A Jesuit priest for 30 years, many spent abroad, Francis has spent the last two decades facilitating people’s diverse explorations of spirituality. The Centers he runs host a range of activities related to spirituality, wellness, healing and holistic living, and interweave Catholic Christian, New Age and shamanic elements. “We do everything here!” he told me. “This is like a supermarket.” The shamanic group he facilitates has been together about five years and has 10-12 members. Francis’s own venture into shamanism began in England, training with shamans in Villoldo’s school and with Caitlin Matthews, an authority on Celtic Wisdom and the ancestral traditions of Britain and Europe. He then branched into Core Shamanism, making contact with an Austrian group practicing it, but became disenchanted with the commercial preoccupation of this and a number of other schools circulating internationally. So Francis and a likeminded group decided to begin their own practice, using their intuition, reading and experimenting. “The most important thing,” he told me, “is to revive a very ancient shamanic experience here in Malta. And to do that you need to practice, you need to open yourself up to it, and you need to link with the land.”
Francis still sees value in Core Shamanism because it extrapolates common shamanic experiences from global sources and goes “to the essence of the practices,” but appropriately leaves out the culture-specific dimension, which he believes needs to be added locally. The heart of the cultural dimension, he says, is the intimate, sacred relationship between a group of people and the land where they live. He is not interested in the “romance” of exotic rituals from distant cultures with their elaborate material trappings; they are “out of context” in Malta. Francis says to people: “You’re not in Peru; you’re in Malta! So why do you imitate a culture which is not yours and which is totally foreign to your experience?” He is also skeptical of “traditions” which do not acknowledge their inventedness, where a nonindigenous shamanic teacher combines a bunch of practices from several traditions and claims they belong to a single tradition. Core Shamanism at least acknowledges its own constructedness, he says.
Of all those I met, Francis is the most focussed on reviving an indigenous Maltese shamanism, but is happy to share it with his multiethnic group. He thinks there was once a powerful shamanic practice in Malta associated with the country’s many Neolithic temples. This knowledge “is still alive in the land and in the collective unconscious,” he believes. “If the thought process of the ancients is still present in the land, I can link to it. Then I can re-experience what the ancients experienced.” His group’s way of recovering this knowledge is to meditate, intuit, experiment, spend time in nature, care for the land, explore past lives, and above all to embark on shamanic journeys to meet the spirits assisted by drumming and rattle-shaking.