Erin DeWitt doesn't like to use the term "shaman," but the Duluth woman does identify with the work of a healer assisted by spirit guides.
And she has built her faith and her livelihood around a spirituality that began in the Northland.
She was living in Florida when she came to Duluth to visit her father. During a wintry night in the North Shore woods, DeWitt fell in a snowbank and saw the northern lights for the first time. "That, without me knowing it then, was my first closeness," she said. "I had this awareness of a presence bigger than me.
"I decided I had to live here." She was 17.
It was this connection with nature that probably helped save her life, she said, and she has done a lot of growing "here," the 49-year-old said, pointing to her heart.
Years after serendipitously meeting her husband, Andrew Webster, "when the time was right," DeWitt awakened to the healing arts after their daughter was born.
Ahna would cry a lot, and DeWitt recalled "feeling desperate" and in a "rock bottom, dark place." She'd taken a reiki class, but was unsure about it, until that moment.
"I called upon reiki. … I said, 'I don't know really what this is. … I need help."
DeWitt recalled putting her hands on her body and inviting in healing energy. She began to feel calm, and when she got calm, Ahna got calm.
After that, DeWitt started practicing reiki regularly. She studied at The Meta Institute in the Cities, and her practice shifted the lives of her friends and family.
In 2006, she felt called to leave her job as a facilitator serving Duluth's youth agencies during a time when many didn't know what reiki was. It was frightening to switch to self-employment, plus, she was known for her work in the community. But she was confident in the path before her, she said.
She has since trained in sound healing, shamanic journeying, meditation; she has worked with authors Sandra Ingerman, Tara Brach, Costa Rican medicine men. Her business has changed names from Deep Peace to Conscious Living located in Chester Park.
DeWitt offers balancing sessions, healing attunement and tips for creating sacred ceremony. Her work is a combination of reiki, shamanic neuro-linguistic programming and spiritual guidance.
She believes in a great spirit that flows into her work with others. "I'm a very religious person, but my work isn't a kind of religion," she said.
Sessions last 60-90 minutes, and for reiki, clients are fully clothed and typically lying on a table or sitting in a chair. Sonja Wildwood recently opted for the chair during a visit; she's 34 weeks pregnant.
Wildwood sees DeWitt for balancing sessions every other month, and she has been coming since she moved to Duluth a couple years ago.
"It feels like an hour of mediation and an hour of prayer," Wildwood said.
In one of DeWitt's workspaces, she stood behind Wildwood, her hands on her shoulders before stepping back with outstretched arms. Both had their eyes closed.
Sessions start with talking and intention-setting. Sometimes, DeWitt and her clients are silent; sometimes, they're communicating observations, she said.
Wildwood recalled a grounding moment during a session when DeWitt shared an image of her as a child laughing and playing. This hit home.
"A big part of one of my blocks is I'd totally cut off the innocent, open, spontaneous part of myself," Wildwood said.
That started to interfere with her confidence and decision-making. Sessions with DeWitt have helped foster ease, said Wildwood, who now has a picture of her 9-year-old self in her office as a reminder to play.
DeWitt creates a relationship that's safe, humble and supportive; she helps people know the answers they already know. "Sometimes, it takes help to remember," Wildwood said.
Added DeWitt, "It's not coming from me, it's coming from spirit."
DeWitt used to work with tools, like a pendulum in her chakra work, but the more she started deepening her faith and remaining dedicated to a self-care practice, the less she wanted to "do" to people.
"I bring my toolbox, which is me and my relationships and the information that I've experienced, and I allow whatever's going to happen, to happen," she said.
Most often in her clients, DeWitt sees a "feeling of not-enoughness" regarding time, money, knowledge, friends, love. When she feels disconnected herself, it centers around doubt, she said. Listening to drums, setting an intention and journeying with spirit guides gets her reconnected.
We're never going to stop our thoughts, but we can notice them and return to our breath, which is "the simplest form of ceremony," she said.
Some challenges to her business are finding a place in the mainstream health-care world, though that's changing, she said. The state of Minnesota considers reiki a form of massage, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
DeWitt sees it all as an opportunity, and with time, she has released the feeling of needing to convince people of the validity of her field.
She's a guide, there to create a sacred space for people to shift their energies, she said. "I am the healer that connects with the healer in you."