I’ve just read Secrets of the Talking Jaguar by Martin Prechtel. Wow! I have been so thrilled by a book since Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary (about the two sides of the brain and the worrying dominance of the left side). It’s the story of his time learning to be a shaman in a Mayan village in Guatemala. He was taught by the last of the great old shamans, a volcanic, wild and terrifyingly inventive man called Chiv. But the difference between this book and some of the others I’ve read about shamanism is that that Prechtel’s mastery of language is such that he really can transmit and convey some of his extraordinary experiences. Not only that but he is a warm, boisterous person you really get to like. Certainly his evocation of the Mayan village he lived in in the 70s makes it sound like paradise and maybe it is a little over idealised. But that way of life was destroyed in a ferocious civil war backed by the United States. Prechtel is angry but not bitter. Now he lives inAmerica and teaches. He is someone I would love to meet because a lot of what he says about the native traditions of Guatemala could be relevant to our project of regenerating the British native tradition.
Here’s a quote where he’s talking about negativity and the role of shamans in dealing with it:
There is an eloquence in negativity that quickly becomes evil. We see evil as a form of negative creativity with a vengeance. Its parents are simple, natural desires who, because they have gone unfed, become frustrated, unnatural hungers. These hungers begin to put together things that don’t go together, creating monsters, which are personified unnatural hungers that eat everything and never get full… we, the shamans, can be thought of as spirit dog catchers; the pets we catch are these composite hunger monsters. Unlike the dog pound people who kill what they catch, we shamans break the monsters back into their component parts, thus sweetening the earth by allowing each thing to flower back into its original shape again… True creativity doesn’t just make things; it feeds what feeds life.
I think that’s all spot on. I have ordered his two next books. Are there any other fans out there? This is a voice we need to hear, neither preachy nor ranting, but beautifully articulating the joys of a lost world and investigating how we might re-infuse our world with that kind of magic.