I was excited to read this book expecting Sacred Messengers of Shamanic Africa to have some relation to African Traditional Religions, but it does not. The authors are two shamanic practitioners from the US who traveled to Zimbabwe and South Africa several times and took part in tours of wildlife refuges, national parks, and ancient ruins. They met with African spiritual people who make a living through connection to the tourist trade. Like many people who reconnect to the world's wild spaces, they were deeply moved by this experience and wished to relay the importance of taking care of nature and her wild creatures. The heart of the book rests in the shamanic relationship of humans with animals.

Carley Mattimore wrote most of the book and there are smaller essays by Linda Star Wolf scattered throughout. Mattimore is a licensed psychotherapist and reiki healer with a focus on breaking free of trauma. Immersed in a New Age nuanced shamanic practice, she writes about trauma that is in our DNA on our cellular level and opens the book with her own personal story of grief and healing and being led to this path. Linda Star Wolf is the originator of the shamanic breathwork trademarked workshops. She studied with Grandmother Twylah Hurd Nitsch, the Seneca elder who decided to share and teach Seneca beliefs with all people which was controversial. Star Wolf presents several sections called shamanic journeys that are really more of a guided meditation. Both the authors are connected to Venus Rising.

The African teachers that are mentioned are Credo Mutwa, Maria Khosa, and Mondhoro andaza Kandemwa. Maria Khosa has passed away but is presented as a spirit guide. In her life, she had an incredible ability to walk among the lions without getting hurt. Baba Mandaza translated for them during a visit to a medicine woman and for healing rituals and acted as a guide to various parks and archaeological sites. More context would help the reader understand why these rituals were done and whether they are common or very specific to the visitor. Although Credo Mutwa is cited a number of times, I don't see that the authors ever met him.

After several visits to southern Africa, Mattimore and Star Wolf decided to lead their own tours. They describe doing divinations with an animal divination card deck with the other tour goers. When the authors do have an African divination done by a local sangoma (a spiritual healer), they need to have an interpreter. There is a level of naivety, the excitement of being somewhere different that never really scratches the surface. They did not spend enough time in South Africa or Zimbabwe to learn the languages of their hosts. For this reviewer, it is the difference between a travel journal of a foreigner and the local history by a native scholar.

The authors believe that the 31st meridian that runs from South Africa north to England is a line of mystical significance, like the spine of the Earth. The site known as Adam's calendar, a stone circle near Mpumalanga, South Africa on this meridian has special significance to them. Not much scholarly evidence is available regarding this site. The authors have their own ideas about its purpose and indicate that the readings of psychics has influenced their views on it.

Mattimore and Star Wolf are highly influenced by the work of Linda Tucker, who has written her own book about the white lions and aims to preserve them. A series of mystical occurrences propel their narrative. They believe in signs of an upcoming new era of planetary consciousness in which people will tend to the earth. The white lions' return symbolically foreshadows a prophesied time of great evolutionary change on earth. The prophesy is vaguely attributed to “indigenous tribes in southern Africa, particularly in the Timbavati region.”

Shamanic experiences are very dream-like and even those familiar with journeying may find that the the connections others make on their journeys can sound far-fetched. I believe the authors are sincere and feel a connection to these places and lions and other animals. I'm just not convinced that their experiences can be described as anything other than Western shamanic practitioners' impressions of Africa. Moreover, for a book about spirituality in the southernmost parts of Africa, the number of foreign references, from Carlos Castaneda to Carl Sagan to tales of Egyptian gods and Indian Kali, is unsettling. It feels like a smorgasbord of influences that were cherry picked to support the author's narrative.

What I didn't get out of this book was deep insight into the specific beliefs, cosmology or myths specific to any of the various cultures of either South Africa or Zimbabwe. Either the authors do not understand this well enough to write about it or they believe that their viewpoint on southern Africa as foreign visitors who practice modern shamanism is more important to their audience. Either way, it did not meet my expectations.

~review by Larissa Carlson

Authors: Carley Mattimore MS LCPC and Linda Star Wolf Ph.D.
Bear & Company
336 pages, $20.00