Durek Verrett looks more like a hipster than a healer. A former fashion model with a Chihuahua called Rocky and a boyfriend named Hank, he walks the earth in quilted silver Nike sneakers and keeps his iPhone in a hot-pink case. Even in the jungles of South America, where he often goes for inspiration, he wears jeans, a tank top, and Gucci sunglasses. When you're the only shaman in Los Angeles' Silver Lake district, it's okay to flaunt your style.
Verrett works out of a converted garage next to the laundry room in his home. Between chants, you can hear the dryer churning. On a makeshift altar on the wall behind him, he has placed a beeswax statue of a rotund woman he calls Mama, a cylinder of sea salt, an empty wine bottle, and a dried pomegranate. At the moment, the 35-year-old healer is performing a cleansing ritual on Casey Hale, a 28-year-old artist dressed in a plaid shirt with pearl snaps. He looks like a skinnier version of Leonardo DiCaprio. Verrett charges $500 an hour for these sessions and sees about 25 clients a week. Hale is here in search of self-improvement and metaphysical healing and, it would appear, because he can't commit himself to just one woman, which might seem like an odd concern for a good-looking guy in his twenties, but Hale is serious and soft-spoken and talks about feeling unfulfilled. Verrett—the son of a Norwegian medicine woman and the grandson of a Haitian shaman—starts by summoning Hale's spirit guides, asking them to enter the young man's body, which is reclined on a massage table. "We now begin to unprogram all of the fears he has in his relationships," he says. "He's running from love. He uses these fears to block him from experiencing women the way he needs to." Verrett moves his hand in the air above Hale's body like a magician set on making something vanish. As Hale shakes and flops, the healer yells, "Now, spirits! More, spirits!"
The tenets of shamanism date back thousands of years. Like many a practitioner before him, Verrett is attempting to communicate with the spirit world—human, animal, natural—in search of wisdom and healing. His client list is varied. Sumner Redstone, the founder and executive chairman of Viacom, is a regular. Jimmy Chamberlin, ex-drummer for the Smashing Pumpkins, is too. Chris Pine, who played James T. Kirk in the 2009 film Star Trek, once knocked on Verrett's front door to introduce himself. But ordinary guys in their twenties and thirties have started seeking him out as well. Instead of logging hour after hour with a shrink, they're looking for a way to jolt their lives back into the proper rhythm.
"I woke up," says 35-year-old Mateo Descat. "I came here and said, 'I'm not happy. I want to move forward. Turn my switch on.'" One year later, he had divorced his wife, quit his finance job, and launched a marketing and PR site for models.
"You're not seeing a life coach," Verrett says. "I'm no bullshit. I don't want to win your affection. I'm not going to applaud you."
In the garage in Silver Lake, after some chanting in Greek and Italian, he closes the session by rubbing lemongrass on Hale's chest to clear his mind and sprinkling sea salt on him for protection. Moments later, Hale looks like he's been awakened mid-dream. He feels "blissed out," he says. As if electricity had been channeled through his body.
SATURDAY NIGHT IN PASADENA. A GROUP OF YOUNG MEN LINE UP IN SILENCE outside a sweat lodge. All have sprigs of sage—to be used like smelling salts should the heat become overwhelming—tucked behind their ears. The men circle the hut, being sure to step on each of the seven sacred stones, before kneeling to enter the shelter. John Kim, a 31-year-old lawyer wearing a graphic-print T-shirt, New Balance sneakers, and a red Casio G-Shock watch, doesn't look like the sort of guy to spend a weekend night crammed into a tiny, dark hutch with a bunch of sweaty dudes. Yet he and 14 others—actors, personal trainers, and television editors wearing backward baseball caps and ripped jeans—have driven 20 minutes north of L.A. to the back yard of this white-brick house to do just that. For the next hour and a half, inside an igloo-shaped wood-frame hut covered in a plastic tarp and thick blankets, they'll withstand heat so searing it's hard to breathe.