The Native American Medicine Man Essay Example
The Native American Medicine Man Essay Example

The Native American Medicine Man Essay Example

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  • Pages: 8 (1985 words)
  • Published: September 30, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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This research paper examines the practices and beliefs of Native American medical specialists, also referred to as priest-doctors, priests, therapists, and "Star Beings." These specialists were the religious leaders of their individual tribes. Each specialist had a unique healing approach based on their tribe's spirituality and beliefs. The focus will be on the Cheyenne, Iroquois, and Sioux tribes. Common illnesses faced by Native Americans will be discussed along with how these specialists treated them using remedies specific to their respective tribes. The resources utilized in their healing methods included herbal remedies and other objects. Additionally, the modernization of some techniques used by these medical specialists that are still employed today will be examined. It is important to note that while each specialist had unique practices, they all shared a common worship among tribal members. However, there were diffe


rences in medical patterns depending on different tribes and locations as well as individual therapists. Medicine-men or medicine-women combined magic, supplications, vocals, exhortation suggestion ceremonials fetishes ,and specific mechanical procedures in their treatments. Knowledge of community-specific remedies and procedures was possessed by only a select few elderly women while herbal remedies and simple treatments were widely known among the local population.The medicine man played a dual role within the tribe, functioning as both a healer and spiritual guide to bring peace to those who were unwell or troubled. Essentially, he performed multiple duties as a doctor, priest, therapist, and counselor. People relied on him for physical and spiritual healing alike. Moreover, he served as a mediator in resolving conflicts within the community. He acted as a practical link between the natural world and the spiritual realm for th

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betterment of his community's well-being.

Various methods such as magical practices, prayers vocal rituals, and ceremonies were utilized in medical practices and beliefs. Magic was frequently employed to counteract negative influences from deceased spirits or mythical beings. Prayers sought assistance from benevolent spirits when tending to patients' needs. Healing rituals involved singing prayers or exhortations while creating loud noises with the aim of warding off evil spirits believed to be responsible for illness.

Ceremonies that combined these techniques were often intricate and costly, as seen among the Navaho Indians. These ceremonies incorporated special objects like molded rocks, lightning-riven wood, feathers, claws, hair, figurines of mythical creatures,and representations of the sun and lightning.It was thought that these objects possessed an enigmatic power capable of preventing disease or countering its effectsCertain communities followed dietary restrictions and abstained from specific foods as a form of treatment. The Cheyenne Indians, originally living near the Cheyenne River, were forced to settle in a subdivision of the Red River of the North by the Sioux Indians in the late 18th century. Medicine men played a significant role in their society, serving as doctors, priests, and therapists for both physical and spiritual well-being. These medicine men possessed knowledge about medicinal plants and rituals, chants, and songs with magical powers. Instead of using U.S. currency for payment or trade activities with others, they accepted trade items. The spiritual beliefs and traditions strongly adhered to by the Cheyenne people influenced how medicine men assisted those in need. The text also discusses the beliefs and practices of both the Cheyenne and Iroquois Indians regarding spirit beings and healing techniques. The Cheyenne believe in spirit beings connected to

Ma’heo’o, an associated divine entity linked to physical life and spiritual existence. Ceremonial works depict symbolic representations or elements portraying animate beings related to these spirit beings. Some Cheyenne view ecological crises as an end to Hestanov caused by natural and supernatural factors.Healing techniques employed by the Iroquois Indians encompass a range of methods such as herb tea, root remedies, ritual purification, sweat lodges, smoke, supplication, and occasional surgery. Both men and women fulfill the role of therapists with the aim of restoring patients both biologically and spiritually. These healing practices were conducted by six tribes - Mohawk Indians, Seneca, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, and Tuscarora - who formed a united alliance in what is now New York. Similar to the Cheyenne people's belief system regarding spirit-beings' presence among them; the Iroquois also believed that plagues and diseases originated from evil spirits. To combat these illnesses caused by malevolent spirits; they would hold spiritual festivals seeking assistance from their great spirit in purging their people of these harmful entities. Furthermore , it was believed that failing to fulfill dreams or desires could result in contracting diseases. According to their beliefs, dreams held significant importance as powerful experiences capable of unveiling the cause of illness and contributing to healing efforts. The Iroquois perceived dreams as a means to transcend time and space by connecting with ancestors or spiritual guides while uncovering one's soul desires for a more enriching existence. Additionally , dreams were viewed as a way to restore lost energy and heal emotional pain within their healing rituals which involved employing wooden masks believed to establish connections with spirits and the dream world.The text describes the

use of masks by members of the False Face Society during their travels to find sick individuals. The society's ritual includes using turtle shell rattles and blowing ashes from tobacco, culminating in an ash blowing ceremony and a feast. These rituals occur three times a year, with additional smaller ceremonies held as needed or requested.

In contrast, the Navajo Indians reside in the southwestern region of the United States near Arizona and New Mexico. Within Navajo culture, medicine men hold great respect as they not only heal but also preserve heritage, traditions, and beliefs. When called upon for a healing ceremony, a medicine man provides treatment while recounting the story of the Navajo people's origins.

The text discusses the role of Navajo medicine men and their ceremonies for healing and celebration. Alongside other healers, medicine men possess extensive knowledge that must be retained. This includes mastering three ceremonial procedures and memorizing songs and prayers; any mistakes could have adverse effects on patients.

Furthermore, apart from familiarizing themselves with herbs and gathering items for sacred medicine bags, medicine men participate in purification rituals such as spending time in a sweat lodge to reflect on deep thoughts. To successfully heal others, a medicine man must have faith in both the Great Spirit and themselves.The Navajo people utilize ceremonies for various purposes, including healing, strengthening, and restoring vitality. These ceremonies are also conducted to celebrate specific events like a girl's puberty celebration (Beauty Way ceremony) or a baby's first laugh (Hooghan Blessing Ceremony). The objective of these sacred ceremonies is to promote beauty, harmony, balance, and wellness. Typically lasting at least four days, there are approximately 58 to 60 different ceremonies

that require the presence and assistance of relatives and friends in order to be effective. Outsiders are generally discouraged from participating as it may burden others or violate taboos that could negatively impact the overall success of the ceremony. The successful execution of the ceremony involves active participation from everyone involved and plays a critical role in healing the patient. Medicine men employ various methods such as conducting ceremonies, using crystal stones, chanting prayers while performing handshakes over the patient's body to diagnose conditions. Healing chants can last for hours and address a wide range of complaints. According to Native American belief systems, ailments were believed to be caused by breaking societal taboos such as encountering lightning-struck objects or forbidden animals like serpents or through contact with deceased individuals. To restore spiritual and psychological well-being for warriors who experienced harm from participating in warfare, the Enemy Way Ceremony was utilized. Additionally, medicine men also attended to curses.However, the arrival of Europeans brought diseases that Native Americans could not control, resulting in devastating population declines. Before colonization, common ailments included colds, injuries from violating local taboos, psychological traumas, and illnesses attributed to positive and negative spirits. After European arrival, outbreaks of smallpox caused great devastation due to the lack of immunity among Native Americans. Additionally, they lacked knowledge on how to treat other diseases such as scarlet fever, cholera, flu and whooping cough because their immunity and understanding were limited. Medicinal remedies using different plants were administered without a comprehensive understanding of their effects on patients' health. Each tribe had knowledge about poisonous plants and their antidotes, using various parts of plants like roots, twigs, leaves,

bark, flowers and seeds in fresh or dried forms. The medicine man would extract the necessary ingredient from the plant itself. Sometimes tribes combined multiple plants to create a single medicine. Southwestern tribes used animal and mineral substances as remedies for specific ailments; for example applying a portion of the snake's body directly to a snake bite wound or using animals like crickets lizards and spider eggs in medicinal practices.Certain Native American groups had unique methods for preventing or treating illnesses or conditions. For example, the Navajo Indians used a mixture of red-orange crude iron oxide and fat externally on their bodies to prevent sunburn. The White Mountain Apache adult females promoted cleanliness by using clay sourced from beneath a campfire, while the Hopi individuals used wood coal ashes or other fire products on inflamed areas to counteract illnesses caused by fire. During ceremonies among the Blackfeet Indians, a sacred medicine package was utilized alongside lengthy chants performed flawlessly by the medicine man. Rattles and other objects accompanied these chants to invoke assistance from Great Spirits.

Despite relying mostly on modern medicine for healing purposes in modern times, Native Americans still incorporate traditional healers into their healthcare practices. Indian reserves have hospitals where contemporary Native American physicians perform healing chants for their patients. Aromatherapy, which originated from Native Americans, is another form of healing that utilizes scented candles, oils, and aromatic substances to improve mood and overall well-being.

Native Americans have been using herbs similar to those found in modern medications like aspirin for a long time. Many ingredients in over-the-counter and prescription drugs are derived from these Native American herbs, such as taxol, ergot, and Oncovin.Herbal

remedies containing menthol, batch, horehound, or lemon can provide relief from coughs. Chamomile and batch teas are known for their ability to aid digestion and soothe a nervous stomach. Over-the-counter pain relievers often include camphor, menthol, or eucalyptus oils. Coffee is a popular herbal stimulant among Americans. The knowledge of Native American medicine has greatly influenced modern medical treatments and without it, the development of vaccinations for diseases like smallpox would have been much slower. Unfortunately, the knowledge of Native Americans is still undervalued today. Before European colonization and advancements in medical technology, Native Americans relied on their understanding of nature and natural resources to treat illnesses and remain healthy. However, with the rise of modern medical techniques came the disregard for the initial contributions made by Native American civilizations. Below is a compilation of sources that offer information about Native American cultures and healing practices: 1) [Source] "Dreamways of the Iroquois: Honoring the Secret Wishes of the Soul." Rochester: Destiny Books, 2004. 2) "Native Languages of the Americas: Native American Cultures." Native Languages of the Americas. 1998-2011.- Website: (accessed May 15, 2011).The text cites several sources such as "Navajo Tourism" (Discover Navajo, 2008), "Paul: Son of the South" (2003-2008), "Primitive Concept of Disease" (University of California Publications in American Archeology and Ethnology, Vol. XXXII, 1932), "Navajo Symbols of Healing: A Jungian Exploration of Ritual, Image, and Medicine" by Donald Sandner (1991), "Medicine Man of the Cheyenne" by Howard Terpning (National Academy of Western Art Swoyer's Fine Art & Collections) on February 11th ,1998, and "Alternative Medicine:A Journey to Proactive Health Care" by Melinda Wolf. Other sources include "Cheyenne - Religion and Expressive Culture,"

"Native Languages of the Americas 1998-2011," "Crude Concept of Disease 1932," Moss (2004), Michaele (2010), The Study of Native Americans (1998), Iverson, Nez Denetdale, and Deer (2006) cited in CNI Newspapers (1999); Terpning n.d.; Mazaska Enterprises.LTD1899-1905; Handbook on American Indians .1906 -1910).

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