Jason Godesky writing at the Anthropic Network:
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The shaman is an ambiguous figure in any tribe. He is touched by the numinous “Other.” The power to heal is also the power to kill, and the benevolent shaman is also the malevolent sorcerer. He wields a power that is frightening. In a tribal society where everyone belongs, it is the shaman’s burden to be the only one that is marginal–the only one that is shunned, alienated, and forever on the outside. The shamanic journey is very often described as a terrifying experience. The Ju/’Hoansi describe n!um as a burning liquid at the base of the spine; the trance dance allows it to boil up the spine, until it explodes out of the head. It is described as searing hot, as burning the spine; the explosion is described as immensely painful. Ayahuasca is the “Little Death,” and many experiences recounted with that particular brew are more vivid than my most terrible nightmares.