A new José Stevens Article

An Encounter with the Brujo Dolphins

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The cool reddish brown water swirled all around me as I looked up at a peerless blue sky, white billowy storm clouds rising in the heat of the Amazon basin all around.

A spectacular double rainbow arched across the sky brilliant in its palette of colors and I wondered if anything could quite match this outrageous display. I looked around for the boat carrying the rest of our party and found it behind me, stark against the reddening sky in the West. It was getting late but this was just too good to pass up, a swim with a pod of the famous pink river dolphins arcing out of the water all around us. Suddenly I felt a hard bump on my thigh, obviously not one of the little fish skimming over my body and feeding on dead skin, but a more substantial creature. I heard my daughter Anna swimming nearby give a little cry as she too got a hard bump from, what else, but the river dolphins. There were several other people in the water as well but later no one else but my wife Lena, Anna, and I reported the bumps. It seemed to be a family affair.

Minutes later I was crawling on board the boat, a difficult task since there was no ladder and it required hauling oneself aboard by sheer strength. The boat rocked from the turbulence created at the confluence of the Ucayali and Marinon rivers. Here, these vast rivers of the upper Amazon in Peru come together to form the Amazon river, the biggest river in the world. As the boat headed back upstream along the Ucayali with its underpowered little motor, I glanced at the sky and realized we were probably not going to make it back to our camp before dark. To my knowledge none of us had brought flashlights or headlamps. Sunset in the Amazon is a rapid affair because the sun goes straight down and darkness falls fast. Ahead of us dark storm clouds revealed a curtain of rain rapidly approaching down the river. In moments we were inundated and the boat was forced to pull off to the bank and wait the deluge out, a typical occurrence here in the jungle but one that lost us precious daylight. The rainy season was usually over by now but it was lingering and everything on land was extremely muddy. Darkness did fall on us before we reached the shore and yet someone in our party had brought a headlamp, a stroke of good fortune because it guided us to shore.

With only a wee bit of light we slid and stumbled back to our camp in our rain boots as clouds of mosquitoes found and feasted on us. By this time my lower back was killing me and I realized I had pulled something getting back in the boat. I was in an amazing amount of pain. In one hour as planned, we would be begin an intense ceremony with plant medicines, the third of four ceremonies in five nights. We had arrived in this remote area with our two-year shamanic study group to work with our Shipibo ceremonialists, Enrique, Herlinda, and Davide, using their special plant medicines. There were twenty-two of us inside a big beautiful malocca, a round ceremonial hut designed for such use. I rigged up a hammock because my back hurt a lot and I knew I could not sit on the floor all night. We took the medicine and shortly I began to realize what had happened in the River that afternoon. We had had an encounter with Brujos (sorcerers), the pink river dolphins of lore.

Now you are probably wondering how a cute pink river dolphin could possibly be a sorcerer and that is exactly what I thought as well, something that led me to be very careless in my actions. In the Amazon, the pink river dolphins that tourists love to see, are both revered and feared by the indigenous people who live along the river and fish its waters. There are many stories about how young women have to be careful because the male dolphins occasionally come ashore and have their way with the women. The older shamans all say that in the old days their ancestors learned a great deal from these pink dolphins. The ancient shamans used to go underwater to visit the dolphins and learn from their vast store of knowledge and power. Sometimes the human shamans would be gone for many days in the watery kingdom, learning to breathe underwater and navigate its vast reaches.

Paintings and artistic renderings of the Amazon region show pink dolphins with the bodies of men and the heads of dolphins conducting ceremonies and offering healings. I always thought this subject was mythology, the superstition of the jungle. Little did I realize what they were referring to until that day on the river and that night in ceremony.

When we had arrived at the confluence of the rivers to see the pink dolphins we spotted a whole pod swimming all around us. I distinctly heard the call in my mind to take my clothes off and jump in the water with them, which I immediately did and have done on various occasions on past trips to the jungle. On this day however only a few in our party followed my lead. I also failed to register that Enrique, Herlinda, and Davide did not enter the water but stayed in the boat. They seemed to have a concerned look rather than being lighthearted. All this I failed to register because I was having too much fun and was distracted by the sights and sounds of the river, the rainbows, the clouds, and the dolphins.

So that evening as the medicine started taking affect, I began to feel the presence of the pink dolphins within me and it was quite overwhelming. I felt their power and the depth of their world and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were sorcerers and that I had strayed into their world and thus entered into their influence and this perception actually terrified me. I did not feel their cuteness nor their friendliness, but instead I felt their raw power as if I had just met Carlos Castenda’s teacher, Don Juan Matus, and failed one of his tests.

So during the ceremony that night I crawled over to where Enrique was sitting and began to speak to him about my experience. In the dark I could feel him both laughing at me and at the same time expressing concern for my difficulty. He told me that I had endangered myself by jumping into the water because the pink dolphins were very powerful and masters of their underwater world. He said that he could see that I had not asked permission to enter the water. I explained to him that I had felt their call and responded to it by entering the water. He laughed and said the dolphins were known as tricksters and they just wanted to test me to see if I would then ask permission after being called. Since I didn’t, they came up and struck me a blow in the water as they did Anna and Lena. That blow was a jolt of energy that would go in the direction I put it. Another test! If I had been more prepared I could have used that jolt for greater power. Instead I allowed it to create pain in my body which I then blamed on them. This was foolish and is a good representation of what we all do when we do not take responsibility for our actions.

So as the power of the evening ceremony unfolded, and I began to see how the dolphins taught, I was outraged. I felt that I had been tricked by them and then harmed because I made an innocent mistake. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that the dolphins had done nothing harmful to me. They merely tested me and then gave me the opportunity to hang myself or not. I saw that if I had any false personality, arrogance, martyrdom, or impatience etc. they would activate it and throw it up in my face. In this way I learned the hard way but the learning is rapid. I realized the dolphins could be very powerful teachers but that I was not free to work with them because I was working with other teachers, that is Enrique and Herlinda. Enrique helped me that evening by singing a long song to the dolphins asking their forgiveness for my foolishness and entering their domain without asking for permission. He then removed all their influence over me which gave me very mixed feelings. I felt like I had failed a test but at the same time I felt that I had learned something very valuable. I flirted with power and managed to survive it yet according to Enrique the dolphins influence was incompatible with the songs and patterns that the Shipibos had been putting in my body all week. He said the dolphins used water songs and the Shipibos used plant songs and I could not work with them both at the same time. That both relieved me and made me feel a little sad.

Later Herlinda told me that she avoids the dolphins because they are very powerful but their teaching style is that of the trickster and she said it made her feel very uncomfortable. I have to admit that I feel similarly. The trickster style leads to fast learning but you have to have a pretty thick skin to tolerate it. I respond better to a respectful loving style. Anna and Lena had their own powerful experiences with the dolphins but that is their story to tell and this is mine. Lena did say that the dolphins showed her their mastery over the water systems of the world. They told her that all water is connected everywhere and because they live so intimately in their watery environment, they know exactly what is going on in all parts of the world. They revealed to her some of their profound and vast domain and showed her a little of what they know. She was duly impressed but not inclined to follow their Brujo style teaching methods.

As an added note in talking with Enrique later, he told me that the Shipibo see rainbows as extremely powerful, even dangerous at times, and they are quite careful when rainbows are in the sky. The fact that we had a double rainbow while we were in the water with the dolphins was potentially more power and energy than we could deal with. I was distracted by beauty and my own silly notions of romantically swimming with the dolphins and failed to sense the power I was fooling with. Another shamanic lesson learned and survived.

Since this recent experience I no longer look at dolphins as cute entertainers. I see raw power and have great respect for what they know. Recently I was in a swimming pool and a little girl had a big plastic dolphin with her and it did not look cute to me either. That being said all dolphins are not sorcerers and many of them may employ another teaching style. It is the pink Amazon dolphins that are brujos just like there are certain locales where humans are brujos as well.

Regarding the rainbows, although I can still appreciate their great beauty, I now have much more respect for the power they represent and am much more conscious of my thoughts while a rainbow is visible in the sky.

At a recent retreat on our land in New Mexico I was amazed at how many times dolphins came up as messengers during a power animal exercise with our large group. I realized that they are hanging around and making themselves available as information sources. They are powerful and good allies but one must be careful in interacting with them. An ally is like a power tool. It can be a wonderful and supportive tool but it can also hurt you if you don’t handle it with care and respect. In the world of shamanism, respect is everything, cuteness is irrelevant and even a distraction.

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José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and How To Pray The Shaman's Way.