Michael Ortiz Hill

Michael Ortiz Hill is an author, registered nurse and practitioner  of traditional African medicine in the United States and among Bantu people  in Zimbabwe. Born in 1957 to a Mexican Catholic mother and an Anglo Buddhist  father, his life always involved moving between different cultural communities.  Ortiz Hill dropped out of high school after tenth grade and was homeless for three years.  His great good fortune was that he bottomed out on drugs when he was a teenager.  When he was homeless, he fell in love with his first wife, Marsha and shortly thereafter she became pregnant.  With the birth of his daughter Nicole, Michael was a “housewife,” reading feminist literature and taking care of his little girl.

Taught Buddhist meditation by his father, Ortiz Hill ultimately received formal training in the Zen and Vajrayana (Tibetan) Buddhist traditions. His father died when Ortiz Hill was twenty, and during the years that followed, he brought his Buddhist practice to bear on hospice care of people with life  threatening diseases and underwent training as a registered nurse. During this time he practiced as a lay monk and over the next 30 years spent two years in complete solitude refining his meditation practice.  His first book, Dreaming the End of the World: Apocalypse as a Rite of  Passage, (Spring Publications, 1992. 2004) examines the themes of death and rebirth that traditional rites of initiation share with the apocalyptic dreams of contemporary people. It is also an effort to understand the path of compassion  during a tumultuous age.

In 1992 Hill was in Los Angeles at the bedside of a dying friend when the  city was consumed in the civil unrest following the Rodney King verdict.  This led him to apply the insights he gleaned from examining apocalyptic  dreams to racial, specifically, white people’s dreams about black people and black people’s dreams about white people.  To do justice to the dream life of African Americans required a serious study of the African (predominantly Bantu) world that gave birth to black American culture. Early in his research, Ortiz Hill began noticing African patterns in dreams of African Americans.

After four years of preparation, he journeyed to Africa in 1996 where he met the Bantu healer Mandaza Kandemwa and through Mandaza became the first non-African initiated into the ritual tradition anthropologists recognize as the headwaters of what was to become African American culture. The fruit of this cycle of study and initiation is the Mapatya Trilogy.   Capable of Such Beauty (as yet unpublished) looks at the shape of the “white self” as revealed in white people’s dreams about blacks — and the breakdown of that “self” in the author as he submits to an African rite of initiation. The Village of the Water Spirits is based on a series of interviews with Kandemwa interpreting the racial dreams of black Americans, offering a compelling picture of the African shape of the African American soul. Twin from Another Tribe  ( Quest, 2002, 2007) is framed around the autobiographies of twin brothers (mapatya), Kandemwa and Ortiz Hill. Its special emphasis is on the ordeal of becoming medicine men (ngangas) and the practice of healing in two worlds — Kandemwa among the poor in Zimbabwe, Hill as a nganga and registered nurse at UCLA Medical Center.  In addition to the above-mentioned, Ortiz Hill and Kandemwa cofounded the Nganga Project, a nonprofit that sustains African healing, makes alliances between healers of different traditions (African, Native American, Western biomedicine) and between African tradition and African American community leaders and others. The Nganga Project purchased land in Zimbabwe  — a “peace farm” to collectively grow food for the hungry and draw together  people from the various races and ethnicities in a country  that has been ravaged by intergroup violence.

In Central Africa, it is said the ancestors visit certain illnesses upon those they are calling to the practice of being shamans.  When he first came to Africa, Mandaza recognized him as having many of the symptoms of water spirit disease. The only healing for water spirit disease is initiation as a healer in the ngoma of the water spirits.  When Michael returned from Africa, he was eventually diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.  In the ngoma tradition, when one receives such a disease, one first says “thank you” and then “teach me how to listen”.  One makes an alliance with the spirit that afflicts.  One becomes an apprentice.  Michael regards MS as the great gift of his adult life.  After ten years, in 2007, Michael went to the forest for two months of solitude and gave over the multiple sclerosis.  When his neurologist, Dr. Russ Shimizu, saw his MRI, he said “whatever voodoo you are doing, keep on doing it.”

Multiple sclerosis was certainly an initiation as a healer.

Michael is a keeper of the oracle in Africa and North America.  For more information, please see Tarot For These Times

He is married to the novelist and healer Deena Metzger and  has  one child and three grandchildren. They live in the Santa Monica mountains  of California.

Ortiz Hill’s work has been featured on CBS (Mysteries of the Millennium) and Canadian Broadcasting (Man Alive).

Michael’s current work — of which this blog refers — is Conspiracies of Kindness: The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill. He is adapting Conspiracies to the twelve steps with Brandon Beckman, the CEO of the Family of Addicts, in The Recovery of the Heart:  Twelve Steps from Self-Compassion to Living Compassion. Ortiz Hill teaches and lectures on the craft of compassion. The Board of Registered Nursing has allowed continuing education units to RNs who take this workshop.

Sample chapters of Michael’s books are at www.gatheringin.com as is an interview with Dr. Carol Francis from her television show, Make Life Happen.

(Portrait by Don Bachardy)

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One response

9 07 2011
Annee Bury

Hello Michael,
I would really like to ask for your help. I live in UK but was born in Bulawayo and need to go back there. I would very much like to contact Mandaza and spend time with him out there, I need healing but also to learn and work with him . I work shamanically and also in the field of death and dying and would like to learn more. Is there any way i can contact him? Very many thanks Annee

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