An important new way of viewing the prehistoric art of the Americas, The Jaguar Within demonstrates that understanding a work of art's connection with shamanic trance can lead to an appreciation of it as an extremely creative solution to the inherent challenge of giving material form to nonmaterial realities and states of being.
Shamanism—the practice of entering a trance state to experience visions of a reality beyond the ordinary and to gain esoteric knowledge—has been an important part of life for indigenous societies throughout the Americas from prehistoric times until the present. Much has been written about shamanism in both scholarly and popular literature, but few authors have linked it to another significant visual realm—art. In this pioneering study, Rebecca R. Stone considers how deep familiarity with, and profound respect for, the extra-ordinary visionary experiences of shamanism profoundly affected the artistic output of indigenous cultures in Central and South America before the European invasions of the sixteenth century.
Using ethnographic accounts of shamanic trance experiences, Stone defines a core set of trance vision characteristics, including enhanced senses, ego dissolution, bodily distortions, flying, spinning and undulating sensations, synaesthesia, and physical transformation from the human self into animal and other states of being. Stone then traces these visionary characteristics in ancient artworks from Costa Rica and Peru. She makes a convincing case that these works, especially those of the Moche, depict shamans in a trance state or else convey the perceptual experience of visions by creating deliberately chaotic and distorted conglomerations of partial, inverted, and incoherent images.
- Chapter 1. General Recurrent Themes in the Phenomenology of Visions
- Chapter 2. The Common Perceptual Phenomena and Stages of the Visionary Experience
- Chapter 3. Visions and Shamanizing: The Intermediary Role, Anomalousness, Control, and Balance
- Chapter 4. Embodying the Shaman in Trance: Embracing Creative Ambiguity
- Chapter 5. Shamanic Embodiment in Ancient Costa Rican Art I: At the Human End and the Balance Point of the Flux Continuum
- Chapter 6. Shamanic Embodiment in Ancient Costa Rican Art II: Toward the Animal End and Beyond the Flux Continuum
- Chapter 7. Shamanic Embodiment in Ancient Central Andean Art I: Toward the Human End and the Balance Point of the Flux Continuum
- Chapter 8. Shamanic Embodiment in Ancient Central Andean Art II: Toward the Animal End and Beyond the Flux Continuum
- Works Cited
On a pragmatic level, certain experiences may be deemed basic to human existence: the pull of gravity on the body; the perceptibly stable appearance of different phenomena in nature (including a human always actually being human and not something else); and the apparent categories of animate and inanimate, of life and death, as mutually exclusive states. Each of these "normal" experiences, however, can be called into question by going beyond the pragmatic into other modes of perception, such as trance consciousness. Peter Stahl wrote, "Cosmographically coextant with an observable world of mundane events is a world of mythic time and space which is most consistently visited through ritually ecstatic alteration of body and spirit" (1986: 134). During trances, the corporeal is reported to fall away, and gravity's weight is replaced by a feeling of soaring flight. Plants, animals, and humans merge and exchange identities with one's human self in rapid flashes of transformation, and a shared animation pervades all things, even remaking death itself within the larger cosmic flux. The rules that govern vision in the quotidian realm do not apply when visiting this visionary one; it is where one sees with one's eyes closed, where geometric patterns and enormous snakes abound, where tiny spirit-beings advise, and the outsized human ego dissolves in the face of essential truths and interconnections.
This book considers how deep familiarity with and profound respect for such extraordinary visionary experiences deeply affected the artistic output of American indigenous cultures before the European invasions of the sixteenth century. Focusing here primarily on ancient Costa Rica and the Central Andes but including a few unavoidable references to the parallel Mesoamerican traditions, I propose that these cultures maintained a "visionary aesthetic" characterized by assumptions, choices, and values indelibly marked by how trance affects the body, mind, and spirit. This visionary aesthetic was born of shamanism, the religious complex pervading the Americas for many millennia and remaining a strong force today. Despite the weight of ponderous scholarly semantic debate, I am retaining the general term "shamanism" for lack of an equivalently encompassing Native American one. Recent scientific support for the ongoing relevance of this nomenclature comes from finding a close genetic connection between Native Americans and specifically the Siberian Tungus area where the term originates. In other words, the peopling of the Americas from the specific world homeland of shamanism continues to be upheld.
For the present purposes, shamanism—a religious complex rather than an institutionalized religion—can be defined as a set of beliefs, ritual acts, and visionary experiences that seek to balance natural forces in order to cure bodily, social, and spiritual ills. The shaman acts as a skilled intermediary with the Beyond, having been called to serve through dreams, visions, miraculous self-healing, and/or anomalous physicality. She or he almost always completes a lengthy and arduous apprenticeship and ideally proves authoritative and efficacious as a healer and/or diviner. Through trances, shamans feel they directly communicate with spirits and often transform into other beings to acquire esoteric knowledge, songs, and information about herbal cures, the future, and distant situations. During these journeys out of the body their relationship to their corporeality is greatly altered, as their spirits are considered to travel elsewhere in the cosmos. (Throughout this study I will use the terms "Elsewhere," "Not-Here," "There," "the Beyond," and "the Other Side" interchangeably to communicate this shamanic understanding that many cosmic realms lie apart from the terrestrial—"Here" or "This Side.") For this reason, an art historical consideration of how the bodies of shamans in trance were characterized artistically serves as a first pass at the vast topic of how visions inspired ancient American art.
Since current Amerindian shamanism still relies heavily on trance states and the traditional means to induce them, I will mine the reports of those experiences found in the anthropological literature as well as original fieldwork and apply them to the many ancient objects that directly commemorate that consciousness. If the artistic enterprise in the vitally creative areas of ancient Central and South America indeed embraced the fundamental characteristics and values instilled by visions, the artistic choices embedded in effigies that literally embody (or recorporealize) the shaman in trance should be conditioned by the trance experience itself. There are also a number of ancient images that directly and obviously depict the content of visions in some way, as seen in the frontispiece and illustrated in chapter 8.
The close interrelation of trance and art is not surprising: both are visual enterprises not necessarily bound by the terrestrial world and thus represent parallel phenomena. Alana Cordy-Collins finds, "Very often such people [shamans, mystics, visionaries, seers] are artists who can portray their solitary ecstatic encounters in forms accessible to everyone. Thus, mystical experience is brought into the mundane world; the gap between ordinary and non-ordinary reality is transcended by artistic symboling" (1989: 34). The paintings of the visions of a well-known contemporary Amazonian shaman in northeastern Peru, the late Don Pablo Amaringo, prove her point, and his comments provide important insights into the characteristics of visions. Amaringo's claim that "the spirits don't talk, but express themselves through images" (ibid.: 30) provides an artist-shaman's confirmation of the basic link between spiritual visions and artistic objects: they are both based on images, not words. More specifically, he reports that during ayahuasca-induced visions he had been shown "how to combine colors correctly to create the most beautiful nuances" (ibid.: 17). According to his biographer Eduardo Luna, Amaringo "acquired his ability to visualize so clearly and his knowledge about colors partly from the ayahuasca brew" (ibid.: 29). Thus, he saw his artistic ability as a gift from visionary consciousness.
Amaringo's personal and creative insights underscore that The Jaguar Within is at base not only an art historical but also a phenomenological study in which direct experience—both that of visionary consciousness and that of perceiving art—is primary evidence. Shamanism is an experiential religious complex in which an initiate is singled out by having experiences different from the ordinary and then learns to control non-ordinary realities through repeated journeys to the Other Side, each one adding another layer of sensory—but primarily visual—revelation. Likewise, the traditional Amerindian curing ritual is a shared experience that brings There into contact with Here, the "patient" very often in trance with the shaman.
Furthermore, visionary experiences are, among other things, aesthetic ones. Therefore, a better understanding of the relationship between visions and art may be possible by considering current trance perceptions as relevant in the analysis of ancient artworks. In order to make this claim, human visionary and aesthetic perceptual experience must be linked to some degree across space and time. In other words, we must assume that what happens today in trances is similar to what happened in ancient times and that what we see in surviving works of ancient art can access in some way what those long-dead artists sought to convey. It is important to stress that I do not argue for specific similarities between individual trances across time or that the modern interpretations of ancient works, such as Grefa's experience of pre-Hispanic petroglyphs (Stone 2007b), directly reflect past cultural ones. Rather, at the level of general visionary propensities, such as losing touch with one's body and seeing geometric patterns, we can expect or at least confidently hypothesize continuities.
Core features of visions, as reported by modern Latin American shamans and others who have experienced them in traditional shamanic settings or participated in recent scientific experiments, are remarkably predictable across wide gulfs of culture. Because certain substances induce trance and have been staples of Amerindian shamanism for millennia, one of the explanations for such continuities would be their chemical/spiritual effects. Instead of using the loaded term "hallucinogens," I will refer to ingested substances that cause trance under the broad and neutral term "entheogens," meaning something that connects one to the divine. Many current researchers reject the term "hallucination" as well. Metzner avers that these substances "do not cause one to see hallucinations in the sense of illusions: rather one sees all the ordinary objects of the sense world plus another whole range of energies and phenomena not ordinarily seen" (2005: 4).
Numerous ethnographic reports substantiate the repetitive nature of trance visions; for example, "regularities are found in Banisteriopsis drink experiences between tribes as widespread as the Chocó Indians west of the Andes in Colombia and the Tacana Indians east of the Andes in Bolivia" (Harner 1973a: 173). As Heinrich Klüver found in his pioneering early-twentieth-century experiments, mescaline "produces certain typical visual effects uninfluenced by the personality of the subject" (1966: 54). Ronald Siegel concludes, after conducting further experiments, "Even in our wildest and maddest hallucinations the mental landscape is the same for all of us," and "the drama of [the subjects'] hallucinations may have different actors and props, but everyone was reading from the same basic script" (1992: 3, 17). Stahl, among others, concurs that "a set of universally redundant sensory phenomena comprises the experiential basis of hallucination" (1986: 134). This comparable visionary perception seems to be basic to the human brain: Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff has tabulated the many common geometric patterns ("phosphenes") seen by both the Tukano of Colombia and scientific subjects whose brains were stimulated with electrical impulses (1975: 173–175, figs. 39, 40), as I will discuss further in chapter 2.
What are these recurring perceptual-revelatory characteristics? While this question will be elaborated in chapters 1 and 2, about 75 percent of the time visions will contain brilliant colors and geometric shapes; spinning, spiraling, and undulating movement; confrontations with predatory animals and transformation of the self into other beings; sensations of flying; communication with spirit-beings; and revelations concerning a universally shared life force. Besides ingesting substances, there are many ways to achieve such visions, yet the experiences remain strikingly similar. I will not venture into why this may be the case but rely on the redundant recounting of the trance experience as an intriguing body of evidence to apply to the visual arts. I postulate that this consistency makes it possible to pursue the matter further into the past, although the exact content may vary among individuals, cultures, and vision episodes (the kind of spirit-being with which one communicates, where one flies, and so forth). To assume that these general core trance features may profitably be applied to images of the ancestors of contemporary shaman informants means to accept the premise that the human brain/mind/soul shares the same tendencies in altered consciousness then as now, especially within a common cultural trajectory, but even outside it. As a scholar, I am certainly not alone in pursuing this line of reasoning (Lewis-Williams 2002, among others); however, effigies from the Amerindian cultures of Costa Rica and the Central Andes provide another means to test how important core visionary features were in past aesthetic systems.
On the second count, the idea that it is possible to interpret art from vastly different eras and cultures also relies upon shared human sensory apparatus, allowing the original makers and ourselves to communicate at some level via the work of art. The basic trust in art to communicate broad messages across space and time underlies all art history and related fields, such as anthropology. In broad strokes, Roman art broadcasts masculine power and its discontents, Dutch paintings bask in the sensuous, and Australian Aboriginal bark paintings de- and re-materialize the Dream Time. Roman art eschews dreams as subject matter. Aboriginal creativity ignores the look of clouds. It is at that level that "style is inescapably culturally expressive" (Prown 1980: 199). My confidence in a certain amount of cross-temporal and -cultural aesthetic communication is grounded in training in perception theory, material culture studies, and formal analysis. Cautiously adding ethnographic analogy to these stances seems warranted in analysis of such a long-standing religious complex as shamanism. The present study is not primarily a theoretical work, and so here I will only introduce fairly practical ways to reconstruct visionary content in ancient American art.
Reconstructing Shamanic Meaning
Certainly to find these bridges to past artistic meaning we must take great pains to be observant, find mutually reinforcing information (visual analysis, archaeological reports, and documentary sources such as the Spanish chroniclers and early dictionaries of indigenous languages), and often work multidisciplinarily, particularly in botany and zoology (Stone-Miller 2002b: 254–258, catalogue no. 567), to avoid gross distortion of the original messages. By "observant" I mean not only attuned to the details of the work of art but also to the natural models with which ancient American artists were so intimately familiar, such as deer, jaguars, whale sharks, and ocelots, and to which shamanic art in particular is exquisitely sensitive due to the core trance experience of actually becoming animals and plants. Trained as an art historian, I cannot claim definitive botanical or zoological expertise, and some identification remains highly subjective, especially given the shamanic value placed on purposefully indescribable multiple beings and the ancient American artistic tendency toward abstraction. However, ambiguity as a positive and diagnostic characteristic of shamanic art will be explored beginning in chapter 4.
Yet we must earnestly seek to avoid identifying images frivolously and ethnocentrically, as has occurred in the past. Egregious examples of naming according to contemporary Western culture include "smiling" mouths and "coffee bean" eyes. Likewise, we will fail to recognize shamanic subject matter if we continue to use overtly Christian terms like "angel" (Cook 1985), "catechism" (Cordy-Collins 1976), and "genuflect" (J. Rowe 1962: 18; Torres and Conklin 1995: 96) and European royal references like "crowns" and "scepters" (Llagostera 1995: 73). These terms inevitably reinforce a Christian European worldview and so stand in opposition to shamanic beliefs and practices. To name one key difference, the Western attitude of humans toward animals is one of distinction, superiority, and domination, as set forth in the first book of the Bible (Genesis 1: 26–28), and this attitude is reflected in artistic representations (Stone-Miller 2004: 47n1). By contrast, shamans actively seek to become other animals—humans are, after all, primates, animals—reflecting an attitude of equality or even submission to animal power and wisdom (Cameron 1985). The Kogi express this lack of human dominance when they say they descend from the jaguar and that therefore "this is his land, from him we ask permission to live here" (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1985, 2: 46). In shamanic thought humans submit to the plant kingdom as well, yet in a catalogue a sculpture of a mushroom was positioned upside down so as to show the inverted human figure upright (Calvo Mora, Bonilla Vargas, and Sánchez Pérez 1995; Stone-Miller 2004: 53n7). We so routinely favor the human over all other phenomena that we often misinterpret images. Saunders reminds us that a Guaman Poma drawing that appears to show a jaguar being hunted in fact represents a royal son who transformed into a jaguar to attack the lowland jungle peoples (1998b: 14–15, fig. 2.1). I have called the Amerindian attitude "human displacement," noting that "if a person becomes a jaguar, then the jaguar's point of view is equivalent to, if not dominant over, that person's own perspective. Clear distinctions between humans and animals are obliterated in shamanic visions, which displace the human from a central position in the cycles and food chains of the animal and plant world" (Stone-Miller 2002b: xvi). We have failed to notice that many ancient American effigies, as will be illustrated in chapters 3 through 8, display round eyes like those of most animals and thus communicate the animal self embedded in the human visage. We may also be lulled into thinking the figure is wholly human by the common artistic choice of a vertical bodily stance, despite a figure's many other animal features. Overcoming our natural anthropocentrism, avoiding Western terminology that encodes such a worldview, and recognizing the telltale signs of other animals in the mix are necessary first steps toward extracting the distinctive messages conditioned by shamanic trance states.
Having given pride of place to the animal, it becomes crucial to assiduously scrutinize the artistic image and correlate it carefully to zoological information. First, to be relevant to a given work of Amerindian art a species does have to be native to the continent and exist in the vicinity of the culture in question. Tigers and leopards definitely do not fit these criteria but are invoked nonetheless (Saunders 1998b: 20). Often "alligator" is used interchangeably with "crocodile" or "caiman" although alligators do not inhabit areas south of Florida (Abel-Vidor et al. 1981: 224–225; Legast 1998: 127; Luna and Amaringo 1999: 37).7 Besides favoring animals more familiar to us, scholars tend to latch onto one native animal, especially the jaguar, and fail to recognize other animals such as the kinkajou (Legast 1998: 125) and the many other American felines (Saunders 1998a: 12, 17). The ocelot has been largely ignored but will figure here in several instances, correcting my own previous misidentifications. Animals not previously identified as shamanic alter egos such as the deer (in chapter 5) and the whale shark (in chapter 7) must be considered as well. Accurate identification involves more than one trait matching a particular species; for instance, both jaguars and pumas have white bellies, so this feature alone does not distinguish either, as Ruege asserts (1991: catalogues 20, 51, n.p.). Care with individual traits such as spotting in cats is important—ocelot spots are long and wavy, jaguar ones concentric—but also especially tricky; for example, young pumas are spotted for up to two years (Tinsley 1987: 43, 48), and jaguars may appear unspotted when albino or melanistic (Wolfe and Sleeper 1995: 95). It is important to keep in mind that spotting is not limited to felines: boas and whale sharks, among many others, are likewise covered with circular markings.
Thus, it is important to acknowledge that Linnaean categories may stand in opposition to indigenous ones, especially if the latter are generated by visionary rather than terrestrial "reality." In other words, specific identification of species may be a Western preoccupation. There seems to be a place in shamanic art for purposefully vague categories like Spotted Predator when no other specific species traits can be discerned. Fangs added to a wide range of images could equally be feline, snake, crocodilian, or bat references. If the fangs cross, bend back, or only feature top teeth they may designate feline versus snake versus crocodile, but this is not always reliable; vampire bats have pointed upper teeth, too (Fenton 1983: 59). I argue that because they foreground the shaman's transformational state, certain effigies are more concerned with conveying the fantastical visionary human and multiple animal beings than with recording specific species, as in the famous Mesoamerican Feathered Serpent. The basic multiplicity inherent in shamanic imagery can frustrate Westerners. Regarding the San Agustín sculptures, Legast complains that "the combinations [of animals and humans] are so varied, and there are so many elements that can be combined that it is difficult, if not impossible, to deduce the rules or circumstances by or in which the associations originated" (1998: 136). It remains difficult to pin down works of art that may combine lizard, boa, stingray, and hammerhead shark attributes (fig. 4.1; Stone-Miller 2002b: 164-169) or insect, rodent, and iguana elements (fig. 8.12, center). At the heart of the matter, flux characterizes the visionary experience and informs images at all levels. It becomes scholars' thorny task to decide what features of which beings apply and how the combinations reflect indigenous values. In a particularly apt comment, Jonathan Hill writes that shamanism among the Wakuénai "'embarrasses the categories' of Western scientific and artistic culture" because it is at once psychological, medical, musical, social, economic, and more (1992: 208).
Despite recognizing "the cognitive fusion or symbiosis of the animal and human worlds" (Legast 1998: 136), we remain confused as to what to call, and hence how to understand, the most basic multiple type of spiritual entity portrayed in ancient American art. When the same types of winged, animal-headed humans may be interchangeably called "mythical," "semi-gods," "gods," or "transfigured shamans" (Alva 2000: 30, 34), our ongoing struggle becomes clear. One might say that seemingly neutral terms such as feline, avian, ritual impersonator, and supernatural are preferable. Yet, neutral terminology can itself be problematically imprecise and ethnocentric, and it can miss overt shamanic content. At one extreme, a pejorative term such as "monstrous" perhaps unwittingly continues the sixteenth-century discourse of European vilification of Amerindian spirituality (Llagostera 1995: 69–76). Reichel-Dolmatoff resorts to the phrase "jaguar monster" to denote a general principle of creation and destruction, a natural life force (1972: 61). Terminology intended to draw attention to the supernatural can no longer reference the Western tendency of looking at the indigenous Americas and finding "there be monsters." I also have taken exception to the more seemingly innocuous term "ritual impersonator" for Paracas embroidered figures, meaning a person ceremonially donning the costume of another being, when quite often there are clearly nonhuman feet (Stone-Miller 2004: 54, 56–58). Even if other elements may be interpreted as costuming or masks (and no established criteria for determining this are currently in use), nonhuman body parts appear to denote a shaman in transformation. Neutral terms and even apparently factual archaeological descriptions can actively obscure spiritual messages and actions (Staller 2001: 31). Unfortunately, we have few words to fall back on when even the word "supernatural" is problematic, assuming a Western split between nature and that which is beyond nature, while the spiritual in nature is fundamental to Native American thought and to shamanic consciousness cross-culturally (Abram 1996: 7–11). I cannot propose an entirely new vocabulary but will attempt to disclose how I am using existing terminology.
Importantly, I will qualify the idea of "images" throughout, arguing that these objects are conceived of as living receptacles for the shaman's spiritual essence, not superficial depictions of their appearance. There are some linguistic clues regarding indigenous conceptions of "images" and how nature, power, and flux manifest through them, though these relate to the latest Amerindian cultures alone. Richard Townsend explores the Nahuatl meanings of the terms teotl and teixiptla in his classic art-related exegesis State and Cosmos in the Art of Tenochtitlan (1979). It is teotl, or life force, that underlies the idea of objecthood captured in teixiptla:
Teotl was universally translated by the Spanish as "god," "saint," or sometimes "demon," but its actual meaning more closely corresponds with that of the Polynesian term mana, signifying a numinous, impersonal force diffused throughout the universe. This force was preeminently manifested in the natural forces (earth, air, fire, and water) but was also to be found in persons of great distinction, or things and places of unusual or mysterious configuration. (28)
Teotl inheres in all levels of unmanifest to manifest phenomena, down to the clothing worn in rituals that invoke a given invisible spirit; as such, it obviously does not correspond to the term "god" in any useful sense, as Townsend's analysis clearly demonstrates, and it infuses life into the full spectrum of what we call aesthetic objects. A teixiptla was a memorial cult effigy of the deceased ruler in which he can "virtually interchange with the teotl of a natural phenomenon" (ibid.: 31). The ruler had impersonated that teotl during life and assimilated its being, so the teixiptla "was not a personality that was being commemorated but, rather, the continuing office of leaders in preserving a transcendental affinity between the cosmic and the social orders" (ibid.). Thus, teotl was a dynamic quality or relationship embodied in a physical form, just as active as I argue shamans are in relation to their corporeality.
Closer to this book's cultural focus, Quechua concepts almost uncannily share teotl's pervasive nature and sacred energetic quality and likewise encourage us to see objects as verbs rather than nouns. Like teotl, the concept of camay encompasses the active, mutable, energized/energizing nature of seemingly physical phenomena, positing creation as a continuous infusion of specific life force uniting invisible/celestial with visible/earthly versions (Salomon and Urioste 1991: 16; Gérald Taylor 2000). The idea of infusion (camay) includes the infuser (camac) and the infused (camasca), the latter being the most physical manifestation. For instance, according to Inka thought, all living llamas were energized by the celestial llama constellation (Salomon and Urioste 1991: 16). The physical object is always in a dualistic relationship with something larger, more energy-rich, and less visible, as I argue for the shamanic effigy. For the Inka, the equivalent to teixiptla was wawki, a sculpted double or "brother," to be discussed in more depth in chapter 4.
A more general term for physical phenomena charged by spiritual force, huaca focuses on the sacred life energy found in dual-natured, anomalous entities such as double-yolked eggs, cleft boulders, odd facial features, and springs (Salomon and Urioste 1991: 16–19; Classen 1993: 2, 14–15, 67). I will explore how anomalousness as sacred applies to shamans as well. But in terms of objects, many if not most huacas were stones, and current shamanic uses of stones retain strong continuities with Inka concepts, not surprisingly since Quechua or Quichua continues to be spoken by current practitioners (Stone 2007b: 22–25; Stone n.d.a). Crucially, the Quechua words for stones act both as nouns and as verbs, communicating the transformational spiritual force inherent in uncarved and carved rocks (Howard 2006: 239-241; Stone 2007b: 21). Linguistics thus reflects this deeply rooted shamanic assumption that all things are in flux, that one thing becomes another, making a "verbal" approach to images more productive than does a search for fixed species and static gods.
In his attempt to convey what pajé or payé (commonly glossed "shaman") signifies for the contemporary Wayapí in Brazil, Alan Campbell calls this inadequacy of our vocabulary in relation to shamanic thought "hobbling along with the language." He, too, argues that
our language world is heavy with nouns . . . It becomes particularly obvious when we define ourselves. When people ask "What do you do?" inviting a verb, we answer with a noun. "I am an architect; I am a miner". . . Because we cast ourselves in nouns constantly, endlessly, we go on to impose this . . . on everyone else we meet . . . "Shaman" we get wrong because we can't see beyond the specialized human role to the quality from which the role is moulded; a quality that inheres amongst many aspects of the world; that emerges from all sorts of places; and that envelopes us in all sorts of ways. (2003: 129, my italics)
Like teotl and huaca, Campbell was told that payé is a type of energy that can exist in a tree, an anaconda, a healer, and all around in nature, as well as being normally invisible, appearing in various degrees, and capable of being acquired, lost, and regained (ibid.: 134). In this study I retain the term "shaman" but reconceptualize it as actively as possible, with the shaman first and foremost as an intermediary, an anomalous experiential knowledge seeker, and an authoritative ritualist restoring dynamic balance to the system by going outside the norm, as discussed in chapter 3.
Excavating the experiential foundations of shamanic thought, I believe, uncovers some provocative links between the present and the past and in turn helps reveal how art has embodied the visionary worldview for millennia.
Relating the Ancient to the Modern
There is no denying that continuities exist between pre- and post-Hispanic religious life in the Americas, just as it is obvious there are significant disjunctions due to five centuries of upheaval and vicious ongoing "extirpation" of indigenous beliefs and practices. These continuities and disjunctions coexist; for instance, the Inquisition condemned consumption of visions-inducing plants in 1616 (Grob 2002b: 189), and so perforce it went underground, yet it has continued almost unabated into modern times. Perhaps ironically, the extirpators' vitriolic attacks on indigenous plant sacraments help us reconstruct the religious orientation so powerfully maintained even in the face of long, concerted campaigns to wipe it out. For example, Ruiz de Alarcón in 1629 reveals that colonial native Mexican women caught with the entheogenic morning glory (ololiuhqui in Nahuatl) staunchly denied it; this may not be surprising given the punishment they stood to receive for their "pagan" acts, but the reason they gave for it discloses an important indigenous value:
Being asked why she had perversely denied it, she answered the usual: Oninomauhtiaya, which means "Out of fear I did not dare." And here it should be carefully noticed that this fear is not of the ministers of justice for the punishment they deserve but of the ololiuhqui or of the deity who they believe lives in it, and they have this respect and veneration for it so firmly rooted that indeed the help of God is needed to rip it out. (1984: 61)
Thus, we discover that the plant spirit—bypassing his imposed term "deity"—was considered divine and in this case vengeful to those who would expose it to enemy attention; in short, the plant spirit was believed to be more powerful than its formidable European adversaries. This underscores how firmly ancient values remained intact a century after the Spanish invasions, as they were in Peru as well (Mills 1997, Cobo 1990). I would also point out that ancient plant imagery was animated with faces (Cordy-Collins 1979: 53–54, figs. 3, 7–10; Knobloch 2000: 391), and contemporary shamans across Latin America continue to aver that entheogenic plants have spirit-beings within them or are spirits in essence.
On the other hand, Ruiz de Alarcón's conclusion that "indeed the help of God is needed to rip it out" represents how Spanish Catholicism has had inevitable distorting effects. The Europeans' violent distaste for the "pagan" recast indigenous beliefs as instruments of "the Devil" and lumped shamans into the European category of evil "witches," especially if they ingested plant substances (Harner 1973c; Glass-Coffin 1998: 41-46, 145). Friar Bernabé Cobo's Inca Religion and Customs begins:
The Indians of Peru were so idolatrous that they worshiped as Gods almost every kind of thing created. Since they did not have supernatural insights, they fell into the same errors and folly as the other nations of pagans . . . Upon finding fertile ground in the simplemindedness and ignorance of these barbarians, he [the Devil] reigned over them for many centuries until the power of the Cross starting stripping him of his authority. (1990: 3)
Any religious tradition that has been so consistently vilified will have changed and cloaked itself to adapt to a hostile environment, and so absolute continuities with the past cannot be postulated. Indeed, the blending of shamanism and Catholicism creates fascinatingly complex, ambiguous, dualistic situations that point up both continuity and disjunction. For instance, in the mesa (a set of power objects usually arrayed on a cloth on the ground or on a table) of the late Don Eduardo Calderón, a shaman of north coastal Peru, the left or "evil" side, ruled by "Satan," contains the ancient American objects (Sharon 1972: 42; 1978: 62-63). The "good" side contains power objects with Christian imagery. The two sides are mediated, appropriately enough, by San Cipriano, a great magician whose devilish powers of love magic were thwarted by a girl who was protected by the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and the cross of Saint Bartholomy. The Devil conceded to Cipriano that God was more powerful, so Cipriano converted, was martyred, and finally canonized (Dobkin 1968/1969: 30). It is hard to miss the message that it is morally positive to give up the evil ways of the "magician"—that is, indigenous shaman—or at least hide them behind the cross. Certain shamans, such as Shipibo Don Guillermo Arrévalo, therefore reject Cipriano as anti-indigenous (Arrévalo 2005: 206). Yet to others like Don Eduardo who do not practice harmful magic, Cipriano was manipulative and thus a "black" magician, so they can embrace the Christian moral of conversion from evil to good. To all, Cipriano represents a liminal figure: Don Eduardo centrally places his San Cipriano image on his mesa so it can strike bargains with Satan (Sharon 1978: 71). The delicate cultural position of a modern Catholic shaman is played out in his mesa, though the Christian overlay on a fundamentally shamanic curing ritual is abundantly clear.
In such a multilayered phenomenon, the emphasis on tracing continuities over time or focusing on post-Conquest disjunctions is subjective. It seems germane that shamans often point up continuities with the past. Don Pablo talks about the lineage connecting the Inkas, the traditional people, the mestizos, and now the Caucasians, each teaching the next (Wiese 2010: minute 23). Scholars tend to come down heavily on one or the other side of the issue; I will neither replay the debate here nor engage those who deny all shamanic terminology, objects, practices, and imagery. A group of scholars from disparate backgrounds note basic continuities that allow us to look in the present for clues to the past, tempered with healthy caution. For Staller and Currie, ethnography provides "an informed framework . . . to construct an intelligible picture" of the past, and
Andeanists, as well as those working in the Amazonian lowlands, . . . have the advantage of indigenous societies surviving in their regions which have, to a greater or lesser degree, maintained their cultural traditions and concepts about their universe, and their languages have survived largely intact. . . . A particularly important body of literature has been generated from ethnographic and ethnohistoric accounts surrounding indigenous folk practices of healing and curing and those relating to shamanic rituals. It is generally believed that such traditions have their roots deep in antiquity. . . . Recently, scholars of Pre-Columbian South America have turned increasingly to the rich ethnographic record for the interpretation of Andean symbolism. They have sought and applied widespread universal themes and common mythological elements in an approach to the analysis of symbols which encompasses new cognitive approaches to cultural anthropology. This focuses on ways that people from traditional societies have of perceiving themselves and their place in the universal scheme of things in contrast to a Western order and world view. All this attempts to go beyond mere culture description in order to gain a better understanding of the Native American perspective. (2001: 2)
Anthropologist Catherine Allen remarks, "Five hundred years after the Spanish Conquest I did not expect analogies to exist at the level of specific detail but in general ways of thinking . . . [However,] the mental shifts I had to make [as an ethnographer] to enter the discourse of my Andean acquaintances might help us ‘interrogate' the pre-Columbian material" (1998: 25). Nicholas Saunders agrees:
Ethnographic analogy should not be based on the assumption that human behavior is generically uniform, or that historically recent or contemporary indigenous societies will replicate an identical association of attributes or meanings distinctive of a prehistoric culture . . . Nevertheless, a careful consideration of ethnographic contexts can suggest generative principles and generalizations that can be tested against archaeological data. (1998b: 20–21)
Cordy-Collins notes that ethnography forms a good starting point because the "study of a substantial number of cases of ethnographic hallucinatory art can delimit parameters by which investigations of ancient art may be begun . . . Using ethnographic guidelines as points of reference and departure, it appears that at least some prehistoric art was also hallucinatory in origin" (1989: 39–41). Don Pablo Amaringo, Don Eduardo Calderón, and other modern shaman artists serve as valuable informants in such a process. With their views in mind and specifically concentrating on visions as the point of departure and a major source of continuity, in this study I consider ways in which the general framework of current shamanic trance experience suggests generative principles that are reflected in ancient artistic choices; for example, seeing visions better with eyes closed helps identify images of slit-eyed and closed-eye people as being in trance.
Yet, it is important to distinguish ethnographically based inquiry from other kinds of continuities, substitutions, and bridges between present and past with varying degrees of relevance to the topic at hand. Shamanism is a configuration of traits, and it cannot be reduced to any one of its component elements in isolation, such as taking entheogenic substances, communicating with animals, or predicting the future. It has certain sets of practices (trances, sucking/blowing out disease, cleansing, chanting, and so on) guided by assumptions about how phenomena in the cosmos interact (for example, that spirits can be incorporated into the human intermediary and that songs and actions do not have to be perceptible to be effective) and with defined goals (curing ills, balancing forces, promoting fertility, bringing game). Furst makes the key point that visions were undertaken toward "individually and socially useful ends," not for their own sake (1990: xiii). A contemporary report of a visionary experience, therefore, may belong within the overall coherent cultural tradition of shamanism, or it may not. This is certainly subjective and potentially arbitrary, but I will propose what I consider a relevant visionary experience for present purposes.
I avoid including examples from the U.S. drug culture beginning in the mid–twentieth century, since recreational use of often synthetic "psychedelic" substances diverges from sacred traditions (with rare exceptions in which a reported independent experience with a natural substance closely echoes a shamanic one). While in the 1960s adherents to the so-called counterculture ingested some of the same substances as in ancient and contemporary traditional shamanic communities, at best the former gave only superficial "lip service to the 'teachings' of Native Americans" (ibid.: xii). The infamous and tragic case of celebrities whose interaction with Doña María Sabina and others destroyed the ancient spiritual tradition for her is apparent in her lament: "'What is terrible, listen, is that the divine mushroom no longer belongs to us. Its sacred language has been profaned. The language has been spoiled and it is indecipherable for us'" (in Rothenberg 2003: xvi; this case is covered in Sabina with Estrada 2003: 47–69). Shamanism and drug culture have again overlapped in the twenty-first century; there has been an alarming rise in a phenomenon variously called "whiteshamanism" (Rose 1992), plastic shamans (Aldred 2000), spiritual hucksterism (Churchill 2003), neoshamanic appropriation (Johnson 2003), drug tourism, and commercial shamanism (Arrévalo 2005). Margo Thunderbird expressed it succinctly: "'Now they want our pride, our history, our spiritual traditions. They want to rewrite and remake these things, to claim them for themselves. The lies and thefts just never end'" (in Rose 1992: 403). Profiteering, untrained, appropriative, and potentially dangerous, the propagators of this contemporary "borrowed mysticism" (Arrévalo 2005: 203) are not considered germane here, and native traditional shamans recognize the distinction between their practices and the "false shamans" around them.
Though the "churches" that have fought for religious freedom to ingest ayahuasca or peyote are worthy of study on their own terms (Grob 2002b: 194–196, 206–210), they nevertheless likewise do not qualify as traditional expressions here. The Santo Daime, Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV), and Native American churches may dispense entheogens and display some shamanistic elements in their rituals, but institutionalization is antithetical to traditional shamanism, and Christian as well as other religious and social orientations predominate over Native American elements (Grob 2002a; Fikes 1996; Metzner 2002: 167–169; Metzner with Darling 2005: 43).
The Present Study
In this thematic study I examine ways in which shamanistic visions inform, illuminate, and undergird the ancient artistic renditions of shamans and seek principles that link experience with aesthetics. For instance, a persistent theme in visionary reports is a feeling of corporeal suspension that relates to how bodies in ancient renditions of shamans in trance might appear light or floating. The extreme excitation of the senses also encouraged artists to emphasize the head over the body.
Because I consider the experiential aspects of visions highly influential, if not causative, in determining the character of Amerindian shamanism, its assumptions about reality, and what is encoded in images of shamans, I will begin with an in-depth consideration of what is reported to take place in trance consciousness. Chapter 1 covers the phenomenology of the visionary experience as reported by a wide range of shamans and traditional informants, exploring the overarching characteristics of altered states of consciousness, including the ineffable yet veracious character of the visionary world (distinct from this world but equally or more believable), dual consciousness (as opposed to possession or unconsciousness), multiplicity and flux (reinforcing that transformation characterizes the more-than-human realms), and the common light and color effects that pervade the experience (especially brilliant illumination, enhanced color, and the hues blue and red).
Chapter 2 details the major perceptual experiences of the early stages of trance, featuring geometric patterns and spiraling and undulating movement, as well as the later, more narrative ones, principally entailing suspension and flying, animal interaction and transformation, and spiritual communication and revelation. Decorporealization, new perspectives, nocturnal and predatory animals, and shared life force are foregrounded.
Chapter 3 views the shamans' basic roles and uses of objects in modern healing as indebted to their experience in visions. Using as examples the better-studied ethnic groups, especially those of the Andes and Amazonian regions, four main themes emerge: the intermediary, anomalousness, attainment of authority, and dynamic balance. These themes again will be applied in the more in-depth consideration of artworks in subsequent chapters.
Turning to effigies in the second half of the book, chapter 4 concerns how these general shamanic and perceptual visionary concepts inform the artistic rendering of the shamanic body. Exploration of creative ambiguity, communication of authority, cephalocentrism, and the trance gaze will set the stage for the art historical crux of the study.
Applying the previous concepts to the artistic choices embedded in effigies, in chapters 5 and 6 I analyze a series of images of shamans from ancient Costa Rica and in chapters 7 and 8 a corresponding set from the Central Andes. These case-study objects are considered along a continuum of transformation from the apparently more human to the balanced human-animal to the more animal and finally to those that reach "beyond the continuum" into the highly abstract, patently fantastical, and therefore overtly visionary. Effigies of individuals with anomalous bodies, those who have historically been called disabled, are integrated into this continuum under the argument that the wounded-healer phenomenon is pervasive and to resemble an animal would be highly valued in shamanic societies. In addition, compositions will be highlighted that directly illustrate what is seen and how that is arrayed in visions, replete with partial, inverted, incoherent figures of animals, plants, and humans and combinations thereof.
I conclude the study with a comparison of three sets of pieces found in the earlier case studies to evaluate how Costa Rican and Andean examples treat a similar subject matter, technical, or design choice. Striking similarities in artistic patterns are postulated as evidence that a larger shamanic visionary worldview governed both cultural areas, but differences indicate the particular emphases that distinguish Central from South American expressions.