I am Sangoma. What does this mean? The name given to the shamans or "traditional healers" of many southern African tribes, including the Zulu, is Sangoma or isiSangoma as they are known in plural. It is a spiritual calling, not a chosen profession. An apprentice sangoma, an itwasa, studies with a mentor for several years and must learn how to connect with her ancestors (amadlozi), prepare herbal medicines (muti), interpret dreams, diagnose illness through divination with bones, and how to heal both physical and spiritual illness. Through the ritual use of muti, steaming, purification, dreaming, and dancing to ancient drum rhythms and traditional songs, the initiate becomes bound to her ancestors who have chosen her for this work. It is the mentor's responsibility to work with the itwasa's ancestors, alleviating any conflicts or problems that are encountered. Humility and respect are essential to the work of the sangoma so it is the mentor's job to train the initiate in a way that leads to surrender of the egoic state, facilitating a deepening of their relationship to the spirit world and the ancestors. Working in partnership with one's ancestors is a gift representing a close link with the spirit realm as a mediator between the worlds.
In the past Westerners have referred to all traditional healers as "witchdoctors" but the sangomas of Swaziland and South Africa have worked tirelessly to shift this negative perspective. Witchdoctors, or sorcerers, are often purveyors of mutis and charms that cause harm to people. A sangoma takes an oath that she may not cause harm to anyone. The calling requires that the healer use her gifts only for good. Sangomas believe that they are here for only one purpose, to heal through love and compassion.
Although my love affair with Africa began many years ago, prior to 1994 I could only visit vicariously books. When I made my first trek to East Africa my soul felt as if I had returned home. From that point on I began to find ways to explore this magnificent continent. Then in 1999 a consultation with a Zulu sangoma changed my life.
Traditional Doctor P.H. Mntshali (Zulu sangoma/shaman) joined Susan Campbell in the United States for a lecture tour. He gave presentations and consultations from the East Coast to the West. He saw that many Americans had lost their connection to their ancestors but, to his surprise, he also found many shamanic practioners. It was at my own consultation in June of 1999 that P.H. diagnosed me as a healer. He said that the reason my life was so difficult was that I was not following the path my ancestors had chosen for me. They were "calling" me to be a traditional healer and would guide me on an accelerated path. His words reverberated in my heart and head. I left in tears, knowing that Baba Mntshali spoke the truth.
I began exploring my ancestral heritage and found myself guided to learn about medicinal herbs. I located an school in Encinitas, California and immediately enrolled in an herb and aromatherapy program. At the same time I began planning a trip to southern Africa, including a visit to P.H. Mntshali's in Siteki, Swaziland. During this stay Baba P.H. worked with me and confirmed that I was being called to the path of the sangoma. While I was there I was able to spend time with a white South African woman who was also an itwasa. I had been studying and practicing shamanism in the United States for several years and the ancestors had been using this as a tool to reach me prior to finding P.H. Now the ancestors flourished under this ancient ancestral tradition, changing and enriching my life forever.
I went home to Californina and spent the next year working with my ancestors and preparing to go back to Swaziland to complete my training. In the summer of 2001 I returned to Baba P.H.'s with the goal of graduating my itwasa training and qualifying as a sangoma. After ten weeks of rigorous training and many rituals to balance my energies, I graduated in front of 100 beautiful Swazis, two friends from home, and a few South African friends of European ancestry. In order to qualify I had to be possessed throughout the day by my ancestors. Under their loving guidance I found my hidden goat and other objects. I participated in ancient sacred ceremonies and was in awe of the beauty and power of the compassionate spirits.