Monday, March 7, 2011

Inside Mongolian shamanism

I'm quite excited about my current bedside reading, The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal his Son, by Rupert Isaacson. It's the story of a father helping his five year old son overcome autism by travelling to Mongolia to ride horses and undergo shamanic ceremonies. I'm only part way through the book at the moment, and hope to do a more in depth review later. The book explains that shamanism was the ancient religion of Mongols until the Soviets tried to stamp it out. Following the break-up of the Soviet empire in the 1990s, shamanism has been slowly making a comeback. Today there is even an association of Mongol shamans. In fact, the word shaman is a Siberian word meaning "to see in the dark," referring to people who experience other realities.

What is especially gripping about this book is the in-depth documentation of what Isaacson, his wife and son experienced in Siberian and Mongolian healing ceremonies. I have written elsewhere in this blog about Olga Kharatidi's book, The Master of Lucid Dreams, about her journey to the shamans of Uzbekistan to heal trauma, but the healing ceremony was not as well explained as in the Isaacson book.

The thought that so-called mental illness is a gift, if properly embraced and chanelled, is not especially new in Western circles, but Isaacson's contribution is to anecdotally document how a specific problem (autism) can treated by aboriginal practices. The way these problems are viewed is similar to the Family Constellations that Chris and I went through. There is an ancestor element (a family curse) that needs atonement. Bert Hellinger, who popularized Family Constellations, drew on his work with the Zulus in Africa.

Several shamans questioned whether Isaacson's wife had an immediate female ancestor with a strange mind. (She did.) Instead of saying, "mentally ill" they wondered if she had an ancestor who was "like a shaman." The wife's grandmother became bipolar after the death of her eight year old son and was institutionalized towards the end of her life. The shamans referred to her as "like a shaman" because some shamans have mental problems before they start their training. The shamans see this as a sign that these people are destined to be shamans. 

Isaacson thought about the shamanic healers he had come into contact with over the years in his career as a journalist. They were odd, often spoke in riddles and were "away with the fairies." Isaacson notes, however, that it was interesting that they all had integral roles in their communities, rather than being marginalized as so often happens in industrialized societies.

The self-help community writes a good deal about how to treat people in their spiritual crisis, relying on shamanic beliefs, but here is an actual documented shamanic practice that makes fascinating reading. The family goes through the rituals meted out by nine shamans, who ask them to do some rather bizarre things like wash their more intimate parts with vodka, have vodka and curdled milk spat on their faces by the shamans, and be whipped (including the son).

At the end of the nine shaman ceremony, the son, who enjoyed it all immensely, walked over to a small Mongolian boy and declared him his "friend." His first friend ever. Perhaps seeing what his parents were willing to go through for him and accept on his behalf was part of this breakthrough.

The shaman ceremony reminds me of the breakthroughs that Chris had after the assemblage point shift and the Family Constellation. Within ten minutes of finishing the AP shift, he immediately started walking taller and the color flooded back into his pale facial skin. About three months after the Family Constellation Therapy, he began to be sociable with people. These results can be achieved rather quickly with shamanic ceremonies. Ritualistic ceremonies are essential rights of passage that have been largely forgotten by the people and too often denigrated and ignored by science.

1 comment:

  1. Oh my god, I'm in tears reading this post! Following my own psychotic break and resulting bipolar diagnosis last year, I started to really see much of what I experienced as spiritual (and yes, much of it was also terrifying and painful, but still). I got weird looks and/or advice to "not say that out loud" from almost anyone to whom I dared mention my belief that "mental illness" and "shamanic" qualities were linked. It gave me enormous respect for the fact that my mother has been saying such things since her own diagnosis of depression almost 30 years ago.

    I can't wait to check out Isaacson's work.

    So glad to have found your blog, best of luck with the new agent and the re-writes!


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