I have a hard time with social constructionism when it comes to questions of other knowledge systems, for example the Lakota Sioux and the vision quest. Are they really receiving sacred knowledge through the vision quest or should I try and explain the ritual through other means? I'm inclined not to discount what they believe, partially out of respect for their beliefs but also partially because I just can't know.
I start with a working assumption, nicely stated by Erving Goffman, that applies as well to the presentation of self in ritual as it does to everyday life.When an individual plays a part he implicity requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be.
I assume, then, that the healer is doing, in fact, what he seems to be doing: negotiating with demons. He is neither charlatan, preacher, nor pedagogue; nor is he an actor performing a play that he and others know to be fiction. He is what he says he is: a magician, trying to achieve a certain effect in the way he knows best, by magic. This leads me to my larger agenda, the implications of what he says for one of our discipline's oldest conundrums: the magical force or efficacy attributed to magical words.