My teachers insisted that each person carries a unique vision and way of understanding the world that must be honored. Of course, this uniqueness is expressed in shamans as well. Get a group of shamans in a room, ask them to check out some problem, and each will report a different take on it. Most of the time the similarities in vision will be dominant, fleshed out by nuance.
I’m trained as a mental health clinician and a shamanic practitioner. It should come as no surprise that I often perceive things in a way that combines both ways of seeing. A couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a small group of concerned people about the spirits remaining at the college, a former orphanage. They were frustrated with me as I was insisting the spirits, mostly children, but also of those that harmed children, and a few Ancient Ones who had come to soothe those grievously distressed children, have a wide range of different needs. The others thought we should just show the spirits the light and send them on their way. I believe the spirits need to stay til they feel ready to move on. After all, some have been there for a long time, perhaps eighty years.
I understand the spirits that inhabit the old orphanage building and college grounds as a complex gathering of whole beings and “lost parts” of self. Soul loss is an ancient human problem, understood and addressed by many Indigenous cultures. During times of acute trauma, “parts of self” can flee the body and take up residence elsewhere. Being somewhat autonomous, they live on, but do so within the constraints imposed by their developmental status at the time of the trauma. (I find it useful to imagine psyche as a complex ecosystem comprised of semi-autonomous complexes, each with a unique set of needs and point of view. So much for the Western view of the autonomous Self!)
My predilection is to understand most of the spirits as needing to resolve key developmental issues. This is no simple task given they are spirits, not beings in physical form. It makes sense to me that having experienced developmental trauma, and not having the wider view of life that comes with maturation, the spirits might well cling to what they know. I’ve heard similar ideas from folks who live near other places of large-scale trauma.
Addressing developmental trauma takes time; indeed “it takes as long as it takes,” as one of my colleagues is fond of saying. It also requires the compassionate attention of others, of persons who are willing to be consistent “self objects” and model kindness and caring for those who faced harm. This consistent attention to the needs, aspirations, and desires of those that are harmed is an essential condition for healing complex trauma, as it allows the person or spirit to feel soothed, and thus, often slowly, to explore alternative understandings of the world.
The ongoing willingness to pay compassionate attention is a hallmark of healthy adulthood. Learning to develop that skill is also a very difficult developmental task in its own right. I am still, in my late sixties, attending to learning kindness towards myself; without the willingness to be present to self it is very difficult to care deeply and effectively for others.
In our dominate culture of instant gratification and dissolving memory, the task of caring for hundreds of spirits for several years may indeed seem daunting. Most of us would probably prefer to send them quickly on their way to The Light, forget the magnitude and duration of their suffering, and move happily on with our plans and lives. In a few years, as soon as many of the aging survivors have passed on, we might even deny their trauma ever occurred. Sadly, this desire for forgetting is playing out at the college and in innumerable sites of trauma across the continent and around the world.
Given the shifting attention of administrators, and unknown fate of the college and the former orphanage lands, it seems unlikely the spirits who reside there will receive the care they seek. We must do what we are able, knowing unfulfilled promises painfully repeat the developmental traumas of the past and delay healing. It is a difficult business.