Shawn Leonard. Image Credit: aptn.ca
Being the publisher of MUSKRAT Magazine, an online Indigenous arts magazine, a lot of invitations come my way; and for the most part; I connect interested MUSKRAT writers to cover these amazing events. But just recently I got a really special invitation.
It was an invitation to meet and receive a reading from the Mi’kmaq medium Shawn Leonard who just launched a new show on APTN called Spirit Talker. I’m already a bit of a fan of the show Long Island Medium, but Spirit Talker is the Indigenous version! I was very excited and accepted the invitation.
I have always been fascinated and pulled to connect with spirituality. I consider myself lucky to have been raised by a mother who, while being raised Christian, chose not to impose the religion or any fear based teachings like believing in Hell on our family. The only time we ever went to church was visiting my Dutch grandparents at Christmas time to listen to the choir in which my maternal grandfather, Antony AKA Tony, sang as a powerful tenor.
Antony or Tony was a talented singer and successful baker who loved new technology and cracking jokes. He sadly passed away in 2004 leaving his wife and six children and many grandchildren behind. I have a very fond childhood memory of him holding up a pair of socks that were inside out. He asked me; “Do you think I can take these inside-out socks and put them on my feet, while still inside-out, and they will become right side in? I looked at the socks and his feet and replied, “no”. He chuckled and pulled the socks over his toes starting at the toe tip of the sock. It quickly became apparent it was in fact possible to do this and a perfectly fabulous way to deal with socks that are inside out! I still do it! I loved my grandfather and wished to be closer to him, but at the time, he lived in White Rock, British Columbia, and me in Calgary, Alberta. When my only son was born I chose his middle name to be Antony–after my grandfather. My son is now fourteen and has also grown to become a beautiful singer and musician.
I wished to understand and be connected to the life force, this energy that appears to have consciousness, purpose, and persists on many levels in many forms.
When I was ten years old my other grandfather (in-law), AKA Zaida (for some reason I called him ‘Morris the Moose’) gave me an Old Testament children’s Bible. I was so excited to read it because it was filled with colourful pictures that I thought would explain the meaning of life from the mouth of God himself! It was the Bible after all; a rare, mysterious book that I only saw in church and hotel dressers–never in my own house.
As I began to read the stories, I became deeply disturbed; it occurred to me that God seemed to be a very cruel and old unforgiving white man. Killing the first-born child of every family? Even the animals! Uhm, I don’t think so! I completely rejected God in that form. In my heart I knew that no God could be so petty and cruel. If there was a God, he or she, or it, would be far more enlightened. Not long after that, I started to pray to Yoda while taking my weekly bubble baths.
It was the 1980’s and Star Wars was in its full glory; the wisdom of Yoda and connection to The Force made total sense to me, and it still does. Someone had bought my older brother a bottle of Yoda bubble bath. Yoda’s head was the bottle cap and one day while soaking in a galaxy of bubbles gleaming, growing and popping all around me, I began praying to Yoda. From that point forward all my prayers included the vision of a compassionate, loving and wise Yoda connecting with the Force from the heavens. My main point is that I never believed in Hell and always believed in The Force, and I am so grateful to the ten-year-old me for that!
Because of it, the topic of death is a fascination to me and not a taboo subject. I wished to understand and be connected to the life force, this energy that appears to have consciousness, purpose, and persists on many levels in many forms. While my mother was born in Holland, my father was born in the traditional Anishinabek territory of his family and Ancestors. Through him I’ve had a door of Indigenous spirituality to open and learn from.
To engage ceremony or meet with a healer is a powerful experience. It actually forms the basis of an Indigenous world view which encourages maintaining life balance through acknowledging the spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual parts of the self. Respected knowledge keepers, healers, seers, Elders can all help guide us in this journey. Shawn Leonard is one of these special people.
I met with Leonard in Toronto in one of the glass offices at the Centre for Social Innovation building on Spadina Avenue. He’s a stalky middle-aged man wearing a flannel lumber jacket with tan skin, short grey hair, strong nose, and a friendly face. Our appointment was scheduled for fourty five minutes and after introducing himself he began to explain the fascinating journey of how he became a medium. A few things struck me: that it happened fairly late in life, and that he’d only come to connect with his Indigenous identity and community within the last ten years. This is a common story of disconnection and re-connection within the Indigenous community. Shawn grew up in Nova Scotia away from his home reserve community where his mother was from in Newfoundland. The show Spirit Talker follows Shawn’s journey as he travels back to his home territory and shares his Spirit Talker gifts with his community. That’s a powerful premise: putting himself back into his estranged community for all to witness and heal from, including the Ancestors.
Be guided by love and not fear are words I can certainly live by.
As scary as it seems, Shawn will tell you, “Be guided by your heart and not fear.” For Shawn, there is no fear when you are guided by your heart. Shawn explained that becoming a medium was about listening to the nuances of his intuition. He says at times, “they can be so subtle” but they hold meaning. Other times the messages can be so strong they can physically push you or choke you to get your attention. This is what happened to Shawn when he was in a mine doing clairvoyance work in Nova Scotia. The mine filled with the overwhelming smell of smudge–all the sacred medicines burning. Everyone one in the mine started choking but they agreed there was no smoke in the air. A white ball floated down and nudged Shawn. He heard the Ancestor speak to him in Mi’kmaq whispering, “All my relations.” For Shawn this was his strongest message encouraging him to get back to his roots and use his gifts for the benefit of healing his People.
As Shawn continued to share his journey with me, I glanced at my phone checking the time. I only had twenty minutes left with this man and I have never been to a medium before. I politely asked him if he would read me and if it was okay for me to audio record.
Shawn agreed and his eyes shifted towards the empty space of the office wall. Then he looked back at me and said, “There’s what looks like a non-Indigenous man with you, he has a medium build and grey hair. Would you know anybody named Tony or Antony? …I don’t understand this but he’s saying something about socks… Do you have a son? Only one son, correct? He wants you to know he’s watching him walk his walk in life.”
For the next twenty minutes, Shawn shared many meaningful messages from my many dear friends and family members who have passed away far too early. Obviously I’m not a skeptic, but I also know the world is brimming with cons. The details Shawn invoked both scared and comforted me. I also received many relevant messages meant for me to share with friends and family who are living today. It feels difficult to begin making phone calls and visits to family and friends with the intention of sharing these messages. But in my heart, I feel they will be healing for all. Be guided by love and not fear are words I can certainly live by.