Squaring Shamanism with Western Medicine

Cleansing of the Infant

The shaman restores and cleanses the soul and brings good fortune to the infant.

There are many things that are unseen to the eyes of most people, but a shaman possesses the ability to see past the human life with the help of their khua neeb, spirits that guide them in the spiritual world. Because Hmong shamans are engaged with spiritual worlds that are otherwise invisible, Hmong people, like anyone, can be  skeptical. But this skepticism can also be weighed with respect for traditions, and even for 

Pachee Vang tells the story of the time she tore her knee ligaments for the first time and her parents’ first response was to call upon a shaman to help her. She assessed her injury from a Western point of view, insisting that this was a serious issue that needed to be fixed through surgery, while her parents desired for her to see a shaman first. "For me, personally," Vang said, "I knew that shamanism would not be able to cure what happened to me. I knew that I tore my ACL, and no spirit was going to put it back together.”

Another story that Pachee talked about was her experience swallowing a fish bone, one that only increased her skepticism about Hmong Shamanism:

“I was really young, I swallowed a fish bone. My dad tried doing some rituals, but I kept crying because it didn’t work, so they took me to the hospital to get it out. So experiences like that helped my parents change and understand that shamanism isn’t everything.” – Pachee Vang

But Pachee’s skepticism of Hmong Shamanism for her injuries and ailments is held in balance with respct for how Hmong Shamanism deals with other ailments involving with souls and the spiritual aspect of life.  Different Hmong people navigate these tensions in different ways, and medical professionals, like Greg Plotnikoff, MD, too can find meaningful ways to engage the therapeutic dimensions of Hmong traditional healing.1 

  1. Greg Plotnikoff, et al., "Hmong Shamanism. Animist Spiritual Healing in Minnesota Minnesota Medicine 85(6) (June 2002)29-34.