By William S. Lyon
Adapted with permission from Integrative Health & Healing, Fall 2003.
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The most startling discovery in the scientific history of mankind proves that shamans know what they're doing.
cultures have always dismissed shamanic healing and other native
medicine powers as "primitive superstition," mainly because we had no
explanation for how shamans do what they do.
Shamanic healing was the
main form of healing used by the American Indians, who called upon
helping spirits to cure the patient. Though there are few native
shamans left in North America, 200 years ago upwards of 30% of the
population had some form of spirit-enabled medicine power.
does shamanic healing work? Lets start with some recent developments
in quantum physics, which have finally provided us with answers.
In the late 1920s, scientistsled by Niels Bohr--were convinced, based
on observations of their data and mathematics, that our reality was
dependent on an "observer effect," an interplay between how our reality
manifests and how we observe it. It became known as the Copenhagen
interpretation of quantum mechanics. Meanwhile, Albert Einstein's
followers, by far the majority of physicists at the time, disagreed,
and spent the next 40 years searching for the "hidden variable" that
would explain quantum mechanics and enable them to do away with the
Finally, in 1964, physicist John S.
Bell came up with a mathematical theorem, known as Bell's inequality
(or theorem), which, for the first time, made it possible to physically
test which of these two views was the correct one. Henry Stapp, a
physicist at the University of California at Berkeley and an authority
on the implications of Bell's theorem, believes that all the strange
concepts we have learned to adjust to since Einstein--where time goes
slower as we goes faster; where the mass of the sun bends space such
that earth travels in an ellipse while also going in a straight line
through space; the atom bomb; quantum tunneling; and the like--are
merely the tip of the iceberg. The heavy-duty, bottom line all along
has been, "Is the observer effect real?"
The first experimental
test of Bell's theorem was conducted eight years later, in 1972, by
Professor John Clauser at UC Berkeley. Clauser conceived his experiment
in 1969 while at Columbia University, and completed it in 1972 at
Berkeley using calcium atoms. The results were that reality is based on
an observer effect. In 1973, Holt and Pipkin repeated the experiment
using mercury atoms, which was repeated by Clauser in 1976and both
showed conclusively the observer effect is real.
scientists at Columbia repeated a 1974 experiment done in Italy, again
confirming the observer effect. In 1976, Lamehi-Rachti and Mittig at
the Saclay Nuclear Research Center in Paris carried out another
experiment, which again confirmed the observer effect.
final bit of evidence came in a March 1999 article in Nature by Alain
Aspect from the University of Paris-South, in Orsay, France. He
announced the conclusions of his team's experiment, which closely
aligned with the requirements of Bell's theorem. Again, the results
were in favor of the observer effect.
So here we are, faced with
the most startling discovery in the scientific history of mankind, and
very few people know a thing about it. Recall that when we were faced
with the discovery that the earth goes around the sun, it took the
general population well over a century to adopt this as fact. We still
speak of the sun rising and setting.
Now we are faced with
the notion that there is an interplay between our local space-time
reality and human consciousness. Worse yet, it means objects are not
really solid. Here I will summarize points made by Evan Harris Walker,
writing in his book, The Physics of Consciousness: Strained by the
conflicts between Einstein and Bohr over the ultimate meaning of
quantum mechanics, subjected to further stress in Bell's theorem, and
finally ripped through in recent tests, the whole cloth of the
materialistic picture of reality must now be rejected. We must now
recognize that objective reality is a flawed concept, and that
consciousness is a negotiable instrument of reality.
at the threshold of a revolution in thinking that transcends anything
that has happened in 1,000 years. Now the observer, consciousness,
something self-like or mind-like, becomes a provable part of a richer
reality than physics or any science has ever dared to envision.
hasn't this incredible discovery reached the front cover of Time
magazine? Give it a couple of decades. We have yet to figure out how to
Nevertheless, this means that shamanism finally has
an explanation based in modern physics. Shamans can effect change in
local reality through spirit helpers working at the quantum level. This
is achieved through their ritual action, in which the shaman's
consciousness, in an altered state of being, is intently focused on a
singular objective. For example, Take this cancer out of this sick
What we blandly refer to as "ritual rules," are
actually quantum mechanics rules. That is, native ceremonial behavior
is exactly what is needed to change reality via the observer effect.
For example, shamanic rituals are extremely repetitive over long
periods of time. This is because they are trying to effect the
probability waves that bring reality into time and space in the first
place. Waves are repetitive, and so are the waves of consciousness
generated in a shamanic ritual.
Once you understand these new
findings of physics, what shamans do in ceremony appears rational. This
means that healing ceremonies are basically wish-fulfillment exercises,
whereby the "wish" is expressed as prayer. A prayer constitutes an
intensely focused, strong human will. It is the observer effect of
quantum mechanics at its best. It is the patient who sets this process
into motion by first making a request and "sacrifice", usually in the
form of a payment, to the healer. The notion of sacrifice accompanying
prayer is an ancient tradition in all religions, such as the early
animal sacrifices of ancient Judaism. It is this sacrifice that sets
the aim of the prayer such that it will hit its target. You give before
Once the healer conducts the diagnosis, the healing
ceremony can begin. If it is a particularly difficult case, the shaman
will usually call for ceremonial assistants. The more "observers," the
better the chance for success, so friends and relatives of the patient
are often invited to participate. For this same reason, a shaman will
also ask doubters to leave before a healing ceremony begins. In fact,
one often reads ethnographic records in which shamans would not conduct
a ceremony if whites were present.
Once the ceremony begins,
the "observation" is maintained and repeated in order to secure
success. The shaman locates the disease (afflicted part of the body),
and then, with the aid of spirit-helpers, removes it, most often by
sucking. What the shaman draws from the patient's body matters little.
It is the observation that the disease is gone that brings about the
needed change in reality that causes the quantum-level probability wave
to collapse in favor of the patient.
Quite often the shaman's
spirits will give instructions to the patient that are designed to
maintain the desired observation, once the ceremony has ended. For
example, a Lakota healing might require the patient to make prayer
offerings on a daily basis. In this sense, one's prayers often extend
beyond the healing per se. I know of one case in which this was not
done by the patient, and the symptoms returned.
relationship between the actions of a shaman and quantum mechanics has
been dealt with by Fred Allen Wolf in The Eagle's Quest. Wolf, a
physicist, discusses nine parallels between quantum mechanics and
shamanic activity. In so doing, he makes it clear that shamans, while
in a trance state, operate at the quantum level of reality. Once this
is realized, one can begin to understand not only why shamans can do
what they say they can do, but also why their means for doing so are
similar from culture to culture. They are all following quantum level
No doubt the observer effect plays a central role in many
other alternative forms of healing as well--healing at a distance,
sympathetic touch, psychic surgery, etc. However, the presence of
spirit helpers makes shamanic healing additionally powerful. In this
particular form of healing, reality can be radically changed such that
"miracles" often occur. These miracles now have a solid scientific
basis, but it will be some time before this new realization becomes
fact in the minds of the general public.
William S. Lyon is a graduate professor in The Center
for Religious Studies at the University of Missouri at Kansas City,
where he teaches courses on American Indian shamanism. He has worked
with native medicine men for over three decades. His latest book is
Spirit Talkers: North American Indian Medicine Powers.