Book Review: The Shaman Within – Barbara Meiklejohn-Free

12 01 2014

The Shaman Within: Reclaiming our Rites of Passage, Barbara Meiklejohn-Free

(Moon Books, 2013)

This extraordinary book is one that defies categorisation, which may have been the author’s intention. It’s not that Meiklejohn-Free wishes to confuse, merely that she wishes her readers to think and to find a personal categorisation for themselves within their own circumstances and stage on a Pagan path. By doing this, the messages within her book will find their individual targets and therefore be of personal use to those seeking wisdom from her path and learning from her experiences.

Meiklejohn-Free’s book is, indeed, multi-faceted.

The biographical aspects of her book take us on a painful journey through the early years of her life as she grows up in her adopted family and experiences the problems and tribulations of being a soul connected to the land whilst being a child expected to conform to the society she lives in. The importance of who we are, who our ancestors are and how we link with them is a recurring theme throughout the book and it links to one of the central concerns: talking and listening with the heart, not the head. There is much in this aspect of the book that many will identify within their own stories and their own paths.

In addition, this book is a very honest and personal journal of experiential Paganism. Meiklejohn-Free documents the learning on her path; from the guidance and love she found in the indigenous Elders of her own culture to the Lakota First Nation Elders who welcomed her and taught her.  Her journeying – the exploration of the soul, the sacred connections we have to past lives, ancestors and the other realms – is beautifully penned and vibrate with life. The vignettes exploring her connections with the River Ness and the Cailleach are vibrant. Meiklejohn-Free’s account of  meeting the Cailleach at her crannog is a powerful reminder of the enduring strength of the Ancient Ones of Scotland and it lays the foundations for further experiences and connections within the Ancients and Totems of the Lakota Nation.

A book that is a mix of biography and journal, as discussed above, would be a worthwhile addition to any collection about experiential Paganism, but Meiklejohn-Free does not end here. She wishes to share her journeying and learning; and her book continues by encouraging readers to explore his / her own soul, heart and lives. In a sense, it is also a self-help book as life’s journey, from birth to death, is accompanied by questioning and exercises, enabling the reader to explore the particular aspect of life under discussion in relation to his / her own life. Each of the life stages is related to a point in the wheel of the year and a ritual for completing the learning in each section is suggested. These sections are thoroughly explained, easy to follow, and will appeal to many readers.

Meiklejohn-Free has woven many strands into a medicine blanket. Although we do not  – and can not – walk identical paths, Meiklejohn-Free’s blanket is woven with love and respect for those who taught her much and she offers the shelter of her medicine blanket to those who would learn from her life experiences.