Transformations in the Field, IV


11. Edward Abse : "Shamanism and Secrecy among the Mazatecs". [northern Oaxaca]

p. 267 unintentional offenses to spirits

"a patient was likely to remember that on some occasion they had crossed a stream at midday, the very hour when the spirits – the chikones or "owners" of the place – come out to eat, and, as a result, had "stained" their table. Or perhaps, equally typical, it turned out that the patient had cut down a tree in the territory of a chikon nindo, a spirit who lives in a nearby cave, without asking permission, that is, without presenting the appropriate offering. In either case, he had provoked the ire of the spirits who, at that moment, had seized his se`n-nizjin, literally his "day image" or "reflection," the soul that remained trapped there in that very place as punishment."

pp. 268-269 strayed souls

p. 268

"divinations matched to a patient’s memories of his or her actions prior to an illness event led to the location of the missing soul, represented as trapped in one of the many named sites of the sacred topography inhabited by spirit beings. Lost souls used to be found on mountaintops and in caves and streams. ... Alternatively, in cases of mortal illness, dreams or divinations reveal that the soul ... with no hope of rescue : ... affixed ... to some macabre location at the shadowy borders of the cosmos, for example, crucified upon the "Black Cross in the West.""

p. 269

"erysipelas, a deep red inflammation of the skin accompanied by a high fever, is associated with graveyards, and may be understood to arise from ... one’s soul there among the dead."

p. 270 shamans

"The Mazatec ... phrase for shaman is chjota chjine, literally, "person who knows." What they know ... are varieties of divination techniques and healing rituals, and details of cosmological reference and principles necessary to their efficacy."

"All shamans claim that their special knowledge comes to them directly from the deities and spirits in the course of their own individual visionary experience. ... I was often told by shamans that each first acquired his or her healing knowledge during initiatory ritual ordeals that culminated in being presented by ... the spirits with his or her own Libro de Conocimiento, or "Book of Knowledge.""

p. 271 litany of the book

xon tsje (‘clean book’)

xon naska` (‘beautiful book’)

xon nizjin (‘book of day’)

xon xon~o (‘book of dew’)

xon fate (‘shining book’)

xon e`n (‘book of language’)


12. Janferie Stone : "Clothing the Body in Otherness". [Guatemala]

pp. 284-285 table about shape-shifting wife




"This wife had no children; she was barren. She was a woman who went out into the night and ran wild ... . The husband ... awoke ...; his wife was not beside him. She had left a grinding stone in her place. ...


The pieces of her body kept moving, moving, trying to come back together. ...


That night he dreamed and traveled into the dreams of the sleeping woman to talk with her. He said that when she awoke she should tell her husband that a man had come to her in her dreams."

pp. 295, 301-303 tales about witch-women shape-shifters




"Many tales involve a man, a trader, on the road overnight, who is forced to take shelter in a strange house, or near ruins or a cemetery. Overhearing people talking, he recognizes the voice of his wife, making pacts with other "masters of the night"".


"It turns out that she is drugging him into a deep sleep each night so that she may change into an animal and roam the town. ... Once he has witnessed the process, the appalled husband consults a diviner and resolves to ... salting the human skin she leaves behind. Thus, one night, returning to the house, the wife is unable to re-clothe herself in human flesh and disappears in her animal form into the night."

pp. 303-304 tales about living skeleton-spectres


living skeleton


"She ... was transforming herself when her husband saw her. She was transforming herself but she was there with four legs, she was talking, talking, talking. ... Now she ... took the form of a skeleton." {Women are allegedly seen as walking skeletons by arhant men : to view women as walking skeletons is supposedly a distinguishing capacity of the arhant.}


"stories of calaveras. Such beings may appear as fleshly women to unwary drinkers out on the road at night, luring them into the forest for sexual esapades, only to reveal their skeletal selves". {There is a Zun~i legend to this effect.}


"a calavera (male) knocked on the door of a newlywed couple’s house ...; the calavera (leaping and turning in the air each time) transformed from one animal into another and then another and another,


each time the human bones appearing and disappearing beneath the fleshly forms. The young wife was rendered cold and immobile ...; she barely recovered later, after days".

pp. 298-302, 304-307, 309 massacres perpetrated by the government; resultant pan-Maya nationalism




"these narratives were one way to speak about the pervasive fear and trauma generated during la violencia. When people gathered, often at wakes for those who had been caught in the crossfire between the army and the guerrillas, the teller, without naming any one person (for that might bring further repercussions) nevertheless evoked the dilemma".


"the disappearance of so many earthly bodies, the lack of knowledge about where they were buried and angst about the destiny of their souls, undirected between the layers of existence without rites of burial, unable to join the ancestors."


"the rebellious protagonists ..., in the narratives and histories, ... transform into their nawals and disappear into the mountains."


"the telling of the nawal tale within communities night signal a surge of force that aligns with the long historical cycle of resistance to colonial and postcolonial administrations, ... against the convulsive civil war and repression, of change. Within the chaos of genocide the storytelling itself was a ritual movement ... to harness the power of the uncontrollable sacrifice that was taking place. ... . ... when the violence was at its height, an ancient Maya stirring was set into motion that had its own momentum and destined outcomes (Montejo 1999, 13)."


"During la violencia the presence of women in traje [traditional Maya dress] assumed a greater significance, ... with women as valientes (Hendrickson 1995, 133) for carrying the markers of Maya culture when men had ceased to do so for fear of being picked up by the army on conscription or guerrilla sweeps."


"At present, as urban Maya nationalists within the Pan-Maya movement assert, it is more important for women to continue to wear the traditional dress than for men to do so (Warren 1998, 108)."


"Once ... traveling between town he came upon bodies. He could see where they had been mutilated. ... The people spoke in hushed tones within the walls of the family compounds of mutilations to the breasts and sexual organs."


"But the violence was present around Lake Atitlun, flaring into open battle in Santiago Atitlan and in frequent gunfire exchanges in the hills and on the roads."


"Guatemala ... forty-year-long civil conflict, peaking in the late seventies and the eighties, when more than 200,000 Maya were killed and 440 villages destroyed in a massive repression by the Guatemalan Army, authorized by the government (Montejo, 1994,4). The Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH), the UN-appointed truth commission, reported on the extent of the terror and its racist-ethnic basis in 1999."

309, n. 3

"The UN-appointed Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) estimates that the number of persons who have been killed or who have disappeared as a result of the ... confrontation exceeds 200,000. CEH documented unspeakable atrocities ... and held the Guatemalan state responsible for acts of genocide against Mayan communities. See ."

Montejo 1999 = Victor Montejo : Voices from Exile. Norman : U of OK Pr, 1999.

Hendrickson 1995 = Carol Hendrickson : Weaving Identities. Austin : U of TX Pr, 1995.

Warren 1998 = Kay B. Warren : Indigenous Movements and Their Critics : Pan Maya Activism in Guatemala. Princeton U Pr, 1998.

{These massacres in Guatemala were, as is well-known, promoted and master-minded by the C.I.A. operating from headquarters in Columbus, GA.}


13. Duncan Earle : "Participation as Transformation".[K>ic^e>]

p. 311 author’s willingness to disclose his own belief in the praeternatural

"only now am I authorizing myself to reveal my apocryphilia {apocryphophilia}. Maybe because the tenure packet is in. Or because bolder people have cut the trail, like Tim Knab and the Tedlocks, fellow travelers in the really magical lands of Mesoamerica."

p. 312 repeated confirmations (of whether the author is worthy of becoming a diviner) by divination

The diviner "takes the divining table out, and ... casts, again and again, those shiny red and black beans across the cloth. Shajenam, always the same. Validation through repeated outcomes of a ... procedure. ... "You see," he says to me, "no change, the same message, the same news. You have to receive the bundle, you have to gather the path.""

pp. 313-315 a se’ance (to confirm further the author’s worthiness to become a diviner) communicating with the soul of a dead woman and with a deity




"now the candles are extinguished, now the strange breathing starts, like someone speaking through one of those masks they wear ..., but more rasping ..., and a high-pitched voice inside this wind ..., and banging on the table. ... .


... the disembodied voice comes from every direction, close and far, above and below ... . ... [The diviner] ... asks ... if the Mundos (world[s]) would fetch his {dead} mother, before he inquires about me. The request is made, the voice goes down a hallway, open an auditory door, brings forth the sounds of an aged woman ... . It is just past noon down there [in the world of the dead; although "close to midnight" (p. 313) in the world of the living]. [The diviner] asks how she has fared in Shbilbaj [Xibalba]. [When she had been alive less than a month earlier, she had spoken of her prospective dying], which she planned to do ... on 13 Dog, a lucky day to go out [of this world]. ... Now not a month later, and she sounded ... about the belt Hurricane Owl [one of the gods of the dead] had insisted she wear, a canti, a nasty viper, always biting, biting ... . Could I have fallen asleep ...? No, I can see in my dreams! {So, are the se’ances held in the dark in order to distinguish them from dreaming; so that the souls of the dead who are summoned will be able to distinguish that they have been summoned from their world not into the dream-world, but into the waking-world of the living?}


... she is escorted away, and the capitan of the Earthlords is called forth, to consider my case. ... The Mundo greets me. Shu>aq>a>, "good night," is all I muster ... . ... Then the raspy voice cackles out something in K>iche> ... . ... . ... to translate : "If you have a dog ... in the house ... who does not know who your friends are, he could just bite anybody." ... Not until later do I find out that this meant that I must be taught : ... I was ... a potential loose cannon on the spiritual plane, if left untutored. {He might unintentionally injure anybody by his knowledge of sorcery, unless he were tutored how to take praecautions not to do so.} ... Carrying the whole thing further, they named a dog after me, one with one blue and one brown eye." {This was symbolic of the author’s capability of unintentionally injuring others by the "evil eye", until he would be tutored how not to do so.}

pp. 315-316 how the author was convinced to become a diviner




"And no, ... I was not at the time in the least interested in becoming a calendar


diviner. ... No one had ever explained to me that in addition to

the divinations (check),

the dreams (check),

the special sickness with appropriate visions (check),
all these "impersonal recruitment" indicators, the one other sure sign of divinatory destiny besides my sacred calendar birth day is extreme reluctance to take up the beans, to count the days." {These, including the reluctance, are likewise indicators of an aptitude for shamanhood.}

p. 320, n. 1 "Dennis ... Tedlock ... is ... translator of ... Breath on the Mirror : Mythic Voices and Visions of the Living Maya ..., in which I appear as a character named Tuncan."

p. 316 author’s acceptance of the diviner’s terms of reference

"Now all of time had another frame placed around it, in twenty-day rounds, and with the dance of the thirteen intensities.

Deer days hard to get on top of,

Dog days of desire and intuition,

Bird days of fortune,

so many influences to look for, so many signs to read, ponder, read again ... . ...

Now through the ... Maya time and holy space the opaque world of traditionalism emerged, and when I looked out on the projects we were attempting from the borrowed vantage point of my compadres of the [diviners’] table, it seemed suddenly all wrong, ... well-meaning disasters."

pp. 316-318 how the author engaged in spiritual curing




"I was the ayudante, the apprentice of a known healer-diviner, and this was an urgent matter. As I approached the last rise to the house, I was already taking charge, sending children out for the herbs, instructing the neighbors to pool offerings, erecting an altar ... . ... I asked plaintively, who has forgotten her permissions? What ancestor may be livid? ... Perico`n, tagetes lucida, relative of the marigold, ... that cuts fever gently. I knew this because I had been thus cured when I had what this girl looked to have, an illness owned in the Xilbalbaj underworld. I was also conversant with the illness in the medical literature and knew the best thing was ... lots of perico`n tea, ... for food-borne hepatitis, once it shows in the eyes. I took note of the day, Home ..., interrogated the family about any past failures to ask for thanks for issues of the household from the World. Another house was being built close by, and there had not been a proper ceremony of permission. This would have to be rectified, I knew the rite, I was completely engaged in it ... . The beans revisited the house, ... a permission was missed. A cross word ... had to be forgiven, with penitence before the altar, back and forth on the


knees, in view of the patient, while I mumbled, swung the censer ... . Q>an bok>och, the name of an underworld Lord, and the sickness he rules. ... . ... it was Lord Yellow Eyes".

pp. 310-320 author miscorrelated [deliberately?] the 20 day-signs with stages of becoming a diviner-curer (-- the correct correlation would be thus :-)



stage of becoming


"Ancient Changes" (Cib)

{"the ancestors interfere in people's lives, checking and watching over their behaviours" ("A")}


"Thoughts Move" (Caban)

"learning and wisdom" (p. 318) {"idea and wisdom" ("N")}


"Incoming Cut" (Edznab)

"the hurt I witnessed" (p. 318)


"Inner Earthquake" (Cauac)

"bleak mountains" (p. 319) {"the volcanoes and mountains" ("K")}


"Shaman’s Ambush" (Ahau/Hunahpu))

"I crossed the line" (p. 320) {Hunahpu and his brother "reach the spot where four roads come together" (EPV, cap. 10)}


"Left Crazy" (Imix)

"throws the proprieties and distances aside" (p. 310) {"is considered strange, eccentric, as well crazy and wild.".("Im")}


"Strong Wind" (Ik)

"enthusiastic participation" (p. 312) {"emotionally affected" ("I")}


"Night Place"(Akbal)

"shrine" (p. 312) [Calli (= Teocalli)]


"Netted Burden" (Kat)

"the bundle" (p. 312)


"Snake Bite" (C^ic-c^an)

"rasping" (p. 313) {among the Ndembu, however, the musical rasp is associated ("VSFZ", p. 74) with the skin of a mongoose [the snakes’ adversary]}


"Death’s Opening" (Cimi)

"brain" (p. 313) [Cimi’s glyph is a skull]


"Healer’s Mount" (Manik)

"my arm" (p. 314) [Manik’s glyph is a hand]


"Yellowing Harvest" (Lamat)

"giving me ... one ... they would just toss" (p. 314) {"take back something that is believed lost" ("Q>")}


"Pay Day" (Muluc)

"My sweat glands" (p. 315) {earn pay by sweat-producing labor}


"Dog Day" (Oc)

hound with eyen of 2 colors (p. 315)


"Wrap Up" (C^uen)

"placed around it" (p. 316) enwrapping it


"Journey’s Path" (Eb)

"I was walking ..., taking my ... map" (p. 316)


"Home Made" (Ben)

"the day, Home" (p. 317)


"Sacred Ground" (Ix)

"rock crystals" (p. 318)


"Mundo" (Men)

"feathers" (p. 318) [of Quauhtli]

"VSFZ" = Edith Turner : "A Visible Spirit Form in Zambia". In :- David E. Young & Jean-Guy Goulet (eds.) : Being Changed : the Anthropology of Extraordinary Experience. Peterborough (ON), 1994. pp. 71-95

EPV = Raphael Girard : Esotericism of the Popol Vuh.

"N" = "No>j"

"K" = "Kawoq"

"Im" = "Imox"

"I" = "Iq>"

"A" = "Ajmaq"

"Q>" = "Q>anil"


Jean-Guy A. Goulet & Bruce Granville Miller : Extraordinary Anthropology : Transformations in the Field. U of NE Pr, Lincoln, 2007.