John is one of the first white men, in recent history, to become a fully initiated sangoma in the Xhosa lineage of South Africa.
He was born, in 1971, into a divided Apartheid South Africa, with the mark of the sangoma on his face – a band of white birth skin around the eyes. At 18, John was serving in the South African army as a medic (during the war with Angola in the 1980s) when he had a strong, prophetic dream calling him to train as a Xhosa sangoma. He immediately began to suffer from the thwasa, a severe period of ill-health that is inherent in all ancient shamanic cultures which can only be cured through apprenticeship to a shamanic teacher. Because of the restrictions of Apartheid (which ended in 1994) it would take John seven years to find a Xhosa teacher. During the early days of his calling he trained as a Zen student under renowned Zen Master, Su Bong, completing an intensive three-month kyol che in a Buddhist monastery in South Korea. He was then invited by the Grand Master Dae Soen Sa Nim to join his “monk army”, but the strength of his sangoma calling drew him back to South Africa.
Eventually, post-Apartheid, John met Mum Ngwevu, a well-known Xhosa Sangoma medicine woman, in one of the poorest townships in South Africa. She had foreseen his arrival in a dream and began his 10-year apprenticeship, giving him the initiated name Ucingolwendaba, meaning messenger or connector between people and cultures.
John now splits his time between South Africa, Europe and the U.S.
Here John discuss his his story on a recent podcast at Mindrolling.