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Observations placeholder

Sangomas, Shamans and New Age healing in South Africa - 02 Agnieszka Podolecka - On possession



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

From Sangomas, Shamans and New Age: the Hybridity of some Modern Healing and Esoteric Practices and Beliefs in South Africa - Agnieszka Podolecka

Native African T. Siswana (a corporate administrator in a big South African bank and a sangoma) explains that today sangomas are allowed to carry their duties alongside other jobs, even if that jobs are completely different (like banking). Called to become a sangoma while working for business, Siswana accepted the calling, underwent the training and initiation in her sangoma-mother’s school and she co-operates with three spirits who ‘inhabit’ her. She is trained to use herbs to help people and to gain information from spirits.

The term ‘initiation’ can be used to describe the final examination (the graduation after the apprenticeship) or it can mean the whole process of tuition. In the case of sangomas, it is usually used to describe a graduation from one step of the training to another. In Zululand I witnessed an initiation from the beginners stage to the twasa (officially accepted candidate for a sangoma) stage and it was called ‘initiation’. Another initiation takes place when twasas are initiated as fully fledged sangomas

Sangomas of the European descent also combine different methods, among my informants:

  •  L. Cluttey combines Western energy-work with Zulu sangomas’ wisdom gained during her apprenticeship and initiation in South Africa and she also works as an interior designer;
  • R. Rotgieter combines methods learnt form a Peruvian shaman of the Incan tradition with sangomas’ methods and he also works as a restaurant manager.

There are also practicing sangomas among academics:

  • Nceba Gqaleni is a professor for indigenous health systems research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, RSA),
  • Penny Bernard is an anthropologist at Rhodes University (Grahamstone, RSA),
  •  Jo Wreford is a sangoma and a PhD graduate at the University of Cape Town (RSA),
  • David Cumes is a South African surgeon.

‘Traditional’ sangomas, especially women, living in rural areas work the fields and carry all domestic duties. Scholars and my sangoma informants agree that sangoma’s work is a combination of different kinds of healing which in the Western cultures are separate professions: doctors, psychologists, priests, psychopomps, exorcists – all those professions combined make sangomas very skilful healers and important members of the society.

My informants told me that sangomas had always been the most important people in their societies simply because they had the greatest wisdom. They are not only properly trained but they also closely observe what is going on in their societies, they know all clans’ affairs and are often asked for help in problem solving. They have always been asked to advise chiefs and bless warriors before battles.

The source of the experience

African tribal

Concepts, symbols and science items




Science Items

Activities and commonsteps




Also G. Attilio, Sangoma, Frederick Muller Limited, London 1962

See also http://mg.co.za/article/2013-04-05-00-the-new-generation-of-sangomas