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.