it’s like an actor who forgets that he’s an actor and gets identified with his part or something. If Dustin Hoffman really thought he was Rain Man he would kind of put the kobosh on his career.

John: That’s a good way to put it. Yeah, okay that’s why we always say with the elders, we say that sure it’s great to look at a sangoma who has got black skin and looks the part but not to get attached to that. So, they didn’t have any problem with me having white skin because my elders said that I was sent to them by the great spirit and even though we had this terrible system of apartheid, I wasn’t responsible. They said “you’re not responsible for apartheid and the ancestors sent you to us and we have to train you and that’s it.” So, when I’ve traveled the world and I tell my elders that some people have an issue with the color of my skin they say “why? We all have red blood, what’s their problem?”

Rick: Well, you make a good point- using Desmond Tutu as an example, and Desmond Tutu is an Anglican archbishop and he’s a black man.

John: And he’s Xhosa.

Rick: And it’s a white religious tradition predominantly, but here is a black man who’s a representative of It, so why shouldn’t it work the other way around?

John: Yeah, yeah here we go. Welcome, we say welcome, welcome, welcome humanity with all our flaws, welcome.

Rick: Yeah, so another thing that I find common between your tradition, as I understand it, and other ancient traditions or traditional cultures as I understand them, is this emphasis on honoring the ancestors and in the Vedic tradition they have it they call them the pitri’s and there’s all sorts of ceremonies they do to honor the ancestors and I’m sure in Native American traditions they do it South American traditions. So perhaps you could explain the rationale for that, and I have a few questions as you go along.

John: Yeah, well first I need to explain the whole area of ancestors and what it means, because a lot of people seem to misunderstand that especially in the African context. So the word isnyanya means the silent hidden ones and it’s often a word, it’s a Zulu and Xhosa word, it’s often a word that is used to denote ancestors in the traditional African way, spirituality. But the silent hidden ones start off, we start off, we always start off with connecting with our blood ancestors. So we say that your mother and father and your grandparents, your lineage, is very important. So, when you’re starting a spiritual practice, whether you’re becoming a Buddhist or Christian, whatever it is, in the traditional African way, you would go and speak to your ancestors, because they already come, they’re already on the other side, other side of the river. So, your first lineage is your mom and your mom and dad. So you see everyone is having two different lineages. The first thing to do is when you’re starting a spiritual practice or you want to go deeper with your dreams or whatever it is, you honor, we say, you honor and praise your ancestors, your mother’s people and your father’s people. Now you are not worshipping them, you are just giving thanks for the gift of life and also, you are not honoring and worshipping their behavior or the stories. So some people say to me in Europe, that it’s very difficult for them to work with their ancestors because all the abuse that has happened in families and all the bad actions that have happened by the descendants, by the ancestors. So, I said, “well, it’s not our job to judge our ancestors and to get involved with the story. Our job is to honor and praise the consciousness that’s been passed to us.” Every human being has what we call Buddha nature, everyone has the shining, the Kanya, that consciousness, that shining element. So, when we are honoring and praising our ancestors, we are literally honoring and praising the gift of life, not the behavior or the story or what’s happened and we don’t honor that and bad behavior is never condoned. So, we honor and praise ancestors for giving us the gift of life, that’s it. And then the next thing,

Rick: let me ask you a question about that. I mean obviously we can bring up horrific examples of abuse and people, women or young girls are molested by their fathers and all that kind of stuff. In honoring and praising the ancestors, is there sort of a intent, is the underlying fundamental intention to actually free yourself, as well as to direct any sort of attention toward them? Because it would seem that if one could, if one had been abused for instance and one could actually bring oneself to honor the abuser, wouldn’t that somehow be liberating? Is that part of the psychology of it?

John: Yes, but I think we need to be very careful here. Again, I need to stress this many times that it’s not honoring and praising behavior, you’re honoring the consciousness, the actual shining consciousness that’s been passed on to you.

Rick: Is forgiveness part of it? Obviously, a lot of spiritual traditions talk about learning to forgive even terrible things. Is that part of what the mechanics of it?

John: I suppose that could come at some point, but it’s almost like you have to separate the abuser from their consciousness because if someone is enlightened, they’re not going to do a bad action, they’re going to do something which is full of compassion. So, the essence of every human being has the Ubuntu, the humanity of every human being is the shining, is this let’s say enlightened being, but the actions can be different. So, there’s an old saying that you can hate the abuse but not the abuser. You hate the action but not the person perpetrating it.

Rick: Yeah, you know that Indian saying namaste, I think it means something like “the God within me honors the God within you,” so you’re sort of connecting at the deepest level and overlooking the superficial things which might be flawed.

John: Yes, so this is a very, very important aspect of the practice to honor and praise your ancestors because they’ve given you this consciousness, this human life and then as you’re doing that and you let your ego go in the prayers, then you go to sleep and you dream. And sometimes when people do these very powerful ancestral prayers, they might dream about animals or they might dream about other nations, like for example me dreaming about the Xhosa people and they might dream about the Tibetans or the Korean people. Because what actually happens is that once you start connecting to that human consciousness, then the whole of the human family comes to you, and you may be trained by people from different lineages and different families. So that’s still connected to what I call the “Iznanya”. So, everyone would have their mother’s lineage and their father’s lineage, but they might also have an adopted lineage that comes to them once they’ve honored the gift of life inside of them.

Rick: You’re saying that honoring the ancestors, if it’s done properly, actually is a catalyst for connecting to your dreams and possibly to various other streams or lineages of knowledge?

John: That’s right, yeah, the wisdom keepers of humanity. As you let go your story and you show grace and humility, as you do that, often we pray on our knees and we just, we offer ourselves over and just say thank you for this gift of life, “Uvulun lele” open the road for us and then we let go with that and then the dreams come.

Rick: Okay, good, I think that point is clear. Incidentally as we go along, those who are listening, if you want to submit a question you go to the upcoming interviews page on There’s a form at the bottom of that page through which you can submit a question. Okay, so where next?

John: Where next? Where do you want to go next?

Rick: Well, obviously, you haven’t finished the story of your apprenticeship which went on for 10 years or something, right?

John: Yeah,

Rick: and what sort of things did you have to do during that period as an apprentice?

John: So, the apprenticeship period, would involve working with plants, so cleansing, and we don’t in the South Africa, we work with plant medicine to cleanse your body and wash your body and so we drink herbs and we’d wash with herbs and also use herbs to cleanse our living space, but we don’t work with hallucinogenics because a lot of people get very excited when I mention plant medicine. They go, “Oh yeah, you work with plant medicine? What kind of stuff you got in Africa?” And they get all excited, you can see it in their eyes, they get all really excited and I’ve said, “Look, we don’t work with hallucinogenics,

Rick: it’s just it’s really not part of the culture at all, there’s not some little branch of it that is into that, it’s just completely different.”

John: You will have some hallucinogenics, but it’s a secret, we won’t talk about that because it’s so powerful, it can kill people.

Rick: So, it’s used very sparingly?

John: Yeah, it’s not used a lot, no, very sparingly, yeah, but the main practice is the practice I’ve written about, which is working with certain kinds of plants to help cleanse the body and protect the body, so that you are more available to dream, to go into those deeper dream states. So, that’s the plant side of it, so a lot of the practice in the early years was going to the forest, collecting the plants and bringing it back to the homestead and then we’re chopping the plants, we’re preparing the plants and we’re putting it in the sun and we’ll be wrapping it in newspaper. So, we’re preparing the plants in such a way that the clients can come and then we’ll sell them to the people and we will help the people understand how to use the plants to cleanse themselves, to wash themselves, to drink and as we do this, that consciousness of the forest goes into the people and into the community. So, that’s why I say we have to be careful of the language, even in the Xhosa language, some things we don’t even talk about because it’s about experiencing the spirit of the plant, experiencing the spirit, we say, of the world of the ancestors, which means the dream time.

Rick: Yeah, there’s something equivalent in the Ayurvedic tradition in the great some of them, I knew one, I met one named, what was his name, Balraj Maharshi and the plants would speak to him, he could walk through the forest and the spirit of the plant would speak to his spirit and would tell him what it was useful for and so he had that kind of an affinity with the plant kingdom and the idea of taking the plant in the proper way is it’s not just that you’re getting some kind of chemicals that happen to be in the leaf, there’s something in terms of the subtle essence or the spirit of the plant that is helping you in some way.

John: That’s true and some of the things happen to us, so when we’re going to look for a particular, particularly sacred plants to help with our ceremonies, it’s a big deal, we go into the forest, we go to a certain time and I remember the early days, very mysterious things happening as we were walking along the path in the forest and we’re looking for this particular kind of bulb, which is very difficult to find, we call it Isilau, it’s kind of a generic name for this particular kind of plant and it looks like grass, it’s very hard to find and I remember going into the forest and I was with one particular Sangoma, an older lady who was very, she had very shiny eyes and she could just see where the plants are and as we were going, the birds were making a particular kind of bird sound and all of us stopped, it was just about two or three of us and we were quiet and then the Sangoma elder said to me, “Pray John”, so we prayed and she said, “We’re struggling to find the plant, pray again”, so we prayed and then we just followed the sounds of the birds and we kept moving through the forest and I felt the sense of electricity in my body, like a leopard or like a wild animal, except this human creature with this divine mission of finding this plant and everything changed around me, it was like entering another world, except it wasn’t a dream; this was real and this happened a number of times, we found the plant where we had to, it wasn’t like going into nature and just with a hacksaw and just taking everything down, it was this very subtle mindful action of walking through the forest with a prayer, with an intent and then looking for the sacred plant and that’s how we found them. And sometimes it would take a long time, many hours looking for one plant and this was the action we would take, it was this quiet, methodical, conscious prayerful walk through the forest.

Rick: Was there something about the birdsong where the birds were actually helping you find them?

John: Yes, that’s what I was thinking about, it’s almost like the whole of nature was conspiring to help us, but we had to show enough humility and enough openness of heart in order to find the sacred plant and as we did that we could watch the plants, we could watch the birds. The birds were always great in terms of showing us the way.

Rick: Nice, I love this stuff. Did you ever read the books by Laurens Vanderpost?

John: Yes, I read a lot of his books actually.

Rick: Me too, back in the 70s. If anyone has never heard of him, you might want to check him out. There’re particularly two books, “A Story Like the Wind” and “A Far-Off Place”. I just love those books, I read them a couple of times back in about 77 or 78. He’s a South African writer, he also happened to be Prince Charles’ godfather and he was a military man and a good friend of Carl Jung and so he was just like in a sense a very active man as a military man and a very deep man as a friend of Carl Jung and he kind of blends those two qualities of adventure and spiritual depth in his books and the books I just mentioned are all about a story that happened in Southern Africa. Anyway, I’m diverting, but I just want to tell people about those books because they’re so great.

John: He works a lot with the Bushman people, the Khoisan which is reputed to be one of the oldest indigenous tribes or peoples in the world. So, he worked for them in Botswana and connected to them is the Xhosa, that’s where the cliques come.

Rick: Right, he talks about that in his book. There’s a guy named Zabo which probably has a clique in it and Nguyen Tara was Zabo’s partner. Anyway, I won’t get into it but check those books out. It’s Lauren’s, L-A-U-R-E-N-S, Van Der Post. Okay, so after that little diversion, I just want to put a plug in for those books because I love them so much.

John: So, I could say in terms of training, I could say, Rick, that to become a Sangoma you have to be trained in three areas. So, it’s plant medicine and it’s the dancing and the cleanser and then it’s divination. The dancing is knowing the trance rhythms, knowing how to go in and out of trance which is all through dancing and then it’s the vumisa, we call it, or the divination where you read the soul of someone and then you give them plants or prayer to help them connect with their soul, with their dreams, with their ancestors. Each of those areas, the plant medicine, the trance dancing and the divination, each of those areas are huge areas in themselves. So, each person, in order to finish the training to become a Sangoma, you need to have gone through that, each of those stages and then as the years go by you might find a Sangoma as a specialist in one of those areas or all three areas, but each of them are almost like doing a master’s degree in each thing. It’s quite a large area.

Rick: Yeah, it’s interesting. And here too we’re talking about something in your culture which is universal. There’re so many ancient cultures in which herbs of various kinds and various kinds of dancing and drumming and divination are all key components.

John: That’s right.

Rick: And it’s good to understand and respect those things I think, and as you say each one of them could be a lifetime study in itself because there could be so much to learn.

John: That’s right, yes and I think a key thing which I’ve noticed going overseas is music, music to help connect to the spirit world and when I first went over to Ireland and I was called to go to my mother’s home in Ireland and the people who befriended me and who I became very close to were musicians and it makes sense because the word Sangoma means people of the song. So, my first friends were wonderful musicians who had a really open hearts and a lot of them were quite profound dreamers as well. So the streets of Dublin in various forms with the Baskars and the musicians really opened up to me.

Rick: Nice. In terms of the divination part, people are probably more familiar with the efficacy of herbs and certain types of traditional dancing to alter one’s consciousness but in terms of divination what does that involve, how do you do it?

John: To divine means to see the soul. I could say and there’s two different forms. The way I was trained in the process system was what we call Vumisa. Vumisa means ancestral agreement so, we don’t use bones in the traditional process way, it’s a system of of praying in a very kind of praying in a very- you could say like an incantation. So the Sangoma would start praying and call in the ancestors and then get visions of what’s happening to the client in front of them. And often and I write about this my experience of it was like this wind coming through me and when I described it to my teachers he said when you’re doing the divination, you want to feel that sense of this wind it’s the divining wind we call it Ummoyat, the spirit and that’s part of the gift is to pray to the ancestors and then to let go and to just start going to trance and seeing what’s happening with someone. So that’s the cross away and then the Zulu way or the Swazi way and the Shangaan way is throwing the bones. So the bones they’re called bones but it’s not just bones they’re a number of of natural objects encompassing plant material, bones, shells, lots of shells, sticks, all kinds of natural objects in this bag and you blow into the bag and you make a prayer and as you throw the objects onto a divining mat it creates a pattern, so the job of the divine is to read the pattern of the person’s life so that’s what I do. I use both methods. I use the vormisa and I throw the bones and I find throwing the bones a very creative but very beautiful process because this pattern ,you speak to the pattern of the bones and the shells in front of you and then it matches what’s happening to someone’s life. So, it’s not quite like a tarot card reading and it’s not quite like a fortune reading either. it’s not like fortune telling, it’s more like looking into a mirror and seeing what’s happening to the person right here and now and the journey in becoming a diviner is quite a long ,journey,because you have to let go of your own thoughts and your own opinions and your own story and just sink into the client’s world and see what’s happening in the divining mat with all the bones and the shells and things like that and I find that very magical and often this process of of immersing yourself in the world of the other means you also get immersed in the dream time or you have profound dreams, because often the ancestors show me how I can cleanse myself or how I can do work with herbs in a particular way so that I’m clearer to help the client in front of me.

Rick: Okay, could you tell us one or two stories or examples of one of the more dramatic or profound divination sessions you did with somebody where you threw the bones or whatever and and you were spot on in terms of tuning into them?

John: Well, it’s a very sacred space, I can’t go into too many details.

Rick: We wouldn’t want to name names Obviously,

John: But even talking about that space is very sacred in the African way So, I have to be very careful. I can just give a very loose experience.

Rick: Sure.

John: And the loose experience of it was when I was in South Africa and I was doing my training and I remember there was a whole line of family members because often in South Africa you don’t just go, an individual doesn’t go for divination, you always go with your family, because it’s a collective process. It’s not about the individual, it’s about us as a community. So, the question when you’re going with a family is who’s sick in the family and what can we do to help that? Okay So, I was in the training phase, I remember it was a very hot summer’s day and there were these people dressed immaculately in the divining room and my teacher gave me a chance to to give them divination. So, I went into the room and they had their shoes taken off and there was about seven of them and they’re all lining with their backs against the divining wall. There was a mud wall, and it was a beautiful sense of coolness inside and like I say, outside there was this heat that was almost unbearable, and the whole family was completely quiet, it was like church. It was so different from a western Experience, it being overseas. The whole group of people were very quiet and then my teacher encouraged me to do the prayers and to meditate, close my eyes and see what I could see. I did that and I felt this divining wind going through me and I saw the issue in the family and I saw the sense of sadness that some of the people had forgotten to honor their ancestors, starting to forget the old ways and then I saw it located, the pain was located in one of the family members, the young woman and I saw some of the problems with her, that she was engaged with and that she was struggling with and I felt, more than anything, I could share and that I felt this incredible, I felt the emotion of the people and I think that’s what was very powerful for me, was to feel the emotion of the people, feel their pain and I felt this pain in my body, the emotion of the family and then I started speaking about that emotion, I started speaking about what I was feeling in my body and then after a while the people said “Siavuma” which means we agree and they said “Tamago” which is the term of respect for a Sangoma and then I started describing to them what I felt they needed to do in terms of reconnecting with their ancestors and to deal with this pain in the family that they were experiencing and then I went to a little bit more depth with that and then I felt this wind inside of me just moving in and out and then the whole family said “Siavuma” we agree, and there was a sense of quiet but there was a sense of peace because I’d spoken and said things which were unsaid in the family. So, when they left the room, I heard them all chatting and speaking in a very joyful way as they walked up the street and then they waited in the front room while we prepared the herbs for them to help cleanse them, to help move them closer towards their spirits, towards their ancestors. So, my job in that situation as a diviner was to speak and give words to the unsaid emotions what was happening in the family and that they couldn’t put voice to and they couldn’t express. So, I had to speak about those emotions and I felt this- like I said this divining wind, I felt it coming into me.

Rick: Do you often feel a sort of a- like if somebody has a physical problem in their heart or their pancreas or whatever do you feel a pain in your own body and that helps you know that they’ve got that problem or not so much?

John: In the beginning it would be like that and now mostly be visions, mostly I would see it, I would feel it in a particular kind of way.

Rick: I see.

John: And I’m kind of happy with that because it would be overwhelming for me to get to know people. Physical sensations, especially all the traveling and all different cultures. It’s easier for me just to get the vision.

Rick: Less painful.

John: Yeah, that’s less painful.

Rick: A couple questions came in, this is from Flory in New York and it reverts back to something we discussed earlier. How do you determine that the people in your dreams, lucid dreams, those who come to you have good intentions and they’re good spirits? Is there any way to maintain safety in dreams? What if it’s a bad entity that’s coming?

John: I think that’s where daily practice is important and in the daily practice I can’t emphasize more that when we are honoring and praising our ancestors, we are honoring and praising the shining light, the consciousness, the absolute shining quality of our ancestors is what we’re calling forth. And then you have a practice during the day of prayer and meditation, whatever it is, but you’re focusing on the light, you’re focusing on the candle, that’s very important. So then when you get a a darker entity coming into your dreams, with us the way we’re trained is to actually tell that entity to go, to go away. We say in Xhosa, “Hamamohe mdaka, ham bani” which means go away negativity, go away dark spirit, go. And then the way we protect ourselves from those dark entities or those forces would be working with plant medicine. We have to work with plant medicine not just because the plants smell nice but because the plants help protect our spirits and help protect our body for when we’re going into these deeper spaces of dreaming. So, a lot of my work actually overseas is helping to educate Westerners about plant medicine or protection medicines that they can get to deeper states of dreaming, so they can let go their ego.

Rick: And they say that certain types of things one might do such as alcohol abuse or drug abuse or various other things kind of open you up to the sort of lower astral realms and you can become victimized by malefic entities. Whereas other things you might do such as meditation or things that have a healthier Effect, build up a kind of an armor and against such things spontaneously like that you’re just going to they’re not going to be able to come near you. Do you have something equivalent to that in your tradition?

John: Yes, I recommend with people that that they develop some kind of spiritual practice and I don’t like to say what it is but it should be a spiritual practice that goes beyond good and bad. So like meditation. Meditation, you’re not focusing on you’re going beyond good and bad, you go into the place of the light. And so if people are struggling in their life with addiction or with nightmares, wearing protection medicine at night whether they’re essential oils or sage or crystals or something that’s very important. But what’s also very important is to build your consciousness, build your soul energy and the way to do that is through spiritual practice. So, what I teach, I teach a practice of what I call the heartbeat meditation and that I get that from South Africa because in South Africa we have the drum. We don’t mention in the traditional culture, we don’t mention meditation and things like that because there’s no word for it. But what we do is we sing, we chant and we dance and we listen to the drum. So overseas what I teach people, is how to listen to the drum inside their own chests which is their heartbeat. And when I say to people listen to your Heart, I don’t mean in a metaphorical kind of poetic way, I mean literally put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and let go into that and call in the divining wind of you could say God or the great spirit or the purity of your consciousness. Call it in as you’re breathing into your heart, feel that rhythm, let go into it and breathe in this prana, this oxygen, this love, breathe it into you. And if you’re struggling with darkness at night or in your space, get yourself a candle, get a white candle and put it next to you when you’re meditating and just stare at that candle and call, call for love, call for protection, call for for the great spirit, for anything that is creating a sense of peace. But it’s very important, one of the things I can, the last thing I can share with this, is in our culture, when I was trained to deal with darkness and dreams, one of the things my teacher said to me, if you’ve got no herbs around you and you’re stuck at home, and you’re stuck in the dream and you don’t know what to do, you must pray. So, she taught me about prayer, you must pray, she said you must pray to God, you must pray to the great spirit, you must pray to your protectors, you must pray to your ancestors, you must pray like a soldier and then you must also tell that dark energy to go away. So, part of the training, the Sanghaoma training is to work with your volition, to work with your will and when I’m working with clients I also say that they must make a decision. They must make a decision to change the pattern of their life through calling in the light and and also for saying that certain patterns that are maybe abusive or not healthy for them, they must say no to that, they must make a decision and if they are struggling to make a decision, follow a practice that makes you feel good and gives you strength.

Rick: You probably know there’s an opioid epidemic in the United States and people die of overdoses every 20 minutes or something like that, I forget how frequently, but just all the time people are dying from opioid and it’s destroying communities and families and so on. Have you ever dealt with anybody who has a strong addiction like that and have been able to help them?

John: I’ve dealt with a mother who has children, she’s since passed away sadly, but she had a few children who were heroin addicts, so I helped her, yes, and in the process of helping her I had dreams about the entity of, you could say, heroin and I helped her deal with this and I helped her see the beauty in ceremony and even simple ceremony like baptism or going to church and it was quite a powerful journey we went on together and I could really, I felt a lot of empathy for someone who’s dealing with addiction or dealing with a family member who’s an addict and I think from talking to her and counseling and just befriending her because we became good friends. I think the most important is choice. People, even though they’re struggling with the addiction, they need to make a choice to say no and then move from there. yeah.

Rick: How about PTSD, have you ever dealt with PTSD sufferers?

John: Yes, well post-traumatic stress, that would be something that I would have dealt with myself, but definitely I would have dealt with a lot with soldiers from South Africa and also people dealing with a lot of poverty, people dealing with poverty across South Africa in the townships, we call them the townships, which is the ghetto areas, the informal settlement areas. A lot of those people are dealing with various forms of PTSD brought on by poverty and brought on by social violence and all kinds of things happen with poverty, so I’ve worked a lot in that area because of my time in the townships in South Africa, yes.

Rick: You mentioned that there’s not a formal meditation practice in the Sangama tradition, but you of course had a Zen background. Did your Zen practice kind of fall by the wayside when you got heavily into Sangama training or have you actually retained that along with your Sangama training?

John: Yes, I’ve retained it, fortunately I have to say I’ve been meditating all these years, but I want to just, so I don’t want to make a distinction between the two, although they are different. When I left South Korea and then I started becoming a Sangama, I saw the similarity, the beautiful similarity between the Sangamas I was training with and the monks who I just returned from, I just returned from, and I called my community African dancing monks ,because they sing, that’s the practice, is singing, but it’s not just singing, it’s chanting. They are Engormas, they are chants and they are powerful chants, so, the practice to connect with the other world in terms of meditation practice for Sangamas is chanting, singing and drumming, and oh my god, they are world leaders when it comes to singing and chanting, oh my god, I have touched levels of divinity and grace that I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else in the world that I’ve experienced in South Africa in the rural areas with some of the poorest people in the world, and they’re chanting and singing and you feel like the heavens are opening, that’s their practice, so the way they connect to the divine, the way they deal with poverty, the way they help the community deal with poverty is through singing and chanting and drumming and dancing and bringing forth the exuberance of the human spirit, even though they are dealing with horrific circumstances in their life, and when I saw this, I felt such joy and also I felt so grateful to be amongst these sanguamas who are showing me a way to deal with very, very difficult human conditions, so when they sang and they drummed, they completely let go of their own story and they became so spiritual because these chants they let go into and then they connected to Issei Uchika, the great spirit, and their ancestors, and that’s how we got these dreams. So, the question, a good question would be, Zen monk in South Korea, African dancing monk South Africa, are they the same or different? That’s what Zen Master Su Bong would say, “Are they the same or different?” And I would say, “Sir, they look different but they’re the same because the practice in their heart is of service.”

Rick: ; Interesting. Here’s a question very much along the lines of what you’re just saying. This is from Anna in Boston. She says, “It seems like from the Kosa perspective, a Sangoma who sat alone on a hill to meditate would be seen as spiritually immature and even quite selfish, whereas in the yogic or Buddhist tradition that same person may be seen as particularly evolved. How have you reconciled these two seemingly opposite teachings?”

John: Yeah, they’re opposite but I wouldn’t completely agree with that because a lot of Sangomas are loners, a lot of Sangomas are loners because they are dreamers, because they live outside the box, because of their experiences from the dreams, so they are mystics. So the top Sangomas, the ones who have gone through the training and have had to listen very carefully to their dreams, often they will have to go on journeys on their own, which would mean not necessarily- there’s no word for meditation but they could be sitting under a tree and praying and connecting with their ancestors. And I have heard of very, very powerful prophets, Sangomas from the olden days and probably also existing now in South Africa, living in caves and practicing. There’s just no word for meditation, so I don’t want to get caught up with language here. I think you will find Sangomas on their own, but of course, be generalizing now where the practice is mostly in a collective way of helping the community.

Rick: Yeah, I’m sure that people have different roles to play and some of them are more in the world and some more out of it, but according to their nature.

John: That’s right, that’s a good point, that’s right Rick, yeah, yeah sure.

Rick: Yeah, which is true also of other traditions, Christian, some are Cistercians or they’re cloistered and they don’t have anything to do with the world, others are social activists and they’re completely engaged in fighting various social injustices and it’s just according to your nature.

John: It’s a calling, so we always say in the in the Koso way that Ulandela Mapupa, you listen to the dream, Ulandela is Nyanya Zabo, you follow your ancestors and the gift that’s been given to you and the way they are leading you. So, you don’t stand in front of your dreams or in front of your ancestors, you stand behind them, which means you tell them where you’re going and what you’re going to do and then you wait for their blessing and you wait for the doors to open for you. So, it’s very much a practice of grace and working with the community and drumming also helps with that practice of grace, but sometimes if you have to walk alone and go into the forest and listen to the birds and the wind, it’s the same practice.

Rick: There’s another question from Flory in New York, she asked an earlier question. She’s wondering if divination is like clairvoyance.

John: Yes, very much so.

Rick: Yeah, all right, so what are some important points that I haven’t asked you yet or that we haven’t talked about? I’m sure that there’s some major doors we want to open to explore what you do and what you know and you know your whole tradition. There’s some important pieces we’ve left out that I haven’t thought to ask you About?

John: Are they? I’m not sure, I have to think.

Rick: Because I like these interviews to be really comprehensive as much as possible and so that a person really gets, and obviously people can read your book if they’re interested, but it’s nice to have a full taste of what the person has to offer.

John: Well, a big part of my calling is has been about helping to bridge the divide between the Western world and indigenous Africa and the kind of, I left South Africa thinking that South Africa was the only place that had this vicious form of apartheid and which had been institutionalized in one of the worst forms of social engineering in the world. And then I left and went to England and I traveled around and I sadly I found aspects of apartheid all over the world and then I realized that that was part of my journey was to experience this incredible illness or curse called apartheid which means separation and to feel it in every bone of my body, in the civil war of South Africa and then post-war South Africa and in the townships. Then teach people how to unite and come together in the spirit of Ubuntu, which means humanity. So, when people have an issue with me being a white Sangoma, I go wonderful, wonderful, you’ve got an issue because we have to face the prejudice inside ourselves and if you don’t face it and suddenly you make a comment that’s unkind about me then that’s actually racism. If you’re making a comment that’s coming from something inside of you which is based on prejudice or based on fear and then you take action by writing social media or opening your mouth then you’re stepping into the terrain of racism or something a little bit more serious. So, what I’m calling on every human being is to start practicing the ancient art of kindness. That’s Ubuntu, that’s humanity and it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, if you’re a human being, let’s start to practice the ancient art of Ubuntu, which means kindness and listening to what’s happening inside our hearts because this is the way we’re going to heal one another. and we’re going to heal the next generation. So, I’m showing people how to connect with their ancestors so that they can increase their sense of dignity in their bodies and so that they can have a sense of who they are and where they’re going in their future and also, so they can start to remember their dreams and with that process to really face the prejudice inside themselves and the Shadow, because when we are practicing as Sangomas and we’re learning this ancient art, we also have to befriend the shadow inside ourselves and what does it mean to befriend a shadow? It means to just look at it, to just look at it, not engaging with it, not acting upon it, but just look at that shadow inside yourself. So, if you’re feeling, “oh I’ve got jealousy inside,” ah wonderful, welcome to the human race. If you look inside yourself and you have issues because “I’ve got white skin and I’m an African Sangoma,” I’ll go wonderful, welcome to the human race, welcome, because our job as human beings is to transform into the lotus flower and if you look at nature, we need to look very carefully at nature, the lotus flower is feeding on the mud, that’s how it transforms itself. It doesn’t throw the mud onto another plant and say “I’m not going to suck this mud up, there’s no way I’m going to do that, I’m going to fling this mud on the other plant.” If the lotus flower does that, it’s not going to open into the lotus flower, it’s going to stay with the bud closed and it’s going to stay in this very cramped situation. So, what it does, it accepts the mud beneath it as fertilizer for its transformation and it starts to suck this mud up and it feels it in its heart and then at some point it opens. So nowadays we are suffering with a crisis in the human race and the crisis got to do with discrimination, racism, all kinds of ugly evils and the answer is very simple, feel the prejudice inside yourself but don’t spread the poison, feel it inside yourself, breathe in and out, practice kindness and that’s how we can transform ourselves and one another.

Rick: Beautiful, I came across some things in the last couple of days that very much relate to what you’re saying and that I’ve found very kind of meaningful. One is from the Dalai Lama, a quote he said “If you want others to be happy practice compassion” which I think is pretty much synonymous with kindness. “If you want to be happy practice compassion.” I really like that and then I also relate to what you’re saying. I read an interesting article today by my good friend Michael Rodriguez about the wisdom of heartbreak, and the reason I enjoyed it is that he’s just, what you were saying about people sort of wanting to get out of the mud and not face the shadow. There’s a lot of that in non-dual circles and certain spiritual circles where people just want to accentuate the positive and keep their attention on the positive and so on and it seems to sometimes result in an imbalanced development in which people do attain fairly high levels of consciousness or high levels of experience but there are all these lurking shadows which haven’t been dealt with and they come up to bite them on the ass later on and cause all kinds of problems in various sanghas and spiritual communities and so, I think Michael’s point in his article which I put on my Facebook page and Also, on the Batgap community web page, is that we have to just allow our heart to break open and sort of be heartbroken and we’re going to feel things much more acutely and viscerally than we would if the heart is closed. But a continual refinement and just going into greater and greater and greater tenderness actually makes us- it’s Vulnerability, but at the same time it’s a sort of an invulnerability because you’ve really opened your heart to include everything so it’s no longer threatened by anything which it doesn’t Include.

John: Yeah, you speak such truth their Rick, thanks very much. I see this a lot in the groups that I move around with- that people want a good experience when they come and do my retreats or my Workshop- they want a good experience and I have to actually say to them that wanting a good experience and wanting sweetness all the time is what we call addiction and nowadays in the world we have to watch that very carefully because bitter medicine is sometimes the strongest medicine to grow the soul and sayings in Africa I can use and one of the sayings we have is that the wood that takes a long time to burn is the best wood to work with and the bitter medicine is sometimes the strongest medicine to help grow the soul. So, what does it mean? It means that sometimes when people come and do a ceremony or a workshop they are activated in certain ways and the first activation they may experience is this emotion and the motion may be a heavy emotion, it may be guilt, it may be shame, it may be anger, it may be all kinds of uncomfortable emotions that are bringing them to their edge and I always say to them, “Wonderful, wonderful” and if they’re feeling a lot of positive emotion, they’re feeling excited and all the rest, I go, “Wonderful.” I said, “If you’re not feeling anything then come and speak to me” and no one has ever done that. People have got angry, they’ve walked away but people have never come to me and said they’re not feeling anything, because the job of the Sangoma is to be a lightning rod and to stimulate the spine of the people, stimulate the consciousness of the people. So, it’s a very physical job and it’s also a very mystical and very transformative job in many ways, but where people have to be careful, is that they don’t react to the emotions that they receive. So, if someone wants to go and have a really good experience and suddenly they feel all this anger and all this resentment but it’s coming from nowhere, but suddenly they’re looking for a place to put it, blaming other people in the circle, I’m saying that’s completely not correct. You need to feel these emotions coming up and it’s like you’re looking at a fire. Focus on the smoke, or do you look at the flame? And people are like, “Well, I look at the smoke a little bit, but I love the flames.” I go, “Yeah, that’s it.” When we’re doing this practice we look at the smoke in terms of the emotions coming off our body, but we keep focusing on the fire that’s coming inside of us, the fire that is igniting our bones, it’s igniting our spirit and that’s where your attention is. And it’s quite interesting for me because in South Africa when we are doing traditional ceremonies in the Xhosa tradition and sometimes you will look at your friends and your colleagues and community members and you can see that in their faces they have this beautiful word, they have this word, the faces, the people would look like they’re in a state of “Ukumbile, ukumbile.” I say, “Wena? Uchongeko ukumbile ngok?” which means grumpy, someone would look really grumpy, and afterwards you speak, and you say, “Wena? Ukumbile, umsebens? Were you grumpy at the ceremony?” And they’ll just laugh and they’ll just say, “Aye, umsebens wikrik, umsebens izinyanya.” They’ll just say, “It’s just a ceremony to do with the ancestors and it’s normal for us to feel all kinds of things, it’s just normal.” So, they don’t give it a second thought and they won’t even go there, but they’ll know that when we’re doing ancestral work that is connecting with our spirit, it’s normal for us to feel all kinds of emotions, it’s part of being human and during that time there is a warning amongst the elders that we don’t lash out with the emotions, we don’t shout at someone, we don’t create an argument, you don’t get angry, you just watch those emotions and you breathe in and out. But you don’t engage with those emotions because that’s how you can create disorder in the community.

Rick: Do you feel that as a Sangoma you’re acting as a sort of a washing machine That things pass through you and are purified and you’re sort of having a purificatory effect on the person you’re dealing with or even on the collective consciousness in general?

John: I hope so. I hope I’m doing some good, but I wouldn’t be glamorous about the job I do. I do enjoy it but I do feel a lot from people and I think my job is more like a spiritual plumber. I deal with the shit in society. It’s so funny, because my mom always wanted me to become a plumber. She said, “Oh, these plumbers, they always do great, they do great work, and they always have a great living.” She said, “If you ever want to be a plumber or electrician, you know, I’ll support you in the trades.” because my Irish family came from the trades background, and so, in a way I am a tradesman, I’m a spiritual tradesman, I’m a spiritual plumber because my job is to open up the channels inside of people. However, it’s a very humble and very simple job because I’m not in control of the process, it’s up to the clients. I can’t do anything that they don’t allow, that they don’t facilitate, and also, it’s more like being a coach, like a spiritual plumbing coach where I suggest certain things and then they can listen to me or not. I’m sure I can do some deep healing but at the end of the day the client is the one that accepts that and allows themselves to be healed.

Rick: Yeah, because you can only do so much. The reason I asked that question is that I’ve spoken with some people who say that they open up and once they sort of have processed a lot of their, most of their individual stuff, they find themselves beginning to process collective stuff and they may wake up at three in the morning and feel acutely something that’s happening in some part of the world and they feel like they’re somehow helping to bring harmony to it or some kind of resolution or diffusing some tension or something that’s not even their own.

John: I think that’s true and I also think that when we start working on ourselves in a profound way, discussing now, where we are consciously transforming the mud beneath us and inside of us for when we are consciously dealing with our own shadow issues of guilt or jealousy or anger or prejudice or racism or whatever those shadow issues are, when we are gently and consciously working on them, we are actually doing it for the whole human race and we’re also doing it for our ancestors. And you don’t have to be a guru, you don’t have to be a famous person, you could just be a simple person living in the ghettos or living in New York or living somewhere and you’re feeling grief and anger but you deal with it in a dignified way, you’re feeling resentment or prejudice but you give yourself a chance to just feel it and deal with it and try and transform it. You are doing an incredible work for all of us.

Rick: Sure. I think we’re all fundamentally interconnected and whatever we experience within ourselves, radiates an influence. And you you can’t- ”No man is an island” John Donne and everyone’s part of the main or however that is, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.” Yeah, we’re all interconnected and we’re sort of like all exerting an influence constantly and if you look at the state of the world, we’re just looking at the sort of the sum total of all the individual influences that are being radiated and obviously there’s some room for improvement.

John: Yeah, I’m hopeful because I think the people I meet- when people are coming with a shining hopeful way to do good and to really work on themselves and not to be afraid of their shadow but to look at it and to be… it’s a call to become a warrior. To become a warrior means, a spiritual warrior, what I talk about as a leopard warrior means to really look inside yourself and not be afraid of the pain and the shadow and the difficulty and to really look at that and as you do that you start to shine and just in the last six months I’ve met some incredible people on my travels in Ireland and now through the US, just simple ordinary people who are showing up for events and with a smile and not being afraid to be vulnerable and not being afraid to look deep inside themselves for whatever they’re seeing and that’s what gives me hope, that’s what really gives me hope.

Rick: Yeah, I agree, I’m also optimistic. I haven’t traveled much in recent years, but I lived three months in Iran and nine months in the Philippines and a couple of years in Europe and here and there and wherever you go, you find these gems of people and it’s not evident on the six o’clock news, it seems like the world is going to hell in a handbasket but there seems to be a counterbalancing upwelling of people waking up and I’m very optimistic that it will meet the challenge of the chaos in the world and lead us into a much brighter future.

John: Yeah, thanks Rick and I’d like to speak a little bit about chaos. Chaos is the transformative engine that turns this planet. So when you look at a man and woman and they make a baby together, we can talk about the birds and the bees and man and a woman these two different energies there’s this chaos that comes with a man and a woman male and female and yet this chaos the fruit of this chaos is a beautiful child. So, it’s the same thing when we are doing a ceremony in South Africa we have a saying that the more chaotic the energy before the ceremony is a sign of how strong and how impactful the ceremony is going to be- so we don’t see it in a negative way all we say is you’re feeling all this energy we say “Omoya, Omoya pezulu” you feel all this energy before the Ceremony, do not react just feel it because this chaos energy is what’s going to transform us and also, it’s a sign it’s going to be a very good ceremony. So, I’m looking at this at a larger kind of worldwide phenomenon of all this chaos and all these natural disasters and I see it that the whole of the planet is starting to be transformed. People’s consciousness is being transformed in a very radical way it’s almost like you mentioned, the analogy of the washing machine earlier on I mean when we are spinning if the whole world is spinning there’s a sense of heat there’s a sense of energy there’s a sense of opportunity because something is being transformed. So I’d like to speak about the spine the human spine is this lightning rod of potential and the ancient yogis would talk about the energy up and down the spine as the kundalini energy the energy of transformation amongst the cross and zulu we talk about the umbilini energy. So, spot the difference umbilini kundalini so they’re both similar words and they both speak about this energy up and down the spine and as a sangoma is being transformed by this energy whether it’s dancing singing plant medicine prayer we start to experience all this heat in our bodies and all of this emotion whether that’s positive or negative all this emotion and our bodies start to change, so as I was going through this 10-year Apprenticeship, my body changed I started off being very underweight and very skinny by the time I finished my training I filled out and my feet even grew at the age of is not unusual in the sangoma context in the sangoma culture. We transform ourself as this energy in the spine gets activated, the heat comes off us our body starts to grow. This is what happens on a on a small scale with individuals in our culture but also in this in the yoga culture they speak about this. So if you look at the the international global culture of a similar thing as if the world is a lightning rod of energy and it’s spinning and the energy is increasing and this heat is increasing and all this emotion is coming off it, Well, it’s the same as a transformation of someone becoming a sangoma or a yogi and what we have to watch in those situations is that we do not react with those emotions, that we feel the energy in our bones, that we stay mindful,l and that we remember ubuntu bobuntu to be kind that someone may look different from you but if they are a human being they have the same energy inside them as you, that they are part of your family and that you need to show them respect, even though you may be angry with them do not hurt them with your tongue or with your actions because this chaos energy is testing it’s testing us and it’s also allowing us to evolve and reach a higher level. If we are free to react with this energy in a negative way we are missing the opportunity to transform and evolve not just for ourselves but for our whole family and our community.

Rick: That’s great, very well put. This whole thing of chaos preceding a breakthrough of some kind or an opening, there are all kinds of other examples you can think of like when Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier in a jet there was all this kind of shaking as he was approaching the speed of sound and then when he broke through it was smooth. In physics they have something called the phase transition and there are a number of things that are defined by that term even the boiling of water is a phase transition when it reaches the boiling point and there’s all this turbulence as it’s about to boil and then it becomes steam and the turbulence is gone. It also works with lasers and all kinds of things, but I think that there is – that just to give some examples of what you just said, that there’s a lot a lot of craziness in the world but it could actually be a harbinger of better times on the horizon.

John: Yes, I fully agree and I have to say that if we think about all the craziness as back to the human body if someone has a fever with a fever, there’s a lot of Heat, there’s a lot of discomfort and when that fever breaks there’s a beautiful sense of harmony.

Rick: Interesting.

John: So it’s almost at the moment as if the world is in a state of fever and what happens with the fever things heat up, in order for the virus to be destroyed. So, it’s a purifying fever and the Chinese talk about a purifying fever and I think this is what’s happening in the world. There’s this fever happening with the tempo and the heat and the chaos is being lifted up and I see this as a way to to burn off any impurities and for us to evolve and become just more loving human beings.

Rick: Yeah, Saint Francis of Assisi -if you ever saw the movie Brother, Son, Sister, Moon- he was very sick, came back from the Crusades or something, he was very sick and had a really high fever and almost died, and when he came out of it, he was Saint Francis. Well, it took a while to blossom into that totally but he had undergone this huge transformation that the fever had burned something up.

John: Yeah, it’s just funny, it’s interesting you say this Rick, because it’s bringing things to me in terms of my training and apprenticeship and I often, before I met my teacher I was often sick with fevers or a stomach condition and then when I found my teacher and I started my my tradition, my training and my apprenticeship, I started to understand the meaning of the fever and all the stomach upsets I was getting and then it was all to do with the stimulation of the umbilini of this the lightning conductor in my spine and then I started to welcome it and I have to say I hardly ever have fevers and stomach problems now and now I almost look on it in a nostalgic way.

Rick: Yeah, just to dwell on the point a little longer, it’s interesting- there are a lot of spiritual teachers who go through some serious health things and sometimes very painful and so on and I’ve had people ask me “why is that, why do you think that’s happening, what is it about?” and I just feel like there’s maybe their twaza period isn’t finished and they’re already serving as spiritual teachers but there’s just this sort of- if you’re going to serve in such a capacity then it’s like nature says “okay you want to do this then we’re going to put you through the Ringer. We’re going to make you really fit as a servan,t we’re not going to sell it short and have you be sort of half-baked. You’ve got to go through this process entirely, so hang on for dear life because we’re not finished with you.”

John: Yeah, I think you put it very well Rick and and I see another two aspects to that, so I could just add to that and I think firstly I see this this fever that I experienced often during my training and when I was before I met my teacher, I saw it as a cleansing process to cleanse me, but I also saw this fever in another Way. I also taught me empathy, because when I was very sick and I was for many years, I certainly didn’t think that I was the king of the jungle or anything like that. I felt very humble and in that state of humility I was able to really connect with people in a different kind of way and I could really see people who were suffering like me and my eyes were open to poverty and sometimes the poorest people were the ones who could see my illness and who showed me so much compassion, that it just opened my heart. I remember one particular story of this was going to the shops in Johannesburg one day and it was still apartheid and my illness, my Twazah illness was in full flight and I remember walking past a bunch of ladies and it was, they were African women and they were sitting under a tree and it was a very hot summer’s day again, as it is sometimes in South Africa and I was just walking past them and I knew that I had the Sangoma Calling, I knew I had the Twazah but I hadn’t met my teacher yet. I knew I had the Twazah because I was shown it in my dreams, I knew that, but as I walked past all these ladies and they were in full flight in conversation there’s a whole, must have been about 10 of them -as I walked past them, the skinny white kid, they all stopped talking and they all looked at me. It was the weirdest thing, all these women sitting on the grass having a wonderful conversation as I walked past they all stopped and stared at me and they put their lunch down and they just looked at me, they didn’t say a word and I looked at them and there was so much compassion that they were showing me, beyond language, they just showed this compassion and we just looked at each other. I was a skinny white kid during apartheid here with these black African women having a break under this tree and they just showed me so much compassion like they really saw me and we just looked at each other. So, I think, going back to the chaos, going back to the fever, the fever cleanses us and it also teaches us empathy and helps open our hearts to compassion.

Rick: It’s interesting that a lot of western medicines attempt to sort of palliate or to suppress symptoms rather than really rooting the thing out and it’s like trying to push a beach ball down under the ocean water or something, it just keeps wanting to pop up.

John: It’s interesting you say that actually Rick, because when I’m seeing clients it’s almost like a pressure cooker feeling when I go into my divination space. My sensitivity is to see just like what you said there, where is something being suppressed, what are they pushing down, where is the energy being blocked, back to being a spiritual plumber, where is the energy being blocked?

Rick: Here’s a question that came in from Daniel in Palmeira, Portugal, Daniel’s up late. He said, I live in Portugal, as in most of the western world the ancient deeper spiritual connection to plants has been severed. What would you recommend for someone that strongly feels the call to work with plant medicine and healing songs but has no direct tradition to build upon?

John: Okay, good question. I think the first thing Daniel is to find one plant that you have a relationship with. So, it might be a plant that you have dreamt about or that you just love the way it looks or the way it smells. So, for example let’s say rosemary, I love rosemary as a plant and each time I go walking down the road even here in Portland, I will just grab a bit of rosemary and just smell it. So, the first thing to do is to develop the relationship with the plant. The way you can do it is, you just go to the plant, you introduce yourself, you speak like I’m speaking and you maybe give an offering of some rice or some hair of your hair or some tobacco and you just ask the plant if you can take some of it to be used for a wash or a cleanse or to maybe have that plant in your house. So to pray to the plant, you’re not praying to the physical structure, you’re praying to the spirit of the plant and when we actually pray in a very deep way to a living object or a living creature we’re actually praying to the greater, let’s say, Buddha nature because everything is interconnected, everything is part of this matrix of aliveness. So, when you’re praying to a plant you are calling for the spirit of that plant to connect with your spirit. It’s a bit like in the Indian tradition between two people you go Namaste, the God in me sees and honors the God in you. So when we’re doing the plant, we are using that in a similar principle but you’re speaking to the plant and you’re giving an offering of love from your heart and then you’re saying “I’d like to connect more with you and your brothers and sisters, other plants, please show me, please guide me” and if it’s coming from a really heartfelt place of mindfulness and true listening, something will happen.

Rick: Yeah, a few ideas came to mind as you were saying that. One is that there are some different traditions around the world where you actually could study to become an expert in plant medicine or the healing properties of plants. One would be Ayurveda and there are programs where you can study to be an Ayurvedic Vajra. Findhorn up in Scotland is this community that is based upon people who had a deep sort of subtle connection with the plant world and the devas or nature spirits that govern that world. In your tradition is it possible to actually go to South Africa and study to become a Sangama as you did? Is there any kind of channel for that?

John: Well, people have to be called, so it’s not, you call through the spirit world.

Rick: Yeah, what if someone feels called? Could they fly to South Africa and find somebody and actually get into it?

John: I don’t know, I don’t offer that yet myself and I’m very careful about that for a number of reasons.

Rick: Is your teacher still alive?

John: She’s still alive, yeah, and I have trained some people and I’ve learned that cross-cultural, let’s say pollination, is very powerful but also it’s something we need to be very careful of. So, I had a calling or I have a calling and it was so strong I couldn’t lead a normal life. So, I always say to people only become a Sangama or come to South Africa looking for a teacher if you don’t feel you can lead a normal life, if it’s that strong, because it’s not something to be played with, it’s a very, very serious culture and it’s very hard and it’s very beautiful and you have to take it like almost like a life and death situation, like “I become a Sangama or I get so sick I don’t have a normal life. I chose to become a Sangama. So, I think becoming a Sangama is becoming a traditional shaman and to become a shaman all around the world, a traditional shaman, means you have to be called and you have to face almost life and death. It’s very, very serious. However, if you want to become a shamanic practitioner or you want to understand the arts, the healing arts, there’s many places around the world where you can learn to become a shamanic practitioner, but that’s not the same as being a shaman.

Rick: Yeah.

John: So, I don’t advocate people wanting to become a shaman because if you do, you don’t understand what it’s all about. If you want to become a Sangama, I don’t know if I’m the person to speak to because it’s not a glamorous thing, it’s very, very painful and you only decide and accept the calling if you don’t have another choice because it’s that hard.

Rick: Yeah, I was just going to say it. So, it’s almost like you can’t volunteer. It’s almost like you have to be chosen.

John: And you’re invited. You have to be invited first by the spirits and then by the elders. So, it’s- I’m trained in an old way and being a white guy, I also have to be very, very careful because people have been abused and misused and I’m very, very careful about that kind of energy. However, if someone has a calling like myself, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, it depends on how strong and how serious your calling is. Now, if people wanted to understand African traditions and how we operate, there’s many different places in South Africa they can come and they can google and they can explore that. However, it’s not the same in becoming a Sangama and I feel the calling is very, very important. What is calling you? What is calling you? That’s the most important thing I say to people. Don’t look at me and think what I’m doing is glamorous. I’m asking you, what is calling you? What is calling your spirit? That’s the most important.

Rick: Well, it’s a big deal to fly to South Africa and find someone you can train with, but hey, you’re in Portland, Oregon and you’re accessible, not that you’re going to turn people into Sangamas, but how can people avail themselves of what you have to offer, both directly as you’re here in the US at the moment and as you travel around the world and remotely through Skype and whatnot.

John: Yes, I think the easiest is just to access my website, which is and then you can email me and you can look at my events that I’ve got. At the moment I’m here in Portland and then I’m going to Denver, Colorado for a retreat and then I’m going to LA and I’ll be hosted by Insight Meditation Center in LA. Then afterwards I’m going to Boulder for my book launch on the 1st of November and then I’m going to Santa Fe, Santa Fe, New Mexico and all my events will be on my website. You can come and join and see my events and come and speak to me. I just need to make one point about whether people are interested in becoming a Sangama or not. That is not the question. The question is how are you being called? That’s the most important question. So my job is if I’m called to train someone to become a Sangama and it’s clear, then I’m open to that, but at the moment the most important question for me to help people with is how are you being called, because what’s very important is that people connect with their calling and each calling is just as equal, just as honorable as the next. So if someone is called to become a plumber or an electrician or become a family man or become a mother or a father or become a priest or become a teacher, these are just as powerful as someone becoming a Sangama or traditional shaman. I don’t want the listeners to think that shamans or Sangamas are better or more glamorous than anyone else. I want people to see how are you being called. That’s my question.

Rick: Yeah, in the Vedic tradition that calling would be perhaps defined as dharma and there’s a verse in the Bhagavad Gita which says because one can perform it, one’s own dharma though lesser in merit is better than the dharma of another. It said better is death than one’s own dharma. The dharma of another brings danger.

John: Oh, that’s powerful Rick. Geez, about the poet.

Rick: I didn’t write it, it’s the Gita.

John: You put it in such a good way. So the question always is what is the person’s calling in front of me and how can I help them fulfill that calling. But I can’t do it for them and I don’t necessarily want them to follow me. I want them to follow their spirits, to follow their dreams, because the world is in crisis and what we need is happy people and the way people become happy is by them living authentic lives and the way people lead authentic lives is by listening to their hearts, listening to their dreams, listening to their spirit and my job is to help you with that, to show you how you can do this in an indigenous way and I welcome you to join me on that journey.

Rick: Great, that’s a good note to end on. So, thanks John, it’s been a lot of fun.

John: Yeah, thanks Rick, it’s great.

Rick: So let me just make a few wrap-up points. I’ve been speaking with John Lockley. His website is, L-O-C-K-L-E-Y. I’ll be linking to that from his page on, and if you go there in addition to his page you’ll find hundreds of other interviews and menus under past interviews menu. In order to find them, access them in different ways, explore around it, you can sign up for an email notification of new interviews, you can sign up for an audio podcast, you can, there’s even a geographic locator thing where if you typed in Portland and if John had registered with this you’d see that he was going to be doing something in Portland and then you’d see it radiating outward in terms of numbers of miles, maybe you’d see something in Ashland or whatever. So, in any case go there, check it out. I’m heading off for the Science and Non-duality Conference in a couple of days and I’ll be doing a bunch of interviews out there and then back here a week after that. So, stay tuned, there’s always going to be more. Thanks John.

John: Thanks Rick.

Rick: Bet you’re not nervous anymore are you?

John: No. I show people my audio, I’ve got the audio in the book.

Rick: Oh yeah, and they’re both available on Sounds True and I’ve already created a page that I’ll be putting up in a couple of days which we’ll link to those on If you go to and search for John Lockley you’ll find them also.

John: Oh thanks Rick, I appreciate that, thank you.

Rick: Thank you, talk to you later, take care, have a good time in the United States.