In homes holding unusual sources, unseen, special persons tied to other worlds, perhaps, persons who wave their hands wildly, even at night, when one should not wave their hands least they attract the otherworldly. In homes holding sources, persons who wander throughout the home speaking to unseen, sometimes so intimately it sounds like whistling, sometimes so loudly it sounds like raving drunkards, always passionately and always with force(s). In homes where silence is a stranger except for silencing secrets meant harbored within the home only. In those homes, myth manifests and brings certain story into now, into here, into this place and time. In those homes, children come to believe every story detailing reason to the madness and each one must be attended to for superstition runs rampant. In those homes there is little question of what is the matter. In those homes, the madness is what it is and surely something will be learned from it in some time. Time, though, runs without madness settling, turns day to night and night to day, along with the person who holds the source of super intelligence and otherworldly deep inside. She's generous with it though. Everyone in the home knows what the story is. Everyone in the home knows the battle, the surge of infractions that occur when no one sees. With the unseen, it is always this way.

In most traditional cultures, madness means many things, in addition to the affliction. The affliction may be seen as merely a symptom of the greater need to unravel something tangled, something generating the condition beyond the scope of reasoning, until the source carrier (generally) lives in some sustained outburst, constantly attempting to contain the source to protect those unaware from its devastation. Perhaps an internal terror that has roots in deeper context, possession, or perhaps a fate following some effect, or deed, perhaps a destined living state of entanglement with that outside of life as we know it, perhaps a condition, a spell caused to befell the person, perhaps the condition is entangled with omens no one else sees, perhaps it is ghosts meting out every whim they wish upon someone nearby and only the person afflicted is available to the transparency of it. Perhaps it is so.

In the recesses of culture, oratory is the core of memory, reason, and purpose oraliterature embodies. Story feeds culture and culture exists through story. The two are inextricable. Think of it as a great sphere that one reaches into, or lightly touches, or intersects with, to gain information on an as need to know basis. Example: a child walks away from her parent too often. Uncle, or Auntie, touch upon a story of a child lost and the conditions that result from the lostness and so the child learns not to wander, or to wander only far enough to solve curiosity, not to be endangered. Oftentimes in the lostness, though, the miracle of transformation occurs. Or, the miracle of knowledge, appearing as challenge and demanding a maturity in independence if the lost one is to survive (and grow, develop) and bring back the knowledge for others to learn from. Still, the message is generally meant to keep the child in safe company. So, if story is like a sphere, not solid, but malleable, tangible in a sense of accessibility, and the sphere is within reach, charged with nutritious offerings to feed the needs of mind, soul, body, and greater community, then culture and cultural ways are also within reach, always. Through this, the community accesses the values and standards of living a culture consists of, while entailing, or invoking, the value of the ascribed cosmogony (and its parameters), essentially to recreate purpose and direction whenever need be.

Further, to instill a belongingness that manifests the meaning given each community member and the collective whole. The secret of the universe (or the present moment), as it appears to that particular culture and engages the culture throughout its existence, and most would believe, far beyond it, as the meaning is more than the who that is meant to share its knowledge. It exists separately and is conditioned through and attributed, cared for, by the nation of its choosing, or select appearance to. In this way, knowledge is gained through many trajectories and intersections until the formulation of a greater shared knowledge, story, is easily addressed upon need for the sake of others short upon the tale of story, or thread, or, perhaps transparent and otherwise unknown molecular structure. Story is culture and culture is story and this union is knowledge and belonging and, thus, creates the pathway to live, to adhere to, to protect from, and to continue to exist in order to do just that. It is the reasoning.

This is perhaps the purpose of writing, as well. To retain story in physical, uniquely stylistic and artistic made form, one might read in birch bark scrolls, leaf writing, stone and tablet writings, wood carvings, ceramics, and in many other implements used throughout time, in the tens of thousands of generations populating the world. To record and preserve, or to share the knowledge, so that belongingness is accessible and made evident in a semi-permanent state. To continue to exist, it is the reasoning. In a traditional culture, there is a bit of story for everything, and if there is not yet, each new experience then becomes a portion of the greater whole until holistic approach is the very device then accessed for community healing (consoling, counseling), in the greater sense, in return. And, all of the community then have a part in this, a role to play, to replicate the values currently needing attention. So, when a person, holds a source of issue, a seemingly mental issue, or madness, the stakes are high for the community at large and shared beliefs become the main need to access story to solve the dilemma, or to learn to live with it as an affect of the otherworldly. As madness is not easily cured, it oftentimes represents that which must be dealt with over extended periods of time, thus teaching greater tolerance and patience, in a traditional sense.

With madness, there are many possibilities as to the source, most often entangled with an otherworldly source, something larger than life that twists the notions of the afflicted until they can no longer keep coherency and cognizance. Instead, the affliction (and the person) is entangled so inherently, seemingly nothing and no one can penetrate the realm of the affliction to relieve the person from the terror she now exists within. Be it generally unhappy or cruel ghosts bothering, or something less devious, a past crime, in an earlier day, or another life, the victim of the force is taken wholly and held within its relentless gesture, and oftentimes unmercifully damaging torture beyond anything a human is suited for. The mind is gone. And, yet, people will ask the person for advice, will touch the person, take their hand and lead them, will pray for them, sing with them, and wait throughout their life with them, in order to reclaim them if they are to return. Some people with such afflictions are seen as respected healers, seers, dreamers, and the omens they reveal held in high as something given from the otherworldly through the person lost to this world, yet still here. The secret of the home, then, sometimes becomes that which need be protected is the psychic ability of someone who is transitioning worlds in a constant state, much like a traditional healer might be called to do through ceremonial states. Yet, this is not something controllable with protocol and requested circumstance, it is uncontrollable and difficult to discern truths that might be miraculous from delusion. This is the family's feat and in essence that of the collective group, in dealing with the afflicted, as well. And with a common belief that one never knows how the sacred may appear and what holiness may present itself through the profane, or insane, sometimes the family must insist that the person afflicted is actually afflicted, as the conviction and passion of the person are oftentimes so great, so convincing the delusions truly reality to them, that they may actually convince the layman community member of the delusion and the layman then believes the delusion the miracle knowledge and is caught in the entanglement additionally. A potential secondary, resulting, affect from continual, close proximity to the person suffering, and perhaps transitioning worlds. Not so strangely, this secondary condition may also result from prolonged grieving (a taboo in many communities). And, yet, to be attentive to the other side of life, that side beyond life, as we know it, a spiritual embracement, is most often a must in the sense of community purpose and continuity in shared belief as a whole. A certain aspect of taboo can also be related to the potential of secondary condition, in that those surrounding the afflicted person must still protect themselves from onset of such potential, while respecting the person's gifts, or purposes, and still caring for the person. A respectful distance may take place, as a result, to allow for a grace of the worldly and otherworldly, similar to what may be a given for respect around any person of significant spiritual awareness. Unfortunately, when acculturation has taken place, in many communities, this taboo may transform into disrespectful shunning and may, in effect, add to the burden of the afflicted and rid the community of any prophetic opportunity, or purpose, that may be available through the afflicted person's shared accounts. The otherworldly knowledge may be severed due to separation.

In many cultures, knowledge is a thing that comes with age, with time. In a narrativising culture, that thing, the attainment of the wisdom, comes with knowing story upon story upon story and how the stories blend, intertwine, interface, and bring about consciousness in meeting challenge of the moment, again, in a need to know basis cultural trend. In many cultures, there is a time and place for everything that matters in the long run, or course of living. Thus, meeting those times, be they infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, parenthood, grandparenthood, aged, and those aged sometimes attaining the grandeur of eldership within a community, be it any of these times, there is a song for that, a way, or walk, a privilege, a duty, a responsibility, or release of responsibility. In the youngest and the eldest (or in the gravely injured, seriously afflicted) there is also, oftentimes, a privilege of irresponsibility, or freedom to be other than anticipated, and the sacredness, or specialness, of this freedom is oftentimes believed to be inherent to those times in coming into and in leaving this world for the other place (or places, in a multiverse sense), and/or transitioning between the worlds as the condition calls to.

Though it is impossible to generalize, as all nations have respective systems of belief and actualities, some similar threads, as noted, do commonly present. And, it is true that when a person suffers madness, particularly schizophrenia, whereas the person is afflicted with nonstop, often tortuous voices, tormenting the sufferer while engaging their whole to field the agony directed seemingly from something typically unseen by anyone else, the person is often thought to transition time, or parameters of reality, to enter into and remain attached to the otherworldly, or beyond. Similarly, ghosts, or spirits, might transition into this field, plane, or living world, and attach themselves to the person. So, the person might be able to give information that could foretell, or work as a something to protect the people. Or, the person might be twisted with dangerous information that is meant to harm them, or others. So to say ghosts are bothering them, when one sees a schizophrenic embattled with the unseen, is a logical conclusion in the community whereas ghosts are respected in this way.

Conversely, what happens then, when community members are separated from the whole, leave for jobs, military service, for other opportunity, yet still hold beliefs and structures of the collective and walk through their lives recalling the same stories for their youth called to them as they were young people? The culture could exist and permeate the day, yet the surrounding supportive network of the community is not available. The whole of the holistic is now wholly reliant upon the elders in the family, or the parents, or parent. If the children are taught to cope through the same threads that would hold a larger community intact, by looking at the affliction through a cultural lensing that gives it some purpose, or interesting feature, that essentially classes the affliction in a specialness, or sacredness, or something than holds a certain propensity, or power, if you will, whereas the offspring are taught to maintain, to a degree, a sense of normalcy in the madness, through the value of story, the oraliterary family function maintains culture and sensibility. The seed of story streaming throughout keeps culture nearby as a remedy for the most disturbing illnesses, including those we cannot make sense of, e.g.: insane. The nonsensical nature of mental illness gives it a specialness, or purpose, we cannot explain and so it comes into the realm of the unexplained and its purpose may be seen as simply inherent to its nature, otherworldly.

Inside a traditional community, or once back to a traditional community, a family may still elect to treat an affliction (as they are able to) independent of outside assistance, or seek help from someone with power to deal with the schizophrenia, or affliction, and maybe more importantly, to ask that the (afflicted) person be freed from it, or it be lessened in strength upon them. In such latter cases, they may be reminded of the purpose of the affliction and the imagistic impression within the life of the bearer, or sufferer, may be deemed a natural occurrence in this life, for this particular person, for a certain principle that is met through the distinction. Somewhat typically, only if something (or someone) else is deemed responsible for the dilemma, or disabling affliction, will there be hope of complete recovery (and some set protocol to reclaim may be prescribed). Bottom line: the afflicted is within this structure, as a person who exists in the otherworldly, and we, in the worldly, have little say in the matter of the other side. Unless someone, or something, has created this wrongly, the person is going through what the person is to go through, in this time and place. It is their way, in the world, and their nature to do so, their purpose. Again, some good is thought to come from this, as the person(s) can also be privy to omen, to prophesy, to seeing things in ways others cannot and then can help others with that sensibility, or knowledge. Though it may prove difficult to find sensibility in sincerely mad ramblings, knowing that there is purpose, oftentimes backed with a story that asserts its need, the family is compelled to support the person, to avoid abandonment of the afflicted, and to see the specialness of the state as sacredness, potentially powerful, or (in the very least) reasonable, in a life, thus unquestionable. So it has been and will be, despite the dominant intrusion. And, yet, the intrusion has had its impact.

Thirteen years post the Wounded Knee Massacre, an asylum was opened in Canton, South Dakota, proposed to care for Native people suffering from mental affliction. The asylum was forcibly closed thirty years after opening, for poor standards. A cemetery and mass mound (a mass grave, not to be confused with traditional Native mound building) exists on what was the facility property, still holding remains of the many patients that did not make it through the deplorable imprisonment there. World War I Code Talkers, traditionalists, epileptics, free spirited people, and many others were sent from all over the country and interned at the asylum, categorized as insane.

The bill to create the facility was passed just eight years post Wounded Knee and it opened without a psychiatrist as director. Patients were exposed and displayed to tourists, abused, lived in unthinkable filth, and many obviously died due to the conditions and maltreatment, when few, if any, were ever evaluated as insane by qualified professionals. Instead, the mockery seems to have been a sideshow scheme to take traditionalists away from their families and to legally imprison and injure Native people. In the announcement for the "Tenth Annual Memorial Prayer Ceremony," in Canton, in 1998 (please note this is a century post legalization of the facility), the text reads, "In 1898, Congress passed a bill creating the first and only Institution for insane Indians in the United States. The doors of the asylum, located just over the Nebraska border in Canton, South Dakota, were first opened for the reception of patients in January 1903. Department of Interior investigators revealed that during the time the asylum housed patients, many died because they were denied medical care. According to Harold Iron Shield, founder of the Native American Reburial Restoration Committee, patients were "traditional spiritual people or teenagers who misbehaved or people the Indian Agent didn't like." A 1933 investigation conducted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs determined that "a large number" of patients showed no signs of mental illness.

Land was set aside for a cemetery, but the Indian Office decided that stonemarkers for graves would be an unwarranted expense. Today, the cemetery (121 names) is located in the middle of a golf course in Canton. No one knows the cause of death of the incarcerated or why they were even at the asylum. The National Park Service has recently added the cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places." (Hiawatha Insane Asylum)

Donna Grandbois, in her article, "Stigma Of Mental Illness Among American Indian And Alaska Native Nations: Historical And Contemporary Perspectives," provides a thoughtful and insightful table (Table 2) arranging "Worldview Differences that Impact Mental Health Care" between "American Indian/Alaskan Native" (AIAN) and "Majority culture." Each segment of the table presents a cross-referencing value base, including: AIAN view regarding "Relational, circular" and Majority culture view as "Linear, point A to B"; or AIAN view regarding "Mind, body, spirit/One" and Majority culture view as "Psyche is the focus." The next area Grandbois alerts the mental health field to is the AIAN view of "Mystical/acceptance" and the Majority culture view as "Scientific/verification" and, then, AIAN view of "Ceremonials/rituals" and the Majority culture view of "Psychotherapy" (Grandbois, 1004). All of these examples, these four and the next six listed, give a great amount of necessary insight to mental health workers and make a case for traditional healing and caretaking versus Western medical practice (as does a Table 3 following (Grandbois, 1012)).

Throughout American colonization, it has been a rare occurrence that the dominant society has truly considered cultural nuances when providing health care, particularly in the case of mental health. Yet, significant cultural differences exist and surely must be made clear for one to be treated well in any form of health care, particularly mental health. Additionally, stigma, as Grandbois points to (in a 1997 article by Mehl-Madrona), may need to be addressed more holistically whereas "the patient is an active participant" (Grandbois, 1012) in ceremonies that treat the patient. Conversely, with psychiatric care, treatment is prescribed due to condition as recognized by the Western field, without a notion of other variables, other sources, affecting the patient.

In a home where source is unseen, attention is given the afflicted to include awareness of insight as one of the gifts given along with, or alongside, delusion. In a home where a person suffers in this way, the person is no less a person and has value and human needs like anyone else. In a home where madness takes hold, a family without tradition may be hard-pressed to withstand its lack of mercy. In tradition, mercy for the afflicted, coupled with attention to the sacred (miraculous) generates compassion and creates a space for coping the dominant society is still long behind. Perhaps the traditional perspective is one the dominant society can learn from and incorporate, as holistic healing generates reciprocal care, just as story fills culture and culture brings story for all to be guided by and to be healed with, for generations to come. And in the case of lifelong illnesses, offers a way to care for the malady, and to interact with the afflicted with courtesy and purpose, with shared responsibility, respect, and with collective watch, holding homes together.

In homes holding unusual sources, unseen, special persons tied to other worlds, schizophrenic (by Western standards), a regard for the specialness of the obvious suffering may allow for a sense of compassion, duty to care for, and respect for the potential knowledge and embodied demonstration of life principles that story, oraliterature, written documentation, and communal instructions speak toward, but are unavailable to the community without the experience of proximity of the so afflicted human being.

If diagnosed as being caused by a wrongfulness, there is an opportunity to right, if by nature, then respected as the nature of the person's life course, in this world and those surrounding, though they may take precaution to prevent secondary affect, sustain community ties with the person and allow the purpose of the affliction within the person to play out its community role bringing a bit of story, otherwise unavailable, to the community and allowing the new story, from the person's loved ones, and/or the person's own experiences, to nurture story (and learned principles) for the future as well. A host of lessons in patience and tolerance coupled with serious challenges to the nearest loved ones, spouse, children of the suffering, in experiencing shared lessons in endurance and in defining and discerning significance from insignificant, prophesy from nonsensical, love from rage, thereby challenges of the greater community and challenges of commitment to loved ones, a parent, a child, are presented daily through such dilemma, tests of love, of value for connectedness and acceptance, perhaps within this particular individual, at this time, because it is for the surrounding people, loved ones, community, time to know, to gain knowledge, or remember knowledge past, principle(s) to grow by, if you will, all at home with the manifestation appearing unlike anything otherwise recognizable as truth.

In these homes, a bit of miracle exists, at least, traditionally so.

Works Cited

  • "Hiawatha Insane Asylum" http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~asylums/canton_sd/index.html
  • Grandbois, Donna. "Stigma Of Mental Illness Among American Indian And Alaska Native Nations: Historical And Contemporary Perspectives." Issues in Mental Health Nursing. Taylor & Francis Group Incorporated, 2005. Print
  • Other sources include: my mother & father, Aunties, & numerous others within a host of lifelong conversations regarding insanity and traditional belief. Insomuch, the aforementioned opinion is most specifically from these conversations, life experiences, story and result, and from the documents otherwise noted, herein.

*This piece was originally published with incorrect formatting, and has been updated. (8/28/14)

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Copyright (c) 2014 Allison Hedge Coke



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