Wounded Healers

Holly.jpgI’ve been pondering the role of the Wounded Healer in shamanism. Perhaps this arises from my lifelong struggles with the aftereffects of Polio.

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 The Wounded Healer has been replaced by the Healthy and Prosperous Healer.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.

17 thoughts on “Wounded Healers

  1. There is a lot to be said for the healing of ‘leaning into the moment’ of wounds and self healing. What results… is it petter than being whole? Is it weaker because it was once broken? I don’t know – I guess it matters how we define wounded. I look at Kintsugi… maybe that can be like people? What you fill the cracks with is what defines value? Interesting to think about. 🙂

    1. Elle, maybe leaning into the moment is being whole. Kintsugi is a marvelous metaphor! In this post I was thinking about those ideas that undercut the values that I hold dear. The cracks in the clay become beautiful with what fills them, just as do the faces of those who live long in the great weathers of life and Nature.

    1. Rob, There seem to be many healers in prison around the world, even here in the U.S. One must have great fortitude I think t stand up to those forces that destroy soul and community. It is often a very difficult road.

  2. Thanks for the very thoughtful post. I believe that wounded healers can make great healers as long as they know where their values lie. If they value making money over healing others, they will make money instead of healing others – and they will become corrupted by wealth. This is especially true when there is a huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

  3. Dear Michael, Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. And I do agree with all you say. I have often heard “the healer must first heal themselves in order to serve,” and I never quite got that because one is never perfect. It is a joy to help another human being whenever the circumstance arrives. We don’t really need to look for this but rather I just ask each morning for guidance to be a good person. Long ago I was asked over and over by a therapist – “If you had one piece of bread and a starving family came to your door, what would you do?” I kept saying that I would share the bread. He kept telling me this was the wrong answer but i KNOW it was the truth! We don’t need to be wealthy or even healthy to help others. Just open up our hearts and see what needs to be done. It is an honor to know you! Love and Light to you !

    1. Laara, we therapists get stuck in our stick at times…. Oh well. Of course there is no really right answer, nothing that fits all. Saving oneself is admirable, except when it isn’t. The same with generosity. But how to find the middle, healing way? Oh, and the middle way is not always the best path.LOL ! To be human is so interesting !

  4. Wonderful post Michael coherent stimuli for those with the vision to ponder, consider and distil from a myriad of perspectives allowing both their light and dark side to participate.

    Therein and for me the archetypical wounded healer is just that it is an archetype and therein can not and will never be able to define pure intent and it is ones intent not ones ability to sit in judgment that is self mastery. My own journey has demonstrated time and time again to me that we all carry and can access our timeless and innate wisdom, which once accessed will intuitively direct us to those working and serving and offering from pure intent.

    Yes some of our fellow mortals hide behind the intangibility of archetypes or hitch a ride on the shirt tails of exceptional souls and heaven knows I’ve encountered many during my current mortal journey. But they don’t glow, don’t solve, don’t ooze authenticity and certainly don’t walk their own truth as a true shame does and therein are only able to fool those who lack the conviction of their own inner wisdom. For I t is wisdom and authenticity that sets all healers apart as well as their inherent decency and the purity and clarity of their intent, nothing more and nothing less, a way of being, seeing and feeling that is a heart overflowing with love.

    Very big thank you for writing this post, food for my soul and my onward journey, for I to am Chiron and he is me and we have nothing in common with the guy that my domestication tried to make me, for my way like yours is the way of the shaman, sincere regards, Barry

    “Namaste to you and to all”

    1. Thanks, Barry, Perhaps the journey is indeed the thing. We do what we are able and strive to embrace all that comes our way. I imagine that for most of us we resist more often than we embrace.
      I often thin of a teacher’s comment, “We are all trees in the forest, taking the shape we assume through our interactions with life, and growing into beauty. The trick is to see the beauty.”

      1. Agreed. Stooped, but standing…Bent but not broken. The best healers, like the best cars, have more than a few miles on them…

        I’ve been blessed to have encountered many wounded healers along my path. Sometimes harsh, sometimes difficult, but always caring and willing to do all that was required. I’ve healed much through their work, and felt their lessons move through me at the most unexpected of times.

      2. Ben, Milton Erickson used to say’ And my voice will stay with you.” So often in times of need I hear the voices of my teachers and others who have offered my compassion and healing. I imagine at least some of them would appreciate the comparison to old, trusty cars. They would also laugh out loud.

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