Shamans in Mongolia

The documentary film The Horse Boy tells the story of a boy with autism and his parent’s journey to heal their son. At the start of the film we are introduced to Rupert Iaacson and Kristen Neff, but the story does not really start until they have their son, Rowen. Early in life Rowen displays social deficits and tantrum behavior, and not long after that is diagnosed with high functioning autism. You then see how difficult it is to work with and raise a child with autism. At moments, Rowen would be fine playing with his animal figurines, and minutes later he could be starting a tantrum that may last up to four hours. The reality that Rowen may have to be taken care of and never be fully toilet trained was a harsh one that had to be face. With that in mind, Rupert became determined to heal his son, and he was willing to do anything.

We then see Rupert float between the three sectors of healthcare, which include popular, professional, and folk. At first the popular sector led him to the professional sector. He experimented with aspects of diet and health with Rowen, used medications such as valtrex (which is for Herpes), and tried to make a super drink that he hoped would help Rowen with his externalizing symptoms. However, nothing seemed to really work. That is until he first saw Rowen around a horse, it seemed that Rowen was most content, most free when he was on a horse and near animals. To Rupert, this was a sign. He then took a turn into the folk sector, and after doing a little research decided to embark on a journey to Mongolia. This journey would take Rupert, Kristen, and Rowen on a pilgrimage across Mongolia on horseback, and they would ride from one Shaman healer to the next with the hopes of healing Rowen. The end goal? – To make it to the Reindeer people in the North, where it is said the shaman healers are the most skilled and powerful.

Within Mongolia, the shaman healers are more connected to the spiritual world than the average person. In essence they have something different about them, and that allows them to have the ability to heal people of illnesses of the mind – which are said to be connected to spirits. The shamans are a part of the folk sector because they are sacred to Mongolian culture, and not what one in the West would commonly consider medicine. However, for Rupert – who had run out of ideas on how to heal Rowen – the shamans seemed like a wonderful, and adventurous idea. The healing took a holistic approach, which involved the whole family and an extended feeling of community from the people they met in Mongolia. The system is somewhat hierarchical in the sense that who the great healers are is common knowledge among the Mongolians. For example, the reindeer people are know to have the strongest shamanic healing power. The process of shaman healing is not something one can rush. First the shaman must see if he will be able to heal the ailment and second the timing of the ritual is key. For Rowen, 9 PM was his time, and the shaman set out to release the bad spirits that Rowen was carrying with him. After the ritual, the shaman promised that Rowen would begin to shows signs nearly immediately, and the healing process would fully take around three years. Rowen’s parents were skeptical at first, and then filled with amazement when they saw Rowen improve before their eyes. Did the shamans heal Rowen by releasing the energy of the bad spirits from him? Or did the journey to Mongolia, and his exposure to an extreme environment and new situations help start the healing process? Perhaps, it was a little bit of both.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Carrie Blackwell says:

    This post is about Shaman healers working with a child, Rupert, who is autistic. Shaman healers are different to bio-medicine because they take a more spiritual approach. Bio-medicine is more to do with healing the body of disease, where as Shaman work to heal the mind of illness. I agree with you in that saying Shaman work in the Folk sector of medicine because they are somewhere between the popular sector and the professional sector. I also think that this is a very interesting perspective because you stated how this family had tried the other sectors of medicine first before turning to find Shaman, and going on their journey with the horses.
    I believe that Shaman do have some credibility. When I think of someone’s health I think of almost a triangle of health. Health isn’t just being free from illness but it’s the physical, mental, and emotional health. Bio-medicine that is practiced in the U.S. is very effective, but it needs to be supplemented. Not all illnesses can be cured with a prescription drug or a common procedure. The use of complementary medicine, such as what a Shaman can provide is just one of the many effective treatments of someone’s illness.

  2. Connor DeMars says:

    This reflection was about a highly functioning autistic boy named Rowen. His father, Rubert, tried everything from the popular to professional sectors of healthcare. None of them worked. He then resorted to the folk sector in Mongolia. There, the practice of Shamanism was sacred, where as Western culture would view it as folk or not real because Shamans don’t directly heal the ailment like a doctor would. Shamans focus on curing the mind of the illness, not directly healing the illness itself like a doctor would. I do believe that the Shamans are credible, because if you can look at an illness with a more positive mind, than the illness is a lot easier to cope with. In Rowen’s case, maybe it was traveling around to Mongolia and being apart of a different culture, maybe it was what the Shamans did, or maybe it was a little bit of both. Regardless, Rowen showed signs of getting better. Shamans are more inclined to spiritual help and are definitely credible. There are more aspects to a particular illness than just the illness itself, there are emotional and mental pain that result. Therefore, if the Shamans can work to heal those aspects spiritually, then there is a better chance of them getting better from the illness.

  3. Megan Bergeron says:

    This post discusses a boy (Rowen) with autism and his parents journey to heal him. Rowen’s father, Rupert, is willing to try almost anything to heal his son. Rowen has taken different medications, changed his diet, etc. One day, Rupert saw Rowen on a horse. He was calm and free. After this, Rupert decided to go on a pilgrimage across Mongolia and visit different shaman healers. Shaman are considered to be part of the folk sector of medicine. They are very different from biomedical doctors, and most people in the United States would not consider them to be people of medicine. Shaman are very spiritual and use holistic treatments and rituals. After some time in Mongolia, Rowen’s parents began to see improvements in Rowen’s behavior. He was being healed! Even though Rowen was being healed, I am not sure if I believe the shaman to be credible, legitimate or effective. I think that combined with medical treatment shaman may lead to a quicker healing process for the patient. Biomedical doctors help to treat symptoms of a medical issue, and shaman treat the patient’s mind and soul. I think that shaman are very similar to clown doctors. Both use rituals, song, dance, and costume to help the healing process.

  4. Kayla Lumpkin says:

    This particular story is interesting because of the type of healing that was given and successful for Rowen, an autistic young boy. Rowen would have random temper tantrums and his parents had no idea how to help him. Running out of options, Rowan’s parents took him to Mongolia to treat his autism and found that his condition was improving over time because of the Shaman healers. Shaman healers are different from biomedicine because biomedicine deals primarily with healing the body, and Shaman healers work to heal the mind. Usually biomedicine uses medications to control the physical aspects of our health. The Shamans use more of a holistic approach to naturally cure the mind. The shamans have a way to connect the affected individual with the spirits that can cure successfully an illness. When Rowen’s parents tried other sectors to help him, they were not effective for him. However, when he realized that Rowen liked being around horses and other animals, so they chose to have his treatment be more spiritual based.
    I would say that the Shamans do have creditability because of all the success stories that have come from their practices. Even Rowen, for example, began to show signs of improvement immediately just through spiritual rehabilitation. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health so this seems like a legitimate type of care.

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