I’d heard that Mama Donna, the Urban Shaman, was planning an “emergency Equinox Blessing” in front of the Stock Exchange at 11:44 Monday morning. I arrived on Wall Street at 11:37 a.m. to find a 63-year-old woman laden with necklaces and African bracelets conferring with security guards by the barricades. (The Stock Exchange has been closed to visitors since Sept. 11.) This must be the Urban Shaman herself! “I cleared everything with them,” she reported back to her five supporters. “This won’t be another one of Mama Donna’s equinox arrest excursions.” She was making an in-joke about being arrested with 33 celebrants at South Beach in Staten Island in 1998.
But the autumnal equinox was approaching, so all seven of us stood in a circle holding hands. Then, one by one, each of us kissed the next person’s hand.
“Oops! I kissed my own hand by mistake!” a blond woman admitted. We giggled.
Shamanism is not High Church.
Mama Donna handed each of us a bundle of sage tied with white string, and a small pouch of glitter, which she described as “gold dust.” These were the tools of our ritual. A woman with a streak of pink in her blond hair lit our sage bundles using a barbecue lighter. We waved our burning sage at the citadel of capitalism, as Mama Donna chanted: “We’re blessing the stock market with cleansing, with balance. We want to cleanse the greed. We want to cleanse the manipulation. We want to cleanse the selfishness. We want to cleanse the market system so that real people can have homes, can have food, can have medical care. We offer purification of those who only think of the bottom line.”
“Cleansinnng!” all seven of us chanted.
My sage, I noticed, had stopped burning. The woman next to me helped me relight it.
Now we had reached the second part of our ceremony. Mama Donna lifted a pink spray bottle containing “healing waters” from sites around the world: the Ganges, the Zamzam well at Mecca, Lourdes, Sabana Grande in Puerto Rico, the Doon Well in Ireland, the well of the Oracle at Delphi, Miracle Lake in Florida—and more! “I offer you all blessing water!” she pronounced, spraying us.
“Blessing!” Mama Donna shouted, spritzing some Japanese tourists, who smiled. Clearly, the Three Stooges have slightly influenced her spiritual practice.
In the last section of the ritual, each of us scattered “gold dust” in the direction of the Stock Exchange, with an invocation.
“For power! This place really holds so much power!” exclaimed the pink-streak woman, sprinkling gold dust.
“For prosperity and peace!” shouted Cookie Pemberton, who had helped relight my sage.
“Salaam alaikum!” I cried, releasing a pinch of glitter. (I personally believe blessings should always be in a foreign language.)
“For balance! For balanced checking accounts!” Mama Donna intoned, releasing gold dust.
The blessing was over, so I interviewed my fellow ritualists.
“We had plenty of sage, we had plenty of spirit, and you know, when the going gets tough, the tough start chanting!” Diane Fusco remarked. She reviews books for the online New Age Journal. The next person I spoke to, Dalia Basiouny, handed me her card: “Associate Radio Producer, Arabic Language Unit, United Nations Radio.” Do all shamanic healers also work as journalists?
“Do you think our blessing will change Wall Street?” I asked Mama Donna.
“Are the numbers going to go up? I don’t know,” she answered, smiling. “And I don’t really understand economics. But lately I’ve noticed a ‘spiritual catatonia.’ I mean, people are just frozen in terror. Not just about the stock market, either. About the war, about politics, about the environment, about everything! So that’s part of what I consider my job to be, to offer hope. You know, hope in us, hope in our heart, hope in our spirit.”
By the end of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had dropped 372.75 points.