He may look more hip-hop star than sixth-generation healer, but such are Shaman Durek’s powers that he’s Hollywood’s go-to spiritual guru. Elizabeth Day put his magnetic forces to the test… and it’s weirder than you could ever have imagined.
When you go to a sixth-generation shaman for a healing session, you have certain expectations. I imagined a forest clearing, surrounded by sacred stones and maybe a few wind chimes hanging from the trees. I assumed the shaman himself would be a man wearing long white robes and a beatific expression. Possibly even a beard.
But when I arrive for my appointed hour with Shaman Durek, the Los Angeles-based spiritual guide who counts Gwyneth Paltrow among his clients and whose girlfriend is a real-life Norwegian princess, it is at a distinctly un-mystical yoga studio in London’s South Kensington. The reception area is littered with other people’s shoes and a couple of women chatting about the school run. I am led down a corridor to a room with a grey carpet and polystyrene ceiling tiles.
Instead of flowing white robes, Shaman Durek is wearing a perfectly serviceable beige T-shirt and trousers. At least I think he is, because I am so mesmerised by his skin that it’s almost impossible to focus on anything else. It is the most perfect skin I have ever seen: smooth, glowy, youthful and entirely blemish-free. He is 44 but looks like he has just been unwrapped.
He first discovered his shamanic powers at the age of six, he tells me, and he doesn’t look like he’s aged much since then.
‘My mother took me to the dentist, and she turned round and couldn’t find me,’ he says. ‘I’d run out into the street and was hugging an elderly woman on a bench, feeling all of her pain and sadness.’
Luckily, the elderly woman in question didn’t press charges, and Durek began shamanic ‘training’ at the age of 11. He was born Derek Verrett in Sacramento, California, to a well-off family. His father, David, was an engineer of African-Haitian descent; his mother, Veruschka, Indian-Norwegian. His aunt Shirley was a noted opera singer, an African-American mezzo-soprano. He calls on members of his family who have died – his father, his aunt and his grandmother – to help him during healing sessions. (This is not the last you will hear of Aunt Shirley.)
These days, he describes himself as ‘a bridge between the spiritual and physical plane’ and is endorsed by Goop, Paltrow’s multimillion-dollar wellness empire. Paltrow – a frequent presence on his Instagram page – describes him as her ‘soul brother’ and his other clients include actresses Rosario Dawson and Nina Dobrev. A one-to-one session with Durek costs anywhere between £320 and £800.
She ‘grooms me to be a better man’, says Durek of his ‘soul sister’ Gwyneth Paltrow
He is a very modern Shaman: handsome, bisexual and with a penchant for statement necklaces. He talks about things being ‘lit’ and energetic systems that need ‘rebooting’. His forthcoming book, Spirit Hacking, has sections with titles such as Be Your Own Damn Guru. He travels with an entourage, including his niece who looks like a model and is charged with uploading Instagram stories when required. He is an intriguing mix of ancient and modern: half-shaman, half hip-hop star.
He even has a celebrity girlfriend. In May, Princess Märtha Louise of Norway, the 48-year-old daughter of King Harald V and Queen Sonja (and third cousin to our own Queen), announced on social media that they had begun a relationship. The couple met through a mutual friend and Durek ordered in macrobiotic vegan food from a café in LA for their first date. I say first date, although he tells me they’ve actually met several times in past lives, including ancient Egypt where he was a pharaoh and she was his queen.
Back in South Kensington, I stand in front of Durek and he begins talking to me rapidly in an accent best described as Los Angeles via mittel-Europe. It is, like his age, unplaceable. ‘You are not getting enough sleep,’ he says. ‘You’re operating at a two when you should be at least a seven. It’s because your intelligence is such that you hear not only what is being said, but you understand the feeling behind it, and by the end of the week, if you don’t get enough sleep, you’re emotionally depleted.’
With girlfriend Princess Martha-Louise. He’s my ‘twin flame,’ she says
So far, this is pretty accurate. Although I suspect you could tell almost any 40-year-old woman that they’re not getting enough sleep and will feel drained by the end of the week and every single one of us would nod in recognition.
‘We need to work on your core,’ he says, fixing his gaze on mine. ‘Your internal boundaries, because you try to put up external boundaries but people ignore them.’
This is accurate. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about boundaries lately. This past year has been, for me, one of intense transition. It has involved turning 40, getting a job as a columnist for this magazine, launching a podcast, publishing a book, going on a speaking tour and moving house. The transitions have all been for happy reasons, but it’s been exhausting nonetheless. The demands on my time have, on occasion, felt overwhelming, and I have worried that saying no to things makes me appear self-involved or ungrateful.
‘We need to work on getting rid of the guilt and sadness you carry,’ Durek says.
Again, I think, this could be said of a lot of people, but certainly I can relate to it.
‘You’re a little bloated.’
Oh. Bet he doesn’t say that to Gwyneth.
‘But it’s because of all that toxicity you’re carrying down there. We’ll get rid of that for you. You have some issues around your left hip.’
It’s true: I do have issues with my left hip, but no one really knows that other than my chiropractor.
He starts calling on magnetic forces to ‘bring me forward.’ I stand there, feet planted solidly on the grey institutional carpet, and without meaning to, I lean forwards. He does the same thing but somehow pushes me back against the wall behind me. He calls on spirits to bring me ice, and I feel a calm, cool prickle all the way down my back. He asks the spirits to help me release toxicity ‘in whatever way she can’.
I’d read beforehand that, frequently in shamanic healing sessions, clients will burp, cough or even throw up. I’m feeling jittery. I sort of want to burp, just to see what it will be like, but no burp is forthcoming. It’s at that point that I start to yawn. I yawn like I’ve never yawned before. I yawn with relentless exhaustion. I double over with my yawning. I yawn to the point of gagging.
‘That’s good, my love,’ the shaman is saying. ‘I can see it all coming out.’
At some point, he leads me to a massage table in the middle of the room and asks me to lie down on my back. Which is where it gets really weird.
‘Increase her power by 10,000,’ Shaman Durek says. ‘Increase her power by 20,000.’
He talks as though I am a malfunctioning spaceship in Star Trek and he is issuing commands to intergalactic computer systems. Part of me is mildly embarrassed. This is all so ludicrous, so over-the-top, so unnecessary…isn’t it? And yet, without intending to, I start crying. I can’t remember the last time I cried like this: heaving sobs and raggedy breath. It takes me back to childhood, to the sensation of crying when no one understands why you are so upset.
‘Aunt Shirley, release her vocal cords and let her sing.’
‘We got intimate, deep and real!’ says Durek of meeting actress Patsy Palmer
‘I am not going to sing,’ I think. ‘No way. I will never knowingly sing in public if I can help it, that’s absolutely not going to…’
A sound comes from my throat. It’s a moan. I’m moaning. Not singing but moaning loudly in front of a man I’ve only just met. In any normal context, I’d be mortified. But this is not normal, I’m beginning to realise. It is not normal at all.
Then, Shaman Durek starts talking to me in what sounds like an ancient tribal language I don’t recognise. It’s a bit like a slowed-down version of the All Blacks haka, which is to say it sounds Maori. Although I can’t understand the words, I know that Durek is asking me questions. This is the bit that I wasn’t sure how to write about because what happens next is beyond my comprehension. What happens next is that I start to answer him. In the same language.
Admittedly, I am not what you’d call a sceptic. I’ve always been interested in the idea of some spiritual human connection that transcends rational science. My thinking is two-fold. Firstly, when a person dies, they become part of the earth again – their molecules blend with other molecules – and so it makes sense to me that, at some level, you might be able to feel their energy still. Secondly, I think it would be highly arrogant to believe that we imperfect humans are sophisticated enough to have developed a science that understands everything.
We haven’t. We can’t. The whole concept of linear time is an invention that helps us deal with the enormity of the universe. Therefore it stands to reason that there are things – ideas, concepts, connections – that lie beyond the limits of our rational knowledge. That lie beyond the limits of what we think of as time.
This liminal space between understanding and being is labelled by different people in different ways. Some people call it God. Some call it spirituality. Others call it bulls•••, and that’s OK. But I choose to believe there is something greater than us that does not end with death.
In my 20s, a beloved ex-boyfriend of mine was killed in Iraq where he had gone as a freelance journalist to cover the aftermath of the war. He was 24. That was the first time I remember going to see a psychic. She was called Anna and worked from rooms below a hairdresser (also, strangely, in South Kensington). Anna didn’t have any messages for me from the other side, but she did tell my male friend that he was going to be married within the year to a woman with an interest in scuba-diving. It never happened. Anna was not a very good psychic.
In my mid-30s, I went through a divorce. I tried and failed to have the children I’d always imagined for myself. In late 2015, I found myself in LA, and because I was there, in the home of alternative therapies, I decided to go to another psychic. She was called Megan Le Fey (no, really) and I found her in a decidedly un-psychic way: I logged on to Yelp and booked the highest-rated psychic in my area.
Durek and Martha-Louise with Antonio Banderas in August
Megan was in her late 20s, perky in manner and immediately warm. She was also extremely good at her job. But I would not fully understand how good until last year, when it seemed as though all of her predictions were coming true. She said a number of very specific things about my professional life – including the plot of a novel I was then writing that only my agent and editor knew about.
At this time, I was unsure whether I had done the right thing in leaving my marriage. I was anxious about an uncertain, lonely future. Megan told me I would not go back to my ex-husband but would meet someone else.
‘You think you’ve been with alpha males up until now, but you haven’t,’ Megan said, before going on to outline all the characteristics of this man I would meet, including the fact that he would have been married before ‘but he’s not jaded by it. He’s a real sweetie.’ I asked her when I would meet him.
‘In around two years.’
I was 36 at the time. ‘Two years?’ I shrieked. ‘That’s way too long.’
She smiled. ‘And you’ll meet him online. You’ll have been dating for a while and you won’t think anything of it, but he’ll know straight away that he wants to be with you.’
‘Yeah, right,’ I thought.
I got back to London, and within two weeks had met a man who didn’t fit her description at all, but who I then had a long-term relationship with. Well, I told myself, Megan Le Fey couldn’t be right about everything.
But 18 months later, the man broke up with me, out of the blue, and I was so heartbroken I did what I never thought I would: I started online dating. Six months after that, I met a man through a dating app who ticked all of Megan’s boxes. We’ve just bought a house together. She was right: he is a real sweetie.
So I’m aware that I am credulous. I am willing to believe in powers higher than us. Shaman Durek didn’t have to win me over from a position of ingrained cynicism. But at the same time I am not a total imbecile. I’ve also been to bad psychics and healers whose fraudulence I can spot precisely because I have the comparison of good ones. As a journalist, I have been trained to ask questions of everything. Plus, I have a terribly British sensibility when it comes to embarrassing myself in front of strangers. The idea that I would suddenly start moaning and speaking an ancient tribal language I didn’t understand in front of a man I’d only just met…well, I would never have thought myself capable of it.
And yet here I am, gabbling away in a foreign tongue. The shaman and I converse a bit, and he tells me I must let go of my desire to save people who need to save themselves, then I come round (this is what it feels like: as if I’ve been in a trance). An hour has passed, even though I could swear it’s only been five minutes.
‘Hello again,’ he says, smiling.
I feel charged, as though my battery power has been ramped up. When I leave the studio, I phone a friend.
‘You sound so…light,’ she tells me.
By the evening, I am exhausted. For the next two days, I feel bone-tired and my stomach is unsettled. Durek assures me this is entirely normal: ‘Your system is rebooting itself. Your body needs to unlearn everything it’s been told.’ By day three, the sluggishness lifts.
And here’s the thing: I’m sleeping better than I have done in years. Long, solid sleeps which leave me refreshed. I notice that in work meetings, I’m less wary of speaking up. I suddenly just know what I think and I say it. People respond positively, which is the biggest surprise of all.
I don’t know if this feeling is going to last and I don’t know, either, if it’s all related to my healing session. But, if nothing else, it was a truly memorable experience.
Or rather, as Shaman Durek would say: it was lit.
Spirit Hacking: Shamanic Keys to Reclaim Your Personal Power, Transform Yourself and Light Up the World by Shaman Durek is published by Yellow Kite, price £14.99