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Thread: Healing and Norvegian Folk Medicine

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    Healing and Norvegian Folk Medicine

    Healing in Norway Source
    by Else Egeland, RN

    Healing has been part of traditional folk medicine here, as in all cultures. Healing has also been an important part of the Norwegian Sami culture. Both the medicine of the Sami people and Norwegian folk medicine in general suffered under pressure form the church and the medical profession for several hundred years, but has still survived up to our time. We estimate there are about 50 healers practicing healing full time (in a nation of only 4 million people, with lots of space for each of us), and several hundred healers working part time. Approximately 4 % of the population has visited a healer.

    Healing is legal in Norway. We have no legislation directly regulating complementary medicine. Since 1936 there has been a 'quackery law’, which restricts anyone other than medical doctors from advertising the ability to treat or cure specific diseases. The law also reserves exclusively for doctors the treatment (including diagnosing or giving advice) of cancer, diabetes, venereal diseases, tuberculosis, dangerous anaemias, epidemic diseases and goiter. It is actually illegal to pray for these people to get well, if the healing of the exclusive condition is the main issue of the prayer. The medical monopoly might, after pressure from the medical lobby, be extended to all "serious disease". At the same time, holistic therapies like healing do not treat isolated symptoms. We treat whole living beings. We now openly receive e.g. people with cancer, but do not promise any effect on specific medically diagnosed disease.

    The Norwegian Healers Association was founded in 1994, and has been working to set a minimum standard for healers, and to make healing acceptable as a natural, valuable and health promoting therapy with a rightful place in our society. As in most countries, healing has been ridiculed and generally given a less positive focus in the media. Healing has been seen as mysterious to the larger part of the public, even to healers themselves, and was usually the method they use only when all else had failed. Attitudes are changing, though. Since 1994 the media has begun to express a more positive and open-minded attitude to healing, and we have more and more people consulting healers.

    Many are attending healing workshops to awaken their awareness and develop their own healing potentials. There is a growing interest in holistic views on health and disease, and in our self-healing abilities. The biomedical model is increasingly seen as only one of many different paradigms, even in the health sciences. Healing is "taking off" in Norway and will, hopefully in the near future, be acknowledged for what it truly is -- one of the most potent and cost effective health-promoting therapies known on this planet.

    Until recently, the medical profession generally showed little interest in healing. In 1997 the Norwegian Medical Association published a report on Alternative Medicine. They stated that, even though healing produces demonstrable effects, the results have to be dismissed because there is no rational (i.e. biomedical) explanation for the effect. "In the medical profession we want what we do to be both true in terms of rationally and logically understandable, and useful", (Alternativ behandling 1997). However, Doctors in general practice are usually more open-minded and accepting.

    Under public pressure, and following a unanimous request by the Norwegian parliament, the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs in April 1997 appointed a Committee to report on various aspects of Alternative Medicine. Their report was published in 1998. Though the committee was dominated by the majority of medical doctors and included no healers, they still concluded that healing was one of the three methods that had some degree of scientific evidence of effects, according to their very strict criteria. (The other two were acupuncture and homeopathy). This was a shocking discovery to many of the members of this Committee, we were told. Their conclusion on healing was that "The efficacy of healing cannot be dismissed, but no effectuation mechanism is known. The method is deemed conceivably effective, but it is not possible to say anything about the effect on specific diseases or groups of diseases."*. Interesting formulation, I think, but though a great move forward from 1993, when the health authorities proclaimed war on us.

    As a result of this report we now practice in peace, and a few healers have even been employed in hospitals and social care institutions. A hospital in Northern Norway has employed a healer. I was myself employed a year on a project to offer healing at a day-center for heroin-addicts. The Norwegian Cancer Society appointed an advisory board on complementary medicine two years ago; and one of the members is a healer. The Cancer Society arranged a major conference on complementary medicine in cancer last year, and one of the lectures was on the benefits of healing to people with cancer.

    The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs has recently established a center for studies of alternative medicine under the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Tromsř in Northern Norway. Healers will now have possibilities for research funding from both the Cancer Society and the official Norwegian research council.

    I believe that we need to educate researchers from the healing profession, to be able to contribute with our acquired experience and insights and, hopefully, to contribute to the coming birth of a new paradigm in health and medicine.


    Alternativ behandling. Den norske legeforening, Oslo 1997, page 107 (my translation).

    Alternative Medicine; NOU 1998-21: Link to English summary of the report:

    The Norwegian Healers Association:

    Else Egeland, RN has been a practicing healer since 1983. She was co-founder of The Norwegian Healers Association in 1994, secretary the first year, and chair from 1995-1999. She is studying health science at the University of Bergen. She is engaged in the foundation of a European umbrella organization for healers, and is interested in developing contacts with other healing organizations internationally.

    Quote:The Sami noaide was a person with strong mental and spiritual power. The noaide functioned as the siida-isit. He was a strong spiritual leader for his society in moral matters and could resolve disputes. He was also a healer, social worker and story teller.

    The Samis used both animal and vegetable products in their folk medicine. In cases of where a diagnosis was uncertain, the noiade sought advice by means of his shamanic drum, or runebommen. He was capable of transcending states of consciousness and could travel to other spiritual realms to cure sickness or prevent death. The traditional Sami music form yoik and beating on a runebommen contributed to such spiritual travels.

    This use of yoik is probably the reason why the song form was banned when Christianity appeared. Yet healers continue to operate in several Sami communities today. It is not uncommon for local health personnel and healers to work in unison. A healer's knowledge and authority can have a supplementary function to modern medical practice.

    Spiritual values contribute to well-being More at source
    Another component that has been mentioned as key in improving health among the indigenous peoples of the North is spirit.
    It was nearly a century ago that the mind was formally seen as topic of study, albeit separate from the physical aspects of the body. The field of psychology and later social work began to look at the mind and personal relationship environment as areas worthy of study. New techniques were devised to understand behavior. It became clear that
    behaviors could not be determined just by a person’s ethnic background, upraising, or patterns of bumps on the skull.

    There is no way currently to quantify love from one’s family or enthusiasm for a community organization, but these factors do influence resilience. Many northern people continue their firmly embedded tradition of relating to their ancestors as well as to a strong spiritual world.

    While most have shifted from the understanding of the Inua or life spirit, to the concept that the Holy Spirit passes among living things, there is still a strong respect for life and for those who have lived before.

    Thanks and acknowledgement are an important part of gathering local food, as is saying a blessing before many meals purchased in cans or plastic containers.

    New research in the field of complementary and alternative medicine indicates that the spiritual aspects of life contribute significantly to a person’s well-being (25, 26). In order to combine both the cultural and spiritual aspects of communities for addressing the well-being of
    the individual, there needs to be a change in the dynamics of the current medical models as applied in the eight Arctic nations.

    For some northern peoples, the spirit is maintained by consuming locally obtained foods. A recent review has found potential associations in the changing diet, a shift in key nutrients and subsequent brain development and function.
    The group proposes that an epidemiological study be done to further assess the possible link between food, mental health, and even suicide.

    Local control improves health services.

    Over the past four decades there has been a growing trend toward more local control of services in the Arctic. This includes home rule and tribal authority over the provision of health services. Two cases illustrate this trend, one from Norway and one from North America.

    In Norway the Saami Parliament has stated that they have the responsibility for developing a comprehensive health policy for the Saami, one which ensures respect for Saami patients and takes their special needs into consideration.

    In 1995, after considerable pressure from Saami health professionals and political bodies, the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs launched a white paper on integration of health and social services to the Saami population.
    In 2002, a four-year plan came into being, whose goal includes increasing the cultural competence of the health personnel working with Saami patients. Local as well as regional health service providers were invited to come forward with project proposals. In 1999, some of the
    money and responsibility of this program was transferred to the Saami Parliament. The evaluation of this program so far is generally positive.

    Even though health care to the Saami is to be integrated into the general provision of services, there are specialist programs in both physical and mental health that have additional obligations. These services came into existence because both individual Saami doctors and their own professional organization established the services as a private initiative.
    They also put political pressure on regional authorities to establish a psychiatric service in the Saami core area. This is an example of young people taking positions of leadership and responsibility in their own community. This fits well with the experience from other parts of the Arctic where welltrained young people taking positions of leadership and responsibility in their own communities will contribute more than any other single factor in ensuring a satisfactory future.

    In Sweden, Finland and Russia, there has not been a comparable development in health services. The Saami psychiatric and mental health services of Norway do, however, provide care in the northernmost part of Finland. These services are now in the process of becoming a national competence center in Norway;
    the Norwegian Saami Parliament’s goal is a national competence center that comprises physical health as well as research. There is currently a Saami research center, which is funded by the Ministry of Health until 2005. Though its locus is in a Saami community, organizationally it is part
    of the University of Tromsř.

    Throughout North America, tribal control of health care has been shown to increase client satisfaction, improve community awareness of health issues, and improve relationships between health care providers and local residents. One study has found improved health outcomes under local control; less rigorous studies have also shown indications of such
    trends .
    There are two distinct forms of the local empowerment process. One is psycho-political empowerment where local individuals receive the resources and authority from others to
    implement change. The other is psycho-symbolic empowerment, which raises selfesteem or the ability to cope, but where the local circumstances remain basically unchanged.

    So while there are indications of improved perception of health and well-being with more local control, there are great inconsistencies in the various nations and regions of the Arctic on how this local control is to be implemented and what its impacts may be.

    Trend summary

    The rapidly changing world of the peoples of the Arctic nations has been connected to health problems, especially to high suicide rates and stress.

    There is thus a need to establish and maintain an environment that promotes health. This environment is made up of physical, social/cultural, mental, and spiritual aspects.

    There are unique issues in each and every community and various peoples may have significantly different approaches for addressing the problems that they themselves identify. With greater local control of community service programs there is some apparent improvement in
    both the perception and the outcomes of healthpromoting activities. There needs therefore to be enough fiscal support to have quality programs and enough flexibility to allow for community ownership of the endeavors.

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    Interesting articles... however I wonder how much is still valid today and how the things are going on now.

    Also, I would like to know, if anyone can help searching for that, how is the situation of the alternative therapies in Norway now? And by alternative therapies I mean especially those that are most related to folkloric medicine...

    All folks have some sort of medical knowledge, mainly going along with their heathen believes... So, what's still left of the Norwegian folk medicine? And I don't mean the Sami people, as emphasized in this article... but the Norwegians... It's also helpful if anyone knows or can find out about Swedish or Danish as well... or even Finnish... Would be interesting to know...

    For me, personally, it's shocking how in a country where there is so much Nature and people are so close to Nature physically it's so difficult to find anything about traditional or folkloric medicine... Since I came to Norway first time I asked about it... and I received no satisfactory answers...

    I mean... my country of origin has lots of ancient wisdom about the use of plants in different treatments, for example... There are books written on that, about folkloric medicine... And there is also the book of the Austrian herbalist Maria Treben, Gesundheit aus der Apotheke Gottes, translated worldwide into so many languages, that made fokloric medicine become more popular. Most people know about the Swedish bitter from her book, and many cultures adapted the Swedish bitter to the herbs available in their lands (for example there are now many versions of it in Romania). And they are efficient.

    So... there is proof about Swedish fokloric medical system in that... So... what about Norway? Or whatever, what about Scandinavian countries as a whole, about the Germanic peoples from Scandinavia? Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, doesn't matter, I want to find out more...

    So if anyone here can look for more information in their own languages and post it here (preferably translated into English), please do that...

    There is so much knowledge in all these...

    Thank you!
    Die Farben duften frisch und grün... Lieblich haucht der Wind um mich.

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