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 

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!

The Cauldron and The Drum

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. 

Shaman Nabeel Redwood

Shaman Nabeel Redwood is the founder of Shamanic Healing LA, where he has served thousands of clients as a shamanic healer. With over a decade of experience teaching and practicing shamanism, meditation, yoga and tantra, Nabeel is committed to sharing techniques of spiritual awakening and liberation in a clear simply manner applicable to all. Find out more at 

Messages From The Ancestors

Shamanic Power Animals

Explore the Wisdom of the Animal World

Shamanism teaches us that the intelligence of nature is all around us, waiting for us to reach out with open hearts and listen to its guidance. When we turn our attention to the incredible community of animal life and the teachings they have to share, we open ourselves to a vibrant, interconnected world full of spiritual truths and transformational insights.

Through myth, tradition, science, and story—combined with the power of personal observation—we can see how animals offer profound life lessons every day:

In Shamanic Power Animals: Embracing the Teachings of Our Non-Human Friends, Toltec shaman don José Ruiz takes a deep dive into this rich and vital store of animal wisdom and demonstrates how we can incorporate its lessons into our daily lives.