In the documentary The Horse Boy a family struggles to find treatment for their autistic son. Autism is a disease that the causes are not well understood making treatment a trial and error process. It is know that there is some genetic component involved but possibilities of environmental exposures that only become genetically expressed when exposed to each other is a becoming a popularized theory. Nevertheless, Rowan’s parents are desperate for him to conduct a normal self-fulfilled life and notice that his tantrums subside as he rides their neighbor’s elderly horse. Hoping to capitalize on the therapeutic nature of animals the family travels off to the steppes of Mongolia in search of multiple shamans. Western treatments were not abandoned just supplemented with the hope that comes with traditional practices.
The first shaman visited relates Rowan’s autism to a mentally ill spirit that has clung onto Rowan from his mother’s side. This spirit was described as a black energy that entered her womb during pregnancy. Rowan’s parents must perform many jumps and squats suffer through multiple lashing. It was even necessary for his mother to cleanse her womb in the field with “holy water”. Rowan also repeatedly needed to drink water or milk to seal the ritual while the shaman held him and had drums beating rhythmically in the background. Later on in their journey they travelled to the reindeer shaman in the mountains as guided by locals. Here the ritual was much shorter that occurred at night and in a tepee. A fire was lit and some prayers like rituals were conducted. Rowan was again on the lap of the shaman and was required to drink some form of liquid to seal the ritual. Upon completion they were sent off to their camp and were summoned in the morning to complete. Interestingly enough the reindeer shaman told the family that Rowan would become a shaman later in life. Anthropologists have studied the ways of shamans and many are plagued with some sort of mental disease or neurological illness that allows them to sense the world around them differently. In Western culture many individuals are shunned or institutionalized because they are seen to not be able to contribute to society. Here individuals with these illnesses are not only embraced but very highly respected in society. Patients seek out these shamans and are treated holistically and their symptoms are explained either by imbalances or spirits overcoming the body. Different tribes or peoples use different models as seen by both of these shamans in the film.