An Elephant Journey
By Deena Metzger
This article is an excerpt from Andrew Beath’s book Consciousness
In Action: the Power of Beauty, Love and Courage in a Violent Time
(Lantern Press, 2005)
Introduction by Andrew Beath
Deena Metzger is a novelist, poet, essayist, ritual practitioner
and healer. She works with individuals suffering physical, emotional
and spiritual illness and teaches writing and creativity. Deena
has developed a training program for the twenty-first century in
the creative, political, spiritual and ethical aspects of healing.
She and her husband, the writer Michael Ortiz Hill, have brought
the African tradition called Daré to North America for the
sake of restoring beauty and bringing healing to individuals, community
and the natural world. Deena’s latest books include Entering
the Ghost River: Meditations on the Theory and Practice of Healing;
the novel, The Other Hand, and Writing for Your Life: A Guide and
Companion to the Inner Worlds.
In our conversations Deena Metzger told me how her consciousness
was transformed as a result of an unexpected shamanic journey in
which a visit from an Elephant’s spirit had a major impact
on her future. The experience was different from a dream, yet she
found herself immersed in an altered state of consciousness. There
were no psychoactive plants involved. Deena explained:
"Amanda Foulger, a shamanic practitioner, was, as we would
say, showing me some of her medicine and took me on a shamanic journey.
I wanted to learn how she worked and she introduced me to what might
be called Shamanism 101.
I met the moment with what I can honestly say is a familiar generosity
of spirit and equally familiar skepticism. Attempting to meet an
animal helper-guide, I expected, because I live at home with hybrid
wolves, to meet a wolf, or certainly a North American mammal. So,
I was completely stunned on this journey to meet an elephant, who
called me into a circle where she was picking up leaves and flowers
and petals with her trunk. She was laying them upon an elephant
that was lying there dead. Poachers had excised his tusks. He had
been her lover; this was her beloved. Her beloved was dead. The
elephants in the circle were in deep mourning. Then matriarch looked
into my eye. All I saw was her elephant eye, but then I felt something
had come through me.
One is not asleep, but one tries to yield to what is happening
as if one is dreaming. The task is not to direct the experience,
but to see what happens. Something comes to you, almost as if you’re
watching a movie. Drumming assists the moment. In this case Amanda
was drumming, inducing, as is traditional a trance or dream state
that allows one to surrender to the experience.
The experience perplexed me; it really stunned me. I started studying
elephants and reading the extraordinary scientific research on their
nature and intelligence. Afterward, through my reading I learned
about the mourning rituals of elephants and how they can recognize
a bone of an ancestor or kin from many years before. When they come
upon the dead, they really grieve and participate in grief rituals.
The moment astounded me. Afterwards I had a series of elephant dreams,
now in the usual sense of dreaming.
After this dream series, I went to Africa for the first time and
really wanted to be with the elephants. At Londalozi, a private
animal preserve in South Africa next to Kruger Park, we were always
three minutes too late to see the elephants and it grieved me that
I did not see them.
I went back the next year, and again I had had dreams that were
amplified by my research. This time we went to the game preserve
in Chobe, Botswana, virtually an elephant preserve. We were five,
my husband Michael and myself, Augustine, who is an African shaman,
Amanda, and Michele Daniel, a Jungian analyst. We agreed to serve
each other’s spirits in turn in a ritual manner.
I had been asking to sit in council with Augustine and his community,
and to sit in council with the elephants. I did not know what I
meant but I wanted to see if there might be an exchange of mind.
When it was my day, I prepared ritually, meditated and prayed, and
then we went out into the preserve. We drove in the park and stopped
to make offerings. Elephants like oranges, but since only grapefruits
were available, I offered them. We stopped for a mother and her
calf but though I was so happy to see them, I did not feel we had
any particular connection. Then as we were driving, Augustine saw
an eagle and stopped the car by the tree where it landed. A half-mile
down the road was a bull elephant we had not seen before.
Michael and I were in the back of the pickup and I started chanting
my form of prayer, the name of God in Hebrew. The elephant began
walking towards us and stopped directly in front of the truck. He
twisted his trunk in an impossible manner, and then he untwisted
it and he bowed. Slowly, he walked toward us until he was a trunk’s
distance away. Michael and I put our hands out so that he could
see we had no weapons. In my mind I said: “I know who you
are. I am also a member of a holocausted people. I understand what
you are suffering, and I am so sorry. Is there any way we can communicate
with each other’s minds so that we can change the nature of
what’s happening on the planet for the sake of all our peoples?”
He looked in my eyes steadily for at least ten minutes, eye to
eye. Then he went to the back of the truck, and we gazed eye to
eye for another ten minutes. Then he went to the third side. Again.
All in all about 30 minutes passed. He was no more than four feet
away. Then he disappeared. We all got out of the truck. I looked
at Augustine and I asked, “Did this really happen?”
I was in the back of the truck. I could have touched him easily.
Augustine, Amanda and Michelle were in the cab. Michael and I were
in the open back. It never occurred to me to be afraid. It was so
like dreams that I had had. Then he disappeared, and we were undone.
Amanda was weeping. Augustine was flat on the ground in prayer and
gratitude. Then we had to mobilize to leave the park before it closed.
As we were driving toward the exit, many elephants started crossing
the road toward the river. It is dangerous to get between an elephant
and a calf. Augustine wondered what to do. Should we find another
way out? I said, “They know we’re here.” We drove
cautiously and respectfully as they lined up along the riverbank
and seemed to bow their heads and flap their ears for a quarter
of a mile.
They were Facing us. Bulls, babies, cows. So we bowed. Now it was
all the women in the back of the truck. We bowed, they bowed, and
we bowed, and they bowed. The truck was moving very slowly. Afterwards,
people asked, “What happened to you when the elephant was
with you? What did he ‘say’?” I wasn’t aware
of anything happening. But it was when we came back to the U.S.
that I started the community gatherings called Daré.
The One Mind of Creation
I think that it was Mandlovu consciousness that was transmitted.
Mandlovu means female elephant, and also elephant spirit, in the
Ndebele language. What was transmitted may have been an understanding
of the profound intelligence and nature of herd mind, where each
individual contributes his or her intellect and idiosyncratic knowledge
to what becomes the one mind of the herd. So even that solitary
bull, miles and miles and miles away, is part of the herd and connected
The animals participate in a dynamic intelligence that is constantly
forming and reforming from the input of the individuals. This became
our model for Daré. I believe it came to me through spirit,
through the elephants and not through a rational process of knowing,
and I believe that we are now, as a community, in a field of intelligence
That is the wisdom that I’ve come to realize – there’s
a constant dynamic between myself and whomever I meet, a vibrant
form that includes the invisible, the visible, the animals, and
the people. My motivation is to attempt to make the connection between
our minds for the sake of the whole.
Intention Is a Critical Element
The experience did depend upon intent. Michael and I are returning
to Africa soon. I will be making a special trip to Chobe to see
if I can reconnoiter with this elephant whom we now call the Ambassador.
He may or may not appear, but there is something important about
the intent to honor this relationship that much. At the very least,
I think it will create something in me. Whether it affects the outer
world or not, whether it actually touches the Ambassador, it does
create something in me. On the other hand, the Ambassador may be
calling me, may be initiating all of this.
The experience may be the result of the Ambassador’s intent.
I may have nothing to do with it except to yield to him. But what
is also important is that this is not a private experience, because
Mandlovu-inspired Darés (community gatherings) are happening,
and we are witnesses to the ways people are being shaped and changed
And while we only meet one Sunday a month, I see people carrying
Mandlovu mind – which you could also call Daré mind
– outside of the event in the way they treat others with such
kindness and consideration. People are meeting each other by asking:
What is the need here? What can we offer to meet it? How can we
carry each other, care for each other? It is so sweet and so reciprocal."