Shamanism, often considered to be the oldest of the healing professions, makes use of voice, drum, and rattles to communicate with the spirit world, seeking its positive healing energy for a patient. The human voice is the most common means used to summon the spirit worlds.
In our Native American cultures, specific ‘songs’ are used for healing and these are passed down from one generation to the next. Each culture, having its own traditions, also has its songs.
When one first hears a shaman’s song, one can’t help but feel the words all sound the same. Much of this may be due to the imitation in movies and television programs. The standard song appears to be “Ah Hey Ya” or something similar to “Ye Ha No Ha.” A careful listening reveals the sounds are the vowel sounds of A, E, I O, and U. During the chanting of these sounds; the sound of each vowel is elongated and is sung with specific intent-the intent to heal an ill patient. Each vowel has its own meaning.
As tradition dictates, the four directions are acknowledged. The vowel A represents Earth and refers to the direction North. E represents Air and the direction of East; I represents Fire and the direction South, O represents water and the direction West. The vowel of O represents the aether and significantly it refers to being about. Once the four directions and the aether are recognized, the vowel sounds shift in use and meaning. The vowel sound of A is for purification while I emphasizes our relationship to all things (living and nonliving), E, brings a connection to the spirit world, and U takes the shaman into the spirit’s presence. O invokes the idea of innocence.
During the singing, the shaman may accompany himself with a drum beat or the beat of a rattle. A helper may beat the drum or shake the rattles. During this time, the shaman may dance around the patient.
Because of modern science, we have a better understanding of what the physical aspects of sound have on the human being. Simply, all things are vibrating molecules. When we are ill, those vibrations get out of sync. The shaman and his chanting and his drums connect to that vibration and realign the natural harmonics of the body; thus, allowing it to heal itself.
Norman W Wilson, PhD