‘M*A*S*H’ Once Brought in a Real-Life Shaman for an Episode

by Clayton Edwards

M*A*S*H broke new ground when it aired in 1972. Before then, no one expected to see dark comedy in their TV lineup. At the same time, the writers blended some subversive jokes and criticism about the war into the dialogue. It was a risky step to take at the time. However, that risk paid off. Today, it is one of the most popular television series in America. The series finale is still the most-watched episode of scripted television in history.

One time, M*A*S*H really pushed the envelope and performed an exorcism. The episode, titled “Exorcism” aired in 1976, according to MeTV. Three years before that episode aired, The Exorcist changed the face of horror cinema. It also brought demon possession and its only cure into America’s mainstream culture. It spawned countless imitators and remains a favorite of horror fans today. Then, the year after the exorcism in the 4077, The Exorcist II took the demons out of popular culture. To put it kindly, that movie was horrible and it killed the trend its predecessor started.

The M*A*S*H Exorcism

As a refresher, The Exorcist featured two priests. One was older and steadfast in his faith. The younger was battling a crisis of faith, the loss of his mother, and an ancient demon. They were serious and garbed in black vestments. In the M*A*S*H episode, things played out differently. A shaman in brightly colored robes and a jingling feathered hat dances into the camp. She’s a flurry of prayers, bells, and bright colors.

Interestingly, they did not add the shaman’s name to the credits on the show. Even now, she doesn’t show up on the IMDb entry for the episode. Some think that she was an actual shaman who performed a real exorcism ritual for the M*A*S*H episode. Maybe she wanted to remain anonymous.

The prevailing theory is that the M*A*S*H crew found the shaman in southern California. It’s possible that she wore authentic traditional garb and carried the actual tools of the ritual. After all, most cultures have rituals for driving out unclean spirits, so it’s not that much of a stretch.

Apparently, they planned to show the contrast between the doctors in the field hospital and traditional forms of healing. The doctors couldn’t heal the ailments of some locals. So, they called her in. She succeeded where they failed. It makes for an interesting contrast.

More than that, though, it highlights the differences and similarities between the respective cultures. Both sides of the coin have a way to drive out demons but they look very different. The dark-garbed priests and dancing shaman seem to have nothing in common. However, they have the same goal.

Decades later, the episode makes for a cool piece of trivia for M*A*S*H fans.