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The Shamanic Understanding of the Immune System

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The immune system is such a complex network of physiological processes that it is impossible to address all the aspects in such a short article. Because of this I am only going to give the simplest and briefest explanations as to how the immune system works and then concentrate on the more shamanic and emotional influences that can cause it to work in ways that are dysfunctional. Therefore, the main information of this article will be outside the purview of Western Medicine that knows little about these matters.

Let’s get started. The immune system is a complicated network of cells and proteins that acts as a defense system protecting the body from infections. Specialized white blood cells, B + T lymphocytes also known as memory cells record every microbe that they fought and defeated throughout your life so that they can immediately recognize and destroy it if it attempts to enter your body again.

Your immune system is made up of chemicals, cells, and specialized organs that fight germs and the infections they create. These consist of your bone marrow that creates blood cells, your spleen, your thymus, your lymphatic system, white blood cells and antibodies. Since germs mutate to dodge your immune system, battles with colds and flus have to be fought over and over during the course of your life. Therefore, you only have immunity from the germs that are basically the same as your body fought before.

In addition to lymphocytes, there are also killer cells and many other types in the immune defense system. There are also antibodies that fight off pathogens associated with parasitical microbes or germ chemicals. Antibodies look for and mark the microbes as enemies to be destroyed and then the white blood killer cells go on search-and-destroy missions and launch immune system attacks on fungi, bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Various proteins complement the work done by antibodies. Your lymph nodes or glands trap microbes allowing the white blood cells to kill them. Your spleen removes microbes as well as damaged red blood cells, and helps to make antibodies and white blood cells.

At the risk of dramatically oversimplifying that is all I am going to say about the anatomy and physiology of the immune system. You can read all you wish to in the medical literature.

Now let’s turn our attention briefly to common disorders of the immune system. There are several main types including immunodeficiencies, underperforming immune systems that are either inherited or caused by vaccines, chemotherapy, medications and the like or by certain diseases like AIDS and cancer.

Then there are the overperforming types of dysfunctions including allergic diseases to foods, insect stings, plant pollens and oils resulting in hay fever, eczema, dermatitis, hives, running eyes, sneezing, shortness of breath and in severe cases closing of the throat. Next are autoimmune disorders where the immune system attacks organs of the body and harms or destroys them including MS, Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes type one, thyroid disease and vasculitis. Since the overperforming immune systems are more related to emotional responses I am going to focus more on these.

Since immunization and vaccines are a huge topic of their own I will not speak here about them.

The Shamanic understanding of the immune system
Your immune system is not other than you, not an enemy, not something that operates without your complicity or knowledge at some level. In fact, your immune system, being a part of you, operates to total compliance to what you ask of it on a subconscious level. It is one of your body’s greatest allies and without it you would not last more than a few days in this body.  If this is true, how then does your immune system become a deadly force that can be seen as attempting to kill you or make you miserable?

Because allopathic medicine specializes so much and focuses on body parts it no longer sees body parts as functioning integrally with the whole system. For allopathic medicine body parts and systems can be isolated and targeted if they “seem” to be behaving in dysfunctional ways. For example, an overactive immune system can be targeted by steroids that will reduce inflammation temporarily but do nothing for the actual cause of the overactivity. To understand further what the problem might be, all we have to do is look at what the immune system is doing. Either the immune system is functioning perfectly as it should, attacking real threats and relaxing when nothing threatening is present or it is overreacting. If it is overreacting then there are two possibilities. Either it is exaggerating a normal response with a kind of overkill response resulting in cytokine storms, severe inflammation, and other symptoms or it is attacking perfectly healthy tissue and posing a threat to the persons life.

The question is, why is the immune system overreacting? Here is the shamanic understanding. The immune system is an elemental and all elementals (elements of earth) take instructions from a source that tells them how to behave. That source is Spirit itself or something that represents Spirit like aspects of mother nature or a human being. With the proper techniques human beings can influence storms, winds, rain, and yes, even fire. Certainly, they can give instructions to elements of their own bodies. For example, certain Tibetan lamas can control their body temperature to the degree that they can be naked in freezing cold temperatures in the Himalayas. Through self-hypnosis and biofeedback humans can alter their physiology to a high degree. So, shamanically speaking, people do control their immune systems whether they are conscious of it or not.

According to the Toltecs of ancient Mexico, people are either motivated to live in which case they age very slowly or they are motivated to die in which case they age very quickly. This range can be reduced to simple ratios. Since human beings have various subpersonalities they may be ambivalent if they want to live or die. Let’s say that most of you wants to live, perhaps 95% of you does. Another 5% of you is discouraged and you just want to give up at times. You will then age quite slowly. But if 25% of you wants to live and 75% of you is tired of living and deeply discouraged then you will age quickly because your body is being given the predominant message that you want to die. If your immune system receives that message it will follow instructions and begin to kill you by attacking your organs. It is complying with the message that you are wanting to commit suicide. This is what is happening when people have autoimmune disorders.

Let us look now at allergic responses of the body, hay fever, eczema, allergic reactions to beestings, foods, and so on. These are cases of immune systems overreacting by having too strong of an otherwise normal response. These types of responses are what kill many people with Covid 19. These are mostly exaggerated fear responses. The immune system gets the message from the person that they are in grave danger of attack or harm by pollens of various plants, peanuts, various foods, insects stings etc. In other words, the person is hypervigilant, filled with anxiety, and at a subconscious level commands the immune system to pull out all the stops and launch massive attacks. Why would they be so fearful? There can be many reasons for this. They may have been killed by a swarm of bees in a recent past life. They may have been poisoned by an enemy in a recent lifetime. Their fear of pollens, perfumes, smells of all types, and foods may symbolically represent their fear of attack from people who have harmed them in childhood, in past lives, or otherwise.  Symbols play an important part in the psyches of human beings. From this perspective we can see that there may be nothing at all wrong with the immune system. It is performing as it is commanded to perform subconsciously. The problem is with excessive fear and with the confusion of a symbol representing a different fear.

From the standpoint of shamanism the cures would be found not in steroids and medications but in identifying and clearing the real fear or in supporting someone to want to live as opposed to wanting to die.

In some instances, allergies are a result of genetics. For example a person may be lacking a gene for processing histamines or processing certain minerals in the body. The question is why are they lacking this gene or why is the gene switched off instead of on? This usually has to do with ancestral patterns that the person agreed to prior to birth. In other words, in a shamanic perspective there are no accidents. If this was agreed to be adopted then why and what is the pattern generated by distant ancestors to be resolved? That can be determined and changed using specific techniques to neutralize the age-old patterns and reverse them. Each lifetime a person agrees to heal some patterns carried over from ancestors for the purpose of healing and being of service to generation in the past and future.
Let’s take a quick look at immune deficiency problems where the immune system is weak or does not respond with enough defense.

Shamanically and psychologically speaking these may be manifestations on a physical level involving deeper lessons about lack of discernment or having better boundaries. In cases where it is the result of medications or vaccines and the like there may be karma involved. And of course immune deficiency may involve ancestral patterns to be reversed as well.

Now let us look at the bigger picture. The immune system is a system of defense against attack by foreign agents.  As long as human beings see threats in their environment the more they are motivated to defend themselves against them. These defenses exist on many levels. They may literally be fortresses or fortifications bristling with weapons, nuclear arsenals, air forces, navies, armies and such. They may be fences, barriers, barbed wire, heavily fortified walls and the like. Psychologically they may be defense mechanisms like projection, denial, reaction formation, blame, vengefulness, attack, withdrawal and the like. All these are based on the fear of attack, of harm, of being killed. Just like our immune systems we may exaggerate the response by going to war, engaging in horrendous conflicts instead of engaging in diplomacy. Since fear is in the realm of the ego or false personality it always wants to up the ante. Essence has no need of defenses because essence is never ever afraid of anything. It is never afraid because it is never attached to anything that it must cling to feel safe.

One day the world will need no more walls, armies, arsenals, and the like because there will be no more fear. When that happens the personalities will no longer need defenses because they will no longer be afraid and attached to their weapons. Perhaps when that happens the body’s immune system will no longer be dysfunctional because it will relax and only take care of the minimum it has to. Imagine that.

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José Stevens

José Luis Stevens, PhD is the president and co-founder (with wife Lena) of Power Path Seminars, an international school and consulting firm dedicated to the study and application of shamanism and indigenous wisdom to business and everyday life. José completed a ten-year apprenticeship with a Huichol (Wixarika) Maracame (Huichol shaman) in the Sierras of Central Mexico. In addition, he is studying with Shipibo shamans in the Peruvian Amazon and with Paqos (shamans) in the Andes in Peru. In 1983 he completed his doctoral dissertation at the California Institute of Integral Studies focusing on the interface between shamanism and western psychological counseling. Since then, he has studied cross-cultural shamanism around the world to distill the core elements of shamanic healing and practice. He is the author of twenty books and numerous articles including Encounters With Power, Awaken The Inner Shaman, The Power Path, Secrets of Shamanism, Transforming Your Dragons and Praying With Power.