Old Magic: Lives of the Desert Shamans- Nicholas Clapp
Synopsis: For a thousand generations, desert shamans of the far West sought order in the stars and in the mysteries and wonder of their grand, if unforgiving landscape. When summoned, they doctored the stricken, be they stoic elders or frightened little children. They conjured rains. Taking leave of reality, they rode whirlwinds and soared in magical flight. They epitomized a Native American ability “to relate to the land in ways beyond a Western way of thinking.” They’re gone now. But there remain telling accounts of how, day-to-day, they lived how omens foretold a shaman’s destiny, how he learned his craft, how he could exercise his power for both good and evil. How a shaman could travel to the land of the dead and (hopefully) return. Drawing on the lore of a dozen tribes, Old Magic conjures the year-to-year life of a shaman – a life of service to his people, a life fraught with torment and danger, a life often taking a man or woman to the edge of madness.
Old Magic is one of those rare books that combines careful research with a poetic, flowing, storytelling style of writing that makes a book not only educational, but enjoyable. Clapp’s descriptions of the desert landscape draw the reader in, entice those who are unfamiliar with the desert, and connect to the experiences of those who have hiked and explored even a fraction of the desert. The beautiful photographs included in the book evoke the beauty and harshness of the desert, and are perfect additions to experience the mysteries of the land and its’ magic.
Clapp describes experiences that have been related to him or recorded by early ethnographers from shamans, including coming of age ceremonies, dream quests, and healing ceremonies. He explores what is known about different forms of magic among the Kumeyaay, Cahuilla, and Quechan, and how the culture of the shamans had to change and adapt with the coming of the Spanish. There are beautifully told early creation stories and explorations of the different roles gods and shamans played in the every day lives of the people.
His careful research and sensitivity towards the subject matter offer respectful insight into shamans and magic in Southern California. It encourages respect, understanding and additional interest in the enthralled reader.