Acts of Love and Service

Dear readers,

Here in Hawaii, each island has a “wet” or windward side, and a “dry” or leeward side. The valley where I live is on the “wet” side. The forest here is graced with frequent rains and warm, damp winds. Mushrooms spring from rotting logs; ferns and flowers thrive; streams meander down the cliffside on their way to join the river that leads to the sea. I love the lush and misty mornings, and the rain that fills my catchment barrels and waters my garden. As for my possessions, and especially my books, they don’t fare as well in the relentless damp, which is forever making objects rust, mildew, or otherwise deteriorate in a variety of ways. 

As an author and editor, I’ve spent most of my adult life lugging around a large collection of books: Chinese poetry, novels I keep meaning to reread, hefty tomes on technology, nature, and language. Since moving to the valley, however, I’ve realized that books aren’t meant to be collected—at least, not by me. They’re meant to be read before the warm, wet air speckles their pages with mildew or furs their jackets with a fine white coating of mold. My book collection, once substantial, now occupies one trim shelf—a strange state of affairs for a writer. The upside, however, is that when somebody gives me a book, I read it right away, before the local microorganisms have their way with it. A book feels like a flower, which will wilt, then rot—so I appreciate its fleeting presence all the more. 



The last book I read was Loaves and Fishes: The Inspiring Story of the Catholic Worker Movement, by Dorothy Day—a gift from an acquaintance of mine. As the Senior Editor at Hierophant, I read a great variety of self-help and spirituality books, from a wide range of traditions. Although I could easily list all the Buddhist, shamanic, and New Age books I’ve read in the past year, I have to admit that was the first time in many years I’d read a Catholic one. In fact, the book had sat on my shelf for several months, in violation of my “read it right away” rule. I was afraid I wouldn’t like it, or that it would feel like church—a type of resistance I don’t usually bring to, say, the Zen books that come my way. But as Hierophant author and Toltec Shaman don Jose Ruiz would say, “We’re all working for the same boss.” Once I recognized my resistance, I took the book down and began to read. 

Dorothy Day was a journalist who converted to Catholicism at the age of thirty, and co-founded a newspaper called The Catholic Worker, along with a social justice movement of the same name. With the help of a growing number of friends, she opened “houses of hospitality”—literal houses, apartments, and eventually, farms run by volunteers, where people impoverished by the Great Depression could get hot food, dry clothes, and a bed. In Loaves and Fishes, she talks in frank, no-nonsense language about the challenges of running these houses. She describes the difficult or unpleasant characters who moved in for months or years at a time—belligerent alcoholics, people suffering from severe mental illness, people who were selfish, grandiose, or downright mean. 

It was against Day’s principles to turn anyone away, no matter how disruptive or destructive they were. She believed that humans were called to love one another, and she was determined to put this belief into practice, no matter how much it cost her at a personal level.  

Far from making the path of radical love sound easy and attractive, she is unflinching in her account of how difficult it was. There were unpaid bills, evictions, theft and vandalism, and sleepless nights. Guests at the hospitality houses weren’t necessarily transformed by Day’s kindness; often, they wandered away just as cranky and irascible as they were when they showed up. 

The path of love, in Day’s telling, isn’t only about working on oneself—it’s active service to the people who need our kindness and care the most, who often happen to be the people we find difficult or overwhelming. It’s doing things we don’t like to do, or which we even find unpleasant, giving up time, sleep, privacy, wealth, or comfort so that others may suffer less. Put another way, it’s a radical realization that there is no separation—that there is only one body of humanity which needs to be clothed, sheltered, and fed. 



The day I finished reading Loaves and Fishes, I went to visit my neighbors, as I do several evenings a week. We sat around under the monkeypod trees, chatting about trucks and dogs and other features of rural life. Then one of my neighbors brought up the subject of the little old man who lives down the trail with a menagerie of dogs, cats, and pigs. As long as I’ve lived in the valley, he has been rickety, with a skinniness verging on the ethereal. We all have stories about finding him toppled over on the trail, pulled over by the weight of his enormous backpack, or sprawled in the river after his ankle turned on a rock. But in the past few months, he’s grown even more frail, and the question now arises of what to do about him. How can we help him? What do we owe him? Where do our responsibilities begin and end? 

Six months ago, after he had a bad fall, a few neighbors found him housing closer to town, where he would no longer have to walk for miles to get basic supplies. But after just a few nights away, he made his way back to his hut in the forest, unwilling to leave the life and the home to which he was accustomed. We all confessed to leaving groceries at his gate; some neighbors brought him propane, and others cooked him hot meals. One neighbor raised the idea of repairing the old man’s hut, or moving him into an empty building where we could keep a closer eye on him—and wasn’t there an empty cabin on another neighbor’s land? 

The neighbor in question protested. “You want him as your roommate, you take him!” 

I couldn’t blame him. The truth is, we all had space to take in the old man, if we really wanted to. But the thought of having him there every day, with his dogs and pigs, his messiness and his needs, was daunting. Besides, the old man had already made it clear that he didn’t want to leave his hut, refusing the housing that had already been found for him. 

“Do you guys even remember all the things he did?” my neighbor went on. “We’re not talking about some sweet old man, here.” 

Indeed, the old man has caused a lot of harm over his lifetime. Although his age and frailty give him an aura of innocence, the truth is that he ruined many lives during his healthier years. How should that factor into how we treat him now? Should we bend over backwards to help him, or should we let him lie in the bed he’s made? 

By the end of the evening, we hadn’t arrived at satisfying answers to these questions. But the next morning, and every morning after that, we all kept dropping groceries at his gate, just like before. 



How can we practice love? Not just think about it, or write about it, but practice it in our everyday lives? How can we love others when it’s hard or inconvenient, or when they don’t deserve it as much as we think they should? How can we practice love when it’s unfair, outrageous, and uncomfortable? 

I feel lucky to live in a community which challenges me to face these questions head-on, and to have a job which invites me to explore them in every book I read or edit. Whether you’re a shaman, a Buddhist,  a Catholic like Dorothy Day, or something entirely different, the work of love is never-ending. Like a beautiful mountain we set out to climb, it has difficult terrain we couldn’t anticipate when we were only gazing at it from a distance: rocky slopes and perilous crossings that put our hearts and bodies to the test. We do the best we can with the knowledge and resources at our disposal, and seek support and inspiration from the fellow climbers we encounter along the way. Most of the time, the answers are simpler than we make them out to be. Put one foot in front of the other. Bring the groceries. Feed the dogs. The outcomes of these actions aren’t ours to decide.  

This spring, I hope you all find wildflowers on your mountain of love, even as you make your way through the tricky parts—and that the love you share comes back to you many times over, whenever you need it the most.  



Hilary T. Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 

The Power of Place

Dear readers, 


Many years ago, long before I moved to Hawaii, I took a trip to the Big Island with my then-partner. Like many tourists, we started out by consulting a variety of guidebooks and websites, intent on hitting all the best spots and anxious not to “miss” anything. We packed snorkels, fins, and hiking boots, and made lists of beaches we wanted to see and forests we wanted to explore.  

On the third night of our trip, we drove out to the eastern side of the island, where it was still possible to watch molten lava flowing into the ocean. In the busy parking lot of the hiking trail leading out to the lava, we met an old man who had lived on the island for many decades. After chatting with him for a few minutes, he seemed to accept us as kindred spirits. With a twinkle in his eye, he told us about a second, lesser-known trail which would bring us even closer to the flowing lava. 

As a light rain began to fall, we thanked the man for his advice and set out in the direction he pointed. The hardened black lava felt strange beneath my feet—sometimes rounded and pillowy, sometimes jagged. I would later learn that the names for these two types of lava are pahoehoe and 'a'ārespectively. Here and there, wisps of steam rose up from narrow cracks in the rock. The wind picked up, and I could smell sulfur on the air. As we headed further and further away from the main trail, I felt a twinge of excitement, with a dose of guilt and worry mixed in. Was this okay? 



When the glowing orange lava came into view, my thoughts fell away, replaced by an overpowering sense of awe. Here was the planet, creating itself. The sight of it was so hypnotic I couldn’t look away, but gazed intently, worshipfully, as the radiant substance meandered slowly across the hardened lava beneath, its surface crackling as it cooled. The rain fell harder, sizzling audibly against the molten lava, and the wind picked up. I zipped up my rain jacket and pulled my hood over my ears. Although I knew this place would be special, I wasn’t prepared for the raw power I beheld. 

Then I heard a new sound: a woman chanting in Hawaiian. Looking over, I saw a small group of people standing near the other side of the flow, their bodies lit up only by the glow of the lava. Although I couldn’t understand the woman’s words, it was clear that her chant was a kind of invocation—a way of acknowledging Pele, the goddess of lava, and perhaps also of asking permission to be in her sacred home. I stood completely still, listening to the long and serious chant, and watching the lava’s slow unfurling.  

I knew, then, that even though I felt extraordinarily lucky to be there, it was also wrong. I hadn’t sought permission to be there, and hadn’t observed the protocols appropriate to that place. Like many tourists, I’d let my eagerness to have an experience outpace my understanding of the culture, the spiritual traditions, and the geography of the place I was visiting. The chanting woman had appeared as a kind of teacher, giving me a glimpse of the proper way to behave. It was now my responsibility to continue learning. 



Since then, I have learned that the singing I had heard was an oli: a Hawaiian chant usually performed by a single person, without the accompaniment of musical instruments or clapping. Although oli can serve many purposes, they are often used as a way of introducing yourself when you go to a new place—letting the land know who you are and what you intend, and perhaps asking for protection and guidance while you are there. 

Over the years I’ve lived in Hawaii, I’ve heard oli in many settings. Wandering through the valley where I live, I’ve come across people chanting oli at the spring, the beach, the taro lo’i, or beside an old grave. At the beach clean-up and habitat restoration events I attend, it’s customary for the group to pause and the leader to chant oli before the volunteers set forth with their shovels and buckets. The sound of oli is deeply moving and sometimes eerie, putting the listener in a state of deep reverence for the land on which they walk. Oli reminds me of the power of place, and the importance of bringing an attitude of respect and curiosity to the lands I visit. 

Once, a friend of mine invited me to snorkel with her in a part of the ocean I’d been too timid to visit before. Our journey would involve swimming through a narrow crack in the rocks, through a churning tunnel of white water, and out into the deep blue part of the bay. I was nervous. For one thing, I don’t like tight spaces—and I like them even less when I’m blinded by millions of tiny bubbles, wondering if I’m about to barrel straight into a rock. But even more importantly, I knew that the deeper part of the bay is where the sharks hang out, and at the time, I was very nervous about trespassing into the sharks’ home. 

But my friend was a woman in her sixties who hardly struck me as a daredevil. If she routinely took this journey, how treacherous could it really be? We got in the water, and I followed her to the edge of the coral, where a wall of lava rocks rose above the sea. My heart skipped a beat as we approached “the keyhole”—the narrow gap I’d always been too scared to swim through. She swam through first, and I followed, kicking my fins like crazy through the blinding surge. 

I swallowed a mouthful of saltwater and came up sputtering but otherwise unharmed. The ocean felt huge outside the safe confines of the inner bay. My mind began to flood with anxiety as I considered how far we were from land, and how hard we would have to swim if the currents picked up.   

“I like to sing an oli when I get here,” said my friend. “To let the sharks know I’m around.” 

She pushed her goggles onto her forehead and began to chant in a strong, confident voice. I treaded water, gazing out at the endless blue ocean. As I listened to her singing, my heart rate began to slow down. It seemed to me that her chant was truly protective—perhaps in a mystical sense, but also because it was calming, and there is nothing more important than staying calm when you’re in the ocean. I imagined the sharks could hear her respectful offering, and I felt better knowing that we weren’t rudely barging in on them, but announcing our presence at the door. I was used to feeling anxious in deep water, but for the first time, I was also overcome by a sense of peace. I felt connected to the place, as if the vibrations of my friend’s voice formed a kind of bridge or tether, uniting what was separate before. 



This May, Insight Events USA is holding the annual Gathering of the Shamans in Sedona, Arizona. Just like Hawaii, Arizona is filled with sacred sites, often referred to as vortexes. Simply being in the presence of these sites, with their red rock and deep quiet, is known to elevate the spirit and calm the mind. The Sedona Mago retreat center, where the Gathering of the Shamans is being held, is surrounded by the mountains and canyons of the Coconino National Forest, a 1.9-million-acre natural wonderland, where participants can experience starry skies and the peace that emanates from ancient land. 

I’ve never been to Arizona before, but with teachers like Rhonda McCrimmon, Jose Luis Stevens, and Linda Star Wolf in attendance, I’ve been staying up late looking at flights. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a new place—my off-grid homestead keeps me busy, and most weeks I hardly make it further than the post office, if I leave my land at all—but as I look at photos of Sedona’s red rocks, I have to admit I feel an inner stirring to go. With teachers coming from a variety of different lineages and backgrounds, the Gathering of the Shamans feels like a true meeting of minds and spiritual traditions, of the type that can be hard to find in the segmented modern world. 

I don’t know if the people indigenous to Arizona have a practice similar to Hawaii’s oli, but I do know this: the next time I visit a new place, I’ll go there as a student, not a tourist. There are lessons in the land, if we know how to listen, and skillful teachers to help us understand them, wherever we go. 




Hilary T. Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 

The Importance of First Drafts

Dear readers, 


This December marked my five-year anniversary of living off-grid on three acres of tropical rainforest in rural Hawaii.  It’s the longest relationship I’ve had with a place since leaving my parents' house at seventeen, and the first time I’ve been solely responsible not only for maintaining a home, but for building one from the ground up—painting every board, laying every stone, and slowly coaxing the magic of running water and electricity out of previously-inscrutable piles of wire, fuses, and PVC pipes. 

A few months ago, I decided to build a solid roof over my bed to replace the tent I had been sleeping in ever since I moved onto the land. I hauled in the lumber and hardware, and my next-door neighbor framed in a simple shoebox of a structure with a sturdy metal roof and half-walls on two sides to let in light and air. Over the holidays, I caulked and painted, stapled mosquito screens across the openings in the half-walls, and finally retrieved my grandmother’s painting from a friend’s house and hung it on the wall. 

For most of the five years I’ve lived on my land, the infrastructure has been provisional and haphazard—temporary placeholders propping up yet more temporary placeholders. The kitchen sink is held up by two sawhorses, its faucet hooked up to a garden hose. A handful of nails banged into a two-by-four passes for a tool rack; a length of PVC pipe suspended between two hooks serves as a closet; a couple of old wooden boxes stacked one on top of the other functions as a staircase, provided you have good balance.  

At the time that I put these things in place, they felt like amazing improvements: no more washing dishes in a five-gallon bucket, or storing clothes in garbage bags. Now, I am slowly replacing these resourceful but flimsy solutions with sturdier successors—overwriting my exuberant but sloppy first draft with something a little more elegant, sure-footed, and pleasant to behold. 



Creativity takes many forms, but I’ve found it to be an essential practice to a happy and fulfilling life. And whether you’re building a homestead, choreographing a dance piece, establishing a spiritual practice, or writing a book, chances are you’re going to go through one or several first drafts before arriving at the final expression of your vision. Our early attempts are sometimes exuberant and bursting with beginner’s luck; other times, they’re halting and uncertain, bits and pieces coming together as we feel our way through the dark. We know there’s something juicy in there, and we have a feeling if we just try a little bit of this and a little bit of that, we can slowly summon it into existence. As a writer and editor, I am well-acquainted with first drafts with their endless placeholders and notes-to-self. Need better anecdote to illustrate this point, I’ll write. Or, End-of-chapter exercise will go here. 

A first draft often looks like one long to-do list: Fix this! Replace that! See if this works better over there! You call your creative vision into being by sketching out what will be there someday, erecting a crude version of it as you go, while promising to eventually replace those preliminary gestures with the real thing. You dream, ruminate, and gather inspiration from others who have trodden a similar path—and you make endless lists of what you’ll do to make your creation even better. 

Every now and then, a little piece of the final version will make itself known to you: a few paragraphs that just happened to come out right the first time, a chord progression you feel confident about, an aspect of your project that just makes sense. These moments of clarity offer a sneak preview of the polished gem to come, and often give us just enough encouragement to keep going through the more difficult aspects of the work. Starting at one of those solid points, you can slowly claim more and more territory, coaxing the rest of your creation into being. 

Although the decisions involved in undertaking a creative project seem endless, an infinite fractal of possibilities that can easily overwhelm even a seasoned artist or creative, each new point of clarity helps to narrow those options down. Huge structural decisions give way to modest organizational ones, which in turn yield to subtler aesthetic ones. What was once an unwieldly and impossible jumble of ideas mysteriously transforms into a generous, coherent, and meaningful work of art; a contribution that might help, inspire, or even shelter someone, someday. 



The platform on which my tent used to sit, and on which my shoebox now stands, was the first point of clarity in the process of drafting my homestead. When I first arrived on my land, I had no idea how long I would stay here, or what kind of shelter I’d need. All I knew was that I had to get above the thick brown mud that swallowed my boots to the ankle every time I took a step.  

My need to be dry was so urgent that I couldn’t afford to spend weeks carefully evaluating where the platform should go. Instead, I picked a spot, cleared a few spindly guava trees that were standing in the way, and banged the thing together. As it so happens, I was lucky: the spot I chose has worked well over the years, the surrounding trees providing both privacy and shade.  

Having just one permanent element of my homestead in place gave me an anchor point from which to build the rest. The overwhelming fractal of possibilities resolved itself into a somewhat smaller subset of options; I set about plotting other chapters, and sketching out where other elements of my homestead would go. Any visitor to the land could see that my vision was far from realized, the tarps and sawhorses dragged to more promising locations every month or so; yet every now and then, a new point of clarity would emerge, and like a constellation revealing itself amid the stars, the final shape of my home began to come through. 

Now that the tent is gone, I am slowly replacing many of the other original features of my home: that ridiculous sink, those dangerous stairs. As I erase the exuberant, ramshackle, sometimes-bewildering traces of my first draft, I feel grateful for the way these things held space for the better versions to come. These structures didn’t come out perfectly the first time, and they didn’t need to—like the placeholders in a manuscript, their job was to say, Do this thing, but better; and by their mere existence, to give me the confidence that I could. 



Few artists know exactly what they’re going to say when they pick up a paintbrush, tune their guitars, or sit down to write a book, but the process of creation teaches them. Following our creative passions challenges us to go beyond what we already know and become more capable than we already are. In our first drafts, we throw our intelligence into a kind of sandbox, saying, Go play, go try things! I trust that you’ll figure it out. Eventually, a handful of words becomes a song; a hazy vision becomes a clearly defined path, and a determined amateur becomes a knowledgeable practitioner. 

When I decided to build the shoebox, I wondered if I would feel nostalgic for the tent which so defined my first five years on the land. But now that I’m sleeping under a solid roof, I’ve discovered that I feel no more nostalgic for the tent than for one of the many haphazard and provisional first drafts which have passed across my desk as a writer and editor. The books that emerged out of those drafts were far superior to the drafts themselves; and the shoebox is indisputably superior to the tent. 

First drafts aren’t meant to be clung to. Like seedpods, they are meant to break down and fade away when the true flower emerges. We might look back fondly on planting those seeds, but we would never trade the flower to get the seed back again. Once they’ve served their purpose, first drafts disappear; it’s our job to let them go, even as we honor their role in bringing the final version to life. 

In this new year, I look forward to keeping authors company as they transform their own first drafts into sturdy, beautiful, and worthy books. May your own seeds of inspiration receive the water they need to bloom—in whatever form your creativity takes—and may you perceive the potential in those first, uncertain gestures towards your vision, no matter how approximate they are. 



Hilary Smith 

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing 

An Inward Journey

Dear readers,

In the rural Hawaiian valley where I have lived off-grid for the past five years, local people come often to tend their ancestors’ graves, which are marked either by Western-style headstones or by traditional piles of stones, or pohaku. Wandering through the forest, you soon become aware that you are surrounded by graves. Noisy chatter gives way to quiet contemplation; a crashing gait turns into carefully-placed footsteps. The presence of so many ancestors exerts a subtle but powerful effect on peoples’ behavior: there’s a sense that your actions matter, and that you are being watched. Although the forest may look wild or abandoned to an untrained eye, it contains layer upon layer of human history, the evidence of which is all around. I often wonder about the people to whom these graves belong. What would they think of my presence here? Would they approve of the way I’m living? What could I do to earn their respect?

Sometimes, I feel wistful when I speak with a neighbor who can recite the names of relatives stretching far back into her family tree, all rooted to the same land for generation after generation. The deep knowledge of the land and enduring sense of belonging such families possess is something that I can only dream of. Like many great-grandchildren of immigrants, I’ve never felt quite sure of where I belonged, or even where I’m “really” from. For me, the nearest ancestral grave sites are not only thousands of miles away, but located in places where I have never spent meaningful time, if I’ve even visited them at all.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of editing Rhonda McCrimmon’s beautiful book, The Cauldron and the Drum: A Journey into Celtic Shamanism. One thing I love about McCrimmon’s work is her discussion of ancestors.



Shamanic practices from around the world involve calling on one’s ancestors for support, guidance, or protection. However, some of us have a tricky relationship with our literal ancestors—for example, if we know that they were abusive to others, we may not feel comfortable drawing them to mind when we need inspiration or support. For this, McCrimmon offers a wonderful alternative: connecting with “loving ancestors,” whether or not you are tied to them by blood. Just as many people spend the holidays with “chosen family” rather than blood relatives, McCrimmon teaches that we aren’t limited to literal relatives when it comes to seeking inspiration from those who have gone beyond.

She also asks us to consider what kind of ancestors we would someday like to be. How would we like to be remembered by the people who come after us? How can we become the kind of ancestors that our descendants will want to call upon for guidance? As a person in my thirties, I’d never given much thought to these questions, but as I edited The Cauldron and the Drum, I often found myself reflecting on my values, and asking myself how I could grow in the kind of wisdom that could someday be of benefit to others. Was I putting the right things in my cauldron? Could I reorient myself to something higher, something that would make a difference for generations to come?

But as I was editing Rhonda’s book, I began to think about my friends and neighbors who have died in the valley. Their deaths bind me to this place, just as their friendship did when they were alive. I decided to take a pilgrimage to a place I hadn’t gone in three years—a tumbledown house on the other side of the valley, where a friend of mine had died. I packed a small basket with ti leaves, flowers, and some ‘awa root, and set out on foot down the long dirt road. As I walked, I remembered all that my friend had taught me—how to train guava branches by tying them with rope, how deep to make a chainsaw cut in a tree you were felling—as well as the stories he used to tell about the time he was camping on the beach in a wind storm and got pinned under an ironwood tree.

I remembered the many times I’d given him a ride home from town, and how he’d give me avocadoes and plant cuttings for my garden—cuttings which were now six feet tall. As I approached his old house, which was now little more than a pile of rotting boards and gaping windows, I saw the plants from which those cuttings were taken, still standing. I crouched down, lay my offering in front of the gate, and said a few words to wish him well on the other side.



The very next day, my next-door neighbors came over. “They’re burning down the old house today,” they said. “Would you like to come with us to watch?”

“Which old house?” I asked, amazed.

It was my friend’s old house, which the new owners were destroying to make way for something new. I’d made my pilgrimage just in time. As I stood with my neighbors and watched the place burn, I felt that I’d crossed a transition point in my life in the valley. Where I was once a newcomer, with no memory and no relationships, I was now a person who remembered what it was like when the old house was there; I was a person who knew and remembered the dead. It wasn’t the same thing as having ancestors in the valley, but it was something. I did have graves to tend, and it meant something to me to tend them. In this unexpected way, I was starting to belong.

In The Cauldron and the Drum, McCrimmon writes: “Like many ancient peoples, the Celts believed that the visible world was only one layer of a complex and multifaceted reality. In addition to the everyday labor required to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads, the Celts practiced extensive inner work, honoring the mysteries of their own psyches and seeking the wisdom within. They were also careful to maintain their relationships with the world of nature, knowing that all energy comes from—and returns to—the earth.”

The longer I live in this ancient and sacred land, the more I become aware of the complex and multifaceted reality of which McCrimmon writes, and the more moved I am by the cycles of energy she describes. Whether you are living in the land of your ancestors or in a place which is completely new to you, there are always ways to show respect, develop relationships, and tap into something timeless and precious.

Readers, I hope you all have a beautiful winter, that your cauldrons are full of whatever nourishes you best, and that you find deep ties of belonging wherever you go.



Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing



According to the ancient Celts, the root of a person's physical, spiritual, and emotional health lies in the balance between the body's three energy centers, called the Three Cauldrons: the Cauldron of Warming, the Cauldron of Motion, and the Cauldron of Wisdom. They believed a person must activate, nurture, and maintain all three cauldrons to live a whole, connected, and meaningful life.

In this book, renowned shamanic teacher Rhonda McCrimmon brings the ancient, healing wisdom of Celtic shamanism to life so you can break free from the chains of past traumas, hurts, and heartaches and live a whole, connected, and more meaningful life. You will embark on a spiritual journey from the lowest of the three energetic cauldrons to the highest, learning how to cultivate each cauldron’s unique potential along the way.

  • The Cauldron of Warming, the wellspring of our innate knowledge, can be drained by past traumas, leaving us anxious and fearful. By replenishing this cauldron, you can restore your birthright of inner peace and security.
  • The Cauldron of Motion is on its side at birth but fills as we experience deep grief or joy. It is the source of our capacity to love and nurture. Learn how to balance this cauldron, establish healthy boundaries, and protect yourself from emotional drain.
  • The Cauldron of Wisdom is upside down at birth. When it is righted, we receive one of the most sublime gifts of Celtic spirituality—a profoundly felt connection with nature.

In each chapter, McCrimmon provides self-reflections and other exercises designed to help you:

  • Activate and balance your inner cauldrons.
  • Dispel fear by tapping into your innate wisdom.
  • Work through past traumas, foster love, and nurture emotional resilience.
  • Manifest creative potential through rituals and meditations.

You will also learn about the four Celtic fire festivals, and the sacred practice of saining. Celtic shamanism and its practices are open to all. Regardless of your ancestral roots, Rhonda McCrimmon invites you to explore this ancient wisdom and begin your journey down the shaman’s path.

Click here to learn more about The Cauldron and the Drum and to read two free chapters of the book!

Small Living, Big Wisdom

Dear readers,

Before I built the simple open-air hut in rural Hawaii where I cook, write, and practice music, the only structure on my land was a large, open-sided tent perched on a wooden platform. The platform was the first thing I built when I bought the land several years ago—a tiny island lifting me a precious few feet above a sea of knee-deep mud.

To live in the tent was to live in direct contact with nature. I shared the space with enormous brown hunting spiders, bright green geckos, a determined crew of mosquitos, and the occasional coqui frog whose shrill chirping could keep me up all night. Every now and then, a stray cat would decide that I was in need of a roommate, and I’d come home to find a furry intruder glaring at me from my own bed.

When it rained, I’d feel a gentle spray of mist on my face. When it stormed, I’d lie awake, worrying that an overhanging tree branch would snap off and crush me in my sleep. One night, a branch did fall, its jagged, mossy end poking right through the roof of the tent. I pushed it out, repaired the hole with duct tape, and went back to bed. Other times, I’d wake up to the voices of hunters on the trail that runs through my land, and see their flashlights in the dark. Ever so briefly, I’d wish I had a door. As it was, I didn’t even have a wall.

One night during hurricane season, there was a windstorm. As I listened to the metal tent poles creaking and groaning, the tree branches sighing, and the plastic tarp snapping back and forth with every violent gust, I felt real fear. This isn’t how people live, I thought. This isn’t a real life. I felt like a bug in a rolled-up leaf—dry, but just barely. Safe, but just barely. As I contemplated this image, my fear lifted, and I realized I was being given a great gift. How many people in our urbanized world ever get to experience what it’s like to be an insect, a bird, or some other creature who lives with only the barest protection against the elements? How many people get to live this close to the wind, the rain, and the land itself?

The precarity with which I lived was frightening sometimes, but awesome too—in the sense of putting me in direct contact with experiences of awe. Wrapped up in the windstorm, vulnerable to it, afraid of it and awed by it, I had no choice but to experience life in its rawest form.

Even after I built my hut, I continued to sleep in the tent. The one-room hut was too small to fit my bed or store my clothes, and for better or worse, I’d stopped worrying about falling branches. When I visited friends who lived in proper houses, the still indoor air felt spooky to me, and the spacious rooms devoid of life. Where were the vines twining around the legs of the furniture? Where were the spiders and geckos? Where was the mist? Now that I’d gotten used to spending twenty-four hours a day in the open air, living indoors now struck me as incredibly lonely. After reveling briefly in my friends’ comfortable couches and clean kitchens, I soon felt restless to get back to my exposed, precarious, and inconvenient home.



This summer, the island where I live was hit by a tropical storm. I stayed at a friend’s house in town while the river flooded, and when I got home, I found that the tent which had sheltered me for almost five years had finally begun to fail. As I mopped up the water, I realized that if I didn’t make a change, the wooden platform on which the tent stood would soon begin to rot, and then I would have a real problem on my hands. Maybe it was time to dismantle the tent and build a proper roof and some half-walls—not a sealed house, nothing to give one the feeling that one was indoors, but something a little sturdier, a little safer, and a lot dryer.

For a couple of months, I hemmed and hawed. I worried that building a roof would chip away at the precarity which had become precious to me. Would my newfound comfort come at the price of awe? Would it numb the empathy I felt towards those who had no choice but to live with minimal shelter, and whose precarity was far more real and pressing than the semi-optional version I valued and enjoyed? Once I had a wood-framed structure, it would only make sense to put up mosquito screens; once I started enclosing the place against insects, it would only make sense to put up a door to keep out cats and people, too. Before I knew it, I would be locking the door—and my state of vivid, uncomfortable, electrifying relationship with the land would be forever changed.




Spiritual traditions from around the world emphasize poverty, precarity, and voluntary simplicity as gateways to the divine. The monks in some Zen monasteries bathe in cold water, chop their own firewood, and limit themselves to simple clothing and bedding that provide the bare minimum of comfort. Shamanic peoples engage in practices like fasting, vision quests, and sweat lodges, through which they voluntarily enter a state of mild to extreme discomfort. The Benedictine monastic order of Catholics requires its members to take a vow of poverty, in response to Jesus’ advice, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”

There seems to be a consensus among world religions that too much material comfort is a barrier not only to mystical union, but also to everyday virtues like compassion, empathy, and community. When we’re just a little bit cold, hungry, lost, or broke, we’re more likely to remember the suffering of others, and act altruistically towards them. Physical discomfort can act as a whetstone to compassion, keeping us in a state of harmony instead of isolating ourselves in an echo chamber of plenty.

I often think of my land as a monastery, and its many discomforts as invaluable tools for honing equanimity, patience, humility, and love. Was I being called to patch the leaking tent and tighten the lashings, eking out its life for one more season? Or was it time to accept the “death” of this particular companion and move on?



After a second storm earlier this fall left big puddles on my bedroom floor, I made the decision to build the roof after all—and build it before hurricane season picked up in earnest. For a frenzied couple of weeks, I made trip after trip to the lumberyard, stocking up on two-by-fours and primer, and ordering metal roofing. Finally, it was time to take down the threadbare roof tarp and pull apart the hollow metal poles which held it up. For years, that tarp had been all that separated me from the wind and rain. Now, I climbed up on a stepladder and began to peel it off. After just a few tugs, the sky was revealed, and the monkeypod branches overhead. A few more tugs, and I found myself standing on a wooden platform surrounded by trees and plants, a rack of green bananas hanging just out of reach of my bed. It was delightful to stand there—to see how small my life was, compared to the life all around. Compared to the trees and cliffs, my bed looked like a toy, the wooden platform no bigger than a child’s playhouse. And I knew, suddenly, that I could let the tent go, without losing what was most precious to me. In my heart and mind, I would continue to live as a bug in a leaf, even as my body stayed dry.

As fall moves into winter, I invite you to embrace discomfort wherever you encounter it—whether that’s in a forest monastery, on a city bus, or wandering around your own neighborhood. You might just find a new sense of compassion waiting on the other side.

Readers, this November, may you all find the kind of shelter you need—and may awe find you there in all its forms.



            Hilary Smith

            Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing

The Freedom to Change

Dear Readers,

This weekend, one of my best friends came to visit me at the small off-grid community in rural Hawaii where I live. As we roasted green coffee beans in a cast-iron pan, we took turns asking each other questions from a game she had brought—What was your most embarrassing moment in high school, what’s the most important trait you look for in a partner, and so on. We soon realized, to our bemusement, that the game was hard for us to play, because we already knew each other so well we could rattle off each other’s answers off the tops of our heads. However, one card gave me pause. When did you change your mind about something?

As my ramshackle cabin filled with the scent of roasting coffee, and the myna birds began to chirp outside, I realized just how many times in my life I’ve gone from fearing, disdaining, or resisting something, to wholeheartedly embracing it. These days, wild horses couldn’t drag me away from my beloved rainforest hut—but five years ago, when life dropped me into this place, you’d think I’d been sentenced to an execution. My e-mails to friends and relatives were grim. To be fair, life was much harder when I was living in a tent, during a year of incessant floods, a stranger in what I then perceived to be a remarkably strange and inscrutable place.



These days, my e-mails to friends and family are filled with worshipful descriptions of fruit trees, waterfalls, and clouds, proud recountings of minor victories involving carpentry or truck repair, and fond descriptions of the neighbors who are no longer strangers to me. The difficulties and inconveniences I once viewed as outrageous and insurmountable, I now view as precious; where I once experienced isolation, I’ve become aware of teeming, riotous webs of community. I’ve changed my mind about off-grid life, and I can’t imagine going back.

Although my friends sometimes tease me about my “conversion,” I’ll be forever grateful that the people around me gave me the space to change, without trying to hold me to an outdated version of myself. How terrible it would be if we were permanently held to account for our former beliefs and attitudes—if an opinion, once expressed, had to define us forever. How wonderful it is to have the freedom to change—to update our beliefs, our opinions, and our identities as we proceed through life, shedding old layers as we go.

Last winter, I had the privilege of working with don Jose Ruiz on his wonderful book The Shaman’s Path to Freedom: A Toltec Wisdom Book, which releases on October 3rd. Of the ten freedoms he describes in the book, number three will always be my favorite: the freedom to change. In this chapter, Ruiz describes the Toltec concept of shapeshifting, which he defines as “living in dynamic relationship to life.” Life is always changing—not just decade to decade or year to year, but moment to moment. We can confront this change with brittleness, and make ourselves suffer, or we can learn to dance with life. We can learn to joyfully shapeshift, the same way life itself is constantly shapeshifting.

If there’s anyone qualified to talk about change, it’s don Jose Ruiz. As a teenager, he felt compelled to seek out suffering, after perceiving how much the adults around him seemed to prize their trauma and pain. Yet today, don Jose has one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen, and it’s hard not to grin when you so much as glance at his author photo. As a twenty-something, don Jose went through a phase where he felt he had to dress in “spiritual” clothes and listen only to mantras—but today, he’s no longer shy about his love of heavy metal concerts, and he doesn’t mind when his dogs get their paws all over his distinctly unspiritual cargo pants.

These days, don Jose Ruiz holds his identity lightly. He writes, When people ask me, “What are you, Jose? What is your profession? What race are you? What things are you?” I think to myself, “I’m just life.” Like a stream that changes shape a million times as it finds its way from a mountaintop to the sea, Ruiz knows that he isn’t any one of the innumerable masks he’s donned throughout his lifetime, but the ineffable life force, or nagual, running through them all.



I’m just life. What a beautiful sentiment—and how liberating. As don Jose Ruiz describes in The Shaman’s Path to Freedom, so much of our suffering comes from confusing ourselves with something other than life itself. We confuse ourselves with our jobs, our relationships, and our status in the community. We confuse ourselves with our bodies—our health and looks. Meanwhile, we are made of the same stuff as toads and jaguars, starlight and waterfalls, orchids and moss. Life is always manifesting itself in different forms, revealing new faces of the infinite. To think that we are exempt from this process, or to desire to be exempt from this process, is to miss out on the beauty of life—and to align ourselves with this process is to be free.


Ten years ago, my sister took me to an ecstatic dance event in the city where I was living. For the uninitiated, ecstatic dance is an event at which people dance to electronic or other music, often for hours, with no talking or phones allowed. When I went with my sister, I found it incredibly awkward and swore I would never do anything of the sort ever again. “The music is terrible,” I remember saying, “And those people—well, they’re just not my people!” I considered myself a serious person with serious tastes—I listened to Indian classical music and was forever trying and failing to write important novels. Like the teenaged don Jose Ruiz, I thought that suffering was a sign of superiority. The thought of joining a bunch of smiling, unserious hippies on a dance floor was anathema.

Although I’ve long since ditched my love affair with suffering, I retained a sort of prudishness and formality when it came to music and art, and feared being caught liking anything that was, well, fun. Then near the end of the revision process for don Jose’s book, I realized I hadn’t been to town in weeks; I had been buried in a happy haze of editing and working on my land. It was the first Saturday of the month, and I knew there was ecstatic dance at the community center in town that night.

I felt in my heart a twinge of longing. What if I did something completely out of character? I thought. It’s about time I poked my head into the world and tried something new. Besides, I think don Jose would approve. Before I could talk myself out of it, I grabbed the keys to my truck and embarked on the long and precarious drive into town. I figured I’d stay at the dance for half an hour at most before high-tailing it out of there, grumbling to myself about the “bad” music and wasted gas.

I ended up staying for the whole two hours of dancing, and for the sound bath at the end, and for the closing circle where I realized that the people I’d formerly described as “not my people” were in fact very much my people. I drove home in a state of elation, my heart humming with the pleasure of allowing a new self to unfold. Am I a serious person? Am I a carefree dancer? Yes to both—because I am life itself. And a part of me that had been stuck is now free.



Of course, the freedom to change isn’t the only freedom don Jose Ruiz teaches in his new book. There is also the freedom to love unconditionally, when you’ve been taught to judge and condemn; the freedom to heal, when you’ve learned to live within the confines of your wounds; the freedom to see, when you’ve accepted a self-imposed blindness; and all the other freedoms that we must claim if we are to bring our gifts into the world in their highest form. When we attain this freedom, we touch the infinite potential of the nagual— a Nahuatl word for pure life force —which reminds me a whole lot of the feeling I have when I’m dancing.

Readers, I wish I could pour you all a cup of this freshly-roasted coffee, picked from the trees near my land—and I wish I could load you all into my truck and take you to ecstatic dance. I will have to settle for wishing you happiness in whatever form you find it, even or perhaps especially if means taking a leap away from the person you believed yourself to be. May you all have the freedom to change, and may those changes bring you wisdom and delight every single day.



Hilary Smith

Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing




Humanity is in crisis.

War, poverty, environmental disasters, and more have brought the planet to a tipping point. In our personal lives, many of us carry deep-seated fear, resentment, anger, and even hatred for others and ourselves.
Since ancient times, Toltec shamans have taught that the root of all this discord can be found in the human mind and what they called its addiction to suffering. They have also taught that the time will come when we must choose to either break free from this addiction or pay the ultimate price.
According to Toltec Shaman don Jose Ruiz, that time is now, and the change that is needed can only come from within.
In The Shaman’s Path to Freedom, Ruiz will teach you how to find and claim your own personal freedom, one based on unconditional love for yourself and others, and in doing so break your mind’s addiction to suffering. By walking this path, you can live a life of peace and harmony within yourself, which is the most important thing you can do to bring about the change that is needed in the world.
Filled with Toltec practices for establishing personal freedom, The Shaman’s Path to Freedom is don Jose Ruiz’s most personal and radical book yet, guaranteed to thrill both new readers and longtime fans.