Religion and Ritual Essay

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Anthro 102: Religion and Ritual

In “ The Sound of Rushing Water”, Anthropologist Michael Harner studies the rituals of the Jivaro, Indians that live in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The Jivaro believe in and practice witchcraft. They believe illnesses, and most non- violent deaths are caused by bewitchings or spells. The Jivaro use a hallucinogen to help them connect to this supernatural world where they can see who is bewitching and the causes of these illnesses. To them reality is an illusion and only though the use of this hallucinogen are they able to see the goings on that affect waking life. Those who imbibe this drug, otherwise known as “Natema”, are shamans. According to the Jivaro, there are two types of shamans: those who bewitch, and those who cure. Natema comes from a vine that is boiled to produce a tea. Harner states that he was finally able to appreciate the Jivaro view of reality until he drank the hallucinogen in his field work with another Amazonian tribe. He states he was transported in a trance to a supernatural world that seemed natural. He later realized how profound this drug affects the tribes’ ideology. He returned to visit the Jivaro to study them once again. According to Harner, a quarter of the Jivaro men become shamans because the desire is so great to contact the supernatural world. Those who want to become a shaman need to present a gift to a practicing shaman, who later gives the apprentice some of his supernatural powers and spirit helpers, known as tsentsak. These spirit helpers or “darts” are the main supernatural forces believed to cause illness and death in daily life. Only those who are shamans under the influence of Natema can perceive the tsentsak. Shamans send spirit helpers to hurt or kill fellow tribesmen. They can also suck these spirits from the bodies of injured men. The spirit helpers can also protect the shaman from getting attacked by forming shields. The shaman regurgitates a substance containing the spirit helpers and then gives part of this to the novice to swallow. The novice must then stay in bed for 10 days while repeatedly injesting the Natema. The Jivaro believe they can keep these magical darts inside their bodies indefinitely and can regurgitate them at will. In order to become a successful shaman, the novice must abstain from sexual intercourse for at least 3 months. If he fails, he will not be able to shaman. After one month, a tsentsak emerges from the shamans’ mouth, and if he chooses to use it against someone he is considered a bewitching shaman. If he can contril the impulse and swallow it down, he will become a curing shaman. If the shaman can abstain from sexual intercourse for 5 months he has earned the power to kill a man or cure a victim. A full year is recommended to be a very successful shaman. During this year, the shaman must collect a variety of insects, plants and animals that will later be converted to tsentsaks.…