[CreateSpace, 200 pages]
A journalist by trade, Charles Langley left his career in Britain behind to move to New Mexico after a road trip led him to an unexpected fascination with Native American mysticism. Through chance, he became an apprentice to a powerful medicine man named Blue Horse and thus began a journey of learning in the ceremonial ways of traditional Navajo healing. He presents an engaging account of these spiritual encounters in his latest book, Spirit Land: The Peyote Diaries of Charles Langley.
Spirit Land provides readers with a rare glimpse into the Navajo world of witchcraft, curses, skin-walkers and other supernatural beings. Langley shares his experiences assisting Blue Horse in combating these nefarious entities by performing various rites.
Some of the rituals Langley describes include Peyote Visions, which bestow transcendent guidance; Squaw Dances to heal the sick; Lightning Way to rid victims of spiritual pollution; and the Cedar Ceremony, in which medicine men look for images and symbols in the red-hot coals retrieved from fireplaces. The Navajo believe these images divine what’s causing each patient’s suffering, which more often than not appears to be curses cast through witchcraft to cause harm to the victims or their families.
More detail needed?
Although this book is positioned as an important preservation of the ancient teachings of Navajo traditions and the unwritten knowledge of a wise medicine man, in actuality, the reader is offered anecdotes of Langley’s adventures with Blue Horse that don’t provide much depth or particulars in regard to the ceremonies performed.
However, these anecdotes are thought-provoking in their own right, and offer insight into the services Blue Horse is typically sought out for. A great deal of time seems to be spent undoing curses that have been commissioned by the family, friends or neighbours of the injured parties. Made of various materials like stone, animal skin and wood, these curses are much feared by the Navajo because they believe these objects can cause great injury (and even death!) to those who fall victim to them.
It’s extraordinary how the medicine man is seemingly able to unearth the hidden curses from far-flung bushes, trees and rocks, guided only by the symbols appearing to him and his apprentice in the glowing coals of a fire.
Once the curses are found and destroyed, each patient and their family feels reassured that the evil directed at them will trouble them no more. Langley is rarely able to revisit the victims to see if the removal of these curses has had any lasting effects, but as the Navajo reservation is quite vast—larger than the state of West Virginia—it’d be a difficult task for the author to follow up with all of the patients he and Blue Horse have tended to.
Spirit Land also doesn’t provide much evidence as to whether these patients’ maladies were, in fact, caused by curses, or just plain bad luck. But it’s extraordinary how the medicine man is seemingly able to unearth the hidden curses from far-flung bushes, trees and rocks, guided only by the symbols appearing to him and his apprentice in the glowing coals of a fire.
A major decision to make
Regardless of the amount of detail or evidence Langley is able to share in his book Spirit Land, in the end he must decide whether he’ll stay with Blue Horse to fully immerse himself in Navajo medicine—and have faith that the intangible forces of the spirit world are real—or return to his Western way of thinking.
As Langley struggles with this choice, Blue Horse points out some very real truths:
“Your life’s different now,” he reminded me. “You used to live in England; now you don’t. You used to work in an office; now you don’t. You hated every day; now you don’t. You were unhappy; now you’re not. You didn’t know what to do, or where to go, then you stayed here and that was good; and all this because of the medicine. Because you take the medicine, you listen to the medicine, you believe in the medicine, and so it changed your life. You know that’s true.”
“Yes,” I replied honestly. “It is true.”
“You believe that, but you don’t want to believe in the rest of it?” He asked pointedly. “Does that make sense? There’s a long way to go, Charles. You’re gettin’ there, but there’s a long way to go. Many things I got to teach you, many things you got to learn, but you got the main one.”
“You respect the medicine, and it likes you. That’s where it all begins.”
“What should I do?” I asked.
“Don’t ask me, ask the medicine. It’ll know what to do.” he said, reassuringly.
And in these truths, Langley is presented with the difficult choice that millions of people all over the world grapple with every day: either place an unwavering faith in a higher power, in order to lead a more meaningful life, or remain in the status quo. Whatever our choice, belief in something bigger than ourselves is a powerful concept to contemplate.
As the book ends with Langley’s decision hanging in the balance, we won’t know which path he decided to take until his next book, which I look forward to reading, is published.
image: Julay Cat