The Sangoma as Wounded Healer and "Thwasa" - The Ancestors Sickness that leads to Initiation
"The consciousness of the seer is a greater power of knowledge than the consciousness of the thinker. The perceptual power of inner sight is greater and more direct than the perceptual power of thought." Sri Aurobindo
The shaman, traditional or indigenous healer, uses altered states of consciousness, spirit possession, and out of body spirit flight to gain knowledge about any problem at hand. This ability may be hereditarily transmitted, arise out of a dream or vision bestowed by the spirit world, or occur because of selection by the tribe. There are shamans or curanderos in Peru who after surviving being struck by lightning become curanderos. Sometimes the calling arises out of a deformity, disability, illness, or even a psychosis. In other words, a "wound" may create the shaman, thus generating the true "wounded healer" archetype. Some shamans are self-chosen, but those that are “called” wield much greater power.
In Southern Africa someone who is “called” by the ancestors often becomes ill and will visit a traditional healer. The sangoma will divine or go into trance and say that she or he is “possessed” and that the only recourse is for him or her to become a sangoma. Failure to respond to the ancestors usually is associated with progression of the illness. The "sangoma sickness" mysteriously disappears after initiation has begun. The process of being called and then initiated is called Thwasa. In my case the sangoma illness was repeated migraines and shoulder pain.
In South Africa, traditional healers, or shamans, are called sangomas or inyangas. They can be either women or men. There is no practical difference between a sangoma and an inyanga—both are "possessed" and derive their power from the ancestors. Historically sangomas would work in trance by channeling the ancestors from the spirit world and inyangas with medicinal plants and translating messages from the cosmic realm by "reading the bones." There is now much overlap between the various ways of working all of which are determined by the ancestors and not the initiate. Your guides know the best way in which you need to help and heal. All these healers work with dreams and some are clairvoyant and just "see." There are also highly specialized sangomas who work with "femba," a process which cleanses the client of intruding spirits or energetic pollution. A sangoma will usually channel her own ancestors, but sangomas who specialize in femba are also able to channel the patient’s ancestors for information or for intrusive spirits in order to exorcise them. Many herbalists dream the plants they are to give their clients and are also receiving messages from their ancestors. All these healers have various special gifts including divining the future, diagnosing illness, finding lost objects or people and establishing direct contact with the ancestors and the supernatural. When a rural black South Africans visit a Western physician they are often surprised and even disillusioned when asked to list their ailments. Any competent sangoma should be able to tell them what was wrong without taking a history.
To become a sangoma requires arduous and difficult training. Not just anyone is called and, though sometimes burdensome, the calling is regarded as a gift and a great honor. The goal of an ancestor who channels healing through a living relative is to help and to heal. Any sangoma who abuses the gift is likely to be affected adversely with bad luck, ill health, poverty, or loss of the healing power. Most traditional healers practice with great humility and acknowledge that the source of their power is the ancestors.
The ancestors cannot communicate in a normal way because they live in the realm of spirit. Therefore they choose to talk through trance-channeling (spirit mediumship or possession states) through the divining bones, and through dreams.