Leopard Warrior

by John Lockley

I didn't yet know that I had the "calling illness," which had been precipitated by a powerful dream—I was so sick because I had been called to become a sangoma, a traditional South African shaman and healer. But this was uncharted territory. I was a middle-class white student who had grown up in South Africa in the era of apartheid. Black and white people were forced to live separately, and the sangoma tradition and lineages were exclusively black. Even if I had known what my illness meant, and that apprenticing to a senior sangoma held the cure, I would not have been able to follow that path. Had I tried to enter any of the black townships where the sangomas practiced their healing arts, I would have been questioned relentlessly by the police and armed forces. And had I persisted, it is likely I would have been arrested and imprisoned.

I don't like to think about what might have happened to me if the apartheid system had not collapsed under the weight of its cruelty and injustice. But end it did, and in 1994, with Nelson Mandela now president of South Africa, a series of events, strong dreams, and persistent intuitive messages led me at last to the divination room of MaMngwevu, a powerful senior sangoma in the Xhosa tradition, the same culture as Mandela. My body shook as I sat before her on the floor. To my side sat a translator of the isiXhosa language.


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© 2017 by John Lockley. A teacher, traditional healer and diviner, John Lockley founded The Way of the Leopard Teachings, inspired by his Zen training and Sangoma apprenticeship. He continues to work in traditional Sangoma communities across South Africa, as well as offer workshops and retreats worldwide. This article was excerpted with permission from his book, Leopard Warrior: A Journey into the African Teachings of Ancestry, Instinct, and Dreams, published by Sounds True, soundstrue.com. For more information visit JohnLockley.com.

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