“The Use of Music in the Treatment of the Sick by American Indians” in Music and Medicine (1948) is one of the articles by Densmore that focuses directly on music and healing. Densmore describes Westerners’ attitude toward Native Americans’ music historically, and their reluctance to regard music as an important phase of Indian culture worthy of their consideration. Densmore also reviews works by Rev.
Clay MacCauley on the Seminoles (1880-81), Dr. Washington Matthews on Navajo healing ceremonies (1884), James Monney’s collection of Cherokee healing songs (1887-88), Dr. W. J. Hoffman on the Chippewa of Minnesota, and so forth. Those works give accounts of the use of music in healing and on beliefs of Native Americans such as “disease and death are not natural, but are due to the evil influence of animal spirits, ghosts or witches”.
Densmore also presents her own study and collection of Chippewa healing songs. She describes how one receives healing songs, how one seeks help from a healer for a particular illness, and some characteristics of healing songs. Her study shows the close relation between music and medicine, and the deep faith of the Native Americans in the healing powers of music. Another article that is included in Music and Medicine is “Music and Medicine Among Primitive Peoples” by Paul Radin.
He heavily criticizes the early Western ethnologists who looked at medicine and music in indigenous cultures through the Western lens and their “own strictly idealistic approach” which was unfortunately and unhesitatingly accepted by others. Those approaches created many problems such as distorting our picture of aboriginal society and eliminate the true understandings of the history of primitive medicine (Radin 1948: 5-7).
Radin presents some theories and methods in the study of music and medicine in “primitive” cultures. For example, he states that “both fields have adhesions and associations recognized by the peoples themselves as fundamental and relevant, but regarded by us as secondary and largely adventitious” (Ibid.: 3) and “to understand at what point the use of music becomes, even if only secondarily, an integral part of the curing procedure, it is necessary to understand what concepts primitive peoples hold as to the nature of disease, its causation, and the manner of its cure”.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that music is always present in healing, Radin regards its actual connection with curing to be minimal except where psychotherapy is of fundamental importance. Elsewhere, he seems to acknowledge that music plays a significant role in healing, and he treats it as a symbol of the priest-practitioner’s power, particularly with regard to his control of spirits and deities.