Shamans in Mongolia

In the movie “The Horse Boy,” a little boy was diagnosed with Autism and his parents want to find a way to help cure his illness. The boy has multiple tantrums a day and he has outbreaks that are unbearable for his parents. The only kind of peace he seemed to be able to find was when interacting with animals. In search to find a cure, his parents take him horseback riding through Mongolia traveling to different shamans. A shaman, is a person who performs a ritual to contact the spirits in order to heal a sick person. A shaman is very much respected amongst his community as they are said to have once had mental disorders but are now healed. They begin by talking about the symptoms and then performed rituals which included dancing and banging on drums. One of the shamans held the boy and waved his hand over the boy’s body as if he was washing him clean. In this culture, they believed that this illness came from a bad spirit that was lingering around. They believed that the boys grandmother, who was mentally depressed, was holding onto the boy and causing him to be mentally ill. This ritual seemed to have worked a bit, seeing as the boy was interacting with others with no tantrums in the end.

The shamans lay somewhere between the folk sector and the popular sector. The share the cultural values of society and although they are not necessarily viewed as sacred, they are important individuals to the community. They seemed to be very welcoming to this family which came all the way from Texas, which tells me that they are willing to help all that seeks them out. I think that these rituals help because the shamans are in tune with the patients bodies and what it needs.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Hassan Ahsan says:


    For me, the documentary “The Horse Boy” demonstrated mind over matter and the interesting difference in levels of acceptance of healing outside of the western concept of medicine. I must admit to being a little skeptical of the healing powers of the variety of shaman that the family encounters during their trip across Mongolia.

    The first set of eight shamans was very theatrical in their rituals and their attire, a complete contrast to the monotonous white coat western doctors wear. Their treatment was also eccentric, perhaps even comical to a western eye. One instruction was for the mother to run to a nearby stream and wash her pubic area to wash away the evil spirits that had settled down there. Then they were thrashed with some rough looking leaf whips. The final set of shaman, ‘the reindeer people’ were dressed more for comfort against the elements rather than in any colorful regalia. Their rituals were also very subtle in comparison.

    Though I do not think that these shaman healers had genuine powers to cure Rowan, the autistic son, I was nevertheless curious as to how the reindeer shaman was able to predict that Rowan would become potty trained and become socially comfortable. One theory I have is that an important point that was stated in the beginning by the various experts. Several of them suggested that environment played a significant role in the development of autism. This makes me think that rather than healing by shaman, the absence of environmental toxins over a period of time may have allowed Rowans body to heal itself.

  2. Angela Palmer says:

    Dear Cheyenne,
    I really enjoyed reading your outlook on shamans and how a folk/popular category can be beneficial to one’s health. I think shamans in Mongolia can compare to the US, but in a very slim way. Our American society relies heavily on biomedical care. Hospitals, doctors and prayer is how I was raised, and I believe that’s how a lot of Americans are raised. After reading the articles from this week, I believe that shamans can relate to American healthcare. I’m very proud to say that we are trying to integrate other means of healthcare. I fully believe in holistic care. I pray when sick or when a loved one is sick, that’s not biomedical, it’s holistic. I love to pray and it makes me feel closer to God and in a sense more whole. I have a neat example to go with my comments above, about a more holistic healing style. Take going into labor as an example. I’ve heard that giving birth in a hospital may be harder on the mother than giving birth at home. The hospital is bright, white, cold, strange, chaotic. Your home is warm, familiar, less stressful. There are pain meds at the ready in a hospital but you don’t have to be propped up with your knees up and spread in an embarrassing angle. I think comfort and stress levels do have a lot to do with pain experience. Overall, I believe a holistic approach to healthcare is more beneficial and I do believe America is slowly understanding this and trying to integrate more holistic means, like shamans.

  3. Molly DeMarr says:

    I thought your take on the video was interesting and I like how you pointed out that the Shamans of Mongolia would be categorized somewhere between the folk and popular sector of the ethnomedical approach. I feel that although the shamans did not heal Rowan fully of his autism, their rituals did have an impact, making them a credible in that sense. Doctors in the United States would approach Rowan’s mental illness much differently after the diagnosis. Medicine, psychologists, and special programs are just a few ways that doctors in the US would begin treating an individual with autism. A cute for autism has been yet to be discovered, therefore, the healthcare that America’s biomedical sector offers for autistic individuals is just as credible as that of the Shamans of Mongolia.
    Personally, I think when it comes to a lot of issues in life, a person’s outlook on the situation really is the tell all for whether or not one will succeed. If someone has a positive, optimistic attitude towards something, they are more likely the over come the obstacle. I think that shamans of Mongolia help their ill people in giving hope with their culture’s rituals. Meanwhile, doctors in the United States focus on the biological approach, trying to cure an illness or disease by attacking it biologically and physiologically.


  4. Katie Peterson says:

    Hey Cheyene,
    I thought your outlook on these Shaman healers was very interesting and I liked that you categorized them between folk and popular. The popular category places these shaman healers in a specific area, in this case Mongolia, in which they are often approached and considered for healing. They are also a part of the folk category in the sense that their approach of medicine is completely holistic. I think these Shaman healers are a lot like the clown doctors in NYC hospitals. They provide a lot of emotional relief and they affect the patient and family psychologically. However, this method of healing is a lot different than how we would treat a child with autism in the United States. In the US, there are medicines to help treat the underlying symptoms of autism rather than using rituals that the Shaman do in Mongolia. I never would have thought those rituals were credible, but it could have affected the child psychologically and helped him deal with his tantrums. Like the clown doctors, I believe this holistic approach is used best when combined with allopathic approaches. I’m not saying every child with autism requires medicine to treat the underlying symptoms, but rather I believe if a child needs treatment, the holistic approach would be more beneficial when also used with professional care.

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