The Ancestral Calling & Mental Illness

The Ancestral Calling Mental Illness Signs & Symptoms

What is The Ancestral Calling?

Ancestral calling, also known as Ubizo, is a belief among the Southern Africa Nguni people that one is being called or drawn to connect with their ancestors or cultural heritage. This calling can manifest in various ways, such as a strong sense of connection to one’s ancestors or a belief that they are guiding or influencing one’s actions. Heeding an ancestral calling is often associated with becoming a healer or Sangoma, but can also be for other reasons. Ancestral calling is not chosen, it chooses you, and it is up to the individual to accept or reject it. In accepting the calling you will then go through an initiation process called Intwaso in Xhosa which means “spiritual emergence”. In Zulu the initiation process called  Ukuthwasa meaning ” to emerge as a healer”.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their potential, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can give to their community. It is a multi-dimensional concept that includes physical, psychological, social, and spiritual dimensions. Mental illnesses include anxiety and panic disorders, depression, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, substance abuse and addiction, schizophrenia, among others.

The field of mental health has a violent, racist, and sexist historical past and while progress has been made in addressing these issues, much remains unknown. It can be a difficult and painful process for an individual to determine if their suffering is rooted in a mental health illness or an ancestral calling. It is important for mental health professionals to acknowledge the limitations of their field and work with traditional healers in order to provide the best possible care for each individual patient.

Why is it Difficult to Determine Whether an Individual Is Struggling with a Mental illness, Or Has an Ancestral Calling?

It can be difficult to determine whether an individual is struggling with a mental illness, or you have an ancestral calling. The pathologizing and misdiagnosis of mental health issues is often due to the universal and hegemonic application of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) which is often used by mental health professionals but is based on research from Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic societies (WEIRD), and ignores the context and nuances of people living in other societies. This Eurocentric approach to healing can exert violence on the mind and state of being of individuals.

Schizophrenia for an example which presents itself according to DSM-5 with symptoms such as hearing voices, hallucinations, aggression, abnormal behaviors can be a symptom of both schizophrenia and an ancestral calling. 

When a patient describes hearing voices—or even the feeling of being anxious and depressed—can a clinician ever really “know” what that is like?

Psychiatrist John Strauss, M.D

It is important for mental health professionals to be aware of cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices, and to consider them when working with patients from different backgrounds. A holistic approach that takes into account an individual’s cultural and spiritual beliefs can lead to more accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.

However, it is also important to note that not all individuals who have an ancestral calling will experience symptoms of mental illness and not all individuals with mental illness will have an ancestral calling. It is a complex and nuanced issue that requires a thorough understanding and consideration of all factors, including cultural and spiritual beliefs. It is ultimately necessary to work with a culturally sensitive and knowledgeable mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment for an individual.


What are the signs and symptoms of an ancestral calling?

The signs and symptoms of an ancestral calling can vary widely from person to person, and can include vivid dreams, physical illnesses, mental confusion, anxiety, fear, hallucinations, aggression, mood swings, social isolation, restlessness, violence, neglect of personal appearance and hygiene, aimless wondering, and eating poorly. It is also believed that if you have the calling, ancestral spirits may cause obstacles in your everyday life and various family problems.

It is possible for an individual to have an ancestral calling and a mental illness at the same time, or to have an ancestral calling without any mental illnesses. Conversely, an individual can suffer from a mental illness without it being related to an ancestral calling. An example is hearing voices which some traditional healers linked to instructions to accept the calling as a healer. They also said mental psychosis can also be attached to the healing process when you’re going through Ukuthwasa (the initiation)There is also acknowledgment that mental illness may have a genetic component not necessarily linked to an ancestral calling.

The Ancestral calling is also linked to other Ancient African Spiritual Oracles such as Nigeria’s Ifa Oracle, African Voudon (Voodoo) and Ancient Egypt’s Metu Neter Oracle.

Incorrect or poor validation and invalidation can cause added damage to an already difficult situation. It is imperative to have an in-depth understanding and appreciation of the complexities and nuances of this phenomenon. Therefore, it is important to consult with qualified, trained, and experienced professionals to determine the best course of treatment for an individual.

What help is available for mental health illnesses and/or ancestral calling?

Help is available for mental health illnesses and/or ancestral calling through various channels. It is important to seek help from a mental health professional if you are struggling with your mental health. Finding a suitable mental health professional can be done through various avenues such as consulting with a general doctor, consulting public health clinics or hospitals, online platforms like Psychology Today SA, Headroom, Therapy Route, and non-governmental organizations like Lifeline, Childline, TEARS Foundation, SADAG, and FAMSA.

A young man Nape Phasha named a child of the ancestors, observed and experienced the suffering of his mother a traditional healer and those who came to her for healing as a child growing up. Seeing a gap in the market on African education and spirituality he founded a clothing brand Dlozi Ngwana Badimo were from the proceeds of his sales a portion goes to a bursary programme to those needing to go through the ancestral calling initiation processes but cannot afford.


Healing is not always linear; it is important to explore different options and sources of support. Some individuals may find indigenous healing methods more effective while others may find more benefit in Western-style therapy and medication.  Others may find a combination of both indigenous healing methods and western healing modalities helpful for their context.  Finding the right balance and approach for each individual and collective communities to work with qualified, trained, and experienced professionals is a necessity.


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