Hearing Voices and Visions by Lewis Mehl-Madrona.

I found this excellent article on hearing voices and visions on the internet. Written by Lewis Mehl Madrona he reminds us all that hearing voices was not always considered universally as mental illness and was sometimes dealt eith more efficiently by healers than the medication now used.

See the full article here on the Futurehealth website 

He has his own website here www.mehl-madrona.com

Here is an extract.

In our contemporary world of North America, hearing voices is the only “symptom” that immediately and single-handedly qualifies one for the DSM (Diagnostical and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association) diagnosis of psychosis.   We could qualify this as more correctly referring to the acknowledgement of hearing voices to a professional empowered by the State to make diagnoses in a context in which diagnosing occurs.   Thus, Moses could not have been psychotic, for no psychologists or relevant State laws existed to diagnose him.   A famous quote says, “When we talk to God, it’s called prayer; when God talks to us, it’s called hallucinations.”

Throughout recorded history, people have seen visions and have heard the voices of Angels, Gods, or others.   Only recently have these experiences (or the reporting of them) become pathological.   With the emergency of modern science and the ascendency of materialism, anything smacking of spirits or of the supernatural is suspicious or pathological. In Arizona, a recent archbishop for the Roman Catholic Church definitively declared that the Virgin Mary is no longer seen.   Hundreds of Mexicans didn’t read enough English to disagree with him.   Divine communication and contact was sought, cultivated, and treasured until very recently, and is still desired within many indigenous communities.

However, today, many people live on the shadow side of hearing voices and having visions.   These people constantly hear berating, deprecatory voices, who won’t leave them alone.   These people suffer tremendously.   They become unable to function, so much so that relatives or well-meaning friends take them to the emergency department or to the mental health center for help.   In another time and place, a traditional healer might be asked to cast out a demon or remove a curse or retrieve the soul that has wandered away, causing the soul to be stuck in spirit world and the body to express its urgent cries for help.   Today, the contemporary interpretation centers around people with defective brains that need medication.

In his book, Crazy Like Us: The Americanization of Mental Health,” Ethan Watters writes about the damage to people in Zimbabwe when hearing voices and having visions became medicalized.   Prior to that, people were taken to healers who had a consistent explanatory story about spirit contact.   Participation of all parties in this story and its prescriptions for enactment often resulted in resolution of the problem, with greater honor coming to the hearer of voices and the deliverer of visions.   With the replacement of this idea by the defective brain story, the quality of people’s lives deteriorated and recovery became much less possible.   The traditional Zimbabwean explanations included the possibility of recovery and wellness.   They also included dignity and respect for the person brought to the healer.   The new biomedical stories did not include recovery from defective brain conditions; nor did they fail to stigmatize those whom they described.   People were not better off following the Americanization of mind and mental health in Zimbabwe.

The voices that my diagnosed clients hear are not kind, for the most part.   They are not uplifting or transformative.   They convey no positive messages.   What do they say?   One client related some of the continual litany chanted by her voices:

“You’re going to hell.”

“I’m not going to stop tormenting you until you’re a corpse.”

“You’re fat and ugly.”

“You should kill yourself so you can stop taking up space.”

“You don’t even deserve the air that you breathe.”

“Why don’t you just hold your breath until you die.”

The list goes on and on.   Her voices were always female (Later, over weeks, we would discover that they were the voices of her female relatives which she had internalized.)

What differentiates my “patient” population from the rest of us who hear voices?   Is it the uniform inclusion of negative, mean, unkind voices?   The exception to this occurs with people who are diagnosed as manic, some of whom only hear joyful, celebratory, elated voices.   That would be fine, except that they often lose judgment about how to report their elation and what to do about.   A well known movie shows a man in a state of elation, going to a symphony concern, and getting up onto the stage to take over conducting, because he was guided to do so to produce more spiritual music.   Admirable, but not condoned.

I suspect that the people who are diagnosed begin with the gift to tune into other dimensions and to be extra sensitive to other states of consciousness, but that trauma causes their reception to get stuck on the negative.   One of my clients hears the voices of racism.   These voices are social stories that she has internalized due to her great sensitivity, but it would be better for her if she were to leave combating racism to those who are stronger than she is. The stories overburden her and cause her to collapse.   She ends up believing that everyone is making negative, racist comments about her, which is actually not happening, at least as far as I can determine.   Nevertheless, if we bracket for the moment the materialist paradigm in which their voices are the product of deranged brains, we arrive upon some very interesting ontological questions about the dimensions from which these voices arrive and the ontological status of the beings behind these voices.   These questions become practical when we begin the work of reducing the influence of the voices upon people or the suffering that they experience from these voices.

Elders have told me that the suffering of modern people from voices and visions exist because modern people have lost the stories needed to manage such experiences.   Two Huichol elders told me they would not give a modern person peyote for at least a year and only after that person had learned all the stories and songs deemed necessary by the elders to manage the visions that might be offered by the Spirit of Peyote.

Stories work that way.   They tell us how to interpret experience.   Without such stories, we could be overcome by the power and intensity of the peyote experience.   Then we could really get into trouble if we fell back into our own American cultural stories of heaven and hell, angels and demons, and we might either require extensive babysitting until we came out of it, or we might get noticed by the authorities and taken to hospital or jail.

So we need stories about how to manage voices and visions in order to manage them.   These stories create a normalizing context for voices and visions within which their messages and meanings can be interpreted and understood.  

Telling people that their voices are not real is not a good story.   It doesn’t work.   Patients tell me over and over how very real the voices are -” as clear as mine.   They don’t accept the story that their voices are hallucinations.   They sound too real, too genuine.   While we can speculate about the realms from which these voices originate, the key concept in helping people to manage voices is the understanding that, wherever these voices originate, they have no physical power in ordinary reality.   They can’t kill you.   They can’t harm you.   They can’t harm anyone else.   They actually can’t do anything at all.   Their only power is to convince you to do harmful things to yourself or others. They are like the Lakota Iktomi character who is the evil spirit of that culture, and who has no direct power to intervene in human affairs, only the power of trickery and flattery.   Voices are like that, and this realization is of major importance in helping people to reduce the suffering related to their voices.   It’s easier to ignore negative voices once we know that they don’t actually have any power in this dimension, no matter how real they sound.

Another group of clients, however, acknowledge a tonal difference between my voice and their voices, a qualitative difference.     They know the difference between the voices of ordinary reality and these other voices.   They may still suffer enormously from these other voices, but can distinguish them as different.   In some ways, they are easier to help.   The awareness of difference can more quickly lead to the awareness of the impotence of the voices.

In some respects, I do envy the position of my clients as being more solidly in other realities than our consensual one.   I have to work much harder to hear voices.   I have to use mindfulness meditation techniques to empty my mind so that I can detect others in the stillness.   I have to work at turning off my own chatter.   I usually feel   moderately confident that I hear the voice of an “Other” when what the voice says is startling or novel, something unexpected that I hadn’t previously considered.   Another clue to the presence of an “Other” for me is when I have deep physiological responses to the voice -” a sense of deep inner peace, a sense of compassionate wisdom, a deep feeling of relaxation.   Unfortunately, my patients don’t have these marvelous feelings or wise communications.   Most of their voices are negative and only productive of suffering.   Their voices are intrusive.

Like everyone, I have what could be called intrusive thoughts at times.   Standing on a balcony, I have had the thought to jump.   Who hasn’t?   Unlike my clients, however, I have techniques to stop these thoughts and to turn my awareness elsewhere.   The balcony is an interesting example.   I suspect we have these thoughts because we can fly in our dreams.   We can jump off tall buildings and survive.   Part of being “sane” is being able to maintain an awareness of which coordinate system currently constrains us and to act accordingly.   I know better than to jump off a building when I’m awake (and I know when I’m awake and when I’m not).   I have a client who didn’t have this awareness and who fell five stories.   Luckily he survived, but not without some permanent disability.   People who get diagnosed with schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders have minimally good means of managing intrusive thoughts or intrusive voices.   They have to learn, and rarely does anyone want to teach them.   The conventional biomedical position is that medications will solve this, but, rarely does this happen.   Patients continue to suffer from their voices but learn to tell their doctors that they’re fine lest the dosages be raised high enough to turn them into zombies.

There is more of this excellent article on the website

“The Insatiable Moon”- a NZ Movie

I went and saw this movie on Sunday night. What a great movie it was too. Filmed around Grey Lynn and Ponsonby it is a movie based on the book by Mike Riddell. It is inspired by real experiences. At the heart of the film is a boarding house where ex psychiatric patients live, as the asylums have closed. Arthur, is one of these boarders. He says he hears the voice of God and that he is the second son of God.

A real gem. It is a film that has a very respectful way about it. Showing the importance of compassion in our material world.

You can see the review from the NZ Herald here here is an excerpt

And there were the twilight people: mainly men, they were the product of the new “community mental health” initiatives, unreliably medicated psychiatric patients living on benefits in the boarding houses that were a feature of the landscape.

Mike Riddell knows something of that demi-monde because he moved in it. A theologian by training, he was the vicar at the Ponsonby Baptist Church in Jervois Rd, a ministry in which he often rubbed shoulders with the psych patients. I recall a moving funeral service he conducted there for a childhood friend of mine, Alan Stimpson, a florid, gentle-giant schizophrenic who had taken his own life.

“People like Alan would have a social welfare grant to pay for their funeral,” Riddell recalls, “but it wasn’t enough. So we had an arrangement with an undertaker that he would lend us a coffin so we could put on a funeral and then they’d bury him in something more modest.

The Baptist system is a fairly miserable bloody denomination in some ways but the Ponsonby Baptist Church happened to be a group of people who were a bit more broadminded and interested in people. There was so much humanity and humour at those funerals. They were great.”

Just such a funeral is a central scene in The Insatiable Moon and it’s filmed at Ponsonby Baptist – “It was the director of photography’s decision because he liked the inside of the church,” says Riddell.

One character’s eulogy consists of repaying the deceased’s many kindnesses by laying a cigarette on the coffin lid. “That’s a tailor-made too,” she adds for emphasis.

So it goes without saying that The Insatiable Moon is a portrait drawn from life. Riddell wrote it as a novel and then, over several years, adapted it into the screenplay for the film which an opening title describes as “inspired by Arthur of Ponsonby”.

“Arthur lived in a boarding house that doesn’t exist any more down Shelly Beach Rd,” says Riddell. “He was a lovely guy, a big fella with long hair, who looked a bit like [Tuhoe prophet and activist] Rua Kenana. He was illiterate but very engaging and charismatic, a fluent Maori speaker.

“He used to come into the vicarage sometimes and ask me to tell people that he was the second son of God, so we used to have great conversations. And after one of those sessions I thought: ‘Gee, what if he is the second son of God? How would I know?’ And that was the creative spark for the story.”

To say that it sounds improbable, even banal, is to understate matters. But Riddell makes it work, both by his unforced skill as a writer and the deep humanity of the story.

The same humanity infuses the film, one of the most modest Kiwi flicks in a long time, but one that gets under your skin. A cast to die for includes Rawiri Paratene as Arthur (when people say “Lovely day”, he replies “Thanks. Glad you like it”; Sara Wiseman as Margaret, a social worker whose marital crisis puts her on a collision course with Arthur; a terrific Ian Mune as an unrepentant dero; and show-stealer Greg Johnson, as the cheerfully foul-mouthed and relentlessly good-hearted proprietor of the boarding house that is home to Arthur and the other psych patients. And the story, a winning mix of pathos, humour and, well, wonder, concerns the challenge posed to Arthur’s celestial pedigree when the boarding house is threatened with closure.”

 The official website is here http://www.theinsatiablemoon.com/

Here is the trailer

Kehua (Ghost Souls) from Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868-1961

After posting about Fay Weldons book, I thought it would be good to explore what a Kehua is in Maori culture. I cam across this interesting article from the Transaction and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868- 1961

Chapter 37 1904 by Eldson Best

When a Maori dies, the wairua, or dream-ghost, or soul, which during life could leave the body and wander at large when its owner slept, becomes a kehua. “Kehua,” says Best, “are the spirits of the dead which revisit their former haunts of this world and make things unpleasant for the living. Kehua appear to return to earth generally during the night-time—they dread sunlight and the light of fires. Some say the wairua, or ghost of a dead person, remains here as a kehua or atua whakahaehae until the body is buried; it then descends to Hades.”

Kehua are said by some to be invisible, and capable of acting benevolently or in a hostile manner upon men. They can communicate with mortals; they eat and drink, wander about the village; they can see and hear what is going on about them. In fact, these disembodied spirits retain many of the characteristics of their living fellow-men.

Ghosts of the dead are invisible except to people who are asleep, or to priests in a state of trance. Tohungas, who possess clairvoyant powers (matakite or matatuhi), sometimes saw a whole host of ghosts of the dead (kehua) traversing space. Such a company was termed a tira māka or kahui atua, and the object of their visiting this world was to acquaint living persons with the fact that some disaster or death was imminent. Tohungas would drive them away to avert the evil. It was a common thing for spirits of the dead to appear to their living relatives in order to warn them of evil. Should a person dream that he is chased by the ghost of a dead person, and the kehua from the Po (Hades) catches him, that is an evil omen; he may soon take ill and die. When a kehua appears to the wairua (dream-ghost) of a living person it is anthropomorphic, but when it appears at the request of its medium—say, at a spiritualistic seance—it assumes the form of a spider or lizard, &c. It can also make its appearance as a shadow of a sun-ray. Ghosts of the dead were said to have returned to this world in the form of butterflies. In Samoa they are said to return in the form of moths. The Maori ghost, like the Australian, often revisits the spot where his bones are deposited. “Sometimes,” said Beviuk, a New South Wales black, “the murup comes back to this world and looks down into his grave, and may say, ‘Hallo, there is my old’ possum rug; there are my old bones.’ “If a Maori trespassed on a burial-ground the ghosts of those interred there would punish him with disease, and perhaps death. Their presence is said to be made known generally by a whistling sound. A breath of warm air felt while travelling at night is a sign of the near presence of a kehua.

 Irirangi is the term applied to a spirit-voice heard singing without, when at night the people are within their houses: it is an omen of evil import. Shortland says the voice of ancestral ghosts is not like that of mortals, but a kind of sound—half whistle, half whisper. He had a conference with the ghosts of two chiefs who had been several years dead, and was assured that such was always the peculiar voice of atua when they talk with man. Other Europeans have had similar intercourse with Maori ghosts, and one need hardly explain that the mysterious voice was in every case the ventriloquistic utterance of the spirit’s medium. I have already pointed out that the kehua become hungry like ordinary mortals, and Taylor states that they were thought to feed on flies and filth; but they also had the spirit of the kumara and taro (?).

When a Maori dies his wairua (soul) leaves the body, and either remains near the corpse or goes away to the lower world. In either case it can return, and, re-entering the corpse, bring it to life again. If the kehua goes to the nether regions it may be sent back to this world by its relatives, for the purpose of caring for its children who have been left without a guardian owing to the parents’ death, but no soul can return to earth if in Hades it eats of the food of the denizens of that region.

The tohungas have elaborate ceremonies by means of which they restore the soul to a person just dead, but the feat is rarely performed, because the necessary astrological juxtapositions are rare favourable. The ancient Greeks offered the ghost fresh blood, that it might for a time be called back into life and answer questions—a conception which gave birth to the practice of raising the dead and asking oracles of them. By performing the hirihiri divination rite over a corpse the Maoris were enabled to consult the kehua or wairua of the dead person, and gain information as to the cause of its death. I have already referred to the hosts of ancestral ghosts sometimes seen by the matakite or clairvoyant seer: these companies of spirits were called apa hau by the Tuhoe people, and they were represented in the living world by some living relative, who was the medium (kauwaka or kaupapa) through which such spirits communicated with, and acted as guardians of, their living relatives. A single person may be the medium of the kehua of many deceased relatives. Such kehua or wairua do not abide with the medium, but visit him when they have anything to communicate. The medium may be quite a common person, of no standing in the tribe until he becomes a medium.

That is only a small excerpt, read the whole article here on the National Library of New Zealand website.

RAIN OF THE CHILDREN- BY VINCENT WARD on Maori TV tonight Sunday 4th July 8.30pm

Rain of the Children  a great New Zealand drama documentary made by New Zealander Vincent Ward is showing on Maori TV tonight Sunday 4th July in NZ at 8.30pm. You can see the trailer below

I reviewed it in one of the HVN newsletters. Here is my review

” Rain of the Children is a fascinating movie. It is the telling of the story of a Tuhoe woman Puhi. Vincent Ward stayed with Puhi and her mentally ill son when he was first starting out as a film maker. The movie includes footage that he took at this time.

This latest movie is his attempt to go back and tell the story of the life of Puhi and her son Nikki and to make sense of it. Puhi was the bride of the son of the Maori prophet Rua Kenana.  The movie contains excellent photos of the settlement they built. Creating a fascinating rendition of the life that Puhi led. It carefully illustrates the trauma and upheaval that the Maori people faced during the colonisation of New Zealand.  Everything about their former way of lives were challenged, their religion, beliefs, and their very survival as many of their people died from disease brought by the European settlers.

Amongst the trauma, Puhi has many events happen that lead everyone to believe that she has been cursed. She is shown years later walking along constantly praying, to keep the curse from affecting her and her family.

Her son hears voices. According to the movie, one day he became lost in the forest. He was lost for several days. When he was finally found and returned to his family  he was hearing voices. He also had a very special bond with animals and his family believed that he had been taken by the “Patupairehe”and explores some of Maori beliefs in this area.

  It is a mixture of re-enactment and actual footage, which together creates a story that is well worth watching, if only to gain a better understanding of what Maori went through at the time and to wonder how these effects may be felt today.”

A great watch.

Seminar on Cultural Perspectives has a fourth speaker!

I am delighted to say that we now have four speakers for our Seminar Cultural Perspectives & Considerations on June 26th 1 to 4pm.

Whitiki Maurea MOKO Maori Mental Health & Te Atea Marino Maori Regional Addictions Services will be represented by Timoti George who has had over 40 years experience in the field as a Clinician, Kaiako, Director and Manager.

” For Maori, senses that are triggered in the absence of stimuli is considered a common and normal phenomena. It is not seen as an abnormal state but instead as an indication of that individuals level of connectedness to their ancestors or those who have passed on or are in the process of returning home. Central to this is the Maori belief that they are ‘Spiritual Beings’ having a human experience”

 I attended a group only this week where Timoti George was speaking and enjoyed it very much. He is very knowledgeable and has a wealth of experience on this topic from which he draws from. I am looking forward to hearing his presentation next weekend. The spaces are filling up fast, so if you are thinking of coming you had better book quickly.

Cultural Perspectives on Hearing Voices June 26th 2010

The Hearing Voices Network are holding an afternoon on Culturual Perspectives on Hearing Voices. We have three great speakers. David Lui I have heard before at a conference. A very interesting speaker on the Pacific Island view of spirit and spirituality in general. He has a great piece in the book Penini Uliuli. You can read an excerpt from the book here

Sneh Prasad has a great deal of knowledge on the ‘Oriental’ Perspective. I spent some time with her when we were planning an article for the website based on a previous talk I had attended. You can see that article here 

Ivan Yeo will talk to us about the Chinese view of psychosis.When I asked him what he would speak about he said this: Chinese see health as a single entity instead of the Western medical model of dualism, which is physical and mental health. Chinese culture has been strongly influenced by Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. How do such perspectives influence the view of mental illness and mental health?

We would really like to have a speaker on the Maori perspective , but have not been able to find anyone who is willing to talk to for us.

However all in all it is looking to be a great afternoon. It will be held at Connect SR 215 Wairau Rd Glenfield from 1pm to 4pm.

All are welcome to come along. But please book, so we know the numbers for afternoon tea. ctc details and our flier can be downloaded from our website www.hearingvoices.org.nz

The Hearing Voices Network aotearoa NZ will hold their AGM afterwards.