Steve is not what most people think of when they picture a shaman. Instead of wearing masks and feathers, he wears jeans and button-downs, although the medicine bag hidden under his shirt gives him away. While people know him as a funny guy from Brooklyn with a Master’s degree in clinical counseling, I know him as the man who helped me lift a generational curse from my family. Before getting to that part of the story, first some background.
Steve does not advertise. You can’t look him up in the Raleigh, North Carolina Yellow Pages under “shaman.” You have to know someone who knows him, a reference. My reference was a lady I was dating who had lost her husband years prior in a biking accident. Her husband’s spirit hung around wanting to make everything right between them (there were unresolved issues when he died), and she needed help, so a friend of hers referred her to Steve. After her good experience, she referred me to him because she suspected, and I agreed, there were deeper reasons for my problems than garden variety.
I was a heavy drinker back then. It caused rifts in our relationship. One morning I woke up at her place with a broken toe, a pissed off lover and no memory of what happened. I had quit drinking before but came back to the bottle because it provided relief from anxiety (at a heavy price of producing more anxiety when I was sober) and opened connections to my feelings. It’s hard to describe how I knew that my drinking was connected to something spiritual. To really get the picture you have to go back to when I was nine years old.
That is when I had my first nightmare about the “Dark Master,” the term my dreams used to name him. He appeared to be a wicked man who had died but did not pass away, the “undead.” The closest I can describe him is he looked sort of like the Cryptkeeper from “Tales from the Crypt,” except he had no hair and appeared a bit more human. In the first nightmare I remember, he chased me around my neighborhood. I got away by hiding under a pinball machine. I had the distinct feeling he not only wanted to kill me, but claim my soul as a prize.
When I was 13 I met him again in a therapeutic setting. At the time I was in a “gifted kids” class. The teacher brought in a dream interpreter as a special speaker. The speaker asked for a volunteer to share a nightmare that had produced vivid memories. My hand shot up.
With my classmates surrounding me to provide an anchor to reality, the dream interpreter put me back into the nightmare, safely, by using hypnotic techniques. He asked me to visualize the conflict behind the dream, and my mind painted a picture of two families in a terrible quarrel. I saw them in a rural area, on what looked like a farm or plantation, faced off as two sides. The dream interpreter asked me to ask them why they were fighting. The characters erupted in an argument, and as best I could tell they were angry at each other over past wrongs. Blood had spilled. People had died.
The interpreter then asked me to try to resolve the feud, so I inserted myself between the two quarreling sides and declared, “Fighting is wrong. Can’t we all just get along?” Yes, it was my Rodney King moment, years before he became a household name. The two sides paused for a moment as my childish logic sunk in. They looked at each other, years of boiling hatred between them, and finally one of the elders stepped forward and said, “The boy is right. We have feuded long enough. Time to end this today.”
Kidding! The two sides did actually pause, followed quickly by another eruption of arguing and accusations even louder and more heated than before. My childish logic could not solve the feud. The scene became dangerous as some of the people turned against me, and the dream interpreter brought me out of the hypnosis before the situation melted down.
I have studied dreams for 20 years and can tell you there are all sorts of ways of interpreting what happened that day. The original nightmare could have been about trouble in my own family. We were barely making it financially at the time. Soon after the experience with the dream interpreter, my parents got divorced. So yes, there are conventional explanations for what happened, but not for why the nightmares continued.
I forgot about the experience with the dream interpreter until many years later when I had another nightmare about the Dark Master (referred to as DM from here on). I was in college at the time and working with another dream interpreter, my mentor Larry. The intervening years had been rough, but I had finally quit drinking (the first time) and began uncovering all sorts of shit buried deep in my mind. In the nightmare, three henchmen chased me around city streets at night trying to capture and deliver me to DM. I was ready for a fight, so I ditched the henchmen and found him at the top of a black office tower. He lay in a glass coffin in the middle of a room. Seeing him set my head on fire, figuratively. I can’t adequately describe the fury, the hatred. It was like I turned into a bolt of lightning, all sizzle and pop.
I reached into the coffin and wrapped my hands around his neck. ‘Squeeze! Squeeze harder!’ The flesh of his neck felt rubbery as my fingers sunk in. I tried to choke the life out of him, but he was already dead. He looked directly in my eyes and seemed pleased.
DM wanted me angry. It diverted me from my true purpose, which is to unite and harmonize, to forgive and heal. Picture Luke Skywalker from Star Wars the first time he fights Darth Vader. He is overcome by anger, and it leads to his defeat. Vader and The Emperor want Luke mad, want to corrupt him and turn him to the dark side. DM had the same thing in mind for me.
That Christmas I was visiting my mom, first time I had seen her in several years. I was on a spiritual trip as well as a holiday one, and for the first time since early childhood felt reunited inside, strong and healthy and clear. We were in the kitchen. I was making breakfast burritos. Mom says, “My mom told me once about a feud between our family and another family. I guess it was pretty bad. People died.”
I froze with spatula in hand. Eureka! I made the connection between my dreams about DM, the family feud I had visualized with the dream interpreter, and my family history. I did some research and found that the story seemingly had some historical connection. My maternal family line descends from the Campbells, a Scottish Highland clan that sided with the British Crown against the other Highland clans. In one of the most famous betrayals of all time, the Campbells sent a militia to the clan compound of the MacDonalds. They convinced the MacDonalds to open their doors and offer hospitality for the night. It was a Highland tradition to give lodging to even hated enemies. They would stop the quarrel for the night, sleep, get up, eat breakfast, then go back to fighting. Those Scotts and their traditions!
Well, during the night the Campbell militia rose from their beds, crept around the compound, found members of the MacDonald Clan sleeping and slaughtered them. Around 50 MacDonald clan members were murdered that night, an event known as the Massacre of Glencoe.
I tell you this so that you know what was in my mind when I walked into the office of Steve the Shaman with a broken toe and a troubled heart. My heavy drinking had plenty of roots in my own experience, but the deepest root seemed to be connected to my family tree. Yes, my father is an alcoholic. Yes, I followed in his footsteps as a heavy drinker. Yes, there is a connection between DNA and alcoholism. However, my younger brother is almost identical to me physically, but he grew up with a stepfather who drank only in moderation, and he never battled the bottle like I did. The causes for my drinking, I felt, ran deeper than personal or even hereditary.
I told Steve about the nightmares, the experience with the dream interpreter and the Massacre of Glencoe. With a combination of levity and amusement he listened, asked a few questions. Then he went into a sort of trance looking for the roots of my trouble, and surprised me with what he said:
“There is something in your family that goes back many generations, but what I see is not related to the Massacre of Glencoe. I see a woman from your maternal line who stole another woman’s husband through seduction. The other woman became insanely enraged and hired a black magician to cast a curse on the women of your family line. They were cursed to marry tragic men, and the power of that curse continues to this day.”
As crazy as it sounds, it made sense. All I really know about my maternal great-grandmother is she married tragic men and had a hard life. My grandmother outlived five husbands, widowed five times over. They were all tragic men, especially my grandfather, who died at age 43 from his third heart attack. My father, as I mentioned, is an alcoholic. My mom remarried a good man, a military officer. Great guy. I really like him and appreciate what he has done to give her love and stability. I think her faith in God broke the cycle of tragedy, but it jumped to me. Before I was born I was aware of it and knew what I was taking on, Steve said.
He pulled more surprises: My mom became pregnant around age 16 with my father’s child but miscarried. The child was female. He said the miscarriage was intentional, in a sense: I knew that body was not equipped to handle the challenges facing me, so my soul abandoned it and waited for the next opportunity. Two years later, my mom conceived again, a boy that time, and my soul knew the body was better equipped for the unique challenges ahead. Because the curse was specifically on the females of my maternal line, as a male I had more distance from it. Mom will freak out if she ever reads this story, but it is the truth as I know it. To understand why I accept this truth, you would have to have been there with me in Steve’s office that day, and in the classroom when the dream interpreter read my mind, and in my head during the nightmares.
Steve’s office was a converted second floor bedroom. He lived in a beautiful, rustic home with his wife, surrounded by acres of Carolina fields and trees. On the walls of his office were posters of the human body and its endocrine system, its meridians, energy centers and circuits. Native figurines displayed on shelves and desktops. Books with topics like spiritualism, shamanism and homeopathic medicine lined bookcases. He smoked organic American Spirit cigarettes, a rare brand for people who know that it’s not the tobacco that kills most people who die from using it, it’s the crap companies put in the tobacco and the heavily fertilized soil it’s grown in. I smoke those cigarettes, too. It was one helluva coincidence, same as Steve somehow knew about the tragedy in my maternal line without asking me. Same as he saw my dreams like they were his own. Dude is the real thing, a real shaman, but a complete Brooklyn boy, too. He is one of my favorite people on this planet.
What happened next is a little fuzzy in my memory because Steve and I went into trance together. I’m not talking about the “spaced out” trance that most people associate with trances. It’s more like a guided meditation heavy on the visuals. Steve had me sit on a short, wooden stool as he put on a tape of shamanic drumming. He grabbed some shaman’s tools including a small drum and a flute-like instrument, stood behind me and began working.
He looked at my body while in trance and saw inside of it, and said there was a black knife made of metaphysical energy buried between my shoulder blades. Dark Master had stabbed me in my heart, and with the blade lodged there it hindered my efforts to improve myself and heal my life, because DM could influence my feelings directly by zapping my heart with negative energy. I had felt it many times before meeting Steve, but had no frame of reference for understanding it.
A scene in the first Lord of the Rings movie reminds me of what it’s like to have a metaphysical knife in your heart. Frodo is stabbed by a Nazgul and a splinter of the blade is lodged in his shoulder near his heart. If you read the book you know that the sliver of blade that broke off affected Frodo throughout the rest of the story (it’s not as clear in the movies). Anytime he got near a Nazgul, the sliver blazed inside him, causing intense suffering and influencing his feelings to make him want to give up the quest to destroy the One Ring. That is what the thing in my heart was like.
Steve removed the blade using shamanic techniques. It was rough; damn thing was buried deep, but it had to come out first or else the work we did together was bound to fail: I might get temporary relief, but with the blade inside me, DM would eventually find a way to blast me with black magic. He would take my life off course.
What happened next is hard to explain. Removing the blade was like peeling off a cold, wet blanket. I found myself capable of “going higher” than ever before, meaning I could go to the mental place where Steve saw me as a metaphysical body. Even with the boost I got, it was extremely difficult. An hour had passed since we started the trance, and weariness grew in me from staying intensely focused for that long. Something inside of me fiercely resisted the work. DM didn’t want to give up, and I had come partially under its power.
Then two things happened that connected everything together. First, Steve reminded me of an image from my dreams: funnel clouds. I had recurring dreams of tornadoes chasing me, which I did not tell him about but he saw anyway as if my dreams were his. He told me the funnel clouds weren’t after me, they were after DM. He told me to look inside the funnel. At the top, kid you not, I saw the All-Seeing Eye. I opened up and allowed the Eye to see inside me. Instead of running in terror when something saw the darkness in me, I was relieved. At that moment I realized I was built exactly the way I was supposed to be. The darkness is to be embraced, accepted, even loved, but also kept at a distance. It is the fire that forges the tool.
Next, I saw a pyramid of white light form around my body. I saw it in my mind, but felt it with my nerves. I’ve been under hypnosis. I’ve gone into trance. I’ve meditated. I’ve tripped hardcore on psychedelics. But never have I seen something so vividly in my mind. Never have I felt it with my physical senses.
The moment had arrived. I would either be rid of DM, or would choose, subconsciously, to allow him to continue having a channel directly to my heart. My life was literally on the line.
When the pyramid formed, I felt a connection open directly to DM like a phone call. I sensed his thoughts, his fear, his hatred. My mentor Larry had prepared me for the battle through conversations about the Star Wars mythology and how it applied to my life. At heart, Star Wars is about forgiveness. In Return of the Jedi, Luke walks into the dragon’s lair and confronts Vader and the Emperor. They think it is the moment of their triumph, but Luke has learned that the strongest force in the universe is love, and love is expressed through forgiveness.
With that in mind, I saw DM as the tragic figure he was – or is. I felt sorry for him, the magician entrapped by his own power. You see, the power of a curse is bound to the one who casts it, even after death. I saw DM as dead but alive because his physical body had perished centuries before I was born, but his soul or life essence or whatever you want to call it was bound to the curse. He was as much a victim of his power as he was victimizer. Karma is a bitch!
After DM went up into the funnel and I was finally free of him, Steve loudly clapped his hands once and brought me back to reality. Around 90 minutes had passed since I first walked in. We both wanted a smoke.
I wish I could say I never drank alcohol again. A few times in the years since meeting Steve the Shaman I have gone through a drinking phase, followed by a reminder of why I don’t drink and a long period of abstinence. I have not had another nightmare about DM or any sense of his presence, although he has become a shorthand for recognizing my personal shadow. When my ego is feeling bruised or I’m getting full of myself, I know shadow is at work. The difference now is it’s manageable; I don’t fall back into the hole, and the longer I stay out of it, the more it fills in. Best of all, I know the curse is gone. My maternal line is free to marry good men and have children free from the sins of the past.
To this day I have second thoughts about all of it, whether I interpreted the nightmares correctly, whether Steve is just really good at helping people act out their issues and find resolutions. If it hadn’t happened to me, I might look at my story as a psychological drama and nothing more, played out in imaginative ways. Either way, judging by the results, it worked.
And that’s the story of the Shaman from Brooklyn, the Dark Master and the Generational Curse.