December 09, 2012

Review of Coyote Medicine

A book I recently read:

Coyote Medicine: Lessons from Native American HealingInspired by his Cherokee grandmother's healing ceremonies, Lewis Mehl-Madrona enlightens readers to "alternative" paths to recovery and health. Coyote Medicine isn't about eschewing Western medicine when it's effective, but about finding other answers when medicine fails: for chronic sufferers, patients not responding to medication, or "terminal" cases that doctors have given up on. In the story of one doctor's remarkable initiation into alternative ways to spiritual and physical health, Coyote Medicine provides the key to untapped healing methods available today.And a Facebook discussion of it:

After reading a New Age-y book about "Coyote Medicine," I need a book about Klingons bashing each other to cleanse the palate.Don't read that new age junk. You'll get fat.Someone said I "had" to read it. It was good but not great.

So far, the Klingon book is better.Uh, coyote is the example you are NOT supposed to follow. Someone caling a book Coyote Medicine might as well have named it Quack Healing.

Al is so right. I teach classes in cultural history. Interesting to see the reaction to the fact that there are several Native American cultures and religions. Schools have a lot to answer for.

I teach English comp, and I just had a student write a paper on the ways in which Native Americans are stereotyped. The first ones he mentioned are the notions that Natives are all gone and that they all had the same (Plains type) culture. That made me very happy.
It's a decent critique of modern medicine, but the descriptions of the ceremonies go on too long. Mehl-Madrona sometimes spends what seems like 20 pages on one ceremony or patient.

He justifies the use of the "Coyote" title. "Coyote Medicine" is about tricking a disease and surviving it using unconventional means.

On the other hand, he mostly does Lakota-style sweat lodges and vision quests. Which is odd since he's part-Cherokee and his teachers came from various tribes.

If you're going by what he practices, "Coyote" doesn't work for a predominantly Lakota approach. And he sometimes uses crystals for "energy," which pushes him (further) into the New Age category.

I'd fault him for mashing different tribal traditions into one undifferentiated bundle. But if they work in some cases, that's all the patients will care about.

Most of the ceremonies seem to be about helping a patient make a mind-body connection. It would be interesting to focus the same psychological attention on patients using non-Native, non-ceremonial means. It might prove that the ceremonies are unnecessary to achieve the "holistic" results.I understand, but there are very few Coyotes in Cherokee country. Plus, the Southern tribes' trixter is Rabbit.Right, and I believe it's Iktomi in Lakota lore. He mentions Iktomi a couple times, but only as an evil spirit.I recommended the book to Rob. It was my first introduction to Native anything, and the idea that there were other ways to deal with illness, which I suspected to be true, was life changing for me. Medrona does have mixed Lakota/Cherokee ancestry. He has been accused of telling too much in the book, in terms of ceremonies. But I have a Lakota friend who is a veteran. He said Madrona came by and visited the vets and was a very caring person.

In terms of learning that spirits/ceremonies can be helpful in healing, it would help a lot of people to understand there really are other ways that can work, including the mind/body that Rob mentions. I referred the book to Rob based on his agnosticism. I thought it would be interesting for him to read of cases where spirituality is a proven healer.
I'm not convinced spirits or spirituality did the healing. Mehl-Madrona combines a bunch of treatments, including diet, relaxation, massage, visualization, and botanical remedies. He convinced patients they needed the elaborate ceremonies, but he might've achieved the same results without them. All I'd say is that he persuaded the patients' minds to contribute to their bodies' defenses.

It's basically the placebo affect, but dressed up in ceremonies. Placebos have proved to work in many cases. Were the ceremonies and "spirits" necessary to cure people, or did activating their defenses by whatever means do the trick? That's the question here.We have a thread on Mehl-Madrona at NAFPS. The guy is basically assimilated with no knowledge of his heritage so he relies on New Age. This supposed academic endorses several really obvious impostors like Maria Naylin/Yraceburu, so it's apparent he knows very little.Note: NAFPS is New Age Frauds & Plastic Shamans. And yes, Mehl-Madrona is uncritical of everyone and everything that's allegedly Native.

It would be interesting to hear his thoughts on New Agers in general. And to hear what a Lakota medicine man who scorns New Agers thinks of this book.

For more on New Age beliefs and practices, see Serpent Mound Vandalized with Crystals and Tonto as a "Spirit Warrior."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds dreadful. Glad you're enjoying the Klingon book, though.