Magic, Shamanism and Modern Science

stone of madnessBy Dr David Laing Dawson

This was in the news today:

“The judge deciding whether an aboriginal girl can forgo conventional cancer treatment for traditional healing questioned whether forcing chemotherapy would be “imposing our world view on First Nations.” ”

This child has an acute form of Leukemia that is known to be 100% fatal untreated, but, unlike most cancers, has a 90 to 95% chance of remission and cure if treated. That is the science of it. The western medical science.

The judge’s use of the term “world view” struck a cord with me, but rather than wading into this mine-field of misperception, mistrust, and down right denial of science, I will relate a story much closer to the reality of human behavior and human motivation.

Some years ago I was consulting in Northern Ontario when I found I had an appointment with an Ojibway medicine man in the town of Kenora. He was something of an itinerant medicine man, healer, shaman, traveling to reserves in Manitoba and Ontario as needed. He was a tall man, quite imposing, with dark eyes and a charismatic intensity. He introduced himself and told his story. He was scheduled (now “scheduled” is not quite the right word here, because it certainly was our Industrial Revolution that imposed scheduling) to perform, in the near future, a second try at exorcising a powerful and evil spirit that had invaded a woman’s body. He had performed one ceremony and failed, he explained. The beast was still within this woman and destroying her and making her behave in a psychotic manner. This invading spirit, this evil, was particularly pernicious (my word), and, once out of the suffering patient, was apt to invade an onlooker.

He invited me to attend the ceremony.

“But”, he said, “You should bring some holy water to protect yourself.” He said this with such conviction that I was quite prepared to visit the Catholic Church to ask the priest if I might borrow a little from the chalice.

We talked some more, and I explored and asked what I could about the nature of the ceremony and the woman’s symptoms, and I agreed to come when summoned. But as he got up to leave I was still puzzled by something. So I asked, hesitatingly, “But really, why would you want to have me at this ceremony?”

He looked at me and said, “You might bring some of those pills of yours.”

And then he left.

And I thought, a smart man, covering all his bases. Native spiritualism, Catholic magic, and Western Medicine. And also, I thought, a true reflection of where we really are: hankering for the magic world of the spirit, the certainty and comfort of religion, but relying on the wisdom of enlightenment and science. I would take some fast-acting anti-psychotic medication with me when called.

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3 thoughts on “Magic, Shamanism and Modern Science

  1. This story certainly does remind us that when dealing with severe mental illness we tend grasp at all facets when looking for a cure. By the way, in a Catholic church, a chalice is used to drink the holy wine from. Holy water is held in an urn or bucket.

    Like

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