12 February, 1996
Levi-Strauss emphasizes these functions served by the Shaman for the sick:Shamans heal themselves.
By working through their own pain, they learn to help others.
This appears a universal notion (if there is such a thing); from various shamanistic systems, as well as Greco-Roman mythology; I am reminded of Chiron, the wounded healer centaur:
wounded healin'"Hercules chased the maurauders all the way to Cape Malea, where Chiron himself was struck by one of Hercules' poisoned arrows, after it had passed through another centaur. The wound would have been fatal, but since Chiron was an immortal, he couldn't die of the wound, and its pain led him to a search for healing. In his search for a cure for his own wound, Chiron was the discoverer of medicine, which he taught to Asclepius."In other cultures, particularly Siberian proto-Shamanic systems, healing proficiency is predicated on individual wounding and self-curation. - Chiron Mythology"But the primitive magician, the medicine man, or the shaman is not only a sick man; he is, above all, a sick man who has been cured, who has succeeded in curing himself."Without delving into a world of detail, this preliminary sickness seems less than infectious. Perhaps the resulting celebration of destiny determines this, regardless, the sicknesses appear spiritual in origin; resulting from the shaman's need to experience pain and heal himself to become a shaman. - Mircea Eliade, Shamanism, page 27
I am here reminded of Saint Francis of Assisi, who after a few months of fever recovered to embrace a severe ecstatic Christian mendicant life. I don't know that he was a healer, per se, but he certainly traversed the spirit realms for folks.Once they've had their illness, or some other form of calling to the profession, many of the early shamanistic societies elaborated a ritual of pain and health to further train the shaman, or medecine man. They set up dismemberment rituals and mythology, where budding young healers and metaphysical wanderers are hacked into pieces then taken to heavenly surgeons who put together a new and improved shaman.
and/or their relatives sit around sticking cigarette butts in them for a few days.
Through this is achieved symbolic death and mystical resurrection.
Having gone through the process successfully themselves, they are thus prepared to help others through the process.
"If they have cured themselves and are able to cure others, it is, among other things, because they know the mechanism, or rather, the theory of illness."Shaman sickness as medical training is obviated by Eskimos;
- Mircea Eliade, Shamanism, page 31
...the Eskimo neophyte must undergo a great initiatoy ordeal. Success in obtaining this experience requires his making a long effort of physical privation and mental contemplation directed to gaining the ability to see himself as a skeleton.At this point, the eskimos reform themselves through a sort of spiritual anatomy lesson, where they recollect the sacred names of each bone.
- Mircea Eliade, Shamanism, page 62
I was reminded of Leonardo. Contrary to cadavers, the Shaman's healer training takes places within themselves, often in reaction to their own sufferings, and the context they learn for understanding, healing illness is spiritual.
In this way do we find shaman healing the psychosomatics of sickness.
connection to belief, communitygives cause/meaning to suffering
As a spiritual authority, the shaman's diagnosis and resulting cure places the patient's pain in a spiritual context. It provides a metaphor for personal healing. Through externalization, the patient finds a way out of a world of pain."The Shaman provides the sick woman with a language, by means of which unexpressed, and otherwise inexpressible, psychic states can be immediately expressed." - Levi-Strauss, page 198Not to say that there are not physical tie-ins for their cures,
By giving the ill context, the Shaman "[renders] acceptable to the mind pains which the body refuses to tolerate." - Levi-Strauss, page 197
Black Elk reports successful use of a herb for healing.
but most of the shamanistic stories I've seen report illness based somewhat on gravity, mostly on curability -
(this example could have been taken from Black Elk, Levi-Strauss, Eliade):Sean was real sick, and shaman Bill pronounced him incurable. However, shaman Ray said mytzplick and Sean fell into a deep sleep from which he emerged fiddle-fit in four days.it gives us a sense of the drama perhaps, and differing Shaman's abilities to conjure a cure, but we are unable to place the problem in a modern medicinal context.
Perhaps this intangibility is a critical element. What is important here is not that Sean had measles and Ray knew the cure, but rather that Ray revitalized Sean's flagging energy body.
This is the sort of intangibility this shamanism stuff gets in to. It's not about specificity of illness, but a general sense of unwellness.
Today we describe physical suffering in terms of immune deficiency, insidious biological attacks from molecular maraduers. Our Board Certified Medicine Men identify the virus attackers and white blood cell defenders. They inject placebonic substances and pronounce us on the road to wellness.
In this way we feel we are being serviced by the history of knowledge and the faith of science. And, we are glad to have a means to understand our pain.
ahh, so my appendix burst.Doctors fulfill the healing aspect of Shamans. They connect us with a belief system outside of ourselves, giving our disease context.
If they are healers, they must have suffered; perhaps that's why medical school is such a bitch.
And we are glad someone cares enough to deal with us, even if they never even touch us.Contrary to most of the wellness healing philosophy that I've encountered, shamanism does not advocate touching the diseasesd. Through preservation of boundaries perhaps the shaman lures the patient out of suffering. Also, it probably serves to prevent contagion.In ordinary folks, based on my medical knowledge, the immune system will heal itself if given a chance. It is fear and pain that cause the body to shut down and cease the healing process (Levi-Strauss, page 168).
Like the shaman travelling to the spirit realms, we need to reach outside of ourselves to heal within.
By providing vision and metaphor, the shaman counters the debilitating fear and provides the patient a path from pain.
Black Elk's vision came at a time of sickness. His face legs and arms swelled in pain, and he was immobilized. He hallucinated ascention, recieved a divine vision. Afterwards, "my face was still all puffed and my legs and arms were badly swollen; but I felt good all over and wanted to get right up and run around." (Black Elk Speaks, Chapter 4).
By sharing this vision with his community, specifically sick members thereof, Black Elk gave the suffering an energy body boost. Lost in their pain, they lacked the hope to emerge. He took them with him on a spiritual journey, opened a window onto another world that awaited their recovery. He identified both a cause for their suffering, and forces working for positive change.
Empowered by a vision of health and the presence of friendly elements, embodied in the shaman ("at the head of a supernatural battalion of spirits" - Levi-Strauss, page 199), the patient's spirit is healed.
As goes the spirit, so goes the body.