“Nature is the supreme power and final authority in the healing arts. Just as miracles do not occur contrary to nature but only contrary to our limited knowledge of nature, so too healings do not occur contrary to nature but in accord with nature.” (1)
Miracles are events that are clearly perceptible, but inexplicable from a rational (or more precisely: from a materialist-positivist) perspective. Because they are a mystery for the academic sciences, they’re often subjected to reductionist explanations, e.g. dismissed as “spontaneous recoveries,” or simply negated as “impossible.”
From a shamanic point of view, miracles are generally quite readily explicable: namely, through the influence of spirits. The natural scientist Alfred Russel Wallace defined a miracle as: “Any act or event necessarily implying the existence and agency of superhuman intelligences….” (2)
In other words, this means that the intervention of spirits should be understood as a precondition for the occurrence of miracles.
Consideration of the topic of miracles highlights several specific features or determinants of shamanism.
On the basis of its underlying worldview, shamanism can be regarded as probably the most comprehensive and most potent working hypothesis for understanding nature—all the more so because this hypothesis is both transcultural and time-tested. (3)
Intervention by spirits can lead to the seemingly impossible becoming possible and to the temporary suspension of what modern science calls the “laws of nature” or to the momentary invalidation of statistically predicted orders of events. This seems to be the case when power from Nonordinary Reality successfully manifests with a client in Ordinary Reality. (4)
(Healing) miracles give us an indication of actual circumstances and call our attention to all that which usually remains hidden behind our (necessarily) simplified explanations. Miracles show us that much more exists than we usually assume—and that we would be well advised to exclude nothing and instead to work on solutions and to mobilize power, even if a situation seems hopeless.
We know from experiences in shamanic cultures that miracles not only occur more or less regularly, but that they seem to be positively inherent in shamanic work. Miracles manifest themselves either in connection with demonstrations of the power of the shamans or the power of the spirits with whom the shamans work (5), or as a result of healing work. Among the Nanai of southeastern Siberia and Manchuria, the power of a shaman is measured, and his rank in a kind of hierarchy is determined, on the basis of his previous successful healings, public opinion (i.e. whether he is dealt with as a “big” shaman or a “small” one) and his ability to demonstrate miracles, which include making spirits visible, wounding himself without suffering injury, telekinesis, etc. (6).
In a nutshell: miracles are part of shamanism.
The following firsthand report by an Austrian shamanic practitioner confirms that miracles are not restricted to indigenous cultures and that they can also be found in our societies (when miracles are perceived and accepted as such), especially as consequences of shamanic work.
An Ongoing Miracle
My name is Teresa Lugstein and I am 48 years old. Thanks to the spirits, I have experienced healing on multiple levels. Healing on the physical plane is only one part of this, but it is probably the most visible part—and a miracle!
About My Past History
Soon after my birth, both my feet were diagnosed as suffering from so-called “club foot,” but this diagnosis came too late to perform a surgical correction at the time. To avoid interfering with bone growth, it was decided that surgery should not take place until after the growth process was completed.
For me, this meant that already as a child, I was continually confronted by pain. My feet twisted farther and farther inward. I stumbled over my own legs. Running was no longer possible. By the time I turned 17, the handicap had become so severe that I could no longer walk. This was followed by surgeries in which a wedge was removed from each instep and each foot was turned 45° outward. One consequence of this was that I had to spend a year with plaster casts on my feet due to delayed bone growth. The surgeries improved the external appearance of the feet, but their functional ability worsened. From this time onward, I was able to walk only with the aid of crutches.
Beginning at this time, the pains spread throughout my entire body, especially into my back, and I had less and less strength to walk. My hands and arms weakened. I often had the feeling that I would faint from the pain and that I would no longer be able to cope with walking even a relatively short stretch of just ten meters. Emotional disturbances exacerbated the situation. The physicians whom I consulted could find no cause for these symptoms and, in despair, I almost began to doubt myself—was I perhaps imagining all this?
Finally, in 2005, a specialist at the neurology department in Innsbruck diagnosed an additional neuropathological ailment known as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (Type I) (7). A rare form of neural muscular atrophy, this genetically caused disease that is frequently misdiagnosed or even not diagnosed at all. The syndrome includes irreversible atrophy of the muscles of the hands and legs, with the symptoms usually appearing at puberty or afterwards. The course of the ailment varies drastically from patient to patient: the handicap is painless and almost invisible for some; others soon become reliant on a wheelchair and must contend with chronic pain.
But at least I had a diagnosis. This was a relief on the one hand, but the prognosis did not seem very encouraging.
For me, the second of the two scenarios soon became evident. My muscular strength continued to decline. Pain progressively restricted my freedom of movement and my capabilities. In 2006, I was obliged to change from crutches to a wheelchair. This was difficult for me to accept at first, until I realized that the wheelchair restored much mobility and gave me greater independence. Pain remained by faithful companion, greeting my when I first opened my eyes in the morning and remaining at my side until I fell asleep at night.
Despite all this, I was able to preserve my joie de vivre and to feel enthusiastic about my work. Although it took all of my energy, I capable of functioning and mostly ignoring the pain during my working hours. But as soon as I returned home in the evening, I would collapse. The handicap drastically limited my family life and social contacts. I asked myself how much longer I could continue to cope and to keep working at my job. Existential anxieties surfaced.
I had felt a connection to shamanism for quite some time and this had prompted me to attend several seminars offered by the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. Approximately four years ago, I took part for the second time in the Shamanic Counseling seminar led by
Paul and Roswitha Uccusic. I participated because I liked the method very much and I wanted to deepen my understanding. I gladly consented when Paul and Roswitha asked me to spend the days of the seminar exclusively in the counselor’s role, which meant that I would have no opportunities for shamanic journeys of my own during the coming week. But it turned out that on the afternoon of the seminar’s penultimate day, my intended client had a severe headache and couldn’t participate. I clearly remember that Paul Uccusic asked me if I would like to take advantage of my unexpected free time to go on a shamanic journey of my own. I eagerly accepted the offer. Roswitha Uccusic helped me phrase the question for my journey, which was essentially about an interpersonal relationship. The question that I ultimately posed for my journey was this: “How can I lead a harmonious life?” The journey was pleasant but not spectacular, so I was all the more astonished by its effect, when two hours later I noticed that something is different. Soon afterwards, this was accompanied by the realization that the pains are gone. Many thoughts ran through my mind. “This cannot possibly be true. Things like this are utterly impossible. I didn’t even ask for this. What if the pain returns?” I was deeply moved and I felt as though I’d literally “gone to pieces.” It was impossible to even think about going to sleep until I heard the voice that clearly said, “It’s over.” From that moment on, I was sure and I could fall asleep. Very different feelings alternated with one another during the next days and weeks: joy, weeping, feeling as though I’d gone to pieces. Everything in me, including my body, had to reorient itself. A deluge of new experiences flooded through me. Pain had drastically restricted my freedom of movement, but now, at long last, I could again breathe freely and simply enjoy the sensations of breathing. All the existential anxieties suddenly fell from me. New perspectives revealed themselves. A wholly new quality of life spread out in all directions.
It was a truly unexpected gift that I had received from the spirits because despite all the pains and the handicap, I had never even considered the idea of asking for healing from my crippled condition, which had somehow become a part of my and seemed to make some sort of sense.
But that’s not all. More or less immediately after this, two weeks later, I noticed that strength was returning to my muscles! I went to a fitness center and asked the trainer to show me exercises for building muscles. Since then I’ve worked out regularly on the fitness equipment.
The miracle was reconfirmed for me by the exercises that I was already able to accomplish on my first day at the fitness center.
To make this perfectly clear: muscular atrophy had weakened my hands and impaired my fine motor skills. I had an appointment with my physiotherapist several weeks before the Shamanic Counseling seminar. She asked me to try to do the simplest exercises with an elastic band. Pains and weakness, not only in the hands, made it totally impossible for me to do the exercises. This discouraging experience precipitated such a severe emotional crisis that I had to seek help from my psychotherapist and my doctor. And now this!
To be without pain was a marvelous gift. It took a huge weight off my shoulders. I had been able to cope quite well with life in a wheelchair. Now to feel the strength returning—this was another miracle for me. It was incomprehensible! On this day, I was actually able to lift weights with my hands and legs!
I began the Three-Year Program [in Advanced Shamanism] in Switzerland several months later. The spirits there let me experience further healing and new miracles at each seminar during the course of the training. During the first seminar, the spirits clearly called for me to “stand up!” In the second module, they sent me out into nature on my own two feet. And in the third year, they enabled me to internalize the power to walk again in daily life—without a wheelchair and without crutches!
I’ve often asked myself why these miracles always happened during the seminars of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies and why they didn’t simply take place at home, for example, during my shamanic journeys. To summarize my explanation, it seems to me that I needed the concentrated power and protection of the spirits in order for me to believe in the miracle and to accept it. I also needed the members of the group to serve as my witnesses, just as they probably needed to witness a visible miracle of this kind. And I needed the time between the annual seminars for integration.
To describe the central feeling that emerged in me: it was like tectonic plates shifting to create a new form. To feel the power and the energy active inside this, to feel the reverberations, the disintegration and the reorientation: the ramifications of all this are still impossible to grasp.
I’m not entirely able to do without a wheelchair. I still need it sometimes for longer stretches. The fine motor control in the hands remains impaired too. But these are unimportant factors for me.
Through the power of the spirits, my perspectives and my life have changed completely—not only on the physical plane. Boundaries have dissolved. I feel liberated. This miracle has strengthened my belief in the spirits. My gratitude and my connection to the spirits are enormous.
The Action of Power
It’s futile to try to explain miracles. Instead, one ought to gratefully take notice of them.
On the other hand, exploring the central motifs for the occurrence of miracles not only seems interesting from a scientific viewpoint, but can also provide important impulses for shamanic healing work in general.
With this in mind, we’d like to conclude with a summary emphasizing the factors that Teresa herself identified and that led to her miraculous healing:
– Concentrated, massed power (as can be built up in seminars, drumming groups, etc., and also in typical shamanic practice)
– The protection of the spirits
– Belief in miracles, i.e. subjective certainty that intervention by spirits can also make the impossible possible
– Acceptance of the miracle by the person who receives it
– The presence of witnesses to confirm the reality of the miracle.
– The inner parameters (one’s own attitude) and the outer setting (the space, the time and the community) form the basis. The active agent per se is the power that comes from the spirits.
I’d like to add that alongside the spirits, a special personality is also especially necessary, a person with character in the best sense of the word, in order to cope with the challenges, changes and transformations associated with such miracles.
As always, it involves a partnership between spirits and human beings.
(1) Uccusic, Paul (1979): Naturheiler: Probleme und Erfolge am Rande der Schulmedizin. 2nd edition. Geneva: Ariston.Uccusic, 1979: p. 58.
(2) Wallace, Alfred Russel (1896): Miracles and Modern Spiritualism. London: George Redway. Reprint by Forgotten Books, 2012. p. 5.
(3) Harner, Michael J. (1990): The Way of the Shaman. New York: Harper One. p. xviii
(4) Harner, Michael J. (1996): Shamanic Healing: We are not alone. Alternative Therapies. Vol. 2, No. 3. 69-75. p. 75.
(5) Cf. Lyon, William (2013): Spirit Talkers: North American Indian Medicine Powers. Kansas City: PEP. p. 282ff.
(6) Bulgakova, Tatiana (2013): Nanai Shamanic Culture in Indigenous Discourse. Fürstenberg: Kulturstiftung Sibirien. p. 82.
(7) For further information see: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/charcot_marie_tooth/detail_charcot_marie_tooth.htm or http://www.cmtausa.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=70&Itemid=159.)
Teresa Lugstein is employed fulltime by the State of Salzburg, Austria, as an advocate for girls. She also freelances as a sex pedagogue and adult educator.
Roland Urban, MSc., is Director of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Europe.
© Shamanism, December 2014, Issue 27.