Preface [chapter]

2020 A Pre-Columbian Bestiary  
A few years ago, during a shamanic ceremony in Colombia, I ingested ayahuasca, made of Banisteriopsis caapi, a South American liana employed for hallucinogenic purposes. Ayahuasca is a "plant teacher." It pushes the mind into unforeseen realms. No wonder indigenous tribes in the Amazon make it an essential companion for religious quests. Using words to describe what I went through defeats the experience. I wrestled with this challenge in the book The Oven (2018), which also became a one-man
more » ... ter show staged across the United States. The extraordinary out-of-body education I had left a deep mark on me. I felt unconfined, physically as well as spiritually. At one point, I miraculously underwent a mutation that turned me into a jaguar roaming for prey in a vast landscape. Once I got home, I immediately reread the Popol Vuh (1554-58), the sacred origin book of the Maya. I became fascinated by the multiple adventures of Hunahpu and Ixb'alanke, twins who at one point traverse the underworld, known as Xibalba-a habitat as intricate as Dante's hell-where they face, among dozens of other creatures, camazotz, bat monsters. In the narrative, these creatures have the terrifying strength of the Cyclops in Homer's The Odyssey. I soon realized that in the shamanic ceremony I had also visualized myself into an assortment of other creatures, a few of them impossible to describe: part human, part-deity, with a few recognizable features but many more I had never encountered before. I delved into pre-Columbian sources-encyclopedias, testimonies of the Spanish conquest, historical chronicles of life in colonial times under European rule-in search of them. What I found astonished ix
doi:10.1515/9780271088198-001 fatcat:rxfdp3vbcnfl7d3bi7zdg4nfya