In the following passage from his new autobiography, Becoming Who You Are, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) relates to David Kopacz, M.D., some of his extraordinary shamanic experiences.– The Editors
Some people call me a shaman or a medicine man. I just say, “I don’t know about that—I just work here.” You see, when I was growing up having visions and going into non-ordinary reality were pretty commonplace. I was taught that there are two realities—ordinary reality, which is pretty much what you see around you in material reality, and non-ordinary reality, which is where you can see visions. I’ve talked with God, I’ve gone to Hell with the shaman Jesus, I’ve been to the moon, I was transported from the Southwest all the way to Florida and then back quicker than snapping your fingers. You see, this has all been normal to me all my life, but people think I’m making this up or that it is make-believe. But to me, and the way I was raised, non-ordinary reality is spiritual reality, it is where we do spiritual work and then we bring that back into ordinary reality. That is what a shaman does—goes back and forth between ordinary and non-ordinary reality. We can all do that, really, but shamans do it all the time, so that healing energy, medicine, can be brought into ordinary reality.
One time in the winter, my Grandfather had some of us boys in the kiva. A kiva is a place you go for ceremonies. My Grandfather said to us boys, you watch this wall very carefully, otherwise I might get stuck on the other side and never come back. Then he walked through the wall and we could see him walking through a summer field. Then he came back, and he was carrying summer flowers that they needed for a ceremony.
Picuris Pueblo had several kivas that the people had built over the years. A kiva is a worshipping place, like a church, the ancient chambers where Pueblo People used to have their ceremonies during the whole year. A kiva is round and made of adobe bricks with a ladder up to the top and then you climb down through the roof into the darkness. You can go to visit the Painted Kiva at Kuaua Pueblo, what they call the Coronado Historic Site, near Bernalillo, New Mexico. They give tours there and you can climb up the ladder to the top and then down the ladder into the chamber. They also have art from the walls of the kiva, that is why they call it the Painted Kiva.
At Picuris, they would do a ceremony on the floor of the kiva. People would go in. They belonged to different clans—I belong to the water clan, for instance, or someone might be from the basket clan—and they would go in and do ceremonies. To enter a kiva, you always climb a ladder and go through the top. Some are above ground, so you climb a ladder to go up and then on top, there is an entrance, and you climb a ladder to go down into the chamber. Some are below ground and so you climb a ladder to go down. The ones above ground have no way to get in through the sides, so you have to go up a ladder, and then down a ladder. There is a fire in the chamber and a vent for the smoke to escape. You use sage for the fire. A man would get up at three a.m. and then burn sage in the fireplace, up against the wall where the ladder came down, and the smoke would go up the opening where the people entered. There would be another small hole somewhere for a vent, to create air flow. They’d start the fire in the morning and smoke up the chamber, then the smoke would clear for later—you wanted to smell like sage. Sage is a holy plant that we use for spiritual stuff. Sage means, “the wise one.” When I was going to Peñasco high school, they didn’t understand why the sage smell was coming from my clothes. When I was an 11th grader I smelled like smoke and I learned not to wear those clothes to school.
The kiva was a place where you could have mystical visions, like when my Grandfather went through the wall. I had visions from an early age, and I learned more about visionary reality, or what I call non-ordinary reality, from my Grandfather.
We are writing a book on non-ordinary reality and I was socialized in my childhood to see that. People would refer to me as a seer, because I can see things that not everyone else sees. Non-ordinary reality is right here, right now. You don’t have to go anywhere to see it. But many people are too busy to slow down and pay attention to see what is right before their eyes.
My name is Beautiful Painted Arrow and this name also means “double rainbow.” As a kid I learned about mysticism, from my own experiences and also from the Holy People at Picuris. These Holy People had the kind of medicine that you want to achieve, where you can appear in two places at the same time. Before the law of non-ordinary reality was broken and the medicine wheel was injured, we had the ability to be in two places at the same time, but we lost that gift. We got hung up with materialism, wanting a fast car or a hamburger, and we got caught up in the self-imposed limitations to ordinary reality. Some of the saints in Europe would go on long pilgrimages and they could do this kind of medicine too; it’s not just Indians who know about mysticism, you can learn it too if you want.
I only stayed in Picuris until I was seventeen years old, then I left Picuris because they said I was a Ute. When I got to the Ute reservation, they said I wasn’t really Ute either, so eventually I left and I went back to New Mexico. Eventually I ended up in my trailer house in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where I built the first Sound Chamber. The Elders came to me in a vision and showed me that I was supposed to build a Sound Peace Chamber. They gave me a vision of a circular chamber, half above ground and half below ground with men and women chanting for world peace. The Elders appeared to me in that vision and they told me they wanted me to build what I saw in the vision.
I searched for a year for the perfect place to build the chamber. I went up in the mountains and I looked here and I looked there, but nowhere seemed just right. Then after a year, the Elders, the Grandfathers, came back and they were mad. They wanted to know why I hadn’t built the chamber I had seen in my vision. I said, “I don’t know the right place to build it.” They didn’t say anything, but a beam of light flashed down in an instant and landed right behind my trailer house. They wanted me to build it in my backyard. That’s what happened to Noah, too—God wanted him to build an ark and everyone thought he was crazy. You see, when you get a vision, you need to do what it says, otherwise you will get depressed carrying around the weight of something in you that is supposed to be out in the world. Well, I built that Sound Chamber right there in my backyard.
Once, when I was in Hawaii, I was in a holy place. There were mounds of rocks. There was a little stone begging me to bring it back with me. I flew from there to Albuquerque and put it in the chamber. All of a sudden, clouds built up. There was a rainbow right over the chamber. I saw it came from Hawaii, and then came and came and came into the center of the chamber, then it returned to its home in Hawaii.
Sip-a-pu. A true human is a listener.
Gradually, people around the world wanted to build chambers, so I traveled around the world, talking with people about how to build them here and here. Now there are Sound Chambers in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Croatia, South Africa, Brazil, Bolivia, Australia, and, of course, all over the United States and in Canada. Over sixty Sound Peace Chambers have been built around the world and that is why the United Nations sent me a letter and thanked me for my work on world peace. Just because I got the letter, though, doesn’t mean the work is over. Really the work is always just beginning. We’ve been working a long time on world peace and, well, it hasn’t really worked yet has it?
After the Elders showed me I was supposed to build the chamber right in my backyard, I got to work on it right away. I had a sweat lodge next to the house, facing the garden. An angel came down and showed me where to build the chamber and also gave me a spirit child. The angel put the child in the ground, in a hole in the middle of the chamber. From then on, the chamber and the boy were my responsibility. I had to look over them and caretake both of them. They both grew over time—like I told you, chambers are growing all over the planet Earth. The little child that the angel put in the ground grew up to be a boy. He left when he became fourteen years old. The next time he appeared he was twenty-five years old, when I was on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation. He spoke to me and asked me what he should do. I answered, “Go and visit the Indigenous of the many nations on Mother Earth to prepare them, for the time is near when world peace will come as a being first made of breath, then matter, and lastly movement.”
People used to call that first chamber the Crystal Chamber. That’s because I put all kinds of rocks and crystals in the walls. Eventually, I moved away from there and back up to the Southern Ute Reservation. The people who moved in tore down the chamber—but that doesn’t matter, because before they did, I saw it shoot up into the sky, ten miles into the sky, and it is up there above the Earth, sending out the message, “world peace, world peace, world peace.” It is up there still, blessing the planet, because you know the Earth is turning all the time, so it is creating a sacred path in the sky and in the galaxy.
We are already born shamans, we just forget that we are as we grow older. Being a shaman is being a healer, but it isn’t you who heals, it is Wah-Mah-Chi, Breath, Matter, Movement. The job of a shaman is to learn how to be a “hollow bone.” You are just a hollow bone that Breath, Matter, Movement flows through. Also, being a shaman is about being in two places at once—in ordinary reality and non-ordinary reality.
You see, I’m a visionary. One day I was just finishing up on the toilet in the other room, I was just buckling my belt and all of a sudden, the wall next to me was gone and I felt a wind as two boys went running past; they were two boys who accidentally died from weed control poison. Before they had been poisoned, one of the boy’s Father had asked me if I could do anything for the boy. I said I could pray and asked God if he could give me some way to bless them. They ran past me and then the wall in front of me disappeared, too. They ran and turned right and there was a fence there and they ran along the fence and then crossed over through the gate. The Father, who had died by that time, was there and he said, “I knew you could do it, Joseph!” Then he bumped elbows with me across the fence. You can’t touch the dead, so you do it like that, just touching elbows.
You see, you might think I was crazy if I told you that the Gates of Paradise were right here where this wall you see now is. The truth is that the Gates of Paradise are everywhere. Heaven could be right here [he gestures to the floor], we could be standing on it right now [Joseph and I have a good laugh at this.] ◆
Reprinted by permission from Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow) and David R. Kopacz, M.D.,’s Becoming Who You Are: Beautiful Painted Arrow’s Life & Lessons for Children ages 10-100 (Condor & Eagle Press, Itascabooks.com.)
This passage appears in our Summer 2022 issue, “Ancestors”, which is available to purchase on our online store.