Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Becoming a Xhosa Healer: Nomzi's Story

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Becoming a Xhosa Healer: Nomzi's Story

Article excerpt

Transpersonal psychology (Walsh & Vaughan, 1993) is based on the view that spiritual development and transformation can be understood as human processes that are separate from, although interpenetrating with, other developmental processes, such as those of cognitive development as initially described by, for example, Piaget and Vygotsky (Goswami, 2014), relational development as described in attachment theory, or the development of personality as individuals cope with challenges, distress and trauma within the developmental process, as described by many theories of personality (Blatt & Levy, 2003; Pearlman & Courtois, 2005; Sroufe, 2005). What sets spiritual development apart is that it refers to the development of, attunement to and engagement with realities that lie outside the space-time co-ordinates defined by the science of physics at the end of the nineteenth century (before the emergence of relativity theory and quantum mechanics) (Singer, 1990). In the early twentieth century, pre-twentieth century physics, often called Newtonian physics because of Newton's pioneering role in setting out its fundamental laws, would be disclosed as a narrow band within a broader, more mysterious reality in which time and space were interconnected, where the apparently rigid boundaries set by time and space did not apply, and where 95% of the universe would be hypothesised to be dark matter or dark energy, in principle unknowable to science ("Dark Energy, Dark Matter", 2014).

Because the parameters of Newtonian physics fit large domains of human lived experience, there are still many who, over a century later, are closed to the investigation of experiences that seem to transcend Newtonian space and time. However, research in the phenomenological tradition, and the experiential practices of the humanistic psychotherapies, have disclosed the widespread nature and availability of lived experience that does not fit the Newtonian mould (Valle, 1989). Indeed, much of the critique by phenomenological writers of scientific positivism has been centred on just how many important dimensions of human experience cannot be captured within the Newtonian framework's narrow confines of logic, reason and formal experimentation.

Many cultures and traditions describe processes of development that suggest an engagement with dimensions and aspects of reality that transcend space and time. The path of shamanic initiation is one kind of process that is widely described, with commonalities that are found across cultures and regions (Doore, 1988; Krippner, 2000; Walsh, 1990). Although the term "shaman" is from Siberia and refers to traditional healers there, it has been appropriated to refer to a wide range of healers from traditional cultures where it is understood that a shaman/healer must undergo a profound and often disorienting process of personal transformation. Within transpersonal psychology, this is called "spiritual emergence" (Grof & Grof, 1989). It is not like going to medical school and learning information and techniques, although information and techniques are involved. But individuals must be changed in the way they experience the world and others, and in the process learn to attune to realities that transcend space and time.

This process of transformation may come from a spontaneously occurring process which is understood as a calling by some unseen presence. Among traditional healers in Southern Africa, this call is understood to come from deceased ancestors who may have been healers themselves. Among the Xhosa, the process is called intwaso (which literally means "spiritual emergence") or ukuthwasa (as a verb meaning "to emerge as a healer"). Intwaso usually presents itself in the form of a mysterious illness, physical or psychological, that does not respond to treatment. This is accompanied by dreams in which ancestors appear or are represented symbolically. There may also be waking visions, understood, from a transpersonal perspective, as experiences in altered states of consciousness, but as hallucinations from the perspective of positivist science. …

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