In his article on Sacred Naturalism with Steve Serr website, “Close Encounters of the Bird Kind,” the author displays some strong convictions that are hard to argue with. For instance, he feels that humankind has become distanced from the Earth’s gifts of healing and wisdom. Dr. Serr goes on to say that shamanism, a natural and holistic spirituality, is not just a collection of healing techniques, it is a posture. That word resonates with me because of my est training, where “taking a stand” is highly recommended. Taking a stand is the same as a posture. A posture is totally different from a pose. Dr. Serr apparently concurs:
Shamanism is an ancient and powerful posture towards self and world that enables healing by proceeding from this integrated understanding of humans and the Earth… Gaia is calling us back to her.
If we’re going to have a future, we need to look to the past, and the healing techniques of ancient shamans. Of course, times are different, and magic has a lot of new toys to play with, but there is an essential sameness that humans share in any age. We need to look at what the shaman forbearers did and how they lived, find the good, and adapt it to our era.
Dr. Serr calls for a functional cosmology with Gaia at the middle of it, and for us to honor the Earth with reverence, gratitude, and commitment. He examines the human relationship with birds, an important facet of the Earth-centered spirituality. Birds are profound teachers. Next time you’re with a bunch of people, see if you can get them started telling bird stories. You will be amazed. Anyhow, Dr. Serr gives interesting examples of how some human-bird encounters have been interpreted.
Ross Heaven has written a very detailed narrative about a Haitian medsen fey, a particular kind of shaman who practices as a leaf doctor and herbalist. The writer quotes his subject, Loulou Prince:
Ours is a spiritual tradition which traces its lineage to the shamans of primal Africa … It blends together a number of African beliefs with elements from other faiths, such as Catholicism, the religion of the French slave traders who took the shamans and priests of Africa to this new world of the Caribbean.
The spirits are called the lwa, and they function pretty much like guardian angels, sharing the wisdom acquired in their own human years. Ancestral lwa are especially powerful, and a person can inherit an lwa from someone else, while the medsen fey knows how to communicate with all of them.
The lwa might come in a dream, to give counsel about a sick person. The lwa shows the healer exactly which leaves to go out and look for. The shaman prepares a tea or a rum infusion for the patient. The rainforest vegetation, combined with the revealed knowledge of how to use it, reportedly cures a large range of physical and psychological ills. And besides, many people can’t afford doctors anyway.
Some of the distressed people helped by Loulou Prince are “children who are under spiritual attack,” and I think his ritual bath treatment could be adapted for North American parents. It could translate to something as simple as putting nice ingredients, bubbles or scent, into a warm bath for the child. The bathing is done with blessings and songs. Later on, at the child’s bedtime, some lotion is applied on the arms and legs. The ritual involves lot of nice touching and closeness with Mom and/or Dad. Can’t hurt; might help.
Other techniques might be harder to adapt, or to convince children to accept. Of one little boy who was troubled by evil spirits, Prince says,
I gave him leaves to make his blood bitter, so it would taste and smell bad to the spirits, and they would go away. After that, the child got better; he got fat and he grew. That boy is a young man now.
When he treats serious illness, Prince knows the leaves don’t always save the person’s life, but they can alleviate pain and make the life that remains more tolerable. The quality of the patient’s life is always improved, which is more than can be said for some medical traditions.
In this Meta Arts column, Hank Wesselman, who has co-authored Awakening to the Spirit World with Sandra Ingerman, explores the theme of the three souls. He mentions several indigenous cultures, from Hawaii to the Inuit of Greenland, that have delineated the three-part soul, and discusses the work of Edward B. Tylor, who published a book called Primitive Culture almost 140 years ago.
Source: “Close Encounters of the Bird Kind,” MarshallCreekCenter, 3/28/10
Source: “Plant Spirit Shamanism: The work of the medsen fey,” Alumbo, 10/04/07
Source: “Encounters on the Shaman’s Path,” The Meta Arts, 05/05
Image by avlxyz, used under its Creative Commons license.