Where Sun Dances Heal

What the world's ancient shamanic healing traditions can teach us today

| July 15, 2004

Five thousand years ago 10 African bushmen in the Kalahari Desert dancing around a bonfire capture the attention of their ancestors, who save a boy's heart by transferring !num (spirit) into his ailing body. Meanwhile, in the plains of North America twelve men gather inside a sweat lodge to pray to Wakan Tanka and wrap the sick one inside the skin of a black-tailed deer. Hours later, a vision of an eagle appears, followed by the arrival of the Bear Spirit, which breaths on his neck and pumps blood to the man's heart once again.

'As a means of helping communities heal disease, stay in balance with their environment, and remain in the right relationship with each other and spiritual domains, shamanic medicine has survived the winds of time for at least ten thousand years,' writes Bonnie Horrigan for Science and Spirit. 'It was the first medicine mankind had and, in the beginning, it was the only medicine.'

But our modern Western culture struggles to understand shamanic healing because God does not play a role in our medicine. 'Rather than seeking divine grace,' Horrigan continues, 'we strive for knowledge, self-reliance, and control.' Simply put, what we do not truly understand, we dismiss. Anthropologists hit a wall when trying to understand the Earth's slowly dying tribal cultures because they constantly filter tribal beliefs through their own cultural lens.

But Profiles of Healing, a series edited by anthropologist Bradford Keeney, offers a remarkably filter-free view into the personal worlds of still-living tribal medicine men and shamans, Horrigan writes.
-- Jacob Wheeler

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