Sunday, April 26, 2015

This weeks blog is on an indigenous approach to dreams
"There  is a dream dreaming me." Bushmen saying

For most of us the easiest form of access to the cosmic infinity and to realms not localized in space and time is the dream world. According to sangomas there is every indication that our dream state is as real as the waking state - all we have to do is decipher the cosmic conversation. We have to understand the metaphors and the passwords. These may be highly individual and it is up to each one of us to find our own individual code. The "Field" has a particular dialogue for each person that depends on their genetics, culture, religion and education. When we learn to encourage our dreams and understand the conversation, we open up to a user-friendly source of wonder and sometimes life-saving information.

Dreams come in metaphor but can also be literal. Basically there are two types of dreams, instructional and noninstructional. Sometimes we are being told something directly and if we ignore the messages we may never find the gift that is waiting for us or the danger that lurks. The ancestors usually work in metaphor and often we need to unravel the secret symbols. Important dreams may have a different quality, a heightened intensity and they alert us to the fact that we may be receiving an official communication from the spirit world. The nightmare - often a big dream - can be a warning dream, sometimes overstated to caution the receiver to take the message seriously. Some dreams are not really dreams but visitations and these have a different life like quality. A visitation requires tremendous energy from the spirit guide to come through and is an occasion for much gratitude. Dreams that come in metaphor or as symbols also require a lot of effort to script but not as much as an actual visit. 

A strictly psychological interpretation of dreams is seriously limited. 

Dreams can come in many forms and will vary from individual to individual. There is no single type of interpretation that can be applied to any particular presentation - one size does not fit all. There are some generalities such as driving a car being a metaphor for one's life - are you taking a back seat, are you driving out of control without breaks or steering...

There are numerous fine books written by gifted dream interpreters, not the least of whom was Carl Jung. Most experts look at dreams  mostly from a psychological viewpoint based on the subconscious. This view is incomplete and a Jungian approach to dreams which is often more shamanic in nature recognizes another complexity. Dreams are a personal phenomenon, individual expressions, perhaps of universal truths or messages that may come in the night to tell us of something we need to know. If one is astute and maintains a dream journal one can see patterns emerge that can assist us in the interpretation of our own dreams without using scholarly research to unravel them. To make interpretation easier it is useful to categorize dreams according to one's own experience; warning, nudging, instructive, empowering etc.  Of course, not all the dreams are messages or instructions from the ancestors.  Some are probably the psyche offloading stress, others are helpful and some are life-saving. The question (and the challenge) is how to recognize the scripted informative dreams and parse them.
The so called garbage dreams of the night - may be the subconscious playing itself out. They are often related to some event that has occurred in the recent past which triggers the image. Nightmares fit into this category, and they may be generated by fear or by one’s sense of physical discomfort while asleep. For instance being too hot. If there is a need to empty one's bladder, there may be dreams of searching for a bathroom.  If you have seen a scary movie, that night you may have terrifying dreams.  However, it may also be that we are still tapping into a dream reality which has now shifted into a lower vibration because of exposure to a darker energy pushing one into an astral realm or parallel universe which is unsavory. It's best to avoid images and news that could either affect the psyche or drag our consciousness or the dream spirit down into an undesirable realm.  We really do create our own reality, both when awake and asleep.

Dreams that come in the form of an apparition, usually a face or the figure of a person are often prophetic and may warn of something bad to come. 

Another rare form of dream can arise as a profound, vivid series of events, sometimes in three or more parts like a play which is so striking it cannot be ignored. These dreams often portend the future in some detail and are the way things will "play out." They are palpably different in character and have a numinous or luminous sometimes technicolor quality to them. One knows immediately on awakening that they are important. 

Sometimes dreams are associated with a sensation of vibrational energy which permeates the body. This association with Kundalini  (the Zulu call it Umbilini) is an endorsement of the validity of the message. 

Some dreams involve a song, a sentence, written text or even a Biblical reference which may require research into the meaning being conveyed. The words of the song usually have the message you need.

 There are dreams that close friends, relatives, loved ones or even strangers may have on our behalf. These can also be prophetic and can sometimes predict illness or harmful events. Receiving dreams for others has been called "getting someone else's" mail. 
Sometimes when ancestors or spirit guides feel they are being ignored they will resort to sending a stronger message to us directly or via someone else who has influence. These may come  in a foreign language or in words that one needs help to decipher. The spirits want to lend emphasis by introducing a word totally unknown to the dreamer but known to someone who can assist in the interpretation.

Sangomas often dream about patients coming to them and about specific plant remedies for those patients. Even though they may never have seen that plant before, they will go into the bush, find it, and then dispense it. 

Today, most of us cannot believe that God or anyone else from beyond our own realm speaks to us.  We think that prophetic, Biblical-style dreams have no validity as actual instruments of prophecy. This is not true. We may not have the same kind of dreams as Jacob and Pharaoh—dreams that prophesy the future of an entire people but we do receive important personal messages which can help ease our way through life. At the very least we awaken with the sense that we are being supported from another domain. If we "ask to receive," these dreams or visitations may come from loved ones who are no longer with us in life, but are there in spirit. 

 Sangomas appreciate that ancestral dreams or spirit dream messages usually occur in the early morning when the veil between worlds is more permeable. They say this is when the ancestors are active. Physiologists confirm that this is the period of R.E.M. or rapid eye movement sleep which still does not exclude the possibility that guiding forces are present. 
     We are all given dreams for a purpose and one should not need years of special training in order to interpret them. All one has to do is translate the metaphor into something that fits one’s own unique origins and not necessarily that of a psychologist or anyone else. The Bible is replete with dreams and dreamers, and what I have learned from the sangomas is very Biblical. I trust the information. If we have difficulty with the interpretation, an intuitive outsider can be invaluable in keeping us close to the truth. Self-denial or lack of insight can trip us all up. If nothing else, we can remember that there are instructional dreams and if one ignores instructions the consequences can be significant sooner or later. Because dreams are coming from the "Field," they are not localized in time. The dream may precede the prophesy by many years.

It is not so much that one acts on a dream but rather on a pattern of many dreams.  It’s also true that some dreams are so compelling that they force us to pay attention to their specifics and act immediately.  Dreams are not always absolute truths but rather clues or signposts to the truth you need to be guided to. Moreover, when you see or experience something in waking life that you have encountered in a dream you cannot ignore it as easily. 
         Some dreams are powerful because, while they relate to us, they are not prompted by specific recent events such as conversations, meetings, movies, and so on, nor are they reflections of our hopes and fears about such incidents or conditions.  Instead it is their detachment from our daily lives and from ego that gives  dreams the capacity to help us on our journey through life.

Aboriginal peoples hold great store in dreams because they know how to use them. The knowledge gained is verifiable as time comes to pass. The dream world and the sangoma’s world are inseparable.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

This weeks blog is on reverence towards the helping spirits 

Reverence for the ancestors is very much part of the Thwasa’s training and will continue throughout the sangoma's life. When entering the ndumba where the ancestors reside, many sangomas take off their shoes, bow down on entering, and clap twice as a greeting. Pahla, or praying, is done kneeling down, and each sentence is punctuated by a clapping of hands. Spirit guides prefer prayers to be made out loud though silent ones work almost as well. In some traditions there is no walking in the ndumba; instead the healer will hobble forward on her or his knees out of respect. Tobacco, preferably home-grown, is a frequent offering used in rituals. The plant mpepo  (helichrysum) is burned to attract the attention of the ancestors and show gratitude. This is similar to how Native Americans use sage. 

Boophane disticha (amaryllis)

         Many tribes have an amaryllis plant in the homestead where the ancestors reside, and offerings will be made to this plant while holding conversation with the spirits. They may check in with the plant on arriving or leaving to report and to ask the ancestors for favors and safety along the way. Depending on the tradition, a tree, a forked branch planted in the ground, or even river stones may be used in the same way. Trees are important, and some traditions support the idea of a “trouble” tree to which someone can go and tell one’s troubles, walk away, not look back and not revisit those issues again.

Since the ancestors cannot communicate with the living in the normal way, special techniques to “bridge the field” are required. Thwasa initiates will drink foam or bubbles made of water mixed with special muti, which is soul food for the spirits. By spiritually "feeding" the spirits, one draws the ancestors near. The ancestors are always fed when there is a ritual involving food or sacrifice. Libations of sorghum beer or regular beer or wine may be offered as well. 
An ancestral altar is a more Western way of relating to the ancestors where one can go and give thanks and make requests. Because of free will requests need to be highly specific. A dream journal is also a method of maintaining contact. Taking dreams seriously and logging them is a way of showing gratitude for the efforts expended when spirit guides script a dream to help the healer. Gratitude is the ultimate prayer to spirit guides.

Friday, April 10, 2015

This weeks blog is on the sangoma's approach to medicinal plants (muti) and how they work

The medicine or muti that is used is based on plants and, sometimes, different animals. This muti may have pharmacological properties but one cannot isolate the power of the remedy from the strength of the healer or that of the ancestors. The more masterful the healer and the more potent the ancestors, the more effective the muti. This phenomenon is another example of the combination of placebo and distant healing.  The mutis often have powerful symbolism. Each time the muti is used, it may be accompanied by a ritual that confirms the intention and acts as a powerful affirmation. In the West we now know that people can be healed by distant healing or prayer even if they are unaware they are being healed or prayed for. There are an increasing number of double-blind studies, conducted by Western doctors showing that distant healing or prayer is usually statistically significant in improving the outcomes of patients afflicted with certain diseases.  Two studies are most often quoted, the first, a group of AIDS patients and the second, a study conducted in a coronary care unit with patients suffering from myocardial infarction (heart attacks.)  In both groups, the patients who received distant healing (prayer) showed significantly better results than those who did not. The findings are often so convincing, that if the prayer had been a drug, the doctors would have wanted to use this modality in all patients.
The effect of muti may be a sophisticated version of distant healing, if the sangoma’s prayers and ancestor’s intentions accompany the treatment.  The muti can also be regarded as a password or special request to the ancestor for healing. Since the ancestors have access to universal healing energy (essentially Divine love,) they have the ability to cure anything. Each muti carries a different message about what is needed for that particular problem. There is a mutual understanding between healer and ancestor based on tradition, dreams, and empiricism as to what plant to use for a particular problem. Different tribes and various healers may use the same plant for distinct effects. The client's stated free will or permission for his or her intention is critical for the spirit world to act on his or her behalf.

 The Law of Similars, which is not based on solid science, states that if things resemble each other they are linked and can affect one another. In other words, like affects like. For this reason, reeds that shake in the water may be employed for tremor, snake venom may be used against snake bite, black smoke adopted to bring rain, and bark or roots that are red can be utilized to treat blood disorders. In this way there are some similarities with the principles of homeopathy.

Medicines can be administered in various ways: bathing, steaming, or inhaling.  They can be taken by mouth or by enema, rubbed on the body as a salve, and, in special circumstances, inoculated or rubbed into an incision. There are medicines for every eventuality: physical illness, mental illness, social disharmony (such as marital problems), and spiritual difficulties (for instance to align with the ancestors, to get rid of offending spirits, and so on). There are also love potions, medicines for dreams and luck, among others.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

This weeks blog continues with general principles related to how sangoma medicine works.
Also; these are the upcoming talks at C.L.L. for the semester.

1.  Nature: The Hero/ine's Journey, Initiation and Rites of Passage. 
Saturday, April 18th, 201510-12 noon
Schott Campus Auditorium. Santa Barbara. 

2. Ancestors and the Dream Time. Saturday, June 6th, 201510-12 noon
Schott Campus Auditorium. Santa Barbara.

It is the healer’s duty to intercede between the living and the dead and to make restitution.  Animal sacrifice, not readily accepted in the West, is the most powerful way of appeasing the spirits. Since the ancestors, though dead, are still human, they respond very favorably to any attempts to acknowledge, thank, respect, greet, and “feed” them. Sacrifice is the ultimate form of reaching out or atonement although this can also be done using medicinal plants in sacred ritual. The spirit of a two-legged or four-legged domestic animal goes directly to the ancestor to appease him or her and neutralize a grievance or problem. It is the cry of the sacrificial animal that immediately gains the attention of the spirits. A sheep, because it does not usually cry out when slaughtered, is used less frequently than goats and chickens. A cow may be sacrificed in special situations, for instance during the graduation of a student or if requested by an ancestor. For those who find this abhorrent it should be noted that the animal is sacrificed humanely in sacred ritual and is eaten after the event, possibly a more holistic and spiritual act than buying a piece of meat in the supermarket.

         Spirits sometimes feel the need to complete the healing work they never finished while in human form and will choose a suitable family member or other person who is alive to act as a channel for this mission.  In my own case, Mpofu is a foreign ancestor or mandawe who “knows” me because she worked for my family. She was a sangoma in her past life and therefore very familiar with the technology. The person who is called usually becomes “possessed” by the ancestor who draws attention to her needs by making the elected one ill. The symptoms can take many forms: psychosis, severe headaches, intractable stomach pain, shoulder and neck complaints, among others. In my case it was incessant migraines which went away after I initiated. The afflicted one may go to a Western-trained doctor who will be unable to find anything wrong. However, a traditional healer will immediately recognize this Thwasa sickness, tell the patient he is possessed by the ancestors, and inform him that he must undergo initiation. Failure to respond to the calling will often lead to ongoing illness until the person concedes and goes to be trained.  Alternatively, the potential initiate can work through a sangoma to enter into a dialogue with the spirits, explaining why he or she cannot undergo training at this time.  Ancestors are reasonable and if respectfully approached and told why this calling might not be possible, they may relent but an explanation would be required. The spirit guides understand very well that free will is God's law. 
Thwasa, which comes from the word for moon, is the process of self-discovery and recognizing one’s spiritual links and destiny. Metaphorically, the Thwasa student begins as a new moon and matures into a full moon to become an inyanga, the one who doctors.

Eclipse in Limpopo 2002

         The sangoma is able to communicate with the cosmic, the terrestrial, and the water spirits as well as the ancestors. The ancestors are not gods and the early missionaries were misguided into thinking the Bantu and San Bushmen were heathens. All tribes believe in a single Great Spirit, or God (Umkulunkulu in Zulu, Modimo in Sotho), who, however, is seen as too remote and inaccessible. The ancestral spirits are there to mediate between the living and God and help us with our destiny path. Since various spirits are linked to the cosmos, the land, and the water (hence shells are often present in the healer’s divination repertoire) they can provide information not confined to the space-time continuum that can be very useful and even life-saving.