Shamanism in Caney Tradition – 3

Once the Caney shaman (boitiu) has established a dialogue with the guardian spirit he or she begins the process of entering what is known by some as “altered state of consciousness”. This is a trance-condition in which the shaman does not lose all contact with the realm of ordinary reality but is totally focused in the other realm Non-ordinary-reality. This trance-like condition is considered to be a fantasy or imaginary by those who do not believe in this kind of spirituality. However it is the most important form of contact between the realm of physical existance and the realm of divine existance in most religions all over the world.

When altered state of consciousness is achieved the shaman becomes a “seer”. He or she can see things and hear things that are hidden from others. The word “hidden” is expressed in the Latin language word “occult” and gives rise to that term when we deal with things that fall outside of the realm of impirically explainable phenomena. Therefore, the shaman can enter the realm of the occult or hidden source of power and knowledge.

The shaman also believes that he or she can find items of great importance in that realm that have been lost by other individuals. The most common items of importance that a shaman seeks when he or she is performing a search in the spirit realm for another person is his or her guardian spirit, or his or her soul. It is believed that the vital connection between a person and his or her guardian spirit can be lost in times of physical or spiritual crisis. The task of the shaman at that point is to journey into the realm of non-ordinary-reality by going into altered state of consciousness and find the semisaki, and retrieve it.

The individual also has a complex of spiritual essences called the “hu” and the “guis” (goeiz) in Taino, which dwell within the body and that, as a unit are considered to be his or her soul. That complex of spiritual essences also can become lost in the Spirit Realm and can also be retrieved by the shaman.

The spiritual complex of “hu” and “guis” is given a name as a unit. It is called the “Ya” (or sometimes “operito”). The Ya is the person’s soul. Broken down to its two components the soul is made up of an animating essence that is responsible for the ability to move and to present the image of a vital, energetic, living, breathing creature. That is the essence that we call the “hu”. It resides in the breast or solar plexus part of the person. Its energy is considered to flow most strongly in the long bones of the person’s body such as the ribs, arms and legs. The other essence is the one responsible for our unique sense of consciousness. This is the “guis” or “goeiz”. It allows us to sense and feel and be aware of the reality of life all around us. The guis resides in the head.

When a person dies he or she is believed to permanently lose the presence of the Ya (or operito), the unit made up of the hu and guis. In fact the word “operito” is also used to mean “dead” or dispirited. As a unit known by the name “hupia”, these two spiritual entities, the hu and the guis combine to become the soul of the dead individual which must now be aided in its journey to the realm of the ancestors in a funerary ritual. That ritual must be presided over by a beike or a boitiu. The hupia is the combination of guis and hu of a dead person. It has sometimes been called the “opia”. The soul of the dead person has a different name from that given to the soul of a living person. It is called “hupia” as opposed to “ya” or operito.

However, as stated earlier, a living individual can temorarily lose the presence or her Ya. In that state of dis-spiritment, the person is considered to be experiencing a form of “death”. This condition can manifest itself in symptoms of psychological depression and even physical illness. It sometimes requires the services of a shaman, a boitiu to asses the situation and prescribe a course of action. In contemporary Caney shamanism that course of action may be a combination of shamanic ritual procedures and of standard medical attention. In Caney shamanism we do not pretend to replace the competent medical services of a licenced physician but we do understand that there are aspects of healing that only shamanism has access to and that there is a growing, albeit grudging recognition of that fact in contemporary medicine.

The meditative pose assumed by the Caney Indian Spiritual Circle shaman is derived from the images created by the ancient Tainos. In these images the individual is shown holding his or her hands up on either side of the body just below the ears. The palms are held facing out away from the body and the fngers curled in.

The Caney shaman (boitiu) has access to a specific procedure that allows him or her to enter the realm of non-ordinary-reality in an orderly and pre-ordained manner. All of these procedures require the shaman to establish contact with the guardian spirit first. The guardian spirit is present at the begining of the procedure in the form of an object called the “medicine bag” or “haba gua”. The medicine bag is a small sack-like container which holds special objects and items of spiritual importance to the individual. These items represent the presence of the guardian spirit in close proximity to the person. In the case of a Co-Oba ritual in which the aid of a psychotropic plant ally is not required, the shaman begins the procedure with a moment of quiet meditative silence wearing his or her medicine bag somewhere on the body. This is done by assuming the meditative pose most commonly seen in the carvings and artistic depictions of shamans all over the Taino archeological region. This position is a sitting or squatting position. The shaman holds his or her hands up at the sides of the head, palms facing outward and fingers curled in. In this position the shaman slowly calms the body and the mind and then attempts to empty the mind of all conscious thought.

Once the proper meditative state has been achieved the shaman uses either a drum or a rattle (or both) to establish a rythm that will then carry him or her deeper into that meditative state, and then on into one of the three levels of the Spirit World, The Upper, Middle or Lower.

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