To start off my review of this year’s International Dreams conference in Montreal, here’s a fun factoid: head shrinking in the Amazon is alive and well.
Know to the West since the 1940s, head shrinking is an important ritual for the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin (the Jivaro clans, especially the Shuar). The vengeful spirit of the dead warrior, known as the Muisak, is disempowered through this ritual. But according to dream researcher Rosa Anwandter, herself a Mapuche healer from Chile, the practical application of this process is the stifling of the dead’s dreams.
Anwandter gave a fascinating review of the dream societies of the Amazon, pointing out at least 20 relatively intact communities throughout the Amazon basin, and another half dozen or so in southern Peru, Bolivia and Uruguay. In most of these societies, dreaming is key to living in completeness. Those who are unlucky and can’t recall their dreams are called “miserable.”
Lucid dreaming is also known in the Amazon. In particular, the Guaran celebrate lucid dreams as powerful experiences that can hold key messages for the dreamer and the larger community. This semi-nomadic group consults their dreams for important community decisions, such as moving territories. Lucid dreaming is part of this ecological feed-back loop of dreamer, community, and the larger non-human ecosystem. This is psychogeography in practice.
For the Mapuche, lucid dreaming indicates a strong spirit for the dreamer. Nightmares in the Mapuche tradition are given special significance too. They are not told lightly like other dreams, but instead around a fire so the smoke can keep away bad spirits.
To learn more about Rosa Anwandter’s practice in Chile that is a combination of Western psychology and South American cultural practices, click here.