I am currently a thwasa, an apprentice who is undergoing initiation as a Sangoma. Initiation holds three phases, and I am near the end of the first phase. The process is called ukuthwasa. There is a strict protocol and a set of taboos that dictate life and interaction during the initiation process. In the journal section of this site, I’ll share insights and some information, but much of the process can not be shared publicly. 

A Sangoma is a traditional medicine practitioner, or shaman, of South Africa. Sangomas communicate with Ancestors, work with plant medicine and use the power of prayer for healing. These healers are highly revered and respected in their communities; using rituals to harmonize the balance between the living and ancestral spirits, which they believe is vital for a happy and healthy life. Sangomas are often called to heal, and through them it is believed that ancestors from the spirit world can give instruction and advice to heal illness, social disharmony and spiritual difficulties.

Throwing the bones to access the advice of ancestors is a common practice of a Sangoma. Before the throwing of the bones; the healer calls upon their ancestors by names, followed by the patient’s ancestors’ names. Either the patient or Sangoma throws bones on the floor, which may include animal vertebrae, dominoes, dice, coins, shells and stones; each with a specific significance. The sangoma or the patient throws the bones but the ancestors control how they lie. The sangoma then interprets this metaphor in relation to the patient’s afflictions, and how to resolve the disharmony.

When these traditional healers comes to an understanding of the problem, the Sangoma may then provide relief in the form of herbal medications, spiritual cleansings, or even a referral or recommendation for additional healing or possibly a Western medicine regimen.  There are herbal medicines for everything from physical and mental illness, social disharmony and spiritual difficulties to potions for protection, love and luck.

Be mindful; Sangomas don’t do miracles and there is no such a thing as doubling a person’s money. They only help to connect with the ancestors, who then offer direction on how to heal and assist people in need. A true healer is someone who has been through initiation, inducted by an expert in the field, who has undergone rigorous training and completed external healing courses. Being a Sangoma is not and does not replace a religious practice. It is a way of life.