Quest for a Miracle Cure

These parents believe horses and shamans can unlock their son’s autistic mind. This is their journey of discovery

by Tim Rayment
The Sunday Times
September 9, 2007

A child is born, and the child seems blessed. He lives in the richest nation on Earth, at a time of greater wealth and understanding than any in history. The infant even has interesting parents: one British, one American, each a little famous in their own right.

But then something disquieting happens. Perhaps this was your child, too.

He starts to go backwards. First he loses his language, then he enters a solitary hell. He turns away when touched and arches his back when held. He lines up his toys in rows, and seems afraid of things that should hold no fear. He appears not to notice you, and his indifference makes you feel snubbed.

Soon the real heartache starts. You see other children play together in a sandpit while yours is to one side, obsessively pouring and repouring sand through his fingers. Sudden firestorms run through his nervous system, making him scream in panic and pain. Later, in the calmer years when he is four or five, other children’s attempts at friendship are rebuffed. This is not because your child wants no companions: the truth might be that he yearns for them. But he is mystified by social interaction, and conversation makes him nervous, as he has no idea how to respond. So he turns away with a distant expression, seeming cold and weird. This is autism. Your lovely offspring looks condemned to what, in 1943, Leo Kanner first described as “extreme autistic loneliness”, and many readers of this magazine will know a family that is affected. In the UK, 1 in 100 children is on the autistic spectrum.

It is a mystifying disorder. But on a farm in Texas, a British father thinks he has found a way into the mind of his autistic son. The boy has learnt to talk thanks to his relationship with a horse. He can quell his tantrums, express his feelings, even do maths and spelling — all because of a horse. He is the Horse Boy, and the loss of his symptoms is a challenge to conventional thought on how to handle his condition. Continue reading

Categories: Animals, Brain, Buddhism, Healing, Psychology, Shamanism | Leave a comment

The Shaman Is In

A tiny Amazonian village mixes traditional healing and modern medicine

by Andy Isaacson
Utne Reader, September / October 2007 Issue

At an intertribal gathering of shamans held last spring deep in Amazonia’s northern fringe, a stout elder from Brazil’s Waura tribe offered an impassioned plea. “Please,” he urged fellow healers from Colombia and Suriname, “don’t let the medicine die.”

His appeal did not fall on deaf ears. In Kwamalasamutu, Suriname, where the shamans convened, an innovative model is leading the effort to preserve centuries of indigenous medicine by integrating traditional and Western practices into a thriving community health care system.

The cooperative nature of the effort is evident across the soccer field from where the shamans gathered. In a concrete building, a former missionary organization provides free primary health care, while next door, in a thatched-roof clinic, shamans wield medicines brewed from leaves, vines, and tree barks.

Five mornings a week, villagers trickle into the traditional clinic seeking remedies for a range of common complaints, from yeast infections to diarrhea. The shamans might look at the tendons of patients’ fingers or peer into their eyes before turning to the bottled elixirs they keep in a solar-powered freezer. Or the shamans might refer them to their neighbors for treatment.

So far, three other rural villages in southern Suriname have built similar clinics, replicating a cost-effective model for indigenous health care that’s been hailed by UNESCO and the World Bank and was one of 10 finalists this year for the prestigious Seed Award for innovation in local sustainable development.
Continue reading

Categories: First Nations, Healing, Shamanism | Leave a comment

Christianity Versus the Old Gods of Nigeria

© 2007 The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

ACHINA, Nigeria — Born to a family of traditional priests, Ibe Nwigwe converted to Christianity as a boy. Under the sway of born-again fervor as a man, he gathered the paraphernalia of ancestral worship — a centuries-old stool, a metal staff with a wooden handle and the carved figure of a god — and burned them as his pastor watched.

“I had experienced a series of misfortunes and my pastor told me it was because I had not completely broken the covenant with my ancestral idols,” the 52-year-old Nwigwe said of the bonfire three years ago. “Now that I have done that, I hope I will be truly liberated.”

Generations ago, European colonists and Christian missionaries looted Africa’s ancient treasures. Now, Pentecostal Christian evangelists — most of them Africans — are helping wipe out remaining traces of how Africans once worked, played and prayed.

As poverty deepened in Nigeria from the mid-1980s, Pentecostal Christian church membership surged. The new faithful found comfort in preachers like evangelist Uma Ukpai who promised material success was next to godliness. He has boasted of overseeing the destruction of more than 100 shrines in one district in December 2005 alone. Continue reading

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Shamans and Buddhists in Russia

From the Russia Today website

(Russia Today is an English-language TV news channel broadcasting globally via satellite and cable that presents the Russian point of view on events happening in Russia and around the world)

Spirituality runs deep in the remote Russian Republic of Tyva. While Shamanism is the unofficial religion there, Lamaism, or Tibetan Buddhism, is the official one. But most people don’t have to choose between the two, since shamans and lamas don’t have a grudge against each other.

Tyva is located in Southern Siberia, in one of the most isolated regions of Russia. Its people’s native religion is Shamanism — a belief in spirits inhabiting everything around them.

Going to a shaman is as common for Tyvans as going to a doctor. But nowadays Tyvan shamans don’t live in woods. They drive cars, live in normal houses and even pay taxes as private entrepreneurs.

Shamans are said to have special powers, and are connected to the invisible world of spirits. They act as mediums between this world and ordinary people, and have healing powers. Continue reading

Categories: Buddhism, Shamanism | 1 Comment

Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry

Categories: Depression, Humor, Shamanism | Leave a comment

The Meaning of Community

This is a sermon I gave today. I was the guest preacher at the
Unitarian Universalist Church of Brevard
here in Melbourne, Florida.

I think “community” has gotten a bad rap. Say the word to some people, and they think of a group of crunchy New Agers sitting in a circle holding hands and chanting, or singing “Kum-ba-ya.” Say it to others and they hear the media’s overuse of the word—“the disabled community,” “the gay community,” “the African American community,” “the business community,” or most absurd of all (I heard this one on the radio recently), “the international community”—as if everyone in these groups have the same agenda or worldview!

A community is defined as a social group of organisms sharing an environment, normally with shared interests. In human communities you’ll usually find they also share beliefs. Resources. Preferences. Needs. Risks. How strong these elements are can determine their degree of cohesiveness, their identity as a community.

You’d think—or at least, I did—that the root meaning of the word “community” is “coming together as one.” But it’s not. The old Latin word communitatus comes from two even older words that mean “the changes or exchanges that connect people” and “small, intimate, or local.” And I think that’s incredibly telling. Continue reading

Categories: Christianity, First Nations, Shamanism | 8 Comments

Nazario Turpo: A Towering Spirit

by Edgardo Krebs
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, August 11, 2007; Page C02

After learning of the death of the Peruvian shaman Nazario Turpo, killed last month when the small bus he was riding in turned over in the Andean night, lines from “Beowulf” describing the burial of a Viking warlord kept ringing in my mind:

A ring-whorled prow rode in the harbour, ice-clad, outbound, a craft for a prince.

Something about the unadorned elegance of the Old English poem’s description seemed to evoke the loss of this singular man.

Nazario Turpo was a Quechua-speaking Indian from Pacchanta, a cluster of households in a valley dominated by Mount Ausangate in southern Peru. Nazario was a peasant, indistinguishable in that respect from many other Andean Indians who make their living herding alpacas and llamas, planting potatoes and weaving. He woke up every day before dawn to fetch water from a brook and, thus, set into motion another regular day of hard work in the household and the fields. He was married, and had four children and several grandchildren.

Two things made Nazario different: He was the son of Mariano Turpo and, like Mariano, he was a paqo.

Convention and ignorance would lazily translate paqo as “shaman,” a word that has us trained to picture an almost caricaturesque wise man, straight from central casting, capable of miracle cures and spiritual ministrations, of going, with his herbs, chants and rattles, where Western medicine and religion do not tread. Continue reading

Categories: Death, First Nations, Shamanism | Leave a comment

And If I Die Before I Wake

I frequently had night terrors as a child, though apparently what I experienced was not what the psychologists call “night terror.” True night terrors, or pavor nocturnus, is a parasomnia sleep disorder characterized by extreme terror and a temporary inability to regain full consciousness. The subject wakes abruptly from deep (slow-wave) sleep, usually while gasping, moaning, or screaming. It is often impossible to fully awaken the person, and after the episode the subject normally settles back to sleep without waking.

Me, I either woke up fully, or never actually got to sleep. These incidents weren’t caused by nightmares, because there was no dream involved—just terrifying thoughts.

One time it was because I had just seen a cliffhanger episode of Lassie (during the June Lockhart / Jon Provost years) which ended with Lassie’s life being in peril, and I worked myself into a frenzy over it, never realizing that they don’t kill off the character for whom the series is named.

(Unless, of course, you’re Valerie Harper and you fight with the producers of your series Valerie over salary and creative control, in which case they kill you off in an automobile accident, rename the series Valerie’s Family, and hire Sandy Duncan to replace you.) Continue reading

Categories: Death, Humor, Shamanism, Spirituality | 9 Comments

The Jicara

My friend Kate lived for several years in Yuma, Arizona, and worked as an environmental lawyer on an Army base. She and her fiancé Ken made numerous trips down the Mexican coast visiting the tiny towns along the Gulf of California. One particular family befriended them, and welcomed them into their home repeatedly.

The years have been difficult. Ken died in a horrific accident, leaving Kate in great mourning. Then the Mexican family’s matriarch died, leaving behind a sad but kindly husband and two young kids. huichol_yarn_painting_by_rojelio_beuites.jpgBut though Kate moved back to the D.C. area, she makes regular visits to the family in Mexico, and always brings interesting gifts for the kids (who are growing like weeds; it makes Kate feel very old).

Every year she sends me some memento from Mexico, most of them pieces of Huichol art. She has given me two blankets woven in the most amazing colors, a decidedly hallucinogenic wooden dog, and two intriguing crucifixes (blending several different religious traditions).

Perhaps the most recognizable type of Huichol art is the nieli’ka, or yarn painting (like the one depicted here). In traditional Huichol communities, nieli’kas are important ritual artifacts. They’re usually small square or round tablets covered on one or both sides with a mixture of beeswax and pine resin into which threads of yarn are pressed. Nieli’kas are found in most Huichol sacred places such as house shrines (xiriki), temples, springs, and caves. Continue reading

Categories: Art, Dreams, Earth-based Religions, First Nations, Shamanism, The Medicine Wheel | 10 Comments

The Sky Pillar

The news report was bizarre on so many levels. First, the opening salvo: “An amusement park in China has built what it claims is the world’s largest penis.”

That’s right, an amusement park.

Then the eye-popping photo:

The rest of the news story raises more questions than it answers:

Continue reading

Categories: First Nations, Hinduism, Psychology, Shamanism, Travel | 9 Comments

Where the Leylines Led

Ever since Alfred Watkins announced his discovery of a network of ancient alignments criss-crossing the British countryside, the history of leys has been less of an old straight track and more of a long and winding road, one that has taken detours into everything from ufology to dowsing. Veteran ley hunter Paul Devereux sets out to map this remarkable journey and to see where it has taken us today.

by Paul Devereux, for The Fortean Times

June 2007

Following Alfred Watkins’s famous vision of straight paths crossing the landscape, the concept of “leys” has evolved over several decades, but it has become increasingly obvious to research-minded ley students that there never were such features as “leys,” let alone “leylines.” At best, these were convenient labels to cover a multitude of both actual and imaginary alignments from many different eras and cultures. This was because most enthusiasts were projecting their own ideas onto the past in various ways. But the handful of research-minded ley hunters cared about actual archæology, and they followed where the mythical leys led—a journey in which they have made some unexpected findings, proving William Blake’s dictum that if the fool persists in his folly he will eventually become wise. These vary from discovering that culturally contrived altered mind-states in past societies caused markings to be left on the land to unravelling the meaning of a passage in a Shakespeare play that has revealed the vestiges of a spiritual geography in Old Europe.

Because the realisation that New World features like the Nazca lines of Peru and other pre-Columbian land markings throughout the Americas seem to be associated with entranced mind states (typically triggered by the ritual use of plant or fungal hallucinogens) has been sufficiently aired previously, we need spend little space on them here—save to note that in the late 1980s, when the present writer introduced the term “shamanic landscapes” to describe such ground markings, few people were aware of the scale of mind-altering drug usage in ancient America and so tended to dismiss the idea at the time as being over-fanciful. Subsequently, though, the role of altered mind-states in explaining certain imagery in prehistoric rock art has become more widely accepted. The land markings share a similar source to these rock art images, so features like the Nazca lines are not to be misunderstood as landing strips for extraterrestrial spacecraft but as the markings of a culture encountering inner space. The human spirit has left its signature on the planet in some surprising ways.

Less well known by academics and folklorists, let alone anyone else, is the fact that the leys led researchers to revelations regarding largely ignored features in the Old World. Continue reading

Categories: Earth-based Religions, Shamanism, The Medicine Wheel, Time and Space | Leave a comment

Mountains of Magic and More

by Tirthankar Mukherjee, The UB Post (Ulaanbatar, Mongolia)
Thursday, July 05, 2007

Kalidasa, the Indian poet-dramatist whose Meghadutam was translated into Mongolian in the 17th century (and whose name, I dare say, is totally unknown to the young in the country today), saw hills and mountains as the breasts of the Earth-woman. The Mongolian would ignore the erotic aspect of the simile, but would have no quarrel with it if female breasts are taken as sources of sustenance, for venerating mountains has been part of the Mongolian life ever since the nomads began their exploration of the country and found they were everywhere under the watchful eyes of hills.

Indeed, in Mongolian mythology, the world is ruled by Heaven and Earth in conjunction, the former male and causing things to be born, and the latter female and ensuring their nourishment and survival. This gradually led to the demarcation of some 800 sites—mountains, hills, lakes, and rivers—as worthy of veneration.

In this, something akin to the Japanese sangaku shinko (meaning “mountain creed”) can be said to have developed independently in Mongolia. Both Shamanism and the Shinto faith express reverence for mountains as sacred places. This is an integral part of a wider veneration of nature that is a feature of both, with both believing that natural features such as trees, lakes, streams, rocks and mountains are the dwelling places of spirits which hold influence over human affairs and respond to human prayer and ritual. Continue reading

Categories: Buddhism, Earth-based Religions, Environment, Nature, Shamanism | 2 Comments

Inuit Filmmaker Brings His People’s History to Light

Kunuk documents conversion of last great shaman

by Mari Sasano,
Friday, September 29, 2006

Though cinema has only been around for the last century or so, Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk takes a much longer view within the context of an unrecorded history. “We came in one lifetime from the Stone Age to digital technology. We Inuit adapt. We’re good at adapting. Filmmaking is just another way; it’s just like hunting, like soapstone carving.”

Likewise, the success of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner—which won the Camera d’Or at Cannes and numerous other international and Canadian film awards—brought ancient Inuit life to a global audience. For Igloolik Isuma, the team behind that film, it meant bigger budgets and greater resources, but their mission to continue to create and share stories about Inuit people in the Inuit language hasn’t changed. Continue reading

Categories: Christianity, First Nations, Shamanism | Leave a comment

Paying to Teach and “Play Indian”

by Shadi Rahimi, Indian Country Today

SAN FRANCISCO—They climb mountains on a quest for a vision. They beat drums and shake rattles. They pray in sweat lodges. Some study for years and later teach others the spirituality they paid to learn.

They are a growing population. But they are not Native. And as self-proclaimed medicine men and women or shaman—referred to by some critics as “plastic medicine men” or “shake and bake shaman”—they often charge for spiritual services.

That, for many Natives here, is a big problem.

Continue reading

Categories: First Nations, Shamanism | 4 Comments

A Little Bit of Healing

Writer, psychologist, and medical anthropologist Alberto Villoldo tells an interesting little story about a famous neurosurgeon who is talking with a shaman in a Peruvian jungle:

Neurosurgeon: And what do you do?

Shaman: Well, doctor, I have my flock of llamas, and I raise a little bit of corn, and I do a little bit of healing. What do you do, doctor?

Neurosurgeon: I can cut open a man’s head and cut through the bone and pull out a tumor the size of a walnut, Continue reading

Categories: Great Quotes, Shamanism | 11 Comments

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