A member of my family has cancer. It’s the kind that, barring a miracle (or an accident), will eventually kill him. Last month, I got it into my head that I would go and ask my Otherworld allies to heal him.

I’ve read about “shamanic healing” and the like before, but I’ve never actually tried to do it. I couldn’t come up with any reason in particular not to give it a shot – I figured that if it was something I shouldn’t be doing, my guides would let me know.

I made my preparations and went off on a journey. I went first to the faeries of his home – the land spirits that are all over the place there. He’s something of a nature mystic himself, in his own strange way, and I was sure they would know him and want to help.

So, there they were – hordes of little brown things – and I explained the situation and asked if they could help. “Why would we?” they asked. “Well, he’s sick; he could die if he isn’t healed.”

“So what?” they asked.

“You don’t care, then, if he dies?”

“Well,” they said, “we like him, but it’s not as though he’s going anywhere. He’ll hang around with us whether he has a body or not.”

“But that’s not what he wants!”

“So what? Why should we care what he wants?”

It didn’t matter what I said – I couldn’t get to them to care one tiny bit about one mortal life. This shouldn’t have surprised me, of course, but I was surprised by how difficult it was to answer, “so what?” Finally, I decided that my approach wasn’t working and went off to find other assistance. I don’t want to name my helper here, but for convenience, I’ll call him Cervus, because for this entire interaction, he looked like a fairly ordinary deer. Well, a talking deer, but besides that, just a deer.

I asked Cervus if we could heal my family member. He asked the same question as the little fairies – “why?”

“Um, because he’s sick? Because he could die?”

“Everybody dies. Why is his death any of your business?”

I tried to explain – the pain it would cause those left behind, all the various inconveniences that go with losing someone important, the physical suffering he would go through, the loose ends left by a too-short life…

Cervus listened patiently enough, but he was distinctly unimpressed. “All of this is so ordinary,” he said. “How do you know that it isn’t his time to die? How does he know? What gives you the right to interfere with all this? Why do you want him to live?”

I groped around for answers but couldn’t come up with anything more than what I had already said. I felt like he was pushing me for something but hadn’t the faintest idea what it was, and began to be convinced that I just wasn’t up to the task and that maybe Cervus was hinting that I shouldn’t be trying this.

“Come back,” he said, “when you’ve figured it out.” He turned and began to vanish into the trees.

At that moment, a voice came out of me, and I spoke some words that seemed to come from somewhere else. The formulation was archaic and I’m not writing here exactly what I said because it had the feeling of a code-phrase or password – at the time I felt like the sense of it was not important (it didn’t make a whole lot of sense at the time) but the fact that I had said just those words in that order meant a great deal. The general sense, which I sorted out later after taking the sentence apart, was that I commanded him to do this task in the name of Love. I didn’t ask, or beg, or try to justify it; I gave him a direct order from Love personified.

Cervus stopped and turned back to me. “Well,” he said, “why didn’t you say so in the first place? Come on, let’s go.” And we did, and together we performed an operation. It has to be repeated on a monthly basis. Apparently, it will do something.

The key, the important missing piece, the only correct to answer to the question of “why heal?” is “Love.”

It seems so obvious now that I write it like that, but it never would have come to me on my own. I don’t know where or how I internalized the idea that “love” isn’t a good enough reason all on its own for something. In part I’m sure it has something to do with the way the concept is trivialized in popular culture – if you believed TV shows and radio music, you would think that love was just another consumer good, like a designer handbag – something to want because that’s just what you’re supposed to want;  something to chase after because someone else told you it’s important; something that, once found, will either bring fulfillment in possession of the loved object or dissatisfaction when the object doesn’t hold up to expectations. It makes love into something superficial, vain and selfish. That’s not the force that commanded Cervus to heal. That force is something totally different and enormously powerful. I think of Eros in the Theogony or the Orphic Phanes* – the force that engenders all the other forces. I think of a powerful current flowing from the creation of the universe down into each individual being.


It has taken me a long time to write and post this. I have been working with the Horned One in a fairly intense way since last fall, and yet I haven’t had any inclination at all to say so in public. I’m not sure why not, except to say that it feels more important for me to feel and experience this new relationship than it is to analyze or share it. Cervus, in this post, is obviously a representative of Him (though I didn’t get the feeling that it was Himself himself, if you know what I mean, but a sort of echo or factotum.) His primary lesson to me so far is all about Love, with a capital L. It’s not idealized or abstract, nor is it about the gratification of desire – this Love is all fierce and wild and real, burrowed deep and rooted down in nature, in material manifestation. It’s about loving the Universe and having the Universe love you back, in every way, including the dirty ones. I should have known when Cervus came and I saw those antlers what the answer was to the riddle, because it’s always His answer to everything.


* I googled “Phanes” for the image of Phanes as the center of the universe, and one of the hits I got was of a coin with the image of a stag and the legend “Phanes.” Funny, that. (Commentary indicated that the numismatists thought of Phanes here as a personal name of whoever was backing the currency, not the Orphic deity, but of course I took it personally.)