Whether I am called a Doctor, Shaman, White Witch, Herbalist, or Phytochemist, I have been involved with herbal medicine and natural healing modalities for about 15 years now. Many people who meet me want to know how I came to be who I am and to do what I do. I am not totally sure myself how I evolved from an aggressive conventional business woman and entrepreneur to the “White Witch of the Amazon” but I do know somehow that it was a journey that I was supposed to undertake.
Shamanism is a religion in the broadest sense. It’s practice is shared by all indigenous peoples with an underlying cosmography that cuts across through local customs, labeling systems and manifestations peculiar to regional biota. Even today, when long in retreat from the relentless onslaught of western rationalism and insensate technology, shamanism survives in native cultures on all of the planet’s inhabited continents.
The divergence of western religions from shamanism lies in the concepts of humans as the exclusive possessors of spiritual souls and in humankind as the lone interpreter of ordinary and extraordinary realities. Shamanic peoples are neither so audacious nor, perhaps so foolish. In shamanism, all of existence is viewed as highly integrated and connected. When a tree falls in the forest, a star falls from the sky. Maybe more importantly, literally everything that exists has a soul – without division into organic and inorganic. There is no hierarchical structuring of consciousness with humans resting comfortably at the top and rocks and trees at the bottom. They recognize and respect all forms of life as soulful living beings – even a rock and even a tree. Maybe if we learned this one lesson, conservation of our forests, wildlife, and natural resources would become the standard and the rule and not so difficult after all.
The role of the shaman rises out of a recognition, seemingly long lost to modern humankind, of humanity as disruption. In making its way, humankind is killing for food, clothing and shelter, thereby bringing disorder where there was none. To the shaman falls the task of righting the wrongs, appeasing the offended, of repairing the harm his/her people bring upon themselves through both unavoidable as well as intemperate and disrespectful action. In considering the shaman as healer, as restorer of balance, it is not farfetched to think of him/her as an environmentalist or even as an ecologist of the group psyche.
The impetus into natural healing for me came when I got cancer in my mid-twenties. I survived acute myceoblastic leukemia through alternative and herbal medicine when the conventional doctors said it wasn’t possible. I have studied and practiced alternative medicine since that time yet, for a long time it was a hobby or second to the conventional businesses I owned. Then in 1989, I sold my companies, bought a large ranch outside of Austin, Texas and took a vacation to Africa. Those events re-connected me to the land, nature, wildlife, and inner spirit that I was just too busy to notice or was ignoring or avoiding before. I planted large organic vegetable and medicinal herb gardens, worked the soil, and raised a large menagerie of eclectic animals and teenaged boys. I only had one teenaged son myself, but most times provided a meal, bed or understanding ear for at least 6 teenagers just about all the time. In a short time, I became notorious in this conventional rural community as the “weird woman” with the weird animals that didn’t act like animals and the weird gardens that grew weird things, where all the kids hung out. But the locals, spooked though they were, still came with their kids and animals to get the “weird herbal cures” that I freely shared with any who asked or needed it.
I then started a small company there on the ranch which researched and disseminated information to cancer patients about alternative treatments being used outside the US. The internet at that point was mostly government and university computer main frames tied together, and I ended up laying over 8 miles of telephone cable just to get online (and off the rural party lines) to do this international research and share it with cancer patients who had not a clue what “internet” even meant. Many times, my company would help patients access treatments and medicines not available here and everything was done for whatever the actual costs were.
This research led me to a herbal treatment being used in Europe for cancer and AIDS patients with some success. It was a vine found in the rainforests in Peru and a drug was made in Austria using the imported bark. So, I got on a plane to Austria to check it out. I was impressed with the results and so I got on a plane to Peru when I found that the drug made in Europe was too expensive and that it could be made available here as a natural product or supplement rather than an “unapproved drug” much more cheaply. That was my first trip into the rainforest almost 5 years ago and it changed yet again the course and focus of my life. Not only did I find this vine called Cat’s Claw growing in the rainforest, I found a wealth of medicinal plants growing in an incredible environment that were more effective than any I’ve seen. I fell in love with the wildness of the jungles, the innocence and spirit of the native peoples, the vast and varied cultures, and the spirit, energy and power of the rainforest. I knew somehow that I was supposed to do something there to help preserve this incredible place from the destruction that I saw even on my first trip into the rainforest.
That was the birth of the companies I set up to make available Cat’s Claw and the other plants I was introduced to. I have owed seven companies before these, and this is the only company that I haven’t had to push and make happen. From the inception of it, I have been furiously running behind this business trying to keep up with an entity that seems to have a life and direction of its own.
My ongoing research on medicinal plants takes me into the heart of the rainforest, working side by side with indigenous tribal shamans and medicine men, rural village herbalists and “doctors” called curanderos, as well as North and South American herbalists, phytochemists and universities. As a board certified Naturopathic physician, I have a small Austin practice and enjoy working on the many hard cases that get referred to me who have exhausted all others and are willing to try some weird jungle herbs for thier cure. After five years, I now harvest and import over 100 important rainforest medicinal plants from my humble beginnings with one plant called Cat’s Claw. Traveling through the remote areas of the Amazon where medicines, hospitals and doctors are virtually non-existent has brought an opportunity to learn as a practitioner how to treat illnesses and diseases that I would never encounter here… like malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, and leprosy, just to name a few. As a practitioner or healer in the jungle, I am called “JaguarWoman” White Witch, Shaman, “Pacchumama” (Earthmother), or Curandera (Healer) by the remote villages and tribes I visit and work with. I use their ancient knowledge of their plants and combine it with western research and science, so my “potions” are different yet familiar to their shamans and healers. It’s quite a life and I am having a wonderful time!
“What i am trying to say is hard to tell and hard to understand… unless, unless… you have been yourself at the edge of the Deep Canyon and have come back unharmed. Maybe it all depends on something within yourself – whether you are trying to see the Watersnake or the sacred Cornflower, whether you go out to meet death or to Seek Life.”
“To the center of the world you have taken me Great Spirit and showed me the goodness and the beauty and the strangeness of the greening earth, the only mother – and there the spirit shapes of things, as they should be, you have shown me and I have seen.”
Susan Seddon Boulet