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August 2019

Psychother Psychosom Med Psychol. 1993 Nov; 43(11): 387-95.

[Who heals the healer? Shaman practice in the Himalayas]

Oppitz M.

Völkerkundemuseum, Universitt Zrich.

The question has been put before: By which means or intervention does the shaman or faith healer effect his healing results? A new answer is attempted in this article in which a concrete example is being described and analysed: What do the shamanic healers of the Northern Magar in NW Central Nepal do, when confronted with a complicated birth? As neither medication or herbal treatment, nor any massage or obstetric manipulation is employed (methods well applied by the local midwife), the healing séance of the shaman has to be classified as a psychological manipulation of the patient. This is based on three elements: ritual acts during the séance; performance of mythical chants; and the presence of an audience. As for the chanted myths, it may be stressed that they relate stories which allude to the actual situation of the patient, insofar as their protagonist is in a similar situation as herself--only much worse. This overdramatisation permits the listening patient to first identify with and then to dis-identify from her mythical similé and to anticipate a happier end for herself than that related in the myth, which is always violent and tragic. The mechanism of healing (in our case: a successful birth) ensues from a gradual process of disidentification of the patient from the mythical heroine. This observation may be confirmed, if one compares the Magar case with similar ethnographic facts from other regions, both in Nepal and elsewhere. The described process of healing, effected through shamanic treatment, invites to a new comparison between this form of practice and that of Western psychoanalysis.


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