The Shaman and the Psychiatrist: what is real magic?

The Shaman and the Psychiatrist: what is real magic?
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Female shaman in Tuva, Siberia.  Photo by Cherry Gilchrist

This true story comes from an academic friend who specialises in shamanism.  During the harshest Soviet years there was a push to exterminate shamanism in Siberia.  Shamans were imprisoned or executed.  Their ‘bundles’ of head-dress, robe and drums were destroyed, to stop them passing on their power to their descendants.  One such descendant was a woman in her fifties who had become a psychiatrist and worked in a hospital.  Her father had been wiped out in the bad old days.

One day two men came to her door and passed over to her a bulky package.  They told her that her father had made a second ‘bundle’ before he was arrested and asked them to hide it until conditions improved.  Then they were to pass it on to her.

She unwrapped the bundle, put on the robes and head-dress, took up the drum – and danced and sang the song of power.  Her father’s knowledge flowed into her and she became a shaman too.  I have seen a video of her dancing.  I know, such things can be faked, but this was moving and convincing to me,

It’s a resonant story about how valuable traditions can be saved and passed on and it is one the main inspirations behind The Dancing Floor film.  I wondered if it could happen to a psychiatrist here in the UK, who had been brought up to practise rational science-based psychiatry.  How would her father (in this case uncle) pass on his knowledge after his death?  Would she fight against the call?  I felt this should not be presented as a simplistic science-versus-faith battle – it is something much more interesting about the battle between current orthodoxy and a much, much bigger view of the world and its possibilities, which includes magic, science, mystery, intellect and everything else; which doesn’t need or want to exclude any creative way of viewing reality.  The film would ask the question: what is ‘real’ magic?

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Young Sita (Isha Gurung)  in The Dancing Floor: childhood illumination is forgotten when she grows up

 

And that’s a question which Sally Pomme Clayton will be asking when she performs The Magician’s Apprentice at my chapel on May 21.   If you think about that question too, come along – contact me to book a place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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