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Medicine man


"Medicine man" is an English term used to describe Native American spiritual figures; such individuals are often viewed by scholars concerned with these matters as being analogous to shamans.


Role in Native Society

The primary function of these "medicine elders" (who are not always male) is to secure the help of the spirit world, including the Great Spirit (Wakan Tanka in the language of the Lakota Sioux), for the benefit of the community.

Sometimes the help sought may be for the sake of healing disease, sometimes it may be for the sake of healing the psyche, sometimes the goal is to promote harmony between human groups or between humans and nature. So the term "medicine man" is not entirely inappropriate, but it greatly oversimplifies and also skews the depiction of the people whose role in society complements that of the chief. These people are not the Native American equivalent of the Chinese "barefoot doctors", herbalists, nor of the emergency medical technicians who ride rescue vehicles.

Keewaydinoquay Peschel described a different function between male medicine men and the women who apprenticed them in the Ojibwa tribes. She spoke of medicine men who depended on the women to identify the herbs and properly process them, who were lost if the women left because they had spent more time on the ceremonial functions and insufficient time on the nuts and bolts of healing.[2]

To be recognized as the one who performs this function of bridging between the natural world and the spiritual world for the benefit of the community, an individual must be validated in his role by that community. Most medicine men and women study their art either through a medicine society such as the Navajo Blessingway, or the Ani-Stohini/Unami Morning Song Way or apprentice themselves to a teacher for 20-35 years or both.[citation needed]

One of the best sources of information on this subject is the story of a Lakota (Sioux) wicasa wakan ("spirit man") named John Fire Lame Deer, recorded with his cooperation in a book called Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, by Richard Erdoes.[3] On a broader scale, Mircea Eliade's Shamanism puts the whole area of religious experience and practice into a broad historical and ethnographic context.[4]

Cultural context

The term medicine man suffers from being a term applied to a central figure in Native American community life by people of a radically different culture, a culture whose members might easily conceive the Native American practices to be antithetical to their own deeply held religious beliefs.

The 1954 version of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, reflects the poorly grounded perceptions of the people whose use of the term effectively defined it for the people of that time: "a man supposed to have supernatural powers of curing disease and controlling spirits." In effect, such definitions were not explanations of what these "medicine men" were to their own communities, but instead reported on the consensus of socially and psychologically remote observers when they tried to categorize these individuals[citation needed]. The term "medicine man," like the term "shaman", has been criticized by Native Americans, and various specialists in the fields of religion and anthropology.

The term medicine man was also frequently used by Europeans to refer to African shamans, also known as "witch doctors" or "fetish men".

'Medicine man' is also used as slang for a type of cannabis plant which contains an extremely high level of THC.

See also


  1. ^ Fienup-Riordan, Ann. (1994). Boundaries and Passages: Rule and Ritual in Yup'ik Eskimo Oral Tradition. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, p. 206.) Nushagak, located on Nushagak Bay of the Bering Sea in southwest Alaska, is part of the territory of the Yup'ik, speakers of the Central Alaskan Yup'ik language.
  2. ^ Keewaydinoquay, Stories from My Youth by Keewaydinoquay Peschel and Lee Boisvert
  3. ^ Erdoes, Richard. Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions.
  4. ^ Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy by Mircea Eliade (May 1972)
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Medicine_man". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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