One of the first phases in the healing relationship is the experience of numinosity. Rudolf Otto coined the word “numinous” as a quality we find in all the world’s religions, whereby the divine is experienced (among other qualities) as being “invested with portentous, magical meanings” (Carotenuto, 1986, 1979, p. 52) This numinous quality is experienced in all healing relationships. Carotenuto is describing in his book, The Spiral Way, how the analyst in psychotherapy is experienced by the patient in this way. This is an unconscious process which Freud and Jung described at the turn of the 20th century. The patient doesn’t know he or she is involved in an unconscious process, they just feel the doctor is an agent of the divine, and experience him as a magic worker. The powerful authority figure is accepted as a wonder worker and the patient begins to heal herself, all the while believing it is the doctor’s skill which is healing her. Of course there is some cause for the patient’s high regard of the doctor’s abilities, but in the later phases of the healing process, this numinosity will be reduced. It is essential and perhaps absolutely necessary in the beginning, before we discover that our doctor or curandero is human.
We saw this in action over the weekend during a healing ceremony in the Native American Church. A close friend and steward of our sacred site was recently diagnosed with a very large tumor in his brain. Our community quickly swung into action by engaging a Dine (Navajo) Medicine Man and Peyote Road Chief, finding the peyote we would need, and organizing all the sacred foods, instruments, white sage, setting up the site for the meeting. All of this was done as an emergency meeting within two weeks of hearing the diagnosis. Needless to say the meeting was extremely difficult for all of us. It was hard seeing a robust man in his early sixties reduced to the emotional level of a young and terrified child, who had to be attended by his wife and spirit sister, just to remain calm enough for the doctoring. The one time his wife left to go outside, he soon got up and tried to leave. He didn’t remember her leaving or the reason. It took two very large men to block his way and engage him verbally, while the Fireman went outside to bring his wife back into the ceremony. Needless to say, the poor woman was being experienced as the “mother” by her husband. He had gone from the strong, robust and capable man to a very large child within a few weeks.
I don’t know how the patient experienced his doctor, but the Medicine Man put on a great performance. There are very few “sucking doctors” left in the Native American tradition. The first one I experienced was the Southern Arapaho Peyote Chief, Bobby Pedro. I had heard and read about such doctors among the Northern California Pomo and Maidu Natives. Mabel McKay was one of the more famous ones in Lake and Mendocino County. I later had a doctoring by a South American curandero who sucked what felt like a snake out of my lower spine. So I wasn’t surprised to watch our Dine Road Chief do the same to my friend. The intensity was the greatest I have ever witnessed. We all had a part to play in the healing, as peyote is a telepathic substance. Many of us were visualizing and experiencing nausea, head aches, and vomiting, all called “getting well” for the patient, who could not do this for himself. And what came through all of this was the realization that the energetic and psychic cause of the problem rested with the patient, who created the problem as a child as an adaptation to his parents’ constant arguing and fighting. He was the “good child” who never complained and never got his anger out. Instead it slowly grew like a tiny spider weaving its web in his mind and manifesting in his brain. He suppressed his destructive feelings and never ate “anything with a face”. He wouldn’t take any animal’s life in order to nourish himself. The patient left in the early morning. We’ll see if his immune system was empowered by the ceremony.
The problem for the doctor and healer is described by Carotenuto. If the healer “is not aware that he is being decked with peacock feathers, he risks identifying with the images that are being projected onto him. He may become inflated, that is to say, lose the sense of his true dimensions and identify with the image of the savior. This indeed is how demagogues of all kinds arise (p.52)”. And this is the problem for all Native Indigenous healers, who must learn to become aware of the projections and not let their egos get inflated. It is fun being admired and treated special, but it is very dangerous. That’s why the ancient Greeks talked of hubris as a kind of arrogance, which means to take unto oneself qualities of the gods, and which is punished by the divine energies by a disastrous “fall” from the heights like the disintegration of Icarus’ artificial wings when he got too close to the Divine Sun. The God melted the wax which was holding the wings and feathers together. Icarus plunged to his death in the sea below. The island of Icaria is where he came to earth. The reason these mythological stories were told is to remind us of the psychological patterns and consequences. Inflation is just as big a danger today as it was three thousand years ago. Hopefully our Dine Road Chief will survive his rise to power by regaining his balance and becoming truly humble.