Here the vision ended. Kehuq looked about him but there was nobody to be seen.
He took the trail home to his tent and on the way the event vanished from his mind. Late that night he awoke and started up naked, about to leave the tent. The man was like a crazy person and kept wandering away. He continued crazy for four days, getting worse whenever he ate anything. After four days he began to improve. When he recovered, Kehuq could dance. He was now gifted with shamanic powers. He taught them how to let their spirits go out from their bodies and come back in, pulling themselves back into their bodies as if they were pulling themselves backward into their underground igloos.
The songs gave them power, power to heal the sick, to close up mortal wounds, to predict the future, bring animals to the hunter, change the weather, and speak with the dead. Turner , My Inuit healer-friend Claire belonged to an unspoken sisterhood of shamans E. Claire, who was a Christian and a respected local healer, experienced at different stages of her life at least four gaps in ordinary consciousness that psychologists in our culture would diagnose as fugue or even psychosis—but these episodes did not derive from psychosis.
They were irruptions of shamanic powers just as the ancient Inuit knew such irruptions, typically lasting four days. It appears that in Claire was in Anchorage in an expensive hotel, alone for four days, for reasons unknown. There she had some kind of transformation. That was one episode. Then in , when Claire was not doing much healing, she had another visitation, a very disturbing one. Claire began to continually see a devil figure in her peripheral vision. In the negative phase of this episode, Claire uttered a torrent of nonsense words that nobody could understand.
It was glossolalia again. This greatly upset her relatives. This switch from dangerous to helpful is one that often manifests itself in spirits in precontact days. Claire went through another encounter with her trouble, whatever it was—maybe the devil again. On Thursday January 14, , I found her lying on her couch, very depressed. She had her eyes shut, and she blurted out words critical of her family and others. I was frightened.
Was she angry with me? I put down beside her some ripe pears I had brought for her, and left.
Four days later she was herself again. What I had seen had all the hallmarks of a shamanic episode. During a visit I made in , yet another repeat of this state seemed to occur. I heard that Claire had returned from the hospital where she had been a patient from May 28 to June 2. I went to her house with a gift. When she saw me she turned convulsively and flung herself into my arms.
We were crying.
I stroked her wild gray hair and haggard face. When we recovered she told me the doctor at the hospital had given her the wrong medicine. She was really mad at him. Now she was off all medicine and feeling better by the minute. I wondered what ailment the doctor thought he had prescribed the medicine for. Such is the way a shaman is made. This is also the general pattern of the other shamanic initiations I describe here, though these are from altogether different societies. All three initiations, Inuit, African, and Nepalese, happen to the chosen person at the will of a spirit and are preceded by something like a near-death experience or a frightening depression.
The three shamans who undergo these initiations learn that they must never renege on their craft, must never refuse to heal, must cause no harm by their power, and must not attribute the power to themselves. This is the shaman ethic, and it is commonly found wherever Shamanism exists. In the journey I have made through the experiences of healers, I have encountered various understandings, not only of spirits but of the human soul.
Among the Lungu of north-eastern Zambia, for example, ngulu spirits struggle with their human host so that their host will allow them to appear Willis et al. Both Kehuq and Claire experienced similar cruel episodes outside of normalcy, without realizing there would be a gift at the end of it. The soul exists in reality, a sensitive living entity.
When the breakthrough occurs, the heart fires up, the lungs suddenly spread wide with a kind of recognition—with a gasp, like the lungs of a newborn baby. The very pores quiver in goose bumps. This soul is not in our own hands. It does not operate by the laws of ordinary consciousness.
Sorcery, Satanism, and Shamanism
My next account of shamanic initiation, also full of similarities to the previous ones, is set in Nepal some six thousand miles away from northern Alaska, among stone huts straddling the mountain slopes of the Himalayas. The religion here is Shamanism and Animism, with a trace of Buddhism. In anthropologist Larry Peters was working in Nepal when he encountered the shaman Bhirendra. Bhirendra told Larry the story of how he became a shaman. The episodes of initiation Bhirendra described proceed in almost exactly the same manner as in the stories above: affliction, followed by benefits.
When I was thirteen, something came over me. I started shaking violently without knowing why. My grandfather was making me mad through possession, and I ran off into the forest, naked, for three days. I found myself where three rivers cross, in the cemetery.
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The cemetery was terrifying. Out came a horde of demons with long crooked fangs, and others with no heads at all and eyes in the middle of their chests. Some of them carried death flags, and still others brought decaying corpses along with them. I ran. They chased me and leapt on me and started eating me. This was the end. I drew out my dagger to defend myself, but I dropped it. It fell on a rock and out came a long spark.
Immediately everything changed. It was daytime and I was alive. The demons were gone. When I got home I told my parents everything. It was his dagger that saved your life. You have to know that your grandfather went off to Tibet nine years ago and never returned. I had no choice in being a shaman. I was chosen. I was cured by becoming a shaman.
I learned to do healing. I learned the ritual to open the top of my head and let my spirit go out on a journey accompanied by my protecting spirit, in order to seek lost souls separated from their bodies. The last stage was a ritual of vision in the cemetery, a climb to the highest heavens.
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For this the people went to the cemetery and erected a temporary shelter on stilts and decorated it with white soul flowers. For six days I played my drum alone, fasting. On the seventh day I saw myself walking into a beautiful garden with flowers of many colors. I saw a very tall building that reached up into the sky. It had a golden staircase of nine steps leading to the top. That would be Akura!
They feed on darkness and fear.
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I never wear green clothes and never have plants in my home, since they all die anyway. What did I get myself into? I still doubted that I could succeed in getting rid of her Akuras. We met the next night and after three subsequent sessions her condition was completely reversed. She now wears and enjoys green cloth, grows plants at home, and more importantly, has moved on nicely with her creative career.
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