Gender, Reiki and energetic healing : an exploration of holistic/ 'New Age' healing in Scotland - PhDData

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Gender, Reiki and energetic healing : an exploration of holistic/ ‘New Age’ healing in Scotland

The thesis was published by MacPherson, Judith Ann, in September 2022, University of Stirling.


Within, this thesis I provide the first empirical academic study of energetic healing, Reiki
and dowsing in central Scotland, with the focus of my research being on the teaching of
energetic healing in workshops (the Salisbury and Westbank centres being key
locations) and related textual material. This thesis is also a step towards addressing
the historical imbalance of writing about New Age beliefs and practices from a
predominantly androcentric positioning, as I place emphasis on exploring how
gendered spiritualities may be actively constructed in this setting. For as Dominic
Corrywright has stated “the web of New Age spiritualities is crucially sustained by the
individual and collective weavings of women and this is particularly evident in healing
and therapies” (2003: 131).
I argue that women’s predominance in healing circles has a lot to do with personal
projects of redefinition and self-transformation. This sort of ‘work on the self does not
occur under, as radical feminists Daly (1991) and Sjoo (1994) would state, overarching
patriarchal paradigms. Rather ‘healing of the self’ is located within fluid “fields of force”
(Foucault, 1980). Therefore throughout this thesis I build up a decentralised narrative of
power and locate women as active healing agents. In order to construct this narrative I
draw from research in the fields of Goddess and women’s spiritualities, for here we find
useful evaluations of how women re-inscribe their bodies as sacred and empowered
through, in the former, imminent ties to the Goddess. I relate my research to Meredith
McGuire’s empirical study of healing in the American context, where she argues that “If
the creation, maintenance and transformation of individuals gender identities are
indeed among the foremost identity work to be accomplished, then extensive empirical study of the many contemporary instances of gendered spirituality is very worthwhile”
(McGuire, 1994: 254).
Hence in the first two chapters of this thesis I engage with feminist and ethnographic
theory in general. I argue that discourses of power are multivalent operating within
academic, religious, bio-medical and holistic healing circles and at the individual level.
For debates abound in relation to, for example, the prioritisation of text over
experiential practice – the latter being central to New Age healing in Scotland. I
introduce my location as a bothsider, an academic researcher and a practising healer
as this positioning has raised its own particular set of theoretical and personal
questions. And I draw in the aforementioned research in the parallel fields of Goddess
and women’s spiritualities.
Chapter three engages with representations of “the body as energetic” at the micro ‘in
the field’ level and is primarily descriptive. Within these pages I provide a picture of how
the energetic body is discursively constructed hence providing some necessary
background for later ethnographic material. In chapter four I also build on the previous
chapter in relation to healing and curing models of health. I adopt Meredith McGuire’s
analytical framework of healing types. In this way I can locate my narrative of women’s
power and consciousness of healing into the debates between male dominated
biomedical approaches to health and the apparently more egalitarian holistic (mind,
body and spirit) approaches to the same.
Chapters five and six focus specifically on the healing practice and discourses of Reiki,
this healing modality growing significantly in popularity in Scotland. I will propose that
Reiki provides the practitioner with contrasting notions of “the healthy body” to biomedical and mainstream religious significations of the same and enables the
development of empowered models of subjectivity “as healer”.
The technique of dowsing, which is explored in chapter seven, is regarded in healing
circles as being a “visible expression” of intuitive practice. Hence learning to dowse
appears to provide additional confirmation for women healers of their ability to work as
more autonomous agents. For dowsing practice falls within the umbrella of earth
mysteries or Gaian traditions, where the earth is seen to be a conscious, living, self-regulating
entity and is identified with as the “Goddess imminent”.
In the final chapter I pull this thesis together as a whole and return to some of the
questions asked in my opening material, noting my distinctive contributions to healing
research as “a bothsider”. Throughout I acknowledge that my location as
‘researcher/healer’ is just as materially and politically located as are healers in the field.
For I, as well as ‘the subjects under study’, operate within fluid fields of force. Overall, I
place emphasis on evaluating distributions of power and the development of new
liberating models of subjectivity in healing epistemologies.

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