Chronic Illness as Initiation

ShamanOne of the things I inquired into when doing graduate work in organizational studies was an idea I had that shamans were the original consultants.

That might sound dippy, but stick with me for a moment.

Back before we had consultants to assist with organizational health and professional development and systems thinking and such, back when we lived in interdependent small communities inside the cycle of nature, humans (on all continents) relied on shamans for advice.

Research tells us that shamans were ubiquitous in human societies before we got into this thing called civilization, and shamanism remains in societies that still live in traditional ways.

There are aspects of shamanism that are universal. Many shamanic practices are culturally unique, others are found in virtually all societies on all continents. These practices are just part of the phenomenon of shamanism.

One of these universal themes is the wounded healer archetype, in which an initiate (usually an unwilling one, because who would voluntarily sign up for the ordeal?) experiences illness so severe that he or she is transformed. The illness is described in some cases as being akin to dismemberment, or even to include dismemberment in the spiritual realm. Through this affliction, the initiate confronts death and passes through death into the spirit world. The new shaman then returns to the community, perhaps after an extended ordeal, with the ability to heal and thereafter retains the ability to communicate with the spirit world.

I’m not saying I’m married to a shaman.

But maybe he’s having the kind of experience that is prerequisite for that capacity.

I have watched precisely that type of initiatory illness, that devastating, transformative archetype, playing out in our home over the past 5 years. I have experienced (with a bit of awe, sometimes) the wisdom that Matthew has earned through it.

Believe me, he’s not exalted & wise all the time. A lot of the time he’s just suffering and having very human reactions to that suffering.

But there are times when I feel like he’s become centuries, or millennia, older than me, rather than just the 3 years on our birth certificates. It has occurred to me that if he manages to heal, even partially, that he, and others like him, will have a lot to offer those of us who have not been initiated through suffering.

I feel this quality in some of the autoimmune bloggers who have already found their healing path, like Eileen Laird at Phoenix Helix. Her response to finding healing from arthritis through the Autoimmune Protocol has been to assist others to heal. Before her illness she may not have expected to become an important source of wisdom and healing information for so many people.

Chronic illness may feel senseless, and it may be senseless. But maybe we also need people with the wisdom it brings.


3 thoughts on “Chronic Illness as Initiation

  1. Pingback: A Blogging Break | petra8paleo

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