It was the dead of winter in Wisconsin, as I scrambled out the door to my first ever reading.
I was a graduate student at the time, and the only two people who knew I was having a reading at all were my husband and my twin sister, Amanda. I hid it from my friends and peers. They didn’t know that I'd been visiting this very metaphysical bookstore in the campus college town where I lived nearly twice a week to peruse crystals, oracle cards, sage sticks, and books.
But this time, I was going for a Real. Live. Reading. My first. In my entire life.
When I showed up, Mari was waiting for me in the back room reading area. It was a tarot reading. She asked me to choose a deck, and we began.
The very last card in the spread was the High Priestess card.
Mari revealed that I was just like her, that I was just like my sister Amanda (a medium), that I had a powerful intuitive gift, and that I needed to figure out what it was, and soon. She said that life was going to change for me very quickly and that my entire worldview was going to flip. She called it a perceptual shift. She gave no more information.
Then, the time was up and it was over.
The store was closing, but Mari could sense my concern. Before I left, she reassured me that there was an awakening underway and that pretty soon, I wouldn’t be weird at all because everyday, more and more people would awaken to their gifts. I now know this to be true.
I fumbled through my purse to pay Mari, and I was ushered out the door. I stood outside on this frigid winter night, on the busy downtown street, processing what had just happened.
I walked in a graduate student and mother with a regular life, and I walked out with:
- A warning that my life was about to completely change
- And a directive to identify in what way I was psychic because psychic was about to be my life
The safety net of my life, had just ripped out beneath me.
How does one go about pinning down the exact nature of a psychic gift? I had no idea.
I also had little support. If you remember, only my twin sister and my husband knew what I was doing. I went home, I talked to my husband, I called my sister, and together, we began to work out a plan to figure it out.
Amanda suggested that I start exploring modalities, visiting whichever practitioners I felt called to. She also postulated that if change was coming, that it might be a good idea to get a chakra balancing so that my energetic system was ready for the change.
With no direction of my own, and having discovered an energy healing center within walking distance to my apartment, I agreed that chakra work seemed like the logical next step.
Over the course of the next several months, I met with an energy healer, Tina. At the time, completely unaware (at least on the physical level) that this would later become part of my gift.
It wasn’t until winter turned to spring, that I found out exactly what my shade of psychic would be.
Around this time, Amanda had made it to the practice stages of her Clairvoyance class, and I eagerly volunteered to be one of her first out of class medium readings. Our father died tragically many years prior and I was dying to hear from him. I begged him to come to the reading.
Not surprisingly, he was the first person to show up with a very emotional message. But then, when he was done, a mysterious man stepped forward. Neither of us recognized him.
He identified himself as a great-grandfather on our grandmother’s side and he came with a very important message.
It was to tell me that I had the gift of Shamanism, and that it ran in the family.
And then he was gone.
We still had no idea who this man was, and what to make of his mysterious message that I was to be a Shaman. I didn’t even know what shamanism was beyond vague images of men mysteriously healing people in jungle areas of South America.
Me? A shaman? Nope. Not me. I’m a young lady graduate student living in the Midwest. DEFINITELY not shaman material. I brushed it off and moved on with life.
Until one week later, when Amanda got an email from a relative out of nowhere. He noticed she liked a shamanism page on facebook, and wondered if she was aware that her great-great grandfather was a shaman.
Amanda panicked - and called me in a panic. The man she saw in the reading WAS real AND we not only knew him, we were related to him. Amanda then did some sleuthing through family pictures, and found an exact matching picture of the great-great grandfather shaman she had seen step forward in the reading.
Our great-great grandfather, the shaman, was indeed same man that came to reading to deliver news that I was a shaman. He was real. What he said was real.
At that point, we knew there was no way either of us was making up any of the ghost stuff. There was no denying it. It had been validated by two external sources - a long lost family member and an old family photo.
But secretly, I didn’t want anything to do with it.
I tried to be happy for Amanda, having just gotten such an amazing validation that what she was doing was real - but I was bummed. I wanted to talk to dead people just like her. I wanted to be a medium.
I thought energy healing was lame.
Not only that, but my only knowledge of shamans was laced with stereotype. A young white lady from Wisconsin with no south american or native american ancestry. Stereotypes that I didn’t fit.
There was no way I could be a shaman, I thought.
I couldn’t imagine myself in that role.
I pushed it away, wishing my gifts were something else. Wishing away the idea that I would have to become the stereotype that existed in my mind.
I felt the crushing weight of the transition Mari warned about, it was already underway. I knew that I had to leave graduate school at this point, and I was horrified at the idea of having to tell my science minded peers and superiors in academia that I was leaving to become a shaman.
“What would people think?” became my mantra.
Slowly, inch-worm slow, I started to accept it within myself.
It started with energy healing. I came around and started to accept energy healing, because it was mainstream and widely accepted by society. So I called myself a practicing energy healer, while still wishing I could be a medium instead.
At the time, I didn’t know that shamans actually practice a type of mediumship called healing mediumship, and communicate with those in Spirit as a regular part their practice, just like a regular medium.
All I knew is that I wasn’t a jungle elder and I didn’t live in the rainforest with access to miraculously healing plants.
Part of me also believed that energy and shamanic healing couldn’t actually do anything worthwhile or exact any real change.
But even so, I pressed on, continuing to practice working with energy and connecting with Spirit. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it was because Amanda kept pushing me, or maybe it was because I needed to figure it out once and for all.
That summer, 6 months after I learned that my science and numbers physical world life would change forever, I crossed over my first Spirit, a woman who had been coming to my basement for 3 days specifically to talk to me. Terrified, I worked up the courage and helped her soul come to peace.
She was a turning point.
I began to learn more about what Shamanism really was, the practice of connecting with Spirit and with Energy to heal others.
It had nothing to do with nationality, cultural background, or gender.
Shamans exist in all cultures, everywhere.
Shamanism, and the practice of it, exists in all recorded cultures in history.
It is not gender specific. Not location specific. Not cultural heritage specific.
My ancestral lineage is Eastern European, stemming from the area that is now Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Romania, an area in which there is no shortage of healers and spiritual communicators.
The word shaman, actually, is russian in origin.
Ok . . . I thought, this could work.
Slowly, it dawned on me that shamanism didn’t have to be the mysterious practice of healers in the rainforest that I had once believed.
I understood it. And I realized that I could use my scientific background to help explain it to others.
Then, as I began to see myself actually using my gifts to help people, I realized it wasn’t worthless.
I realized I wasn’t worthless.
I realized that I could help people, that I already was helping people.
But it took time. It took almost a year from when I first found out what I could do, for me to reach a point where I accepted and believed in me and my gift of healing + spirit = shamanism.
This fair skinned, blue eyed, white girl living in Wisconsin was a Shaman, because I was doing it.
Shamanism might not be what you think.
It’s not what I thought.
It comes from all lineages. It exists in all cultures, and in all societies. It knows no limit.
Because the core elements (energy, healing, spirits) of its practice knows no lineage, no culture, no socioeconomic status, no race, no sex.
These elements are what shamanism works to heal.
Shamanic healing can happen in the rainforests of Peru, it can happen on Ho-Chunk Nation tribal lands, it can happen inside a Spiritualist church, it can happen in the villages of Romania, and it can happen inside your midwest living room.
Now, I know that shamanism has the power to change entirely the way we think about illness, the way we think about our world and our interactions within it, but only if we let it.
Only if we allow ourselves to move past the stereotypes and mystery and into acceptance.
If I did it on a data and numbers background as a graduate student from the midwest, you can too.
I am Sarah Petruno and I am a Shaman.
I am an Eastern European, white female, that uses no drums and knows no chanting in my practice, though some do. But none of that matters.
All that matters is an ability and a passion for healing - the rest is a part of our unique story.
And that will always fit no stereotype or frame.
LAST UPDATED: February 15, 2015