Several years ago I spent a couple of weeks with friends and teachers on the Rio Negro, in northwestern Brazil. One day we were visited by a local healer and her daughter. The healer spoke to us about her practice, then went into a trance lasting two or three hours. During that time, she channeled a male deity/healer who spoke to each of us in turn. We came away with a profound sense of this healer’s life and practice. Her life was challenging: in addition to her healing work, she traveled long distances to sell eggs and poultry at markets. In addition to long hours of trance, she consciously negotiated with offending spirits and other entities, gathered “bribes”, and performed rituals. Frequently she was told to sacrifice individual fowl and other living beings; whenever she could, she simply released the birds and animals, rather than killing them. She maintained homing pigeons whom she loved, and used for such rituals.
The healer’s daughter was perhaps 15, sulking, and angry. She had already received a dream choosing her as a healer, and, having seen the difficulty of her mother’s life, wanted none of it. She wished only to be a “normal” adolescent, eventually go to college, see the world, and be a professional. The healer was angry that her daughter was refusing the spirits. Perhaps she was also concerned for her daughter’s welfare.
In the evening, following our meeting with the healer, I began to run a high fever. I went to bed early – bed being a hammock under a large, open sided gazebo. The local jaguar family traveled by this gazebo many evenings, and I was sleeping adjacent their trail. In the night, the howler monkeys sang their jet-engine like calls to the jungle, calls that rose in volue as the night progressed. At some point, the jaguars came purring and sniffing near my hammock. I coughed and sweated and wondered whether I had developed Bone Break Fever.There was to be little sleep that night.
In the darkest part of the night, I began to dream waking dreams. In the dreams, guides showed me how to negotiate with spirits for the health and well being of people. I was shocked at the exorbitant demands of the spirits. They wanted gold, yachts, mansions. Who could afford such items? I was shown that frequently the spirits just wished acknowledgment for their needs and desires. Often they wished the essence of their requests, rather than the material thing itself. These negotiations were lengthy, often gravely difficult, and always demanding.
I awoke feeling deep gratitude to the spirits. Overnight I had gained some small knowledge of this ancient way of healing, and a much heightened respect for the sacrifices of the healer, and the reticence of her daughter.
2 thoughts on “Amazonian Shamanism, Part Two”
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