August 22, 2014
pages 178-189, Stephanie Marohn
(featuring Malidoma Patrice Somé).
The Shamanic View of Mental Illness
Thus, mental disorders are spiritual emergencies, spiritual crises, and need to be regarded as such to aid the healer in being born. What those in the West view as mental illness, the Dagara people regard as "good news from the other world."
The person going through the crisis has been chosen as a medium for a message to the community that needs to be communicated from the spirit realm.
These disturbances result when the person does not get assistance in dealing with the presence of the energy from the spirit realm. One of the things Dr. Somé encountered when he first came to the United States in 1980 for graduate study was how this country deals with mental illness.
When a fellow student was sent to a mental institute due to "nervous depression," Dr. Somé went to visit him.
What struck Dr. Somé was that the attention given to such symptoms was based on pathology, on the idea that the condition is something that needs to stop.
This was in complete opposition to the way his culture views such a situation.
As he looked around the stark ward at the patients, some in straitjackets, some zoned out on medications, others screaming, he observed to himself,
Another way to say this, which may make more sense to the Western mind, is that we in the West are not trained in how to deal or even taught to acknowledge the existence of psychic phenomena, the spiritual world.
In fact, psychic abilities are denigrated.
When energies from the spiritual world emerge in a Western psyche, that individual is completely unequipped to integrate them or even recognize what is happening. The result can be terrifying. Without the proper context for and assistance in dealing with the breakthrough from another level of reality, for all practical purposes, the person is insane.
Heavy dosing with anti-psychotic
drugs compounds the problem and prevents the integration that could
lead to soul development and growth in the individual who has
received these energies.
It appeared to him that these beings were trying to get the medications and their effects out of the bodies of the people the beings were trying to merge with, and were increasing the patients' pain in the process.
He couldn't stay in that
environment and had to leave.
That person is able then to serve as a bridge between the worlds and help the living with information and healing they need.
Thus, the spiritual crisis ends with the birth of another healer.
The beings who were increasing the pain of the inmates on the mental hospital ward were actually attempting to merge with the inmates in order to get messages through to this world.
The people they had chosen to merge with were getting no assistance in learning how to be a bridge between the worlds and the beings' attempts to merge were thwarted.
The result was the sustaining of the initial disorder of energy and the aborting of the birth of a healer.
The spirits are drawn to people whose senses have not been anesthetized.
Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity. Indigenous cultures don't see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don't experience themselves as overly sensitive.
In the West,
The frenetic pace, the bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people.
What is required in this situation is first to separate the person's energy from the extraneous foreign energies, by using shamanic practice (what is known as a "sweep") to clear the latter out of the individual's aura.
With the clearing of their energy field, the person no longer picks up a flood of information and so no longer has a reason to be scared and disturbed, explains Dr. Somé. Then it is possible to help the person align with the energy of the spirit being attempting to come through from the other world and give birth to the healer.
The blockage of that emergence is what creates problems.
shamanic approach is to work on aligning the energies so there is no
blockage, "fuses" aren't blowing, and the person can become the
healer they are meant to be.
There are negative energies as
well, which are undesirable presences in the aura. In those cases,
the shamanic approach is to remove them from the aura, rather than
work to align the discordant energies
Alex: Crazy in the USA, Healer in Africa
Alex was an 18-year-old American who had suffered a psychotic break when he was 14.
He had hallucinations, was suicidal, and went through cycles of dangerously severe depression. He was in a mental hospital and had been given a lot of drugs, but nothing was helping.
With their permission, Dr. Somé took their son to Africa.
Alex stayed by choice, not because he needed more healing.
To bring his energy and that of the being from the spiritual realm into alignment, Alex went through a shamanic ritual designed for that purpose, although it was slightly different from the one used with the Dagara people.
The fact that aligning
the energy worked to heal Alex demonstrated to Dr. Somé that the
connection between other beings and mental illness is indeed
Unfortunately, the people he was talking to didn't speak English (Dr. Somé was away at that point). The whole experience led, however, to Alex's going to college to study psychology.
He returned to the United States after four years because,
The last that Dr. Somé heard was that Alex was in graduate school in
psychology at Harvard. No one had thought he would ever be able to
complete undergraduate studies, much less get an advanced degree.
After seeing how well the shamanic approach worked for Alex, Dr. Somé concluded that spirit beings are just as much an issue in the West as in his community in Africa.
Yet the question still remains, the answer to this problem must be found here, instead of having to go all the way overseas to seek the answer.
There has to be a way in
which a little bit of attention beyond the pathology of this whole
experience leads to the possibility of coming up with the proper
ritual to help people.
Longing for Spiritual Connection
His job then is
to trace it back, to go back in time to discover what that spirit
is. In most cases, the spirit is connected to nature, especially
with mountains or big rivers, he says.
What is needed is a merger or alignment of the two energies,
Again, the shaman conducts a specific ritual to
bring about this alignment.
The ancestral spirit of the natural world comes visiting.
That call, which we don't even know we are making, reflects,
They respond to either.
They bring that stone back for the rest of the ritual and then keep it as a companion; some even carry it around with them.
When it is the "river energy," those being called go to the river and, after speaking to the river spirit, find a water stone to bring back for the same kind of ritual as with the mountain spirit.
That's not usually the
case. Sometimes it is as simple as carrying a stone.
A Sacred Ritual Approach to Mental Illness
Dr. Somé did not feel that the rituals from his traditional village could simply be transferred to the West, so over his years of shamanic work here, he has designed rituals that meet the very different needs of this culture.
Although the rituals change
according to the individual or the group involved, he finds that
there is a need for certain rituals in general.
them to move out of the distress and accept that calling.
He urges communities to bring together,
Another ritual that repeatedly speaks to the needs of those coming to him for help entails making a bonfire, and then putting into the bonfire,
The example of issues with an ancestors touches on rituals designed by Dr. Somé that address a serious dysfunction in Western society and in the process "trigger enlightenment" in participants.
These are ancestral rituals, and the dysfunction they are aimed at is the mass turning-of-the-back on ancestors.
Some of the spirits trying to come through, as described earlier, may be,
The rituals focus on healing the relationship with our ancestors, both specific issues of an individual ancestor and the larger cultural issues contained in our past.
Dr. Somé has seen
extraordinary healing occur at these rituals.