Medicine Man
by Raymond Cannefax
Copyright © 2018, 2024

Revised March 2024
Medicine Man . . .                                                                        

    Years ago, in a rustic log cabin diner in Ruidoso, New Mexico, I had the pleasure of enjoying an evening with an Apache elder who had asked to join me at my table. It was a quiet winter night, snow falling lightly. Aside from the proprietor, my newfound dinner companion and I were the only ones in that diner.

    At the onset of our conversation, I learned this stranger who had asked to join me, was a Medicine Man of the Apache Nation. Given his general appearance, I believed that to be so; beaded deerskin vest, long salt & pepper braids, well-worn jeans, and creases in his face as deep as the Grand Canyon, sanded smooth by his gentle smile. His dark eyes were bright enough to allow one to believe the Universe had placed galaxies in them to provide their sparkle. Why he chose to join me, I will never question.

    As we conversed, the old man conveyed personal concerns he harbored about the state of mankind and provided answers to questions I asked about various topics. He was a great conversationalist with an accent common to Native Americans. His style of conversing revived memories of chats I had with my great-grandfather, a wise man who had lived his life in a small village at the base of the Bavarian Alps near Ammersee. I spent several summers of my youth with him and my great-grandmother.

    As the evening progressed, my dinner companion bestowed upon me unique wisdoms in a fashion I experienced throughout my childhood from my grandmother, Oma, and my great-grandfather, Ludwig Krippner, who continues to be one of the wisest individuals I have ever known. During my youth, these two taught me much about life without teaching. Their wisdom bestowed upon me, wisdom that in my six-plus decades on this planet I have detected only in three others.  

    “Men are flawed creatures, always. Me too,” the Medicine Man said as he began responding to a question I posed. "Man was never so flawed like now, and things with man are not getting any better,” he continued. “Men no longer like to listen to things not about money or power. The spirits worry.” That comment from the Apache moved our conversation from a casual to a more serious level as we got acquainted in that little log cabin diner.

    Listening intently to the Medicine Man’s tales and concerns I determined that if the opportunity presented itself, I would seek an answer to a long-harbored question in respect to my personal mortality. It was a question that had lingered in my mind for several decades, a question for which no one I had asked, was able to provide an answer, a question for which I stopped seeking an answer due to the complexity of the subject and related incidents. 

    As we ate, my dinner companion expressed his concerns about many matters, often referring to the teachings of his father and the ancestors from whom he learned the tremendous importance of life, the value of spiritual and physical balance, and nature’s requirement for man to keep our sacred planet unscarred. The Medicine Man shared his personal beliefs as well as associated scientific evidence that it was time for humanity to correct our destructive behaviors in order to save ourselves. 

    “For many years now, man forgets how sacred our land is. Not only white man, my people too,” he said in a slow, methodical fashion to assure I understood every word he spoke. “The land is a treasure that many use for making money but don't understand they are murdering Mother Earth.” Listening to him provided me the sense that what he was sharing with me came directly from his heart, not his brain.

    The delivery of the Medicine Man's wisdom was sincere and filled with concerns for the “future of all children of the human race”. His sincerity was obvious when studying the expressions on his face, the wide-open eyes that never stopped sparkling, the far-reaching gestures made with his out-stretched arms and hands, his emphasis on certain words, and the occasional tone of frustration as he declared what he and other members of the Apache nation perceived to be mankind’s slaughter of Mother Earth.

    Not all of which he spoke was new to me. Medicine Men from other tribes of Native Americans, and many Shamans from cultures that span our globe have addressed similar matters in documentaries I had read. These wise men continue to provide us warnings about the harm humans are doing to our environment and the harm we are doing to ourselves as we work toward our undeclared, yet obvious goal to self-implode and become the next mass extinction. 

    After about forty minutes into our conversation, I found the opportunity and courage to ask the question that encroached the front of my mind periodically; a question for which I had been unable to find an answer. To the Medicine Man, I explained how I had inexplicably escaped death on a number of occasions and pondered why, when it appeared I should have been booted out of the camp of the living a number of times. To my amazement, I clarified, I continued to survive those numerous potentially deadly episodes with minimal bodily harm.

    “When was the first time this thing happened to you,” he asked after a lengthy period of silence and visual study of me.

    The first incident related to this question, I explained, occurred when I was eight or nine years old, as I played with friends at the top of a centuries old look-out tower that is part of the medieval fortification surrounding the town of Landsberg, my childhood home. Playing in one of the towers with classmates, I decided to run across the middle of the 15- to 20- foot width of the tower’s severely rotted wooden floor instead of walking along the stone ledge of the tower’s top which provided support to the floor planks. As I was almost to the other side, I began to hear the rotted wood floor collapse behind me and fall thirty or so feet to the tower’s base, taking remnants of rotting lower-level flooring with it. With my final step, I grabbed the top of the tower wall and stood on the floor’s narrow supporting stone surface. Along with my friends who were still standing across from me, on the top floor’s support ledge, we yelled to one another about the safety of the staircase which we had climbed earlier, could see was still intact, and now had to descend. We had a new level of concern about the old wooden stairs, stairs we had climbed to the tower's top level all those times we had played in and on top of that tower.

    I explained other incidents and followed with the most prominent memory of an unexplained survival. More than the other incidents, this next incident was the one for which I truly desired an answer. For my edification I had sought clarification of my survivals, particularly for the one I was about to present the Medicine Man, from a priest, counselors, and professors; it remained a puzzle.  

    Eight years earlier I was in a horrific car crash where my car did several barrel rolls through the air before striking a tree, head-on, and landing upside-down on a giant boulder. The boulder penetrated the driver-side roof like a can opener, its jagged metal penetrating the driver's seat. When the car was righted, the splayed metal of the roof resembled a giant claw trying to permanently embed the driver, me, into the driver’s seat. The rest of the roof was flattened level with the hood and trunk, and the car was visibly bent in the middle. How I got out of the car is the question that has lingered in my mind ever since the day of that crash.  

    The only witness to that accident told police that he had seen my car flying through the air, and at one moment saw a body flying in front of the car a second or so before, or as the car hit a tree. Therefore, the question remains: How did I get out of that car, how did I end up mid-air, flying away from the car prior to, or as the car struck the tree and collapsed onto that boulder beneath that tree?  

    Without obvious emotion, the Medicine Man’s penetrating eyes locked onto mine, and he asked: “And others?” There appeared to be a different intensity in his bright and relaxed eyes which were now intently focused.

    I explained other incidents that caused friends to express concern, but to which I gave little thought. Incidents like when I was being robbed in downtown Watts, staring down the barrel of a revolver in the hand of the person who was robbing me, and heard only a click when he pulled the trigger and the pistol’s hammer struck either a dud bullet or an empty chamber. 

    “Lucky fucker,” were the words uttered by the perpetrator as he slowly exited my car with my wallet and cufflinks he had told me to take off.

    Another incident took place while photographing a Grand Prix racing event, when an out-of-control Formula-1 race car lost control, became airborne and spun past me at high speed, missing me by inches, hitting trees behind me and killing the racing driver.  

    It may be worth knowing that this conversation with the Medicine Man took place when I was twenty-four years old; far from having lived a full life but having experienced situations most do not experienced through their entire lives. I further explained that I was cognizant of having frequently taken inherent risks in some of my activities but assured him that I did not have a death wish and explained that I felt the risks I took were not a life threatening.  

    When I recounted my final survival incident, his look into my eyes intensified for a lengthy period of time, without movement, without speaking. After what seemed an eternity, he reached forward, asked me to put my hands together and place them between his.  He clasped my hands, closed his eyes and turned his head upward, toward the diner’s knotty-cedar ceiling. It felt as though he held that posture forever. The stillness and quiet was comforting, but also deafening. Still looking upward, I felt him tighten his clasp on my hands. Slowly he lowered his head, opened his mesmerizing brown eyes, and again stared directly into mine, saying nothing for the longest time as his eyes continued to intently penetrate mine, potentially penetrating the walls of my soul.  

    “The spirits have blessed you,” he commented before a lengthy pause, his expression less face slowly turning to a slight smile. 

    “A great spirit is with you. I hear this from the Ancients when I ask for help with your question,” he said as his hands tightening their grip around mine even more.

    His serious expression warmed and became comforting as he loosened his grip on my hands and continued to deliver his opinion as to why I had been so fortunate to have had numerous close calls and survived them all.

    “The Dark Spirit remembered that he missed collecting your soul when the tower floor fell underneath you. He was sent for you again on other occasions and did not collect your soul," he began as he described why I escaped those close calls.  "That day you crashed into the sacred tree that still lives, the dark spirit believed he finally captured your soul, finishing his job of collecting your soul.  When the dark spirit smashed the car on the rock, he was thinking your soul was with him, and crossed your name off the list of souls he was sent for.”

    As if transfixed, I listened intently as the Medicine Man continued to explain something for which I had never found an answer. Friends had various opinions, but none made sense. The Apache elder provided concepts to which I had never given thought or consideration, spirits and ecclesiastical matters being completely foreign to me.

    “Your great spirit watches always and is strong. Even now, in our mountains, your spirit is watching. Your great spirit took you from your car before it was smashed on the rock. Your great spirit gave you speed to reach the other side of the tower before the floor fell. Your great spirit moved the cylinder so there was only a used bullet for the hammer to strike, and the great spirit pushed the race car away from you, into trees.” Slowly and methodically, the Medicine Man provided his explanation.  I was amazed at what he said of these events, events which I thought were odd coincidence, or just sheer luck.

    I asked about other incidents, such as one only a few months earlier when I lost my grip while mountain climbing and slid a great distance on the mountain’s granite face to have my fall arrested, only a few feet before the granite wall fell away providing a free-fall of several hundred feet to the scree field below. Though on belay, my climbing partner was only attached to the mountain by a very small pine tree.  I did not provide details, and stated only that I had a mountain climbing incident which were it not for my partner, could have been fatal.  

    "The great spirit holds the root of the small tree the rope was tied to so you and your friend will not fall over the edge."

    The questions that arose with his comment about this incident is how the Medicine Man had details, or any knowledge other than what I had mentioned about that recent climbing incident.  How did he know about my safety rope being tied to a small tree?

    "Why? Why, all these many times," I asked, quizzically amazed at the sparkle that had returned to his eyes?  

    “It is because your Spirit of Light takes you from your car, and the spirit holds the rope to keep you from falling, and that is why you are here,” the Medicine Man declared. “Most humans would already be in the other world,” he said, gesturing, with his hands, toward the window. “The dark spirit has a great book and when he was thinking your soul was in his bag with other souls he had captured, your name he crossed off because he thinks his work is done.” 

    'Why?" I expressed my confusion upon asking that question and focused on the lines of wisdom etched into his face, studying the depth and clarity of his sparkling brown eyes, and the braids that hung past his shoulders and rested on his beautifully beaded buckskin jacket.

    “You have a long life to live. You will have other times when you think you are finished, but you will not go to the other world. When you are old, the time will come, and you will know it is time for the other world,” he said softly. “You will go because you will know when your time has come, and your Spirit of Light will guide you,” said the Medicine Man with a relaxed and pleasant smile.  
    “How will I know? How will I go to the other world and not have the dark spirit take me to his other world?” Questions led to confusion and more questions as I tried working through to all I was being told by this Apache spiritual elder.

    “You will know, and when you know it is time, you will call your Spirits, and they will send your spirit guide. The dark spirits already think you are with them, so there is no fight for your soul, and your Spirit of Light will guide you to green meadows and gold sunsets when it is your time. You will know. But now, you have much work to still do.”

    In absolute amazement I watched and listened to reason the Medicine Man provided to that one question I had been asking since my youth, questions about escaping death so many times. Though he had loosened his grip, he continued holding my hands between his and gazed at me with a penetrating smile that I will not forget as long as I shall live. 

    “You are blessed by the Great Spirit. You are young. You must do good for other people and that is why you are here. You must thank your Spirit of Light always for saving you from the dark spirit by helping others who will seek your help,” was his explanation that was tied to the directive I was receiving. Based on his input, I clearly understood that I had a mission to complete.

    At some time during our conversation, the diner’s owner walked to our table and set an old skeleton key in front of the old man. Nothing was said. There was a nod of understanding from the Medicine Man’s head. I offered to pay and received only a smile and head shake as a response from the diner’s owner as he turned and walked out the door.  

    With my newfound friend, perhaps my guide, I my time in the diner was considerably longer than usual as I listened intently to all Goyan had to say about mankind's road to destruction, along with what he and members of the Apache Nation believe must be done to save our planet. The old man explained for me the importance of leading a good life, of doing good acts, even if I did not understand. The wise man informed me that I would reach its highest state of joy late in life with a wise woman who would guide me through difficult periods. He clarified that when the spirit in my soul tells me that my time has come to leave my human form, I would accept that with joy and be prepared to join the spirit guide who would come for me.  

    When he finished, the Apache elder stood, placed his hands on both sides of my head and said words in his native tongue, leaned toward me, and with his thumbs, pressed lightly on my eyelids as he blew a breath on my forehead. I felt as if I was being put into a trance, oddly very pleasant and light. That moment, sitting in the diner with the Medicine Man's hands cradling my head, was the most physically and spiritually soothing part of my conversation with the man who I felt had given me guidance for the years to come, guidance in respect to navigating my life's journey.

    When he moved his hands from my head to my shoulders, I sensed he was done. With an upward nod of his head, he gestured to me to rise, and said good night, softly, with an enchanting smile. Leaving cash on the table for our meal, I walked out the door. Walking toward my car, I looked back, through the window where we had been seated, and watched the Medicine Man walk to the kitchen. Upon reaching my old VW bus in the unpaved side street, I found a bundle of sage stuck into my door handle. I looked back once more, and saw my new-found friend, my guide, perhaps an extension of my spirit, sitting where he had sat with me, drinking from his glass. I did not return to ask about the sage. Some questions are best left unanswered.

    The answers to the questions I asked that evening were an unexpected and amazing experience. The words spoken by the Medicine Man have resonated within me throughout my life and continue to do so. I inherently understood his answers and all else he said to me, and gradually I began to comprehend his reasons for having survived all the incidents that could have ended my life. I felt then, as I do now, fortunate to have the forces of which he told me, the great Spirits of Light, looking after me, and perhaps directing me, while protecting me from the dark spirit. There is so little we know or understand about the spiritual world that lies beyond us and awaits us.

    I returned to that rustic diner in the mountains of New Mexico many times, but never again saw my Apache friend, Goyan, who bestowed upon me his knowledge and beliefs, and I believe a divine blessing at the end of our conversation.

    More than four decades have passed since my evening with that wise old man and I have never forgotten the words he said to me and never will forget the guidance he provided that evening. 

    In the morning following this event, I felt fortunate to have had enough wherewithal to write the details into my journal, to record my recollections of my evening with the Apache Medicine Man, recording, as best as I could recall, the words that wise old Apache sage said to me.  

    There have been close calls since that night in that diner, and I have always simply said ‘thank you’, glance up to the sky and reflected to that night in that Ruidoso diner. Perhaps that is my way of offering a prayer. I do not believe I have taken greater risks than I would have taken otherwise, since that night. I never considered the ideology of having immunity from severe consequences when embarking on risky adventures, and usually calculated the risk factor before executing. I simply lived life, without continuous thought of the wise man’s words. Through it all, I continued to survive. 

    Good fortune or the Spirit of Light? Only the Medicine Man may know the answer to that question. With that disclaimer, I will state that I am thankful for the good fortune I have had throughout my life and for the spirits protecting me from whatever dark forces might desire my failure.

    There is no doubt I have done good things for mankind, for friends, for people who I did not know, for my family and for Mother Earth.  I continue to remember being told that there were things I needed do but that I have no idea of how many things, or what those things are, just that they are. As informed that evening in Ruidoso, I will know what to do and when to do it and I will know when my tasks and responsibilities have been fulfilled.

    As I have said throughout my life, there is no such thing as a free ride. I believe there is a price to pay for being saved from the dark spirit. I further believe I will continue to repay this obligation in some way. To this day, I am grateful for being able to pay that price, for having lived the long and healthy life I have been allowed to live and for having received a blessing from an Apache Medicine Man in that little diner in the New Mexico mountains. 

    Happily, I am able to state that I have met the woman who the Medicine Man stated would be a guide, and as he advised, she entered my life and provides guidance when there was a need. 

    My life can be said to have been grand thus far, and it has been an honor to endure. When I am done, I will look forward to being guided to that next dimension, wherever that may be. Though I do not believe in the Christian heaven and hell philosophy I was taught in catechism, I do believe there is a continuum that goes beyond our existence on planet Earth, and I look forward to meeting the Spirit who, as I was told, will guide me into that next dimension.  What a wonderful time that will be, perhaps the beginning of grand adventures in the Universe. 

    Native American philosophies I learned from other Apache at the Sierra Blanca Ski resort, during that winter in Ruidoso, state that when our soul departs our body, it will first become star dust and is destined to eventually become another star in the Universe.  

    No matter the direction I must take, I am grateful that I will not be dealing with the dark spirit, and that I will continue making my contributions to mankind as the Medicine Man advised me during that enlightening winter night in the beautiful mountains of New Mexico, snow falling lightly onto the quaint little town of Ruidoso.  



    Medicine Man is the recount of a personal experience in late 1973 while living in Ruidoso, New Mexico, a mountain village near the Sierra Blanca Ski Resort. 
    I had seen this Medicine Man at the ski area, then owned and operated by the Apache Tribe, but I had never spoken with him prior to that evening at the diner.
    I recall him being present the weekend before the resort opened, with a smoking wand of sage giving blessings to the ski resort and all the equipment. When he entered the diner that evening and asked to sit with me, this story unfolded. 
This is an actual life event of which I write, without embellishment, an experience that continues to remain unique in all that I have experienced throughout all my life. It is 2024 and I am now 75, and this remains unique and with merit. 
    With all sincerity, I can only state that I feel blessed. Yes, there have been additional close calls that I fortunately survived. Based on what was learned from the Medicine Man I presume I must be doing my job properly, and I believe I am still receiving guidance from both, the Medicine Man who I have not seen since moving away from Ruidoso, and from a woman who has come in and out of my life for over fifteen years. I am happy to be able to say, I am still here.  
    About 45 years later in life, when lost and feeling that I had failed in my responsibilities, I retreated to the desert for several years and gained guidance from spirits to whom I prayed and who helped me find my return to the light.  
    There are times I wonder how long I will carry on. Yet, for being able to carry on, I am grateful and give thanks to the spirits who make it possible. 
    At the age of seventy-five I reconnected with my "woman guide" and I am thankful! For years I traveled seven hours (round trip) north in my effort to get her guidance. Perhaps her recognizing the guidance received during my years in the desert, she recognized that I would need continuing guidance in the urban environment and has provided such. Thank you, Virginia.  
    The Medicine Man did say that I would find eternal love with my earthly Spirit of Light, later in life and to be patient. Patient I have been, and mistakes I have made along the way. The patience has paid off as I have finally learned and feel that internal feeling which I am unable to describe but which warms my being and brings to my face the smile I recall coming to the face of the Medicine Man who reached into my soul and provided answers to questions that had bothered me so.  
    I also give thanks to our Native Americans, their culture, and their beliefs. I now teach a course on the Anasazi at the University of Utah In closing I say thank you to all who have helped me continue through a wonderful and blessed life and who helped me learn and understand the spiritual aspect of life and love.