Spiritual Illnesses: Shaman

There are several types of shaman with various levels of knowledge and skills. When family members suspect that an elder has a supernatural illness they will seek the expertise of a shaman. The selection of a shaman involves family members discussing the abilities and reputations of available shaman and/or communicating with the spirits through divination.

There are a variety of divination procedures that can be used to select a shaman. The procedures involve a variety of objects such as eggs, rice, incense, silver coins, water or chopsticks.

Types of Rituals

While there are many types of shamanic rituals, the two main types are:

  1. ua neeb saib (diagnostic ceremonies)
  2. ua neeb kho (healing ceremonies)

As the shaman enters into trance, his soul accompanies his dab neeb (helping spirits) into the spiritual realm to discover the spiritual cause of the illness, battles evil spirits or ancestral spirits, locates the wayward or detached soul, and wins the spiritual battle for the elder’s health.

Upon his return, he will describe the spiritual causes, the obstacles he encountered, and the necessary ensuing steps. If he has been successful, he announces that the person will be better in a few days. If the person shows no signs of improvement within that period of time, it is generally believed that there were other spiritual or natural problems that ensued after his ceremony, which need to be addressed.

Pinzon-Perez and colleagues interviewed 115 Hmong Americans to explore participant satisfaction with shamanic practices in a rural county of California. Of the total sample, 40.5% were 45 and older. Forty-nine percent of the informants (generally those in the age range of 18-44) sought out the services of their primary care physician when they became ill. In comparison, 54% reported consulting a shaman or other traditional healer (i.e., herbalist). Over half (54%) were very satisfied with the services received from the shaman.