Shamans of Mongolia

The assigned film, The Horse Boy, had a pretty heavy impact on me. Being honest, I thought it was so touching and it even made me tear up a couple of times. Not only was the story one of challenges and triumphs but it expressed two distinct views on the subject of alternative medicine. The father of the child was very open to the possibility of successful treatment from the shamans while the mother was skeptical (although not completely in opposition). I could see myself in both of them, and I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much.

The film followed a child and his parents as they trekked by horseback across Mongolia, visiting a string a shamans. In Mongolia, these shamans are respected and honored. The more talented ones are even hard to meet up with, increasing their value. In the film, they are shown as being fairly quiet and calm people (and were all men). It’s almost as if they have an unidentifiable power that draws people to them. Rowan, the autistic child, loved being around the shamans and usually calmed down and regained focus when they were near. The shamans seemed to tolerate his hyperactivity and fascination with them very well, too, letting him crawl on their laps and touch their clothing. In the cultural setting shown in the film, it is evident that shamans are the preferred “doctors”. They represent more than biological health. They are the gateway to becoming healthy in all aspects, not only physically but mentally and emotionally. They take all aspects of life into account, and I think this is what makes them so trusted. I can personally relate to that desire of being treated as a whole person, not just a physical body with purely biological symptoms. I recently switched doctors simply because I felt that my previous one lacked interest in anything beyond my physical state of being. He did not investigate the minor issues I expressed and failed to ask about my social life, etc. I now see a doctor who makes me feel more individualistic and important, which also indicates her concern for my well-being on a much broader level. Shamans don’t stop there. In treating one person’s symptoms, they may even include other family members. In The Horse Boy, Rowan’s parents are often asked to participate in healing ceremonies and practices. This helps bring the family together, and the parents state that even if the shamans don’t heal Rowan’s autism, they will treasure how the process has united them.

I may have been more like Rowan’s mother a couple of semesters ago but I am beginning to side more with his father after taking various anthropology classes and especially after watching this film. There are some things that are hard for us Americans to see, being so obsessed with logic and science but we much not forget to keep an open mind. We aren’t the smartest culture and I think we definitely are not the most appreciative of the life we are offered. We may be happy and healthy but I think we would be better off if we could acquire a more holistic view of life like the shamans of Mongolia.

2 thoughts on “Shamans of Mongolia

  1. I found your post fascinating because you acknowledge that the American health care system and western medicine in general has huge flaws. I do agree that American doctors focus too much on physical symptoms. They only care about what they see immediately, and not many of them will show sympathy towards a lifestyle or how someone’s life is or their beliefs. I believe these strongly affect how someone behaves and how they should be treated for an illness or a disease. The shamans seem respectable because, as you said, they focus on the holistic view. They know that health does not simply mean how someone’s body is affected. They believe that how someone lives and views their life, as well as their relationships, may matter more in gauging health than the narrow-minded views of many doctors in the US.

    I think it’s important that you mentioned how the shamans act this way in regards to health because it is my belief that state of mind is the largest indicator of health. An IV bag in your arm doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting better. However, a healthy, upbeat state of mind, as well as the support of others around you, can mean so much more than the right medicine. When you see studies of how people heal faster when they’re being prayed for, I believe there is a sort of “good energy” or “atmosphere” that increases or helps the healing process (not that I necessarily believe in organized religion). It’s all a state of mind, not necessarily the physical body that can make the difference in healing an individual and making them feel better, and that’s the main difference between shamans and traditional doctors.

  2. When looking at the shaman of Mongolia it is clear that they are very different than the biomedical doctors in the U.S. Before discussing the differences I would like to make notice of one similarity between American medical doctors and the shaman of Mongolia and that is the level of respect they both are given and the fact that the more talented they are, the more difficult they are to meet up with. This is similar to how the most specialized doctors in their field are more difficult to see. When it comes to differences, there are many. First of all, the shaman are not officially sanctioned in the same way that they are in the U.S. The way that they practice is also different. Whereas in the U.S. doctors are much more focused on the physical body, the shaman take a more holistic approach, integrating mental and emotional health into their treatments. Additionally, the shaman often include family members in their treatment plans and healing rituals. In the U.S. medical treatments are personalized and doctor-patient confidentiality keeps physicians from involving the family without consent. I think that there is legitimacy to the practice of the shaman, particularly because of their more holistic approach. I think that it is important to look beyond the physical body and look for other causes or things that could exacerbate symptoms or the illness in general.

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