Sacraments and Shamans

A Priest Journeys Among Native Peoples

Scott McCarthy

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ISBN: 978-1-57733-246-6, 212 pp., 156 photos, 6 x 9, paperback, $17.95

“Hey, friend, come and get to know us…”

These are the welcoming words of invitation heard so often by Fr. Scott as he has traveled the world to meet Native peoples…first as a youth-on-a-quest, and later as a Catholic priest.

Sacraments and Shamans chronicles Fr. Scott’s attraction to Native ways as a young boy, his participation in Native American ceremonies, and his eagerness to learn more about the spiritual practices and teachings of peoples in the northern and southern hemispheres—a sacred life journey that has allowed him to travel among women, men, and children of just about every human culture.

As a priest and spiritual leader, with its plethora of daily sacred activities, Fr. Scott has observed many local churches and ceremonies, as well as native “syncretistic” traditions, taking time to consider their origin and effectiveness for the People. As a continuing inquirer into all things spiritual, and a “people-connector”—he brings together persons of different backgrounds, cultures, or experiences to share the richness of human contact found among the many cultures and subcultures of our world.

“Little by little, one friendship at a time, the whole world benefits by our connecting to each other.”


"Father Scott is a trustworthy listener, observer and scribe; not one on a mission of 'conversion' as too many have been, in short - a true friend of Native Peoples." Damon Gerard Corrie, President of the Pan-Tribal Confederacy of Indigenous Tribal Nations,

Table of Contents



Early Life

The New Land
Crossing the Atlantic Sea
A Very Different Terrain
First Contacts
Iroquois Pageant
Canadian History

Another New Home
California Tribes
Watsonville: Saint Patrick’s

Life as a Priest
Early Years of Priesthood
Capitola: Saint Joseph’s
A Child Is Born
A Young Person Enters into Greater Life
Santa Cruz: Holy Cross
A Spiritual Experience: Vision Questing
San Luis Obispo: The Old Mission
Chumash Country
New Friends
Artichokeland: First Pastorate: Castroville

Visit of Pope John Paul II to Monterey
Kateri Circle
A Special Guest
1989 Earthquake
Crow Adoption Preliminaries
Lakota Friends
New Crow Friends

Sabbatical Time
Making Plans
The Journey Continues
An Eagle
Sundance Preparations

A Little Bit of Paradise: Second Pastorate: Carmel Valley
A Unique Sweatlodge
Powwows in Prison
Priests Serving California Native People
American Indian Movement Personalities
Grow Ventre Sundance
My Book on Native Spirituality:
People of the Circle, People of the Four Directions
A Pomo Medicine Woman
Bear Dances
A Four Directions Ceremony and a Lake Circling Blessing
An Historic Funeral
A School Presentation
Blessing of Monterey Bay
Native Gathering of the Americas
Carmona Family
Rubén and Friends

Sights Seen
A Visit to a Shaman
Maria Lionza
Island of Dominica
Costa Rica
Santo Daime
Healing a Shaman
A Massacre
Two Bishops, A Priest, and a Prophet

More Recently
Catholic Digest Magazine

An Ocean View: Third Pastorate: Seaside

Future Possibilities
People Circles
Native Island Youth Cultural Exchanges
Indigenous Journeys in the Four Directions
Spiritual Leadership
A Theology of Ecology

About the Author


Over the years, I have been called upon to do limpias (cleansing blessings) that are always Christ-centered, but which often express traditions of the Andean Peoples or of those from Central America. Both traditional Catholic religious symbolic items as well as native “medicine” objects are utilized in these special activities that really have to do with cleansing and blessing. Seaside and its environs contain a large population of folks from Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Most are familiar with the tradition of limpias as are many other culturally diverse persons.

I can remember a time right after a Sunday Spanish Mass when I was called upon to visit a sick young woman. She had been sent home from the hospital because they did not really know how to treat her. As I entered the apartment, I noticed clouds of copal incense filling the rooms. I knew right away that this would call for a more indigenous expression of the sacrament that I was about to celebrate with her. She was listless in her bed. As the concerned relatives and friends gathered closer around her, I gently spoke to her in Spanish in my best comforting voice. The room was really full. I laid my hands on her head and anointed her with sacred oil and gave her communion. I then called for more copal and blessed her with its sacred smoke. A drum was handed to me and I sang an Indian song that I knew. She gradually opened her eyes, smiled, and began to talk in a normal way. I left shortly. The next day I was told that she had fully recovered. I was pleased.

Another time after a Sunday Spanish mass I was handed a little child who had very little control of its motor movements. The eyes could not focus on one object for very long and would keep moving from side to side. I caressed the little one and felt urged to sing a native style lullaby-like melody. The parents looked on as I sang very softly, but just loud enough for the child. Gradually its precious little wandering eyes were turned to me and remained fixed on my face. I then realized that part of the cure for this new-to-our-world creation of God was a mother or father’s lullaby. Such an ancient child-raising practice does not seem to be so proficiently practiced nowadays as our vain attempts to always speak of things only in realistic, technological, or even practical, terminology have taken precedence. We have a great need to regain past wisdom, I believe, for it will aid us much in our future together. Happily, the parents followed my advice and I have observed since remarkable improvement in the child.

Sometimes Aztec dancers, or matachines (mummer-like religious dancers blending Spanish and Indian traditions from New Mexico and northern Mexico), came to help us often in special liturgies throughout the year. During these celebrations I might use church incense in a more indigenous way, like blessing the bread or the wine in the form of a cross over a pot of burning copal or sage or cedar, depending on who was present to appreciate the ritual. I would never impose such ways on anyone; only when I knew that it was the right thing to do for the folks present. Often a parishioner would comment that I was helping to bring out “Indianness” in Mexican or more south of the border folks longing for this kind of acculturation in church ceremonies.

I believe that there is a great hunger among the People for this kind of activity that utilizes tribal ways for expressing both personal and communal faith. Faith is always much deeper than any doctrinal or dogmatic words, important though they are to identify the mysterious presence of Creator among us in the unique Son who is cherished from the heart of the Maker of all. Faith is also expressed in something much prior to words, and that is in culture. Spiritual heritage rides on it like a horse carries its rider. Our present and future priests, ministers, and other spiritual leaders need to be aware of this, I would dare to say. Knowing and respecting just a few of these ancient traditions will be most helpful for any upcoming leaders, no matter what is one’s own cultural background. I am passionately committed to continue to encourage this kind of acculturation.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2011

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