Masaryk University

SINGING THE PATHS OF PLANTS: Drug Induced Perceptional Shifts in the Shapeshifting Shamanic Ritual Practices of the Selected South American Tribes: Language, Cosmological and Biological Aspects

For my comparative research, I selected a few South American communities inhabiting the mountainous and west Amazonian regions in Colombia and Peru, in particular Paez, Kogi, Desana, Yaminahua and Shipibo-Konibo. Despite the diverse character of their natural habitats and the considerable distances between their territories, these tribes share cosmological viewpoints and perform rituals that reveal striking similarities. In all these communities, for instance, natural drugs like ayahuasca, coca or tobacco are traditionally used during the shamanic practices, either by the shaman alone or by all the participants, to enhance the experience of the perceptional shift and the credibility of the shaman. The focus of my attention will be the collective belief that a shaman (or a médico) has ability to change into non-human entities and the various features and purposes of the accompanying rituals connected to the use of natural drugs. As we learn from mythological stories, but also from contemporary testimonies, during his metamorphosis, a shaman undergoes a sudden shift in the perception of the self and others- a fascinating motif to which a considerable part of the presentation will be devoted. The ritual singing used during the ceremonies associated with shapeshifting is characterized by an obscure “twisted” metaphoric language. These metaphors, which are considered a shaman`s most valued possessions, are usually based on perceptual and cultural associations and succinctly illustrate the nature of the shapeshifting phenomenon by simultaneously revealing the multiple viewpoints of all parties involved. The way the usage of these associations is explained by the practicing shamans appears to have a very dram-like character and appears to be influenced by the ritualized drug consumption. For comparative purposes, where appropriate, parallels appearing in traditions of more distant cultures (geographically and historically) will be mentioned throughout the paper.

Lucie Vinšová