“On the Possibility of Esoteric Practices in the Amerindian Andes: The Perspective of Witches and a Ritual Song to Heal and Dance”
Dr. Juan Rivera
The literature on witchcraft (brujería), hidden divinatory practices (hechicería) and ritual healing (curanderismo) in Andean studies has been based both on ethnohistorical and ethnographic accounts. Most of this collected evidence focuses on suppression and punishment by religious authorities who search for hidden, illicit practices. The ensuing “resistance” or “survival” perspective about indigenous non-Christian practices is not usually accompanied by a reflection on the relevance of its conceptual tools in Amerindian contexts. Are dichotomies such as secrecy/openness and magic/religion or notions such as religious specialist fully applicable to the study of Andean worldviews? Addressing this question, this lecture draws primarily on my observations during my own fieldwork among Quechuaspeaking indigenous groups. I examine two specific cases. The first is a ritual song called “jaynallo,” sung in a deliberately incomprehensible language during both ritual healing sessions and a dance called “danza del cascabel.” Its unintelligibility is discussed in terms of the role and value of formal discourse in indigenous understandings of power. The second case is an ancient female mythic figure referred to as bruja or achiké, who can be dangerous or malicious only when she succeeds in imposing her “perspective” on humans. But paradoxically, once this achiké is seen as nonhuman, she becomes relatively easy to defeat (or even ridicule). I analyse this dynamic in the light of the theory of perspectivism. Finally, I suggest that these two cases can be useful in understanding the particularities of Amerindian esoteric practices.