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A Hmong shaman is the traditional healer who travels into the spirit world to determine and treat the spiritual causes of disease or sickness. Sickness can be indicated by persistent symptoms like fatigue, weakness, bad dreams, and loneliness. The shaman cures a person by retrieving the lost or captured souls of the ill person in a special ritual. (Plotnikoff pg. 29)
The traditional Hmong belief is considered animistic (belief in the existence of individual spirits). “Life is seen as a continuous circle of birth and rebirth” and it is believed that there are two worlds, the physical and spiritual. The Hmong believe that a person has a certain number of souls that function as one unit to give life and health to the individual. If this relationship is ever disrupted or unbalanced, the person will become ill. (pg. 30)
Ways of Becoming a Shaman
According to Plotnikoff, men, women, and even children can be the “chosen” one. (pg. 30) No matter of what sex or age this person is, they will be chosen by the spirits through long sickness. The shaman who diagnoses the “chosen” one becomes his or her “master shaman teacher” (Rice). After the “chosen” one agrees to become a shaman, the illness is than cured. (Lewis) It takes at least three years to learn of “the sacred chants and the complex and highly elaborated techniques and procedures of the shamanic rites” as well as “the name and nature of the legion of evil spirits who bring harm and suffering to humankind” (Rice). They learn through example and imitation. He or she will follow their master’s words and imitate his or her actions. The instructions are given at night or in the forest (Rice). “They would lie together on the sleeping platform and discuss the mysteries of the spirit world, the power of special chants, the intricacies of ritual technique" (Rice) There are no written books or manuals to becoming a shaman. All of the learning is mnemonic, personal, and experiential” (Rice). Each shaman also maintains teacher spirits who instruct him/her how to perform (Lewis).