Saturday, March 7, 2015


This weeks blog is on different Southern African Healing Traditions


#
According to Southern African belief, the connection between Westerners and their ancestors is sadly deficient, and this lack may be partly responsible for many of our modern-day woes and maladies. If this is true, and it bears further study, it behooves us to come into a more intimate relationship with our loved ones who have passed on but still exist in spirit in the ethereal planes. The theory of reincarnation, which is becoming more accepted in the West, is germane to the African mindset and has a profound effect on the behavior of most sub-Saharan Africans.  Reincarnation links them to their ancestors who may reincarnate back into the same family. Healing between kin therefore continues beyond the grave.
Whites in South Africa mistakenly believe that black people worship their ancestors. This is untrue: no godly power is attributed to these entities. Rather, they are thought of in the same way that people regard guardian angels who act as intermediaries between God and humankind. Black South Africans do believe that illness and misfortunes may result from a lack of relationship between the ancestors and the living. The ancestors have the power to support and protect their descendants. They can improve relationships, health, wealth, and other conditions. In some dysfunctional families, where the sins of an ancestor have not been dealt with ritually and neutralized (forgiveness is key here), that ancestor may intrude and inhibit the flow of energy to the living and in this way cause harm.  If the living make a ritual and sometimes an animal sacrifice to the ancestor, it will heal and release him from his iniquities, and dissipate any negative energy. Ancestors therefore can become scapegoats when problems are encountered in life, and are praised when events run smoothly.
#
There are varying healing traditions in Southern Africa but all pay strict attention to the power inherent in the spirit world.  One of the oldest, and perhaps the original healing technique is that of the Kalahari San Bushmen, the last hunter-gatherers of Southern Africa. In their out of body trance dance the San healer’s spirit travels up to the cosmic "Field" to discourse with the spirits for the good of the clan.  They also describe this as climbing ropes or ladders to God. The spirits they encounter are not necessarily all ancestors.  In the case of the San, the ancestors usually visit in the dream state.
The Bantu healing paradigm differs from that of the San. Most of the Bantu healing methods are similar in principle though customs may differ. The one that I studied, and which I now practice is  Zulu based although after my initiation I also spent later years with Tsonga and Venda healers. 
In contrast, in the Bantu tradition, the ancestral or guiding spirit of the sangoma or inyanga comes “down” from the Field and "possesses" the healer.  Here the word possession does not have the negative connotation usually associated with it in the West. The spirit occupies the sangoma’s body while the ego or persona steps aside.  In this way healers can access information that is not localized in space and time, information not readily available to those not trained as sangomas. The sangoma’s spirit guide is able to speak directly through the medium of the healer to the patient and the information is highly specific to that individual. We describe this somewhat more gentle process in the West as "channeling" or "trance-channeling."
The sangoma may speak in "tongues," and it is not unusual for a healer who speaks Zulu to speak in English or for another who speaks Sotho to heal in Shangaan. Sangomas speak the language of the ancestor concerned. Some spirits have fads and fetishes and will insist on wearing a certain garment or perhaps drinking a glass of water depending on which individual is coming through. Some sangomas are able to channel several spirits, one after the other.


Spirit Possession

The differences between the San healer and the sangoma can best be understood this way: when the San’s ego steps aside, the healer’s soul or spirit travels up to the spirit world - almost a near-death experience they call “the little death.”  
When the sangoma’s ego steps aside, the spirit of the ancestor comes down from the “Field” into the shaman’s body.  The San’s practice is an upward or ascending dynamic; the sangoma’s a downward, or descending phenomenon.  Both are achieved with drumming and dancing and without the use of mind-altering plants (entheogens), although such substances are used occasionally in special circumstances.  The two groups are racially distinct as well, the San being much more Asian in appearance and shorter in stature.
The practice of throwing divining bones probably developed over time because healers found spirit mediumship too exhausting. Becoming possessed is hard work, and it would be impossible to treat many patients if this were the only method. However, possession is still not quite as time consuming or as physically taxing as the San trance dance, which can go on all night. 



The bones are an alternative way of allowing the ancestral spirits to have a conversation with the patient through the healer. Reading the bones is a little like unraveling the metaphor of a dream. The healer becomes an interpreter and messenger for the ancestral spirit, which sets up an information field that is accessible to the sangoma through the bones. When the bones are thrown by the shaman, they do not fall in a random fashion but in a way that the ancestral spirit controls. A meaningful and usually highly accurate interpretation can be made.

Another way the ancestors communicate with the inyanga is through dreams. Interpretation of dreams is a vital tool for the sangoma. Healers often dream plant remedies for their patients, information that comes as a vision of a particular plant. Other psychic information can be sent through dreams to assist the sangoma in caring for the patient.

1 comment:

  1. Help me please I m in south africa how can I consult with you pls. I feel it you are the one.

    ReplyDelete