Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

William M. Bass

Committee Members

Ira E. Harrison, Jay Kim, Mary A. Bass


The research sought to identify individual and social factors associated with the recruitment of spirit-directed-healers in Sub-Saharan Africa. This type of traditional healer was defined as a person who: 1) elicits and uses spiritual direction and information in the diagnosis and treatment of illness, 2) attributes the ultimate source of his/her healing power to one or more anthropopsychic spirits, and 3) claims to have been called to healing by those spirits. The spirit-directed-healers' decisions, demands, and remedies are legitimized by their source--the directing supernatural entity.

Data gathered through observations and open-ended interviews with four traditional healers who practiced in a single community in Ghana, West Africa, were sorted by subject and informant. Characteristics common to the four informants were considered as factors possibly associated with recruitment into the status of spirit-directed-healer. These were: 1) each began healing in his/her late teens or early twenties, 2) each had practiced conventional alternate occupations, 3) each had received little or no formal education, 4) recall of childhood appeared typical for the time and place, 5) components of the orientation and procreation families were typical, 6) each had had contact during childhood with one or more close relatives who were active in healing, 7) each had lost one or both parents in his/her late teens or early twenties, 8) each manifested efficient, non-psychotic behavior during the time of the observations and interviews, 9) each had received the call to healing during a crisis period when he/she was actually or emotionally separated from significant authority figures, and 10) acceptance of the call resolved the crisis.

Cross-cultural comparisons were made to test the general hypothesis that spirit-directed-healer type societies would be significantly associated with: 1) culture norms that encourage long lasting dependence of young adults on family elders for decision direction and 2) a religious system in which the high god is absent or otiose. As a result of the comparisons a predictive model was presented. It is predicted that spirit-directed-healers will be associated with: 1) societies in which the high god is absent or otiose (< .001), 2) norms for post-marital residence which result in proximity of residence between newly married couples and parents or uncle of one or both of the marriage partners (< .01), 3) the presence of ritualized trance (< .05).

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