Transcript of Disc I, Chapter VIII: Healers
© 2013 Max Dashu

Silozwane, Zimbabwe
The further we go back in time, the more widespread was shamanic healing. But representations are hard to come by – or go unrecognized. In this Zimbabwean rock mural from Silozwane, a woman lays on hands, massaging and clearing.

Tadrart Akakus
This healing ceremony was painted on rock in the Tadrart Akakus of Libya. Women are chanting and dancing with rattles. In front, a masked woman sits next to a person with distended belly, and is shaking a gourd rattle. 

Nine Sorceresses of Mande
More recent oral tradition preserves memory of medicine women so powerful, they could even revive the dead, like Kulutugubaga, the Ninth Sorceress of Mande.

Pa Sini Jobu
Also in Mali, the Bosso people remember the powerful tungutu Pa Sini Jobu. Her renown as the greatest of all tungutu, and her healing power, caused the king to seek her out to bring his favorite ram to life.

Pa Sini Jobu made ceremony, dancing as the Kie played music: “They played and sang faster and faster still. Pa Sini Jobu began to get into a frenzy. Her power was awakened. The Kie played and sang and beat time with ever-increasing quickness. The power of Pa Sini Jobu grew stronger. She screamed!

The Kie beat time. “Pa Sini Jobu rose up. She floated aloft, up to the clouds. She changed her arms into wings, like the great birds have,
Then she sank slowly down over the ram. Pa Sini Jobu rested over the ram for the space of six days. During this time she covered the ram with her outstretched wings.
On the seventh day she got up. The ram was alive!” She had revived it with her wings, as Isis did for Osiris.

Medea of Colchis
Medea of Colchis also was said to have revived a ram, but by putting it into a cauldron with incantations and herbs of power.

British cauldron
The Welsh said that Cerridwen made an elixir of immortality in this way, and other Celtic tales speak of cauldrons of regeneration.

On the Breton island of Sena, nine priestesses were guardians of a sacred Cauldron in which they simmered herbs to make a drink of immortality and resurrection.

The Gauls made pilgrimages to Sena to consult these oracles and to seek healing. Pomponius Mela described the classic shamanic powers for which the Gallizenae were renowned:

Visions 1, 2, 3
“To rouse the sea and the wind by their incantations, to turn themselves into whatever animal form they choose; to cure diseases which among others are incurable; to know what is to come and foretell it.” [De Situ Orbis, III, 6, circa 44 bce]

In the Kalevala, Ilmatar succeeds in restoring her son to life by descending to the underworld and recovering his dismembered body. She invokes a bee to bring back a drop of divine honey from the highest heavens, and with this she revives Lemminkainen. [Painting by Finnish artist Gallen-Kallela]

The Manchu epic Nishan Shaman recounts how Teteke went to the underworld to retrieve the soul of a dead boy. She brought back the soul and fanned it into his empty body, and he came to life.
Yeshe Tsogyel with phurba
The power to raise the dead was also recounted of the Buddhist adept Yeshe Tsogyel. “In Nepal, I resurrected the corpse of a dead man... My body became a sky-dancing rainbow body...”

French miniature
Traces of medicine women survive in Europe, in spite of persecution. In this French miniature, an energetic healer makes passes across the sick man’s body while whirling her other arm -- the spirals painted above and below showing the flow of power.

Florentine medical manuscript
Herbal medicine also involved chanting prayers to the plants while gathering, preparing and giving them. This Italian healer is applying a poultice of poppy for headache, while sweating the patient.

Czech sweathouse
Sweathouses and saunas were places of healing as well as cleansing, and were ceremonial spaces for the Lithuanians, Finns, and Slavs (including these Czechs).

Bozhena woodcut, 1700s
Russians called the sweathouse bozhena, “divine,” by tradition a place of peace. These women are massaging, stretching, dipping, and whisking with birch-brooms.

The temazcal was an important place of healing in old Mexico. Here women are pouring water into the clay lodge, shown in cross-section.

Temazcal, Florentine Codex
Aztec priestesses of the temazcal offered water and counsel and invoked Temazcaltoci, Grandmother of the Sweathouse, whose black-painted face appears over the entrance. “Mother of the gods and us all, whose creative and lifegiving power shone in the Temezcalli, also named Xochicalli, the place where she sees sacred things, sets to right what has been deranged in human bodies, makes young and tender things growing and strong, and where she aids and cures.”

Temazcal Toci
As Temazcaltoci, Grandmother of the Sweatlodge, she brings about healing, attunement, and sacred vision, with fire and water, earth and breath.

Joya de Ceren
An adobe sweatlodge with a collapsed roof dome was found at Joya de Ceren, El Salvador, where some archaeologists see evidence for a medicine woman around 640 CE.

Mexican medicine women whisked away ailments with bundles of herbs, and rubbed people with sacred plants, as curanderas still do.

Nahua Herbs
They had a rich and detailed knowledge of curative plantss, reflected in this post-conquest codex.

Codex Herbs
This knowledge was magnified by approaching the plants in a sacred manner, with invocation and offering.

Toloache limpia
Some of these herbs were psychoactive, like toloache or sacred datura, here being rubbed onto a woman’s back. [limpia is a Spanish name for cleansings/healings by curanderas]

Limpia with big leaves
The codex art shows this healing method of rubbing and brushing with herbs, an art that curanderas still practice to this day.

Smallpox plague in 16th century Mexico
Some medicine women braved the dangerous new contagions of smallpox and other deadly foreign diseases to treat the sick. gave their lives in service to their communities.

Moche healer
In Peru, a clay offering vessel shows a Moche healer examining and treating a sick baby.

Spirit Faces
Among the sacred tools used in healing were wands, amulets, sucking tubes, and masks. These ivories from Bathurst in Nunavut, northern Canada, are covered with spirit faces.

Bear Tube
Another of these Dorset ivories is a shaman’s tube in the form of a polar bear, used to suck disease energies out of peoples’ bodies. [or to shoot curative power into a person.]

Ohio bone tube
This bone tube from ancient Ohio may have been used for healing; the engraved bear paw recalls the healing power of bear medicine.

Western Mexico
This western Mexican woman may be holding such a curing tube, or it might be a pipe for tobacco or entheogenic snuff

Troll pouch
Medicine tubes occur in Europe, too, like this rural Swedish “troll pouch” of hollow elder sticks...

Hanna Nils, Swedish healer
and in living memory, peasant healers used these tubes, or animal horns, to extract illness.

Oya horns
A Yoruba priestess at Ilé-Ifè holds the horns of a bushcow, symbol of Oya, an orisha of change and transformation.

Chen Jinggu
The water buffalo horn is one of the primary symbols of the Taoist shaman, healer, and rainmaker Chen Jinggu, in 8th century south China.

Chen 2
She brandishes the horn, along with a snake-headed demon-binding rope or a sword, while dancing  mantic steps.  [such as the dragging Step of Yu, or tracing the Big Dipper]

Yeshe Tsogyal
In Tibet and Nepal, healers and Buddhist adepts used a ritual blade called phurba to cut away negative energies from the aura. Here Yeshe Tsogyel holds a phurba, also called a remover of obstacles.

Ibo healer
In Nigeria, an Igbo healer uses a consecrated carving to cure in this modern Nigerian painting, with its ancient theme of transformative snake power.


Woman Shaman: the Ancients © 2013 Max Dashu

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