by Eric Soares on March 3, 2011

Can you judge a book by its cover?  No. You can’t.  Gazing at the cover of sea kayaking adventurer Jon Turk’s The Raven’s Gift (2009), I envisioned a tale of an arduous sea trek along the icy coast of Kamchatka.  And Jon did kayak there.  But that’s not what the book is about.  The book details Jon’s inner journey from the mundane world of civilization to the Real World and the Other World.

The book starts in 1970, when Jon was a chemist stuck in a lab.  While walking with his dog, he puts his face in some freshly dug dirt, smells the sweet earth, and is changed forever.  Senses awakened, he is now connected to the primordial earth spirit. Thirty years later, he and paddling partner Misha Petrov kayak in a storm along the Kamchatka coast and crash land on a beach near a town called Vyvenka, home of Koryak people—reindeer herders.  That is the last significant kayaking that Jon does in The Raven’s Gift. They are befriended by villagers and Jon meets Moolynaut, an elderly shaman who supposedly caused them to come to Vyvenka so Jon’s hip, injured in an avalanche, could be healed.

Since Jon is a scientist, he has a hard time believing that an old woman like Moolynaut can fix his damaged hip, when western medicine couldn’t.  She indicates that he will be healed by magic through intercession of the messenger god, Kutcha the raven.  This clash between shamanism and western logic is the crux of the book.

Jon consents to partake in a healing ritual which involves ingestion of magic mushrooms (amanita muscaria).  To find out if his hip is repaired, if he crosses the frozen Siberian tundra in the Real World, and if he journeys into another dimension in the Other World, you will have to read the book.  I will say he develops a relationship with ravens, which become his totem animal.  I will also say the book deals with life and death in an icy environment.

Jon Turk on the ice of the northeast Siberian coast

If I had to compare Jon’s book with a similar non-fiction work, it would have to be Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan:  A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, wherein Carlos is tutored in the ways of Yaqui sorcery by Don Juan Matus, who gives Carlos peyote and datura.  The obvious similarities lie in that both Jon and Carlos took psychedelics to reach the Other World, both authors were taught by traditional native people, and ravens and other totem animals figure prominently.  The difference is that Jon learned about healing from a shaman and Carlos learned about power from a sorcerer—white magic versus black magic.

Another difference is Jon’s story rings true, while Carlos’ tale seems too fantastic to be based on actual occurrences.  Castaneda’s book, though a best-seller, has been criticized as fiction masquerading as fact.  One other difference—Carlos has a whiny tone to his writing and is always skeptical of Don Juan’s teaching until he gets his ass kicked.  Jon, who has a Ph.D. in chemistry and is admittedly influenced by his past learning, is respectful of his teacher and tries his best to understand what he is experiencing.  In my opinion, Jon’s book is far superior to Carlos’.  But you should judge for yourself.

Here is an excerpt from The Raven’s Gift:  “Even the most cynical Western observer has to appreciate that Stone Age hunters survived through keen observation of their surroundings and intimate connectivity with the landscape and its creatures.  And out here, I felt that if people opened their senses wide enough and became sufficiently in tune with their surroundings, I have no trouble believing that they could make tribal pacts with wolves.”

Jon Turk

In conclusion, this well-written book centers on the apparent dichotomy of logic versus magic, of the Real World versus the Other World.  Does Jon bounce back and forth from logic to magic or is he able to find unity in the two concepts?  I literally can’t say.  I do know the book builds in intensity and certain events occur that made it so I could not put it down.

If you are looking for a book from a sea kayaker who thinks like we do and who embarks on a long journey of transformative self-discovery, then you will benefit from reading The Raven’s Gift.  I did.

The Raven’s Gift is available in bookstores and online at outlets such as Amazon. Eirik the Red says “Check it out!”

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

gnarlydog March 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Eric, your review of the book is compelling enough for me to now wanting to read it. I was intrigued the first time I heard of this book but now I am getting one. Thank you.


Bryan Hansel March 3, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I took a course with Jon last fall, and we practiced ceremonies that he learned from Moolynaut. We danced, constructed avatars, built a shine, cut and burned our hair, smudged and told stories while watching the spray freeze on the Lake Superior shoreline. It was pretty fun. I gotta believe that what he experienced was real.


Cate March 4, 2011 at 7:44 am

I second Eric the Red’s recommendation for The Raven’s Gift. Pick it up and be prepared not to put it down.


Eric Soares March 4, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Thank you all for your comments. Bryan mentioned that Jon had his students tell stories and perform rituals similar to those in the book. Yes, it sounds like it. Some readers will really like the Koryak stories told in the book. I did.


Nancy Soares March 7, 2011 at 8:41 pm

I want to read it too! King, if you read this, hang on to it and I’ll get it back from you at the race in May if you’re done reading it. Oh, heck I guess I can send you your own private email:) @ Bryan, what’s a “shine”?


Bryan Hansel March 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm

It’s a typo of “shrine.” 🙂


Jon Turk March 8, 2011 at 4:53 pm

Wow, all you guyze and galze….

I am honored by all this. Truly honored. I have to come down and paddle with you all. But this summer I am off to Ellesmere. Now that I’ve taken a good look into the Spirit Journey, I’ve got to do something physically hard and exhausting, on real ice, in real time, with real hunger. It’s still my path to the Other World. And by the way Bryan, I had a good time out there on that rock. We touched into some power out there.


Eric Soares March 11, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Jon, best wishes on your journey to Ellesmere.


Grammy Gail February 27, 2012 at 8:26 am

Hello Jon, feeling and believing in Shamanism, your book excited me to learn more. Did you write more about Moolynaut, her life and practices? Being of Swedish, Finnish ancestry, my practices, both from learning from a Shaman lady here in Nova Scotia and other readings, I would be interested in learning more from your experience. I have read all of your travel logs and feel they take me with you, your a great writer with a special soul, may the Raven always guide you. Shalom, Gail Edna Cline (also a believer in the Raven’s messages)


Jon Turk February 27, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Hi Grammy Gail:
Right now, all I have written about Moolynaut is either in The Raven’s Gift or on my website. But this work and the mystery of what I actually learned continues to unfold. So, there will be more. If you can send me your email, and or befriend me on Facebook, I will keep you in the loop. I promise I will only send 1 or 2 messages a year (or less) by email. But I will keep you in the loop. My email is
Thank you and I look forward to a continuing dialogue.


Nancy Soares February 28, 2012 at 9:32 am

Wow, Jon, this is so weird. No one had commented on this post since last March and suddenly Gail’s post popped up. I was going through Eric’s kayaking books yesterday, and I picked out your book among 2 others that I hadn’t read and wanted to read. Eric posted his review of your book almost one year ago. I had no idea what was coming. And here I am beginning your book, remembering what Eric had to say about it, and somehow feeling that it’s all just so right. He said the book just got better and better and by the time he finished it he loved it. And btw he also had an affinity for ravens. Thanks, Jon for writing The Raven’s Gift. You just never know who you’re going to touch and how much it’s going to mean to them.


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