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28 October 2019

“Do I tell everyone that?”: the rise of the celebrity shaman

Should I continue with my writing? “You should,” he replies. “You’re going to write nine books.” I mumble that he’d also told a friend of mine they’d write nine books.

By Jules Evans

I was recently out for dinner with two friends, who had both been to see a famous shaman, called Kestrel, in Glastonbury. “Our futures are quite intertwined”, one of them remarked. “Similar things are destined for us.” As they compared notes, we realised quite how similar their destinies were: Kestrel had told them both they were going to write nine books.  

This rang a bell. Another friend of mine had visited a shaman two years earlier, and had also emerged with the exciting news that he was destined to write nine books. I texted to ask the name of the shaman. Sure enough, it was Kestrel. “Well,” said my friend, “it might still be true.”

I decided I needed to visit Kestrel, to discover what the future could possibly hold for me.   

These days, everyone is a shaman. Tens of thousands of westerners now travel to the Amazon to try a psychedelic potion called ayahuasca, under the guidance of indigenous shamans (many of whom actually have zero training or experience). Once you’ve tried ayahuasca, it’s easy to decide you are a shaman, too. Hence the rise of the western shaman, complete with drum, spirit-allies, feathers in their hair, and names like Flying Pig or Total Bull.

Shamanism is now a growing niche in the trillion-dollar wellness industry. This year, a shamanic clinic called Guardian Angel opened in Mayfair. “When all else has failed, we are here for you. Guardian Angel has the ability to influence reality, which can be used to treat and cure illnesses in ways in which conventional and alternative healing cannot.” Prices start at £1,500 per month.

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Some luxury hotels now have an in-house shaman. At the Faena Hotel in Miami, the interiors are designed by writer and director Baz Luhrmann while the spa was designed by owner Alan Faena’s “personal shaman”, Carlos Gomez. The Post Ranch Inn in California’s Big Sur also offers shamanic sessions in its spa, where you can “incorporate the energy of your power animal” for $395 an hour.

Up the coast in Silicon Valley, shamans are manifesting millions for their ultra-wealthy, ultra-spiritual clients. When I visited last September, I met several shamans who tend to the needs of their affluent flock, including one who consults the spirits for her corporate clients, as a sort of shamanic Accenture.

Wellness shamans are even making it onto daytime TV.  Viewers of ITV’s This Morning recently got to see host Eamonn Holmes exorcised on live TV by celebrity shaman Durek Verrett, who is Gwyneth Paltrow’s favourite shaman, and also the boyfriend of Princess Martha of Norway.

Shamanism is considered the earliest form of religion, in which a medicine man or woman helps you by negotiating with the spirit world. How did it become a hit from Mayfair to Miami? Perhaps because its emphasis on magic appeals to our transactional culture – we don’t want to convert to a creed, but we’re happy to contract the services of a spirit or two.

“A lot of people have jumped on the shaman bandwagon,” admits Kestrel. I’m at his healing clinic in Glastonbury. He’s a gentle, affable, bearded, somewhat shifty man in his late 40s or early 50s. He’s been here 30 years and has seen the shamanic bubble grow – the high street is now jammed with shops offering healing, readings, spell ingredients, even an “ethical taxidermist”.

But few competitors can boast the client list he reels off to me: Russell Brand, Sally Hawkins, Nicolas Cage – Cage lives in Glastonbury, by the way, and is also a shaman. As well as personal consultations, Kestrel offers a shamanic training course called “the Call of the Shaman”. I suspect many of his clients are called.

We sit in Kestrel’s consulting room. I’ve gone for a £40 half-hour consultation. He tells me to close my eyes and makes a strange humming noise as he enters the spirit world. Then he’s rattling off predictions: the next few months will be crucial in my life, I’ll meet my soul-mate, great prosperity and success will be mine.  I open my eyes and he’s staring idly at the wall as he reels off these predictions, like a nine-year-old reciting his ten times table.

Should I continue with my writing? “You should,” he replies. “You’re going to write nine books.” I mumble that he’d also told a friend of mine they’d write nine books. “Do I tell everyone that?” he says hurriedly. “No. It’s a sacred number. The number of completion. Any more questions?” He ends, like a good salesman, by saying I could benefit from a longer course of healings.

A friend of mine, stoic philosopher Donald Robertson, says: “Some mediums might be doing half a dozen readings per day. The sheer volume means it becomes a factory production line. They start saying very similar, formulaic, things to everyone. Their clients tend to be single women who want to hear that they’re going to meet the perfect man – so that’s the same reading they give maybe 30 times each week.”

I have no idea if Kestrel once genuinely had spiritual powers, and the lure of lucre led to him trotting out the same prediction over and over. Nine books seems an oddly specific prediction to give everyone.

There is a risk of harm. He told both me and my friend we would meet our soul-mates this November, and advised my friend she should stay celibate until then. We both might have ignored real opportunities, or leapt on inappropriate ones, if we heeded his prophecy.    

Still, the shamanic industry is likely to keep on growing. In such uncertain times, people will pay anything for certainty and hope.                                                                                                     

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