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Lynn Andrews

Lynn Andrews

"Lynn Andrews has been instrumental in propagating the non-existent Sisterhood of the Shields. She has been shown to peddle fantasy, and heads the list of fake medicine people." --Helene E. Hagan The Plastic Medicine People Circle

According to her website, Lynn Andrews is a

New York Times and internationally best-selling author of the Medicine Woman Series, which chronicles her three decades of study and work with shaman healers on four continents. Her study of the way of the sacred feminine began with Agnes Whistling Elk and Ruby Plenty Chiefs, Native American healers in northern Canada. Her quest for spiritual discovery continued with a Shaman Curendera of the Mayan Yucatan; an Aboriginal woman of high degree in the Australian Outback or Nepalese healer in the foothills of the Himalayas. Today, she is recognized worldwide as a leader in the fields of spiritual healing and personal empowerment. A shaman healer and mystic, Ms. Andrews is widely acknowledged as a major link between the ancient world of shamanism and modern societies [sic] thirst for profound personal healing and a deeper understanding of the pathway to enlightenment.

A curious person with little interest in spirituality might wonder if any of this is true. Why would spiritual leaders and healers of indigenous peoples on several continents take in a (natural?) blonde paleface actress from Beverly Hills to share their tribal traditions about the "sacred feminine", whatever that might be? That question is much harder to answer than another one that comes to mind: why would a (natural?) blonde white woman claim to be a shaman? Do the words 'fortune' and 'fame' come to mind? Or 'exploitation'? Like Benny Hinn, Peter Popoff, and other faith healers, perhaps Andrews has discovered the formula for success hidden in the esoteric message "There's a seeker born every minute." Many people want to believe in miracles and in the existence of esoteric traditions that have been magically opened to chosen ones who let them in on the secrets of life and guide them to enlightenment. Why not provide these lost souls with what they want? Why not, indeed.

I became skeptical of her authenticity when I read the following on the first page of her website:

She is initiated as a member of the Sisterhood of the Shields, 44 women who are healers from cultures as diverse as Panama, Guatemala, Australia, Nepal, North America and the Yucatan. Remaining hidden, the Sisterhood has appointed Ms. Andrews as their public messenger.

I doubt if there is any such sisterhood of indigenous healers. But if there were, it is a near certainty that they wouldn't pick Lynn Andrews to be their public messenger. She represents the exact opposite of what her "sisters", if they exist, stand for. As Jon Magnuson, co-chair of the Native American Task Force of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, put it:

What is important to understand is that Native spirituality takes specific forms among specific people, places and communities. There is no generic Indian religious experience that can be packaged and sold. Furthermore, much of the commercialization of Native religions violates basic rules governing Native Respect for the sacred: the prohibition of cameras, sketch books and tape recorders and the marketing of such knowledge for monetary gain.

As for the well-known "medicine men and women" who travel with their groupies and for-profit organizations, Ramona Soto Rank, Klamath tribal member and director for the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest, likes to remind seekers after authentic Native healers and spiritual teachers that these individuals seldom speak of themselves in such terms. Black Elk was working in a migrant worker camp in the l930s when John Neihardt finally found him. It’s not unusual for the most noted of traditional healers in the Pacific Northwest to support themselves as seasonal fishermen and loggers.

The only evidence we have for the existence of the 44 shamans who make up the alleged Sisters of the Shield is the word of Lynn Andrews, who they just happened to pick as their representative. I find it impossible to swallow that claim. These alleged shamans probably wouldn't even share with each other their secrets, much less share them with a pale-faced actress from Beverly Hills who commercializes everything she touches and calls sacred.

A seeker of spiritual enlightenment, on the other hand--especially a female disposed to excessive admiration for Native American and other ancient cultures--who is looking for empowerment inaccessible to her in local churches, might find the Medicine Woman concept rather attractive. If Andrews is a fraud, that would not mean that she does not bring something beneficial to many women, especially those whose needs are not very deep and who are likely to be comforted by platitudes, fictions, and timeworn expressions of hope, mysticism, and power. On the other hand, if Andrews is a fraud she is not only taking advantage of the spiritual hunger and thirst that afflicts many people, she is also desecrating native traditions and is likely to arouse the ire of real shamans and healers. (By "real" shamans and healers I mean those recognized as such within indigenous communities.)

Admirers and followers of Andrews may find her enlightening, but Flora Zaharia, former director of the Native Education Branch of the Manitoba Department of Education, thinks she "is making a joke out of our spirituality and Native culture." It is possible that her admirers find her enlightening partly because they are ignorant of the cultures Andrews claims to speak for. If she is ignorant of those cultures, then the books she has written and calls non-fiction are fiction.

Jon Magnuson believes she is making stuff up. He considers Andrews's posing as a shaman reprehensible:

...for Andrews or anyone else to address this need [for the sacred and mystical] by deliberately misappropriating and misrepresenting whatever fragments of spirituality are left among indigenous peoples is unethical and spiritually misguided. Both Native and non-Native become the poorer for it.

Vine Deloria, Jr., a Standing Rock Sioux attorney and author of Custer Died for Your Sins and God is Red, has this to say about Andrews:

Jamake Highwater, Lynn Andrews, and Castenada are all of the same genre. Their writing is interesting, but it has nothing to do with Indians. It’s about what white people think Indians should be.

There is some evidence that Deloria's portrayal of Andrews as inaccurately representing native cultures is on the mark. Jon Magnusun writes:

An even more devastating illustration of the selling of Native American soul is embodied in the controversy surrounding Lynn Andrews. Five highly acclaimed books focusing on her relations of Native spiritual teachings have built a career for Andrews, a Beverly Hills actress who has taken her Workshop "Into the Crystal Dreamtime" on nationwide tours. Medicine Woman (Harper & Row, 1980) , the initial account of her experiences, won Andrews an enormous response from readers across the country. That and subsequent books were marketed as nonfiction. Her writings describe how in the mid-’70s she became an apprentice to Agnes Whistling Elk, a Native American medicine woman who Andrews claimed was a Cree shaman from Manitoba. Jaguar Woman (1985), Star Woman (1986), and Crystal Woman (1987), her sequels, all became New York Times best sellers. In 1987 I asked a Taos Pueblo Native who is also a clinical psychologist and college professor what he knew of Andrews’s reputation among the Cree people of Manitoba. (He has worked as a consultant among the Cree.) His comments, though guarded, were unsettling. On his journeys into Manitoba and his frequent work among the Cree, he had sought to verify her claims. No one had even heard of her.

In November 1988, an affidavit was filed with a lawsuit brought by David Carson, a writer and former live-in companion of Andrews, contending that "as a result of our personal relationship, she and I composed a series of literary works that includes Medicine Woman, Flight of the Seventh Moon, Jaguar Woman, and Star Woman." Jonathon Adolph, a senior editor of New Age Journal, and journalist Richard Smoley began an immediate investigation. In their New Age Journal report, "Beverly Hills Shaman" (March-April 1989), they acknowledge that in February Carson and his attorney unexpectedly indicated their intention to drop the suit, and they document that prior to that action Carson had made claims suggesting that many of Andrews‘s experiences were the results of his own creative imagination.

David Hall, a longtime acquaintance of Carson who said he watched the two work together, claims that Andrews supplied rough sketches from her experiences in Beverly Hills, and Carson wove them into a fictional narrative describing her exotic adventures with various shamans based on his own knowledge of Native American culture. Carson has claimed he is of Choctaw descent...

Adolph and Smoley wrote that several Native American leaders contend that Andrews had made errors regarding geography and custom, especially in her descriptions of ancient ceremonies. In her books, her teacher is called Agnes Whistling Elk but Agnes uses Hopi and Lakota terms, even though she is supposedly a Cree. Two of the exotic ceremonies performed by Crees in Medicine Woman are unknown among the Cree people of Manitoba, according to Flora Zaharia.

A review of Andrews's Medicine Woman confirms Zaharia's claim, indicating that Andrews is ignorant of the culture she claims for her teacher:

I come from Manitoba and have lived there for over 50 years. I've never heard of a Crowley, and the Cree First Nations in Manitoba that I was raised with would not be seeing a Kokopelli or a Kachina. It's not part of their culture.

The last and final huge mistake is the fact that most of this story could not have taken place outside without huge, huge bottles of mosquito repellant as anyone who lives in the bush in Manitoba knows, especially those who may have a reason to go naked in the woods.

Another disgruntled reviewer writes:

I am amazed that Lynn Andrews thinks we are dumb enough to believe this is an autobiography. Give me a break!! After doing some research on the internet, I am also amazed to find out that her live-in companion at the time this was written was David Carson (co-author with Jamie Sands of Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals) who, at the time, claimed HE helped her write it. Also note that in the Medicine Cards book, David dedicates the book to three aunts, and two happen to have the names Ruby and Agnes---the same two female characters in Medicine Woman.

A review of Medicine Woman in the Canadian Journal of Native Studies was not too complimentary about Andrews's accuracy:

.. the novel reaches its misinformed heights when the narrator arrives in Canada. True to a Californian's perception of Manitoba, the narrator steps off a plane in Winnipeg and sets off across "the Canadian tundra." The time of year is supposedly spring, yet Andrews describes the "grand rolling fields" where "green grasses twisted and curled in the wind" (p.21). Prairie grass does not get long enough to blow in the breeze until July, which means that the narrator either does not know what season it is, or believes that it is cold enough on the "tundra" at all seasons to justify her "sweaters, wool socks, and flannel pajamas."

Andrews's first encounter with the Cree in Crowley typifies her misguided and often insulting perception of native people. Throughout the book, the natives treat her with indifference, insult, or degradation, and the narrator is either too slow-witted, or too taken with the esoteric nature of her experiences to realize it. Although supposedly a reserve town, Crowley is just like all the Western towns in Hollywood movies. It consists of some houses and a "Trading Post" full of "brown round-faced children eating Hostess cupcakes." All the adults are dressed in cowboy clothes because they are roping cattle at a Rodeo down the road. The Manitoba Cree undoubtedly practice cattle roping during the summer when their trap lines are inactive, although Andrews has not suggested what they would use for cattle in the black spruce and muskeg marsh lands in which most of them live.

The directions which Andrews obtains from the Indians at the Trading Post are sufficiently vague so that she does not know whether to follow the road or to search for Agnes Whistling Elk up on the "Black Mesa." It is not surprising, therefore, that Andrews is unable to find either Agnes or a geographical feature which does not exist in Manitoba.

It would appear that the evidence strongly suggests that Andrews is not the shaman she says she is.

Like Jean Houston, Andrews runs a Mystery School. She is available for bookings as a keynote speaker, and she has an online store (Lynn Andrews Productions Inc.) where she sells books, jewelry, tapes, CDs, and hope, among other things. Her store motto is "Giving the Gift of Spirit." When you give the gift of spirit, you are giving a lifetime of love, joy, honor and celebration. Would she lie? She's giving you the opportunity to introduce the Sisterhood of the Shields to a whole new generation of shamans. Hurry! This offer expires soon.

See also Carlos Castaneda, shamanism, and Jean Houston.

further reading

The Plastic Medicine People Circle by Helene E. Hagan

Selling Native American Soul by Jon Magnuson

Respect and Responsibility by Max Dashú "Privileged whites such as Andrews get lionized by the publishing industry, which treats the rightful exponents of Native culture as if they don’t exist. This is injustice, and Andrews does profit from it. But worse, in a period of cultural genocide, when Indian societies are under unprecedented assault by the mass media, her portrayal of their traditions threatens to drown out authentic expressions."

Lynn Andrews Exposed

Sarangerel Odigon (one of the critics in "Lynn Andrews Exposed")

The Trickster The best way to find a fraud online is simply to type “sweat lodge,” “vision quest,” or “shaman” into the Google search engine. Without fail, every hit that comes up is put up by an individual who is engaged in some type of fraudulent activity.

Lynn Andrews may have a glimmer of glee and greed in her eyes, but she doesn't have blood on her hands like another fake medicine man, James Arthur Ray:

Jail for self-help guru James Arthur Ray over sweat lodge deaths James Arthur Ray was sentenced to three two-year terms for the deaths of James Shore, Liz Neuman and Kirby Brown, who died after attending a personal growth seminar he led near Sedona, Arizona, in 2009....The dead were among 56 participants who paid nearly $10,000 each to take part in Ray's "spiritual warrior" retreat, and were crammed into a four-foot tall sweat lodge, packed with superheated rocks, at the ceremony.

Last updated 28-Dec-2013

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