Nick Wood is the Editor of Sacred Hoop, a quarterly magazine for those interested in the teachings of indigenous shamanic peoples from around the globe. It contains articles about sacred ways of living, teachings from other cultures as well as news and views from around the UK. He is also a musician, and crafts man and teaches workshops on the Medicine wheel and shamanism.
Questions proposed by Brett Almond. This interview is from 2000.
How did the foundation of Sacred Hoop magazine come about? Did you just wake up one day and have the idea or did the whole thing evolve more gradually? Why did you found the magazine?
Many years ago, I had a dream where someone came up to me in a car park and gave me a magazine - not a single copy but the whole production. I remember waking up from that dream saying "no way!"
Then years later after I had been involved in shamanic teachings for sometime, my wife, Jan, and I were invited to a meeting of all the shamanic and medicine wheel teachers in the UK. This meeting was called by Anna Gahlin and Annie Spencer, two teachers of the Sacred traditions from Bath in the South of England.
This was a wonderful meeting in a beautiful wild valley in West Wales with almost 70 people attending as I recall. Many of them had not met before and there was a lot of connecting and friendships made there. One of the things that came out of it was the need to have a circle of teachers who could act as a voice for the teachings in the UK and a circle for those who wanted to be part of the teachings, but who were not teachers themselves.
Not a lot happened for a few months after this meeting, except that a few of us got together to talk about how we could proceed with this. At one of these meetings, Jan suddenly said "well - of course what we need is a news letter", to which we all agreed. Then all hell let loose, as with in a few minutes, a woman called Bee Quick phoned us to say she was stopping a small shamanic events mailing list she had run called 'People on the Path' and would we like to carry on with it. Bee had run this for a few years and mailed out a few sheets of paper with shamanic events, dates and contact numbers to about 200 people around the London area every few months or so.
Because of the timing of the phone call we all looked at each other and the moment was seized.
We had the POP mailing list of around 200 people, to whom we wrote a letter inviting them to subscribe to a new shamanic magazine 'Sacred Hoop'. We raised about £2,000 from this which enabled us to produce the first issue. We had no computer, Shauna Crockette-Burrows, a dear friend and editor of 'Link Up', a new age magazine lent us one for a week to put the magazine together.
The founder and Editor of Hoop was Jan Wood, who continued to be editor until issue 17, after which I picked up the reins.
You have featured well-known shamans from all over the world in Sacred Hoop. What has been the response of some of the Native peoples like the Native Americans to your magazine? Do they approve?
Native people seem divided about non-natives taking part in their sacred teachings. Some are very in favour because they see the teachings as belonging to all humanity, while others see it as cultural theft and a form of genocide. We have received verbal abuse and threats of legal and physical violence over the years from some Native people for the work we do – although thankfully this is rare.
A main concern of many Native people is that their culture is not diluted by misinformation. There is a lot of hype put out about shamanism, and lots of 'so-called' traditional teachings are a sort of bubble gum shamanism which has collected bits of so called spiritual wisdom from all over the place. Because of that we have tried to find traditional teachings and not go into some of the more fanciful areas of shamanism such as 'special feature – I communicate with an alien shaman' etc. I would hate to think that Hoop is seen as a new age comic.
Often Native people are amazed that we are interested and like the magazine, but then others see the new age market as a great way to make money, so they come with a bit of spiritual razzmatazz, do a few workshops with not much content and have a good holiday. I think this is happening less now than it was, but there are still lots of people out there who get conned by so called shamans. That is why we try to make the magazine traditional, we try to give people a taste of the real thing.
Have you any interesting stories about any of the Native peoples and their encounters with the British way of life?
Not really the British way of life, other than they often find the concept of cups of tea quite funny. The one thing they do find strange however is our need to dissect words and get the exact meaning to everything, to be so much in our heads. That, of course, is not just a British thing, but it is so alien to their way of thinking that many of them make humorous digs at us over it.
I do remember Sunbear, a well built Native American teacher on a visit here once coming up to a timid, very English looking vicar (complete with dog collar). Sunbear bore down up on him, grabbed the startled vicar in a huge bear like embrace and said "Ho brother - I see we are in the same line of business"
How has the magazine been received over the years in Britain? Are people becoming more sympathetic to the nature based religions and activities?
Shamanism is certainly more of a buzzword than it was, and there are, I think, more people interested in it than there were. But we are still only reaching a tiny proportion of the people we could reach. So we try very hard to get out there and be seen. Once people see us, a lot of them seem to come out of the closet so to speak. Maybe they have collected feathers for years but hide the fact from their friends in case they think they are weird.
I think that people are, by nature, animistic. By that I mean everyone, deep inside, responds in some way or another to the world as a world with spirit. They will sense the spirit of a mountain or a river or other wild place, they will want to pick up feathers and stones and maybe arrange them in a beautiful way - because it's natural to us. So the more we can say "this is natural - it's OK", the more people sigh with relief and come out with it.
Sacred Hoop does what it can, but we are only a tiny voice in the world - people will still stand in awe at a thunderstorm long after we have gone.
One thing I would like to say however, is that the British seem to have a soft spot in their hearts for Native people, especially Native Americans. This is often not the case for our own witchcraft traditions which have become tainted with church propaganda. I do think that native derived animistic traditions get over some of that propaganda, these ways don't seem to generate so much fear in people.
From a purely personal viewpoint what do you see as happening to our world in the global sense at the moment? Are we at a gateway to a more peaceful and spiritual based world, as many believe?
A lot of native traditions talk of us going through earth changes. Although you won't see me head to the hills with a shotgun and a years supply of food and water, I do think we are at a time of great change which is not going to be so nice for many that go through it. There are two many people on earth and we are messing around with things in such an unsacred way we will be affected by it.
Sunbear used to say "live off the corpse till the funeral". By that he meant, the world is going to change and the structure of society is going to change with it - be prepared for it and do what you need to do now to get ready.
I think a lot of people are spiritually starved at the moment so they will binge on any spiritual food that comes along. That, for me, explains all the hype of the new age movement - people just stuff anything into their spiritual mouths because they are starving. This isn't to say that all the new age is hype - but some of it is just froth and glitter.
I think this will change, there will come a time when the junk food in the new age will stop working - people will realise they don't actually feel spiritually fed by it. Once that happens they will either throw spiritual things out as something that didn't work or they will go and get some wholesome food.
Then we may see some changes - but I do think it will be a bumpy ride - since when was growing up easy and comfortable. Children think that when they are a grown up it will all be easy and wonderful - life will be great. Well, call me a cynic if you like but I don't believe in happy ever after fairy tales, being a grown up is often hard work.
What are your spiritual beliefs? Are they shamanistic?
Since I can remember I have always been interested in different cultures. I remember as a small child tears and sobs because I wasn't allowed to stay up past my bed time to see a TV programme about cave art.
I lived in a rural place and didn't have many friends so would go far over the fields and into the woods by my self for hours. It wasn't always nice, I remember some of the places being really creepy and me being scared to death.
When I was about 15 I started doing ceremonies to the Four Directions because it felt the right thing to do. Stupidly I told my school friends and went through hell, but these ways never really left me. By chance ('aint no such animal) I discovered the medicine wheel teachings in my mid twenties and found that all I had done as a child and teenager had a name and that people had been doing it for thousands of years. I realised at that time my life had changed forever.
What are your favourite ceremonies to practice? How often do you practice them and what benefits do you receive?
My main thing has always been working with the Four directions, the Spirits, the powers who sit in the directions. Lots of cultures - even the Christian church have angels who sit in the four directions. Every day I light a candle on an altar and thank the powers for the life I have that day. I have also been working with the sacred pipe, the Native American so-called 'peace pipe' for around 15 years. That has a lot of connection to the four directions and it is my central spiritual tradition.
What is the most valuable / amazing shamanic experience you have had that you can share with us?
There have been many, these things happen.
I remember doing a pipe ceremony for someone who had died in an accident. The people who had been there at the time were in the circle and I wanted to give them the opportunity to say good-bye. We did a powerful pipe that day, we kept passing it round the circle and everyone's prayers were getting deeper and deeper and more from the heart rather than the head. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder - no one was there I could see, but the hand was as real as any physical hand. I don't know if it was the spirit of the person who died, but I just said "thank you Grandfather" and went right on with the ceremony. After about 5 minutes the hand was removed.
I've done ceremony where we have called to the Powers of the four directions in a closed room and wind has come from nowhere. Like I said these things happen. I could tell lots of stories, most of them are small things, because small things like this happen all the time.
You must have your finger fairly well on the pulse of shamanism in the UK. What are the trends at the moment? Is interest increasing, decreasing, are there more teachers coming in from abroad? Are they of sufficient quality?
Shamanism always seems to be on the verge of making it big - but never seems to quite get there. Jan, my wife was talking to a book publisher a little while ago about this, and they said Feng Shui was like it until someone put it into terms the average person in the street could identify with and use.
What we need is someone who can translate these ways into the every day without loosing the spirit and integrity of the traditions. Not an easy task, maybe it will happen. When I started working with these ways in the 1980's I thought they would really take off - I still hope they will, they have such beautiful things to teach people.
I struggle to keep up with teachers visiting here from abroad - no one tells me anything and half the time I hear about them after they have gone. There is still lots of interest in Native American things, but it would be wonderful to bring over shamans from Siberia and Mongolia and other cultures to share their teachings. I would love to take Hoop in that direction, but the costs are too great both in time and money, so that will have to sit on the shelf for a while.
There are quite a lot of people offering courses in 'shamanism' nowadays in the UK. What is the standard like? For someone who wants to know more about this path how would you advise them to go about it?
This is a hard one.
Some are very, very good - there are some heartful people who walk a good sacred road out there in the UK. It annoys me sometimes, people phone me and say "I want to go to America to do some medicine work - where should I go?" Well - I often don't have the courage to say it, but I often want to say "Look - this is your land - there are people here who can help you, go and sit with the land here and get in touch with the spirits and the ancestors here"
There are people who work with the medicine in the UK who I hold in very high regard, and just because someone in America has Native DNA it does not make them wiser or better. Now, of course I am not saying that some native teachers are far beyond anyone here - they are, but don't rubbish people here just because they have the wrong DNA. We are all native of somewhere.
Then of course there are people here who attend a couple of workshops, buy themselves a drum and become instant shamans offering courses to all and sundry. Mostly they are harmless, sometimes they are dangerous. I always advise people to vote with their feet. If you don't like what is happening to you on a workshop or in a ceremony - leave.
My advice would be to try to work with people who have been around doing ceremonies and workshops for years. These people have staying power, they are not just trying to make a bit of money or get a buzz from being around the teachings. Some people who are new are very strong and have good hearts and medicine they will stay, others will vanish in a while when the next buzz comes along.
You can’t tell, and I am certainly not going to name names, but if it feeds you it is good - if after a while you realise you are still hungry, find another teacher.
I have been teaching workshops on Medicine wheel and shamanism and taking part in ceremonies for years and years, and before that I was a psychotherapist, social worker and group worker for a number of years – and I realise I know nothing really. That's why it’s called Great Mystery.
What is the most bizarre article someone has wanted to publish in Sacred Hoop, which you have refused?
I work with living native teachers, but we always get people who channel dead ones. Now maybe they do or maybe they don't - but those people who come up with a message from Red Cloud or Sitting Bull are always politely and gratefully declined. People who work with alien teachers get a similar reaction too. We also get poetic 'the world is wonderful and I want to just tell everyone that' type articles too from time to time, bless 'um people float past quite often.
Saying that - most of what we get is fascinating, I wish we could be double the size and published more often; there is so much good medicine out there.
And finally, if you were to die tomorrow what is the one piece of advice you would leave to the world?
Always look after your CD collection and don't put wooden musical instruments in hot sunshine.
Oh, and keep exploring the mystery and follow your bliss with your feet on the ground.
For all my relations.
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