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A man in traditional native american garb recording into a gramophone

Sound Ritual: Healing Through Ancient Indian Song


The collection of curative songs of ancient Native Americans on Folkways Records shows only one of the dimensions that nature uses to heal: music.

For millennia, shamanism has been central to the traditional medicine of the Indian cultures of the Americas. Many of these knowledgeable men and women found their healing methods via dreams, that state of sensitivity that Artaud described as an “alchemical virtue.” Through the dreamlike visions, the shaman could cure diseases, predict fate and console the anguish of the human unconscious. In the realm of dreams, healers introduced songs and mantras to alleviate illness and distress.

Since 1907, ethnographer Frances Densmore devoted herself to researching and collecting these songs throughout North America. Her collection amounted to some 2,000 recordings of distinct Indian lineages that’s remained part of the archive in The Library of Congress. According to Densmore, these Indian doctors used sound frequencies as methods of healing. “Spirit to spirit” vibrations apparently connected with “secret sounds” discovered in dreams by the shaman.

Densmore warned that the shaman would listen only in isolation, as this was how they increased an awareness of nature and a feeling of empathy with every living creature, and this allowed them to heal. In fact, a shaman claimed that his or her “source of power” was usually an animal (a bird or some other creature known for its implacable strength) or another natural element that connects with the body though vibrations (such as air or water).

Folkways Records, dedicated to rescuing the original spirit of American folklore through sound, collected Densmore’s recordings onto an album in 1965. Healing Songs of the American Indians can be heard on the Folkways site.

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