Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

User Tools

Site Tools

Shaman's Magic

E. Lucas Bridges, in The Uttermost Part of the Earth (E. P. Dutton and Co, Inc., 1948, pp. 284-86) gave this report of a shaman named Houshken, of the Ona tribe of Tierra del Fuego: “I told Houshken that I had heard of his great powers and would like to see some of his magic. He did not refuse my request, but answered modestly that he was disinclined, the Ona way of saying that he might do it by and by.

“After allowing a quarter of an hour to elapse, Houshken said he was thirsty and went down to the nearby stream for a drink. It was a bright moonlight night and the snow on the ground helped to make the scene of the exhibition we were about to witness as light as day. On his return, Houshken sat down and broke into a monotonous chant, which went on until suddenly he put his hands to his mouth.

When he brought them away, they were palms downward and some inches apart. We saw that a strip of guanaco hide, about the thickness of a leather bootlace, was now held loosely in his hands. It passed over his thumbs, under the palms of his half-closed hands, and was looped over his little fingers so that about three inches of end hung down from each hand. The strip appeared to be not more than eighteen inches long.

“Without pulling the strip tight, Houshken now began to shake his hands violently, gradually bringing them farther apart, until the strip-, with the two ends still showing, was about four feet long. He then called his brother, Chashkil, who took the end from his right hand and stepped back with it. From four feet, the strip now grew out of Houshken's left hand to double that length. Then, as Chashkil stepped forward, it disappeared back into Houshken's hand, until he was able to take the other end from his brother. With the continued agitation of his hands, the strip got shorter and shorter. Suddenly, when his hands were almost together, he clapped them to his mouth, uttered a prolonged shriek, then held out his hands to us, palms upward and empty.

“Even an ostrich could not have swallowed those eight feet of hide at one gulp without visible effort. Where else the coil could have gone to I do not profess to know. It could not have gone up Housken's sleeve, for he had dropped his robe when the performance began [and, like all male Onas without their robes, was naked - note by Joseph Campbell]. There were between twenty and thirty men present, but only eight or nine were Houshken's people. The rest were far from being friends of the performer and all had been watching intently. Had they detected some simple trick, the great medicine-man would have lost his influence; they would no longer have believed in any of his magic.

“The demonstration was not yet over. Houshken stood up and resumed his robe. Once again he broke into a chant and seemed to go into a trance, possessed by some spirit not his own. Drawing himself up to his full height, he took a step towards me and let his robe, his only garment, fall to the ground. He put his hands to his mouth with a most impressive gesture and brought them away again with fists clenched and thumbs close together. He held them up to the height of my eyes, and when they were less than two feet from my face slowly drew them apart. I saw that there was now a small, almost opaque object between them. It was about an inch in diameter in the middle and tapered away into his hands. It might have been a piece of semi-transparent dough or elastic, but whatever it was it seemed to be alive, revolving at great speed, while Houssken, apparently from muscular tension, was trembling violently.

“The moonlight was bright enough to read by as I gazed at this strange object. Houshken brought his hands further apart and the object grew more and more transparent, until, when some three inches separated his hands, I realized that it was not there any more. It did not break or burst like a bubble; it simply disappeared, having been visible to me for less than five seconds. Houshken made no sudden movement, but slowly opened his hands and turned them over for my inspection. They looked clean and dry. He was stark naked and there was no confederate beside him. I glanced down at the snow, and, in spite of his stoicism, Houshken could not resist a chuckle, for nothing was to be seen there.

“The others has crowed round us and, as the object disappeared, there was a frightened gasp from among them. Houshken reassured them with the remark:

”'Do not let it trouble you. I shall call it back to myself again.'” (Quoted by Joseph Campbell in The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, 1959, pp. 246-48.)