Shaman's Past and Present: John Joseph
John Joseph, a shaman with the Chinook tribe of the lower Columbia River, and a nurse practitioner in Washington State, helps Viet Nam veterans suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome, with the purification ceremony: "They have lost their spirituality, and this is a good way to help them find it. The lodge is a safe haven. No one can hurt them. Intrusive thoughts, the anxieties of the day, and the problems of living with post traumatic stress are left outside the door. They are able to speak about things that hurt them during the war and about things that hurt them when they came home. They are able to speak about the triggers that interfere with their lives today, even though it is 20 years later. They’re able to speak, cry, yell, regurgitate harmful emotions, and put them in the fire.
Joseph says that that true healing comes from being able to express oneself in a safe environment: "Everything said in the lodge remains there. Nothing is repeated outside of it. This gives a person a real opportunity to cleanse the heart, and to place things into the fire." He adds that the healing is amplified by being in the presence of the heated stones: "There is stone medicine, Inyan medicine; the sizzling and popping from the water on the stones actually gives a spirit direction. There’s wonderful healing in that."
"Many vets tell me that they feel considerably better for some period of time after they leave the lodge. Often they will come back and ask, ‘When are we going to do another lodge? I am absolutely stressed to the max.’ We do four, five, or six a year, sometimes more, depending on the number of requests.
"Once they start to get their spirituality back, their physical appearance changes. They start to keep their hair. They become neater in the way they dress. Their thought patterns become more cohesive, without constant intrusions. They can even think straight, in many cases. Sometimes children tell me that their dads sleep for two days after a sweat lodge, when they only slept two hours before. So, there’s a wonderful release, and a wonderful return of cohesiveness to their lives, after the purification lodge."