Main Title

Salutogenesis & Shamanism
Masters Thesis © Barbara Buch, 2006

1. Introduction

1.2. The use of this subject

Expenses for health care, treatment of illnesses and medications are increasing dramatically, that medical care becomes unaffordable for social systems, while pharmaceutical companies increase their profits.

What is happening today in our Western so called ‘health care system’, which more resembles a ‘sick care system’, is the following: On one hand, people do and consume what they supposedly want and need, being manipulated by media and advertisement, etc., creating health problems or illness (e.g. through fast food, smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise, computer games, TV, etc.). On the other hand the medical system is supposed to fix the problems, while medical insurance has to pay for it.
There is little room for self-responsibility and awareness. Consequences are, for example, that people of the Western civilized world become more and more dependent on the medical system while increasingly loosing self-responsibility for their own bodies, health and life. Scientific understandings concerning a healthy life style e.g. through nutrition/food and exercise, etc., changed more or less regularly in the past, thus leading people to become even more insecure on how to behave, what to do and what not to do. At the same time the media effect our shopping and thus eating and life-style behavior, although we often do know better. In addition, medicine nowadays is only directed towards the mastery of somatic processes in a technically intense and chemical focused way (e.g. Brieskorn-Zinke, 2002), leaving no room for the human being as a whole of body, mind and spirit.

Simultaneously, old valuable knowledge of healing, disease and health, which has been developed over centuries, got deeply lost and often condemned in Western societies as without effect or even being dangerous (e.g. using certain herbs, etc.) by the medicinal world, as a result of the scientific world view. One main contributing factor certainly was the witchcraft persecution in the past. The ‘civilized countries’ have often lost their culture of rituals, traditions and religions, while nowadays it becomes more and more acknowledged that there is a definite human need for rituals, traditions, self-help-techniques as well as a meaning in life to stay healthy and to find happiness. We have to re-learn self-responsibility for us and our bodies and need support systems that work interactively and see the human being as a whole of internal and external processes. All these factors show, there is a growing need for a different view of health and disease and their treatment. Therefore, the importance of the concept of Salutogenesis for our health today and its practical application is raising more and more as is the general interest in it.

It is time to look again, without prejudices, at old traditions like Shamanism, which occurred in similar forms all over the world and to analyze its methods and values for a holistic treatment and health maintenance of human beings. We may be able to find promising resources, developed over centuries for our goals, instead of trying to re-invent the wheel. It also seems, there is a contemporary growing general interest in the subject of Shamanism, if one just considers recent book publications for the general public or the countless results one gets if entering the search word ‘Shamanism’ into a search engine on the Internet. Even the WHO (World Health Organization) internationally recognized in 1978 the positive role of traditional indigenous practitioners and recognized Shamanism with its medicinal value as an official legitimate healing system in traditional shamanic cultures (World health Organization, 1978, cited in Jilek, 1994).

We must show the necessary respect, honor and appreciation to these traditions, which were not only disregarded but also ridiculed in the past by our ‘civilized’ world (see chapter 3.3). This is especially important for the support and continuation of the few remaining present shamanic cultures and traditions. The first step of my contribution lies in this thesis on the subject of Shamanism and its value for health. Accordingly I want to start with the main question: Are there salutogenic principles used in old, traditional- cultures described as Shamanism?

I regard this study as an essay to build a bridge between the scientific concept of Salutogenesis according to Antonovsky and a traditional-cultural and natural healing path as practiced in Shamanism. Further questions I would like to answer are:
Does Shamanism have a value in the salutogenic sense and could shamanic practice also be used as an applied salutogenic methodology in order to prevent illness and to restore health?
Could Shamanism as an applicable salutogenic methodology be used for the benefit of us Westerners, who basically lost our shamanic traditions and culture?

I will try to avoid the expression ‘patients’ and rather use ‘clients’ or ‘persons’, etc., in support of Antonovsky’s salutogenic view that we always are dealing with a whole human being and not only with a person reduced to its problem/sickness, etc., expressed by the word ‘patient’.

This thesis only describes broad concepts, some aspects and very few selected examples of Shamanism, and only represents a small portion of the whole range of shamanic occurrences. The selected examples are mainly chosen because of the availability of their literature descriptions. The relevant literature on the subject of Shamanism and also on ASC (Altered States of Consciousness) is so immense that I am neither able to list it all nor pretend to know what is best in it (Peters and Price-Williams, 1983; Motzki, 1977). The intention of this thesis is rather to point out a direction, by comparing universal, practical, time-tested Shamanism with the concept of Salutogenesis. First of all the concept of Salutogenesis in Antonovsky’s sense is described in its basic components, which are later compared to Shamanism, to find out whether these aspects occur in Shamanism.

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