mental illness shaman

What if I told you that mental illness is not what we think it is?

I’m sick. At least that’s what they tell me. My psychiatrist gives me the same speech while writing out a new prescription for a stronger medication. The pills I took the previous month just didn’t seem to curb the abnormal tendencies, and I was having meltdowns in public. I guess this time the dosage will make me act like everyone else… maybe.

I bet you’ve heard this before, whether it’s you or a friend, maybe it’s even a family member who struggles to adapt to being different. I’m talking about mental illness. Illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia have all seemed like wild cards, transforming over time and always raging against the meds. That’s why the meds have to be adjusted, right?


I used to think this was rational, but I read something recently which made me angry at this so-called rational regimen. I discovered, by reading, that the Eastern culture thinks differently about mental illness as opposed to the Western World. We in the Western culture view radical differences such as schizophrenia as illnesses, disabilities and diseases. Many Eastern cultures, on the other hand, view these states of mind as pathways to enlightenment. Now how about that!

Which one sounds more appealing to you?

Dagara People

Dr. Malidoma Patrice Some, a shaman of the Dagara people, believes that mental illness is the pathway to becoming a healer, or conduit of good news from the spirit world. When we experience symptoms of mental illness, according to Some, we should not be medicated but rather guided and treated in a way to help the messenger come through. We are actually being used as vessels for spirits to speak through, but sometimes multiple spirits at one time. This opposing force is what causes the pain of mental illness.

Some says,

“Mental disorder, behavioral disorder of all kinds signal the fact that two obviously incompatible energies have merged into the same field.”

In the Dagara tradition, the mentally ill are treated by reconciling spirits of opposing worlds – the world of the spirit and the village and people. When the connection is fortified, the person affected can then serve as a bridge to help others become healed by the spiritual energies. When the healer is born, the crisis is over and the “mental illness”, as the Western culture calls it, is no more. It seems like the Dagara people have a firm hold on mental illness and see it as a gift rather than a curse. How fascinating.

I think we have it all wrong

While visiting the United States in 1980, Dr. Some was shocked by how doctors, at a mental ward, dealt with mental illness. He realized quickly that mental illness was treated like something that had to be stopped, subdued by medication. It was seen from a pathology standpoint. Some also noticed there were many spiritual entities hovering around the patients causing discord. The screaming and chaos of the ward forced Dr. Some to leave. He was devastated by how the Western world treated, whom he felt, were special people with elevated gifts of sensitivity.

Looking again at the incompetency of medications, you can see that when spirits are trying to contact the living, and they are relentless, medications just cannot thwart the birth of the healer.

A closer look at Schizophrenia, for example

In the case of Schizophrenia, there is a lack of control of how many or which images are received by the mind. There is no filter, and this rush of images and beings causes the person to panic and even go into fits.

When this happens, the person, affected by the mental illness, must separate natural energies from foreign energies. In other worlds, the aura must be cleansed by the shaman. When the energies are clear, there is no longer an overflow of information. I often joke about having information overload… funny, huh?

With the aura clear of clutter, the spirit which desires to convey a message can merge peacefully with the human spirit. It’s when this is blocked that real problems arise. I personally understand this, as I experience physical pain while on medications, but while off the medications, my physical health improves dramatically. It seems that subduing what is meant to be is dangerous in so many ways.

But you must be careful. Not all spirits are good spirits and it takes a shaman to determine what’s really going on. Discernment is so important in order to grow into a healer who works properly and doesn’t do damage to others instead of good. After all, negative energies can do the opposite of healing and cause an increase in sickness.

Alex, the American case

Dr. Some wanted concrete proof to show the world. He received permission to transport an American mental patient back with him to the Dagara village in Africa. His name was Alex, a patient stricken with mental illness since the age of 14. Alex was suicidal, had hallucinations and posed as a danger to others.

Dr. Some states,

“The parents had done everything unsuccessfully. They didn’t know what else to do.”

During the 8 months living with the Dagara people, where he was allowed to let the spirits come through, Alex was healed. He remained in the village helping the Dagara people heal others. Alex had discovered his purpose. He had allowed his transition into a healer, finding enlightenment without any help from Western medicine.

Connecting with the Spirits

Dr. Some became familiar with the spirits of the Western culture. The predominant spirit in the Western culture was an entity connected to rivers, mountains and nature in general. For instance, in the case of the mountain spirit, the mountain moves beside the person, sometimes unable to connect or merge. When the process does go smoothly, however, the mountain can merge with the person and become one.

Nature comes calling so often in the Western World because of the obsession with the “machine”. It seems the spirit of the person longs to return to nature and nature longs to merge with the spirit of man. The symptoms of mental illnesses are also seen as a call to return to roots.

In the Western World, there is also a lack of ritual and initiation. Rituals are dying out, and Dr. Some believes that new modernized rituals must be designed for the Western World. Unlike other cultures where initiations are still common, the Western World has abandoned this practice altogether.

One of the rituals suggested by Dr. Some for the Western World is the use of building a bonfire and burning items of symbolic nature representing negative issues inside the individual.  Some also suggests that people of the Western World get back in touch with the spirit of their ancestors. Many times the ancestors desire to speak through us, but we are not willing conduits.

Some says,

“Unless the relationship between the living and the dead is in balance, chaos ensues.”

After reading about Dr. some’s viewpoint on mental illness, I am more than curious. I think we should take the time to continue research in this area and embrace the truth of our spirit realm. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to throw out the medications, return home from the mental ward and simply embrace the message from beyond? I think I shall give it a try!

For to become a healer, as my destiny, I must first learn to heal… the right way.

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Sherrie is a freelance writer and artist with over 10 years of experience. She spends most of her time giving life to the renegade thoughts. As the words erupt and form new life, she knows that she is yet again free from the nagging persistence of her muse. She is a mother of three and a lifetime fan of the thought-provoking and questionable aspects of the universe.