Can Shamanism Really Heal Patients?

USA TODAY, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Can Shamanism Really Heal Patients?


Shamanism, humankind's oldest spiritual and healing tradition, is dominated by men in many cultures, and Western skeptics often debunk its effectiveness. However, Barbara Tedlock, professor of anthropology at the University at Buffalo (N.Y.), challenges the historical hegemony of the male shamanic tradition, restores women to their essential place in the history of spirituality, and celebrates females' continuing role in the worldwide resurgence of shamanism in The Woman in a Shaman's Body.

A shaman is one who has been initiated into the ancient tradition of walking "between" this and other worlds while in a state of ecstatic trance known as "shamanic ecstasy" or "shamanic flight." In this state, the shaman acts as a bridge to work with communities or individuals. Skills attributed to shamans include various forms of divination; shape-changing; control over the elements; healing; soul retrieval or accompaniment; the ability to see, hear, or send messages over great distances; and obtaining the cooperation of animal and nature spirits.

Tedlock first learned from her Ojibwa-Cree grandmother about storytelling, massage, dream prophesy, and the fruits, flowers,, twigs, and roots used to make strange and mysterious healing concoctions. Her grandmother told her about native "shape shifters" who changed into deer, clouds, beavers, and willow trees and about witches called "bear-walkers" who traveled at night inside glowing balls of light that commonly are seen in shamanic rituals in many cultures. …

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