SHAKING MEDICINE by Bradford Keeney

Shaking Medicine

Bradford Keeney’s book, Shaking Medicine, takes us into the heart of healing with ecstatic movement.  While the East and West delights in powerful, relaxing healing modalities of meditation and acupuncture, Keeney bravely asserts we are missing the other half of healing medicine- the shaking forms of arousal from Africa and other cultures.  Mostly absent from our culture are the healing techniques of The Shake and it’s time we got over our prejudice.  Keeney believes that it is only when we fully cycle through being hyper-aroused and then deeply relaxed, can we powerfully realign and evolve in a pattern consistent with holistic medicine.  Fifty years ago or so, meditation was new and seen as a fringe movement and now it is so accepted and commonplace, doctors recommend it.  Keeney predicts Shaking Medicine is coming west and it’s healing benefits will be open to all.  At first I wondered about that, but my latest foray into my local meetup groups, revealed that there is a group dedicated to ecstatic dance.

Of course, some of the hurdles for society to overcome are the immediate associations we have for those shaking.  Historically scholars (and the general public) have associated ecstatic movement with mental or neurological disease.  Some would even go so far as to say evil or satanic, but most of that is either blatant prejudice or cultural ignorance.  There is also a fear of being out of control that western cultures so value.  Conformity and predictability are pillars of our society, what would happen if everyone shook?  Would we….lose it?  And those still prevalent fears have led Keeney to call shaking The Last Great Taboo.

Photo by: Justin Hall

Photo by: Justin Hall

So what is shaking all about?  Simply put it’s an experience, a journey into the ecstatic state brought forth by trembling joy.  You tremble, quake, and shake losing control and entering into healing and transformation.  Like other mystical practices, you surrender to higher authority and wisdom.  For Keeney, it’s the thing most missing from our spiritual table in the West.  Cultures who practice it value it for its ability to renew and restore vitality.  It takes us into the unknown and connects us to life in all its forms.

Assembly of Quakers, London. Engraving.

Assembly of Quakers, London. Engraving.

This is a book I truly loved.  I knew nothing about the subject and enjoyed visiting the diverse cultures Keeney portrays.  Lest you think shaking is confined to the African continent, Keeney starts out with a tale about settlers in the Pacific Northwest and later the Quakers and Shakers all of whom participated in ecstatic movement in pursuit of spiritual growth.  Keeney has strong ties to the Kalahari bushmen earning the title of Heart of Spears, a title of respect acquired by learning and experiencing their shaking medicine.  Some of the other cultures explored in the fascinating book include the: Spiritual Baptists of St. Vincent (Caribbean), African American Church, Seiki Jutsu (Japan), and Hindu/Buddhist traditions (India).  The book comes with a CD and instructions to begin your own journey of discovery.  Highly recommended!


Filed under Book Review, Books, Spiritual/Mysticism

13 responses to “SHAKING MEDICINE by Bradford Keeney

  1. Wow. I didn’t know about this. Thanks for sharing this info.

  2. Fascinating! Reminded me a little of Gabrielle Roth’s 5 rhythms which starts slow Flowing, builds to Staccato, explodes into that shaking Chaos, becomes slower, flying into Lyrical and the final surrender into dynamic stillness

  3. teddybear192837

    Movement is reminiscent of the higher end of the tone scale, so I totally agree that it is therapeutic!

  4. Having studied the Shakers, let me add in a bit about them. Early in their history, they were sometimes known as the “Shaking Quakers,” though there is no theological or historical connection between the Shakers and Quakers. Early Shaker dancing, as they called it, was ecstatic and individual, even if whole groups were affected. However, in the 1790s, the Shakers began to develop disciplined communal dances, sometimes call “laboring,” which gradually supplanted the individual ecstatic dances. They felt they were able to reach God through the disciplined group dances as well.

    • Thanks, Brian! When we lived in NH and later Ohio, we visited several Shaker villages. They were always impressive for their simplicity and always struck me as sad that once they were once such vibrant communities and now are mere shadows.

  5. Fascinating, Ellis! I guess when you stop to think about it there are likely limitless ways, once we’ve made that deep connection to universal love and healing energy, that the energy itself can be expressed through us. I have to say though that I don’t necessarily buy into Kenney’s assertion that we must fully cycle from hyper-aroused to deeply relaxed in order to get the full benefit of energy healing. Perhaps he was only referring to the practice of Shaking and I’ve misunderstood. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts and experiences if you decide to embark on this exciting journey of discovery.

    • I think you’ve stated his position correctly- that we need both. Of course, science has just recently begun studying meditation and it will take a long time before we’ll know anything about the benefits of shaking. I think we are talking gateways to the divine and there are many ways to get there. I tried Kenney’s CD and it does induce a state of consciousness similar to my mediations. So just the music itself alters experience. Ecstatic dance looks pretty athletic and I’m not inclined to seek it out but should the right opportunity come along, who knows?

  6. I never thought about the origin of the Quaker name. Thank you. The book sounds good. What is the difference between shaking and dancing?

    • Shaking brings on a trance state and has an element of lack of control. Dancing is regimented and usually not athletic enough to bring on trance, but it can happen. That’s my layman’s understanding.

  7. I’m wondering about the origin of the label “Quaker.”

    • According to Wikipedia: “In 1650, George Fox (the founder)was brought before magistrates, Gervase Bennet and Nathaniel Barton, on a charge of religious blasphemy. According to George Fox’s autobiography, Bennet “was the first person that called us Quakers, because I bade them tremble at the word of the Lord”.[11] It is thought that George Fox was referring to Isaiah 66:2[14] or Ezra 9:4[15]. Thus, the name Quaker began as a way of ridiculing George Fox’s admonition, but became widely accepted and is used by some Quakers.[16] Quakers also described themselves using terms such as true Christianity, Saints, Children of the Light, and Friends of the Truth, reflecting terms used in the New Testament by members of the early Christian church.”
      Quakers believed in direct access to and experience of Christ and Quaking must have facilitated it.

  8. Interesting, so maybe those kids at the Grateful Dead shows were onto something? 🙂

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