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Researching Shamans in Malta

My ethnographic fieldwork in Malta was conducted in the second half of 2015, and since then I have continued to observe and sometimes participate in several relevant Facebook groups.4 In line with the themes of this volume, I was interested in learning about local/global relationships and the importance and interplay of the indigenous and cosmopolitan among shamans. Was there a distinctively Maltese shamanism, or were there simply shamans who live in Malta? Did the issue of cultural appropriation of an exotic tradition have any purchase? What was the lure of Native American spirituality?

I began by seeking out and interviewing those who had organized or had an important role (e.g., as fire-keeper)5 in the Temazcal weekends, and eventually attended such a weekend myself in October 2015. I also got in touch with a British artist friend who has lived in Malta for many years and had mentioned belonging to a group of women who practice shamanism. Her group had formed following a series of workshops taught by three visiting shamans from the UK (a man and two women, one of whom was Maltese), who themselves had studied at the school of The Four Winds6 founded by Alberto Villoldo. Like Harner (and a number of other nonindigenous shaman teachers), Villoldo learned his shamanic healing techniques from medicine people in various Native American tribes and teaches them to Westerners.7 The group had also met at my friend’s house over several months to work through a recorded training course on self-directed healing and spiritual growth conducted by American shaman Sandra Ingerman. I was fortunate to join these women for several of their Full Moon rituals held either outdoors on the rocky slope near Hagar Qim Neolithic temple during the hot summer months, or in a member’s home when the weather was cooler. Seven of these women shared their personal stories with me and the rest of the group during a Sacred Story Circle held at my home in late September 2015.8 In addition to these two avenues of research, a long-time Pagan friend put me in touch with a former Jesuit priest, Francis, with whom I had long and fascinating talks and who introduced me to his shamanic group—one of a number of alternative spiritual and holistic healing groups he facilitates.

Thus, my research followed three strands of shamanic activity in Malta.9 I was struck early on by the fact that these strands seemed fairly separate from one another at the local level. Despite the fact that Malta is a small island, international connections with other shamans outside one’s immediate group seemed at least as strong, and sometimes stronger, than intranational ones. While there were some overlaps in membership between the different cohorts in Malta, and individuals were likely to be involved with, or have tried out, other alternative spiritual modalities as well, there was not a coherent Maltese shamanic community and most members of groups did not know very much about one another’s activities. For example, when I mentioned to Naia and some Temazcal participants the publically advertised visit to Malta in April 2015 of high- profile American shaman Brooke Medicine Eagle,10 facilitated by some in the women’s shamanic group, they said they did not know about it. The strongest connections between the different strands were made via Francis, the former priest, whose varied spiritual and healing work was known and much valued by a number of people I met, and who himself regularly participates in the Temazcals.

The women’s group and Francis’s group are both more-or-less “closed” (the occasional visitor or researcher notwithstanding) and thus have fairly stable memberships of people who have come to know one another well; this is regarded as an important foundation and safe container for sha- manic work, and strong social as well as spiritual bonds have formed. Both these groups have some non-Maltese members; as a consequence, English is the lingua franca.

Those who have participated in the twice-yearly Temazcal weekends, on the other hand, constitute a loose, open network with a core group of organizers, the gentle driving force of which is a woman called Kimimila.11 Between the Temazcal events, connections are sustained by informal socializing among those who have become friends and by an open Facebook page.12 During my fieldwork, Kimimila also organized a Moon Blood [menstruation] ceremony, described on the event invitation as “a closed and sacred ceremony for women,” to which I was invited. The ritual was held on a hot summer evening among trees in a camping area, and was attended by ten women and one man, Zephyrus, an Alexandrian Wiccan and Druid, who had helped Kimimila organize the event (and whom I knew from my research with Maltese Pagans).13 The climax of the ritual occurred when women, one at a time, offered their moon blood (stored in the freezer until the ritual) to Mother Earth via a small hollow dug out at the edge of the altar. The eclecticism of this shaman/Pagan event was reflected on the altar, which included

Moon blood ceremony altar (August 2015). Hollow at bottom of image for receiving women’s gifts of menstrual blood. Photograph

Fig. 12.2 Moon blood ceremony altar (August 2015). Hollow at bottom of image for receiving women’s gifts of menstrual blood. Photograph: Kathryn Rountree

statuettes of a Native American woman, the Greek goddess Aphrodite and several Maltese Neolithic female figurines (see Fig. 12.2).

Most of the around 80 people who have attended a Temazcal are Maltese (rather than ex-pats) and they have diverse spiritual interests and levels of ongoing commitment. For some, doing a sweat-lodge does not mean taking up a shamanic worldview or way or life; it is simply an interesting experience to have in the course of exploring spirituality. For those who identify as Pagan or Wiccan, shamanism is an addition to, rather than replacement for, their Pagan identity and practice, which continues to develop in tandem. It is not the case, as I had half-anticipated when I first saw Naia’s photographs, that the process of localizing Paganism in Malta has been reversed in favor of a freshly imported “exotic” tradition. Rather, the Pagan and wider alternative religious scene in Malta have become even more eclectic and diverse. And while the Temazcals certainly have an exotic source, structure and appearance, they, too, are being gradually adapted to the local environment.

 
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