Kate Walters artist

KATE WALTERS: Love Pray Paint

Art and shamanism meet in the life and work of painter Kate Walters.
Here she talks to Sophie Lévy Burton

Image: Due Angeli (Two Angels)

SLB: The worlds you paint are full of myth and archetypes and actually the first thing I want to ask you about is an archetype that you don’t paint – and yet I feel there are aspects of you within it – this is the rather unattractively named Jungian archetype Crone.

KW: Ah.

Kate Walters

Kate Walters – Image: Alban Roinard

SLB: Yes, I know it’s a tricky one to start off with, but as I’ve understood it the crone is a universal image, and has existed throughout time and across cultures, very visible in mythology and stories. She represents wisdom, inner knowing, and intuition. She goes straight to the heart of what it means to be a woman. Now, based on my experience at your shamanic workshops, I thought here you are with your wealth of experience, intuitive and spiritual experience guiding a circle of women and working with archetypes. You’re also 64. How do you respond to the word crone?

A painting is an act of discovery. I never paint what I know

KW: My response is I want to push it away, I don’t like the word or the associations and I don’t identify with it. Actually I was so fascinated by your question that I discussed it with a Jungian friend. He said but of course you are a crone: you are an initiated woman, you’ve been through all the stages of initiation, you’ve been through the fire, now you’re in a position where you’re happy to share that with others. So whilst I accept that, I’ll not identify with it. Also, the term which I find so ugly was coined by a man. Men (and many women too) seem happy to use it. My father was. It always carried a weight that, even at a young age, I sensed to be something that was despised. Not respected. Feared possibly yes, but that wouldn’t be admitted to. 

Kate Walters - Girl with a Golden Horse oil on linen

Girl with a Golden Horse oil on linen 30 x 24cm

SLB: Through the fire? Meaning what exactly?

KW: The fire of human experience – when I underwent shamanic training (at the Northern Drum Shamanic Centre) my teacher Chris Luttichau made sure one of the things you have is several healing sessions with your teacher. In those sessions you become like a blade and each time you go through the fire you’re tempered, and all of these experiences you’ve had – all of them pretty awful involving violence and abandonment – are ways of tempering you. Initiatory stages. You learn how to survive. Doors open. Doors of perception and understanding open.

SLB: Can you say a bit more about that transformative process?

KW: In shamanic practice all kinds of traumatic things can cause soul loss, even anaesthesia, or being hospitalized as a child; part of the soul (the most sensitive aspects) will disappear and cannot be worked on until it comes back. Part of the role of the shaman is to bring back the missing part; they’ll only come back if the person is ready to work with them, to protect them. One of the shamanic teachings is that you always look for the teaching in any situation. You always look for what you need to learn from any difficult or painful situation. The silver lining is that if you’ve experienced soul loss in younger life, part of you already knows where to go in terms of visionary experience. It’s a place you already know. When I use my drum and I go into trance states, it’s simply second nature.

SLB: You already know it?

KW: Yes, it’s knowledge. I’m comfortable with it and I can assimilate it. Into my work, my paintings, writing and teaching. And I know I can come back from it, the other place, so I feel safe. 

Kate Walters - Falling Together, Rising Together

Falling Together, Rising Together oil on gessoed paper 76 x 56cm

SLB: So then forgive me, if I’m still running with this idea of the crone archetype and your feelings as a woman around it, isn’t this then exactly what you do? So the Crone is this ancient Holy One, helping through transitions, enabling this regeneration, drawing us inward during difficult times and bringing meaning to the shadow side of us that dies … She’s Kali, she’s Cerridwen, she’s Persephone the destroyer (and of course you paint Persephone.) Given all that classification, why still want to push it away?

KW: I think we need to rehabilitate it. I definitely don’t like the word. 

SLB: And yet one of the etymologies of it is crown …

KW: Well I love that, I work with the crown a lot of course. But crone, the sound of it is all wrong. Ugly and hard.Like moan or groan. Crown is beautiful, musical and open. Like hag as well.

SLB: And of course hag is derived from the root word Hagia, holy in Greek, a reverence for older, wise women … Hagiology still means the study of holy saints.

This is High Priestess energy

KW: Yes, but there’s nothing nice about the sounds of it – fag, bag, rag, tag – nothing pleasing to the ear. I like the way words sound even if I don’t fully understand their meaning. It’s why I’m drawn to Italian and French over Germanic languages. Luciole is a favourite word. It’s French for firefly, and it conjures memories of looking for fireflies in woods on a Mediterranean hillside when I  was a young woman…. My dissertation many years ago was on the poetry of Stephane Mallarme, and alchemy; poetry as transforming fire. In fact music plays a considerable part in my working day. Frequency and tone are part of all my work as an artist and shamanic practitioner. When I sit down to make my drawings in my studio, in my music books, I don my headphones and almost always begin with Bach. Later in the day I’ll switch to dance music or Sufi trance music when I’m working on larger paintings. Then sometimes back to something gentle like A Chloris…

SLB: Ok so sound is energy of course, and you’re sensitive to that. What title would you use instead?

KW: I quite like queen. Which would relate to the crown, of course. Sometimes I work with my Tarot cards and I often pull the High Priestess card, and the Empress. As I become older the High Priestess feels like a more accurate and beautiful way to describe how I feel and view myself; I am still viewing the world with intense interest and zest, and aware of how power can work through me. And each time the power comes, especially in workshop situations, it’s more refined and beautiful than before. This is High Priestess energy. But ultimately it has nothing to do with age or gender. But maybe I have to be who I am now to be able to receive it, to contain it; because I have done the work.

Spirit Horse detail

SLB: I’ve run with this question so hard because, as we’ve discussed, this is exactly what you do, you’re in that lineage, a woman, an elder and a shaman. I didn’t realise until I came to Devon to one of your workshops and saw the significance of it; saw the way you held the space, the circularity of the group, the yurt, the drum; a real holding space for change and transformation. And you, the elder in the centre of it. Do you think we need to change the way we behold women of this age?

KW: Well older men profess a deep respect for women and the divine feminine, the wisdom of the feminine, and do not like what the patriarchy is doing and yet they still act out the thing that they profess to dislike. I feel younger men are different. Maybe it’s biological programming, the body and its needs, the selfish gene; as older women maybe we need to understand that and let it go. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s part of accepting that “the Shadow has a home in even the holiest of places” (as a friend and collaborator said recently, when I asked him about this). I feel younger men are different. They’ve been raised in a different society by different mothers. I feel they don’t see me as an invisible older woman. It’s strange really. I go dancing with my son and his friends, and I feel completely accepted. Young men come to my workshops and it feels as if there’s no difference in our ages once we are working together, all learning and all in a place of respect.

Psyche Kissing eros

Psyche Kissing Eros oil on gessoed paper 55 x 39cm

SLB: How do you feel about ageing itself?

KW: I feel very young. I feel vibrant, strong in my body, I don’t feel old at all. I’m fit, strong, have a high libido. I simply don’t identify with that label of ageing. Sometimes I feel pain in my body when an emotion needs to be expressed, and my body has ways of telling me things.

SLB: So maybe I’m asking the wrong question, or the right question the wrong way. The fact is your latest painted works, over the past three years or so, have been figurative abstract works of young women not only in highly eroticised poses, but your women are ageless, abstracted into feminine forces, often shining with youth, often painted in luminescent golds, pinks.

KW: That’s how I feel. I’m painting myself and the energetic qualities of Eros. I’m painting my life force.

SLB: But you’re not literally, as they are not older women physically. So it’s a psychic portrait then, subtle energies?

KW: Yes, because that’s what I feel energetically when I’m painting. All that sexual energy comes out when I paint. I dance when I paint. Dancing activates the lower chakras, our womb energy, our sexual organs. I’m fluent and strong in the lower body, my muscles are strong. When I paint the little child I am painting the creative part. In shamanic terms it’s the same area. That which is experimental and wants to learn … is expressive, is fun, likes to play. These are all the aspects that are important to the artist. Any artist that is not active with their little child is not an artist that is alive and thriving, whose work is growing.

SLB: So you’d say you have to be synced into your sexual energy?

KW: Which is similar to the child’s energy. The same place within the body. The little child is incredibly alive and without shame, you need to nurture that place. It’s also shamanically the place of the East, of lumination, brightness, the new sun, the new day. This is how I feel. The calendar will tell me that I’m 64, but I don’t feel it.

Kate Walters

With a Man oil on prepared paper 65 x 50cm

SLB: We’re talking about women, age and ageing (or youthing) and one of the things that strike me visually about you is your extraordinary crown of hair. Is that part of your persona?

KW: I guess it must be. When I was a little girl my parents cut my hair off. And I was very distressed about that; ever since then I’ve had long hair. It’s part of who I am now. It’s a bit of a mane, and connects me in some ways to my great love of horses, which occurs as a totemic theme in my work. One of my strongest memories is with one of my horses, Phaedra. She’d just arrived and she was walking through a field beside me. Her mane was the same colour as my hair. She was a chestnut with blonde mane and tail – and I had this feeling of enormous happiness – an association with this mare and this mane. And her walking beside me.

SLB: Hair in terms of self-identity is important? Even spiritual identity?

KW: Of course, and when I paint and draw this woman and girl – whoever she is – aspects of me – she always has a lot of hair – and often the hair is connected to something. Now in shamanic teaching the hair is to do with power. In the Bible men didn’t cut their hair; it would be a loss of power if they cut their hair. A hat over hair is a way of extending the crown – the crown chakra – up to the spirit world. That’s why bishops have a pointed hat. Animals have horns and antlers – their way of connecting upwards to the spirit world. I used to paint deer with enormous antlers. Shamanically if you dream of horns you have the ability to go far into the spirit world, and come back safely. The hair is part of these associations. I did a drawing of little Kate the other day. I tuned into her, invited her to come – both hands, closed eyes, and sketched really quickly – her hair was up like this, as if she had antlers. She was about 4 years old.

SLB: When you tune in like that what are you actually tuning into?

KW: I’m turning into my damaged often sorrowful inner child that I haven’t given enough attention to.

SLB: Is that an aspect of your soul, can you articulate it, a vibration?

KW: I’m tuning into something that’s very damaged, very young, tender, thoughts she’d forgotten about; in terms of soul she is part of my damaged soul, still hurting – giving her attention and listening to her, standing up for myself and her, helps her to be mended. It is an aspect of myself that I’m healing, that I’m still having to work on. It’s part of my role as a shamanic teacher. It’s a path that I’m treading and I’m not asking anyone to go anywhere that I haven’t been.

SLB: And it’s an aspect of the psyche, I suppose? Universal and archetypal?

Kate Walters

We Open to Each Other Completely oil on sized paper with spray paint 84 x 56cm

KW: Yes, absolutely. And mythically it’s to do with Perspehone, that little girl-child who’s waking up and disappearing, who wants to disappear, who is raped, taken away, stolen …

SLB: And that’s why your interest in archetypes and myth is so fierce, this wounded inner child that you have experienced?

KW: Partly. I was already treading this path before that part of me was woken up. Myth and shamanic teachings don’t normally meet in this way. I’ve brought them together myself as a separate interest. My shamanic education did not include myth. My teacher Chris was immersed in Native American and northern European indigenous lore and wisdom.

SLB: Would you say it’s this power of the archetype found in myth that has attracted you, is a key to open the transformation process?

KW: Yes. Many years ago, in my thirties, I experienced very severe back pain which led me to working with a psychotherapist. I used to take my paintings to show her. Through the act of painting I was able to access the archetypal world. Rivers I could step into, safely; I once painted something hanging over my neck, and I didn’t realise the significance of this. My therapist helped me to see the archetypal meaning, and I had arrived at it, to it, by a safe route, without words. I knew nothing of archetypes before this, but it seemed they knew me, knew of my need for them, and they came to me through my painting and drawing.

Kate Walters - Winged Horse

Winged Horse, a manifestation of Eros, with psyche, oil on gessoed paper 55 x 39cm

SLB: I am very struck by your paintings of horses and people, and wondered if we can talk about your relationship to the horse. For years horses were your passion, you were an accomplished rider. Are horses archetypes for you in the Jungian sense?

KW: It probably is an archetype, one of safety. But more than that … There’s a book I read years ago by Jungian psychologist Marie-Louise von Franz, Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales.Towards the end of the book she discusses the image of the horse and the psychology of the horse, in our unconscious; she said the horse reopens and resets the authentic voice of the cells of the body. I read that and thought yes –there’s more to my relationship with horses. There is some vibrational level that is open when the image of the horse is with us. In dreams I am often being carried by a horse. That’s to do with safety, being carried over difficulties. My horse Phaedra was a thoroughbred, what’s known as a hot chestnut mare, difficult to ride, fearless and brave. She represented a mother figure. 

When You Lend Me Your Phallus oil on sized paper 50 x 65cm

SLB: Is that why in your horse paintings they have these soft feminine faces? I mean, horses have appeared in art since people painted in caves … in your own works they are frequently shown, mostly with (as it appears to me) feminine faces, more matriarchal than bestial, and sometimes also sexualised, appearing to merge into human flesh or be exuded from it. Is that a correct reading of them? I’m thinking particularly of Winged Horse, Spirit Horse with Psyhcopomp, Riding my Horse of all the Stars. The pigments you use, too, are heart pinks or hot reds.

KW: Yes. That horse loved me and would stand over me. When I bred foals from her later I saw her behaving to them in the same way she behaved to me. I felt safe with her in a childhood that I never was safe in. To be with a highly strung creature and feel safe … a special thing. She shared with me her fierceness and bravery.

The Lovers oil on linen 90 x 80cm (left) – Self Portrait with Golden Wand oil on linen (right)

SLB: So are horses somehow part of our collective consciousness, enabling people to make contact with feelings they’d buried deep inside their shadow, evoking intense feelings and unbridled passion, these flesh-and-blood incarnations of powerful forces bottled up within us that we wish we had the guts to saddle and ride?

KW: Yes, but more than that, because there’s something about the frequency of being with a horse that helps our own frequency to rise and open, and be in tune. Their heart vibrations are in tune with our heart vibrations. Shamanically horses are not my power animals, but this one Phaedra is my painting helper – helpers for various roles in my life. So when I’m painting a horse I’m painting painting. Painting that helps me to understand things, painting that helps me see connections between things. Connection, the feeling of being connected, is what heals trauma.

All that sexual energy comes out when I paint. I dance when I paint

SLB: Like a spirit horse? Is it an aspect of your psyche or a real thing, vibrationally, in a universe of complex and subtle energies, invisible energies?

KW: Marie-Louise von Franz says it’s to do with the psyche, but I think it’s more to do with tuning into the subtle energies we can’t see that we access in dreams or trance. As you say, a real thing vibrationally in an invisibleuniverse… Or in the moment of creative flow. That happens to me, I get a weird buzzing feeling in my belly when it’s about to happen, when I’m letting go into it, a high energy feeling, possibly the solar plexus opening, the higher power. I’ve just started another horse painting and I know it’s to do with a telepathic horse, a psychic horse. This horse’s head just appeared between a man’s and a woman’s head, one big eye which was joining together the masculine and the feminine, and I knew – a psychic horse which carries you. The horse carries you like a river, the same on a shamanic journey (the drum is known as shaman’s horse) on which you don’t know where you’re going.

Kate Walters riding her horse Phaedra

Kate Walters riding her horse Phaedra

SLB: Do you think the horse is a higher species than a human?

KW: I think in some ways they are mysterious; I think they are super sensitive. I have a book upstairs in my bed – I literally keep my favourite books in my bed – by Wendy O’Donoghue, about the horse in Indian and Irish mythologies. I’ve learned a lot from this book, it has opened up the themes which are stored in me. I find a resonance which inspires me, excites me and soothes in equal measure. Another book is about the history of the horse in India, and the myth that the horse god arose from the oceans and was one of the most powerful forces in the universe.

SLB: Do you think we are becoming detached from all this wisdom?

KW: Well, we’re becoming detached from everything. The earth, the natural world, the animal kingdom. Fear is at the root of the disconnection.

My bond was with horses. My first word was horse. We rode bareback when we were young, naked, that incredible connection with a strong body which is grounded, so present, it’s not moving away in front of you, it’s not going to abandon you

SLB: I wanted to ask you about horses and sexuality as a girl learning to ride. I remember going bareback through Windsor Great Park and getting a real thrill – I was about 5. Not sexual but something psychically grounding to my own ground of being, as it were.

KW: When I was 12 or 13 I used to strip naked and charge around on my male horse through a field of grass … I remember the sensation of the grassy seedheads gently whipping my toes. 

SLB: But this wasn’t sexual?

KW: For me it was about connection. I craved connection, I didn’t connect to humans. My bond was with horses. My first word was horse. We rode bareback when we were young, naked, that incredible connection with a strong body which is grounded, so present, it’s not moving away in front of you, it’s not going to abandon you. It was safe to be close to him and be still with him. He wouldn’t shout at me. He wouldn’t make fun of me. 

Kate Walters - I Dream of a Spirit Horse and the Lovers he brings

I Dream of a Spirit Horse and the Lovers he Brings oil on sized paper 76 x 100cm

SLB: Would you say your evolution as both artist and shamanic teacher could only have gone through the horse?

KW: I’ll never know that because that’s not what happened. I don’t know what would have happened without Phaedra. I do know she was my anchor, inspiration and teacher. When I had a baby I was in hospital breastfeeding, and the nurse asked me how many children I’d had, as I seemed to know how to breastfeed instinctively. I said my horse had taught me how to do this. Phaedra’s love had literally taught me how to mother. I had another horse, a male horse, her foal. He was super strong, fiery, fire in a skin. But tragically he died when he was three, from a brain injury. Now I’m telling you this because still there was a consequence to this – I nearly went out of my mind with grief. In shamanic teaching the state of madness is often an initiation, a stage to becoming a shaman. The veils are pulled away, our consciousness expands. It’s agony and you’re being born into this world of pain, but somehow you survive it; you grow. You’re stronger. I still have those two horses with me, they’re still teaching and I’m still learning. They’re in me.

SLB: When did you start painting horses?

KW: Since childhood I’d draw them onto paper, onto furniture. I drew on any surface, every surface, like these horses were this highway to my soul. Now they come and go in my work. In Hindu mythology the stallion stands for a king. In my paintings the horse, mare or stallion might come as a lover. My shamanic teacher told me something I already knew but didn’t but dare speak aloud: that very evolved beings sometimes come to earth in animal form. I’ve been very fortunate to meet some, my dogs and cats too. When my beloved boy died I spent a lot of time looking at the sky and the stars. I had a sense that he’d gone back to the stars. I had to accept that.

SLB: How do you feel about seeing horses in other paintings, given that they are part of your whole? For example, in Picasso’s Guernica?

KW: Well, they don’t have the energy of love that I infuse mine with. I like Franz Marc’s work, there’s a softness and a beauty. In Picasso – a horror aspect and a cruelty. In classical art you see horses in distress. They’re just props for the man (usually a man) to make a statement. I don’t get anything from them.

SLB: If we can get onto the subject of trauma and memoir, I know at the moment you’ve been working in depth on the nature of trauma. Coupled with this there is a great trend at the moment in women’s literature for memoir – exploring the personal past, memory and indeed trauma. Well, I was wondering what aspects of memoir you weave into your own paintings – is it too far-fetched to think of your paintings as visual chapters of memoir? I was thinking particularly of Young Girl with Wolf, the Tears paintings. Is your painting an aspect of that in a pictorial, visual sense?

KW: Yes, more and more.

SLB: Although painting isn’t really thought of as memoir?

Man with Fruitful Anima

Golden Horse with Wings

KW: A painting is an act of discovery. I never paint what I know. I might know it very subtly … the paintings always teach me something that I don’t know or appreciate, they open up another door. In terms of memoir they’ll speak to something that happened to me, but they take me beyond it as well; they show why it happened, or what it meant. I suppose you could say someone like Louise Bourgeois, that her paintings are a kind of memoir, based on her own trauma as a girl and the psychoanalytic aspects … Frida Kahlo and Tracey Emin too … But it’s not conscious and that’s the difference perhaps between memoir writing and painting.

SLB: So you don’t consciously think of it as a memoir, but your latest show Trauma and the Inner Child is definitely made up of chapters of your life. I’m interested in this as an example of the creative manifesting force for women. It seems needed at the moment. There’s so much of it. And it sells. Women need to read about other women’s experience, these self-examined portraits. And actually I feel it goes back to the idea of the crone, that dreaded crone, an older, wiser woman looking back, holding her life, examining her life, holding her truth. Empowering herself through memory.

We are all wounded. And our wounds are portals to something better, something higher

KW: Yes, and it’s about standing on firm ground for women. Sometimes we need to look back and see why and where we’re standing now, how we feel. How strong or not we feel after going through things that are heartbreaking.

SLB: Your series of LOVE paintings – were they strictly to do with your personal biography, because they involved myth and archetypes, but were they also metaphorical?

KW: No, they were me, my personal biography, but they were my inner fantasy life too, to do with an unrequited love, but as real as my everyday life. Aspects of myself that lived in a subtle realm that I needed; they happened telepathically, psychically. I grounded that period by painting it. A lot of those paintings came directly from dreams. The relationship with this man I examined and chronicled was a psychic relationship. I made them real by painting them.

SLB: They’re very powerful images. When they were exhibited was that fantasy aspect clear or slightly veiled?

Kate Walters drawing

Man with Fruitful Anima

KW: Veiled and I believe the more powerful, mysterious for it.

SLB: Would you say when someone buys your painting they actually need to know the backstory?

KW: No.

SLB: Again, I’m fascinated by this vogue at the moment for taking an almost Jungian slant on our lives, owning our story, recognising the meaning of our existence through our own myth and folklore. I feel this in your own work. I guess we’re back to memoir …

KW: The painting, drawing of that period – which continues – when my heart was deeply affected by this unrequited love – absolutely helped work out the relationship. And the feelings, the charge between me and the man helpeddevelop my painting, helped me to realise something deep through the medium of painting, because the man in question encouraged me and supported my painting.

SLB: So are we talking recovery, discovery – and not memoir?

KW: Yes, recovery and understanding, bodily re-membering, literally my body being put back together through the process of painting. Proper healing. In his book The Myth of Normal, Dr Gabor Maté talks about the process of healing from trauma. I read it and realised that … art saves. It helps us to access things that are traumatised. Art is transforming. It’s alchemical. We take this base metal of human experience, often horror and agony, and through the process of art we change it into something beautiful. Art saves because it can stop that destructive path. It can reroute it, colour it, elevate and transform it.

SLB: Do you think the act of painting, over (say) writing, is therapeutic or valedictory in terms of healing. In an energetic sense you paint from your heart and you write from your mind?

KW: No, I write from my heart, it can be magical as well, the two processes hold hands energetically. Of course two different sides of the brain are involved in these two disciplines. Years ago I used to see a kinesiologist who said the two halves of my brain speak to each other well. I paint and write with my left hand often – not naturally, but as a process, as a psychic tool.

SLB: Can you explain that power, what it achieves? You use left-handed painting as a tool in your workshops, of course.

He wants to look inside her oil on canvas 71 x 71cm

KW: The right side of the brain is to do with synthesis, the felt, sensed. When you draw or write with your left hand you connect with this region of the brain and can assimilate things that have been left unopened. Something comes through that needs healing. If I’m really stuck with a painting I’ll use my left hand and often close my eyes, take a breath and then trust – and paint. Something better always comes. It’s miraculous. It often involves painting or drawing with an oil stick over something that I’ve spent hours or days painting. 

SLB: What part are you trusting?

KW: My inner guidance, the paint itself, the act of creation, the creative force. By trusting you are also connecting to that spirit world. Let go of what you know of your tiny human mind, we are so brain-centred. Get out of it. Let go.

SLB: Do you think painting is a form of prayer?

KW: Absolutely. I pray when I paint. My painting is prayer. I pray all the time.

SLB: In your workshops art meets the shaman. Is art therapy?

KW: They’re very natural bedfellows but I wouldn’t say art is therapy, although it can be a healing modality. For me the shamanic work – calling on spirit guides, opening to guidance – is different to studio practice. But painting is part of the shamanic journey, and to be taken further. The understanding we can gain from painting when we let go and trust … It’s the same as the degree of enlightenment we gain from a shamanic journey. They’re parallel.

Lovers and Spirit Horse with Sun Eye oil on watercolour 76 x56cm (left ) – Horse ink sketch (right)

SLB: Following on from my experience of your workshops, it’s clear you’ve built up a spiritual community (I’m almost tempted to use the word ‘cult’, simply because of your popularity). I know after that first experience with your women’s circle I wanted to come back. I had no idea I would feel like that. I know I needed it. I’ve never had that with a church. What do you think is the reason why you have the following, why is it such a powerful combination and what is it fulfilling in women? What are you providing that the church can’t?

KW: What’s coming … is that there’s something that’s not there. When I was a teacher in school, years ago, older students would always seek me out to just do work around me. I knew there were holes in those kids and they wanted, needed something. When you asked that just now, I have a sense that it is something that is just needed. It’s a potent combination. I learned to hold a strong circle. When I’m doing that I’m different to now, different to when I paint. I almost stop being myself and something comes through me. Often at the end I’ll cry, like a release. I feel I’m just a vessel for it. It feels like it’s a point of light, we need these points of light. Our gatherings are points of light, I only work with light.

SLB: Would you call that God? Increasingly a word not used.

KW: Native Americans would call it Great Spirit. When I connect I feel it as an extraordinary force, beyond description really, to do with life, energising, pure life. A force of electricity, the best power, a river of love. It’s all about love.

My horse Phaedra was a thoroughbred, what’s known as a hot mare, difficult to ride, fearless and brave. She represented a mother figure

SLB: Do you think that away from the male healers in the church and their masculine energies – so easily abused, women projecting onto them, etc. – in a women’s circle it’s a cleaner process, women can be more themselves, dance more without this psychological possibility of projection (and of abuse).

KW: Yes, but sometimes it’s not so simple, if for example you have a mother complex. They’re still projections but not manipulations and not sexual manipulations. It’s cleaner. Male spiritual platforms and groups can be a minefield for women.

SLB: But that goes back to my original question about what women are really getting from all women’s groups.

KW: We trust each other. And we share. A male teacher or priest figure …  can mean women lose their power by projecting their power onto him, thinking he is the source of their healing. And women with a faulty or unformed animus can project distortions onto male teachers and leaders. Sometimes their male love objects can ‘wear the cloak the women throw around them’ as my male analyst friend told me. But the soul has her ways and sometimes falling in love is part of the soul’s journey. It’s the coming to know and own one’s own maleness (or animus). We need to retrieve the parts we project outwards; we need to learn this wisdom, how we give away our power, and what it means when we do this. 

Kate Walters

He Draws Her Out of Me

SLB: Do you think women are taking back power away from the church? Is it as conscious as that? Regaining the divine feminine? And the matriarchal society?

KW: I read a wonderful book by Jules Cashford, The Myth of the Goddess – actually about how the myth of the goddess has been lost from Judaeo-Christian images of the divine. But you know, as Goethe said, a secret worth a thousand is what we gain when we enter into a conversation with nature, and I think women are better equipped to enter into conversations with nature. Which is the shamanic process. We usually don’t seek to dominate. When I go to church there’s still that element of rules, strictness; in my circles there’s no criticism and I’m generally not strict. Once, in the yurt, a woman came in and spontaneously cantered round the altar. It was such a great energetic burst, we all got up and cantered round the altar. It was hilarious and healing. And full of love. There was no disrespect, just high spirited joy and a joining with the horse character. Now, that strictness is just a hangover from a patriarchal society. So we can be our true selves. In many traditional esoteric and not so esoteric practices the traditions are highly valued. They have almost always been put in place by men. I think times are changing and women are realising that these traditions don’t always serve the good, nature, the soul, or the little child. And now women are learning how to be courageous in challenging these traditions. (As I speak I’m remembering how my first spiritual teacher, back in my twenties, said that it would be women who would save the world).

Once, in the yurt, a woman came in and spontaneously cantered round the altar. It was such a great energetic burst we all got up and cantered round the altar. It was hilarious and healing

Kate in her Newlyn Studio – Image: Alban Roinard

SLB: When I first came to your workshop, I was very resistant. Then there was this breakthrough and the entire energy to me changed and I had a hunger or an appetite to belong to the circle, I needed to be part of it, that healing power. I’ve never experienced something like that. I was making a spiritual statement to myself. I’ve never had that in a church, not even with the Quakers, whom I love.

KW: I think there’s a lightness to these groups. Mine and others. In mine there’s joy, and we really laugh together and sometimes we dance.

SLB: Yes, in that first workshop at the end we painted and danced in an enormous polytunnel. It was brilliant, so freeing.

KW: Yes, and I think for me being an artist is a huge part of that and what I’m trying to establish. Being creative, taking chances, getting out of our heads, making something that reflects something back to us that is unexpected … and beautiful … or crude, raw and ugly. Shamanic workshops sometimes don’t have that as a component – but in mine, in their lightness, their joy, our matriarchy, we are retrieving power, knowing, strength, the body, prayer, using our hands, getting in touch with our animal, not apologising. 

studio - image

Image: Alban Roinard

SLB: Take me through one of your paintings, the process I mean.

KW:  I began this large oil painting, Golden Snake Encircles, in Autumn 22. Now its finished I can see it references a dream I had around thirty years ago, in which I was standing near large rectangular man-made silver pools of water and a primordial snake with an enormous body and a small head slid out of the deeps and came to me, and wrapped his great body around my legs. I stroked his head and didn’t feel afraid. It was as if he was giving me a message. When I’d understood him (at a cellular level) he slid away. In the painting the tail of the snake seems to emerge from the woman’s hand, my hand, and then it disappears out behind the painting to emerge again behind the man’s shoulders, from where it dances in the air and up to my brow, gently touching me on my third eye. An awakening. Lower down, from the man’s golden testicles a golden phallus rises to my heart; and a river descends to the heart of my womb. Green, the colour of the heart chakra, infuses my sexual area. There are rivers of movement, currents of colour and energy and paint. This painting painted itself. Ouruborus features strongly; and the Sacred Marriage.

Golden Snake Encircles 2022

SLB: It’s beautiful, shimmering with energy.

KW: Thank you.

Work in progress, the studio – Image: Alban Roinard

SLB: You run workshops throughout the year in Devon and also once a year on Iona, a full week. They’re always themed on psycho-spiritual subjects, such as The Inner Child, Let Death Be Your Teacher, Eros and Sacred Sexuality. Do you have expectations of what your collective will experience or is it more random than that?

KW: It’s certainly not random. Although I won’t know the outcomes in advance, I establish clear intentions and a healthy spiritual, fertile energetic garden if I may express it like that. A few weeks before a workshop I’ll go into a place of intention and a place of focus … I’ll ask what we need to work on. Each morning I’ll sit with my iPad and add to my lesson plan. I used to be a teacher and old habits die hard! That gets refined, adjusted, but it remains inspired. In somewhere like Iona – Iona is already a thin place, so you’re basically already there, the work is being done for you. It’s a crystalline place, things appear in the light, lots of rainbows. Your dreams are incredible … It’s more visionary, more open to the upper world. It’s a place of birds, St Brigid, St Columba and the snake. It’s made from the most ancient rock on our planet. So you’re tuning into the very ancient and high … a big stretch between these, you’ll feel purified. Your awareness becomes greatly expanded.

SLB: Tell me about your drum.

Shamanic Workshop Kate Walters

Shamanic Workshop, Kate Walters drumming. Image: Sally Triptree

KW: Well, the drum is known as the shaman’s horse. It’s immensely powerful. It carries us on its rhythm. It is sustaining, you ride the drum. Originally years ago when I started my training, I was invited to observe shamanic healing in a place where Roger Hilton used to live, near the village of Nancledra, a little stone cottage, no electricity. There was a big drum called the mother Drum, about 90 centimetres across. Chris, my teacher, would start the song and then the drummers would take it up. I observed this circle and then joined in on the mother Drum. Finally I got my own drum. I learned my own healing song when I had facial neuralgia and found allopathic medicine didn’t work. It was very natural. Drumming works on the cells. It energises them and breaks up old patterns or stuck energy. The drum will bring them up. In my own circles I’ll feel pulled in that moment to the person. You hold the heart of the drum that is in touch with the person, their inner part. You must never leave that inner part exposed. It’s a living thing, it’s alive. Energetically it’s alive. It needs to be respected. I love it when it starts to sing and notes fly off it.

SLB: How can an object be alive like that?

KW: In shamaninc teaching everything is alive like that, stones, trees, even televisions, cars …

SLB: So we affect everything?

KW: Yes.

Recovery and understanding, bodily re-membering, literally my body being put back together through the process of painting

SLB: We began this conversation talking about age, wisdom and the idea of the elder woman, the feelings around crone. I want now to ask about Little Kate, as you call her, and you’re working on a series of drawings now around her. You’ve alluded to the pain in your childhood. When did this sense of Spirit and God start for you, spiritual worlds? Was it in childhood?

KW: Yes, very early on I knew everything was alive, I was aware of the earth under the pavements, I felt sad and knew the earth was sad. As a child I was often treated roughly and shouted at and went out into the garden, would find myself in nature, the natural world was my friend. I felt safe in the garden. I would just be with the flowers, the trees. I developed an imaginary world. My mother had a Christian faith and would often take me to church, and unlike a lot of shamanic practitioners I loved church, I would sense the holy beings, the angels, and Christ. The spirit of Christ was very important, still is.

SLB: Where does faith start in children? Are all children born with an awareness?

KW: They’re closer to God, to the Great Spirit and the ancestors than we are.

SLB: So why do some children retain that, evolve it?

KW: In my case I think I had to. I didn’t have any choice. It was what sustained me. A sustenance. It kept me alive.

SLB: In terms of your spiritual memoir, are these painful aspects of childhood necessary?

KW: Yes, and they have helped me when I have worked with other people who have had difficult times. I know what to say, those words will often be doorways and will help them release, they can feel safe and validated. Joseph Beuys said, Show your wound … Not in a dramatic way. It is who I am. And we are all wounded. And our wounds are portals to something better, something higher.are all wounded. And our wounds are portals to something better, something higher.

Instagram: @katewaltersartist

For more about Kate’s work and shamanic courses: https://www.katewalters.co.uk/

For works for sale and information about her next solo exhibition, visit ARUSHA GALLERY: 

For more information on Kate’s shamanic workshops at the College of Art and Well Being:

JULY 2023 Sophie Lévy Burton MONK

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