Shell medicine


Puget Sound, Washington, June 2005.

Windwalker (HW Guest Artist 2/24/11) reaches into a bowl filled with salt water and pulls out a small purple-edged shell. “This is a wampum shell,” she explains as she lays it on the third eye of the woman on the massage table. “Our people called it ‘white string’ or ‘string of life.’ The purple is for strength, the white for purity.”

Windwalker, a third-generation Lenape/Mi’kmaq medicine woman, has gathered us here in a loft in Taos over the Spring Equinox weekend to teach us the traditional water medicine techniques she learned from her grandmother, Bertha Running Water. The loft is decorated with Native artifacts from many tribes: a regal eagle-feather headdress, animal skins, flutes, drums, rattles, arrows, crystals, blankets. We are well into day 2 of the Healing the Waters workshop; tomorrow we will take what we have learned and go out into the field, to bring our healing prayers and intentions to the rivers and streams around Taos.

For now, about a dozen of us are standing in a circle around the woman on the table, who wears an oversized blue silk sweater, blue cotton pants tucked into blue-and-white Peruvian booties and a blue turban over her thick silver hair. Her outfit makes me think of the Pacific Ocean. Windwalker, whose long raven hair is pulled back in a bun, takes three shells and places them across the top of her belly in an arc, then puts two mussels over her ovaries. “You take an open shell, scallop or clam. I ask the shells where they want to go. They have been soaked in sea salt to keep them alive. While you’re doing this, you’re thinking of the waters.”

She drops a tiny shell inside two clam halves, closes them and shakes them over the woman’s crown. “Just allow the hand to shake.” As she moves her hand down to the throat, the shaking ceases. “My grandmother would shake until it stopped, then let it sit there—that means the shell medicine is doing its job. This opens up your winds of speaking.”

She puts an earth stone at the center of the shells on the torso. “You’re grounding her. When she feels her water element she’ll be grounded. Then she can take her energy and expand it to her circle of people.” A big, ancient “grandmother shell” goes at her splayed-out feet “to catch everything. Then you can take it away.”

The water-filled bowl of shells is passed around, and Windwalker tells each of us to find a shell that is calling to us. I pull out a Y-shaped piece of coral. She instructs us to allow the shells to tell us where they want to be placed. My hand is pulled to the crotch of the woman on the table, but I’m too embarrassed to put it there, so I lay the slingshot of coral at her throat. But that feels wrong. I pick it up again and put it where it belongs. “Good!” says Windwalker, who has been watching intently. Now my hand wants to go over her third eye, and Windwalker sees that too and pulls my hand there. “Yes! Your hand knows what to do.” I close my eyes and stroke the area gently, back and forth, back and forth. I can feel heat poring from the palm of my hand.

After we all work our shell magic, Windwalker shows us how to remove the shells by scooping the energy up and away from the body. “Stones you twist clockwise, then lift up. Do the center stone last.” As she demonstrates twisting and lifting the stones, my friend Karin gasps and grabs my arm. “Did you see that? A column of purple light came up from one, blue from another.” I did not see colors, but the light in between the torso and the lifted stones does look different—clearer than the air around it.

Windwalker finishes by telling us how to send water energy long distance to others. “First, smudge or purify yourself with sacred smoke. Take the white light up from Mother Earth to Father Sky, or the reverse. You put that protection around you, and then you set yourself aside, and you become one with the person while you work together.

“Now focus on your inner waters.” We notice that everyone in the room has started swaying gently, and we giggle. “Then you take that balance and you think of the person needing the medicine and you send a visual of an ocean or a creek or a river. You know you’re done when the visual stops.

“After a while you just program your hands and your heart and your mind with their waters. And then it’s very easy, it’s intuition—we do it every day.”


About Diana Rico

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