Transference to a shaman is an ancient, worldwide technique of healing, widely studied by anthropologists and scholars of the history of religion. Shamanism preceded psychoanalysis and will survive it; it is the purest form of dynamic psychiatry.
Freud might have founded psychoanalysis, but he did so, consciously or not, on much older foundations laid by practicing shamans throughout the world and over the millenia.
We are concerned here, in particular, at this moment in our journey, with the individuals who have been referred to as “lightening conductors of common anxiety”—medicine men, sorcerers, shamans—who articulate a personal reformulation through the role of healer and who seek, by the alleviation of group anxiety, their own sense of identity and security.
To both the analyst and the Shaman metaphor is essential. The shaman conveys metaphors addressed to the spirit world through drumming, chants, dance, myths, drama, or more appropriately, psychodrama and by means of this fills the void wrought in the texture of existence by the incomprehensible experience of suffering. He serves as the link that connects mystery to mystery, the known with the unknown and straight away, that is to say, out of himself, the shaman creates a metaphorical bridge between the everyday human world and the realm of the ineffable, the unconscious, or, in his subjective belief, the supernatural, and like Persephone he inhabits both worlds. He must experience the alien within himself as a prerequisite for interpreting and conferring significance upon the suffering of those who consult him for help against illness or misfortune.
The personal experience of the alien, which resembles a mental disorder, is a major source of the apparent effectiveness of his form of psychotherapy, as it encourages the development of a greater than normal psychological sensitivity for his ever-renewed attempts to heal himself and his culture mates.
To put it in a nutshell: The shaman, the man of magic so singularly capable of suffering, is ill for conventional reasons and in a conventional way; his conflicts are simply unusually intense; he is like everyone else, only more so.