Council Dreaming and Stories: Experiences of Healing and Transformation through Jaguar Medicine

Be still. Hunt. Heal. Live for the day.

By Vera Lucia de Souza Moura MD, MS-MBM and Donald Moss,Ph.D.



Jaguar Medicine is an eclectic shamanic healing approach with origins in indigenous cultures of Central and South America. In North Carolina, two shamanic healers developed and facilitated a Jaguar Medicine seminar series that emerged from their unique experiences, passions, and life’s work to help individuals, groups, and communities heal. Afterward, a qualitative, retrospective study revealed the transformative healing experiences of five North Americans during and after a 5-week seminar series and subsequent monthly gatherings. The participants were from diverse professional backgrounds and were already, in some capacity, working as healers. Research data were collected through in-depth, semi-structured interviews and professionally transcribed verbatim. The collected data were organized to construct case narratives and examined through thematic analysis to assemble a cross-case analysis. Dreams and stories were identified among the thematic sections. The present article will focus on the role of dreams and stories on participants’ processes of healing and transformation during and after the seminars.

Keywords: Jaguar Medicine, shamanic healing, healing and transformation, shamanism.

*Note: This article originated from a master’s thesis by Vera Lucia de Souza Moura. The thesis was approved and accepted by the faculty of Saybrook University in fulfillment of requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Mind-Body Medicine. ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing, 2012. 1533161.


Jaguar Medicine is an eclectic shamanic healing approach with origins in indigenous cultures of Central and South America. In North Carolina, two shamanic healers developed and facilitated a Jaguar Medicine seminar series that emerged from their unique experiences, passions, and life’s work to help individuals, groups, and communities heal. Afterward, a qualitative, retrospective study revealed the transformative healing experiences of five North Americans during the seminar series and subsequent monthly gatherings. Dreams and stories – the focus of this article – were identified among the thematic sections of the study’s data analysis.

Background: The Jaguar

In many worldwide cultures, animals are seen as mediators related to gods and goddesses or even as deities themselves. In those cultures, a common belief is that animals carry supernatural powers that control both the natural world and human destiny. The gods of the pre-Columbian civilizations of South and Central America often wore a jaguar’s skin as a sacred costume; both the Mayan and Aztec rulers believed the feline was the divine protector of royalty. It was believed the supreme Aztec god, Tezcatlipoca, who inhabited the top of the mountains and entrances of the caves, had an alter ego in the form of a great jaguar. The Were-Jaguar, an Olmec motif and a supernatural entity, was created by the Olmec people who ruled the Gulf of Mexico 3,000 years ago. Today in many hunting and gathering societies of South America, the jaguar is the shaman’s spirit ally (Saunders, 1995).

Painting by Christine Pateros, all rights reserved.

Painting by Christine Pateros. All Rights Reserved © 2015.

Jaguar Medicine

Jaguar Medicine, with its roots in the indigenous cultures of South and Central America, has fascinated many people. Saunders (1995) stated that shamans invoke the spirit of the jaguar to treat people’s illnesses and to protect the community from harmful spirits. They believe that the hunter ability of the jaguar destroys the malevolent spirits that cause illness and disease (Saunders, 1995). In Western circles, Jaguar Medicine has been promoted by Deena Metzger, Alberto Villoldo, and others. In one of his books, Villoldo (2008) commented on a Jaguar Medicine treatment performed by Amazonian shamans. During healing sessions, shamans would sing a jaguar song while massaging the patients’ bellies to promote relaxation and then proceed with the appropriate shamanic interventions such as soul retrieval, extraction or other methods to treat their illnesses. The belly, they believe, is where the jaguar inhabits people. For the patients, the song and massage would calm down their frightened souls and release the jaguars within them (Villoldo, 2008).

In North Carolina, two shamanic healers, Vera Lucia Moura, a Brazilian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and Richenel Ansano, an anthropologist from Curaçao, developed a Jaguar Medicine seminar series that emerged from their unique experiences, passions, and life’s work to help individuals, groups, and communities heal. According to them, the core principle of


Painting by Christine Pateros. All Rights Reserved © 2015.

Jaguar Medicine is that people can acquire the ability to walk a path of courage, compassion, and mystery with stillness and trust in one’s life process even when facing tumultuous situations. Jaguar Medicine asserts that peoples’ greatest learning comes from observing themselves, observing creation, and acting according to what is available in the present instead of what they consider as past or future. Stillness is fundamental to this path. Stillness connects people to themselves, others, nature, and all that surrounds them. With stillness, like jaguars, people can move wisely to a place of instantaneous action. As people walk in the path, spiritual practices and changes in perception guide them to attain better health, an increased sense of wellbeing, and global consciousness. A new way of life may emerge, leading individuals to deeply embrace the principle of oneness, that mind-body-spirit is connected to community-earth-universe. They also learn to work with the principle of direct revelation, a shaman’s way of action.

This article will summarize contemporary views of shamanism and shamanic practices, and illustrate the role of dreams and stories as fundamental on the transformative healing experiences of five North Americans who participated in the 2011 Jaguar Medicine seminar series.

Shamanism and Shamanic healing

Shamanism is one of the most ancient practices known to humankind. Archaeological studies indicate that the practice of shamanism dates back at least 40,000 years. Some writers have dated its practice back over 100,000 years (Ingerman, 2000). Shamanism is originated from the word saman of the Siberian Tungus people. It means “to know” (Walsh, 2009, p. 13). Rock and Krippner (2011) stated that the word shaman is a social construct that describes a distinct type of practitioner who is responsible for the psychological and spiritual needs of a community that has given that person a privileged status. Krippner (2008) asserted that shamans are socially authorized magical-religious practitioners who access knowledge and power from “non-ordinary, nonconsensual” (p. 8) reality to help and heal individuals or the entire community.

The selection and training of shamans vary among different cultures and individuals. Traditionally, the community selects who becomes a shaman at any time of an individual’s development, from before birth to late in their adulthood or even at the elder stage, although it most commonly happens in early adulthood (Walsh, 2009). A call to become a shaman may come from many different sources such as a powerful dream, vision, illness, emotional crisis, or near-death experience (Krippner, 2008). Walsh (2009) referred to this as a call coming from within and without.

Some individuals inherit their responsibilities as a shaman from their family lineage. Their initiation and training usually include suffering, death, and resurrection rituals; the use of strict diets; fasting; sleep suppression; sexual abstinence; knowledge about healing techniques, herbals, and the use of psychotropic plants; and mastering hunting, fishing, and daily life activities. Training also includes learning songs, dances, prayers, myths, and the cosmogony and story of their people. This intense training can last several years (Eliade, 2004).

Painting by Camile Moura Frazão, all rights reserved.

Painting by Camile Moura Frazão, all rights reserved.

One of the results from Winkelman’s (2010) cross-cultural research on shamanism was the classification of magical-religious practitioners into four types: (a) the shaman complex (i.e., shamans, shaman-healers, and healers); (b) priests and priestesses; (c) diviners, seers, and mediums; and (d) malevolent practitioners (i.e., witches and sorcerers). The characteristics of shamans are illustrated in the research literature. Shamans have the abilities to: (a) journey to the lower, middle, and upper world to ask help for self-healing, healing others, and the global community; (b) use meditation, drumming, rattling, chanting, prayer, and connections to the elements of nature; (c) work with subtle energy; (d) express telepathic and healing abilities through intuition and empathy; (e) perform soul retrieval; and (f) address the basic, existential human need for meaning (Harner, 1997; Ingerman, 2004; Scott, 2002). Shamans also believe everything that exists is alive and has a spirit, a belief that is described as hylozoism and animism in contemporary philosophical language, and that everything is interconnected. More than that, the shamans’ world and its levels interact with one another and can be affected by the shaman’s activities (Walsh, 2009). Their journeys to hidden worlds otherwise accessed through myths, dreams, and near-death experiences (Harner, 1997) give them the abilities to see beyond the ordinary reality and travel into unseen realms to work together with the spirits, gather information for the community, address the spiritual aspect of illness, and perform healing (Ingerman, 2000; Scott, 2002; Walsh, 2009).

Shamanism in contemporary society has been largely recognized as an ancient, natural way of healing and altering consciousness (Winkelman, 2010). Rock and Krippner (2011) remarked that modern social scientists describe shamanism as “a body of techniques and activities that supposedly enable its practitioners to access information that is not ordinarily attainable by members of the social group that gave them privileged status” (p. 7). Similarly, Walsh (2009) defined shamanism as “a family of traditions whose practitioners focus on voluntarily altered states of consciousness in which they experience themselves or their spirit(s) interacting with other entities, often by traveling to other realms in order to serve their communities” (pp. 15–16). 

unnamed (2)

Photo by Vera Lucia Moura, all rights reserved.

Shamanism embraces the principle of oneness that the mind-body-spirit is connected to the community-earth-cosmos; it also embraces a profound connection to nature and works with the principle of direct revelation from the spiritual world (Harner, 1997; Walsh, 2009). Achterberg (2002) extensively described shamanism and shamanic medicine, emphasizing the power of imagery for healing including transpersonal and preverbal imagery, which are essential to shamanic journeying. Hyman (2007) remarked,


Shamanism is an integrated system of mind-body medicine . . . the first mind-body medicine, yet it contains more than methods to calm the mind or to shake off stress in a mechanical way. It provides a cosmology and architecture for healing not only the mind but also the soul, for navigating the confusion, injury, pain, or trauma we encounter as human beings walking the earth. (p. 10)


Shamanism conceives that illnesses originate from both spiritual and non-spiritual factors. Spiritual factors may be associated with soul loss, power loss, or spiritual intrusions, and a spiritual form of illness may manifest on an emotional or physical level (Harner, 1997; Scott, 2002; Walsh, 2009). Shamanism embraces whatever magnifies one’s union to the spiritual world and to all living things and shows the way for healing body, mind, spirit, society, community, planet, and surroundings. Therefore, shamanism can be simply described as a spiritual practice that involves acquiring information from non-ordinary sources for personal and community service.

Healing entails the establishment of a sense of wholeness. Wendler (1996) defined healing as a process that results in ones’ “sense of wholeness, integration, balance, and transformation” (p. 841). Metzger highlighted that healing is a way of life incorporating mind, body, spirit, and worldwide communities and that it is fundamentally interrelated with the spirit (Metzger, 2002, 2004, 2009). On the subject of transformative healing and illness, Metzger described one’s own perception of illness and any other affliction as “a call for us to change our lives in ways that benefit all: the afflicted one, the community, the earth, and all beings” (D. Metzger, personal communication, May 19, 2012). Metzger proceeded,


We heal our lives and then our lives heal us. We search out and step away from all those ways that are incompatible with health and create a field of being that is entirely aligned with health. Then we step into and live in the field. We listen to the Story that the illness is telling—we listen to the metaphor it displays—the ways the illness manifests and how that translates into symbol, metaphor, and meaning. We follow all the events, synchronicities, experiences that relate and see the Story that emerges. The Story becomes a path that teaches us how to live and continue living. Then we live accordingly. Often in this process, physical as well as spiritual changes occur. It is my experience that when one goes to an indigenous healer, one is also committing to the entire Way. True healing is not a pill or a prescription or hands-on ceremony but an entire immersion in a way of life, which substantiates the rituals, ceremonies, and offerings from which the healing emerges. Healing is complex and often requires that we change our lives, and it is as important to have a guide as a healer—hopefully, they will be the same one (D. Metzger, personal communication, May 19, 2012).


Metzger (2009) emphasized that healing is a way of life involving mind, body, spirit, and worldwide communities and that it is essentially connected with the spirit.

Krippner (2003) concurred with psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey (1986) on the four basic components that make native, including shamanic, healing effective: a shared worldview between practitioner and client; the personal qualities of the practitioner; the trust, faith, and expectation of the client; and the ability of the treatment to empower the client. Compared with curing illnesses, healing is holistic. In healing, practitioners work toward the reduction of clients’ symptoms and heal the spiritual causes of illnesses in the family, society, and environment (Krippner, 2003).

Tools used in shamanic healing include feathers, rattles, drums, song, dance, flutes, and plants among other resources (Rock & Krippner, 2011; Scott, 2002; Walsh, 2009; Winkelman, 2010).


A ritual. Photo by Vera Lucia Moura, all rights reserved.

Shamanic healing practices include herbal treatments, journeying, soul retrieval, and sweat lodge sessions.  Shamanic healing also includes the extraction of negative spirits, soul release, rituals, and many other treatments (Harner, 1997; Ingerman, 2004; Scott, 2002; Winkelman, 2010). Jaguar Medicine (Villoldo, 2000, 2008), daré and music daré (Metzger, 2002), and medicine for the Earth (Ingerman, 2000), to name a few, are forms of shamanic healing that utilize more than one of those healing approaches. Sessions in the form of indigenous grand rounds or councils are directly guided by spirits (Metzger, 2002, 2004).

Designing the Jaguar Medicine Seminars

The Jaguar Medicine seminars were designed by the aforementioned shamanic healers. They were inspired to create the seminars by direct revelation from spirits through meditation, dreams, shamanic journeying, and synchronistic events. The shamanic healers announced, via e-mail and flyers placed at strategic locations in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, a series of 5-hour-long seminars held once a week for 5 weeks to a group of local healers of all backgrounds and to professional healthcare professionals and students. The seminar series’ title was “Jaguar Medicine: A Wisdom Path of Healing.” Seven registrants gathered together on woodland in Hillsborough, North Carolina, from February 5, 2011, to March 5, 2011. Afterward, they continued to gather for a year, on a monthly base to grow deeper in their knowledge of Jaguar Medicine. Guided by the spirits the seminars’ facilitators applied various modalities of shamanic healing interventions to address the participants’ needs. Psychoactive plants or substances were not used. The essence of the Jaguar Medicine Seminars and its transformative healing will be further described and illustrated in the context of the research findings.

The Jaguar Medicine Research

The researcher followed step by step the strict guidelines to conduct a research study, including its approval by the Saybrook University Institute of Review Board. Out of the seven people who initially participated in the Jaguar Medicine seminars, five served as the study’s subject. The participants underwent open-ended, semi-structured interviews about their life stories and experiences with Jaguar Medicine. The interviews were audio taped and professionally transcribed verbatim. The transcribed data and notes from the first interviews were ordered to constructed case narratives for each participant. Afterward, the data were subjected to a thematic analysis in which the raw data were manually coded and collated from all the transcripts. Next, the codes were integrated to find inductive themes, the ones strongly linked to the data themselves, in order to assemble the case narratives and proceed with the cross-case analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Weiss, 1994; Yin, 2009). The objective was to examine participants’ lived experiences as they unfolded, and to identify elements in the healing process that were facilitated by this unique approach. The interviews occurred in March/April of 2012. 

The research participants’ occupations were a psychologist, a phlebotomist coordinator, a builder initiated into the Lakota tradition, an instructional designer and dance specialist in physical disability, and a specialist in organizational development who was also a consultant and business owner. All the participants were working as healers in some capacity. There were two male and three female participants, and two married and three single participants. They were all White, and their ages ranged between 34 and 70 with a mean of 52. The participants had no religious affiliations, and they all had previous experiences with one or more aspects of shamanism.

The result of this study cross-case analysis indicated two main thematic sections: (a) Participants and their Perceptions of Jaguar Medicine, and (b) Experiences of Healing and Transformations through Jaguar Medicine which included: Connectedness to self, others, community, nature and universal consciousness, dreams and stories, healing and transformation, and new directions.  An article focused on the cross-case thematic analysis was already submitted for publication to another journal. The case narratives will be submitted for publication. This article will focus on dreams and stories as experiences of healing and transformation through Jaguar Medicine. However, before embarking on the description of the core of the article, it is essential to discuss the tools of the Jaguar Medicine transformative healing arts and the contributions of the shamanic healers and participants within this context.

Cultivating healing and transformation: The shamanic healers and their community

The shamanic practices that the Jaguar Medicine community included journeying, council-dreaming, rituals, and practices of deep connection with the spirits of the natural world, all of which were facilitated by meditative and breathing practices, expressive movement, and expressive writing, and drawing. Those practices in conjunction with the shamanic healers’ interventions created a medium where transformative healing happened. Winkelman (2010) identified three fundamental factors for shamanic healing or shamanistic therapy: Spirit beliefs, special state of consciousness and community rituals; those factors were central to the Jaguar Medicine community’s experiences. Spirit beliefs were evident among the participants since the very first moment when they decided to join the group. Special states of consciousness permeated the seminars and allowed participants to perceive meaning in events that seemed interrelated in ways beyond the ordinary reality. In Joseph’s perception, for example, the meaning of a turtle laying eggs by the barn where participants had placed clay sculptures made during a ritual, was part of the amazing things that had happened during the seminars. Joseph said:

to see things happen around us that we were talking about or discussing, and then to see something from nature actually come and participate in it, like the time we had the turtle come and lay its eggs when we were doing that whole thing, that whole ceremony with the water.

Picture 06

Photo by Vera Lucia Moura, all rights reserved.

Perceiving meaning beyond ordinary reality was also part of one of Mary’s experiences:

I knew it was a chunk of glass, of deep red glass, but in my inner self, I knew it was a heart, almost like the heart of the world. . . . it wasn’t my heart or its heart; it was the heart, and it was glowing from inside.

Special states of consciousness likewise led participants to perceive or pick up on meanings in a kind of clairvoyant way. In a commentary about connectedness, Michelle mentioned:

When Joseph came in one time with a [big] stick and he didn’t know why he brought that stick, but then it turned out to be very significant for somebody else. . . . [He] had said, you know, I don’t know why I am bringing this, but it spoke to me when I was on my way, so here it is, and then it immediately connected with Charles and something that was going on for him or a dream that he had. It was just very powerful . . . to see not only Joseph was picking up on something that he couldn’t have known before he got to the group . . . it was just another kind of learning experience about connection.

A special state of consciousness also emerged during the seminars’ council-dreaming sessions – part of the main theme of this article. In regard to community rituals, they permeated the seminars, setting up a foundation for healing to occur.  The Jaguar Medicine community created healing and offering rituals that addressed each of the elements of nature: earth, air, and fire, water, and a fifth element for harmonization called ushai in the Kichwa tradition. These and many other rituals were performed in nature including ones on death and dying and the seasons. In creating the rituals, the Jaguar Medicine seminars elicited healing, alleviated suffering, and provided participants with the experience of consciousness expansion to a non-ordinary reality.

While remembering remarkable moments during the seminars, Michelle gave her view on how the rituals made her feel connected to a “living tradition”:

There are just so many things that happened: celebrating, going down to the lake or the pond when we all went down there and we did this ceremony and we put flowers in the water and we had singing around the circle and . . . we created rituals that came out of the group so it was like original ritual. Even though it was defined by the group, [it] still felt like it was also connected to some other older tradition. It was like a living tradition. Connecting myself to a living tradition.

Charles sensed an interaction between the spirit world and the beauty of the healing ritual with the water element. He described,

I remember the one so beautifully when we had the ritual by the water. I loved that so much and bringing the beauty of this world, and combining those floats we placed in the water with our intentions so that there was an interaction with the spirit world and that we would be able to quiet our minds enough to allow that interaction to happen. I think that the beauty is a part of the reward that we might experience through perhaps the long haul when we are attentive to being quiet enough that beauty becomes important to us. . . . I know what it looks like to create a ritual of beauty and gifts to the water and ask for the blessings and return from the spirit of the water.

Picture 07

Photo by Vera Lucia Moura, all rights reserved.

As illustrated above, in a community where participants strongly cultivated spirit beliefs, special states of consciousness and community rituals contributed to the participants’ transformative healing processes.

Council-Dreaming and Stories Facilitating Healing and Transformation

Dreams and stories: An overview

Shamanic dreams and their systems have been extensively studied. Krippner and Combs (2007) mentioned the continuity of dreams with the dreamer’s awakened state. Degarrod (2004) has stated that dreams were a means of assisting shamans in both the diagnosis and treatment of their clients. The study also touched on shamans’ ability to enter the dreams of their clients to perform healing. O’Neil (1976) has found that shamanic approaches to working with dreams encompassed both individual and group processes. The literature on shamanic dreamwork is rich and vast, and also includes many cross- cultural studies. Using a 10-faceted model, Krippner and Thompson (1996) investigated 16 Native American dream systems. Among the many relevant results of this investigation, it was found that dreams’ power and information is communicated by stories, and that dreams can be induced among groups through instructions. According to Rock and Krippner (2011), in some cultures, dreamwork does not require a systematic interpretation. The power of dream and stories for personal and community healing is a common Daré practice during the ReVisioning Medicine Council led by Deena Metzger in (Metzger, 2009, 2012) Topanga, California.

A common ritualistic way to open the Jaguar Medicine seminars was greeting the six directions (i.e., east, south, west, north, above, and below) and giving thanks to the helping spirits for their guidance during the gatherings. Then the participants were invited to engage in meditative or other practices such as journeying and drumming to create a state of consciousness that could allow their connection with the spirit world. Afterward, dreams and stories were shared. Often during the process of sharing dreams and stories, some participants experienced emotional release that was supported by hands-on healing performed by the facilitators as purportedly guided by the spirits and assisted by the Jaguar Medicine community.

Dreams were not interpreted during the Jaguar Medicine sessions. They were held in the form of indigenous councils in which dreams and stories were seen as inseparable. Dreams were treated as narratives just like stories, especially when they were viewed as not simply occurring in a mind. They were a shared language. People from different cultures or regions may dream like others from their own culture or region, and people who sit in council dream the dreams of that council. The Jaguar Medicine facilitators called this council-dreaming.

In many indigenous cultures, dreamwork is usually a community event, although it can be individually based. Conversely, in Western society, practitioners more often work with dreams on an individual basis. In the social-dreaming matrix, a technique developed by Gordon Lawrence and others at the Tavistock Institute in the United Kingdom in the 1980s (Slade, 2008), people actively work on dreams that they share together. The difference with council-dreaming is that participants do not consciously look for themes, meanings, or associations. The idea of the council is that everyone contributes something (e.g., dreams, stories, synchronicities, intuitions, and other non-habitual forms of experience) and shares what they experience at that moment. Whatever they bring, it has something to do with the topic at hand (e.g., the characteristics of stillness, trust, walking in mystery, authenticity, and courage). This is because the participants have agreed to come for that unity, and in a non-ordinary state of consciousness that creates an indistinctive selection of significant material from their unconscious, their “inner radar” system “scans the psyche and the body for the most important issues and makes them available to the conscious mind” (Grof & Bennett, 1993, p. 24). This directs their mind, emotions, actions, and events to come up with a language to manifest their relationship to the topic of interest. This will happen even if there is no previous agreement on the topic being explored. Thus the group dreams together the wholeness needed by the community and this may facilitate the participants’ transformative healing process.

Dreamwork as a process, and council-dreaming, a communal sharing and unfolding of dream experiences and stories, were central activities in the Jaguar Medicine seminars. The following segment will illustrate the participants’ perception of the power of council-dreaming and stories on their transformative healing process.

The participant’s perspective

This section illustrates the Jaguar Medicine participants’ experience with the power of stories and dreams.  Based on confidentiality guidelines the real names of the participants were omitted.

Michelle perceived how the dreams and stories of the participants were interrelated during the Jaguar Medicine seminar sessions. Michelle said,

I had never experienced before how people’s stories could intersect with each other to make something totally new, and it was especially powerful for me when I reported a dream that then was very related to what another person was going through that I had no idea of, but my dream seemed to be dealing with that, so that to me was a revelation. It was about, oh, I can dream a dream that contributes to the community, and it was about the power of community when that community is also connected with nature, which was very revealing for me, and I haven’t experienced anything quite so powerful since then.

The synchronicities in the process of sharing dreams and stories led Mary to experience a sequence of unexpected events connected with the first dream she shared in the Jaguar Medicine setting. In the preparation for the first Jaguar Medicine seminar, Mary had a vivid dream that she knew was powerful at that time. Mary explained,

I described the dream, which I hadn’t even thought of when we were asked to tell about [something]. Muz went first. I had come up with something different, because I didn’t think I had had a dream that was connected with the [seminars]. . . . Then when [Muz] started with [Muz’ own] dream, the first thing [Muz] said was “I was in a house, in a room in a house,” and it just clicked right in. . . . So then I told about the dream . . . and the dream turned out to be very connected to the seminar session. When it was time for us to break for lunch . . . , Muz said, “Wait a minute. There is something I want to show you all,” and pulled out from under [Muz’ own] chair this walking stick . . . that was almost identical to the one that was in my dream, and the only difference was it had this rounded shape at the top, and in my dream the spiraling shape was carved into the wood at the top and then below that . . . the walking stick was smooth. But the coloring and the patina on the wood, it was just identical, but on Muz’ [stick], the top was smooth and the spiral shape went up the staff of the stick, of the walking stick, and it was shocking to me when I saw that, because it was almost exactly what I had seen in the dream . . . and then . . . I went to that tree that I was trying to ignore, but because I was trying to ignore [it], I knew that it was pulling me. Finding that same curving spiral, the spiral shape inside the tree, propped up inside the [dead] tree was amazing. It’s like miracles were happening to me. . . . The dream was as powerful as I thought it was.

When asked the meaning of that experience, Mary said, “It meant to me that I am in touch with consciousness, which I have already known because of other experiences I have had, but that I’m definitely in touch with a larger consciousness, a spiritual consciousness”.

Picture 08 Dreaming

Painting by Camile Moura Frazão, all rights reserved.

Michelle also recalled Mary’s dream during own personal interview and its confluence with events during the seminars. Michelle said, “[Mary] had dreamed about snakes that became sticks, and somebody else [Muz] had brought in sticks that looked just like what Mary had dreamed.”

Mary mentioned that in the own dream a little old man came walking toward [self]. Mary said,

I left the empty room in the house and was on a low porch. I was about to step from it onto the ground when I saw either a really big, long snake or several snakes, and then when they leapt onto the porch, I saw that it was three snakes. Then they leapt onto the ground in front of the little old man when he . . . came up to the porch. They leapt off the porch onto the ground before him, and then I knew—he didn’t say anything—I was supposed to bring the sticks back onto the porch. Oh, and when they landed on the ground, then there was additionally a short piece that was raw wood—it was very short, and it was raw, and it was skinny and small—and I was to bring them up onto the porch. . . . At first, I commanded them to come up which didn’t work. Then with great love and compassion and lightness of being and respect, [I] respectfully asked those sticks to come up, and they did, and they landed on a table that was on the porch. At that point, they were one stick; they became one except for the little raw wood one, and that is when it became like that walking stick that the little old man had with the spiral shape on the knob at the top.

Snakes or serpents appear across the world and throughout human history in spiritual accounts symbolizing concepts such as knowledge, birth, death, and rebirth. For Native American, snakes are spiritual messengers between the lower and upper worlds, and they are also associated with the Cosmic Tree much like many cultures around the world. Transformation and cosmic rebirth were represented by snakes in pre-Columbian civilizations. Two snakes entwined formed the symbol of Asclepius, the Greco-Roman god of medicine (Saunders, 1995).  Narby (1998) studied the serpent mythology of ancient cultures around the world and its connection with repeated themes of shamans’ visions of snakes, often paired and intertwined, and the DNA. Based on his observation he stated that the Amazonian shamans believe that the way the spirits of plants and animals interconnect, their origins, traits, and behaviors all have a remarkable similarity to the way natural scientists portray DNA and its functions. This author postulated that under the effect of the plant medicine ayahuasca shamans essentially find a doorway to their own DNA and the DNA of other forms of life. Thus it is through the DNA that information is transmitted (Narby, 1998).

At its essence Narby’s (1998) hypothesis anticipated that DNA, present in every cell of every being on the planet, has transmitting and receiving qualities. This information opened up possibilities for more scientific investigation on the profound level of connectedness in nature, and the role that consciousness plays in the evolutionary configuration of the universe. This dream that Mary brought to the first Jaguar Medicine seminar was a metaphor suggesting that the Jaguar Medicine group was tapping into the larger consciousness of the shamanic world.

Sharing stories and dreams was part of the transformative healing Michelle experienced during the Jaguar Medicine seminars. Michelle said,

And then, of course, another session was very transformative when, in . . . the process of sharing our stories, it must be as a result of both being connected to my body because I was more connected with nature, and also the amount of openness and trust that you and Muz set up in the group, I was able to reveal a part of myself that then led to this really big opening and healing that you and Muz helped with where I just experienced a very deep release from a very, very old place. I wasn’t sure where it came from, but, it was definitely a very powerful release that came about as a result of something—I am not sure what—but it had to do with, with building the stories intersecting and building on that . . . intersecting stories opened up a well of information that was just fathomless, it was of infinite depth. The well of information that came through these intersecting stories was vast, and it is like by intersecting stories, it is almost as if I got connected with something very, very deep and old. . . . It was just very, very rich, and I felt my connection to myself or how I defined myself changing, and I’m still not sure how it changed but I know it did; it got broader because I was connected in so many ways to so many different things, so it was like my boundaries got bigger.

Charles commented on Shifra’s “amazing dreams” and his appreciation for the Jaguar Medicine community’s dream work. Charles specifically said,

I almost never have dreams of the quality that she does, and that is wonderful, and we appreciate the dreams that she has, and we do work around them sometimes, but this group does not say, “Okay, dreams are what we’re about, that’s what we do.” That’s just one of the things that we do.

Shifra also found value in the dreamwork in the Jaguar Medicine seminars. Shifra stated,

That is another thing [we do], is the dreams. . . . I have been dreaming up a storm and my last journal, I would say three-quarters of the journal was just dreams and I am paying attention to them and I am recognizing that they have something to teach me.

Michelle’s reflections on the Jaguar Medicine set of principles indicated that interconnected stories and dreams were one aspect of everything that comes together as part of Jaguar Medicine. Michelle said,

Stories, people’s stories in a community are connected, and it is important to look at the connections and that stories can inform each other. People can dream for other people in a community the smallest thing that you notice can be significant. Nature talks to you. Listening is very important, and it is very important to follow the clues that you pick up from nature and to always kind of keep going back to what is nature saying . . .  always give something back to nature and to the community.

The facilitators’ perspective

In the view of the Jaguar Medicine seminar’s facilitators, one of the reasons that dreams and stories may bring healing is because they were created by the person and the group in response to their inner driving of the experience. When dreams were shared in the Jaguar Medicine sessions, they came from the participants’ bodies, minds, spirits, community, or nature all creating that dream or story to make the participants’ own situations clear to them. When the dream was shared, it was like their inner selves were saying, “This is what needs attention.” So it was only a question of accepting the dream and seeing what the inner self was asking for. Once that happened, the inner self felt recognized and saw that what needed to be dealt with was getting the attention it needed. That “inner radar” means that the body knows at every single moment what it needs for its own harmony and presents it to the world. When the world reflects it back, there is a deep healing that does not come from the dream but from the inner self first being manifested and then recognized. Jaguar Medicine space allowed this healing to happen.

What makes council-dreaming special is something that also happens in social-matrix dreaming. Dreams are not individual but communal and can point to themes and issues that are global. So the group dreams together the wholeness that the community and the globe need. Individual healing is only a small part of it. Whenever a group council-dreams, the healing that occurs affects all members of the group, their relationships outside the group, and the issues in the wider community. Council-dreaming offers a moment to stop, stand still, and do the deep living discussed by Schlitz (2009). It gives people a chance to notice and to perceive. So in a way, council-dreaming as a group experience is a way for the group to be shown what to do just like individual dreams show the individual what to do.


The participants’ experiences of healing and transformation through Jaguar Medicine included the themes of (a) connectedness, (b) dreams and stories, (c) healing and transformation, and (d) new directions in life. Those themes illustrated their many significant and shared experiences during and after the Jaguar Medicine seminar series and the similarities and differences among them. In particular, the council-dreaming sessions, which included sharing stories, laying groundwork for creating rituals, and the performance of hands-on healing by the facilitators, were fundamental to illuminating the participants’ connectedness to their selves, others, nature, community, and the universal consciousness . This transformative healing led to new directions in life that were the end result of the participants’ experiences during and after the Jaguar Medicine seminars.

Picture 05

Photo by Vera Lucia Moura, all rights reserved.

Overall, Jaguar Medicine facilitated a shift in participants’ perspectives of themselves, others, life, and the world they lived in that was elicited by experiences of amazement, beauty, and suffering. It was a gradual transformative process that occurred in both ordinary and altered states of consciousness that surfaced from their immersion in a natural way of life authenticated by council dreaming, rituals, ceremonies, and offerings from which the healing emerged. Participants’ thoughts about the meaning of transformative healing, their transformative healing experiences, and the new directions, roles, and challenges in their lives after the Jaguar Medicine experience

This research project was based on a shamanic healing practice denominated Jaguar Medicine. It illuminated the transformative healing experiences of five North Americans who participated in the described Jaguar Medicine seminar series, and it identified elements in the healing process facilitated by this unique approach. Through Jaguar Medicine, participants were taught ancient spiritual practices and performed in a variety of shamanic healing modalities. Research on a variety of individual- and group-based shamanic healing interventions that have been used to treat illnesses and promote individuals’ physical and psychosocial wellbeing. However, no study has evaluated the efficacy of Jaguar Medicine as a potential transformative healing intervention.

This retrospective, qualitative study, based on semi-structured interviews with participants, presented preliminary data that can be used to design a more rigorous investigation of the effects of Jaguar Medicine and to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of this shamanic healing modality. In conclusion, it is important to mention that the results of this study cannot be generalized beyond the experiences of this particular population: five North American men and women who had participated in the Jaguar Medicine seminar series and a year monthly followup gatherings.


Vera Lucia Moura


Vera Lucia Moura is a Brazilian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with up to two decades of clinical practice in her country prior to immigrating to the United States. In the United States she worked at the University of Michigan Michigan, including Michigan Integrative Medicine, for 10 years. Afterward, she joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Program on Integrative Medicine, as a research instructor, and more recently, as an adjunct instructor. She is certified by the Center for Mind-Body Medicine and has completed a Master of Science degree in Mind-Body Medicine at Saybrook University in California. She also completed Michael Harner’s three years program on advanced shamanism, was an apprentice of Kichwa elders from the Andes area of Ecuador for up to 10 years, and continues her shamanic apprenticeship with Sandra Ingerman. In the last 15 years she has facilitated Mind-Body Skills Groups and conducted research on Mind-Body Medicine and Ancient Ways of Healing. In her private practice the focus of her work is on Mind-Body Medicine, Shamanic Healing, and Integrative Wellness Coaching.



Don in sunDonald Moss, Ph.D., is Dean of the College of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences, at Saybrook University. Dr. Moss is president-elect of the Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (SCEH), and has been president of Division 30 (hypnosis) of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB). He is a fellow of both APA and SCEH, and is a current delegate to APA’s Council of Representatives and the International Society for Hypnosis.

He is co-author of Pathways to Illness, Pathways to Health (Springer, 2013), chief editor of Handbook of Mind-Body Medicine for Primary Care (Sage, 2003) and Humanistic and Transpersonal Psychology (Greenwood, 1998). He currently has a new book under contract for Springer with co-author Angele McGrady on Integrative Pathways: Navigating Chronic Illness with a Mind-Body-Spirit Approach. He has published over 70 articles and book chapters on psychophysiology, spirituality, health, and integrative medicine.




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