So this one time I was in my anthropology class in college and the instructor showed a film on the Yanomamo, the "fierce people" of the South American rain forest. The film was about Yanomamo culture in general, but specifically about their shamanistic rites involving a hallucinogenic powder they snorted up their noses and which, they believe, allows them to see the forest spirits and make them do their will.

The occasion was that the Yanomamo were ticked off at a neighboring tribe for something or other, so the tribal elders decided that they were going to get coked up and wreak some bad-ass magical vengeance on them. They snorted the powder through bamboo tubes and began dancing.

The goal, the film's narrator explained, was to convince the forest spirits to afflict the children of the other tribe with a deadly illness, and apparently -- as far as the participants were concerned -- it worked. The shamans related how the children were even now being taken sick and dying. Then they announced that the children were all dead and the lead shaman began eating their souls.

I always wondered how the rank-and-file of the Yanomamo reacted when they encountered members of the enemy tribe and discovered that the children were alive and well and in full possession of their souls. I got the impression that this sort of thing went on all the time, so it must not faze them much.

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