Mental Illness and Shamanism

Shamanism and mental illness coil around each other, switching off in a dance so wild few dare to watch it.

Or so I would like.

I am secure in my mental illness, to the point where I would rather call it an “alternate mentality.” While I take certain medications to make life more manageable, I would never seek to eliminate all the symptoms of my mental differences.

“Alternate mentality” seems to me a good way to describe the shamanic point of view as well. The shaman seeks out alternate realities, alternate states of consciousness, and alternate modes of spirit.

When you get down to it, the difference between mental illness and shamanism seems to be merely that the latter is deemed useful while the former is not.

My experience of alternate mentalities is fairly broad, I think. I have been known to play a bit recklessly with my states of consciousness. Moreover, I identify as a multiple, as I experience multiple simultaneous personalities.

These personalities are not mere moods or states of mind. They are individuals who can come into the body and express a consciousness separate from my own. They experience rich inner lives as well, even when not occupying the body. They change and grow in character just as I do, but they have a consistency of spirit that makes them people rather than emotional states.

When I go “in,” which is to say, when I leave my body and let another consciousness take over, the process and experience is very similar to a shamanic journey. Since I absolutely believe in the reality of shamanic journeys, this does not suggest that I think my inner world of personalities is “mere magic” or “mere imagination”. Both are purely real to me.

I have a very organized inner system of personalities, and this may have something to do with my shamanic practice. I am accustomed to talking to spirits and learning to map out my experience of the spirit realms. So too I have a map of my inner world. It is laid out as a home and a landscape, and my personalities live and play here when they’re not out in the body. They have inner lives when I’m not looking, just as spirits do.

Both shamanism and multiplicity typically involve some stressful ordeal. Shamans are often initiated through physical or mental illness or misfortune, while multiples are usually created by traumatic experiences. So shamans and multiples are both wounded warriors and experts in healing. In shamanism, a key mode of healing is the concept of soul retrieval, which bears significant resemblance to the way a multiple locates and identifies an alternate personality so that the personality can be heard and have its needs met.

I have an Ethiopian friend who understands my multiplicity in a very shamanic sense. In her culture, people can be born to have other spirits inside them who have their own needs and require respect. Spirit doctors (a term I use in talking with her) can help people with illnesses or other problems by talking to the spirits inside them. Sometimes these spirits spontaneously take over a person’s consciousness and when this happens, people are very careful to fulfill their requests.

So I hope that societies around the world will evolve to value alternate mentalities. It seems the only way to true healing for ourselves and each other. And I don’t want to hide anymore.

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12 thoughts on “Mental Illness and Shamanism

  1. I applaud your work, your thought processes and your authenticity for you’ve stepped outside of that which most are reluctant to explore or accept. Extending my sincere regards and best wishes, Barry

    1. Thank you so kindly, Barry. I think Shamanism is all about authenticity in its grittiest and realest forms, so you’ve paid me a high compliment. Be well and enjoy the journey!

  2. Interesting thoughts.

    When I first discovered that I was a multiple, I found that my spirituality had prepared me for it, since I was already in the habit of meditating and channeling — I didn’t have most of the challenges that other multiples struggled with. After I lost my connection to my spirituality (a bit of a story), it became a lot harder to be cohesive and functional, and I started losing time. I definitely believe that the two subjects are connected.

    1. I agree, and my experience has not been so difficult either. Of course, I’ve been living under extraordinarily tight control and am only now letting go of the reins a little. So we’ll see.

      It’s been nice talking with you and learning from another’s experiences.

  3. I find this absolutely fascinating. I do not identify as a multiple, I am simply fascinated by people. I have, to be honest, my own Things, and really there are things I do in my spiritual life that could easily have mainstream folk be all, ‘erm?’ so, I don’t know that I’d be one to throw stones. (I interact with spirits and gods. Daily. My partner’s spinning wheel is a close friend of mine, and she talk back. So, uh. Yeah) And I don’t mean to be all insensitive and gawking, but I sort of live for stories, so I really appreciate when people post about them, or parts of them, willingly. I think being challenged to think of other ways of being in this world is a very good thing, and shared stories help us do that.

    A paragraph to say, thank you for sharing with us as you do.

    1. I think gawking is sweet when it’s done with acceptance and delighted curiosity 🙂

      I never intended to reveal so much of myself here, but one of my parts suddenly demanded more time in the world and threw open all the doors of my mind. But I secretly love letting go and letting my alters out anyway. I’m tired of hiding and controlling everything so tightly.

      Thank you for making the sharing and openness a rewarding experience!

  4. Having known you for so long (22 years. Yikes!), I keep thinking back on things. I feel like ive met a few of your alters before. Im really glad that you seem so comfortable and happy. Thats all i ever wanted for you!

    1. Omg, hi! I know I told you to read my blog, but I’m always surprised when someone actually *does*.

      I definitely think you’ve seen some of my alters. I think back on the way I used to be and I kind of cringe…I was usually pretty obtuse, oblivious, or stubborn as hell. But I was surviving, and it got me to this place now where I’m free and happy. I wear freaking miniskirts now, for crying out loud!

      Actually the miniskirts are due to an alter who wants more time in the world. She has no real friends outside of Willow yet, so she might go glomp you on facebook now that she knows you’re safe.

      1. I knew you were surviving and i never minded. I mean the stubborn was frustrating but everything had a purpose. Now i know how you did those ‘5 year old’ crayon letters so wel! Lol!

  5. Love love love this entry! It is so true! Being multiple has been harder for me (One) to except but the others keep reminding me that it really isn’t so far out there when we look at things on a spiritual level….or maybe on a spiritual level everything is just so far out there that this just blends in nicely 😉 Either way, thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you so much! I’m really glad you enjoyed. I embrace multiplicity now because it’s who I am and it’s so much better to work *with* myself than against myself 🙂

  6. What if multiplication of soul is the reason we have to change body? I am researching the same thing, let’s have a conversation.

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