by Jayson Gaddis
reprinting this from an email I received from Malidoma
Some, a west African Shaman whom I've had the privilege
to meet, drive around Boulder, and work for for two
Since I am going through what I believe to be a
'spiritual emergence,' I am reading a lot on the topic.
I want to continue to educate others.
what we sometimes call,
...might actually be a significant transformation in
consciousness and a necessary stage on the path of human
While this is a long article it's well worth the read
for those interested in the subject. Particularly if you
have suffered from a mental illness or treat those with
a mental illness.
might also like to read this short post
Beyond Medication - Holistic
since I get so many private emails about this post,
please ask to join our private community on Facebook
is the excerpt from
Stephanie Marohn's book
Natural Medicine Guide to Schizophrenia.
What a Shaman Sees in
A Mental Hospital
In the shamanic view, mental illness signals "the birth of a
healer," explains Malidoma Patrice Somé.
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
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.
behavioral disorder of all kinds, signal the fact that two
obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same
field," says Dr. Somé.
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.
"I was so shocked.
That was the first time I was brought face to face with what is
done here to people exhibiting the same symptoms I've seen in my
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,
"So this is how the
healers who are attempting to be born are treated in this
culture. What a loss! What a loss that a person who is finally
being aligned with a power from the other world is just being
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
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
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
On the mental ward, Dr Somé saw a lot of "beings" hanging around the
patients, "entities" that are invisible to most people but that
shamans and psychics are able to see.
"They were causing
the crisis in these people," he says.
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.
"The beings were
acting almost like some kind of excavator in the energy field of
people. They were really fierce about that. The people they were
doing that to were just screaming and yelling," he said.
He couldn't stay in that
environment and had to leave.
In the Dagara tradition, the community helps the person reconcile
the energies of both worlds:
"the world of the
spirit that he or she is merged with, and the village and
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 other world's
relationship with our world is one of sponsorship," Dr. Somé
"More often than not,
the knowledge and skills that arise from this kind of merger are
a knowledge or a skill that is provided directly from the other
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
The result was the
sustaining of the initial disorder of energy and the aborting of the
birth of a healer.
"The Western culture
has consistently ignored the birth of the healer," states Dr.
will be a tendency from the other world to keep trying as many
people as possible in an attempt to get somebody's attention.
They have to try harder."
The spirits are drawn to
people whose senses have not been anesthetized.
"The sensitivity is
pretty much read as an invitation to come in," he notes.
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,
"it is the overload
of the culture they're in that is just wrecking them," observes
The frenetic pace, the
bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize
Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people.
and Foreign Energy
With schizophrenia, there is a special,
"receptivity to a
flow of images and information, which cannot be controlled,"
stated Dr. Somé.
"When this kind of
rush occurs at a time that is not personally chosen, and
particularly when it comes with images that are scary and
contradictory, the person goes into a frenzy."
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
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.
"The energy of the
healer is a high-voltage energy," he observes.
"When it is blocked,
it just burns up the person. It's like a short-circuit. Fuses
This is why it can be
really scary, and I understand why this culture prefers to
confine these people. Here they are yelling and screaming, and
they're put into a straitjacket.
That's a sad image."
Again, the 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.
It needs to be noted at this point, however, that not all of the
spirit beings that enter a person's energetic field are there for
the purposes of promoting healing. 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
To test his belief that the shamanic view of mental illness holds
true in the Western world as well as in indigenous cultures, Dr.
Somé took a mental patient back to Africa with him, to his village.
"I was prompted by my
own curiosity to find out whether there's truth in the
universality that mental illness could be connected with an
alignment with a being from another world," says Dr. Somé.
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
He was in a mental
hospital and had been given a lot of drugs, but nothing was helping.
"The parents had done
everything - unsuccessfully," says Dr. Somé. "They didn't know
what else to do."
With their permission,
Dr. Somé took their son to Africa.
"After eight months
there, Alex had become quite normal, Dr. Somé reports.
He was even able to
participate with healers in the business of healing; sitting
with them all day long and helping them, assisting them in what
they were doing with their clients... He spent about four years
in my village."
Alex stayed by choice,
not because he needed more healing.
"much safer in the
village than in America."
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.
"He wasn't born in
the village, so something else applied. But the result was
similar, even though the ritual was not literally the same,"
explains Dr. Somé.
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
After the ritual, Alex began to share the messages that the spirit
being had for this world. 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,
"he discovered that
all the things that he needed to do had been done, and he could
then move on with his life."
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.
Dr. Somé sums up what Alex's mental illness was all about:
"He was reaching out.
It was an emergency call. His job and his purpose was to be a
healer. He said no one was paying attention to that."
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
"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."
A common thread that Dr. Somé has noticed in "mental" disorders in
the West is,
"a very ancient
ancestral energy that has been placed in stasis, that finally is
coming out in the person."
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.
In the case of mountains, as an example to explain the phenomenon,
"it's a spirit of the
mountain that is walking side by side with the person and, as a
result, creating a time-space distortion that is affecting the
person caught in it."
What is needed is a
merger or alignment of the two energies,
"so the person and
the mountain spirit become one."
Again, the shaman
conducts a specific ritual to bring about this alignment.
Dr. Somé believes that he encounters this situation so often in the
United States because,
"most of the fabric
of this country is made up of the energy of the machine, and the
result of that is the disconnection and the severing of the
You can run from the
past, but you can't hide from it."
The ancestral spirit of
the natural world comes visiting.
"It's not so much
what the spirit wants as it is what the person wants," he says.
"The spirit sees in us a call for something grand, something
that will make life meaningful, and so the spirit is responding
That call, which we don't
even know we are making, reflects,
"a strong longing for
a profound connection, a connection that transcends materialism
and possession of things and moves into a tangible cosmic
Most of this longing
is unconscious, but for spirits, conscious or unconscious
doesn't make any difference. They respond to either."
As part of the ritual to
merge the mountain and human energy, those who are receiving the
"mountain energy" are sent to a mountain area of their choice, where
they pick up a stone that calls to them.
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.
"The presence of the
stone does a lot in tuning the perceptive ability of the
person," notes Dr. Somé.
"They receive all
kinds of information that they can make use of, so it's like
they get some tangible guidance from the other world as to how
to live their life."
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.
something extraordinary must be done in an extraordinary
situation like this," he says.
That's not usually the
case. Sometimes it is as simple as carrying a stone...
Ritual Approach to Mental Illness
One of the gifts a shaman can bring to the Western world is to
help people rediscover ritual, which is so sadly lacking.
"The abandonment of
ritual can be devastating. From the spiritual view, ritual is
inevitable and necessary if one is to live," Dr. Somé writes in
Ritual: Power, Healing, and Community.
"To say that ritual
is needed in the industrialized world is an understatement. We
have seen in my own people that it is probably impossible to
live a sane life without it."
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
Although the rituals
change according to the individual or the group involved, he finds
that there is a need for certain rituals in general.
One of these involves helping people discover that their distress is
coming from the fact that they are,
"called by beings
from the other world to cooperate with them in doing healing
Ritual allows them to
move out of the distress and accept that calling.
Another ritual need relates to initiation.
In indigenous cultures
all over the world, young people are initiated into adulthood when
they reach a certain age. The lack of such initiation in the West is
part of the crisis that people are in here, says Dr. Somé.
He urges communities to
"the creative juices
of people who have had this kind of experience, in an attempt to
come up with some kind of an alternative ritual that would at
least begin to put a dent in this kind of crisis."
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,
"items that are
symbolic of issues carried inside the individuals... It might be
the issues of anger and frustration against an ancestor who has
left a legacy of murder and enslavement or anything, things that
the descendant has to live with," he explains.
"If these are
approached as things that are blocking the human imagination,
the person's life purpose, and even the person's view of life as
something that can improve, then it makes sense to begin
thinking in terms of how to turn that blockage into a roadway
that can lead to something more creative and more fulfilling."
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,
"ancestors who want
to merge with a descendant in an attempt to heal what they
weren't able to do while in their physical body."
"Unless the relationship between the living and the dead is in
balance, chaos ensues," he says.
"The Dagara believe
that, if such an imbalance exists, it is the duty of the living
to heal their ancestors. If these ancestors are not healed,
their sick energy will haunt the souls and psyches of those who
are responsible for helping them."
The rituals focus on
healing the relationship with our ancestors, both specific issues of
an individual ancestor and the larger cultural issues contained in
Dr. Somé has seen
extraordinary healing occur at these rituals.
Taking a sacred ritual approach to mental illness rather than
regarding the person as a pathological case gives the person
affected - and indeed the community at large - the opportunity to
begin looking at it from that vantage point too, which leads to,
"a whole plethora of
opportunities and ritual initiative that can be very, very
beneficial to everyone present," states Dr. Somé.