The concept of the Wounded Healer was central to my training in shamanism in the 60’s and 70’s. The idea was that the shaman faces many challenges during initiation, and in doing so learns to aid others who face similar problems. The healer may or may not completely recover from those challenges, be they social, financial, or health related. Indeed, my teachers said, “Don’t trust a healer who does not limp.”
Sometime in the last twenty years the image of the shaman has shifted. Now the shaman may be judged on his or her attainment of health and wealth. The Wounded Healer has been replaced by the Healthy and Prosperous Healer. This is problematic.
Many of the healers I have met, and several of my teachers, were ill. Some were quite poor. Their communities trusted them, in part, because they knew suffering. They were also much-loved as highly competent healers. Some charged little or nothing for their services. Others asked fees that represented a livable wage, and frequently waived all payment for those with little or no income.
In many shamanic cultures there is an understanding among healers that the fate of any one person is the fate of the community. It is the task of the shaman to bring whatever healing she or he can to individuals, the human community, and the larger community of Nature, spirits, and Ancestors. Each and every being is important and in the spirit realms, equal in value. Wealth in the midst of poverty is seen as problematic and to be avoided. Extravagance in the face of ecological and social collapse is harmful, for financial and social inequality threaten cultural, family, and ecosystem cohesion.
Leafing through various shamanically oriented magazines and websites one cannot help but notice the appeal to wealth and unconditional wellbeing. Often I see workshops advertising the use of shamanism to get ahead in business or other commerce; all too frequently I see shamanic training advertised as a gateway to prosperity. The problem is contextual. Wealth can mask the presence of, and isolate the healer from, the desperate suffering of the world; antipathy toward illness can render large numbers of people invisible.
As we approach Christmas I am reminded that Jesus was born in poverty and spent his brief life addressing the political, moral, and spiritual challenges that faced his enslaved community. He is seen as a great healer in tribal cultures across the Earth, held dear for his connection to the Creator and his profound humanity. In our time, many have walked in his footsteps, including the greatly beloved Nelson Mandela. Perhaps, at this turning of the year, we can remember to be present to others in our entirety, even our poverty and illness. May we bring our essential humanity, including our illness and economic need, to our relationships with the Creator, the spirits and Ancestors, and those who seek our aid. May we share our joy and abundance, and embrace our suffering. Blessings.