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Forums -> Norse Paganism -> Shaman Sickness (NTS)

Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 1

I was sharing some info on shaman sickness with someone when I thought it would be interesting to add it to the forums. The type of shamanism I personally work with is Northern Tradition Shamanism (NTS)- and thus, what I know of that practice (and shaman sickness specifically) is only cultural. I would like to hear about other's views on shamanism, shaman sickness and the like from different cultures and practices so that I may compare a bit! So feel free to write something if you have a differing viewpoint.

(Only speaking from Northern Tradition)

Shaman sickness is defined in this tradition as being a period of illness that is provoked by either the Gods or the wights (or both) to draw a person to shamanism, and re-make them, so that they are capable of doing some work associated with this practice.

We divide shaman sickness into two main "paths":

  1. The Path of Madness
  2. Hel's Path

These paths go by different names, but those are the ones I'm most familiar with using. I want to make it clear that it is entirely possible to walk both of these roads, either simultaneously or otherwise. These roads can cross, and sometimes involve aspects of both. This isn't something that occurs to everyone who practices (Raven K suggests the large majority of people who practice do not experience this), but it does occur and is a big part of the practice I am involved in regardless. This doesn't mean that anyone who has had a close-call or a mental illness is a shaman or ever will be, but it isn't uncommon for Northern Shamans to have walked with or experienced one of the these two paths- and most who have experienced these two paths and decided to continue or deepen their workings in Northern Tradition shamanism view this experience as a "calling" to do their work.

He'ls Path is known as The One Road and also Death's Road. This is the physical manifestation of shaman sickness, wherein the body is attacked. It's said that most who end up traveling down this path will endure near-death experiences, some type of chronic illness, long drawn out sicknesses that don't respond well to treatment, a lowered and weakened immune system, experiencing a traumatic and serious physical injury, or an actual death. Keep in mind, however, it isn't always an extreme sickness and the person who undergoes it might not reach those depths of sickness nor experience close calls with depth. I personally think that it really does vary from individual to individual and everyone will experience it different first-hand.

I've heard it suggested that those who walk down Hel's path often change after the experience, not only in spiritual and physical re-birth, but in other things such as their pathwalking forms and their sheer presence. They're often described as creepy or unsettling to be around, because those who sense auras and whatnot describe them as "smelling of death" or giving off a death-like vibe. That's mostly attributed to the fact that on these paths, part of the practitioner is believed to never come back (this part of the person is called Hame, but this comes from older Norse concepts of the soul- which you may want to look into so you understand what this is talking about). So I suppose they are still somewhat in that state, and that would be why those feelings and whatnot are experienced. I assume it would feel creepy or uncomfortable to someone who's never died or been that close to death, as that is a foreign feeling.

It's important to keep in mind, I think, that some people may not be familiar with some of the rituals and traditions practiced in this type of cultural shamanism I am speaking about, so to clarify on something: Some rituals and workings do require a person to purposefully face death-like experiences, though it doesn't encourage doing any sort of work like this without proper medical attention. It comes in at varying points in the practice, such as in the altered states of consciousness where pain and deprivation are used to achieve certain trances and alteration, when working with Hel, and it comes in to play in other practices like "Going Under" or "Sitting Out" and other various workings.

*Interestingly enough I just learned not too long ago when I got sick that Raven K, my idol, walked down Hel's Path. Shortly after Hel took him into her arms for his practice, he developed lupus and secondary congenital adrenal hyperplasia, in which he literally died once. Completely blew my mind to hear this! Was kind of excited in a way to know Raven deals with some of the same illnesses that I have faced myself.*

Of course, getting medical treatment is a must if someone is experiencing sickness to that degree. However, often they are urged to seek other forms of treatment as well as the professional medical kind. They are urged, in this practice, to do pathwalking and spirit-work and use forms of divination to try and find the ultimate cause of this physical sickness. Some of the practitioners I personally know described this as the spirits "destroying their body and rebuilding it to make them new and capable". In some of the rituals you symbolically act this out, the death and rebirth, to complete some sort of task.

The Path of Madness is often called The Other Road and just Madness. Instead of a physical sickness or death, this is seen as a sort of death of the mind and/or the personality of the person before the path is walked. Aka, mental illness. As far as I know, this tends to be the more common of the two- at least in Northern Tradition.

This can manifest in a large variety of ways. Sometimes it can be seen as the deadening of a person's interests and their spirituality, they lack the luster for life and become almost like "the walking dead", which is why in this practice they are sometimes called "Dead men walking". Sometimes it can be seen as suddenly "hearing voices" or otherwise pathwalking and projecting without understanding what is happening, hallucination or seeing visual images that don't make any sense. Schizophrenia, depression, bipolarity and other mental illnesses are sometimes carried by those who walk this path (again, stressing that just because you have a mental illness- does not mean you are being called to shamanism). Northern tradition shamans tend to see this kind of sickness as the person being called to pathwalk and journey, if they have never done so before, and their mind trying to adjust to it.

There's kind of a debate on this path about the use of medications to help some of the symptoms. On the one hand, some people may truly need the medication- else they end up in the hospital or worse. On the other, in some practices you actually are supposed to walk this path to achieve some end result- and in that case many strongly feel that you need to experience this path fully to understand it. In either case, to be safe with any type of practice especially this one I would seek medical help- just because you have some mental illness does not mean you are walking down this path, and a doctor will be able to help you regardless.

I like what Raven K said about it:

" While one might think that the Madness Road is, if not easier, at least less life-threatening than the Death Road, that would be incorrect to assume. A spirit-worker on the Madness Road may hurt or otherwise injure out of pain and despair, or do something stupid that gets them killed, or go so thoroughly mad that they burn out their own gifts and live practically catatonic for the rest of their (usually short) lives. One of the big dangers of the Madness Road is being too crazy to realize that you're all that crazy, especially if you've actually got wight-contact going at the same time. It's also common for your judgment to be entirely off about all the important things in your life, even the simplest ones. "

So that's what I've learned from my own practice, but I would be very interested in comparing it to other traditions or cultural practices and beliefs as well.

Sources:

http://www.virtualcs.com/dsm4/lesson3_8.html
http://www.tengerism.org/becoming_a_shaman.html
http://www.crowcity.co.uk/mad/skzshamn.html
http://shamanism.wordpress.com/2007/09/22/death-as-an-ally-the-shamans-perception-of-death/
http://www.nor.com.au/community/spiritualemergence/page17.html
Wyrdwalkers: Techniques of Northern-Tradition Shamanism by Raven K

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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 2
Very well done, Personified. Somehow, unsurprisingly, I can relate to this shaman sickness of the Northern Tradition.
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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 3
That is great thread Personified .I have thought on the question since long time ago .My path has never been easy one i had to walk the path of madness for very long time to can realise who i am and why i am this way .Also i have passed few times in different occasions in the path of Hel too .I have been in coma state for few days two times so nobody knew if i will actually make it out of it .First time i have been administered the wrong medication that put me in coma as child and i was in first place in hospital due to weak immune system and food issues (i used to spit out the food as child ).I was first very weak anyway and on the top of that i got a dose of very wrong medicine .Nobody knew if i will make it but i did wake up after few days i have been told .Second time my spirit left my body and wondered for what i have thought few hours but turns out i have been in coma like state for more than 24 hours nobody could actually wake me up no matter what they tried .I came back because i felt a power grasping me and dragging me down literally as rag doll it was feeling as if you go down the tunnel with huge speed like falling and then i was in my body and opened my eyes .
Then i have gone through all crazy states of human mind from being berserk to catatonic .
It was very painful and dreadful experience but it had made my will strong and had teached me things about my aspects and who i am .I think when we are whole we do not realize from what we are made of .We do not see our spiritual side in same way as when you are physically whole you can not see how your heart works or your lungs .There has to be something to shock us to wake up us from the fixed reality that we have been told to recreate everyday since we started to think logically .We are so busy recreating this reality that nothing out of it exist and nothing out of it could be acknowledge or that will automatically mean that you are mad if you do acknowledge that you are on the road of madness .But what if there is not escape there is not way that you are allowed to dismiss all this ?Then you have to wake up from this fixed reality you have not given choice ,because it is ment to be this way .Yes it is painful but there is not other way around for some people .
It is something that is presented in many traditions .I do not follow or belong to any of them however i have read that some shamans have been chosen by being struck of lightening .Another have very vivid experience of being torn on pieces and then put together back as new being .Also in voodoo it is not uncommon that the spirits posses their initiate the person can stay in coma state for days and nobody knows if he or she will wake up at all .Other people have been given some sort of sickness mental or physical that can not be helped with western medicine so they seek spiritual help and in the process of being cured they come to realization about thier own spirituality and what path they need to undergo .But rule of thumb is if you have been chosen for spiritual work there is not escape from this destiny .
And it is not an easy path that i can tell you .
Many people think being spiritual is to be mainly enlightened and it is only cool and fun ,and that is not always the case .
You can actually die mentaly and even physically on those roads or you can also go mad if you can not cope with the sudden shift of conscious and reality that has been revelead to you in the blink of the eye .
Please ,understand i share my experiences with you for your own enlightening and for the sake of healthy conversation that can educate people what can be in store for them .I do not share that to attract pitty and sympathy or to put myself in position of the extraordinary freak that seek attention to gain fame .I do not want any of that first of all i am strong person i do not need your support or pitty ,that should be clear .Second i do not care for fame it does not matter to me if you see me as cool or not either .I am myself and i will continue to be with your understanding or without it .
I wrote all this in the name of education and only in the name of it .I think people often have the wrong idea that you enter in spirituality only with love and light ,and i am here to tell you that is not always the case .I am sorry to be the person that ruins the party and brings down conceptions but that how it has been for me and for others that i know .Some of them never make it to be where i am .
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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By:
Post # 4
Very Very Good Personified. I really learned much from that knowledgable post. I am not too much into shamanism, but your videos and posts gave me a basic understanding. Well done!
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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By:
Post # 5
To put it in a simple way... When you have a problem, it's helpful to get assistance from someone who has been there and done that and overcame it.

Like my friend who had a drug addiction. He overcame it. Now he's a counselor. I think of him as a Shaman, even though he probably doesn't call himself one. He doesn't work on "The Path of Madness" exactly, but drug addiction might fall under that category I suppose.

There's a whole lot more to Shamanism than that, but that's the basic aspect of it. At least that's how we use the term where I'm from.
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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 6
I thought to might find some personal understanding in that, Vanitys :)

Thank you for the input Arte! It was so very helpful and I appreciate you sharing it for everyone! It definitely sounds like you've been through a lot.I really agree with your last paragraph. I don't think people see all sides of the spectrum and the extremes that these practices can go too. They like to look at them through rose-colored glasses.

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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By: / Novice
Post # 7
Love the post it is really well done well sourced well done :)
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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By:
Post # 8
Words can not express how much I love this post.

I started working with Toltec Nagual shamanism around three years ago, in which I encountered and experienced 'shaman sickness' similar to the types of the NTS concept, however slightly different within Toltec Nagual. Toltec Nagual is a variation of shamanism that depending on the form can often draw from Aztec concepts and mythology.

We section it into three paths, again, not unlike to the Northern concepts:

1. Mictlantecuhtli's Path
2. Quetzalcoatl's Loss
3. Tlaloc's Tears

Mictlantecuhtli's Path is most similar to Hel's path. For those who do not know, Mictlantecuhtli was a central death and afterlife deity within Aztec culture and folklore. Out of the three, this is the path I have experienced and worked with more closely.

As is with Hel's path, this is the path in which the body is attacked physically, manifested by illness, often variating on severity. In my case, I developed systemic lupus erythematosus (recovered now). Such, my personality changed, I became withdrawn, and seemed to have the 'death like vibe' and eeriness that was previously mentioned.

However, since this path is so similar to Hel's path, there seems to be little need to elaborate. Especially since you covered it so well, Personified!

The next path, Quetzalcoatl's Loss, is practically the same as The Path of Madness. Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec deity of knowledge and thought, among other things. This path can induce mental illness; in which vitality and passion for life can be lost, hallucinations are caused, etc.

Tlaloc's Tears is the 'odd one out'. Although some say it is similar to Quetzalcoatl's Loss, it is one of the least common forms of shaman sickness.

Tlaloc's Tears is the path in which sense of emotion and feelings are lost; one becomes cold, quiet and rather creepy. The person lacks feelings of love, happiness, sadness, fails to sympathize and connect with others.
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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 9
Thank you so much for sharing that! The comparison and correlation between those various forms of shamanism is quite interesting to me!

I would be curious to talk more to those who believe they've walked the physical manifestation path of shaman sickness. I know from personal experience in dealing with that sickness that (for me) it greatly increased my spirituality and awareness (self or otherwise) as well as doubled my dedication to my magickal studies and endeavors. If you don't mind I'd love to mail you and swap stories. :)
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Re: Shaman Sickness (NTS)
By: Moderator / Knowledgeable
Post # 10
Many thanks to people that were enough brave and have gone through some of the paths and came forward to share their own expseriences and what have they been told .
It does take a lot of bravery to turn around and to look back in your darkest hours .

Aphoristic i really appreciate that you explained all this from the point of your own tradition i do not know much about this tradition and i would love to know some more .

Tlaloc's Tears path i am familiar with too .That is what i call hitting the rock bottom .There is a point that something in you just shut down everyting stops even the time stops .You can see people around you living and buzzing and in your personal time is stopped and with it all your emotions are gone .It is very weird state it feels almost unhuman and personaly it creeps me out the most of the other two paths .

It is strange that i started walking on the shamanistic path just three years ago (will not call officially myself shaman rather eclectic ) yet we have had simiral experiences in many ways .I still have the "the death " vibe because i can sense death and all dead around me and others .And indeed part of me never came back fully it is hard to explain but that is how it is .

And i am so glad that there are people out there that had undergo this paths and are able to relate to what i have gone through and are wiling to educate people about they are out there .Walking this paths on your own is very very hard .First because you have no clue what on the erth is going on and second because everybody thinks you have gone insane and they just can not get your point .I think walking such paths produce what is commonly called Wounded Healer .But i do not think so those are reletaed mainly and only with shamanism they exist in another traditions too(perhaps under different names ) .It allows you to relate to any weird things and circumstances that people are going through so that you can assist them .Which is why i am so much into holistics ,healing and giving advices to people that are now starting to walk on this paths .I feel it is my duty to support them ,because there was nobody there for me .

I hope there will be more people to come forward and share their experiences on their path ,because i believe that is amazing thread .I am very curious about all this .
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