I’m in the research stage of a film about schizophrenia and shamanism, and what unites the two. As I’m following trails to learn more about my subject I’m facing a strange problem. Shamanism, as an umbrella term to refer to healers, diviners and other dwellers of the spirit world, is still practiced in some cultures. Most shamans today live in the Amazonian region, in Siberia, and in northern Canadian territories.
But I’ve noticed a curious difference between practitioners of the North and those of the South. In terms of approachability, they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. But inversely related to that, it seems, is how ‘real’ they are. Traditional Inuit spirituality has been mostly crushed by Christian missionaries, and it’s a similar case with Siberia and the Soviet Union. Those who still practice do so in secret and would be reluctant to let foreigners into their world, much less with a camera.
Now in Peru and Ecuador, shamanic spirituality and Ayahuasca retreats are a booming business! The huge flow of western tourists that have rushed there in the last few decades searching of enlightenment even has a name: the Gringo Trail. Of course, this sudden bump in tourism has spawned many self-proclaimed faux-shamans; normal people who jumped on the opportunity to make money off of gullible gringos lining up to have their spirit healed.
Finding a genuine shaman there, one who truly has a connection with another reality, seems like a needle in haystack kind of situation. I could go and drink a psychedelic brew with a bunch of enthusiastic new-agey people, and probably learn a thing or two about myself, but I won’t be much closer to understanding the tradition of indigenous healers.
How do I find the ones who truly know how to navigate this strange other dimension, instead of drowning in it like schizophrenics do? I can go and visit that world with drugs like all the other hippies, but I want a guide, someone who could map out the territory so that I can better represent it in a film.
How far does one have to look, how much time and effort has to be invested to even get a glimpse of how it all actually works? I guess it’s presumptuous for a young white film student to expect to just be able to show up and get all the cliff-notes on ancient knowledge. Clearly, this will have to be more of a long term project and learning process. After all it’s in the nature of the truest things to be hidden, if not in plain sight, then insanely deep…
The quote of the title is from Rainer Maria Rilke.