Local Shaman lived on two levels

By TOM KANE

MILANVILLE, PA — At the recent funeral of Edwin “Taterbug” Tyler, the press of people that descended on the Rasmussen Funeral Parlor and the line of over 17 vehicles in the funeral cortege to the Milanville Cemetery on River Road made it abundantly clear how much this unusual man was honored and even loved.

He may not have even known it.

Many knew Taterbug only as a good-ole boy who played an impressive lyric 12-string guitar at local watering holes and made free moonshine for all his friends. Some even knew that he called himself a shaman, although many hadn’t a clue what that meant or how he fulfilled such a mysterious title.

During a recent meeting with a friend who had joined Taterbug and me in conversations every Saturday for six months, we recalled how the man lived on two levels: the invisible, spiritual level and the pedestrian level of everyday life.

“Here was this sensitive instrument having to function in our culture which was not attuned to what he considered his real interior world,” she said.

In one aspect of his life, Taterbug would play guitar and carouse for hours, drinking his moonshine with friends; in the other, he would walk in the woods and plunge into his meditations, which allowed him to experience the quiet tranquil state that was the core of his being.

“Artists who work with powerful energies don’t always succeed in handling their creative energies and can struggle with that,” my friend said.

In our weekly conversations, Taterbug would tell us he could see auras around people and things and could at times see a specter of someone who had died many years ago.

When he talked about meditation, which he frequently did, he spoke of “flying” into another reality or into a stone or plant.

In one of our conversations, Taterbug noticed a precious stone I was carrying in my pocket.

“This was the stone of my beloved companion who died of breast cancer,” I said.

“It has a powerful aura,” he relied. “Hold the stone in your hand when you meditate, fly into the stone in your mind until you reach the center where you will see a purple color. It will be then that she will speak to you.”

The next day I held the stone in my palm. Immediately, tears began to stream down my face without apparent reason. I then “heard” a voice that had advice for me about a difficult problem I had been facing. It wasn’t an actual voice, but it was a clear message. I was convinced that my companion had spoken to me. I had flown into the stone as Taterbug directed, and been astonished.

A disciple

During the last few years before his death, Taterbug instructed a young man, Nathaniel Whitmore, in the therapeutic qualities of many of the plants in the woods around Damascus. He passed on a considerable deposit of his herbal knowledge.

Whitmore, now 22, first met Taterbug when he was 17. He learned much about medicinal plants and food plants. In some ways, Taterbug looked upon the young man as a disciple.

As a high school student, Whitmore read widely and intensely. From the books of Carlos Castenedas, he became interested in shamanism. Then he met Taterbug who, he was told, was a shaman. He began talking to him on the back porch of Taterbug’s trailer on the edge of the woods, and began taking long walks in the woods.

Whitmore spent time walking, meditating and searching for plants. It was on those occasions that Taterbug showed him medicinal and edible plants. This got Whitmore started on his interest in herbalism.

“He introduced me to what has become my life’s passion,” Whitmore said.

Taterbug showed him that there were several hundred such plants growing in the river valley.

“There were weeds there that you can eat like dandelions and many others,” he said. Whitmore has been taking correspondent courses in herbalism from Clayton College of Natural Health and has attended numerous workshops on herbalism.

The hawk

Taterbug had an unusual relationship with a red-tailed hawk that would visit him frequently, often when he was in the throes of some crisis. He told me how he and the hawk met.

“I was looking for a rock shelter near Kentuck Mountain and I saw a red-tailed hawk having two babies,” he said. “The mother died and then one of the chicks. I would return to the rock shelter and feed the chick rabbit. When I could see that it was ready to fly, I left, but the hawk followed me home.”

To him, the red-tailed hawk was a messenger, sometimes of ill and other times of good.

It is hoped that Taterbug’s family will preserve his collection of artifacts and books and perhaps donate them to a local library. They can never donate his rare shamanistic abilities which will be forever lost, but thank goodness that there is something that can be preserved.

Contributed photo
Taterbug Tyler, who died in mid-December 2004, discovered his shaman skills in local woods. (Click for larger version)