Healing Spells of the Rainforest Shamans

rainforest-shamansWriting my time travel novel Dryad required a all sorts of research from watching YouTube videos to reading scholarly books. The story spans from modern day Los Angeles to 17th century Colombia. I researched such diverse topics as Greek mythology, Amazon trees and wildlife, Jesuit missions and French corsairs.

But the subject I found most interesting was the shaman practices of the Tukano tribes. Rainforest Shamans by renowned anthropologist Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff  describes in detail the practices of tribes such as the Tukano who live in the rainforests of Colombia and Venezuela.

I don’t like to include too much “did you know” material in my novels because it feels forced and takes away from the plot. So there were many facts about these rainforest tribes that didn’t make it into Dryad. Luckily, I have this blog so you can find out about some stuff that I included and didn’t include in the novel.

Hunting and Health

Hunting is a big part of the Tukano lifestyle, but it is also connected with shamanic theories of illness and health. The Tukano believe that some illnesses are a result of animals taking revenge on the hunters.

A shaman will ask a patient about his hunting experience in trying to figure out the cause of an illness. I portray this process in an excerpt from Dryad:

The wizened old face crinkled in puzzlement as he looked at his patient. He asked a question in his language, which Father Montoya translated as, “Tell him about your hunting experience.”

“Umm… we didn’t hunt on our journey,” Rodney said, “We already had food supplies with us.”

“He means in general,” Father Montoya said, “He needs to know this in order to find out whether an animal spirit is trying to take revenge on you. How has your hunting been?”

“Is this how he usually interviews patients?” Rodney asked.


“I don’t know,” Rodney shrugged, “I’ve never done any hunting in my life. Only surfing.”

As it often happens when researching a novel, the research material blends serendipitously with the plot and even the theme of my novel. Dryad has an obvious environmental theme, and I was amazed to find out the extent to which awareness of environmental interconnection is woven into Tukano mythology.

Hunting is seen as taking away the sun’s energy, which is present in all beings. In order to keep this energy in balance, certain rules have to be followed.

One interesting set of rules I read about though I didn’t include in the novel is that hunting is also connected with sexuality and dreams. There are certain rules that require the hunter to abstain from sexual contact for several days before a hunt. Even if the hunter happens to have a dream of a sexual nature, then he cannot hunt for a certain period of time.

On one hand, there is a mythological explanation for this, as sex and food are considered closely linked. On the other hand, there are also practical and environmental considerations. By introducing all of these stringent rules, the shamans ensure that the hunters don’t kill a great number of animals, thereby preserving the limited number of creatures available on the territory of their tribe.

mountain-tapirAnother fascinating chapter is devoted to an interview with a hunter regarding tapir avoidance.  Tapir meat is eaten more rarely than other meat due to the spiritual qualities associated with these creatures.

“The [tapirs] are people, like us. They have their houses, their tapir houses.” The hunter said that by this he meant the supernatural abodes in hills and rock formations in the deep forest, where all game animals in spirit form are said to dwell under the care of the Master of Animals.

Needless to say, I had to use this mystical quality of tapirs in the novel. I won’t give away the story, but let’s just say that I made the tapirs seem very creepy!

After watching this video, you may agree that there’s something creepy about tapirs….


The Nature of Dryads

dryad-eurydice-orpheusThe main character in my new novel Dryad is, of course, a dryad. But what are dryads?

In Greek mythology, they were the nymphs or spirits protecting oak trees. Eventually the term dryad came to mean any kind of tree nymph.

Eurydice is perhaps the most famous mythical dryad. She was beloved by Orpheus, a famous singer and musician. However, on the day they got married it just so happened that Eurydice accidentally stepped on a snake. The snake promptly bit her, and she died.

Orpheus then went on a quest down to Hades in an attempt to get her back. He put on quite a concert for the king and queen of the underworld, so they agreed to allow him to take back Eurydice, but under some conditions: he was to walk in front of her and never look back to see if she was following. Of course, like an idiot, he looked back and Eurydice was promptly sucked back into the underworld, while Orpheus was never allowed to go back there again or put on another concert there (maybe his concerts were attracting too many hipsters).

Eventually Orpheus encountered a savage group of Maenads (drunken women who were prone to randomly killing things and having wild orgies) and was killed by them.

In some interpretations of the myth this was the punishment decreed upon him by the gods for not simply killing himself after his true love had died but instead trying pathetically to get her back. Thus he was killed by a group of women — how embarrassing for an ancient Greek dude.


On a side note, more heroic heros than Orpheus did manage to have more successful dealings with the underworld.

Hercules once strolled into the underworld and dognapped the three-headed hound Cerberus, with permission from Hades himself.

Hercules wrestled the fearsome dog and captured it with his own brute strength and thus was allowed to borrow it. (He later returned the hound).

The New Dryads

I made some additions of my own to this mythology concerning dryads specifically for my novel.

The tribe of dryads described in my novel resides deep in the Amazon rainforest.

These dryads are wild, boisterous, and whimsical. They obey no one except for the Great Tree which has watched over their forest for millennia. Occasionally, they also obey the priest of the Great Tree.

Oh, did I mention that there are male dryads as well as female dryads?

This is not very true to the original mythology, but I would rather they reproduced sexually for it will lend much more excitement to our narrative.

Amazonian dryads can live up to several centuries, and they’re about five times as strong as humans. They are also experts in climbing, dancing, and magic. They have beautiful round green eyes and greenish skin. So on the whole, it’s pretty good to be a dryad. If only the nefarious Timber Corporations didn’t threaten their forest!..


Seagull vs Raven

Living in Kitsilano sometimes makes me think of that CCR song “Looking out my back door,” especially the part that goes, “look at all the crazy people dancing on my lawn.” But lately it’s been the wildlife that has really been acting crazy. From my balcony, I saw a seagull and a raven circling each other in the air like World War I flying aces. Another time, alerted by high-pitched screaming and cawing, I looked out to see a raven zooming down on a seagull, who stood its ground, or rather its power pole. The pole didn’t look large enough to have a nest on top of it, so it’s not like the seagull was defending its home. Maybe they were just fighting for the hell of it? Or playfighting? Apparently ravens have been known to play with other animals, so maybe it was just having fun while the seagull didn’t know what the heck was going on?

Anyways. I’ve been seeing a lot of birds fighting each other lately. I couldn’t help but think it’s symbolic of something or other, so I tried to find some mythology relating to seagulls and ravens or crows, and this is what I discovered on Wikipedia:

[A] legend from the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest tells of how at the beginning of the world, Raven was the one who brought light to the darkness. When the Great Spirit created all things he kept them separate and stored in cedar boxes. The Great Spirit gifted these boxes to the animals who existed before humans. When the animals opened the boxes all the things that comprise the world came into being. The boxes held such things as mountains, fire, water, wind and seeds for all the plants. One such box, which was given to Seagull, contained all the light of the world.

Seagull coveted his box and refused to open it, clutching it under his wing. All the people asked Raven to persuade Seagull to open it and release the light. Despite begging, demanding, flattering and trying to trick him into opening the box, Seagull still refused. Finally Raven became angry and frustrated, and stuck a thorn in Seagull’s foot. Raven pushed the thorn in deeper until the pain caused Seagull to drop the box. Then out of the box came the sun, moon and stars that brought light to the world and allowed the first day to begin.

Those covetous seagulls! I always knew they were up to no good, especially when one of them had tried to snatch a churro right from my hand in San Francisco. They want the good things all to themselves: the sun, the moon, the stars… and even churros! Obviously, the ravens were engaging in some preventative measures to keep these interlopers under control. By the way, the seagull in the photo is not the one I saw fighting, just a random seagull I met in San Francisco. It looked very much like it, though…

Well, that’s all for today. I’m going to write my fantasy novel. Have a good day, and if you see a raven and seagull fighting, cheer for the raven!