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In Honor of My Teacher, Malidoma

Updated: Apr 27, 2022

Dear friends, it is with great sadness that I write today to let you know that my beloved teacher and friend, Malidoma Patrice Somé, left this earthly realm last Thursday, December 9, 2021. Malidoma was a talented medicine man from West Africa. He was a healer and diviner of the Dagara people of Burkina Faso and has authored several books.

I shared this photo on my Instagram account the day of his passing. Since then, I have appreciated the many supportive messages that have found their way to me. I have also received an abundance of questions and comments as many have been quite curious to see myself, a small-town gal from Kansas pictured with an African elder. So, I thought, to honor my teacher, I would share a bit of our story with you.


I was first introduced to Malidoma's work in the summer of 2016 by my friend, Susan Manchester. I was experiencing the most difficult year of my life and felt beaten down and broken in every way possible. I went on a weeklong yoga retreat in the Crestone Mountains in hopes of finding healing or comfort. Little did I know that my entire life was about to radically change in a direction that I least expected.


I remember the details of that day so vividly. Susan and I were in a little cabin, high up in the mountains of a Buddhist monastery. Susan invited me to take part in an ancient medicine practice known as African Cowry Shell Divination that was taught to her by her teacher and mentor, Malidoma Somé. Something hit me like a bolt of lightning when she said his name. I couldn't explain it, but I knew that I needed to remember it.


I was so uplifted and empowered by my divination with Susan that I soon began wanting to know more about where this technique came from and who was responsible for such a magical gift. It lead me to begin reading Malidoma's autobiography, Of Water and the Spirit. While reading, something deep within me began to awaken and I knew, without a doubt that I was being called to work and study with this incredible African Shaman.


People often ask me how I knew. I could feel something rattling the deepest layer of my Soul, and I just knew. I have no logical explanation other than I was being guided by something that, at the time, I could not see or hear. That something was much bigger than rational thought or reason.


If you ever get a chance to read Of Water and the Spirit, please do! I have shared my own copy with so many friends and family members over the years that the pages are deeply worn and the edges are beginning to tear. The face people make when they hand it back to me after devouring it in a matter of days never ceases to amaze me. With their jaw nearly hanging to the ground, they always ask me the same, suspicious question, "Did all of that really happen to him?" And with an all-knowing twinkle in my eye I simply say, "Of course it did." Then, I'll curiously watch as their western-conditioned minds try to process the possibility that their life could be so much bigger than they've been taught.


Malidoma had a special way of bridging the unseen world of Spirit with our physical world, here on Earth. He talked about magic and the spiritual realms as if they were a very normal, and real part of his life, which they were. For so many people, the idea of speaking to Spirits, such as the Ancestors or the Spirits of Nature, seems impossible, like it is something that is only reserved for people with a unique set of abilities and gifts. But, for Malidoma, he always instilled in his students that we all possess the same connection to Spirit that he did. He also taught us that, in some small corners of the world, magic and Spirit are still very much alive and well! Spirit is always moving through each of us, it's just that most of us aren't paying attention.


His autobiography touched me in a very deep way. I had a strong inner knowing that not only would I someday study with Malidoma, but that his work would be a keystone in my life. I didn't know when or how he would guide me down my path of healing, but that when the opportunity came, I'd have no choice but to say yes. I have only felt that strong of a Soul connection to another human once before in my life, and I married that man!

I didn't know much else about Malidoma other than what was written in the pages of that book. In fact, I honestly thought he still lived in Africa, and I wasn't sure how I could ever travel across the ocean with two very young children at home. But, lo and behold, I received a phone call from Susan only a few months later. Malidoma was going to be in Colorado to conduct a weeklong healing intensive filled with Elemental rituals.


Of course, I said, 'yes' without even checking my calendar. I couldn't help but to laugh out loud with joy. Somehow, I had known all along that he'd come. Because what I've learned is that if you ask the Universe for something with as much conviction as I had, you can't say no when the invitation arrives.


That week was the start of the five incredible years that I knew and studied with Malidoma. He taught me a lot about indigenous technologies, connecting to the Ancestors and Spirit realms through divination and ritual, and working with Elemental medicine, among so many other things.


So much of my work with Malidoma I don’t share publicly because people often shut down or become uneasy about topics that may challenge their existing beliefs. Stepping into any indigenous culture is a shock to the system for those of us who are deeply conditioned into the Western ways. My entire worldview has had to take on a major overhaul in the last decade, and most people aren't ready for that kind of transformation.


And, also, I don't always share what I've experienced or learned because so much of it, at times, has felt so sacred and holy that it often feels too intimate to talk about in a casual kind of way. Even my own husband doesn't know everything. Which is saying a lot because we have one of the most open and honest relationships out there.


Anyways. Back to the story...


After years of healing and ritual work, I was invited to begin a yearlong training with Malidoma in early 2020. I'd finally get to study with him in a much more intimate and deeper way. The timing was horrible, both for personal reasons and because of all the challenges of the pandemic. Our first class of the training had over 20 participants, but by the end, only 8 of us remained.


There were countless trials over the entire year that tried to shake my commitment to my studies. In fact, I thought about dropping out many times but felt certain that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It was now or never. Perhaps something deep inside of me knew that I wouldn't get a second chance. And another part of me knew that the adversities and challenges our entire class was being presented with was the Ancestors way of making sure we were fully dedicated to the work.


Fortunately, despite all the difficulties, I completed my initiation as an African Cowry Shell Diviner in September of this year. One of my prayers for so many years was to be lead down the highest path that God was calling me down and to know a life that was magical, mystical, and sacred. My intention has always been to be in service to others by helping to restore the hearts of those who have also felt broken and beaten down, like I once had felt.


I have always known that I didn’t incarnate here for a mundane and ordinary life. Malidoma always believed in me and my gifts and abilities long before I could see them in myself. He always nudged me to step deeper into my calling and would always sweetly laugh when I questioned myself. Which was often. And then, he'd scrunch his face and say something equally prophetic, funny, and poetic, in only a way that he can, and it would help to settle all my insecurities.


Community

Malidoma had a way of making every single person in the room feel seen, valued, loved, and important. He would often sit with us for hours at a time, waiting until every single person in the circle had a turn to speak about whatever was in their heart.


If you felt like crying, you cried, and everyone embraced you and mourned with you. If you felt like laughing, you laughed, and everyone joined in your joy. Occasionally someone would lead us through a group song or an inspired poem. Still others would share stories, dreams, or visions that they recently had.


There was never any rhyme or reason to our daily check-ins. In circle, nobody was checking their phones or their notebooks. Nobody was half-listening or thinking about their to-do lists. Nobody wandered off to the bathroom or the kitchen out of boredom. There were no side conversations or interruptions. The only time someone moved during another person’s speech was to offer a piece of their dark chocolate to their neighbor or to throw another log in the fire, which was almost always nearby.


Every single person in the circle, including Malidoma, was completely present to whomever was speaking. There is profound medicine in this. To be seen and heard wholeheartedly leaves a deep impression on a person. I suspect that this is why Malidoma did it every morning when we were together. It was as if he had a way of commanding time to stop or slow down long enough to make sure that each person felt important and like their experience mattered.


It was important to him that every single person contributed something to the group. It was, I believe, his way of showing us that the only way true community thrives is if everyone feels like they have a voice and a seat at the table. If even one person isn't contributing to the society in a meaningful way, then the community is in need of reconciliation.


The Earth Mother

Some of my favorite lectures were when Malidoma would talk about the Spirit of the Earth. He once explained that Mother Earth is our home. “She is the unconditional love and the undivided attention that we need,” he’d say. “She is the Great Mother whose lap we can all lie on to receive nourishment and support.”


He discussed the Earth like the mother who blesses us and always has the door open for us. She gives us a sense of nourishment and belonging. He talked a lot about the Divine Feminine and how we cannot function without Her dominant presence. He often explained how the world is really "sick" because so many cultures have completely disrespected and disregarded the Earth and the Divine Feminine.


It was through the various Earth rituals that I participated in with Malidoma that I was able to experience firsthand what it means to be completely held, loved, protected and supported by a Feminine force that is beyond words. Growing up in a Catholic household, learning about the Divine Feminine was like discovering a puzzle piece to my ideology that I had been missing for decades. He really taught me what it was like to show up for others unconditionally, to hold space for healing, and to embody my Divine Mother energies for those who need them.


The Ancestors

Probably some of the greatest work I've learned from my teacher was how to awaken to and access my Ancestors ancient wisdom and guidance. Before working with Malidoma, I could sense that my own Ancestors were not very present in my life. I once had a vision of them still lying dormant in a coffin, deep under the ground. My ancient Ancestors hadn't been spoken to by my family line in so long, the Ancestors thought they really had died and that there was nothing left for them to do but lie there.


I’ve since come to learn that many of our Ancestors are hungry. We do not give them the attention and support that they need to be thriving and well. How can we expect our Ancestors to be of any help to us when we consistently neglect them or disbelieve in their very existence?


Malidoma taught me how to invoke my Ancestors by speaking at least one of their names out loud. Malidoma said this was important to let them know that we were calling upon them. He once said, “If a large group of people called your name, you’d have to respond. It works the same in their world.” Hence urging us that it wasn't just one person's job to connect to the Otherworld, but it was everyone's responsibility.


Malidoma also taught that we only had to call on one Ancestor, and preferably the one that we were closest to. He told us that it only takes one who is listening to act as the messenger to deliver our message to the rest of them. And that the Ancestors are the bridge and messengers to all our other Spirit Allies in the other realms.


Healing a Lineage

It is my female Ancestors who speak to me the most. They often share the ways in which they were taught to feel small and silenced in their lifetimes. They talk about all the ways in which they gave their power over to the patriarchy and men of the church and community. Through this work, I have learned that there are generations of trauma in which the women in my family felt persecuted, vilified, and robbed of personal power and sovereignty.


At some point along this journey, I realized that the healing that I was partaking in was no longer just about me and my happiness. I was motivated to heal for the sake of my children and future generations. My healing had a direct effect on the Ancestors, too. As I became more whole, so did my children, my future grandchildren, and all the generations in my lineage, both before and after me.


As I work to heal the inherited wounds and traumas of my lineage, we all become a stronger force to be reckoned with. Every prayer I send out to my Ancestors makes them stronger. Every wound I transform makes them more powerful. Every offering, ritual and moment in ceremony feeds Spirit and helps them to grow. I have a lot to owe to Malidoma for reawakening my connection to Spirit and encouraging it to be whole again.


A Healer Awakens

From the very first time Malidoma divined for me, until the last time I saw him just three months before his passing, he never missed an opportunity to tell me about the incredible medicine he recognized within me. As I write this, an immense wave of emotion runs through me, and it brings me to tears every time.


He gave me one of the greatest gifts and blessings in this lifetime, which was, to simply have someone hold space for my greatness to emerge. What has awakened in me, is a deep, ancient remembrance of my inherent ability to help and heal others. Much of what I have learned in this lifetime was initiated by Malidoma's absolute assurance in me and that I would find my way. My most sacred gifts and abilities were never taught to me in a book, in a classroom, or even at his trainings. But rather, most of what I learned was simply because of mentors like Malidoma, who held the door open for my evolution and healing to take place organically without judgement or expectations.


The best teachers and leaders that I've known can simply hold the portal open for you. They know that it's not their decision to walk through it for you or to do the healing work that is needed. A good teacher will give you a choice - to stay the same or to evolve. And, although they might inspire you to search for the answer, they will never, under any circumstance, just give it to you. Because a good teacher will empower you to rise up all on your own.


Malidoma once told me that I was here to bring restoration to humanity. He believed that I carried a kind of healing that was not standard. What he saw in me, was in his words, "an agent of hope and a promise of change."


In our earlier years together, he told me I needed a better understanding of who I was and what I was a vessel of. Malidoma said that the Spirits guiding me, specifically my Ancestors, would not let me deviate from my path. That it was only a matter of time before my gifts would all unravel. He assured me it was only a matter of time before I felt complete. Now, it was up to me to somehow organize this knowing so that the rest of the World would understand.


Once, in 2017, after a particularly intense divination session with Malidoma, I wrote in a journal:


I feel like I am a million light years away from embodying the medicine that he claims I carry. Afterall, I am just your everyday, average do-it-all mom struggling to shower daily without the constant interruption of two tiny children interrupting my five seconds of peace. To put makeup on each morning and wear anything other than yoga pants, is, in my opinion, a miracle. I still have one foot in the corporate hamster wheel and am not sure I could completely walk away from the business my husband and I have worked so hard to create. The greatest healing I can perform in a week is slapping an Elsa Band-Aid on a skinned knee and calling it good. But, nonetheless, I know I am being guided. Although I can't explain it, I know. And, that fact alone I trust with every part of my being. At this point, all I can do is keep moving forward.


Healing always came up as a topic of discussion in my divinations. Malidoma said that it seemed as if I was always broadcasting healing. He said that I was, “bringing magic as a form of healing.” He once said that what I was bringing into this world was radical transformation and ancient wisdom for anyone who wished to receive it.


Malidoma told me, “There’s a lot of healing that you can contribute to a lot of people who have lost threads of joy for so long that they don’t think it could ever become a part of their life.” I have held onto these words for so long. They've, in many ways, acted like a guiding force that keeps me pushing forward even when I'm struggling.


I have been honored to sit in front of him for countless divinations, both in private and as a part of my cowry shell divination training. In one exceptionally intimate divination he explicitly laid out in front of me my role as a medicine woman in this lifetime and told me that I would see all of this translated in ways in which I mostly wouldn’t expect. He told me, that in essence, my journey was just beginning. He laughed as he added, “At least the fun part of it.”


I loved that last line... the "fun part." Because, since knowing my teacher, my life has been increasingly filled with a joy and childlike curiosity that I didn't know existed. Even as I write this, I am reminded that the last two months of my life have been absolutely heartbreaking. And, yet, no matter what kind of tragedies life seems to throw my way, I find myself moving through them with so much grace and softness that even I surprise myself. So, for that, I also am honored that he helped me to rekindle my expression of joy and beauty, even in the most mundane or unfortunate moments.


If it weren’t for people like Malidoma in my life, I may have never been encouraged to search for my greater purpose. I most likely would have settled for mediocracy. It terrifies me to think about how different my life would be had I not trusted myself enough to follow the clues that were being given to me.


Every moment in Malidoma's presence felt like a major push forward in the right direction. He always gave me inspiration to keep searching. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t at least attempt to see for myself what he had always seen in me.


For this, I am so grateful for every moment with him. He meant so much to me and thousands of others. And I feel quite comforted knowing that we now have another powerful Ancestor walking with us on the other side.


With Love,

Kelsey




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