Native View of the Cause of Illness

“Who takes care of our spirit when it gets sick? We have doctors for the body, for the mind, and for the heart, but what do we do when our spirit is ailing?” (Ingerman 1).

“The person who deals with the spiritual aspects of illness is a shaman” (Ingerman 1).

“Many shamanic traditions believe that all of our body partys have a specific spirit energy to them. And all of those individual spirits, together, are what make up the soul” (Heaven and Charing 128).

“ill health or dis-ease is seen as one sign of an inner state of disequilibrium or disturbance, which, from a shamanic perspective, will usually arise from two forms of energetic imbalance:” spirit intrusion and soul loss (Heaven & Charing 106).

Soul Loss –fracturing of the soul

Individual spirit splits into many parts –defense mechanism, self protection

Some take refuge in other worlds to escape the trauma of this world

(Similar to Psychological description for Dissociative Identity Disorder)

Wandered –a woman was ill and while canoeing a shaman’s spirit helper spotted the woman’s soul. The soul was attracted by the sound of drumbeats and could only be “tamed” back by flattery (Vitebsky 100)

Lured captured and imprisoned –Shaman has to travel to find it

Treatment: Soul Retrieval –Recapitulation of life force

Shamans have a different view of reality: “anything that has ever happened to anybody, anywhere, is still happening somewhere” (Heaven and Charing 117).

-trauma is “happening now”

-“for the shaman, there is no “past,” only one vast, awesome, ever-moving now”

Journeys outside of space and time and brings back the life force

“Sickness, according to shamanic theory can be caused by the departure of the soul from the body and its imprisonment in one of the spirit regions: above, below, or beyond the rim of the world” (117).

Partial soul loss“the patient may find himself disconnected from life and out of balance, so that his emotions, thoughts, memories, bodily reactions, and spiritual ambitions are out of alignment with his own true nature and that of the wider world and spiritual universe” (Heaven and Charing 117).

Protection from Soul Loss

“To receive initiation truly means to expand sideways into the glory of oaks, mountains, glaciers, horses, lions, ggrasses, waterfalls, deer. We need wilderness and extravagance. Whatever shuts a man away from [these things] will kill him” Robert Bly (Heaven and  Charing 126).

Feeling one with nature, letting the self dissolve into the trees and see what happens.

Listen to your own body for illness/ask what does it need

Souls can feel lost –giving up all of our power and energy

Souls can be partially lost – Soul can be “so loosely attached that it is vibrating inside and outside the body at one and the same time” (122).

Spirit Intrusion –external forces get into the person’s energy system

Humans are composed of energy and your personal energy (or soul) can be weakened in certain circumstances. This makes us vulnerable and decreases our ability to resist negative energy

Negative emanations of energy = “essences”

Not necessarily malicious intentions –“homeless” ambivalent energy looking for host

“mo” = bad energy in spirit form –Rivalry, jealousy, struggle for supremacy

Can be malicious –send to you for a reason

“Magical darts” visible only to shamans, are left on the ground in the path of an enemy so that they can embed themselves in your spirit when you walk over them (Heaven and Charing 108).

Treatment: “Seeing” shamans look into soul of patient and can see the energy emanations

-unpleasant appearance, (reptiles)

Power of thought –we open selves to illness (shame and guilt)

Other Causes

“Misbehaviors of the collective, particularly in relation to its ancestor deities. Affliction results as a punishment for misdeeds, and a specific illness or problems result as manifestations of the affliction” (DuBois 137).

Malay’s–illness is due to an imbalance of the bodily humors or Hantu spirits sent to do evil (DuBois 141).

Soul-parts can withdraw in response to hurtful actions or improper behaviors, or they may wander off or be stolen (DuBois 141)

“Foreign object such as a hairy caterpillar or a splinter of bone lodged in the sufferer’s body” (Vitebsky 98)

“The shamanic perception of wellbeing does not only encompass physical health in the mental sense, nor is it restricted to mental health in the psychiatric sense. It includes good nutrition, good friendship, prosperity, and successful business and welfare” (Vitebsky 99).

-depend on balance, flow, equilibrium in the environment, love, giving

- Samantha Steveson


DuBois, Thomas A. An Introduction to Shamanism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.

Heaven, Ross, and Howard G. Charing. Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul. Rochester, VT: Destiny, 2006. Print.

Hultkrantz, Ake. Shamanic Healing and Ritual Drama: Health and Medicine in Native North American Religious Traditions. New York: Crossroad, 1992. Print

Ingerman, Sandra. Soul Retrieval: Mending the Fragmented Self. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006. Print.

Vitebsky, Piers. Shamanism. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2001. Print.

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