THE SHAMAN’S PATH
An experience involving drums, totem-animals and golden trees. All of it in Merlin’s forest.
It’s very early for the tiny city of Paimpont, in the West of France. All the shops look closed. Except this Café. Inside, here’s a man wrapped in an electric-blue K-way sipping an espresso at the counter while staring at his phone. It’s 8am. 10 more people should be there.
Bernard Cambou is a magnetizer. Thanks to his supposed natural gift, he’s said to be able to heal people’s bodies and spirits. He started to use it thirty years ago when he left his job at the French Department of Justice to open his very own cabinet of magnetizer. There, he does traditional magnetizing sessions. Aside from his cabinet work, he organizes immersive therapeutic sessions in the legendary Forest of Brocéliande — known for hosting Merlin’s grave — to “heal the wounds” of the participants. Ten hours of group meditation at a cost of 100€ per day. 17 people have signed up for today’s session. Mostly women. Mostly in their fifties. But also some young men. All in all, the whole group is pretty conventional.
It’s the start of the winter and this session’s goal will be to “look back on the year”. On the parking lot that leads us to the first step, the magnetizer gathers everyone in circle. “We undergo pulsions because we haven’t found inner peace, because there is this something that’s agitating us”, says Bernard. He’s using a solemn tone to speak to his disciples while they’re covering themselves to repeal the thin rain. “During the whole day, we will be looking for that sense of verticality, we will be trying to dive in one’s inner silence, in one’s peaceful mind.”
Few meters away, there is the supposedly sacred Saint-Jean’s Chapel. It’s calling for the group. But to reach the holy place, everyone has to hold two metal sticks in their hands, “you stop walking when they’re closing, and wait that they re-open to progress toward the chapel”. “It is important that everyone takes his time. You’ll touch the walls of the chapels, and you will ask for the permission to find peace in this day” he says. “This is the energetic gateway to the forest” says Bernard.
In France, magnetism isn’t acknowledged by the Academy of Science and there is no official diploma to differenciate professionals from gurus. Still, it’s estimated that there are 8 000 magnetizers in France. In Brittany, the belief in the efficiency of the practice is deeply rooted in history and remains very much a thing nowadays. In today’s group, almost all of them have come to the forest to meditate before.
Bernard knows that loads of people remain skeptical toward magnetism. “The role of therapist is something that’s pretty much self granted. There’s no one that’ll tell you formally: ‘you’re a therapist, you’re a psychoanalyst’” he says. Behind him, the colored-raincoats-group keeps on walking in silence. “You have to live it. It’s a question of experimentation.”
Laid down in duvets in circle in the middle of the forest, the apprentices have kept their eyes closed for 10 minutes. At the center, Bernard hits his drum with a stick adorned of red feather and pearls. His low voice is guiding the meditation: “listen to the wind”. Boom boom. “You’ll enter a journey.” Boom boom. “This journey will take you to your totem animal.” Boom boom. “Your animal totem will be a soul brother to your essence.” Boom boom. “He will bridge your soul and the nature.” Boom boom.
Thirty minutes later, the duvets start shaking softly. “Actually during this kind of moment, it’s almost 30 minutes, we don’t sleep at all. During the whole time, it looks like sleep but it ain’t sleep. It is the very astral journey” says Bernard. At the same moment, a woman is shedding in tears, she’s complaining about a back pain. “We can go on an astral trip, see lots of things and remember nothing. Like in dreams. No memory at all. But its even. What’s important, is that it blends with the body energy” he says. It doesn’t change much the back pain situation but it seems important to Bernard.
Dawn has come. A dozen disciples are still next to the magnetizer. They’re gathering around the grave of the Fairy Viviane, in the south of the forest. They’re wrapping up the “totem-animal” session of the afternoon. In the dark, some share that they’ve seen raccoons, lions, horses. Some haven’t seen much. Every time, Bernard gives his very own explanation. “Horses are brave, courageous, it really fits you.”
It’s past 7pm. The night has fully come and the light has fully gone. Few candles are placed around the grave here and there to light up the scene. Bernard wants to end the day on a musical note. Everyone grabs an instrument from their bags. Triangles, drums, maracas. As they start playing, their sound blends in a melody that’s nor in rhyme, nor melodic. Gling gling gling, boum boum, toum toum.
“Yeeeeeeeeeeah! Not baaaaaaaad! Have you felt how it’s lifting?” asks Bernard. The improvised and unsynchronized concert comes to and end. “That’s how we can reach trance” says one of the disciples. “Hell yeah! That’s what this place is made for” says Bernard. It’s time for him to call it a night. “Let’s finish the day with a little abrazo all together.”