When I was in my 20s, I paid a visit to a shaman. In Los Angeles, these types of practitioners get passed around among friends like a must-see hair colorist. At the time, I had no clue what I was doing with my life, so a session with a spiritual healer sounded like a good idea.
The shaman turned out not to be the older woman I’d pictured. She was attractive with long dark hair and she lived in a small apartment in the San Fernando Valley. It was decorated with impressive-looking purple crystals and various brass deities. She ushered me onto a massage table in the center of the living room while quiet, New Age-y music played. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself in for, but I trusted the friend who recommended her and I decided to surrender to it.
She was silent for a moment while she read my aura or vibes or whatever. The shaman moved slowly around the table and appeared to be deep in concentration, so I didn’t verbalize the thoughts in my head like, “This is really weird. What am I doing here?” The longer she was quiet, the more my discomfort grew.
Then she started to nod her head as if everything was suddenly clear.
“Men are holding you back,” she said.
“Really?” I laughed nervously. This hardly seemed like a giant leap, given that my relationships with men were usually far from ideal. “They’re stopping you from moving forward. You’re blocked. We need to do a cord-cutting ceremony. I want you to visualize cutting the cord with men you’ve slept with who are draining you psychically — like vampires. They’re feeding off your sex. And we have to stop that.”
“Wait. You’re saying that a guy I have sex with can ‘drain me’ afterward? Indefinitely?” I asked, horrified by the thought.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. You have to protect your energy.”
That sounded completely nuts. My friend hadn’t mentioned anything about vampires. Still, it was almost absurd enough to sound possible. Some of my relationships felt sticky and hard to shake, well beyond their expiration date. Was that an indication of their “vampire” tendencies?
I lay still with my eyes closed. She burned sweet-smelling sage and wafted it over me with a feather. I let myself sink heavily into the table.
“Who do you need to be free of? I want you to visualize that partner.”
I had to pick just one?
I chose an old boyfriend who had occupied prime real estate in my mind for too long. We’d met when I was 15 and he was much older. He’d been a big deal to me during my most influential years, when I was newly stumbling into flirtations with men and making a mess of them. I had grown up without a father, and was unsure of my footing with the opposite sex. I arrived to dating with no expectation of being treated well. With the balance of power significantly in his favor, I had idolized him. He was impressive and worldly in ways I could only dream of. He knew about ordering wine, traveled extensively and was fluent in a mysterious world called the stock market. With my lack of experience in all realms, I must have presented like a fawning puppy, all naked enthusiasm with no skill or direction.
I seemed to disappoint him. “Sweetheart, your hair has no shape to it,” he’d say, or, “You could stand to lose a few pounds.” And, when I hadn’t eaten all day, the truly mortifying “Oh, darling, your breath!”
I could improve on dental hygiene but I was never going to morph into one of the tall, athletic women he favored. I was petite with soft curves that were resistant to cultivating any hard edges. Through our early interactions, I came to expect that regret after sex was a normal default, as well as a malaise that stuck around for days. Only later, through my evolution as a woman, would I come to understand that this uncomfortable feeling in my gut signaled I had sold myself out. Like muscle memory, it would be activated time and time again, until I learned how to guard against it. But back then, I was putty in his hands.
Out of curiosity or maybe boredom, I’d looked him up on a recent trip I made to attend a wedding. In the 10 years since we’d last been in touch he had been through a difficult divorce, and what began as a catch-up lunch turned into another round of dating. As a grown woman, I was much less puppy-like and wondered how I’d fare with him. Could I dance close to that old flame without getting burned? The short answer was no. The holiday fling had another awkward ending and I kept ruminating on it. Once again I’d let him have too much power over me and beat myself up over it. Vampire or not, I wanted to be free of that negative dynamic once and for all.
“Really see him and feel his energy, before you say goodbye,” the shaman said.
I did my part and conjured him up, as instructed.
“Hold onto the thick cord that binds the two of you. Now, imagine taking a heavy sword and slicing through it and send him away with love,” she directed. “Then take the part you’re left with and rub it into your belly, so you don’t create any psychic wounds.”
I cut through the imaginary cord and sent him on his way. With love.
When it was over, I felt elated.
“You can always do some clearing of your own with some white sage or Palo Santo incense. That works well. And don’t forget to smudge between your legs!” She demonstrated by lifting her skirt up and waved the smoking sage underneath.
“Got it,” I said.
“And don’t be surprised if you hear from him,” she said. “He’ll feel the disconnect instantly.”
I doubted that. He was living in Australia. Wasn’t that a bit far for our little ritual to travel?
Our session was on a Friday evening, by Sunday morning he had called.
“I was just thinking about you,” he said on the message.
Damn. That woo-woo business had worked! It was like some sort of karmic love boomerang.
When I finally called him back after a day or two, he wanted me to visit him in Australia, but I had the resolve not to. I could see it for the dead-end it was. No karmic ritual was going to suddenly make us compatible, but it did open up a portal of understanding. It freed me from any remaining attachment to him and his power over me. We left things on a friendly note, then both moved on and married other people.
I wish I could say that the cord-cutting exercise fixed all my relationships with men. It did not. Nor did it save me from a painful divorce in my 30s, but it made me think about romantic attachments in a new light. I examined what my role in them was. So much about moving forward is remembering the past — and then making different choices. I didn’t need to be in such a hurry to find a partner.
I got better at letting go of relationship baggage but couldn’t let go of my fascination with shamans. I sought out ceremonial healers who came with rave reviews through fellow seekers or my yoga community. If there were tools to help navigate one’s way through life and love, I made it my business to learn of them. To achieve more of a balance, I also invested in cognitive therapy.
Three years after the end of my marriage, which had lasted just over two years, I went on a blind date and fell in love with an orthopedic surgeon — someone with two feet planted firmly in Western medicine. It was clear from the start that we were largely opposites. Other than us both coming off bad divorces, I couldn’t imagine what we could have in common. He revered science, logic and predictable outcomes. I was deeply committed to my acupuncturist. He rolled his eyes at my follies but didn’t discount me for them. It might even have intrigued him. He’s a deep thinker who can fix anything and loves to quote philosophers like Nietzsche. From my perspective, all that intellectual prowess served to keep people at a distance. I had to wade through a lot of those big words and ideas to get to his heart and his feelings. Unlike my usual dive-right-in approach, we took our time evaluating if we were a match.
Sooner or later women discover how to become their own love shamans, to trust in their feminine wisdom, especially when much of it is hard-earned.
These days, sitting atop my dresser is my own impressive collection of crystals, many of them in shades of lilac. A few Buddha statues sit serenely around the house, reminding me to slow down and not be in such a hurry.
My husband, Rob, the medicine man, indulges my inclination to twirl some incense around when one of us is in a bad mood or when we were getting on each other’s nerves in lockdown. If we have a marital spat, I’ll light some Palo Santo sticks to cleanse the house — particularly the bedroom. It’s good to keep the home fires burning. But every now and then, I still like to wave a bit of sage under my skirt for good measure.
Tara Ellison is a freelance writer and instructor in Los Angeles and is working on her second book.
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