Shamanistic Art of the Americas

Shamanistic Art of the Americas

A supplement to the article in Volume 1 Issue 3, Winter 2013

All text is from the exhibit. Photos by David Grace and Steve Rudd.
Slides for Dr. Katherine MacLean’s lecture were provided by her. Lecture recording by David Grace

‘For I am the Black Jaguar’

Shamanic Visionary Experience in Ancient American Art

From earliest times to today, indigenous peoples of the Americas have valued shamanic visionary trance as one of their most important cultural and religious experiences. In Mesoamerica, Central America, and the Andes shamans still speak of their wondrous trance journeys to other cosmic realms, the truths they learn, and the information they bring back to cure their communities’ ills.

The exhibition ‘For I am the Black Jaguar’: Shamanic Visionary Experience in Ancient American Art highlights works from the Carlos Museum collections that embody the shamanistic visionary experience. The show’s title is based on a quote from a contemporary traditional Taulipang shaman of northern Brazil: “Call upon me for I am the black jaguar . . . I drive away the illness…” The shaman’s statement conveys the most pervasive shamanic visionary experience of actually becoming a powerful animal, the black jaguar in particular.

The exhibition includes extraordinary works of art showcasing the most important elements of trance consciousness, especially the visionary himself or herself transforming into an animal such as a powerful black jaguar, an enormous whale shark, a predatory owl, or a venomous rattlesnake. Animal selves and spirit companions are considered to be guides to the shaman in caring for his or her community, the animals’ powers augmenting the shaman’s innate healing abilities.

This exhibition demonstrates that contemporary accounts can illuminate the artistic choices in ancient American art and the central role visionary experience plays in Amerindian shamanism, informing art in all media, periods, and regions. Quotes from practicing shamans will accompany most of the cases of ancient objects. The exhibition also features art that illustrates how visions are achieved in traditional settings, from meditation, to drumming and dancing, to ingesting sacred plants such as peyote cacti, vines, and spiny oysters. Traditional shamans refer to these plants as teachers, and they are understood as wise spiritual guides through the cosmic realms beyond the terrestrial.

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In a lecture titled Finding the Jaguar Within: Psychedelics, the Brain and the Shamans’s Journey, Dr. Katherine MacLean of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at John Hopkins University School of Medicine and Dr. Charles Raison, Associate Professor in The Department of Psychiatry at the University of Arizona, discuss what happens in the brain during shamanic trances brought abount in part by the ingestion of entheogenic substances.

Special thanks to Dr. Katherine MacLean for providing the slides from here talk for us to share with you.