The modern concept of Salutogenesis, from Antonowsky (27 years old) and the ancient universal healing tradition Shamanism (ca. 20,000 – 30,000 years old) are compared. Antonovsky’s Salutogenic Model represents a theoretical concept of health and its influencing factors, which – according to himself – must be regarded as a first theoretical step towards a paradigm change. This means a shift of focus, away from causes of disease to causes of health, in scientific research as well as in preventive medicine. Antonovsky wanted his model to be empirically researched, validated, improved and further developed. His vision for the future was that his theoretical findings would be applied in order to guide human beings to the health side of the continuum.
Shamanism as validated, holistic healing tradition basically occured in some form all over the world and is still alive in some cultures. It comprises an orally transmitted comprehensive knowledge and intense, long practical education. The Shaman initiates themselves must overcome death experiences and learn to heal themselves – under guidance - to be able to practically assist people in difficult situations and crisis states and help them in healing. One of the basic shamanic methods to acquire any information is the Altered State of Consciousness. Functions of Shamans include master of rituals, priest, medicine man (doctor), counsellor, fortuneteller and hunting advisor. Shamanism uses universal methods, which are based on the psychobiological structure of humans and their central nervous system. It comprises a holistic view of the human being and its healing possibilities.
The salutogenic view of a health-dis-ease-continuum, where the health location is an actively maintained state, is congruent with Shamanism. In both concepts the focus is on the origin of health rather than the origin of disease. Identical is also the concept of health as ordered and balanced and of disease as containing more entropy and imbalance. In Shamanism health and illness are not seen as an individual affliction as in Salutogenesis. Compared to the Salutogenic Concept, Shamanism explicitly includes all aspects of life, environment, supernatural forces and their interrelations, as well as the mirror function of disease concerning social relations/communication with other beings in its balance and harmony aspect of health.
The central element of both concepts is crisis intervention respectively coping with stressors. The Salutogenic Model regards coping as crucial for the influence of (and influenced by) the Sense of Coherence (SoC), while guided coping and crisis intervention is the practical approach of Shamanism (‘technology of crisis-intervention’). Shamanism shows practical ways to make positive (salutogenic) coping experiences (personal growth) possible and learnable – be it in a ‘normal’ life (stressor/crisis) situation or in an intentionally, consciously caused event of (severe) crisis (stress). Main factors are guiding, revealing unconscious, internal processes and suggestion. Shamanic techniques can change experience dramatically, for instance by ‘mystical insights’ or ‘death-rebirth’ experiences. Shamanism offers belief systems and world views based on inward experiences. It creates myths, which can be used in different forms (ritual, drama, art etc.). This symbolic work leads to change and resolution of internal perception of stressors and offers new views, perspectives and solutions. The main difference in this context is that Antonovsky regards stress or crisis as a negative consequence of unsuccessful stressor management which can create new stressors, while Shamanism in its practical approach uses crisis or stress and corresponding experiences of imbalance, near death and illness as the most effective way for a drastic positive alteration of the SoC and health.
The wide, universal range of shamanic methods covers in different ways the support, fortification, restoration, and creation of all (influencable) Generalized Resistance Resources (GRRs) in the Salutogenic Model. As presented in some examples, shamanic methods also have the ability to positively influence the three SoC-components manageability, meaningfulness and comprehensibility as well as the SoC directly. While shamanic methods are intentionally aimed at balance and equilibrium, they also raise the SoC and support the client’s move to the health-side of the continuum. The basic congruence between the shamanic work and different forms of psychotherapy is described by different authors.
Both concepts have in common the meaning of culture and beliefs, in Shamanism considered as essential factors in healing (groups of) people, and for Antonovsky, significant contributors to manage tension. In addition the importance of historical, sociocultural, and contextual perspectives are recognized by both.
My initial question, ‘are there salutogenic principles used in old, traditional cultures described as Shamanism?’ is answered: The comparison of both concepts shows an amazing congruence in many aspects. The main elements of Shamanism not only include every basic aspect of Antonowsky’s model but go much farther and beyond. Therefore, I can show with this thesis, that Antonovsky’s concept is the place “where the circle [Shamanism] and tangent lines [Salutogenesis] meet” (Deloria, 1970, cited in Lowery, 1998, p. 129).
Further questions raised in this thesis are: ‘Does Shamanism have a value in the salutogenic sense and could shamanic practice also be used as an applied salutogenic methodology in order to prevent illness and to restore health? Could Shamanism as an applicable salutogenic methodology be used for the benefit of us Westerners, who basically lost our shamanic traditions and culture?’ My conclusion is, that Shamanism, the ancient healing tradition, that works on the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of the human condition, enables the practical application of Salutogenesis for the precaution and restoration of health, wellness and balance in life. My hope is that hindrances in our Western society – like lack of acceptance and rejection and suppression of our inner worlds – can be overcome. A growing number of anthropologists and other researchers of Shamanism who are mostly practitioners themselves already make this knowledge and methods accessible for the ‘Western mind’.