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South America Religion

Indigenous Peoples' ViewShamans And Ritual

Focal shamanic characteristics include the ability to "come and go" from the spirit world and to move in and out of trance states, an ability to "see" the quotidian invisibilities, abilities to cure afflictions and to send afflictions to others. Hallucinogens are often (but not always) used by shamans and others to enhance their powers of ecstatic travel, curative gnosis, and harmful malignity. Prominent among these are soul vine (ayahuasca, yajé—Banisteriopsis) of Upper Amazonia, Datura (Brugmansia) of Amazonia, Andes, and Southern Cone, Hekura snuff or Yopo (ebené—Anadenanthera) from Western Amazonas, Epená (Virola) of Northwest and Western Amazonas, and tobacco from all of Amazonia in Mesoamerica and the continental United States as well, a panoply of vision-inducing drugs, including tobacco, as well as fasting and other techniques, were used to achieve spiritual and corporeal transformations.

Concepts of souls and spirits are fundamental to indigenous perspectives on religion in South America. Humans have souls, and so do spirits, animals, plants, and inanimate substances. Also significant and animate are sacred sites such as trees, mountains, caves, waterfalls, cataracts, springs, and underground rivers. All communication necessitates knowledge of soul and spirit essences and substances. Ritual—a system of stylized behavior only partially encoded in indigenous exegesis and performance but discernible through time in indigenous historicity, shamanism, and discourse—is the primary vehicle of religious instantiation. Music, rhythm, poetry, and aesthetic imagery are all part and parcel of shamanic performative dramatic art. During indigenous ritual enactment the cosmology and cosmogony open up to include all peoples of the universe, living and dead, together with animal spirits and souls. Humans take on the roles of other people and other beings, collectively portraying the diversity of life and humanity within their individualities. During ritual activity harmony and acrimony are both enacted on various stages of drama that signal both order and chaos. Lawrence Sullivan places ritual activity in a eschatological category that he calls "diversionary activity" (or "entertainment") and vividly summarizes the dramas of such activity: "By turning primordial realities off to one side and historical existence off to another, diversionary entertainment rends chaos asunder and stretches open the distance between clashing times" (p. 681; italics in original).

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Reason to RetrovirusSouth America Religion - Indigenous Peoples' View - Conceptualizing Space-times, The Axis Mundi, Shamans And Ritual, European Contact, Conclusion