Shamanic teacher Starkeeper Morton talks to Jacqueline Wake Young about what brought her to shamanism, what it means for her and how she has been supported and motivated on her journey.
Starkeeper describes herself as “happily ordinary”, but having spent time in her company, it’s clear her skills, achievements and life story are decidedly extraordinary.
She is founding director of The Haven in Stonehaven, a wellbeing space and community larder.
In her personal practice, Starsparks, she offers teachings, healings, ceremonies and retreats through yoga and her shamanic training.
Seeing in the dark
She has three daughters and a husband “who are all politely curious, patient and especially tolerant of my ways of being”.
She tells me a shaman is “one who can see in the dark” and “a core principle is that everything has consciousness; plants, animals, stones, elements and since we are conscious beings too, then we can communicate”.
“The main way to communicate is through the shamanic journey, commonly through the drum, to allow our mind to access a state of consciousness for this communication to take place.”
It is not a religion but a philosophy that can go hand-in-hand with a belief system, for example Christianity or Buddhism.
“I would not call myself a shaman as it is crossing a boundary of cultural appropriation. I was not born into an indigenous, traditional shamanic culture,” she says.
“I am a shamanic teacher which means I am inspired by the ancient wisdom, teaching and knowledge of shamanic cultures and able to train others to become shamanic practitioners.”
What brought her to shamanism?
“I have a sense I have spent many lives waiting for the stars to align till I would have the opportunity, teachings and space to do the work I was called to do.
“At 15 I started having dreams where animals and guides would come to me.
“It never occurred to me that this was something that may be of value to myself and others.
“In 2009 someone mentioned I should visit Anam Cara (a retreat that offers shamanism workshops and other courses) in Inverness.”
Starkeeper has now trained in cross-cultural shamanism and healing methods and has taken part in vision quests, spending long periods in nature without food or water, most notably at nuraghes in Sardinia where she made a short film.
“Spending three days and nights in complete darkness was a transformative experience,” she says.
Her teacher, Twobirds Cunningham, of Anam Cara, has helped guide, reassure and inspire her.
“My name has been a teacher too. It is a shortened version of my ceremonial spirit name I received in 2016 but I only recently embraced it in all realms of my life after a powerful initiatory experience in November 2021.”
Born in Nova Scotia, Canada, she grew up in Perth, Australia, where she lived “in a haunted house next to a convent”.
She was accepted into law school but after witnessing court she realised her “definition of truth and justice can’t be found there”.
“I then cobbled together a meaningless degree, studying whatever I was curious about; children’s literature, statistics, Greek mythology, economics, theology, ethics and philosophy.
“A short career in travel allowed me to explore the world.
“I had three babies in three years and became a yoga teacher at 35. My yoga teacher career began by volunteering in a maximum security prison in Canada.
“We moved to Stonehaven in 2008. North-east Scotland is fruitful ground for the work I feel called to do.
“The dark shadow of the oil industry is long and ancestral trauma deep in these ancient lands. It is ripe and crying for change.
“The traditions are steeped in the patriarchy and witch hunts are still common practice.
“It is not an easy place to live but it is beautiful, meaningful and worthwhile.”
Trauma and timing
I ask about any pivotal moments on her journey.
“During my shamanic initiation in 2017 my family went through a trauma.
“The timing felt significant. I learned how the very societal structures in place to support and protect the most vulnerable, eg schools, police, social work, can actually re-traumatise those they are supposed to help.
“I felt abandoned, disappointed and betrayed by the majority of my friends and community. I never wanted anyone to be left feeling the way our family was.
“I leaned heavily into my shamanic practices to transmute the experience into healing, not only for myself and family, but also the community.
“Two months later I opened The Haven where everyone can feel supported and included.
“In shamanism your voice is strongly connected to your personal power. I found my voice, reclaimed my power and I was heard.
“It took me beyond my community to have a place at the table in Holyrood with government ministers and speak at a variety of events with my advocacy work, most notably at Westminster and the Public Policy Exchange in London.
“In ancient times if someone was not thriving it was the responsibility of the whole community to support them, for only then would the community be well.
“My experience has taught me the value of community and belonging. We can shift, heal and change more together than we can ever do alone.”