Shamanism is probably the oldest healing systems and/or religions among human beings. Shamanism spread with humans after the exit from Africa, probably about 50,000 years ago. Some of the earliest evidence is from Central and Western Europe. The Lascaux cave paintings in France depict a bipedal individual with human arms and hands, but a Caribou head, face and antlers, dancing in front of a fire. When going into a trance, or trance-like state, shamans dance with a rhythmic drumming or bell ringing to bring on what Harner calls the SSC, or Shamanistic State of Consciousness. Not all cultures are shamanistic, but at least one shamanistic culture is known on every continent except Antarctica. In Asia, Europe and North America, the majority of Shamans are female, while in South America there are more male shamans.
In contrast to the SSC, those of us who are just everyday people in the everyday world are said to be in the OSC or the Ordinary State of Consciousness. To enter the SSC trance or trance-like state, is referred to as a “little death.” The theory behind shamanism is that disease states are caused by one of two things: either something is in the patient (called “spirit darts”) that should not be there; or there is something missing from the patient that should be there (called “soul loss”).
Spirit darts are shot into the patient by a sorcerer or an evil shaman. In the SSC trance, the shaman is able to locate the spirit dart (s) inside the patient. They report that, in the SSC, they can actually see inside the patient with, essentially, X-ray vision. However, the spirit dart doesn’t look like a dart, but rather, the inside of the patient is filled with swirling, multicolored plants and animals that are ecologically correct to the environment in which the society is located. So, the Jivaro from the Amazon Basin, will see tropical butterflies, parrots, snakes, plants, etc. The Chuckchee, or the Inuit, from the Circumpolar region, on the other hand, will see Orcas, Caribou, or perhaps an Arctic Tern.
No matter what the intrusion looks like, however, it is always removed by sucking it out of the patient, either directly by mouth, or using some sort of cylindrical tube. Very elaborately carved stone or bone sucking tubes, a found on archaeological sites as early as 10,000- 15,000 BCE. These are clearly not for smoking, because there is no evidence of burning or charring. To the patient, and the onlookers (friends, family) in the OSC, however, the intrusion looks like a small sliver of bone or metal, or a splinter of wood, or a shard of glass embedded in a bloody mass. This is then presented to the onlookers as proof of the shaman’s success.
The other possibility for illness is soul loss. This is a much more serious case, however, than merely removing a spirit dart intrusion, and it will cost a substantially higher payment to the shaman. This is because, in cases of soul loss, the shaman has to release her soul from her body, and have it go out into the spirit world to search for the lost soul. The theory here, is that the sorcerer or evil shaman comes to the patient, and “coaxes” the soul to leave the body.
Once the shaman’s soul is out into the spirit world, there are three possible outcomes. The first, and best outcome, is that she will find the missing soul, and it will come back willingly to the patient. The second possible outcome is, that either the shaman’s soul can’t recognize the patient’s soul out there, or that the patient’s soul refuses to come back with the patient’s soul, but in any case, the shamans soul still returns safely to her, albeit empty handed. The third, and most dreadful outcome, is that the shaman’s soul gets lost herself in the spirit world, and is unable to find her way back. There are documented cases where this has happened, and the shaman simply dies right there where she is lying. In these cases, the “little death” becomes the big death.
1) Foreign intrusions in the patient’s body appear to the Shaman, in the SSC, as glowing multi-colored insects, animals, or plants. For the Arctic Inuit, these may be Killer Whales, or Caribou. For the tropical Jivaro of the Amazon Basin, they will look like Monkeys or Parrots. Why is this?
2) Once located within the patient, how can the Shaman remove the intrusive material?
3) What are the dangers in cases of soul loss, where the Shaman must release her soul into the Spirit World, to search for the patient’s missing soul?