A new documentary CRAZYWISE: How western cultures treat spiritual awakening, available free until March 28

Phil Borges is an award winning photographer and documentary film maker who has spent many years photographing and documenting the practices of indigenous and tribal peoples. He observed the mystical practices of the shamans (healers) who command a respected place in their cultures, and then he wondered: Where are the healers and the shamans in our western cultures? Many of them he found on the streets, a sad commentary on our go-it-alone culture.

From the CRAZYWISE synopsis:

Through interviews with renowned mental health professionals including Gabor Mate, MD, Robert Whitaker, and Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD, Phil explores the growing severity of the mental health crisis in America dominated by biomedical psychiatry. He discovers a growing movement of professionals and psychiatric survivors who demand alternative treatments that focus on recovery, nurturing social connections, and finding meaning.

CRAZYWISE follows two young Americans diagnosed with “mental illness.” Adam, 27, suffers devastating side effects from medications before embracing meditation in hopes of recovery. Ekhaya, 32, survives childhood molestation and several suicide attempts before spiritual training to become a traditional South African healer gives her suffering meaning and brings a deeper purpose to her life.

CRAZYWISE doesn’t aim to over-romanticize indigenous wisdom, or completely condemn Western treatment. Not enery indigenous person who has a crisis becomes a shaman. And many individuals benefit from Western medications.

CRAZYWISE is intended to heighten our awareness of how we treat our mentally ill in western cultures and it proposes solutions. Please watch this paradigm changing film, and spread the word! 

This film is available until March 28: https://vimeo.com/201079582/37ea6dd390

A townhall meeting surr0unding the launch of the film can be viewed viewed on YouTube.  You can also find it on the CRAZYWISE website.


My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism

No, not my (Rossa’s) mysterious son, but author Dick Russell’s
My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism. 
I am now confronted for the second time with the repercussions of my dawdling for years with my own shamanism memoir. In the amount of time it’s taken me to learn how to “write good,” Dick Russell and Rupert Isaacson (The Horse Boy) have beaten me to it. Both authors deserve the highest praise for sharing their fascinating healing journey with their own sons and introducing the world to the shaman’s way.

What follows is my Amazon review of My Mysterious Son

This is a great book – schizophrenia’s long awaited answer to The Horse Boy (autism). The author/father fully “gets” how to understand and work with the life passage that the Western world calls “schizophrenia.” As a mother of a gifted young man of 30 who has been given the schizophrenia label, I, like the author, came to adopt a more shamanic understanding of his purpose in life and went to great lengths to find modern day shamans, or guides, if you will, who could help my son.

To understand schizophrenia and find the right kinds of help, a good place to begin is by suspending disbelief. You’ll need plenty of that if you go the shaman route. Shamans can work wonders, especially in tandem with parents who have the right attitude. I admire the author for being willing to stretch his belief system, something that many parents aren’t prepared to do. The received wisdom of the past several decades tells us that schizophrenia is an unsolvable problem and the problem is within the brain, not with the weight of ancestry or in finding a spiritual path. “Schizophrenia” is mysterious and mutli-faceted. By definition, treating it must be done with imagination. Humor, too. 

The path is long, so why not enjoy it? Both father and son consult the famed African shaman Malidoma, who reminds the father of the upside of schizophrenia. “I mean . . . Being with a person like Frank, there can’t be a dull moment.” So true, if you enter into the spirit of it, as the author has done.

The quantum physics view is intrinsically the shamanic view. It’s all about shifting energy and outcomes based on the viewpoint of the observer. In this case, the parent, Dick Russell, is the observer who decides to shift his viewpoint about what is normal after having several discussions with the noted psychologist, James Hillman. Accepting a new normal that validates spiritual and extra-sensory experience is the crucial ingredient to gradually pushing your relative toward interesting normalcy, and should be the cornerstone of treatment. This means radically overturning the current medical approach that insists that the delusions are meaningless and not to engage with them.

In one incident, the author noticed that Franklin’s delusional talk grew worse after the family pediatrician was impatient with his ramblings and tried to correct his faulty thinking. Haven’t we parents all done that? It doesn’t work and is demeaning all around. Had the author not met James Hillman, it may have taken him a number of years to stumble onto a very basic treatment modality — namely, people in extreme states respond well when others treat them kindly and respectfully and try to engage with, not “correct” their delusions, which are not really so delusional if you pay attention to the content of what is being said and enter into the spirit of engagement. Criticism makes the delusions worse. Why is this simple concept of acceptance and engagement not taught to family members, who are on the front lines of support? My experience tells me that there is a mental illness industry composed of doctors, psychologists, social workers, etc. who do not want to dilute the value of their time and expertise by having families do the work they are paid to do. More people would recover sooner if this information were shared. My son’s doctors were adamant that the delusions were to be ignored. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, which began as an understandable reaction to the parent blaming of earlier decades, is also responsible for hiding this recovery tool. Better to blame the brain than blame the family by insinuating that how they interact with their relative can be improved upon. My son spent eighteen months in a day program, was hospitalized for three months on three separate occasions, and yet I had to find out this information by doing my own research.

Getting a solid footing on the recovery path may not just be limited to accepting and engaging in the new normal, especially when it comes to a diagnosis of “schizophrenia.” Being non-judgmental in thought, word, and deed may only take you so far. If you believe, as the author does (and I do) that there are genuine paranormal experiences at work in schizophrenia, then feed the beast! Your son or daughter is already dancing in the realm of the spirits so why not go the distance by bringing in guides who speak their language? Warning: Many shamanic practices involve engaging with the spirit of the ancestors. Are you wiling to suspend your disbelief and brave enough to go there yourself?

There is a wonderful scene in the book when the author’s ex-wife (Frank’s mother) invokes the spirit of her ancestors, not in a clearing in the middle of the African jungle nor in a far flung corner of Siberia but in an ordinary suburban house in Maryland. Magic can happen anywhere, even in suburbia, it seems.

My Mysterious Son will have a powerful impact on what is considered acceptable “schizophrenia” treatment in the years to come. Read it. Enjoy it. Learn from it.

Rossa Forbes is a contributing author to Goddess Shift: Women Leading for a Change

My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism

Rossa’s recommendation: Top notch! The best! Can’t put it down! Below is a Kirkus Review of Dick Russell’s superb memoir. This book should be on every parent’s night table and on every therapist’s bookshelf. The alternative approach offers great hope even for those who have spent years in hospitals and group homes.


A memoir about the tight bond between a father and his mentally ill son.
Until his son’s late teens, Russell (The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume I: The Making of a Psychologist, 2013, etc.) had enjoyed his relationship with Franklin, a smart, handsome, mixed-race child who was a “dreamer” and a perfectionist but showed no traits considered out of the ordinary. At 17, however, Franklin experienced his first mental breakdown. He was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia; suddenly, Russell didn’t know how to connect with his son. With honesty and grace, the author writes of the maelstrom of feelings that surged in and around him and his son for the next 15 years as Franklin moved in and out of group homes and the hospital as his illness progressed. Some days Franklin was kind and loving, and at other times, he denied Russell was his father, lashing out with rage and frustration. When an unexpected opportunity arose to take Franklin to Africa, where the author had traveled as a young adult, father and son embarked on the trip with both anticipation and trepidation. Although Franklin’s schizophrenia manifested occasionally, the two-week trip led Russell to believe that his son’s disability might actually be evidence of something more profound, a deep connection with the spirit world. Searching for more answers, Russell and Franklin underwent numerous healings with a West African shaman and a Peruvian healer, who both confirmed Russell’s idea that Franklin was not afflicted with an illness but was undergoing vastly different life events than those around him. The author’s candid account of these difficult years shows his deep commitment and love toward his son and offers readers a new concept on how people with mental illnesses should be perceived.
Not all readers will be convinced, but Russell provides an earnest and eye-opening account of the possible thin line between a psychotic disorder and mysticism.
Pub Date: Oct. 7th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1629144870
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Review Posted Online: 
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2014

Worth repeating

Gianna Kali at Beyond Meds has posted some links to the inspiring work of Jungian analyst Maureen Roberts. I wanted to highlight just one of them for this post. Please read the rest of the article for an in-depth shamanic interpretation of schizophrenia.

from Schizophrenia: Your Questions Answered, by Maureen Roberts, Ph.D.

What is Schizophrenia?

A good question, with no simple, short, or straightforward answer, since each sufferer is unique and schizophrenia is a complex phenomenon. In general, schizophrenia is an extremely introverted, psychospiritual mode of perception, or way of relating to the world; or state of consciousness involving (what I have called) ‘extreme empathy’. This simultaneous blessing and curse is due to a fragile, fragmented, dead, or lost ego, or conscious personality structure. The normal, ego-enforced boundaries between the self and the world have broken down, such that schizophrenia sufferers – for better and worse – find themselves identifying with everything within their scope of perception. It is because of this ego loss, or ‘dis-integration’ that psychosis, shamanic initiation and mystical experience are so inextricably bound. The schizophrenic person may appear to family, friends and doctors to be lacking in emotion, but in reality is in a state of intense empathy, such that extreme sensations of joy and fear are usual. Because of their fragile personal boundaries, schizophrenic folk typically see, hear, sense, perceive and understand things that others are unaware of. Secret, or symbolic meanings are seen and heard in everything, and the schizophrenia sufferer typically feels responsible for the fate of the world.

Further reading: “Schizophrenia: The Shaman Sickness” by Sam Malone (former sufferer). Visit his website, which includes testimonies by schizophrenia sufferers. http://www.geocities.com/johnny_crowseed/sands/skzlike.html
(Editor’s note: The link provided does not work and I can find no trace of this website on the Internet.)

Shopping mall shaman

Practicing Shamanism in a Community Health Center

By Myron Eshowsky .
From Shamanism Spring & Summer 1993, Vol. 5 No. 4 & Vol. 6 No. 1

For six years I worked openly practicing shamanism in a community mental health center. I was able to do this work with the support of my supervisor and the administration. In the course of that time, there were many successes, some non-successes, and a growing acceptance of shamanism as a culturally diverse method for addressing the needs of the center’s clientele. Most importantly, it was a proving ground for returning shamanism to the community setting.

Read the rest of this fascinating article here.

Inside Mongolian shamanism

I’m quite excited about my current bedside reading, The Horse Boy: A Father’s Quest to Heal his Son, by Rupert Isaacson. It’s the story of a father helping his five year old son overcome autism by travelling to Mongolia to ride horses and undergo shamanic ceremonies. I’m only part way through the book at the moment, and hope to do a more in depth review later. The book explains that shamanism was the ancient religion of Mongols until the Soviets tried to stamp it out. Following the break-up of the Soviet empire in the 1990s, shamanism has been slowly making a comeback. Today there is even an association of Mongol shamans. In fact, the word shaman is a Siberian word meaning “to see in the dark,” referring to people who experience other realities.

What is especially gripping about this book is the in-depth documentation of what Isaacson, his wife and son experienced in Siberian and Mongolian healing ceremonies. I have written elsewhere in this blog about Olga Kharatidi’s book, The Master of Lucid Dreams, about her journey to the shamans of Uzbekistan to heal trauma, but the healing ceremony was not as well explained as in the Isaacson book.

The thought that so-called mental illness is a gift, if properly embraced and chanelled, is not especially new in Western circles, but Isaacson’s contribution is to anecdotally document how a specific problem (autism) can treated by aboriginal practices. The way these problems are viewed is similar to the Family Constellations that Chris and I went through. There is an ancestor element (a family curse) that needs atonement. Bert Hellinger, who popularized Family Constellations, drew on his work with the Zulus in Africa.

Several shamans questioned whether Isaacson’s wife had an immediate female ancestor with a strange mind. (She did.) Instead of saying, “mentally ill” they wondered if she had an ancestor who was “like a shaman.” The wife’s grandmother became bipolar after the death of her eight year old son and was institutionalized towards the end of her life. The shamans referred to her as “like a shaman” because some shamans have mental problems before they start their training. The shamans see this as a sign that these people are destined to be shamans. 

Isaacson thought about the shamanic healers he had come into contact with over the years in his career as a journalist. They were odd, often spoke in riddles and were “away with the fairies.” Isaacson notes, however, that it was interesting that they all had integral roles in their communities, rather than being marginalized as so often happens in industrialized societies.

The self-help community writes a good deal about how to treat people in their spiritual crisis, relying on shamanic beliefs, but here is an actual documented shamanic practice that makes fascinating reading. The family goes through the rituals meted out by nine shamans, who ask them to do some rather bizarre things like wash their more intimate parts with vodka, have vodka and curdled milk spat on their faces by the shamans, and be whipped (including the son).

At the end of the nine shaman ceremony, the son, who enjoyed it all immensely, walked over to a small Mongolian boy and declared him his “friend.” His first friend ever. Perhaps seeing what his parents were willing to go through for him and accept on his behalf was part of this breakthrough.

The shaman ceremony reminds me of the breakthroughs that Chris had after the assemblage point shift and the Family Constellation. Within ten minutes of finishing the AP shift, he immediately started walking taller and the color flooded back into his pale facial skin. About three months after the Family Constellation Therapy, he began to be sociable with people. These results can be achieved rather quickly with shamanic ceremonies. Ritualistic ceremonies are essential rights of passage that have been largely forgotten by the people and too often denigrated and ignored by science.

Prince Charles and the Royal Family

Ten days later after our first visit with the shaman, Chris returned for a checkup. Although this second visit wasn’t strictly necessary, I was beginning to appreciate the journey as a way of preparing for the outcome. As expected, Chris’s assemblage point was whole and had remained where the shaman had repositioned it. Nonetheless, Chris got a top-up of diamond and carnelian on his chest only.

I decided that I would like to have my assemblage point put back into shape the old-fashioned way, using the shaman’s blow and crystal wands. Given my age and the strain I had been under, my assemblage point had predictably traveled up the panic and anxiety line to the right side of my chest. The shaman’s assistant asked me to stand with my back to him, tighten my sphincter, and hold my breath. Then he quickly thumped my right shoulder blade. I was caught off guard. Air was forced reflexively out of my lungs and I emitted a little squeak. So that was the famous shaman’s blow! I then hopped onto the table where I was handed a giant quartz crystal wand that I struggled to keep upright over my assemblage point while the transducer pumped emerald crystal vibrations through my wine soaked liver. I stayed in that ludicrous position for twenty minutes.

A couple of days before, Prince Charles had delivered a keynote address at the World Health Organization about his belief that national health systems should take more account of alternative treatments such as homeopathy and acupuncture. I remarked on this to the shaman, who confided that established Harley Street doctors in London were quite concerned these days because members of the Royal Family were now largely seeing homeopathic doctors and other alternative medical practitioners.

I mentally began adding up the alternative treatments Chris had undergone: colonics; acupuncture; vitamins and supplements; energy medicine, including the magnetic mattress and a magnetic bracelet; Emotional Freedom Technique; and assemblage point shift. On a scale of 1 to 10, if Chris was a 10 when he was first hospitalized, then I would have to say he was now about a 5, a 4 at the most. He just was not visibly normal, meaning that he seemed somewhat nervous, was not comfortable around people in large or small groups and was not able to motivate himself. I attributed a lot of this to the effects of the medications, which I believed kept him in an anxious state, but I didn’t attribute all of it to the medications.

I felt that we were on the right track with all the interventions we had done up until that point, but that there was still a missing X factor that had not been addressed. The good that the vitamins had accomplished this far were undermined by the still heavy doses of meds. I believed that the benefits of the assemblage point shift would reveal themselves over the next few months and hopefully lead to a complete cure. We weren’t there yet. I still had not tried to approach Level 4 of the healing pyramid in a formal way.

As the shaman predicted, Chris gradually began to express his thoughts and convictions more. It was subtle, but it became increasingly apparent in the next few months. He more frequently expressed his preferences and sometimes lingered to talk a bit more. What surprised me is that I also felt that I was becoming more real. I became even more direct and focused.

The magic age of ten

For Chris’s treatment, a transducer using both diamond and carnelian was placed at the front and back central positions directly in contact with his clothing. The electronic gem transducers in the lamp pulse vibrational energy through the gemstones, each of which have a unique vibration. The energies create a vortex that draws the split assemblage points back into position. Diamond is the strongest of the gems in energy terms and carnelian balances it by being a very soothing gem. Chris’s spleen was also energized at the same time with a diamond and carnelian transducer. People, especially those with a low position back or front, benefit from having the spleen energized, thus raising their energy levels. A depressed patient, for example, would be able to get out and about more.

As Chris settled in for his twenty-minute treatment, I pursued the theory behind the assemblage point. The shaman explained that the assemblage point is with us at birth, in a very low position centered around the navel, and travels up the chakra line as we develop, stabilizing in more or less the correct position slightly right of center at the level of the heart chakra at around the age of six. Children with seriously misaligned assemblage points find it difficult to interact with others. Childhood events can determine the location in which the assemblage point eventually settles.

Around the age of ten, the shaman continued, some assemblage points begin to split. The child may develop an interest in mysticism or begin to experience subtle changes that a trauma or shock in the teen years or thereabouts will tip into what we know as schizophrenia. It was at that moment that I understood why psychiatrists had asked me from time to time what Chris was like at the age of ten. When I told them about Magic cards, they didn’t seem at all interested. This leads me to conclude that there must be something else about the age of ten that interests them.

Chris’s intense interest in Magic cards began at the age of ten. Magic: The Gathering is an extraordinarily complex game played on many levels, with its own game terminology. Choosing a personally designed deck, players or “wizards” cast spells on their opponents through a variety of means. Each player starts with twenty life points and the object of the game is to reduce your opponent’s life points to zero.

Some people consider card games like this evil or satanic and feel that the game itself exerts a negative influence that provokes mental illness. I don’t feel that way. I considered this a fantasy game, reflective of the intense creative urge of the individual. I saw it at the time as a passing phase that Chris would eventually outgrow. We nurture children on fairy tales and Santa Claus but expect them to grow out of their fantasies. Children quickly outgrow their belief in Santa Claus and fairy tales. Chris, however, did not outgrow his liking for Magic. As he got older, he supplemented it with books on mythology and science fiction.

I had never considered the card game as a clue to what was later labelled “schizophrenia” in Chris’s case. Chris has often said he feels like he is existing somewhere between living and being dead. The following is a editor’s note from an ancient Syrian translation of “The Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World”. I can’t help but be reminded of the similarity of this ancient text to fantasy card games and computer games.

Ishtar passes through seven gates of the nether world. At each of them the gatekeeper removes an ornament. At the second gate, he takes the pendants on her ears; at the third, the chains round her neck, then he removes, respectively, the ornaments on her breast, the girdle of birthstones on her hips, the clasps round her hands and feet, and the breechcloth on her body. Each time, she asks the same question; each time she receives the same answer.

Translation by E. A. Speiser, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton, 1950), pp. 106-109, reprinted in Isaac Mendelsohn (ed.), Religions of the Ancient Near East, Library of Religion paperbook series (New York, 1955), pp. 119-25; notes by Mendelsohn

A visit to the shaman

The shaman was a pleasant looking middle-aged woman with long black hair and billowing blouse and skirt of gemstone hue. From a chain around her neck hung a huge moonstone pendant. We entered the converted garden shed, which contained an examining table with an electronic gem lamp, a bunch of old blankets, some huge quartz crystal wands calibrated and cut in India, and a tiny desk. She took a medical history, although not much was needed. There was absolutely no risk to this procedure from a medical point of view. Chris signed a medical release form anyway.

Sometimes a patient with a high left assemblage point can be violent, although more commonly, the person is withdrawn and passive, presenting no risk to the examiner. As a precaution, it is recommended that an assistant be in the room. The shaman has found that two people of the opposite sex working together allow the best healing energies to enter the patient. Hence, her male assistant, who was dressed all in black.

She asked Chris to stand up and face her and she gently passed her hand over his chest to determine the positions of his assemblage points. When she came to a certain position, Chris swayed slightly as if caught off balance, indicating she had located the points where energy entered his body, which were equidistant from the center to the high left and high right. These were the typical two split assemblage point locations indicating a position typical of schizophrenia. She found similar points on his back and an additional third location. Inexplicably, she asked Chris if he spoke more than one language (he does) since the additional back position might indicate that he did.

According to our shaman, off center locations either cause certain conditions or are caused by them, so it is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation to determine which came first. She often finds them in patients who have experienced trauma earlier in life.

“We can treat you, Chris, in one of several ways, using either quartz crystal wands and a sharp blow to the shoulder blade, or using electronic equipment.” Chris opted for the gem lamp treatment. The shaman nodded with understanding. “You’ve probably been pushed around quite a bit already because of your illness and don’t want somebody like me doing it, too.”

The assemblage point

I became an avid follower of the anthropologist Carlos Castaneda and the German high court judge Daniel Paul Schreber after stumbling upon the concept of the assemblage point while researching light and color therapy early in the new year, 2006.

The assemblage point is familiar to fans of Carlos Castaneda and the shaman Don Juan Matus. Yet, despite the many hours of instruction that Castaneda received from Don Juan, he remained unclear as to what exactly the assemblage point was and where it was located. From Don Juan he learned that it was a hairy, luminous egg-shaped cocoon located about an arm’s length away from the body and linked to the energy at our disposal. A warrior’s energy, according to Don Juan, is always a consequence of a shift in his assemblage point. “Any movement of the assemblage point means a movement away from excessive concern with the individual self.”

In 1900, Daniel Paul Schreber, who was thought to be suffering from dementia praecox (the old term for schizophrenia) wrote to Dr. Flechsig, his psychiatrist, about what appears to be the assemblage point, although he calls it the soul. “The human soul is contained in the nerves of the body, about their physical nature I, as a layman, cannot say more than that they are extraordinarily delicate structures—comparable to the finest filaments—and that the total mental life of a human rests on their excitability by external impressions. Vibrations are thereby caused in the nerves which produce the sensations of pleasure and pain in a manner which cannot be further explained, they are able to retain the memory of impressions received (the human memory) and have also the power of moving the muscles in the body which they inhabit into any manifest activity by exertion of their will power.”