Year of the Fire Rooster–January 28, 2017

All Chinese wisdom traditions, including medicine, divination, astrology, and feng shui, are systems of pattern identification that guide us in adapting gracefully to change. A world in flux is assumed; it is the one constant feature of life. Astrology is best viewed as a tool to discern where we are in the shifting cycles of time so we can adjust our expectations accordingly and therefore, from the Chinese point of view, cultivate longevity by not wasting our qi trying to swim against the current.

Last year’s current schooled us all in crisis management as the Fire Monkey’s erratic impulsiveness and dramatic flare produced an unprecedented bit of theater in American politics. (Yes, Monkeys love to play spin doctor in the political arena.) But as writer Isak Dinesen once said, “Anything in life can be born, as long as it can be seen as part of a story.” Fortunately, a new chapter of the story is about to begin with the arrival of the Fire Rooster on January 28, 2017. This chapter might be titled: “Application: how to walk your talk and follow through.”

In the Chinese zodiac the Rooster is the tenth of the 12 animals. It is associated with the Metal element which correlates to the time in autumn when qi condenses and the life force turns inward, right before sinking into the stillness of winter. So Metal expresses the essence of a thing with perfect clarity. Think of a tree in autumn, stripped of its foliage, its true shape so cleanly visible. People born in the year of the Rooster tend to be focused, task oriented, ambitious, confident, and very clear. This latter quality is what gives Rooster people their reputation for being abrupt and tactless. But it’s a mistake to consider them rude. Rather, Roosters just see things clearly and are decisive in their assessments. They are what we might call “plain speaking.” They also can be incorrigible critics, lacking the patience required to wait for others to come around to the clarity which comes so readily to them.

When you couple these qualities with the Fire element, you have an interesting potential for drama. Fire is erratic, intense, passionate, expressive, and dynamic. Fire embodies the warrior archetype. Fire Roosters tend to be brave, powerful, unyielding, opinionated, and determined. And in the Chinese Five Element cycle, Fire controls Metal. So the image here is of a sword tempered in a forge—sharp, strong, and dangerous in the wrong hands.

That brings us to the possibilities for 2017. This year’s theme is “application.” The Rooster has one special super power—the ability to delay gratification and focus on the long term goal. Roosters can actually separate the reward from the work required to get it, and they can do this over long periods of time….like years. So whatever feelings you may have about the upheaval created in the Monkey year, the qi will now support you to focus and apply yourself to the task at hand with discipline and diligence. Set aside your emotions and focus on long term goals. Stay focused. That’s right, see beyond the current situation and keep your eye on whatever it is that you value in the long run; just keep chipping away without wavering. Apply yourself. That’s what this year is all about.

How each of you will be able to digest this type of qi depends on your animal sign with its particular characteristics and nature. Below is a brief comment on how each of the 12 animals can best use this year’s qi.

RAT: You have a talent for research. In your world, every detail counts. During the Monkey year you were valued and rewarded for your obsession with ferreting out every angle, then selecting the precise pathway to the cheese. But Rooster arrives at clarity without your help, and your careful research may even be dismissed as perseveration. Pay no mind and don’t lower your standards. Devote yourself to personal creative projects. Conserve your energy. You’re not in a position of power this year, so apply yourself to private endeavors that are totally within your purview. This will fulfill you, keep your considerable skills honed, and ready you for the Pig year (2019) when you are likely to be tapped for an important advisory position.

OX: Though you may have been annoyed by the irreverent escapades that marked the Monkey year (which you viewed as undisciplined folly,) you have a thick skin and a penchant for the long view. Now this perspective is given the respect it deserves and you will be able to partner with Rooster to accomplish your long term agenda. Finally, someone who understands! The energy of this year is perfectly suited to support hard work in the service of long term goals. Roosters excel at this. You are in perfect accord here. The only difference between you and Rooster is that you actually like to apply yourself every day (putting one foot in front of the other to plow a nice straight furrow,) while Roosters, though valuing achievement, can get irritable about the daily work required to accomplish it. So have at it. The qi is running smoothly at your back. Just keep going.

TIGER: Well, the best I can say is, bravo for you if you are still standing after the Fire Monkey year. You must have been doing something right. Now, I’d love to tell you to take a year off and lie around on the riverbank. But unfortunately the Rooster requires you to shake off your near hysteria and focus now. The trick here is to get back in the game but with one clear agenda. Doesn’t really matter what it is, just make it one (OK, maybe two) things that you can skillfully apply yourself to. The qi this year supports deft application in a clearly articulated area. It’s sort of like being the kicker on a football team. You know, the guy who only knows how to kick, but does it perfectly every time. For most of the game he just sits on the bench, but when needed, he walks out on the field and, with perfect clarity and grace, sends that ball right over the goalposts to win the game. That’s you.

RABBIT: Two words: run away. You, being the psychics of the zodiac, are WAY too sensitive for this Fire Rooster. The Rooster is your opposite sign. What other people see as candor, will feel like attack to you. There will be conflict all around this year, partly because of the Fire/Metal tension inherent in the year, and partly because of this Rooster’s “take no prisoners” approach to holding power and moving its agenda forward. Though you are a warrior in your own right (a trait that can come out in a staggering display of fierceness when cornered,) you dislike conflict and are better off retreating to the sensual luxury of your cozy home. In other words, stay out of it. Conserve your qi until the Pig year, when you will be in charge of seating arrangements at the party.

DRAGON: OK yes, you are special. After a stellar Monkey year playing politics, with Monkey as your spin doctor, you now get to continue your alchemy during the Rooster year. Rooster appreciates your power and flare for leadership and daring. You appreciate Rooster’s laser focus and ability to apply itself to the task at hand. Together you can actually create magic. But skillful means are required. Now is not the time for hubris and rash impulse. I suggest you read the first hexagram of the I Ching. This hexagram should be your talisman for the year. It perfectly describes the transformations of the celestial dragon from quiescence to exuberance. Heed the wisdom here. Dragons can either be blustering egotists, or agents of celestial wisdom. This year you get to choose which path to embrace.

SNAKE: You and Ox are the Rooster’s natural partners. I call this trio the “achievement” team. Rooster supplies the ambition, Ox the endurance, and Snake the knowledge and philosophical frame. Together these three can deliver results. This year you will feel valued. People will consult you on important matters and heed your sage advice. You are in a unique position of power and able to operate from behind the scenes (your preferred introverted strategy,) rather than suffering the exposure of center stage. Hint—Bernie Sanders is a Metal Snake. Had the election been held in the Rooster year instead of the Monkey year, we may have been looking at a very different scenario. Just saying.

HORSE: You share some traits with Rooster so you may get caught up in the current of achievement this year. Horses are ambitious, courageous, active, love to work, and have the noble heart of a warrior. So this should, in theory, be an ideal year for you to succeed beyond your wildest dreams. But here’s the caveat: Horses are easily distracted. And remember, this year is all about focus and application. The minute you shy away from the plan and skitter off in another direction, you will get nailed by that critical Rooster qi; you risk being dismissed as unreliable and unpredictable. The best strategy for success this year is to collaborate with a steady friend, which you can think of as an experienced rider with calm hands. Let’s see…..not Dog (who is in conflict with Rooster,) not Tiger (too erratic and exhausted,) and not Ox (you can’t bear the stubborn traditionalism.) So I think that leaves Sheep, the Horse’s natural stable mate!

SHEEP: Your artistic sensibilities and collaborative management style are at odds with the Rooster’s singular focus on achievement. The Rooster’s pride, self-confidence, and keen abilities just look like arrogance to you. Relationships and diplomacy are central to your world view but of little importance to the Rooster, whose only concern is “what will get us to the goal most efficiently?” So, this is a good year to keep your head down and stay out of the argument. You are way more sensitive to criticism then you let on, and this year you’re wearing a target on your back. Since the annual qi supports focused application of your skills, consider cooking, crafts, hobbies, woodworking—just please don’t attempt to apply your considerable management skills to the prideful Rooster. You can do it, but the stress and hurt feelings will shorten your life.

MONKEY: Time’s up, you’re done. The Rooster is now stepping on to the stage to clean up all the broken china from last year’s shenanigans. Now is the time you get to show up as the true magician you actually are. People who don’t know you well, may suspect that you are only interested in chaos. We know that’s not true. We know that you have a true heart and are capable of being a loyal friend. Your natural element is Metal, so you do know how to see through the confusion and discern the underlying order of things. Use that talent now, and apply it to compassionate service. This is the essence of magic.

ROOSTER: Not everyone benefits from the qi of their own year. It’s like being in the front row of the classroom. You’re always the one who gets called on—no coming to class unprepared and hiding out in the back hoping to avoid getting noticed. But Roosters are perfectly suited to this command position. It’s an opportunity to shine! So have at it. You are now the one who holds all the cards, has all the answers, and can finally move the whole class forward. No slackers allowed. No need to hold back and feel frustrated by the clueless masses. This promises to be a successful year for you in all ways. No need to tell you to stay focused; just be yourself. Eyes on the prize!

DOG: You and Rooster both have a strong work ethic, but don’t mistake this for compatibility. You have very different motivations. Dogs are willing to work hard out of a sense of loyalty and guardianship, while Rooster qi is all about achievement for its own sake. This fundamental misalignment will make you grumpy and exhausted if you try to join up with Rooster and press forward with your goals. So, since focus and application are supported this year, best use of this qi for Dogs is to clear away everything you no longer need, release old habits that don’t serve you, and simplify your life in preparation for the Earth Dog year in 2018 which promises to be a time of renewal for you. Use this upcoming Rooster year to prepare, so you aren’t burdened by excess baggage when your time comes.

PIG: Though your nerves are understandably a little frayed from coping with the mind boggling twists and turns of the Monkey year, it’s important now to maintain your calm and forgiving nature. The qi this year has a sharp edge to it; it may seem to you like the world has gone slightly insane with ambition and overwork. Your job is to rise above it all. Remember that no amount of money or status means anything without the warm glow of family and friends, elegant food, a glass of wine, and an evening of good conversation. Your job is to be a constant reminder of this for the rest of us. Focus on balance; apply yourself to hospitality. Good manners are your super power.

Narrye Caldwell is a Licensed acupuncturist with a private practice specializing in pole star astrology, classical feng shui, and shamanic healing methods. She teaches Tai Chi and Qigong at the Academy of Martial Arts in Santa Cruz, is on the faculty at Five Branches University, and teaches workshops in core shamanism for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Narrye’s Pole Star astrology readings are available via Skype or at her office in Santa Cruz. See her website at for information about how to schedule a consultation.


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Who Needs Shamanism?

shamanicdrummingWhen I tell people I do shamanic healing I usually get one of two responses. There are those who know something about shamanism, often through personal experience, and are intrigued and interested; and then there are those who think I’m some kind of new age nutcase—harmless but not to be taken seriously. People in this latter, and admittedly larger, group wouldn’t in a million years consider integrating shamanic healing methods into their treatment protocol when faced with any sort of illness, be it physical, emotional, or mental. For these challenges only “real” medicine is considered.

So what exactly is “real” medicine? It’s interesting how what any culture accepts as medicine is a moving target, a constantly changing set of beliefs and techniques shaped by societal mores, political expedience, prevailing religious influences, and technological trends. I’ve been a Licensed Acupuncturist for 25 years. When I started, acupuncture was still considered outside the mainstream of acceptable medical options, and clearly “alternative” in spite of its ancient roots and successful track record. This is no longer the case. These days, acupuncture is accepted by most insurance companies and integrated into medical protocols at major hospitals across the country. So what happened? Did acupuncture suddenly get better? No, what happened is the culture shifted; people who weren’t getting the results they wanted from conventional medicine sought out alternatives and demanded access to those modalities. Acupuncture moved into the mainstream because it helped people.

I expect the same thing to happen with shamanic healing. Shamanism is the most ancient spiritual and healing methodology on the planet, dating back at least 40,000 years. The fact that, for a relatively brief period in history, humans lost their connection with these practices is entirely due to religious suppression of indigenous shamanic cultures and practices. But that is no longer the case, and shamanic practices are experiencing a resurgence all over the planet. This world wide flowering of shamanism has been largely due to the work of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies (see in supporting native shamanic practices. We now find ourselves in a world more open again to these extraordinary techniques for living in connection with spirit. This is an amazing opportunity for planetary healing.

If you’ve gotten this far, you may now be wondering if shamanic healing has something to offer you. How would you know when to seek out a shamanic healer, and for what type of complaint? Will it be weird and scary? Do you have to find a Native American shaman, or a Siberian shaman, or a Huichol shaman? How do you go about this? After all, the first thing most of us do when faced with an illness that doesn’t easily resolve on its own is drop by the local clinic or call the family doctor, right? How do you hook up with a shamanic practitioner, and why would you? This is not something you just look up in the Yellow Pages.

Let me see if I can help. The first question is, when might you seek shamanic healing? From a shamanic perspective, all illness has a spiritual component. That doesn’t mean that all illnesses are necessarily caused by spiritual factors. That would be oversimplifying. Illness is of course complex and often involves multiple inter-related factors. But to the shaman, spiritual factors must be addressed along with any physical medicine that is being used. So this means there is a range of ailments that can be appropriately addressed shamanically; everything from that old knee injury that won’t heal properly, to chronic difficult diseases, to depression and anxiety. All of these problems can be approached through the modality of shamanic healing. But that’s not all. There are types of suffering that humans experience that we have no physical medicine for at all–things like unhappiness, long spells of bad luck, losing one’s sense of purpose, loss of vitality, feeling disconnected.  These normal human experiences can cause untold suffering, but physical medicine doesn’t offer much help. And even counseling, the main modality we have to offer for mental and emotional pain, is not a panacea. This is where shamanic healing, with its emphasis on restoring vitality, empowering the soul, and reconnecting the client to their own heart and spiritual guidance system, can be the most helpful form of medicine.

So, how do you find a practitioner and what can you expect? It helps to have some guidance here, since shamanic healing is an “unregulated” alternative practice. This means that practically anyone can call themselves a shaman and hang up a shingle. First of all, I’d be wary of anyone who self-proclaims themselves to be a shaman. In indigenous cultures, the title of shaman was conferred by the community and always because someone had shown themselves to be skilled, compassionate, and actually got good results in relieving pain and suffering. In modern western culture, people who are practicing with good ethics usually call themselves “shamanic practitioners.” This means they use shamanic techniques and are mainly concerned with the client’s well-being, not with their own image as a “shaman.”

And what are these techniques? The main work of a shamanic practitioner is to connect with what are universally termed “helping spirits” to bring power and healing to the client.  These connections are made through the classic shamanic technique called “journeying.” The journey is the shaman’s method of entering non-ordinary reality to get help and healing from these unconditionally loving and evolved helping spirits. The journey is most typically supported by drumming or some other method of sonic driving. Then, with the help of the spirits, the practitioner can restore power to the client, find answers to questions, and access other forms of healing that may be required. Typically, a session with a shamanic practitioner may last for 1-2 hours, during which time you are usually lying comfortably on the floor tucked into a blanket. Well trained, ethical practitioners, are aware of making a client comfortable and being sure they feel safe and are not surprised by anything.

There are two ways to find a good shamanic practitioner. One is to ask someone who has had a good experience, for their recommendation. The other is to go to a respected organization, like the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, and peruse their list of trained practitioners for someone in your area. In either case, you should expect the practitioner to have a conversation with you, either on the phone or in person, to get to know one another a bit and answer any questions you have. You should feel comfortable about the whole process. Be aware of anyone who refuses to answer your questions, or promises you miracles. And it is perfectly acceptable, and common practice, for a shamanic practitioner to charge for their services. They have to pay rent and eat too, just like you. Some do this by  receiving “contributions or gifts”, some by sliding scale, and some by a fixed fee. All of that is fine and normal. But whatever the arrangement is, it shouldn’t be completely out of line with what any other doctor or therapist charges for a similar amount of time. And they should be happy to explain in advance their method of receiving payment.

And finally, I want to return to the question I asked in the headline to this article. Who needs shamanism? The answer: all of us.

Blessings of the helping spirits to you,


ncgarden-002Narrye Caldwell practices shamanic healing and teaches workshops for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies in Santa Cruz, CA. Her next workshop in Core Shamanism is Nov. 5&6, 2107.  Click this link for registration and details:



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A Child’s Power Animal

bearThis is one of my earliest memories. I was about 12 months old. It was bedtime in my family’s little 1950s bungalow in Reno, Nevada. As my parents were tucking me in, I realized with sudden panic that my teddy bear had gone missing. No ordinary toy, this particular bear was my companion 24/7. His button nose was smashed in like a pug’s face from endless kissing; his tawny fur was threadbare and patchy from constant stroking, and he sported a moleskin patch on his back where my mother had improvised a repair to keep his stuffing in, right at the spot where his music box had long ago fallen out. I loved him, with the constancy and passion that is special to very young children.

I unleashed an immediate shrill wailing when I noticed his absence. My parents scurried about the house, searching for the errant bear, in a desperate attempt to stop my grief stricken screams. In hindsight, I realize they must have been exhausted and frustrated and just really wanting me to be sensible and “go the f……. to sleep.” But in some deep part of my instinctive primal brain, I knew that without my bear I was vulnerable. Anything could happen. I was alone and without protection.

Then came a small moment of grace. My father, an infinitely kind and patient man who struggled with his own sensitivity and anxieties all his life, picked me up, cradled me in his arms and said, “don’t worry. We’ll find your bear. I bet you left him outside in the yard when you were playing today.” Then he carried me through the house, stopping in the kitchen to get a flashlight, and out into the yard where he commenced a thorough search, peering under every bush and  holding me tight against his chest the whole time.

We found the bear in a thicket where I had been hosting an imaginary tea party earlier that day. “Ah, here he is,” said my father. “Safe and sound.” With an enormous sigh of relief, I hugged the bear to my heart and promptly fell asleep in my father’s arms. 

In shamanism, a person’s health and well being are a function of their spiritual power. By this we don’t mean being spiritually “advanced” or enlightened. We mean having a fully empowered soul and a connection to at least one guardian spirit. The guardian spirit often takes the form of a power animal. In most traditional cultures it is assumed that anyone still living and functioning in the world is doing so only because they have had, whether they know it or not, the protection of such a guardian spirit. One of the first healing methods taught in core shamanism is how to retrieve a lost power animal for another person who may be suffering from illness or misfortune. The procedure is fairly simple but in my years of practicing this technique, and now teaching it in workshops, I am often brought to tears by the profound effects it has on people to feel the connection again to an ancient experience of being tended by the unconditional love of this spirit animal.

I kept my teddy bear with me throughout my childhood, and yes, even into my adolescence though by that time it was discreetly tucked away in a closet. And then I went off to college and left “childish” things behind. I don’t know what happened to my trusted bear companion. Most likely my mother finally scooped the threadbare old thing into a trash can. I’m a little sad that I never said a proper goodby.  But now that I have shamanic skills I can journey to the spirit of bear and thank him for those years of protection. We were partners, and I see now that he was more “totem” bear than “teddy” bear. 

Now I work with a different power animal, one just as loving and compassionate. I tend our relationship with reverence and gratitude. I need her, not only to help me stay safe and well in the world, but to work with me in my healing practice. A new alliance now, appropriate to this stage of life and my current work and responsibilities. But there is still this wonder, and the fragrance of that child’s fierce love, re-experienced in every journey, in every encounter with the helping spirits. It is a precious thing, not to be discarded or grown out of like a child’s forgotten toy; but a vital part of being human and wholehearted and plugged in to spiritual power. And now, thanks to the return of shamanic practices that have been lost for a long time and are now being restored to western cultures, everyone has the opportunity to recover these lost spirit connections.

Narrye Caldwell teaches “Michael Harner’s Way of the Shaman®, Shamanic Journeying, Power and Healing” for the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. See her workshop schedule under the Classes tab for upcoming dates.

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Year of the Fire Monkey—February 8, 2016 in November several friends told me they were sure they already felt the effects of the coming Monkey year. I insisted that this was impossible, that Chinese astrology doesn’t work that way, it was too soon, and there is no such thing as “creeping Monkey,” or “shades of the Monkey to come.” But the stories of strange and confounding challenges kept coming in—nothing that could be called a crisis, just frustrating annoyances that bordered on the humerous. Things like finding half way through the day that you’re in an important meeting with high level executives at work and you notice you’re wearing one red sock and one green sock. Or you picked up your roommate’s keys on your way out and find yourself scrambling around on your lunch hour trying to rectify the mistake and set things right for your very irritated friend.

So around about December, I revised my position and admitted that this departure from the expected course of things was exactly like Monkey qi. How like the Monkey to sneak into the party incognito, peer into windows, and play some unexpected tricks on the guests just to get things going and create some fun.

Welcome to the Year of the Fire Monkey, which technically begins on February 8, 2016. (The Chinese Lunar New Year always begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice, in case you were wondering why it’s on a different date every year.)

There are two significant energetic shifts that will affect everyone this year. The first is that we’re moving into a Fire year after two Wood years. Wood is growth, enthusiasm, the innocence of youth and the pursuit of a vision. Wood qi is fresh and unformed. It has the drive to break through barriers, but it lacks wisdom and refinement, so can sometimes be unstable and reckless. Fire qi is the full expression of Wood’s vision. Fire brings forth the rose, lays the paint on the canvas, and gives voice to the song that’s been forming in the depths of your heart. Fire is intense, passionate, and calls forth our need to connect with one another. In a Fire year, no longer satisfied with the pursuit of our dreams, we now can bring things into actuality. And as we see things manifest, we want to gather with our tribe, raise a glass and celebrate.

But it’s important to remember that nothing is solid yet and there’s much to be done. In fact, the danger now is getting so excited by the brilliance of the flame you’ve created, that you forget to tend it properly and it quickly burns out for lack of enduring and consistent fuel. Fire is erratic and difficult to control. It can flicker precariously, burst into a dangerous conflagration, or settle into a nice steady hearth fire depending on how it’s managed. So that’s your first task this year—whatever you’ve created during the last two years, treat it now like precious tinder; protect it and blow on it very gently to nudge it into a nice steady flame; feed it with long burning fuel that will last. Don’t throw fast burning paper onto it just for the dazzling but short lived burst of heat and flame. Slow and steady now, will get you a more enduring result.

Now, what about that second energetic shift? Enter the Monkey

The key to grasping the qi we’re all going to be surfing can be found in the Chinese classic novel of the 16th century “Journey to the West.” One of the famous characters in this legendary tale is the Monkey King who demonstrates a combination of pluck, bravery, scandalous irreverence, ingenuity, ruthlessness, and magic to assure his status as one of China’s epic folk heroes. The Monkey King was born from a stone, learns the ways of immortality, commits a series of crimes against the gods, steals the peach of immortality from the Empress’s garden, and catalyzes a terrible war between Heaven and the Monkey Army. In the end, he is sent to accompany a famous monk and his disciples to the western kingdom to fetch back a Buddhist sacred text. All sorts of magical adventures ensue over the course of four volumes.

The point here is this is the qi flavor of the coming year. Key words are: erratic, irrepressible, ingenious, clever, unpredictable, resourceful, adventurous, selfish, magical, quixotic, amoral. In other words, keep your wits about you because anything, absolutely anything, can happen. All manner of apple carts could be turned over in the most surprising ways. This will be a test of your ability to stay calm and unruffled in the face of relentless and unexpected challenges. But remember—on the other side of chaos is magic and transformation. Be brave and keep your sense of humor; never forget that there’s spiritual gold at the end of the tale.

How you handle the coming year is largely a matter of harmonizing your own nature with this Monkey qi. The Monkey King was famous for his secret powers and magical weapons, one of which was a staff that he could shrink to the size of needle and hide in his ear. My advice is to conjure your own secret powers, (yes you each have at least one,) and think of yourself as the hero of your own myth. What part do you play in this year’s adventure? What’s your strategy? How resourceful can you be? Learn to see magic everywhere.

Here are some tips for each of the animals.

Rat: You are in the Monkey’s inner circle, a favorite accomplice who knows how to play the game. Your super power is analysis and planning. The Sheep year was a bit strained because people didn’t appreciate your fine eye for detail and your need to check everything for accuracy. But this year, your careful attention to strategy will be seen as the essential wisdom behind the Monkey’s irrepressible inventiveness. Without you, none of these daring schemes could possibly work. This is your year to be the hero of the story.

Ox:  Your super power is endurance. Last year was a trial, one of the few periods in the twelve year cycle that really can get to an Ox. All that team work and the feeling of being managed was truly a test for you. Monkey year qi isn’t really your style; it’s too erratic and irresponsible. But you’ll do fine if you frame the time as preparation for 2017, the Rooster year, when you’ll really be in your element. Then we’ll be talking discipline, achievement, hard work, delayed gratification—all the stuff you love. So for now, stick to your plan, and let the ups and downs of the coming year roll off your very thick skin.

Tiger: OK Tiger, listen up. This is important. Do NOT, under any circumstances, be baited into leaving your cave this year. Yes I know you have to go to work, take care of committments, and you can’t literally retreat into a cave like Milarepa. (Well if you can, then by all means do so.) But you’re going to have to symbolically take yourself out of the game and sit on the bench. Only do what’s absolutely necessary. The problem is the Monkey doesn’t fight fair. And you can’t engage with life in any other way but with complete integrity. The Monkey’s opportunistic tactics will get you every time, and in spite of your prodigious courage and strength, you could die of nervous exhaustion. Oh, I forgot to say that your special power is integrity. So stay true to yourself by taking your own adventure this year but make sure it’s an internal one. Practice martial arts by yourself in a quiet hidden place. Store up your strength; don’t let the Monkey drain your qi. You’re waiting for the Dog year (2018), when you can display your true colors in an unprecedented display of power.

Rabbit: Your super power is sensitivity and your intuition borders on the psychic. In the Sheep year these gifts were appreciated, and you were able to enjoy the companionship of friends who share your elegant taste and peaceful approach to life. However you may have grown tired of hosting the party with Sheep, (it did take a lot of energy,) and perhaps feel ready for some quiet time with the shades drawn. That approach could prove difficult this year. The Monkey craves attention and thrills, and tends towards hyperactivity. It could be difficult to remain aloof in the face of so much chaos. So keep that famous Chinese proverb pinned to your bathroom mirror: “A swift hare has three holes.” In other words, always have several options available for retreat. When one bolt hole is blocked, simply change direction and disappear down door number 2, or 3. In this way, you’ll come out at the end of the year with enough qi to face the very challenging Rooster year in 2017.

Dragon: I know, you’ve been waiting for this, your favorite of all years. Here’s how it works: you, of course, are the leader (and of a very grand sort, like a royal emperor.) Rat is the campaign manager, and Monkey is the spin doctor. Have I got that right? You three are going to have the best time this year. Adventures await, complete with magic weapons, demons, heroic deeds, and all the stuff of legends. This is your time. Just remember—Dragons can either be egotistical and over confident, or they can truly be the wise and benificent king. The world needs you to be the latter. Oh yes—you have many super powers but perhaps the most important this year is the power of transformation.

Snake: Monkey and Snake have a long history of entanglement. They share an attraction to intrigue, and can’t resist one another’s charms. However Snake is basically introverted and likes to keep its agenda hidden; Monkey, the classic extrovert, inevitably blows Snake’s cover just for the attention. A falling out always ensues. So, your task this year is to avoid getting too sucked in, even though you see magic in every opportunity. Practice holding back. This is a year to wait for the more reliable energy of the Rooster year, a time when your quiet wisdom can be applied with precision and the expectation of a successful outcome.

Horse: Well, you and Monkey both like to play but your version of play is sports, while the Monkey revels in slight of hand, stage magic, and practical jokes. Things could get confusing. Also, you’re a hard worker when it comes to practical matters; and Monkeys only want to find a way out of doing chores so they can go dream up some new trouble to get into. What starts out looking like fun, could turn into the kind of chaos that can get you hurt. Your super power is your noble heart. When in doubt, take some time to get quiet, return to true self, and allow your heart to lead you. In this way you can avoid the worst of the Monkey’s hyperactivity and rash behavior, and save yourself considerable embarrassment or injury.

Sheep: I imagine you’re pretty tired by now. You’ve had a lot of responsibility this past Wood Sheep year, what with managing everything both at work and at home. You actually don’t like being a leader, at least not a visible one, preferring to work behind the scenes creating a harmonious team in which each person’s strengths are perfectly utilized. Well done. Now go rest. Oh, except it’s impossible to rest in a Monkey year. And it’s so difficult to hand over the reins of your well organized team. The best approach is to allow what you’ve created to have a life of its own now. Just give it a little nudge now and then to keep things moving along if they drift too much. But resist the temptation to micro manage everything. The Monkey will pull the rug out from under you for sure. Your super power? Propriety. (Everyone but you will have to look that up.)

Monkey: Every year I have to caution the people whose year it is, to be careful. When it’s your year it’s like having to sit in the front row in the classroom. You have to be prepared every day—no hiding or playing safe in the back of the room. However, if you’re a Monkey in a Monkey year, none of this applies. In fact the more the merrier. Monkeys love an excess of Monkey energy. Think of yourself scampering through the treetops with a whole gang of Monkey friends, getting into all sorts of lovely trouble and better yet, getting out of it together. Now if you really want to get stuff done, team up with Dragon and Rat. Then instead of just making trouble for everyone else, you can produce the magic elixir of immortality and save the planet. Just think of it. Your super power—oh you have so many wondrous powers—but I have to pick one, so let’s just go with that magic glow in the dark ring you carry in your pocket (or wait, what about the invisibility cape……)

Rooster: You have a fairly neutral relationship with Monkey, mainly because you never lose focus, even in the face of Monkey’s ceaseless manuevering. It’s actually not a bad thing to let yourself get a little swept up in the adventure, even though fun, for its own sake, isn’t really your thing. But your super power is your laser focus and you find the Monkey’s short attention span a ridiculous waste of energy. When you bring the matter up, even in an attempt to be helpful, you’re seen as a critic who’s attempting to undermine everyone’s fun. Don’t worry, you are a master of delayed gratification. Stick to your plan and everyone will admire you for your accomplishments and wish they’d listened to you in the Rooster year.

Dog: Your super power is loyalty. This bone deep aspect of your character drives you to work hard and can even mean you’re on the job 24/7. After all, who else will take care of the family and guard the home if not you? But even the most faithful watch dog deserves some time to play. So consider this Monkey year to be your time to romp on the beach, go to the dog park, and enjoy some well earned time off. Just be aware that the Monkey’s flexible morality and trickster ways may clash with your high ethical standards and honesty; so have all the fun you want, but watch out for anything that may compromise your personal integrity. Remember, the Monkey actually stole the peach of immortality; he didn’t earn it. You basically have two completely different sets of values.

Pig: Last year was the perfect party, with Sheep managing the guest list, Rabbit decorating the table, and you cooking the meal and picking the wine. Now, it’s time for the after dinner party and games. Monkey now arrives with a suitcase full of party gags and magic tricks; a whole evening of fun is in the works. One word of caution: the Pig’s super power is tolerance that comes from a comprehensive view of life. Your generous nature makes it easy for you to include every possible viewpoint and type of behavior. But you can also be gullible. You could easily be targeted this year by tricksters, swindlers, and con artists. Run any interesting new schemes and business ventures by a Sheep friend, who has much better radar for deception than you do.

Narrye Caldwell is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, classical feng shui consultant, martial artist, and practitioner of Chinese Pole Star astrology. She is available for astrology consultations at her office in Santa Cruz, Ca., or by Skype or phone. She can be reached through her website at



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Shamanic Song Doctoring

shamandrum1It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon and I lay on a massage table on the deck at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur,  listening to the Pacific Ocean break against the cliffs below us. Cocooned in blankets, I drifted in a dream state as my massage therapist kneaded away months of stress and tension from my tired body. Then something amazing and entirely unexpected happened. I heard the soft crooning of a voice in my ear, singing what seemed to be an ancient lullaby. I didn’t recognize the tune or the words. But I knew it was old and just for me, as if a distant ancestor was singing into me from a far away place. As the wordless melody poured through my consciousness, I felt healed in a way no body work alone could have achieved. It was as if I was being held by the spirits, rocked in an ocean of love and compassion. When I opened my eyes, I realized that the song was coming from my massage therapist. Having finished the body work, and moved by some unknown muse, she had simply leaned in to croon this healing song gently into my ear. It was my first experience of song doctoring.

Years later, when I did advanced training with the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, I was officially introduced to the practice of song doctoring and taught how to journey for a healing song. These days, the more I practice the many forms of shamanic healing, (power animal retrieval, extraction healing, soul retrieval, divination, etc.) the more I rely on this sweet and remarkable process of song doctoring. It has become part of almost every healing session I do.

Songs come in different ways and for different purposes. We all know the power of a special song in our lives to move us, to call forth our soul or lift our spirit. When I was a child I had a toy record player and a collection of cheap plastic records–mostly red for some reason. I spent many long afternoons playing them over and over again, singing and dancing around the room. Marching tunes were particular favorites and provided background music for hours of martial exercise as I strutted about my bedroom waving flags and such. The fact that I grew up in a pacifist Quaker family didn’t dissuade me from a 6 year old’s passion for military brass bands. 

Later, my soul songs were more complex and romantic. I had a long passionate dance that went to Ravel’s Bolero, which I “knew” was all about prancing horses and a magical parade of animals, wizards, and other storybook characters. This particular dance always ended with me whirling around and collapsing in an exhausted heap on the floor at the end. I LOVED Ravel’s Bolero well into adulthood.

Of course it’s easy to look back now and see the shamanic nature of these experiences. Traditional cultures all over the world use song and dance to move into trance states and connect with spirits for healing and power. As children, if we are lucky, we live very close to our wild nature and our soul’s natural song. It comes out in the free way we dance, sing, and whirl about. But in modern culture, as we grow into adulthood we tend to lose this connection, becoming ever more domesticated and out of touch with our wild nature until we no longer remember the song our soul came in with, the one we first sang, the one that can return us to our heart’s path. 

That’s why song doctoring can bring about such powerful healing. We can find songs for ourselves through the process of drumming and dancing, feeling what rises up in us and giving voice to the sounds the heart wants to make. Or, as a practitioner of shamanic healing, we journey and ask one of the helping spirits we work with to send us a song for our client. When I do this the song that comes through is always uniquely suited, tuned if you will, to the client I’m working for. There is something that moves me deeply about the process of hearing the song come to me from the spirit world, and then giving voice to it–sometimes singing it around the client so they experience it like a shower of sound, and sometimes singing it right into their heart. I can often see them light up a bit, almost as if they’re remembering a long lost heart song that can be followed like a trail of crumbs to the source of their original wild nature. This is a powerful and healing thing. 

All those years ago, before I even knew about shamanic practice, the spirits sent me a healing in the form of a massage therapist who heard my soul song and sang it into my heart. I didn’t even know her name. But the song doctoring I now do in my healing practice is dedicated to her with a deep bow of gratitude.

ncgarden-002Narrye Caldwell is a shamanic healer, martial artist, and Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a private practice in Santa Cruz, Ca. She teaches through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, the Academy of Martial and Internal Arts,  and Five Branches University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Her next basic workshop in core shamanism is Nov. 21-22 in Soquel Ca. For information about this workshop click HERE.




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My Introduction to Shamanism

whatisshamanismCurious about shamanism? Watch my 5 minute video introduction to the core principles.


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Shamanism for the curious, but hesitant

horses2My client’s eyes were wide with amazement. Flushed and glowing, she described the herd of wild horses that had thundered through the room during her shamanic journey–how she could hear their pounding hooves, smell their dusky coats, and feel the floor vibrate. She was filled with awe. There was not an ounce of her being that didn’t sense the reality of those horses. And she left my office that day feeling the same wild power in her own soul. The horses had come to heal her.

This kind of experience is common in core shamanism, and as I reach out to people to share the beauty and power of the shamanic path, I continue to search for just the right way to articulate its significance, especially to those who think of it as “new age, weird, fringe, only for psychics, tree huggers, and pagans, or just not my religion.” The latter misunderstanding is especially sad to me because core shamanism, as I’ll explain, is not a religion at all but a spiritual methodology; as such, it is entirely compatible with any religion. But we’ll get to that.

So since this article is for those of you who are curious but perhaps a little skeptical, I’ll share with you how I stumbled onto the shamanic path, almost by accident. I was born into a Quaker family in Philadelphia (yep, “city of brotherly love.”) If you don’t know anything about Quakers except that maybe they wear funny hats, I’ll tell you the one thing that matters: they believe in direct revelation. That’s it. Quakers, for more than 300 years, have had a practice of sitting in expectant silence, waiting for direct information from what we have always called “the inner light.” No ministers, no holy books, no doctrine. It is assumed that none of these interpretative crutches is necessary because every human has, if they give it a chance, a direct line to spirit. The name Quaker comes from the experience of being filled with this spirit so strongly that the person trembles–thus a “Quaker.”

The only problem for me, after a lifetime of going to Quaker meeting, was that it could take a very long time of sitting in silence waiting on the light, as we termed it, for anything to happen. Too often, especially these days, people just fall asleep, stare out the window, or ruminate. Enter shamanism.

I didn’t discover shamanism until around the age of 50. I was going through one of those periods we all have at certain times in life–a loss of focus in the work I was doing, along with a vague restlessness and feeling that I was not quite living my life purpose. I enrolled in a graduate program in Spiritual Psychology, searching for a truer course in life. Our first class met at a week long retreat in New Mexico. I really didn’t pay much attention to the curriculum for the week; I was just open to whatever they had planned for us. It turned out the week was devoted to the shamanic journey as a spiritual method. I had no idea what a shamanic journey was, but I followed the teacher’s instructions and successfully completed my first journey to the lower world. I met, to my astonishment and delight, a stunningly beautiful and vivid power animal that left my heart thrumming with love and joy. When the journey ended I sat bolt upright and exclaimed “this is what I’ve been searching for my entire life!” It is now 15 years later, and I am blessed to be doing my heart’s work in the world–teaching core shamanism and helping clients in my private practice in shamanic healing. 

As I’ve gone about this work over the years, I’ve noticed that there are many misunderstandings about shamanism in our culture; I’ve picked a few of the most common ones to talk about in the hope that you will be encouraged to explore further, to learn more:

1.” It’s all in your head.” When I teach journeying (the fundamental shamanic practice of shifting consciousness to travel in non-ordinary reality,) the most common question that comes up is “am I just imagining all this?” Notice the word “just” as if to suggest that imagination is a booby prize, a mere clunker compared to the Cadillac of human consciousness we call intellect or rationality. This assumption about imagination always makes me wonder how we came to denigrate this most precious human faculty. Why is imagination by definition considered to be “not real?” The client above whose experience of wild horses was transformative for her, really didn’t care if anybody else in the room could confirm the presence of those horses. Now, some among you might question her sanity. Well, isn’t that a symptom of schizophrenia, you might ask. And this leads us to another core principle of shamanic practice: a shaman is a master of both ordinary reality AND non-ordinary reality. The shamanic practitioner must be disciplined in the practice of moving back and forth through that portal. You can be in the spirit realms working with wild horses, eagles, bears, and wolves, and then be able to clearly return to ordinary reality when you choose to and balance your check book or do the dishes with no confusion. This is shamanic work, not mental illness. So when beginning journeyers ask “am I just making all this up?” I invite them to keep at it, to keep journeying and come to their own conclusions about this question based on their personal experience, not on cultural assumptions such as “imagination isn’t real.”

2.” People who get into shamanism are flakey weirdos. Regular people couldn’t possibly have anything in common with these types.” This is one of my favorites. My teacher Dr. Michael Harner, the founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, once said to us “best to keep your day job.” Shamans in traditional societies were always regular members of their community with regular jobs like everyone else–be it hunter, herder, weaver, doctor, plant gatherer, etc. They practiced their shamanic work in their off time, usually at night. To be a shaman, you also had to be grounded, responsible, and capable of being a contributing member of your community. The modern version of this is the person who might run a business or a household, or otherwise carry on with the necessary routines of making a living and raising a family say, and also, when needed, enter the spirit world through journeying to do healing work or divination. The capacity to work directly with compassionate helping spirits in non-ordinary reality has always been a part of human life in all cultures, and has only relatively recently been relegated to fringe status. So to me, this shamanic way of living and working is a normal part of the human experience; in fact, people who are properly trained and exercise discipline in the practice, are pretty regular folks.

3. “Well, I’m a Christian, Buddhist, or (fill in the blank,) and since shamanism is a whole different religious practice it has nothing to offer me.” This one is simple.  Shamanism is NOT a religion. It is a method. It is a technique for communicating directly with spirits. In my 15 plus years of shamanic training I have been in circles with people of many different religions–Christians, Buddhists, Pagans, Taoists, Muslims, and more. In every case, no matter the person’s religion, there was agreement that the techniques of accessing the spirit realms, as taught in core shamanism, were found to be complementary, not contradictory or confusing; in fact, people were consistently able to deepen into whatever religious or spiritual practice they came in with, using shamanic journeying to get direct teachings from compassionate helping spirits.

So I hope I have at least inspired your curiosity about shamanism, and perhaps even opened the door for you to seek out more knowledge and experience by taking an introductory workshop.  If you feel the slightest nudge to learn more, please check out my classes and private sessions in shamanic training and healing.

As Rumi said: “Don’t go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don’t go back to sleep.”

ncgarden-002Narrye Caldwell is a shamanic healer, martial artist, and Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine with a private practice in Santa Cruz, Ca. She teaches through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies, the Academy of Martial and Internal Arts,  and Five Branches University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Her next basic workshop in core shamanism is Nov. 21-22 in Soquel Ca. For information about this workshop click HERE. 




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Martial Arts and Feng Shui

mafs3Traditional kung fu schools are not known for being pretty. Most martial artists can report a long history of working out night after night in basements, garages, parking lots, and warehouses. I taught my first Tai Chi class 30 years ago in a high school cafeteria. My current Tai Chi sword class meets on the basketball court at the park, which we often share with local kids shooting hoops. None of these places would make it into the coffee table books that highlight model feng shui homes—you know the ones, with their cascading water features, peaceful gardens, meandering paths, and elegant front doors. Continue reading

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What you should know before you start a Tai Chi class

tc3I love teaching Tai Chi, and I especially love introducing this beautiful health promoting martial art to beginners. But many people start out with some ideas that are not only wrong, but prevent them from sticking with the practice long enough to benefit from it. This is not their fault. Unfortunately, bad teaching and popular but misleading ideas abound.

So here’s my attempt to set a few things straight and get people started off on the right foot (sorry for the pun.)

1. Tai Chi is a martial art. Yes I know, that sounds obvious. But many people come to Tai Chi thinking it can be stripped of its original function and turned into a relaxation/recreation exercise routine. The truth is if you’re not willing to work at Tai Chi like the kung fu practice it is, you not only won’t reap its benefits, but you’ll be frustrated and disappointed. It’s not that you’re required to develop it as a self defense practice. This just isn’t realistic in the age of guns. But you are expected to cultivate martial spirit, along with martial form and martial shapes. This is the correct (and I think the only,) pathway to Tai Chi’s famous health benefits.

2. Tai Chi is difficult. Many people have been sold a fantasy version of Tai Chi based on the idea that it’s just “swimming in air,” or some sort of Chinese version of freestyle dancing that will relieve their stress. These people always leave the first class in a state of shock. The basics of  legwork, alignment, and posture are very difficult, especially for adults whose bodies have been shaped by a lifetime of contrived movement like sitting at computers and driving cars. The first task is to unlearn these movement habits. It can take years. And many people find the basic Tai Chi short set a challenge to memorize. I tell them over and over that Tai Chi is not about learning sets but about learning a new way to move. I’ve been doing Tai Chi for over 35 years. I still practice basics, not sets. It’s hard for new students to hear this. They beat themselves up relentlessly for not easily learning the set. So yes, you’ll learn the set; it’s just going to take a little longer than you probably thought.

3. Tai Chi is a comprehensive practice that will touch every aspect of your life, if you let it. This is not something you do for one hour a week in class. You’ll get no benefit at all if you’re not willing to change, and let Tai Chi change the way you live. You have to learn to think, drive, sit, walk, and stand in line at the bank, like a Tai Chi player. Tai Chi teaches you a level of sensitivity, awareness, and alignment with your center that makes your whole life different. But you have to be open to this, and not treat Tai Chi like recreation—something you do apart from your regular life.

4. You have to practice every day. Again, this might seem obvious. But if you think about your Tai Chi class the same way you think about your Jazzercise class (somebody leads you through a routine once a week,) you’ll miss the whole Tai Chi experience, and you’ll be one of those frustrated people who complains that they can’t memorize the form. Tai Chi takes daily practice. It doesn’t have to be for long sessions—in fact at first, short 10 minute sessions are better. Just go over what you learn each week. But do it regularly. Keep it fun and don’t worry about making mistakes—you’ll get corrected next time. One thing I can promise you though, is that if you don’t practice, you’ll never learn Tai Chi. The whole point is to be able to do this for yourself, at home, for the rest of your life. So don’t wait until you think you’ve got a better handle on things. Begin here, now.

I don’t mean to play the heavy and dissuade you from trying a Tai Chi class. On the contrary, I want everyone to learn Tai Chi and I’m relentlessly optimistic about everyone being capable of learning and doing Tai Chi. But I’m also a tireless promoter of the real thing. Authentic Tai Chi is Kung Fu, and Kung Fu is for the whole village. Just bring your openness, patience, and martial spirit to the floor.

See you in class!



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Tips on how to memorize a form

Many of my beginning Tai Chi students complain that they find it difficult to memorize the form. Here are some tips from my own teacher, Sifu Ted Mancuso, who has over 40 years of Kung Fu experience and still accurately recalls hundreds of forms.

Guest post by Sifu Ted Mancuso

Forms are pre-arranged sequences of martial movements. The trouble is that you may not have any experience memorizing sequenced actions. Here are a few tips for making this a pleasant learning experience.

1. Always face the same direction when you start the form.

2. Concentrate on the physical, let all the other stuff come later.

3. Your first question, every time, should be about your feet. What stance am I in? Most beginners are obsessed with the hand motions; but they don’t mean a thing without proper stance. In old China the teacher might teach six months before allowing his student to remove his hands from his hips. First is foundation, then build!

4. Most beginning forms are about twenty five movements long, or about two minutes of execution. Select small groups with three to five actions. Practice them then add another section.

5. As you review, go back to the beginning each time to reinforce it. As you practice, the first section will become more natural and that alone will give you confidence to continue.

6. Stay in each posture for a set time, like one complete inhalation and exhalation. Don’t go faster and faster, go slower and slower.

7. Tell yourself a story. “I hit him in the nose, sat back, then kicked to the knee.” If the height and direction are about right the story is fine. If you figure out a meaning for that move in the form and it helps you memorize, more power to you.

8.  Imagine an opponent. He doesn’t have to be doing anything to you but it gives a direction, “He’s over by the corner.” Of course his position will change but as long as you know where he is you have won half the battle.

9. Don’t be afraid to ask about a movement again and again. But your half of the bargain is to pay attention to what the teacher says and let your anxieties go away for a while. Don’t be afraid to “practice wrong.” Your teacher is only a lesson away, you won’t ruin your Kung Fu in the meantime.

You do have to memorize the forms. Otherwise it would be like studying a foreign language without remembering any words. But, with a little perseverance, the process becomes easy and fun—as it is for most people. We’re here to help you in that.

Just try, a strong heart always wins out.

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