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Health and Disease from a Shamanic Perspective

Mandala in Plant FormShamans throughout the ages have seen disease as having a spiritual cause and therefore a spiritual remedy. Conventional doctors view the body somewhat like a car, with mechanical (or fluid) parts that go wrong and need fixing or replacing. They have names for all of the different diseases, and a drug (or several) for each. In conventional medicine, the same disease in different people will broadly be treated by the same drug(s) or surgery. In contrast, the shaman is not concerned with these physical labels, but instead asks “what ails thee?” and knows that the answer lies way beyond any medical label that may have been assigned. Furthermore, the shaman asks; “what message does your ailment hold for you?” The remedy, therefore, will not be the same for two individuals even though they may outwardly display the same symptoms when viewed through the eyes of conventional medicine.

Shamans see people who are healthy as being “full of power.” What they mean by this is that they have their soul, or energetic essence intact, and they have their full complement of spirit helpers and protectors around them. An intact soul or essence allows a person to shine with health, joy, creativity and vitality. Their spirit helpers include power animals and beings which may have human, plant, rock, crystal, star, planet and many other forms. People with a different world view might call these helpers “guardian angels” or “my lucky stars” but whatever their label, they are spiritual guides, helpers and protectors. Many spiritual seekers of various traditions have mapped the complex layers of “soul” or “essence” and might divide it into various “subtle bodies” or layers with other labels. They are all taking about the same thing; the non-physical, or spiritual part of the living human being. For the sake of brevity I will refer to these two human attributes as the soul and power animals. The soul is our personal power, and power animals are an extra gift of power from spirit (or God, if you prefer).

Let's say that a person is born with their full soul, and their full complement of power animals, and let's say that they were able to remain in this position throughout their life. A shaman would expect such a person to be physically strong and healthy, not bothered by disease, either physical, mental or emotional, not prone to accidents or bad luck. They would be happy, well-adjusted, creative, joyful and vital. Whether they had a high or low standing in the community, they would likely be content and fulfilled by life. And although, inevitably, losses and challenges would present themselves to this person, they would take them in their stride and grow from each event.

Unfortunately, such a person is rare (and I'd venture to say non-existent in any modern society). We sustain damage to our souls, which depletes our personal power, and we lose touch with our power animals, occasionally losing them altogether, thereby depleting our spiritual gift of power. This results in disease, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. We take on patterns of thought and behaviour that are unhelpful, unhealthy, addictive, abusive, victimised, isolating, self-sabotaging, self-limiting etc. (the list is seemingly endless). We also get physical disease; colds, flu, infections, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, blood disorders, cancer, dementia etc. etc. We get broken bones, sprained muscles and ligaments, burns etc. etc. The shaman would ask of all of these: “what message does this hold for you?”

You might dismiss physical diseases and injuries as being purely down to the causative agent (in the medical sense) – it was the flu virus, the cancer in my bowel, the fall out of the tree and there's no more to it – just “one of those things.” But a shaman would say that disease or injury comes about through imbalance, and that spirit, in order to get a message to you about that imbalance, uses what is to hand – i.e. your body and the physical and environmental conditions. Consider this: not everyone who comes into contact with the flu virus gets the flu; not everyone who is genetically predisposed to a particular disease gets that disease; not everyone who falls out of a tree breaks their leg (and indeed, not everyone who climbs a tree falls out of it). So what message did the person with the flu need to hear that the person without it didn't need to hear? For more about the meanings of these messages, see the article on Symbols (coming soon).

In a typical shamanic healing session, the practitioner will first of all deal with the energetic situation – working in the spiritual or energetic realms to rebalance the person. In very broad terms, this consists of taking out energy which is blocking up the system, and returning soul energy which has been lost to the client, sometimes for decades. Then the practitioner will deal with the meaning of the ailment, and this will often involve integration work which the client must do in order to make the results of the energetic work “stick”.

Shamans understand that ailments, of whatever kind, come about because of one, or a combination, of only five basic causes: soul loss, intrusion, power loss, possession and taboo breaking. I will talk about each of these problems in the next articles on Shamanic Healing.