The Gift of Life: Female Spirituality and Healing in Northern Peru / Edition 1

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In this uniquely personal account of the lives and healing arts of female shamans in northern Peru, the author alternates diaristic writings about her own experiences with ethnographic description. Her analytical essays explore the concepts of sorcery, shamanism, and witchcraft, case studies of Peruvian women and their ritual healing techniques, the healers' religious and symbolic space, and the healing attributes unique to women. They alternate with chapters in which Glass-Coffin describes her introduction to Peru as a high school student, the traditional roles she adopted in her host family, the crisis that rocked her identity, her first ritual contact with a female healer, and her own tumultuous but ultimately rewarding healing journey under two female shamans. Male shamans, she concludes, sally forth into the spirit world to do individual combat with the sources of spiritual illness, whereas female shamans try to involve their patients more directly in their own healing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826318930
  • Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Bonnie Glass-Coffin is an associate professor of anthropology and director of the anthropology program at Utah State University in Logan.

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Table of Contents

1 Sorcery and Dependence 1
i Families and Emotional Dependence 29
2 Madre, Mujer, Bruja 35
ii Toward the Margin of Two Worlds 47
3 A Call to Healing 51
iii Diagnosis and Prognosis 81
4 Healers at Work 93
iv Anthropologist, Heal Thyself 127
5 The Spiritual Tools of Healing 139
v Sowing Shadows in Sacred Lagoons 165
6 Gender, Healing, and Experience 171
vi The Seguro as Embodied Self 205
Epilogue 209
Notes 211
Glossary of Spanish Terms 221
References Cited 227
Index 241
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2001

    Contemporary Women Healers in Peru

    Prior to THE GIFT OF LIFE, little had been written about the role women play in healing and shamanism in Northern Peru. Part of the reason for this oversight had to do with the way European colonization brought the concept of 'witchcraft' to Peru, and the fact that Peruvian women who practiced traditional healing arts were frequently beaten and tortured until they confessed to standard European-style 'witchcraft' practices. Author Bonnie Glass-Coffin was trained as an anthropologist, so she knew that women have historically played a large part in shamanism from looking at the ancient sculptures of the Moche and Chimu, which both portray women involved in healing arts. With the intention to find and interview modern-day women shamans in Peru, Glass-Coffin set out to do exactly that. Bonnie Glass-Coffin shares the stories from five female curanderas (shamans) she met with between April 1988 and September 1989. Her extraordinary book, THE GIFT OF LIFE, describes the daily life of these female curanderas and the story of how they became healers, and includes black and white photographs of their mesas (curing altars) and healing herbs (plants such as the San Pedro cactus). Glass-Coffin's background in anthropology and her accounts of her experiences living in Peru as she grew up give this book a unique feeling of personal relevance and social perspective. I was impressed that THE GIFT OF LIFE does not shy away from describing the ways curanderas have used their spiritual powers on some occasions for sorcery. Glass-Coffin describes 'dano' as intended harm by sorcery, and tells stories and includes pictures of how Peruvians have discovered and dealt with the harmful magic of others. She also describes some of the differences between male and female healers in Peru -- such as the way female curanderas tend to involve patients more directly in their healing. I was also impressed that Glass-Coffin described her own personal involvement being healed by curanderas, giving this book tremendous warmth. The first-hand accounts of what it feels like to suffer as the recipient of a dano help the reader better understand the way our thoughts and feelings affect one another. I give this book my highest recommendation to anyone who is interested in ancient traditional ways of healing, wishes to know what is unique about women healers, and is intrigued by reading stories about how our thoughts and feelings affect others.

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