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Vortrag Kongress ISSR Warschau 2011 (englisch)



Bridging the gap between indigenous and western medicine

1. Introduction

Indigenous medicine and Western medicine and psychotherapy have much to learn from each other. Therapies work, but only really well if they have a shared cultural background. A major barrier for the "Learning Exchange" is due to the fact that they come from different cultures. Attempts to transfer treatment to a different culture usually result in a neologism. Thus, the inclusion of neoschamanic psychotherapeutic techniques in our approach, not only widen the range of  methods in our tool kit, but also lead to a whole different concept and worldview.

The most important part in the cultural context are the meta-narratives. Such meta-narratives are an explanation of particular world models. It involves the mental, moral, scientific and spiritual lives of people in a cultural community. With rituals, it is important that all members of a community share a common meta -narrative. When the shaman meets spirits in a trance and heals in the context of his animistic world view the procedure will be a shared experience understood by all parts of the community.

What is the narrative context for us? Dominant in Western medicine is the scientific world view. In recent years, however, scientific medicine is no longer seen as the only possible approach.. Many smaller meta-narratives compete with it, eg natural medicine, homeopathy, anthroposophy, TCM (traditional Chinese medicine), etc. Ca. eighty percent of Germans are even prepared to try out alternative therapies! We have only fragmentary knowledge of our earlier european meta-narratives  with their myths, beliefs and stories. But there are still small niches in the christian tradition which deal with healing issues, eg spiritual healers in the Eifel region, a mountainous part of Germany.

Beyond that, there have been some serious attempts to combine shamanic healing with western medicine and psychotherapy. Usually called. neoschamanistische procedures.

The best known and most widespread method is the core- shamanism of M. Harner.

Our hypothesis is: shamanic methods cannot easily be cut out of their respective cultural contexts like fillet pieces. In order for these methods to function  in other socio-cultural fields, they need a meta-narrative which is appropriate and can be integrated into the field of application and which has the scope to build a bridge between indigenous and western medicine. The magic origins of a shamanic method should not be blurred. However it must at the same time have a bridge that allows a connection to something within our cultural experience. During our practice we have worked with trance rituals along with archetypal postures as a bridge for bringing together the differing perspectives indigenous and western therapeutic practice.

We have paid particular attention to researching the background to the character and the posture of the goddess Tanit. We had the opportunity to do some research on a trip to the homeland of the goddess Tanit, the mediterranean island of Ibiza. We use  the knowledge we gained there in the ritual work in our therapy groups.


2. The framework for working with trance postures

In our psychotherapeutic practice we work with approaches taken from the Gestalt systemic therapy, depth psychology (in particular CG Jung) and neoschamanic procedures, especially core-schamanism according to Harner and ecstatic trance and ritual body postures after F. Goodman. Over the years we have developed our own therapeutic style.

We believe that trance is a good way to get in touch with unconscious processes. The distinguishing feature of  ecstatic trance is the state of intense relaxation tied toa hyper-aware state of perception.

Now trance in psychotherapy and in the shamanic sense do not correspond with one another completely. While  psychotherapeutic trance (eg, hypnotherapy) concentrates on the unconscious psychic innerlife,  shamanic trance involves not only the different levels of consciousness but all its parallel cosmic beings. The experience made in the trance transcends the interior. In our work with archaic postures we include both approaches.

For trance induction we prefer to use drums or rattles.

So far, about 80 postures have been researched (Goodman, Naumann)

There are postures with the main focus on 

-   Energisation, protection,

-   spiritual experiences

-   Strengthening the physical healing process

-   connecting with the Deceased

Other postures focus on their inherent power and transformation or help in resolving life´s problems.

The focus has to do with the type of experience made during the trance trip however there is no automatic assignment of the type: If I takeon  the posture  X, that is the type of experience I will make during the trance journey. The experience of trance travel is dependant on other factors eg the inner emotions of the patient, how the trips is initated or other conditions. Here the relevant cultural context of the meta-narrative plays an important role.

We use the trance journey in the context of the therapeutic process. Here it is often a matter of the perception, experience and intuition of the therapist when he should suggest to his patient to take such a trance trip.

A brief overview of the steps in working with ritual body postures

1.      Clarification of the questions/problems of the individual patient or group of participants: decides which archetypal posture is appropriate for the ritual.

2.      Intensive preparation for the ritual. In this phase,we work out the way to bridge the gap between the past and the present.

3.      Preparatory exercises, smoking, invocations of the supporting forces and/or  prayers.

4.      Introducing the posture of the corresponding figure (here the figure of the goddess Tanit). The patients adjust their stance to take on the posture of the figure.

5.      The actual trance phase lead by a quick drum beat or rattle (210 Beat) and carried on for about 15 minutes.

6.      Reflection phase and feedback. The patient allowing the trance to continue its effect.

7.      Integration of the trance experiences in the therapeutic process.


3. Bridging the gap: the first step in working with ritual body posture and ecstatic trance

In contrast to the visitors of workshops with ritual body postures and other shamanic techniques, patients
come to us in order to be given psychological treatment. Initially, many find trance work strange and
irritating. Of course, participating in such a ritual is voluntary and needs to be introduced sensitively.

This involves several stages

-      The basic requirement is that the patient should trust his therapist who must maintain his credibility
    although suggesting something as unusual as a trance ritual.

-      Building on existing meta – narratives
    Here, for example explanations are used that are already familiar or fit inwith our meta-narrative,
    eg by referring to
brain(neuro)-physiological research into the effects of trance on the brain.

-       Examples of the effectiveness of this approach. Here the therapist  can talk (anonymously of
    course) about how patients from other  groups have experienced trance.), personal experience,
    This stage is important, because it leads over from the abstract explanation level to the experience

-       Various preparatory exercises which involve spending  as much time as possible in nature.

-      The bridge: creating the connection between the original meta-narrative with the figures from
    ancient times  to an understanding in today´s context.
    Here we explain something about the time and the works of each character e.g. the goddess Tanit.
    But also other stories which underline the archetypal content transported by such a stance.
    The aim is that these stories trigger archetypal constellations outside the everyday consciousness of
    the patient which then support the actual trance.
    This is the point where the actual bridge takes place where old and new stories meet in the
    common area of archetypes,many of which are understood in any culture.

-      The stories help to control the viewpoint and the direction taken in  the trance trip towards its goal.
    We support the hypothesis that, besides the effect of the trance and the specific body posture, the
    focus of attention which reaches far into the unconscious, is all involved in the end result. It is
    difficult to say which of the three factors, trance, body posture and the introduction of the larger
    narrative plays the most important part in the experience had by the patient during the trance

-      The inclusion of the patient´s precise question/problem which is to be taken on the trance trip is
    important with regard to the focus of attention. Here he often needs the support of the therapist,
    because certain rules apply (eg, formulate questions positively)


4. The figure of the goddess Tanit

In this chapter, the goddess Tanit is presented as the basis for the meta-narrative , insofar as she is important to the implementation of the ritual.

The figures of the goddess Tanit, of which there were hundreds, were found in 1907 at various sites on the mediterranean island of Ibiza. The terracotta figures  are about 50 centimeters tall, all fairly similar. However, a group of these characters stand out from the others  as they are decorated with ornaments, flowers, jewelry and a face in the middle of the abdomen. This group of sculptures was the starting point for our research work.

Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands became, for the Carthagians in about 700 BC, the most important trade and withdrawal base in the western mediterranean sea as well as a resting place for their dead . The Carthaginians descendants of the Phoenicians inhabited the countries around the Mediterranean since about  1500 years before Christ. They also brought the goddess Tinnit / Tanit who became the main deity on  Ibiza . She served the Carthaginians as goddess of the heavens and fertility goddess who was both virgin and mother. Herr attributes were pomegranate, fig, ear of corn , grape and her symbol is the Tinit sign: A triangle with a lateral rod and a disc on top. We know that  blood sacrifices were made to her. In particular Tanit was revered in the cave “Es Culleram” and here the rituals took place. Kurt and I visited this cave several times which has the clear form of a uterus, an ancient symbol,  the vulva and uterus of Mother Earth. There is a narrow entrance through which you must squeeze which then widens out.. There are still traces of the rituals to be seen.

Here is a brief description of the Tanit sculpture, which also serves as the basis for our trance work.

One sees an extraordinary ornamentation of jewelry, different patterns of stylized flowers, ears of corn, grapes and shell spirals on her robe. In the bottom center there is a head which can be interpreted as Medusa  (a figure from Greek mythology)

Most conspicuous is her over long neck.

One can assume that the various motives on the figure are coded messages, which go beyond the decorative.

They express in the form of symbols, the mysticism, the power and potency, the messages from the goddess Tanit.

According to M. Eliade the symbol is “the visualisation of complex experiences”  Through the encoding of the symbols we are given information about  the thinking and the way of life at the time. They are social and religious documents. Symbols go far beyond the analytical thinking and speach. They have a more effective and realistic power. In shamanic cultures, the  knowledge of symbols can be taken as granted as a base for the rituals.

In order to understand the meaning of the symbols it is necessary to lift  the " hiding veil".

In scientific research in 2002, I decoded the symbolism of the goddess Tanit.

Here is a brief summary of the results: In the ornaments on the Tanit sculpture we can recognise the connection betweeen woman, plant life and ever recurring life rhythms. The flower symbols and the head of Medusa show the three phases of the female cycle – the build up – plenitude – the reduction of the uterine lining. The three phases correspond with the dynamics of the moon and the three phases of female life: girl, mother, wise old woman. Tanit was known to the Carthaginians as the three-phases goddess and and as the moon goddess.

It is therefore easy to understand that trance work using the ritual body postures of the Tanit figure is especially effective with women while men activate their female side.

In addition to the individual solutions, Tanit with her symbols of female strength and power enables women to get in touch the archetypal dimensions of femininity. This then often leads to reconciliation and healing of women in their role and better acceptance of their body.


5. The initiation as an important part of the ritual using the example of the goddess Tanit

What we describe here is not the whole ritual, which we have published elsewhere, but only the part that makes the bridge function.

1.   At the beginning we look at the theme, the problem or  the question together with the patient. Having found the question, the patient goes into the trance. The therapist decides on the correct body posture, in our example the figure of the goddess Tanit.

2.  The figure with the symbols and their meaning is explained and added to that elements from the meta-narrative telling of old Ibiza in the times of the goddess Tanit. The relation between that and the problem in the present is established

3.   In order to get attuned, we often suggets an imagination exercise. The patient can for example take an imaginory journey to the mountains of Ibiza. The road is rocky, repeatedly bathed in  the scent of swaths of lavender. At the top the travellers can drink from a mountain spring and leave their everday worries behind. This exercise helps to lead the  participants away from their everday situation to a peaceful and safe place.

4.    Incense is lit, this time with herbs that grow well in Ibiza, eg lavender, thyme, juniper, Rosemary, pine. A rherbal liqueur from Ibiza will be passed around.

5.  Rhythmic body movement to music (preferably from the region) or  rattles or other instruments.

6.   When the senses are already getting attuned to the trip the participants are given instructions on how best to take on the posture of Tanit and how to achieve the correct muscle tension and to inwardly concentrate on their question.

Then, the bridge work and attunement is completed. The real trance journey can begin.

This kind of preparation has several functions:

Of course, it is also here to provide information for the participants. You learn what they are prepared to do and in what context.

The real bridge is that the group members are inwardly open for experiences, which go beyond their day to day experience. Many people are very caught up in their everyday situation. You need several intermediate steps to open them up.

The example of the work with the posture of Tanit show how such steps might look. The initiation uses practically all senses, hearing, sight , smell, taste and movement. Sensuality and sensory perception is an important part in bridging the gap.. The landscape of the island of Ibiza, with its plants and smells were already there in Tanit`s time. The combination of old and new meta-narratives happens, using not only language but all the senses and reaches the unconscious much faster.

The participants all have the same basic experiences. With this approach a new common meta-narrative is created for all of those involved in the ritual which however disappears after the session. For continuous groups, it exists longer. We have found that with long-term groups it only needs the bridging work to bring about the change amongst the participants. The group members develop more understanding and tolerance for other cultures. They feel more involved in nature and its rhythms, larger contexts and cosmic energy. There is a new environmental awareness in everyday life and a revaluation of their attitude to life. These changes are reminiscent of the basic shamanic cultures with their focus on protecting and conserving all life.


6. Concluding remarks

Unlike the meta-narratives in indigenous societies, we cannot  assume that all our group members share the same belief system.We also have myths, stories, explanatory models and belief systems however in today's western culture, such closed  meta-narratives exist only in the religions, science, perhaps even in medicine.  In our work we can assume that if we start a new group there will be as many meta-narratives as participants. We must therefore create a common ground for the ritual work. It is useful to tie in old meta-narratives. For a short time it allows all of those involved to immerse into a common narrative background. A short-term community is established which is not only together with purpose of solving problems, healing and spiritual experiences but also to immerse in a small mutual cosmos. This common ground brings the energy into the group which is necessary for the implementation of the ritual.

Such a detailed introduction to the ritual takes time. Time that a normal therapist usually does not have. Alone the time aspect clearly shows the difference between the work of schamanic healers and elaborate western therapeutic practice.

Also the fundamental world-views show large differences. The western psychotherapist helps his patients is to understand himself, supports him in making changes and possibly even training  new behavior-patterns through role playing. The Focus is on the activation of self-organization and self-healing possibly including the  participation of relevant social groups such as the family. The focus is so often on "inside".

In shamanic practice not only the psyche is involved, but the entire community and also the trans-personal world. It is therefore a much broader way of looking at things.

The bridge function takes the awareness of patients to a space beyond their everyday consciousness thus contributing to new insight, change and healing.

We hope that the example of the goddess Tanit could demonstrate that carefully building a  bridge between  old and new maeta-narratives leads to a new treatment platform which opens up many new opportunities for healing for the western therapist.