Birth of a Shaman

by Boyd Martin

At 50, I decided to revisit the Carlos Castaneda Don Juan adventure series. I had delved into the Yaqui way in my 20's, but now Don Juan seemed to call to me from the bookshelves and I could sense that immersion was near. I checked out Another Reality from the library, and a few days later, a friend dumped the next four books of the series in my lap from a garage sale...a pretty obvious confirmation.

After a several weeks of intimate study of the material, I began to wonder if there was going to be an embodiment of a sorcerer/teacher showing up in my life. The crows were swirling and squawking, squirrels were coming up to my feet, and the wind had a funny twist to it. All signs seemed to portend an arrival of some sort, so I was on the lookout.

Then appeared Frank Coppieters. It was as a result of a conversation about Reiki with Shay, who had been a student of Frank's. It just so happened Frank was having a shamanic gathering at his studio, and so we went, partly because Shay wanted to renew her connection, and partly because she felt I needed to meet him. The kicker was he used drumming as part of his gatherings. I am a professional drummer myself. This was certainly getting interesting!

The experience was fabulous. Frank was socially highly gracious, but when we went into his "light shamanic trance," as he calls it, he was positively otherworldly. His primal vocalizations conjured images of mystical worlds and cosmic places. And with the hypnotic drumming accompaniment, punctuated with an array of bell and rattle sounds, I was whisked away on a magic carpet ride.

The two-and-a-half-hour session seemed like 15 minutes, and the time distortion continued as I found myself driving and arriving home in what seemed like moments.

I reconnected with Frank again for a personal shamanic session, and was so blown away, I asked if he would be open to some freelance journalistic coverage. He was all game, and I sat with him for 90 minutes, covering his background and how he came to do what he was doing.

Frank's approach to his particular brand of shamanism had its roots in experimental theater. During his tenureship at the University of Antwerp, he had the good fortune of meeting up with Jerzy Grotowski, considered one of the most influential forces in fringe theater. He also was a bit of a shaman, absorbed with the concept of "ritualistic theatre," where the audience becomes an active participant in improvisation by the actors. Later, one of Frank's students decided to do his master's thesis on the work of Carlos Castaneda, which gave Frank the opportunity to read all of Castaneda's works. The focus ended up leading to a meeting with a real-live shaman.

Frank relates, "I did end up with what I would call a personal teacher, Joska Soos is his name, from Hungary. So he's the one that I have worked most with and whose presence I feel the most when I do my work. I've also studied with other lineages and other teachers over the years. But Joska himself came from a shamanic lineage. In Hungary there are apparently 108 clans, and one clan is the shamanic clan. They are called the Bacsa. So he was born into the clan, and was taught from when he was a kid of five or six by the local blacksmith, who was a shaman, which is a typical shamanic profession, you know--dealing with metal and fire and all that. Apparently he was a great shaman--his name was Tomas Bacsi. Joska was born as a shaman with the cowl [a birth cowl: layer of skin over the face traditionally a mystical sign of extraordinary psychic powers. The skin must be surgically removed]. It was meeting Joska that had the biggest impact on me of remembering. There was this immediate shock that I seem to know this. It seems to invoke something in me that is so profound. I couldn't not see Joska for a while. I had to go there every week. I just jumped on the train and every week I was there--very faithful. But I had no idea that I myself would do that work one day. That was then still so foreign from my own way of manifesting myself in the world."

Frank says it took him eight to nine years to comfortably make the transition from "daily rational awareness" to shamanic awareness. "There was no longer a battle inside my own mind about that," Frank says. "It was just like two aspects of the world as I knew it, and of parts of myself--the way I knew myself to be."

I asked now, as a full-time shaman, if he was in shamanic consciousness all the time. "Oh, no, it would be too draining. It is very intense work. In fact, I consider normal daily consciousness as a break from the shaman work." Frank stressed the need for balance between the types of consciousness, with that balance making both more meaningful and multi-dimensional.