- Paperback: 434 pages
- Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (March 1, 2014)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1496145534
- ISBN-13: 978-1496145536
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,167,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Sangoma Trance States Paperback – March 1, 2014
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Dr Lambrecht shares his experiences and the place of trance in his own journey in a comfortable, free-flowing narrative style that brings life and perspective to the subject matter, making it accessible with a down-to-earth and rational element.
This work demonstrates that there can be a mutually inclusive and integrated model incorporating the psychobiological and spiritual aspects of trance.
Jean-Francois Sobiecki. B.Sc. Bot. (Wits), B.Sc. Hons. Ethnobot. (UJ),
Centre for Anthropological Research
Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
From the Author
The origins of this book arose in a flash of insight and through the long work of intense study. It reflects both my personal experiences as a sangoma, a South African shaman, and my research. In fact both poles of understanding, the personal and the academic, have never been separated in my own pathway to being a sangoma. The synthesis of this dialectic of understanding has hopefully provided some insights into what it means to be a sangoma.
The strategy in this book, therefore, is to acknowledge the rich web and net of knowledge other much greater writers and thinkers have provided. Many nodules of knowledge could be explored, but given the restraints of space, this meant that at times I could sadly only hint at other connected areas, whilst having to leave other information out. For this reason, the endnotes present a subtext, an underworld web of textual possibilities, which allows you to follow up on certain strands of knowledge. Likewise, endnotes allow for a smoother read. My aim has been to balance the more philosophical musings with personal experiences of sangomas, sometimes my own. The book is not another personal story about being a sangoma, but rather it is a means of understanding sangomas through merging various strands of knowledge, some academic, some personal accounts from very experienced sangomas. My voice is just one amongst many.
The sangomas of South Africa have been neglected within the shamanic literature, both because of a lack of information around African shamanic practices, and because the trance states that these healers enter are usually construed as being mediumistic or possession trance states. Such trance states are usually conceptualised as not being shamanic in nature. I question the dichotomy between 'possession' and 'shamanic' trance states. The main aim is to establish the nature of the sangoma trance states. I will suggest a model and will contextualise sangoma trance states by accessing a network of writings available on the various relevant topics.
In South Africa, the Zulu word isangoma (in this text the i, a noun prefix, is generally omitted) is the title most generally used by patients, traditional practitioners and biomedical doctors to describe a certain traditional South African medical healer. For the sake of convenience, the noun prefix i, (plural -ama), will be generally omitted in this account. I use the word 'sangoma' to refer to a specific South African traditional health practitioner who enters trance states as part of learned and practised consciousness disciplines. I am aware that some linguists may argue about the semantic purity of 'sangoma' and query its authenticity. However, I have adopted the language of the sangomas used in various townships and rural areas right across South Africa. Most of those whom I encountered could communicate in English. Almost all sangomas, whatever their ethnic group (Tsonga, Sotho, Xhosa or Zulu), were accustomed to selling their medicines using Zulu vernacular names with some Xhosa and Tsonga words thrown in the mix.
Another point I wish to make is that I refer to all sangomas as female. Firstly, the 'his/her' term is tedious, and it is also a reference to the fact that most sangomas are women. It is a form of respect, given the fact that to be a black woman in South Africa often being doubly repressed, first because of race and then because of gender. This is to acknowledge black women and the political struggles of the many sangomas.
I explored ways of investigating sangoma trance states. Sangomas in South Africa are briefly contextualised. The aim was not to investigate sangoma trance states merely in terms of cultural, religious or medical factors, but to explore the consciousness practices and disciplines of the sangomas. Cultural and religious factors are of course highlighted as they become relevant. Various models of trance states are reviewed.
Besides defining altered states of consciousness, psychological and neurobiological models of trance states are critiqued, an important foundation to understanding sangoma trance states and techniques used to induce them. From the stories of the sangomas, four major trance states have emerged. Each is explored with regard to experiences, meaning and induction techniques. This is followed by a cartography of the trance state, the implications of which focus on the power and knowledge relations of sangoma trance states as consciousness disciplines. I use an analysis of power-knowledge relations to reveal the discipline and technology used during these trance states, which explores the trance body of the sangoma as well as the associated trance psi powers. Throughout the text, the resonating voices of the sangomas underline the significant contributions they have made to understanding the four major trance states presented in terms of their psi effects.
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There are many shamanic cultures around the world, however too often it seems Native American Indian or Peruvian shamans are the main choice of authors. There are very few books written about the South African shamans, nor ones that delve into the trance states of shamans from a clinical, academic and transdiciplnary standpoint to the extent that ‘Sangoma Trance States’ does. There are various ideas about what defines a ‘shaman’ explored in chapter two, but what does seem to stand out is that although cultures and roles may be different between shamans around the world, there are traditional similarities mentioned throughout the book to that of the sangoma.
To be able to investigate sangoma trance states the author has chosen research methods with excellent explanations as to why specific research modalities have been utilised, which would be of interest to students or others wanting to do similar types of research. I also liked that the author has transcended his own discipline to obtain a comprehensive, meticulous and holistic approach to the research. Importantly the author also acknowledges and contextualises his own history, paradigm and position in collecting data for the study. Important as from what I have read elsewhere the experience of shamanic training is not an easy venture or experience. Shamanic training has been described as so arduous and so physically challenging that those undergoing initiation have termed it as a crisis of spirit, the author equating it to the Dark Night of the Soul; “one comes out the other side changed”. Despite this the author has not only been able to candidly reflect his own personal experience and position, but has afforded and expressed much respect for the sangomas own subjective experiences, especially when it came to sacred and psi encounters. The author has humbly stepped back to highlight that this study is not just about his experience but of many, and this integrity shows throughout the book.
Although the author states within the introduction that the intention was “not another personal story about being a sangoma”, the author has adeptly interspersed his own and other sangomas experiences throughout the writing which creates intrigue and interest, while also allowing for understanding of the subject matter. I particularly enjoyed reading these experiences; from the call of the ancestors, the transformation period, to the final graduation and all that these stages entail - the sangomas practice and disciplines; such as the sangomas relationship with witchcraft (and a curious little creature called a Tokoloshe), gathering of plant material and animal parts to make muthi to ward off evil spirits and bring good health, to the rhythm of the drums, dance, rituals, songs, dreams, visions and induction techniques. But it was still more than that. I found myself being captivated by other information that was absorbing, curious, as well as professionally informative.
For example I found myself utterly immersed in the sections on sangoma trance states considered in terms of psi effects, paranormal, as well as the information on parapsychology. In relation to research, Western ideology has had the view if you cannot measure it does not exist. However I found myself cheering for the author as he made a case that parapsychology can be researchable particularly in terms of the sangomas experience as psychological, social and cultural processes, and within other research areas. I also admired the courage of the author for taking up this topic of parapsychology, exploring telepathy, mediums, near death experiences, out of body experiences, possession, and personal views in considering trance states, since as stated many academics will not attempt to go there, and there are many sceptics. These topics and the description of the sangoma trance states provides more of an understanding from a Western perspective of how different trance states can assist the sangomas to access the ancestor’s knowledge. From the descriptions the author introduces us to an effective model to distinguish between the different major trance states relevant to the sangoma, along with context, the various induction methods used, how each state is experienced by the sangoma, and comparisons between each state.
A must read for anyone that works within mental health the author also considers trance states within a pathological framework. The characteristic of ukuthwasa and common psychiatric illnesses is really interesting. There is excellent information on the cultural context within mental health, concerns of pathologising cross culture differences, and discussion around indigenous healing and Western medicine. In addition, the difference between the ways sangomas approach mental health compared to the Western philosophy, and consequently different ways in which mental health can be approached for people persecuted by inner voices and images.
Although I have some academic background I admit to struggling with some of the academic and disciplinary terminology; for example ‘pedagogy’ and ‘hermeneutical’, as well as not being familiar with some theories; such as the Foucaultian theory. However I was so interested in what I was reading I did have Google at hand. The author to his credit though does explain or give examples in most cases, and the writing style is well structured, reasoned, logical, and easy to follow once terminology is understood. However I do think that if the author wants to communicate ideas and knowledge to a wider audience where the lay person wants to read shamanic literature, there may need to be less perplexing terminology. Not limited to, but an excellent book for academics, psychologists, anthropologists, social workers, and psychiatrists in particular, or anyone interested in shamanism.
Finally, although unusual to add in a book review, I would be eager for a second edition that might provide the authors experiences of other shamanic cultures around the world, only touched on in this book. I wait impatiently with abated breath.
The first chapter seeks to place sangoma practice in the broader context of the clash of religious tradition that marginalized the sangoma over the past 200 years. Unfortunately, while the author provides a formidable bibliography, he missed Stansilaw Grof's work, particularly where Grof suggests that 'organized religion operates as a vaccination that discourages the people from seeking their own mystical experience' (I am paraphrasing). Also, the author has not attempted to deconvolve the incentives of political power (which 'corrupts' - I don't like this word - let's try 'diverts'). In this view, aboriginal religious practice 'diverts' from a direct form of individual contact with the divine (or spirit world) to a mediated form as organization emerges and there is a strong effort by the leadership to standardize and regularize. This is seen (in a modest form) even in the Church of Santo Diame (or alternatively the UdV, also in Brazil), probably the most direct in orientation of any religious practice that has risen above the broad sweep of highly informal shamanic practice but retains the essential feature of shamanism/mysticism (personal, individual experience). In this chapter, the author has adopted an 'or' mentality, wherein somehow 'society' chooses between incompatible alternatives. The 'and' mentality may be more helpful. Shamanism or mysticism is present as a residue wherever direct spiritual experience is encountered. It can initiate a historical process of organization and regulation is the natural outcome (especially the regulation/suppression of direct spiritual experience) as power consolidates into a hierarchy that seeks to propagate itself. At the individual level, a person's spiritual path may definitely go from a highly systematized orthodoxy that depends on organization and the authority of an (often ancient) direct spiritual practice, and a person may move away from this to something either more relaxed (minimal religiosity) or deeper (pursuit of the direct) or they may be happy being conventional for their whole lives. The point is that there is an 'and' here... these and more possibilities for individuals are out there... even in a land that has seen it's share of religious conflict.
The above is a comment on the author's approach to analyzing the Sangoma's (and other shamanic practice) standing. I believe the analysis is limited by a conventional point of view in respect to the natural history of religion, wherein only organized, large scale orthodoxies somehow count. It appears that some academic political correctness is at work in the approach here.
Chapter 2 contains a broad survey of shamanism on all continents, but especially on Africa. Good insights are provided and good connections are made. Only a person already expert on African shamanic practice would not benefit from the many examples here. The section on sangoma vs. witches is particularly interesting. A healer's powers can be corrupted by ego, wish for revenge, personal competition, possibly forced co-oping and the result is a negative shamanic action. Or more likely, some shamanic action is taken by an untrained or partially trained person. The harm in the intention of this person, when revealed, in turn generates fear which is then echoed throughout the non-expert society. And the possibility, in the popular mind, of this sort of cause-and-effect means that such causes are looked for when a negative event occurs. The fear amplification process results in very negative and predictable events like witch-hunts etc. Chilling. But understandable, and a good reminder for the new-age minded fans of channeling, popular mediums etc. that these sorts of powers can create a world that one does not want to live in.
Chapter 3 deals with the process of becoming a Sangoma, including the various tests that have to be passed... in evidently an altered state of consciousness. Wow. I just upped my rating to 5 stars based on this part... this is the real stuff, no extra drama, just it is what it is. If the author could reconstruct dialogue and tell the story like a story, rather than a mix of recollections and comparisons with other reports, then we would have something stunning. I would appreciate it if the author or another reader could direct me to such a story? Even so, based on what the author had to go through to pass, we are dealing with real commitment. here.
In the mean time I'm hoping there is a lot of phenomenology in regards to trance states and some cases....