Written by Jeanne Achterberg,
Comparing the Old and New
Review by Gunnel Minett
In the first part of this book Jeanne Achterberg gives a comprehensive overview of shamanism worldwide and of the development of modern medicine. By doing so she offers an excellent opportunity to make interesting comparisons between the development of the two approaches to healing.
In particular it is interesting to see how modern medicine has developed from roots very similar to shamanism, what it still has in common
with traditional healing and where, and in particular why, it has chosen to develop in certain areas, and abandon other areas or ideas. Being able to compare one approach with the other, it soon also becomes obvious how much of modern medical development has been influenced by social power structures and a striving to control the knowledge in this area. Not surprisingly, since knowledge of how to cure illness automatically gives high status and power in any society, old and new. In chapter two of this book, where Achterberg presents the history of Western medicine, she includes details of how traditional healing was stopped in most European countries around 500 years ago. The traditional folk-medicine was passed on from generation to generation and consisted of a wide knowledge of healing herbs and plants etc. as well as personal healing powers, and was mainly performed by wise men and women detected to have special healing powers. This form of healing was stopped by the church and ruling classes in each country who jointly took over this knowledge and instituted laws to control who and how medicine could be carried out. This is particularly interesting since, although the scenario is different today, the same principles still apply to the current situation of so called alternative or complementary medicine, which is facing stricter regulation and restrictions in a number of countries around the world.
Throughout the book Achterberg highlights the role of imagery in the healing process and in the final part of the book the author looks at science and imagination in the form of physiology and biochemistry. She also compares behavioural and social science in a chapter on imagination and psychotherapy. In the final chapter she examines mind and disease.
Throughout the book a vast range of research is presented in each respective area, both carried out by Achterberg and others.
This book offers a lot more than just a study of the role of imagery in healing. I recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone interested in, or working in the field of conventional and / or alternative or complementary medicine as a very good overview of the history of healing in all its forms.
Shambhala Boston& London 2002 ISBN 1-570620-934-X