Posted by Ina Woolcott
Based on over 5 years worth of field work Gift of Life is a gift to anyone who is fascinated by different cultural ways of knowing, and the forms of cultural resistance and adaptation that enable a society to endure. In this uniquely personal account of the lives and healing arts of female shamans in northern Peru, Glass-Coffin alternates journal style writings about her personal experiences with ethnographic description. Her analytical essays explore the concepts of sorcery, shamanism, 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 in the end 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, and female shamans try to involve their patients more directly in their own healing.
This is a very readable and enjoyable book that introduces the reader to the pre-contact world of the Peruvian Indians, and links that reality to the post-contact trauma of the people today. The Gift of Life brings a wonderful combination of beautiful storytelling and academic, anthropological research.