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Indigenous healing: revolving in the natural world: in the beginning, about the only thing that people had to occupy their time was survival, and the only thing they had to help them survive was nature.

Long before the birth of what we call medicine, people had many methods for healing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ailments. Interestingly, many of those methods were very widespread and common to cultures around the world that had no contact with each other. And many of those old methods are still used today, mostly in what we call indigenous or Earth cultures.

To understand indigenous healing, it's necessary to remember that what we call indigenous healing had its roots in a time when there was literally nothing but humans and nature. The people then didn't have the incredible number of mundane things that we have now that occupy our time and distract our minds. Try to imagine living with no TV to watch, no phone to answer, no makeup to put on, no plumbing leaks to fix, no lawn to mow, no job to go to, and no car to drive to the supermarket. In the beginning, about the only thing that people had to occupy their time was survival, and the only thing they had to help them survive was nature. Nature was their entire world. Mother Earth and Father Sun were the givers of life. If there was food, it came directly from the Earth or the creatures that roamed on her. If there was medicine, it came directly from the Earth in the form of plants and minerals. Because the people spent all their time literally "'out in nature." they knew that they were a part of the natural world, and they were in tune with it. They watched, they listened, and they paid attention. In essence, much of their lives were spent in a sort of meditation.

Because they considered themselves to be a part of it, the people respected the natural world and they were grateful for what nature gave them. They knew that life was a cooperative journey between humans and all the other inhabitants of the world, and unlike modern people, they didn't assume they were superior. They treated plants and animals as equals and talked to them as such. When they needed to find animals to kill for food they might ask the spirit of an animal where to find members of the herd, and after the kill, they would give thanks to the animal for giving its life for them. They might ask a plant if it was good for eating, or for helping them heal.

They also spoke to the Sky, asking it to bring rain (or stop it), and they spoke to Mother Earth, thanking her for what she gave them or asking her for more. The people knew that all things were alive and therefore had a consciousness or spirit and they believed, as most people do today, in a great spirit that created everything.

So all of indigenous healing revolves around the natural world, both its physical and spiritual aspects. Because of this. and because indigenous peoples are so far removed from us culturally and philosophically, many indigenous healing methods can seem bizarre or even frightening to a 21st Century "civilized" person. (Some cultures and people have believed almost any ailment, especially mental or emotional ones, to be caused by evil spirits or curses.) Other healing methods will seem to be totally mundane and reasonable and most will lie somewhere in between ... a little weird, but acceptable if they help you get better.

One extreme-sounding practice that is particularly hard on the healer is one in which the healer creates (with his/her intent, or imagination) an energetic circle around the patient. The healer then enters the circle, places his mouth on the patient's body and "sucks out" the spirit that is perceived to be causing whatever problem the patient has. The healer then leaves the circle and vomits, to expel the spirit from his own body.

In another interesting practice that was actually captured a few years back in a PBS documentary of a South American tribe, the healer enters an altered state of consciousness from which to do his healing work. (In this particular case, he ingested a special plant to help him get into a highly altered state. Differing degrees of altered states can be achieved by such means as drumming, dancing, or even simple concentration.) While in this state, he takes on the nature or personality of an animal and chases the offending spirit from the patient's body by growling and snarling at various locations on the patient's body, in a sort of cat-and-mouse fashion.

Stories like these are interesting, but, of course, not all indigenous cultures blame everything on misbehaving spirits. Most indigenous healers know that many ailments, even ones that seem to be totally physical, are ailments of the spirit, but of the spirit of the person who is ill.

There is a heating practice, commonly called soul retrieval, which is widely used for treatment of mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical disorders. It's based on the idea that a person can become ill, sad, depressed, or otherwise unwell because a portion of their spirit flees the body during a time of trauma. This piece of the soul goes to a place where it can feel safe, in the same way that a child might hide in the closet when frightened. The healer goes into an altered state and travels, in his mind, to the place where the soul fragment is hiding, and persuades it to come back and join the rest of the person's spirit. When the spirit is united, the person can heal.

Sometimes the problem isn't that the spirit has left, but just that it needs to be healed. Indigenous healers know that when a person experiences a trauma, the accompanying emotions (fear, sadness, or whatever) stay in the body until something is done to remove them. If left in the body long enough, they can cause a host of diseases or other problems, physical or non-physical. So the first step in healing a person who has a serious illness would be to find and remove longheld emotions from past traumas. Indigenous peoples have a multitude of interesting methods and tools for removing trauma from the body.

For example, one method used to treat a person suffering from grief is to use light sweeping motions of a feather over the person's heart, drawing the emotion into the feather. The feather is then burned or buried afterward. Bathing a person in smoke made by burning certain plants, such as sage, lavender, or sweetgrass, can free the mind and body of stress, and also make it easier to get into the proper mental state for receiving heating work. Bathing in healing waters or in special baths made from heating plants is another very powerful method for bringing debilitating emotions to the surface and releasing them from the body.

Indigenous healers use sound in a variety of ways. Extreme physical tension in the body, such as cramps, muscle spasms, or headaches, are sometimes considered to be caused by the congestion of energy, which can be broken up and released from the body by sharp sounds, such as by "clacking" two sticks together or by using a rattle. Song or chanting is used for many things, including asking the spirits for help in healing, and also for giving thanks after the heating is complete.

It's impossible to overstate the importance of the spiritual aspect to indigenous healing. Some treatments are used simply because experience has shown that they work, but that's usually only for relatively simple conditions. Most of the time, the healer relies on Spirit to direct him in what to do, or he relies on the spirit of a plant to tell him how to use the plant, or the Earth to tell him how to use, say, a healing clay. Even with seemingly "normal" healing methods, such as the use of plants, it's important to remember that the knowledge of which plants to use and how to use them came from the spirits of the plants themselves, creating relationships with the plant spirits. Even knowledge that yeas handed down had to be obtained in this way originally.

Living as they did in a world where humans, nature, and spirit were inseparable, indigenous peoples developed methods for healing mind, body, and spirit that were simple and powerful. That's precisely why those methods have lasted for thousands of years and are still in use today.

John Little is a full-time healer and has been in practice for over fifteen years. He lives in the Asheville NC area and can be reached at 828-667-3881 or on the web at
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Title Annotation:DEPT.> strong roots
Author:Little, John
Publication:New Life Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:Q & A.
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