Source: Sandner on the Structure of Symbolic Healing and the Mana Personality

“Stage one: Preparation or purification. Before the vital symbols are presented and utilized, the medicine man or shaman, as well as the patient, undergo purifying rituals to prepare themselves for the occasion. Often the spectators, the room, or the ceremonial grounds are purified as well. Purification is achieved by washing, sweating, taking emetics, dressing in special clothes, and abstaining from certain everyday activities such as eating specific foods, sexual intercourse, or certain kinds of work.

Stage two: Presentation or Evocation. After the purification the pertinent symbolic images are made and presented in visible or audible form. Taste, smell, and touch may play a part in this stage. The symbols must be presented in a vivid and dramatic manner, as for example through icons, statues, prayer sticks, or sand paintings, or in the rhythmic chanting of songs and prayers. . .In this way the symbolic presence becomes real. Once evoked, the supernatural powers or divine beings invest the symbols, the medicine man, and the patient with their numinous presence. The way is prepared for the culminating action.

Stage three: Identification – the high point of the ceremony. The medicine man or shaman and the patient – and sometimes even the spectators, too – become identified or intimately invested with the powers that have been evoked and reified. The medicine man symbolically becomes the supernatural power, and at the same time may take into himself the evil or bad part of the patient that is causing the sickness. The medicine man is exalted into a powerful being, what Jung called the mana personality. If the ceremony miscarries at this time, both doctor and patient risk being harmed by power that is no longer under ritual control. (Chuck’s italics)

Stage four: Transformation. The healer uses the extraordinary power he now has in the eyes of the patient and the onlookers to bring about the desired good results. He wins the battle, banishes the disease, expels the evil, counteracts the sorcery, or recovers the soul. Symbolically transformed, the patient believes that actual restoration to health and harmony will soon follow.

Stage five: Release. Finally there must be rituals to release the patient, the medicine man, and the audience from the powerful symbolic force they have activated, and to return them to a normal state of being. Having experienced the transforming power of the symbol, the patient must divest himself of it. This may be done by special songs or prayers, or by restrictions against sleeping or cleansing himself until a certain time has passed. This brings the cycle to symbolic healing to a close. (Chuck’s italics)

Similar scenarios of healing could be found in the ethnographic literature from other cultures. The content would be different, but the symbolic structure remains similar. As Cassirer says ‘Over and over again we find confirmation of the fact that man can apprehend his being only in so far as he can make it visible in the images of his gods’ (1953:204). By the presentation of the symbols man is put in touch with his inner resources. If the healing images are strong enough, if the medicine man is skillful and unwavering in his purpose, and if the patient’s involvement is deep and urgent, then healing can be confidently expected to occur.” (Sandner, Navaho Symbols of Healing, pp.20-22).

4 Comments on “Source: Sandner on the Structure of Symbolic Healing and the Mana Personality”


    • Thinking about having seen the Wolf of Wall Street, which offers an extreme portrayal of the dark side of the mana personality, I wanted to introduce Donald Sandner’s observations of the mana personality in its positive aspect.

      Yes, if one risks connecting with mana energy, one is at risk for an unhealthy identification with the powers, and this can be potentially very harmful to self and others.

      This opens up the importance of recognizing the difference between true grandiosity and compensatory grandiosity.

      Compensatory grandiosity reflects an impaired connection with the energies and resources of the Self, with the ego attempting to borrow from those resources as if it were the source. Mickey in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice would be an example of this.

      True grandiosity reflects one’s having achieved a sense of one’s realistic greatness, as it prepares one to take on the important tasks of creating a more conscious inner/outer world.


      • grandiosity is not meant for man, only in his ability to recognize his place IN the grandiose


        • My sense is we are approaching the idea/issue of when/how might one risk opening to an experience of the numinous, where in one feels very much a part of the divine plan/cosmos/experience. (see Source page: Eliade on When the Sacred Manifests Itself.)

          Moore and Gillette get at this in their book, The King Within, and in their description of the ego’s experience when in the presence of the fully realized archetypal king energy, which is to feel realistically lacking. Getting connected to the Self is reflected in one’s experience of one’s realistic greatness. Prior to achieving this clarity, one suffers cycles of addiction with inflation and deflation always at the ready.

          Antonio Machado was perhaps informed by this direct experience in his fourth verse of “Last Night” in relating: “Last night, as I slept, I dreamt – marvellous error! – that it was God I had here inside my heart.” (Robert Bly translation, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart)


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