The Call to Service


Dedicated to Alicia Luengas Gates 1936 – 2020

I wonder if they felt a mantle being passed to them when they first heard the call to service? Did the Earth move beneath their feet?

Alicia Luengas Gates chose service at a young age, but it did not turn out the way she planned. Born and raised in Mexico, as a Franciscan nun she ministered to the indigenous Yaqui peoples. Welcoming in animal spirits as guides and teachers is probably not something the Catholic church prepared her for. As the Yaqui danced, enacting their ceremonies, her helping spirits came to her, sometimes merging with her, dancing with her, filling her with their power. That was when her true calling, the life of service she was destined for, began to unfold for her.

I don’t know if Alicia struggled with these new revelations. I think most of us would if we had be raised to be Catholic, only to have our lives transformed by the spirits. The life the spirits call us to can disrupt everything we ever knew, every part of ourselves we thought we could rely on. But for those who are deeply touched, there is never a thought of turning back.

It is clear, by how she lived her life, that she said yes to the spirits with her full, whole heart.

Though I had seen Alicia briefly at various Foundation for Shamanic Studies (FSS) workshops and gatherings, I had never really spent time with her in circle until I attended my FSS Three Year Training Program back in 2002. Michael Harner was still recovering from his stroke and so he and Alicia co-taught our program for the full three years. It was such an amazing treasure to have these two old friends together, guiding us through this seminal work.

Alicia and Michael had a special bond, having known each other since the ’70s. Anyone who has spent significant time with Michael knows hysterical laughter was his constant companion. The warmth and depth of their friendship only enhanced the familial feeling of our circle. It was where I met and courted my late wife Terry, so it was especially heart felt to me.

Alicia always taught us with a strong hand and a passionate heart. When she got up to drum and dance she expected us not to hold back. “COME ON!” She would bang her drum with an electric strength, encourage us all to step fully into our power, the power the spirits had gifted us. She was not there to coddle us, she was there to help us ignite our own souls. Nothing but full commitment would do.

She was, obviously, made in no small part of fire.

Yet she was extraordinarily kind and attentive. When speaking one on one with Alicia she was always so sweet to me and my family, never forgetting a detail or an awareness of a challenge we might be facing. It was not hard to see why she, Michael, and Sandra Harner were as thick as thieves.

I got to see yet another side of Alicia when I sat in circle with her as a teacher in training for the FSS. Her husband had recently passed and she was navigating a new chapter in her life. She would eventually develop the FSS curriculum in Latin America along with Gerardo Roemer, helping to foster the spread of shamanism throughout the Western world. She was truly a teacher of teachers. Devoted in all of her choices to the work of the spirits she mentored in the way a true teacher does, through her example, through her passion, through her devotion to the work.

I heard of her passing in the way so many of us hear about the loss of friends and teachers not so close to us now – through the internet. When I spoke with my close friend Lora Jansson, who attended the same three year with me, our responses were odd and I think very similar. Neither of us were shocked, neither of us were especially mournful.

Of course. It was her time, her work will continued. She has just transitioned to being even closer to the spirits.

I don’t know what her passing was like, but I”m betting it was the kind of passing I would want. I imagine her focusing all of her power, stepping into the other world to touch her beloved husband again, to laugh with Michael again, to continue her dance with the spirits.

Another great healer, teacher and leader has left us. That means there is another open space on the dance floor. Are you ready now?

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.

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