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Observations placeholder

Hamilton, Dr Allen - Healed by a Navajo medicine man



Type of Spiritual Experience


After tending a young child called Alfred, who subsequently died, Allen attended his funeral, went home and suddenly experienced back pain as if he had been ‘struck by lightning’.  He doubled over, and fell to the floor in excruciating pain.  Then, unexpectedly, one of his former students arrives – a Navajo lad called Charlie.  Charlie leaves saying he will come back and he does several hours later.

A description of the experience

The Scalpel and the Soul – Dr Allan Hamilton

Charlie came into the living room, but this time he was not alone.

He had brought a medicine man with him. I could tell what he was instantly.  Over the years, I've had the honor of working with several medicine men. You can always spot them. They've got a certain power, a presence about them. There's a strange, enveloping warmth emanating from their hands too. I've only felt that warmth coming from the hands of sacred folks (and no, I don't have it).

Seeing the medicine man standing there was comforting and unnerving. I wasn't sure if the silver-haired, elegant gentleman spoke much English. If he did, he didn't use it. He spoke only to Charlie in Navajo. His commands were terse. Specific. Charlie listened and then turned to me:

"He says you must ask your whole family to come into this room. They will need to be here with you. And to help you." I was a little reluctant. It meant waking my youngest kids up. Seemed like a big fuss to rouse them. For what? But the medicine man was insistent. He wasn’t going to budge until everyone was in the living room.

While my wife gathered the children, Charlie motioned toward the fireplace: "'We will need to build a fire here. Is that okay?”

It was a warm evening for a fire but I reluctantly nodded my approval.

The old man started a small fire, bringing the flames to life. He laid down fragrant sage and sweet-grass.

Charlie pulled a wooden chair in from the kitchen. He looked up toward the mountains, and I could tell he was squaring the chair so the old man would be properly seated in the north-the direction of wisdom and leadership. My three children sat on the couch, their eyes wide. The old shaman did his ministrations without so much as a nod in their direction. My oldest son, Josh, age thirteen, seemed intrigued.

Luke, my middle one, was only eight and seemed more apprehensive.  My youngest, Tessa, three years old, was outright terrified. The children huddled together as the strange scents filled the air.

"You sit in this chair." Charlie motioned me toward a second chair, placed in the east.

How could I sit down? What was he talking about? I couldn't do that! I was in agony! "Come on, Charlie," I protested. "I can't even breathe without hurting. There's no way I'm getting up." I felt certain I must have herniated a lumbar disk or something. "I shouldn't move right now," I added.

"Get up," Charlie said icily. "It'll be okay. You must do it now. Right now." There was something insistent in his tone of voice that gave me a sense of dread. I wondered if something terrible would happen if I didn't get up. I did my best to make my way, hunched over, to the chair. The old man nodded his approval.

Charlie helped me into the chair. He whispered in my ear, "Do you think I would bring a great medicine man like Grandfather" - the term is used for any respected male elder - "here to hurt you?"

"No" I said. "Of course not. It's just that. . ."

"You've got to trust me. And him. If you can't, then he can't help you. You know that." He was quite firm with me. A bit of a role reversal.

I had to agree. Even though I'd been racked with spasms of pain and could not stand up straight all day long, I somehow managed to shuffle over to the chair with surprising ease and sit down.

Charlie ordered me to strip to the waist. The medicine man began fanning the small fire with an eagle feather fan. I closed my eyes and began to breathe deeply, trying to relax my tender back as much as possible. I listened carefully.

Charlie told me to surrender myself and not be afraid. "You are in the hands of a respected, beloved healer. Now, leave everything to him."

I nodded my assent.

The old man began a slow, deep-throated singing. The sound of his voice seemed to pass into the center of my body. I seemed to start vibrating in harmony with his chanting. He would sing and then blow into the fire,sending the sweet scent of sage into my lungs.

I felt his hands, like hot coals, on either side of my spine. I could feel love and kindness, pouring out from his being into mine. I had the sense he was somehow merging his hands inside my own body. And I suddenly became aware of an intuition that he might be putting himself at risk in doing so. He said something to Charlie.

"He says you must let go of someone. He has seen a boy in you, in his vision within you. A boy you love. He has already passed over to be with the Ancestors. But there is a tie, a string that holds him by his leg."

I had not said a word to Charlie or the shaman about Alfred's death.

No one had. It was the farthest thing from my mind at that moment.

Charlie listened to the medicine man speak and then said, "My grandfather says that you have done this deed. You have tied this boy up, like a pony. You hobbled him by the leg, and you are holding his spirit back. You are clinging to him, yes? You have tied this boy by his ankle, and you are holding him fast. And you are holding him against his will. His ancestors call out to him but you stand in the way!"

Charlie's voice was stern, almost outraged at this point, as he carried out his translation. "This boy's spirit is very angry with you. The boy's spirit is kicking you hard, to get loose, so he can be free. He wants to go. To join his ancestors in the spirit world. He's yelling at you to let him go."

The old man uttered a few more words. Charlie began translating again.

"Grandfather says that this young spirit wants to be finished with you!"

"I don't know what he's talking about," I said. But I did. I began to just sob. My shoulders started shaking uncontrollably. My children stared at me in complete astonishment. They had never seen me so distraught and vulnerable. It was a strange experience for them - for me too.

"Grandfather says that the boy is kicking so hard to get loose of your tight hold that he has kicked you in the back.  That is why your spine hurts so much. He has kicked you, like a mule would kick to get free of a coyote that holds on to his leg."

The medicine man breathed deeply into the fire. The smoke rose into the air; warmth from his hands and the scent of the sage seemed to be circulating inside my abdominal cavity now. I was crying uncontrollably. Because deep inside I felt ashamed of myself for holding on to Alfred so tightly.

"Grandfather says that if you do not let go of this boy's spirit soon, it will just kill you. It will keep kicking at you till you are dead - that is how badly it desires to be rid of you."

"I will let go. I will let go!" I sobbed. I felt helpless. I continued crying out loudly.  Janey jumped up to come to my aid. Charlie held up his hand to check her advance.

"No" he admonished. "You must stay seated and pray for your husband! Do not get up! Do not interfere or the spirit of this boy may strike out at you. Or," he added ominously, as he looked over at my three children seated in a row, "one of your children. He could snatch its soul as retribution. And then the boy would roam the earth as the living dead.  Sit down!" he ordered.

Janey returned to the safety of the couch and put her arm around our youngest as if to protect her.

I was now inexplicably dripping in perspiration. I didn't feel unusually warm or febrile, but rivulets of sweat were running down my torso and soaking the waistband of my pants. I was sweating as hard as I was sobbing. I remember watching the waistband of my pants turning dark before my eyes with the liquid running down me like a fountain.

The medicine man talked to Charlie in Navajo. His voice was chopped, stern. Charlie translated: "You must send this boy away now. . . forever.  He's very angry because he feels you are trying to turn him into a ghost.  You must tell him to go away. To leave you forever. Now!" he barked, and he clapped his hands.

I did. My voice was husky from crying but I said aloud,  “Alfred, I’m sorry. Go. Get away. Get out! Get out of my life!" I yelled with all the power I could summon,  “Now! Go! Now!”

The shaman continued exhaling his warm breath against my lower back. I suddenly became quite calm. The pain in my back started fading. The pain became an ache that was no longer of any concern. The shaman fluttered an eagle fan all about my head and body. There was a gentle quality about the ruffling of the feathers, almost like little kisses.

When it was all over, he said some clipped words to Charlie.

"The boy's spirit has gone. The spirit is grateful that you came to your senses. It will not trouble you any longer. Grandfather will prepare a bundle of herbs for you. You should make a tea from this each morning and drink it."

The old man interjected a few more words.

"Grandfather says you should get up each morning as the sun is rising and drink the tea facing eastward. The tea will restore your strength.  He is finished now. It is over.”..................

It was my own guilt over losing Alfred with which the shaman had to wrestle. I had spent so much emotional energy over Alfred that I had created a malevolent spirit of enormous strength out of my own feelings.

The shaman had the skill and strength to help me confront my monster.

He showed me that the master healer is involved but, at the same time, totally disconnected, impeccably objective about what he must do.

I'm convinced that our personal feelings have enormous impact on our health. I believe that negative feelings - anger, guilt, hatred, resentment, regret, envy - are quite dangerous emotional energies, because they are destructive to the individual that harbors them.   …..the beginning of a scientific inquiry into today what has become the field of psychoneuroimmunology-the study of how emotions interact within the body through the mind.

The mind is the greatest secret in all of medicine. John's great shamanic gift was this: You cannot heal if you cannot feel. Healing isn't from the brain but the soul. You've got to look for it in the right places, armed with the correct attitude.  Without impeccability, there is no healing power.

The source of the experience

Hamilton, Dr Allan

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps