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Articles    H2'ed 5/7/10

What is a traditional healer?

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I also work with groups to help them construct ceremonies which come from everyone's ancestral pasts in a blend of tradition with our contemporary understanding of the elements of ritual. I am often amazed by how powerful and meaningful and healing these ceremonies can be. This is by nature the work of a hybrid person, to bridge multiple cultures in a post-modern context of multiple ethnic origins in the same room asking to work together for a healing purpose.

I agree with the traditionalist that the so-called New Age people should not pretend to do proper Native American ceremonies. One should learn these ceremonies in a traditional manner and only do them as we were taught, to paraphrase a Lakota song. However, we hybrid or bridge people can take what we have learned about ceremony from attending traditional gatherings, and we can help people who have lost their own ceremonies to construct modern ceremonies that use what we know without duplicating existing ceremonies actually being conducted on reservations by elders.

I think this is important because more and more people have lost all connection to ceremony and ritual and wish to find it. Whenever possible, I send them to traditional healers. When not possible, I help them to construct ceremony for their own use that works for them. This is also an important function of hybrid healers.

When I work in medical settings, I do what's expected, though I try to bring the "deep listening" that I associate with traditional healers to my work as well as the narrative perspective, that all we do is storied. I also see the community and the extended family as the unit of healing and not individual, which is also guided by my indigenous learning. Occasionally, when called for, I will pray with people. If they are aboriginal people, I may even sing a song with them. In my healing work, outside of medical settings, I use guided imagery, body work, energy medicine, ceremony everything I have ever seen or learned to help people get well. Like my genetics, I am an amalgam of all the stories I have heard.

What will we do when only hydrids remain? I don't know, but it will be interested to find out.

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Lewis Mehl-Madrona graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine and completed residencies in family medicine and in psychiatry at the University of Vermont. He is the author of Coyote Medicine, Coyote Healing, Coyote Wisdom, and (more...)
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