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Shamanism and Western Understanding of Healing

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The model does not explain how healing can work when the shaman’ s narrative is inaudible, or barely understandable, too metaphorical or tangential to be intelligible or when healing occurs across spatial separation. Some shamans treat patients without being in the same room. Other models are required to supplement James’ findings in such cases.   Ritual music plays a key role in some shamanic ceremonies. In the first instance, it can have a drum roll effect, calling attention to the fact that something important is about to happen and holding the attention of the spectators or participants in the ritual.

More importantly, perhaps, music can also serve as a pathway to ecstasy, a means by which a trance is induced that opens the connection to the powerful supernatural world. Sometimes singing spirits may emerge, sharing their message with mortals through song. Musical performances can also serve as an acoustic record of the intangible supernatural encounters. A shaman may also put a healing experience to song after the fact, using music to encapsulate the knowledge and message of a particular spirit. Intense rhythmic musical performances which accompany sé ances often have a mesmerizing effect, drawing the audiences subtly, or also inducing anxiety, terror or awe.

In some Korean and Inuit rituals, music serves to facilitate the shaman’ s spiritual journey to the other world while the audience supports and encourages the traveler by joining in the refrain with appropriate texts. For the blind itako shamans of Japan, acoustic stimuli have an even greater significance. Prayer beads, boas, bells, and a fan-shaped drum are used as an accompaniment for the sutras performed in addition to the massage, Patting and song.

Musical performances may also reveal the subtle changes of characters in the spirit travels of the shaman, somewhat like sacred charades. The Temiar people of Malaysia and the Beaver people of British Colombia share the concept of dreamers who can receive messages in a song from the spirits.  

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