Shamanism - Part 7
Dr. John Ankerberg,
Dr. John Weldon
Dangers and Degradations,
The phenomenon of spiritistic
intimidation is common to all categories of occultism. Thus, shamans who
are "chosen" by the spirits as "healers" must either submit to the
spirits or become ill, or even die.
The person called to be a
shaman must learn to shamanize, that is, must take his powerful
experiences and find a way to share the power with his people. If he
does not shamanize, he will become ill again and may die, for the
shaman is called to a certain kind of life, and if he does not lead it
properly, his power will turn against him and kill him.1
In other words, to the
spirits, human life is cheap. If their chosen host will not obey their
wishes, they will destroy it and find another. Dr. Nandor Fodor
discusses a similar condition among mediums. He observes that when a
person neglects his mediumistic powers, illness results. Thus "mediumship,
if suppressed, will manifest in symptoms of disease."2 He
cites the following illustration:
The spasms seized the whole
body; even the tongue was affected, blocking the throat and nearly
suffocating her. When the patient mentioned that in her youth she
tried table tilting, the doctor thought of the possibility that the
mediumistic energy might block his patient’s organism. A sitting was
tried. The lady fell into trance and afterwards slept well for a few
days. When the sleeplessness became worse again the sitting was
repeated and the results proved to be so beneficial that the chloral
hydrate treatment previously employed was discontinued.3
This woman discovered that,
like many shamans, she too had been "called" to her profession, and that
unless she gave in to the process, she would suffer immeasurably.
Such spiritistic intimidation
is common.4 Once the door has been broken down to permit
spiritistic influence, whether by heredity, occult transfer, or personal
choice, the spirits may aggressively pursue their evil agenda. Whether
in mediumism, shamanism, or witchcraft, the person "has been caught by
the spirits and must serve the spiritual world."5 The
following shamanistic examples, from Swiss psychologist, anthropologist,
and ethnologist Holger Ralweit show the true nature of the spirits.
These examples, which come from a chapter having the incredible title,
"When Insanity Is a Blessing: The Message of Shamanism," reveal how
dangerous it is to open the doors to the occult, and why those trapped
often find it so difficult to escape.6
Among the Siberian Tofa,
too, shamans become sick before their initiation and are tormented by
spirits.... [Sjhaman Vassily Mikailovic ... could not rise from his
bed for a whole year. Only when he agreed to the demands of the
spirits did his health improve.7
The wife of another shaman
recalled the terrible experience of her husband’s call to shamanism. She
warns, "He who is seized by the shaman sickness and does not begin to
exercise shamanism, must suffer badly. He might lose his mind, he may
even have to give up his life. Therefore he is advised, ‘You must take
up shamanism so as not to suffer!’ Some even say, ‘I become a shaman
only to escape illness.’" Another shaman added, "The man chosen for
shamandom is first recognized by the black spirits. The spirits of the
dead shamans are called black spirits. They make the chosen one ill and
then they force him to become a shaman."8 And a shamaness
reports, "Sometimes I say to them, ‘I do not want to go with you.’
Whenever I turn down such an invitation I develop a fever and become
Kalweit comments that, in
harmony with occult healing generally, the "healer" must suffer the
illness of the patient:
psychophysical change and a disintegration of the normal structure of
existence has always been part and parcel of the transformative
process. Because of this, it forms at least a partial aspect of every
rite of transformation.... Frequently the shaman enters a patient’s
state so thoroughly that he himself experiences the symptoms and pains
of the illness.... In the course of their painful existence, many
shamans have physically experienced countless illnesses.…10
Either way, the shaman cannot
win. If he pursues his spiritistic calling, he suffers. If he does not,
he suffers. The shaman who refuses his call in all probability "will be
plagued by sickness the rest of his life."11
Even one’s own family members may be tortured by the spirits as a means
of forcing compliance:
Often not only the shaman
himself but his whole family are visited by misfortune.... The Koreans
talk about a "bridge of people" (induri) that comes into being
when a member of the family is chosen to be a shaman and another
member has to die as a result of this.... A God has "entered into" the
shaman and, in return, demands another human life.... But most
families are unwilling to have a shaman in their circle, so the
induri phenomenon occurs quite frequently. According to the
investigations made by Cho Hung-Youn, indari occurs on average
seven or eight times in every twenty cases of shamanic vocation.12
In a parallel to life of
famous trance medium Edgar Cayce, we read:
The Yakut shaman Tusput,
who was critically ill for more than twenty years, could find relief
from his suffering only when he conducted a séance during which he
fell into a trance. In the end he fully regained his health by this
method. However, if he held no séances over a long period of time he
once again began to feel unwell, exhausted, and indecisive. In
general, the symptoms of an illness subside when a candidate for
shamanism enters a trance.13
In the end, because of their
power, the spirits will have their way. "In the end I became so ill that
I was close to death. So I began to shamanize, and very soon my health
improved. Even now I feel unwell and sick whenever I am inactive as a
shaman over a longer period of time."14
Clearly, horrible torments,
paralysis, drownings, insanity, extended sickness, being maimed,
poisoned, and worse are the shaman’s lot.15
Perhaps this explains why even those sympathetic to the practice may
issue warnings. Dr. Jeanne Achterberg writes:
Any current thrust toward
romanticizing shamanic medicine or folk medicine in general should be
tempered with the knowledge that often the remedies prescribed were
clearly wrong and harmful from the standpoint of physical well-being.
Jilek-Aall describes birthing procedures dictated by custom in parts
of Africa that defy the course of nature. The result is high infant
mortality and a high incidence of epilepsy....
The practice of shamanism
is always regarded as being fraught with grave risk to the life and
well being of the practitioner.... One particularly dangerous aspect
of shamanism, "soul raising" is almost always practiced by women....
A long standing debate has
existed in anthropological writings on whether shamanism is a shelter
for deranged personalities.16
The obvious reason for the
debate over the shaman’s psychological health, as mentioned by
Achterberg, is that shamanism usually involves the practitioner in
psychotic and schizophrenic-like episodes.17
But because shamanism is now often interpreted as a form of "higher"
spirituality by many psychologists, especially transpersonal
psychologists, its accompanying mental states are also being
reinterpreted in a benign fashion.
In other words, what was once
considered a psychological state of depraved insanity is today
considered a spiritual state of higher consciousness!18
What was once dangerous and feared is now preferred as a method
of spiritual empowerment and enlightenment.19
As Achterberg writes, "Newer theories of personality development ... all
include the notion that ‘normal’ [consciousness] is by no means the most
evolved possibility."200 The East has indeed come West:
temporary insanity as a potentially higher or elevated state of
consciousness is a premise of Hindu and Buddhist thinking, more than
many people realize.21
Of course, not all agree that
states of insanity are spiritually desirable. "Among those most
frequently cited are Devereux, who steadfastly maintains there is no
excuse for not regarding the shamans as neurotic or even psychotic, and
Silverman who likens the SSC [Shamanic State of Consciousness] to acute
One of the biggest problems
that surrounds ethnopsychiatry, or "transcultural" psychiatry, is the
confusion of normal and abnormal states of consciousness. Because states
of mental illness are considered "normal" in shamanistic and other
subcultures, and because modern secular psychiatry and anthropology have
no absolute standards by which to judge such things, many scholars are
concluding that even occult-induced mental illness can be simply part of
a continuum along the "normal" range of transpersonal consciousness.
The implications of this are
anything but minor. Consider Michael Harner’s first experience with
shaman initiation—an experience that resulted in his becoming a shaman.
He employed the sacred drug made from ayahuasca plant or "soul vine":
I could make out large
numbers of people with the heads of blue jays and the bodies of
humans, not unlike the bird-headed gods of ancient Egyptian tomb
paintings. At the same time, some energy-essence began to float from
my chest.... Although I believed myself to be an atheist, I was
completely certain that I was dying and that the bird-headed people
had come to take my soul away....
Starting with my arms and
legs, my body slowly began to feel like it was turning to solid
concrete. I could not move or speak. Gradually, as the numbness closed
in on my chest, toward my heart, I tried to get my month to ask for
help, to ask the Indians for an antidote. Try as I might, however, I
could not marshal my abilities sufficiently to make a word.
Simultaneously, my abdomen seemed to be turning to stone, and I had to
make a tremendous effort to keep my heart beating.... I was virtually
certain that I was about to die.... I was dying and therefore, [it
was] "safe" [for me] to receive [new] revelations. These were the
secrets reserved for the dying and the dead, I was informed. I could
only very dimly perceive the givers of these thoughts: giant reptilian
creatures.... I could only vaguely see them in what seemed to be
gloomy, dark depth.
Then they projected a
visual scene in front of me. First they showed me the planet earth as
it was aeons ago.... [They said] they had come to planet earth to
escape their enemy.
The creatures then showed
me how they had created life on the planet in order to hide within the
multitudinous forms and thus disguise their presence.... They were the
true masters of humanity and the entire planet, they told me. We
humans were but the receptacles and servants of these creatures....
I knew I had only a moment
more to live. Strangely, I had no fear of the bird-headed people; they
were welcome to have my soul if they could keep it....
[Later] I began to struggle
against returning to the ancient ones, who were beginning to feel
increasingly alien and possibly evil....
I frantically tried to
conjure up a power being to protect me against the alien reptilian
One appeared before me; and
at that moment the Indians forced my mouth open and poured the
antidote into me.23
When native or naive
Americans seek out such encounters, on what basis does anyone logically
conclude there will never be casualties? Harner himself admits people
may go insane, "become seriously ill or even die" from shamanistic
experiences.24 The number of people who might never come back
from such experiences is unknown, but the risks are certainly not less
than those encountered in mind-expanding drugs such as LSD.
It is true that the mental
states of what may be termed "shamanic consciousness" and those of
schizophrenia and psychosis are not entirely identical. The shaman often
has more volition and control during his altered state of consciousness,
and it is a "voluntarily" induced insanity similar to that found in the
spiritistic Eastern guru traditions.25 Nevertheless, while
this state is controlled to some degree by the shaman, it seems to be
controlled to a much larger degree by his spirit guides, and certainly
it is manipulated by the spirits for their own purposes, whatever these
might be. Regardless, the very fact of a debate among ethnopsychiatrists
proves that the "state" of insanity and that of shamanistic
consciousness are similar enough that they are not easily distinguished.
Shamans themselves admit, "There is a fine line between the shaman and
The unfortunate result for
those who seek shamanistic states of consciousness is only that they
will encounter their own demonically manipulated consciousness—and
despite the claims of promoters, this is anything but "healthy" or
spiritually "evolved." Because shamanism requires spirit
possession and because one cannot become a true shaman-healer without
it, demon possession is also required. How many shamanistically
fascinated Americans realize that?
John A Sanford, Healing and Wholeness (New York: Paulist,
1977), p. 67.
Nandor Fodor, An Encyclopedia of Psychic Science (Secaucus, NJ:
The Citadel Press, 1966), p. 235.
e.g., John Ankerberg, John Weldon, The Coming Darkness: Confronting
Occult Deception (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993), pp.
Stanislav Grof, Christina Grof, eds., Spiritual Emergency (Los
Angeles, CA: J. P. Tarcher, 1989), p. 97.
Ankerberg and Weldon, The Coming Darkness.
Grof and Grof, Spiritual Emergency, p. 83.
Ibid., p. 81.
Ibid., p. 93.
Ibid., pp. 93-94.
Ibid., p. 87.
Ibid., pp. 95-96.
Ibid., p. 91.
Ibid., p. 92.
Joan Halifax, Shamanic Voices (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979),
pp. 7-66; Alan Morrow, "An Interview with Sun Bear," Shaman’s Drum,
Winter 1985, pp. 18, 22
Jeanne Achterberg, Imagery in Healing: Shamanism and Modern
Medicine (Boston, MA: New Science Library/Shambhala, 1985), pp.
See Naomi Steinfeld, "Surviving the Chaos of Something Extraordinary,"
Shaman’s Drum, Spring 1986, 22-27.
Ibid., pp. 23, 27.
Natasha Frazier, "A Model of Contemporary Shamanism," Shaman’s Drum,
Fall 1985), pp. 40-41.
Jack Schwarz, Human Energy Systems: A Way of Good Health Using Our
Auric Fields (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980), p. 31.
John Weldon, "Eastern Gurus in a Western Milieu: A Critique from the
Perspective of Biblical Revelation," Ph.D. dissertation (Pacific
College of Graduate Studies, Melbourne, Australia, 1988).
Achterberg, Imagery in Healing, p. 30. Silverman is the author
of "Shamanism and Acute Schizophrenia," American Anthropologist,
Volume 69, 1967, pp. 21-31, and Devereux is the author of Basic
Problems of Ethnopsychiatry, University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Michael Harner, The Way of the Shaman: A Guide to Power and Healing
(New York: Bantam, 1986), pp. 4-6
Ibid., pp. 2,19,125.
Weldon, "Eastern Gurus".
Natasha Frazier, "Shamanic Survival Skills," Shaman’s Drum,
Summer 1985, p. 37.
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute