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89. Self-Suggestion And Suggestion

The chief characteristic is this: a person performs a series of acts which are not fully conscious or completely unconscious, but which can easily be so. Such an automatism in acting is possible only on the condition that the consciousness is intentionally or unintentionally eliminated. It may cover a greater or lesser series of acts. It is used when the person is certain about the ability of successfully reaching the end of the act without the interference of consciousness in the process. It may be practically applied when the person is able to give such an «order». The latter presumes the ability of a temporary suppression of consciousness. The benefits of such a method are great, e.g. the act can be carried out leaving the mind free of the worry of thinking over minor details and to be used for other purposes; in the case of repugnant work it may be done without causing harm; in the case of a compulsory act the latter is easily performed, and so on. It is done in everyday life for the practical purpose of carrying on daily routine.

There may be two methods of elimination of consciousness of acting (1) the person does it either by conscious decision, namely, «I must accomplish such-and-such an act», or by unconscious performance of a series of acts; (2) the person may be influenced in the same sense by another person with special methods and owing to a series of pre-existing conditions, e.g. the acceptance of the theory of spirits. In all these cases the characteristic feature is the same: the consciousness is eliminated. Naturally, all cases of suggestion and self-suggestion can be included into the group of these phenomena.

It is an absolutely arbitrary procedure when a category of cases of self-suggestion is introduced as an «abnormal condition» into the treatment of ethnographic phenomena. In fact, what can be included into this group and when are we allowed to speak of self-suggestion? The analysis of cases, when self-suggestion is advanced, shows that there are included cases which cannot be «rationally» framed in the observer's complex and cases which result in harmful effects upon the persons themselves or upon their surroundings. Yet the cases of harmless self-suggestion are excluded from the observer's field. However, the last group of cases is im-measurably more frequent than the first and the second groups.

A great number of acts, even very complex ones, in so far as the sequence of elements is concerned, are done in a psychological state, when details are not cognized and when they succeed in a way that every next one is a consequence of the preceding one. Here I have not in view simple cases of well stabilized complexes of conditioned reflexes, but a series of acts which may be cognized at any moment, but are not, of which the persons may be conscious.

If they are not cognized and if they are not interrupted, the aim is attained without being noticed by the actors, and this process is then similar to that of self-suggestion. However, a new element is introduced into the conception of self-suggestion, namely, a temporary elimination of cognition and a person's will, which are substituted either by the acting person himself and unconsciously, or by some other persons. Indeed, the introduction of this element only artificially isolates some cases from a group of functionally absolutely similar phenomena. This becomes especially evident when cognized cases are selected from among the above mentioned cases, which have already been selected, viz. those cases which may appear either very strange, unusual, to the observer, or which are harmful to the person. After these limitations and elimination's the number of cases dealt with becomes very small, which gives them an appearance of abnormality, especially when very strange and striking instances are selected.

A seeming disfunction (so considered from the point of view of the persons and units) appears when this form of abbreviation of the psychomental mechanism does not serve to the interest of the acting person and to that of the group. Such an occurrence is likely to happen, when the premises are wrong, or when a special stimulus appears and as such is beyond the condition of suggestion and self suggestion. Therefore in all these cases we have to go to the source — the premises and special stimuli. Their effect on the «disfunction» is variable. It depends on the character of the persons and on the stimuli, in both their quantitative and qualitative expressions. When they are numerous, the «dis-function» will be greater than usual. In so setting this problem, we can easily distinguish actual «causes» from «effects» when a group is greatly affected by cases of suggestion and self-suggestion. It is also clear why, during the period of changes, the Tungus units are more liable to this form of disfunction.

Now there is a need of some cases for demonstration.

The most common occurrence among the Tungus is that the hunter cannot hit animals with his rifle, although he may be a good hunter, good shot may have a good rifle. Such a case may occur if he violates some of the hunting prohibitions, or if there are spirits that interfere with his hunting. The condition is this: the hunter commits a violation; he knows from the existing theories, also confirmed by the observation of other similar facts, that he can no more hit the animals; he misses them when shooting, which still more increases his conviction of the impossibility of hitting. Practically his error is in the theory of relation between the violation and the spirits, and then the interference of the spirits into hunting. The treatment is simple and practical: he must give satisfaction to the offended spirits. If he does it, the spirits will leave him alone and he will hit the animals as before. Since he knows that there is a way out, he applies it. In this way the theory of spirits, with reference to this particular case, is neutralized in respect to its harmful effect. Indeed, this is a common and very simple case, it is also well adapted, for it is too frequent and too important in daily life; but there are some cases when no means to remedy the fallacy of the theory is found effective and the case must be treated by an experienced man — the shaman. But in some cases even a shaman cannot help and all harmful effects result from the situation.

Another common occurrence, already discussed, is that of the entering of sprits into the human body. The person knows that if the spirits should enter, the eyes must be covered with hair, the person must take a sitting position, and sing. Therefore, when the person is sufficiently healthy and the spirit enters, the person does everything according to the existing complex. The acting may be both unconscious or conscious. Since this condition requires some physical effort and the person gets tired and cannot perform what is required, the spirit is supposed to leave the body. The «normal» condition is restored. It is evident that in this case we have again a pre-existing theory, and in addition to it a complex of «spirits' visit» which conditions the whole process of self-suggestion. The remedy for the restoration of normal condition is also included in the complex.

There are rare persons whose ability of control of physiological functions attains a very high degree. In such cases some facts may be observed which produce a very deep impression on the observers. Bleeding from the skin, swelling «like in pregnancy» of the abdomen, insensibility to pain and heat, and other similar phenomena are frequently observed, especially among the shamans during their performances. However, the cases, like the above described erectio penis, sudden vomiting, enormous sudden power of the muscular system, and the like, are also observed, not only in the shamans. Indeed, in all these cases «self-suggestion» plays a very important part; it produces these effects, and at its basis suppositions as to the effect of spirits are easily found.

Such physiological effects may attain a still higher degree in the case of «voluntary death». In the description of shamans' performances we shall meet with the observed conditions, the maintaining of which might and does result in death. Deaths occurring at dates defined beforehand are known among the Tungus. However, I have not observed them myself. Suicide by self-suggestion, when the physiological system ceases to function, as well as other similar cases, have as basis also pre-existing ideas. In fact, when a Tungus is certain that he or she must die, everything possible would be done for stopping the physiological function of the organism. It may be guessed that this operation is done through the disfunction of the central nervous system. However, even such an effect of self-suggestion cannot be considered as an abnormal phenomenon, as well as suicide in general, which is regarded as a «pathological» phenomenon only by those who postulate a series of hypotheses. Of course, I exclude all cases of suicide which are conditioned by a morbid state of the whole organism, as, for instance, glandular disfunction, lesion of the central nervous system, etc. Suggestion, which does not differ from the auto-suggestion, except in that some person influences the subject, has its specific technique. The effect of a successful suggestion is reached by different methods, the first step being a partial or total elimination of consciousness of the subject. This may be reached (1) by convincing the subject of the superiority of will of the acting person; (2) by hypnotic technique; (3) by convincing the subject that spirits are acting on him or her. Most of these cases will be discussed later in the chapter dealing with the shamanistic technique and performances.

Cases when auto-suggestion gradually becomes a constant and harmful condition of persons liable to it, are observed among all Tungus groups. Since the nature of this phenomenon remains hidden from the Tungus and they work out only a system of counterbalancing elements that give only a partial remedy and for each case separately, no practical methods, except shamanistic ones, are used. How far these conditions may affect populations will be better seen from the next chapter; but for the present I shall only point out that the individual may be affected so far that «voluntary death» and a complete invalidity may result from uncontrolled auto-suggestion. Even in such heavy cases the cause may lie not in the morbid condition of the subject, but in the state of the psychomental complex remaining quite «normal».

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