Yesterday Simon had asked anyone who had a long-standing health issue who would like to be considered for healing to put their names in a hat. I didn’t consider my broken finger long-standing enough so didn’t bother.
The session after lunch was the one which would help us to understand the healing element of shamanic practice.
Simon explained that in a village or community where shamanism is practiced healing is a community issue. If the baker is ill, it is within the community’s interest to ensure s/he recovers as quickly as possible. There is no NHS or private health insurance.
In shamanism when a person becomes ill it is because of some imbalance in the system caused by a loss of their personal power. They are power-empty. The shaman will journey to where the power has gone and bring it back to the person to make them power-full again which enables them to heal.
As a group we were going to assist in helping two people from the group become power-full again.
It would involve travel on a canoe to an axis mundi of the shaman’s choosing. The community would row the canoe there and back and journey with the shaman while rowing the canoe.
This was a big physical exercise involving all fifty-two of us on the course, including Simon and Martha who would be the shaman working with the two people who needed healing.
‘We will form a canoe with our bodies slightly touching,’ Simon instructed us. ‘The oldest in the room will sit at the head of the canoe and will not be required to row. Four people will sit at the back and keep the drum beat. The people forming the body of the canoe will row in unison on the beat of the drum.
When we reach our destination the drum will stop while the shaman recovers and re-inserts the power into the people who are unwell. Then we will turn around (metaphorically) and row back.’
He gave those of us who needed the toilet time to go while the other began to form the canoe. When I returned and saw the bodies on the floor in the shape of a huge canoe with two people lying in the middle of it I was instantly transported back to the slave ships.
I had a very uneasy feeling as I found my place toward the back of the canoe and took up my imaginary oar. We were told that the downward stroke had to be on the beat of the drum, and as we began I felt as though my soul had done this before. That I knew too well the downward stroke of the oar and the beat of the drum at precisely that tempo was all too familiar.
I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the journey to heal the two people in the centre of the canoe, but my eyes became more and more filled with tears with each downward stroke. I saw in my mind’s eye my people from hundreds of years ago making this journey, and in a very odd way felt that I had made this journey myself.
I stopped rowing and opened my eyes to watch what was going on. The two shaman made hand gestures and body movements that I knew from growing up in Jamaica and from watching films about witch-doctors and medicine men. Only these people were white, and not wearing traditional head-dresses and animal skins. Everything about them, even the whistling that sounded like bird cries seemed familiar.
Eventually my tears dried, the canoe was returned safely and the community opened its collective eyes and arms to embrace the newly healed.
‘That was very powerful,’ one participant said at the break following the healing.
‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘it took me to a very strange place.’