Occult Life of Things, 7-10


7. (pp. 173-91) Philippe Erickson : "The Matis Theory of Materiality". [in the Javari basin in western Brazil]

p. 176 signification of the "Mongolian spot"

curare : "Indeed, the Matis name for the blue-gray pigmentation found on the sacral area of most newborns (also known as "Mongolian spot") is pe:sho kuraste [p. 178 : "kurasek ... "stingy""], "curare stingy-cause-to-be," and this is probably one of the only circumstances in which Matis acknowledge stinginess without reproof."

p. 181 sharing

"their emphasis on sharing food and even sexual partners (Erickson 2002), ...

the fact that unlike other Panoan languages, theirs uses the same pronoun for the first-person singular and first-person plural".

Erikson 2002 = Philippe Erickson : "Polyandrous Conception among the Panoan Matis". In :- Stephen Beckermann & Paul Valentine (edd.) : Cultures of Multiple Fathers : the Theory and Practice of Partible Paternity in South America. Gainesville : U of FL Pr. pp. 123-36.

p. 183 Maru-deities use their pet-animals as implements

"Only invisible maru spirits, the Matis equivalent of the Curupira -- ... supernatural beings of Brazilian folklore whose backward feet confuse hunters who try to track them -- ... disregard ... animate/inanimate distinction by literally implementing animate pets. The maru are said to" :

use pet __

as __

ihi (stingrays)

anc^a (plates)

kape:t (caimans)

tsate (seats)

dendu (electric eels)

mekte (digging-sticks)

"—all these animate "objects" are included in the list of their wiwa, alongside" :


which they perceive as __


white-lipped peccaries



pp. 183, 185 remote-control of implements by deities

p. 183

"As Pierre De’le’age (2005) has recently argued, Panoan animism rests ... upon the notion that all things are susceptible to "remote control" and that spirits (yoshi) are perceived first and foremost

p. 185

as masters : ifo." [p. 183 : Matis " "igbo" (or cognate forms such as ibo in Shipibo and ifo in Sharanahua)"]

De’le’age 2005 = Pierre De’le’age : Le chamanisme sharanahua. doctoral thesis, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales.

pp. 185, 187 "honorary animates"

p. 185

"The Sikuani language provides ... gender for animates only, with the sole exception of pots and weapons ... . Strikingly, the objects Sikuani grammar sets apart by linguistically marking them as "honorary animates" happen to be the very same items that Matis aesthetics sets apart by means of incised decorations. Pots (including clay masks and clay flute resonators), as well as bamboo quivers, are physically marked with parallel crisscrossed lines called musha ... . Blowpipes ... instead, ... have sets of egg-shell rings ... -- ... which I have ... been told act as the weapons’

p. 187

musha, ... making them look like striped poisonous snakes (isantawi). ... one of the acceptations of musha is "face tattoo," and ... Mushabo, which means "bearers of face tattoos," is one of the generic names ... the Matis give themselves".

pp. 187-8 making figurines & making babies

p. 187

"palm-frond figurines, called darawate, ... are usually made in order to communicate with the spirits of game, asking them to provide the actual bodies of those animals whose skeletons have been represented by palm fronds."

"In a similar vein, ... that native Amazonian peoples tend to consider artifacts in an animate mode ... might experience ... Cecilia McCallum’s

p. 188

(2001:16-17) vivid description of how the Cashinahua describe the work involved in making babies, which they do in terms quite reminiscent of those used to describe the material crafts."

McCallum 2001 = Cecilia McCallum : Gender and Sociality in Amazonia : how Real People are made. Oxford : Berg.


8. (pp. 192-213) Els Lagrou : "Agency and Alterity in Cashinahua Image-Making".

pp. 193-4 paz^e` (shamans)

p. 193

[statement by a cineaste :] "To become a shaman, you go alone into the forest and tie up your body with bark and palm leaves. You lie down on a crossroads with arms and legs spread out.

First come the nightly butterflies, called husu, covering your whole body.

Then come the yuxin eating the husu until they touch your head. You embrace them with all your force. The yuxin transform into a murmuru palm tree, full of thorns. If you are strong enough and do

p. 194

not let go, the palm tree will transform into a snake that coils itself around your body. You hold on; it transforms into a jaguar. You go on holding it in your grip and thus it goes until you are holding nothing. You have succeeded in the test and go on to explain to him [the yuxin] that you want to receive muka. He will give it to you."

p. 194 yus^in

"Power is related to the capacity to transform, a power that can be endowed by spirit beings called yuxin or yuxibu. These spirit beings are able to produce animated images in the minds or "perceptual bodies" of people. "Yuxibu" is the superlative of "yuxin," which means "spirit" ... . These yuxibu beings ... are ... capable of transforming both their own bodily form and the form of the world around them. They also have the capacity to travel very quickly with the wind, although they are brought back from far away by the rain.

Cashinahua phenomenology turn around ... the power of free-floating images. These images make themselves manifest in three different kinds of forms :

in the form of spirits or their owners (yuxin and yuxibu);

in the form of transformations in images and visions ...; and

in the form of paths drawn by design (kene), which are called "the language of yuxin" and can be produced only by women."

pp. 198-9 designs acting on dreams and enabling entry of songs {in the Solomon Islands, designs memorized while living are used after death as maps into the world for souls of the dead; the initiates’ knowledge of the maps is, furthermore, tested by divine guardians of entryways in the world for souls of the dead}

p. 198

"The translation of songs related to designs reveals the cosmic maps ... (Lagrou ... 1998 ...). ... Being the language of the yuxibu, designs function as paths leading to their owners. ... Design among the Cashinahua ... is in the quality of ... a designs capacity to act ... upon the minds of those who travel in imaginary {imaginal} worlds during dreams or visions, where the visualization of design functions as a map, allowing men’s and women’s bedu yuxin, or "eye souls," to find the dwelling places of the yuxibu without getting lost.

The use and agency of designs in rites of passage became ... the facial designs ... . The designs pained on neophytes are called "broad designs" (huku kene), ...

p. 199

painted on neophytes ... . These designs are painted with broad lines so that the propitiatory songs can enter the bodies of the neophytes. After these songs have entered into their bodies, the neophytes will think about them and the songs will guide their thoughts."

Lagrou 1998 = Els Lagrou : Cashinahua Cosmovision. PhD diss, U of St Andrews.

pp. 204-5 ritual slaying of boa

p. 204

"Men can become lucky in hunting through a pact with the spirit of the boa achieved through the boa-killing ritual. ...

p. 205

In the case of the ritual killing of the boa in a forest, the intention is to talk to and later on dream with the boa’s yuxin, .or else

to ingest parts of the boa’s body to become "like the boa" – a process of consubstantiation. The snake is killed, but ... it enters the body of its killer and stays with him or her."

p. 207 ritual stool

"the ritual stools used by children to rest during the initiation ritual ... are sculpted, cut out of the tubular roots of a lupuna tree that is ... carefully addressed in song so that it passes on to the initiates its qualities and knowledge ... . Lupuna trees, however, ... are feared for their capacity to cause dizziness and fainting and are considered to be the home of powerful yuxin and yuxibu. The stools made out of lupuna timber will become ritually identified ..., which infuses each stool with a voice ... Lagrou (2002)."

Lagrou 2002 = Els Lagrou : "Kenan, the Ritual Stool". In :- Thomas Myers & M. S. Cipolletti (edd.) : Artifacts and Society in Amazonia. pp. 95-113.


9. (pp. 214-34) Mari`a A. Guzma`n-Gallegos : "Textual Objects in Runa Worldview". [Ecuador]

pp. 223-4 supay & song-journey of shaman; shaman’s spirit-spouse

p. 223

"the relationships that shamans establish with particular spirits, supay, either as owner ... or as acquaintance, ally, or spouse. The establishment of these relationships, which entails the acquisition of certain extraordinary powers, takes place during the process of shamanic apprenticeship. Among ... Amazonian Runa ...,

p. 224

songs (taquina), darts (birutis), and stones (rumi) are ... manifestations of shamanic power. The taquina are unique to each shaman; they ... carry with them the shaman’s samai. They also constitute ... the strength of his samai. When a shaman initiates a journey to the worlds of powerful spiritual beings after drinking ayahuasca, songs become extremely important. ... He sings as well as sees and talks to powerful beings such as the owners of certain places, including lakes and mountains. ... He can enter into exchange relations with them by paying them with spiritual money – supay kullki – or by marrying a supai huarmi, usually an anaconda that appears as a beautiful woman with long black hair, her face decorated with delicate black designs."

p. 224 biruti

"The birutis are described as sharp, pointed objects, such as blowgun darts ... or injection needles. ...

{cf. /BRo^T/ Strong’s 1266, a variant of /bro^s^/ ‘lance’}

The person in question can be ... the shaman himself, whose power is manifested in the birutis".

Strong = Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of Bible Words.

pp. 224-6 rumi

p. 224

"Rumi are powerful stones that a person, generally a shamanic apprentice – finds along a forest trail or a river. It is said that shamans always carry their shamanic stones with them when performing a curing session". [p. 233, n. 3 : "Women who are considered to be extraordinary healers usually possess this kind of stone".] ...

{cf. /Ra>Mah/ Strong’s 7215 ‘coral’}

p. 225

"shamanic stones ... can be boiled in hot water for many hours. causing them to ... diminish a mad shaman’s powers".

{In Tibet, "Coral was also associated with ... curing madness" ("CSBA").}

p. 226

"When a shamanic apprentice finds a stone, its supay is liberated and the shaman can command it. At the same time, ... the stone’s supay ... does ... protect and help the shaman".

"CSBA" = "Color Symbolism In Buddhist Art" http://www.kheper.net/topics/Buddhism/colors.html


10. (pp. 235-61) Jonathan D. Hill : "The Nature of Materiality in Wakue`nai Ontology". [Waini`a river-basin]

pp. 237, 242 mythologic derivation of grammatical generic-classifiers used as suffices to numerals, in general

p. 237

"both the overall pattern of numerical classifier sets in Wa`ku and the majority of the sets’ internal contents ... make sense where the numeral classifier system is examined in relation to the generic classifiers, or "spirit-names," used in ritually powerful chanted and sung speech (malika`i) and to materials and species that are considered to be especially powerful ... in mythic narratives and ceremonial performances."

p. 242

"Far from forming an arbitrary set of nouns, the grouping ... is highly motivated by the ceremonial, ritual, and mythic significance of these seemingly disparate semantic subsets."

p. 259, n. 3

"For a more complete documentation and analysis of numerical classifiers in Wa`ku, see Jonathan Hill (1988)."

Hill 1988 = Jonathan Hill : "Ritual Power and Myth Meaning in a Northern Arawak Classifier System". ANTROPOLO`GICA 69:55-77.

{Of course, such grammatical features could assist in reconstructing a mythologies in the case of languages wherein such features have been retained but the myths themselves forgotten for such tribes.}

pp. 238-44 details of the mythologic derivation of grammatical generic-classifiers used as suffices to numerals

pp. 238-9

pp. 241-2, 244







"child(ren); ... palometta, and bagre ...; bees"

p. 244 "in myth, bee-spirits are said to appear as little old men who have the bodies of children. ... . ... the palometa (Mylossoma duriventris) and bagre (various species of small catfish) ... are among the first animal-flesh foods eaten by very young children"



"large catfish species; also, all species of vines; ... all species of snake"

p. 241 "Kuli`rri, a large catfish species with black stripes along each side, is the namesake of an important ceremonial trumpet ... . ... Short mouthpieces ... are inserted into ... the catfish-resonators by lashing them to a circular rim of vine".

p. 242 "The wheel of vine used to connect the mouthpieces ... is made of dza`makua`pi (literally "two snakes")".


-ewi (or –iwi)

"tobacco; also, arrows, awls, hooks, and darts"

{cf S^uar praeternatural tsetsak-darts : "we took tobacco juice through our noses. He blew tsentsak" (ST, p. 337)} {"renewed his supplies of tsentsak in his dreams, often taking tobacco juice just before going to bed." (ST, p. 342)}

ST = Philippe Descola (transl. from the French by Janet Lloyd) : The Spears of Twilight. New Pr, NY, 1996. {Hill’s adducing (on p. 243) of "cutting up" as a ritual function tobacco is irrelevant to the grammatical generic-classifier, inasmuch as arrows, awls, hooks, and darts pierce but do not cut.}

pp. 246-8 singing, rattle-shaking, and smoke-blowing in the shamanic retrieval-process

p. 246

"Shamanic singing (malirri`kairi) is a musical and choreographic process of journeying from the world of living people to the houses of the dead, located in a dark netherworld, and retrieving the lost soul of a sick or dying person. ... Movement, which represents breaking through to the houses of the dead, is performed with music through the use of sacred rattles made with powerful quartz stones. The accelerating and decelerating percussive sounds of a shaman’s rattle serve as sensible markers charting the course of his spiritual travel. ... In addition, the shamanic activity of bringing back the patient’s lost soul is acted out in dramatic movements between songs, which are

p. 247

always performed while the shaman is seated on a low bench and facing the eastern horizon. The shaman then stands up, takes several steps away from his bench, and begins pulling spirits into his rattle by sucking in air ... . He returns to the patient and his or her family, blows tobacco smoke over their heads, sucks on the patient’s body ... . ...

p. 248

Shamans seek to gather up the collective force of everyone present by blowing tobacco smoke over their heads, thereby linking their body-souls together into a collective force that helps the shamans attract their patient’s body-souls back from the netherworld of the dead to the world of the living."

p. 243 "in mythic narratives, tobacco is described as a supernatural "switch" that enables powerful beings to travel in and out of dreams".

pp. 247-8 the author’s gradual learning about the nature of shamanry

p. 247

"During the early months of my doctoral fieldwork, I had talked with shamans (mali`rri) and nonspecialists about their ritual activities and had elicited important mythic narratives that explain the origins of shamanic healing powers. But it was not until I began recording and documenting actual healing rituals that I began to really "get it." Shamanic rituals create a kind of physical energy that affects anyone who is in close proximity and that is not entirely explicable in terms of rationalist or other intellectualist orientations. When I first recorded shamanic singing in a healing ritual, I felt s surge of physical energy".

p. 248

"I began to understand why I had felt such an unusual burst of physical energy while recording shamanic singing ... . What I learned was that shamanic singing ... is a set of journeys away from death and back to life ... – a materializing of the occult."

pp. 248-9 spirit-naming

p. 248

"spirit-names (which take the form of generic classifiers) are all "hyperanimate" (Basso 1985) and "musicalized" (Hill 1993). ...

p. 249

Some spirit-names ... "have stories" – spirit-names that convey an esoteric, intertextual meaning that shifts a species or object into a different or special category."

Basso 1985 = Ellen Basso : A Musical View of the Universe. Philadelphia : U of PA Pr.

Hill 1993 = Jonathan Hill : Keepers of the Sacred Chants. Tucson : U of AZ Pr.


Fernando Santos-Granero (ed.) : The Occult Life of Things. U of AZ Pr, Tucson, 2009.