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Medicine, health and esotericism

If the doctor of today has become a technician, he remains the heir of the sorcerer-healer of ancient times when he was also the doctor of souls and the one who best knew the mysteries of the initiation.

The function of the witch doctor in the tribal model

One cannot understand the complexity of the concept of initiation, with the ambiguity of certain interpretations, without referring to the major social functions that allowed the tribal group to function; classically, there are three, which are found in different formats depending on the culture of the tribe:

  • Socialization processes,

  • The need to ensure the intellectual and moral development of individuals,

  • The need to organize the expression of group members so that consensus reigns in the tribe.

The need to ensure intellectual and moral fulfillment was described in different chapters; one of them concerned the taking into account of the need for spirituality; this was the function of the sorcerer-healer. It was he who knew how to appease the spirits and sanctify major events.

It was the Sorcerer who provided the answers to the fundamental questions:

  • Where are we from?

  • What are we?

  • and Where are you going?

He was also the medium between the tribe and the world of mysteries; he knew how to implement the ritual practices necessary to ensure the spiritual protection of the tribal group.

He was also the one who was able to understand the dysfunctions of the body and the mind; to regulate them, he knew how to use both healing rituals and traditional pharmacopoeia.

To do this, he had a corpus of legends and myths of which he was the custodian and which he knew how to use when the time came and according to methods adapted to the circumstances.

In a way, the sorcerer-healer was the doctor of body and souls.

Under the guidance of the sorcerer-healer of the tribe, the older adolescents acceded to adult status during an initiation ceremony, a real rite of passage intended to welcome and transmit a collective responsibility that new initiates will have to assume.

This explains why, in its very essence, this type of initiation is first and foremost an act of socialization.

This modeling of the function of the sorcerer-healer in tribal society is found in other ancient societies with naturally their own particularities.

An evolution to take into account even if a need remains!

The evolution of human societies and the progress of knowledge have led to the virtual disappearance of tribal functioning. While initiations persist in some villages, particularly in Africa, they are practiced in a watered-down, less involving form, and the witch-healer has become the master of ceremonies.

The increasing complexity of knowledge has also led to a specialization of social functions; thus was born the profession of doctor (the term refers to one who gives remedies or medicines) which itself has diversified into a multitude of specialties.

All in all, today, in contemporary society, where technicality has become expertise, the doctor no longer has any function that falls within the scope of the sacred.

But if tribal functioning has disappeared, the fact remains that the essential needs of the human group persist, whether it is the need for socialization, the intellectual and moral development of individuals or the need for consensus to acquire cohesion and pacification of populations.

Economic development, the multiplication of exchanges, the popularization of knowledge, the demographic reality and the existence of multiple poles of power explain that contemporary human societies have, despite an apparent insolent success, a problem of coherence and many internal fractures.

While the performance of contemporary societies is remarkable in economic terms, with access to comfort and material security for a large part of the population, the disorders of all kinds that make headlines in the news clearly show the reality of a societal malaise linked in part to existential angst, the absence of consensus and an unsatisfied moral quest.

We saw this during the covid-19 epidemic; Faced with the absence of a moral authority capable of responding to the deep concerns of the population, multiple voices from different backgrounds have emerged to try to fill this void.

At the individual level, in each family, in each small community, human beings are looking around for answers. This is particularly the case for essential questions concerning the cause of seemingly incomprehensible events.

Spontaneously, and this is a sort of proof of affiliation with the era of tribal groups, the answers sought are found, almost always, in what is of the order of magical thought.

If, officially, the doctor no longer has the function of the sorcerer-healer, the fact remains that, in the singular colloquy between the doctor and his patient, the magic dimension still exists today in our Western society, most often implicitly; you have to know how to decipher it through the words used.

Having had the opportunity to practice medicine in France, Africa or Oceania, in urban or village settings, in completely different cultural backgrounds, I can testify that, when the conditions of trust and secrecy are united, human beings, whatever their environment, question the doctor, in the register of magical thought, being persuaded that his quality as a doctor gives him "the expertise" to provide a credible answer.

What does it matter to them that a disease has a viral origin?

  • Doctor, ever since I saw this person, it hasn't been going well for me!

  • Doctor, your hand has healed me! , "Keep going, do what he must!

  • Doctor, I saw it in your eyes, you understood me; I am bewitched (or marabouted)! »

The essence of magical thinking could be summed up in the issue of "protection". The sick person is convinced that his illness is of external origin and that the absence of "protection" has allowed it to do its work. The doctor, like the sorcerer-healer of old, alone has the "power" to provide "protection" because he, as an "initiate" knows!

These confidences resulting from the singular dialogue between patients and a doctor are naturally exceptional in the context of medical practice. But their lives in very different conditions cannot leave anyone indifferent. They also provide an understanding of what initiation really is in traditional popular thought.

Different categories of initiation

In popular thought, there are clearly two broad categories of initiation:

  • What could be called the “great” initiation: it concerns that of the ancient sorcerers-healers, whom some have also called the high priests or “the great initiates”. In tribal society, it was most often a family initiation with the transmission of magical power during a very particular ritual. It was part of what is now called esoteric initiation: The initiate initiates an individual he has chosen and the latter will later be led to do the same to transmit. It is clear that the notion of transmission is an important factor of legitimacy; it is through it that the new initiate acquires his power!

  • And the “small” initiation: this category includes both rites of passage and corporate rites; Masonic initiation also falls into this category. These are “belonging” initiations which consist, in a way, of issuing an “authorization” to practice. The initiate is recognized or "accepted" because of his qualities and his knowledge but, unlike the "great" initiation, he will not acquire any power.

The common point of these two categories of initiation is found in what could be a definition: initiation leads to the acquisition of either power or knowledge. In the great initiation, it is a question of the power relative to the intervention on what were formerly called “the mysteries”; in the small initiation, it is a know-how, in particular for the operative initiations, or a knowledge of the unspeakable for the speculative initiations.

In popular thought, the “great” initiation enjoys considerable respect but also causes a certain dread linked to the fear of unwanted influence.

This is how, in particular circumstances, the human being seeks "the great" initiate who will know how to save him, and it is this search that can be perceived in certain medical consultations.

It is very difficult to answer it but the simple fact of understanding it and not rejecting it is very important for the person in pain.

In the mystical process, there is not strictly speaking an “initiation”; we enter the register of “revelation” or “possession”, with a direct relationship between the applicant and God (or his equivalent). The mystical quality does not have a vocation to have a social dimension if not in a desire for apology and glorification of a God (or his equivalent).

As Mircea Iliade writes in “Initiation, rite, secret societies”, religions have banned initiation!

It has often been asserted that one of the characteristics of the modern world is the disappearance of initiation. Of paramount importance in traditional societies, initiation is nowadays practically non-existent in Western society. Certainly, the different Christian denominations retain, to a varying extent, traces of an initiatory mystery. Baptism is essentially an initiation rite; the priesthood includes an initiation. But we must not forget that Christianity only triumphed and became a universal religion because it broke away from the climate of the Greco-Oriental Mysteries and proclaimed itself a religion of salvation open to all. .

When fake news testifies to societal malaise!

This reflection also provides an explanation for the phenomenon of more or less delusional remarks circulating on social networks. It is tempting, for some, to denigrate them, to condemn them or even to make fun of them or to categorize them as conspirators.

In fact, it is another form of expression of magical thinking. You have to know how to respect it, understand it and also respond to it, not by using rational logic but by providing credible answers to this existential concern that torments people.

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