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There is, however, a particular direction of focus that applies to almost every shaman double: toward the head of the figure. This emphasis, which can be termed “cephalocentrism,” dovetails with the generic body proposed above; a generalized body contrasts with and therefore helps draw attention to the large, complex, and more detailed head area. A natural way of perusing such an asymmetrical top-oriented figure, moving upward from a quick intake of the body to a slower study of the head, may in fact help establish authority in the effigy. By leading the eye up, skimming over the body to rest on a dominant head, the perceptual experience is one of looking up. When one looks up at someone’s face, one also may naturally “look up to” that person. Even if viewers are actually looking down on a small work of art, they are encouraged to look at it as if they were subservient to it. Although not objectively true, it is as if one is looking up at something bigger than oneself, up into a large, strong, often fierce, and impressive face.

Looking up as a cultural value correlates with the visionary experience of suspension, of rising up and beyond the body. If decorporealization feelings (numbness, loss of feeling, lack of gravitational pull, flying) encourage the down- play of lower bodies in effigies, the intensified experiences of seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and synaesthetic combinations of the senses find appropriate artistic expression in a relatively emphasized head.5 Few ancient American effigies delineate the details of genitalia, navels, elbows, necks, or buttocks, much less all of these. Yet, by contrast, faces are complete in all but the most extreme cases of abstraction.

In several of the case studies, body parts (as well as spirit selves or shamanic paraphernalia asso- ciated with each) are rendered two- dimensionally more than facial features, another way the body is less “fleshed out” than the head (figs. 6.3, 6.5–6.7, 7.7, 7.10–7.12, 8.4–8.7). Facial three–dimension- ality may be exaggerated to communicate the dramatic, contorted expressions some entheogens cause (figs. 8.10–8.13; Schultes and Hofmann 1992: 119). These contortions may be suggested two- dimensionally in order to create the sense of the third dimension, as well (figs. 7.1, 7.2). Further- more, the face often combines the three- and two- dimensional messages, being typically deco- rated with the body’s most elaborate painting, stamping, and/or tattooing, which gives the head more visual saliency. Not merely decorative, facial art refers directly to visions in a number of ways, from spirals projecting from the eyes (fig. 7.10) to bands of illumination through them (fig. 5.5) and undulating lines across the face (figs. 4.3, 7.4, 7.5, 7.8). The eyes are obviously a central focus of this attention, as will be discussed.

Noticeable artistic emphasis on the head is in some senses measurable and literal. In gen- eral, a high ratio of head- to- body size charac- terizes almost all styles of ancient American art. While this reflects in some sense the corporeal reality of Native Americans in the tropics and mountains, the artistic effect is exaggerated wellbeyond mimesis. Figures considered here as sha- manic embodiments range from 50 percent head (fig. 4.5), to 35 percent (fig. 5.1), to a low of 30 percent (fig. 7.10). While it is beyond the scope of this study to compare head- to- body ratios in shamanic effigies to those in other human- based imagery, it seems safe to say that shaman doubles have heads at least as large as or larger than other types. It is a widely accepted generalization that varying the relative size of figures and other ele- ments in ancient American art as a whole is used to distinguish between lesser and greater levels of power, importance, and authority (a choice known as hieratic scale). Here it is displayed not only between figures but within them.

Featuring the head as the seat of authority makes particular sense in the shamanic context, as power comes from having experienced visions intrance. There is a natural asymmetry in the human body: most of the sensing apparatus is located in the head, only the tactile being distributed throughout the body. Since visions activate all the senses (and then some) but remain predominantly visual, the head—and by extension the eyes— best serve as the “locus” of visions in the body. It is important to qualify this immediately: while in Western culture the idea may prevail that visions are “all in the head,” meaning they are percep- tual illusions and visual tricks of the imagination, brain chemistry, or psyche without reality value, a shamanic culture does not define or limit them as such. Yet, because everyday sight and visionary sight overlap, the eyes and the other sensory appa- rati in the head are inevitably going to be where visions are associated, and so artists will gravitate there to communicate the visionary state. Even if the shaman is believed to be Elsewhere, it remains true that her senses are engaged even more fully than they are Here, and they are not experienced as contained within a body, as we saw in the case of the spinning spherical soul that retained sensesof smell, taste, and more. The enhanced senses not only converge in the head but with each other, and so depictions of synaesthesia will natu- rally occur in the head (figs. 8.8, 8.9); even when they do appear in the body, the artist may make the body into another head by adding eyes (figs. 7.1, 7.2).

To embody the various disembodied but heightened senses, special artistic treatment of the facial features contributes to encoding complexity and visual interest in the head. Eyes are of the utmost significance; however, the mouth, nose, and ears may be singled out as well. Later I will discuss various types of “trance eyes,” denoting a person in trance and/or transforming as taking on otherworldly and animal- self vision.

The mouth may be emphasized to reference the sense of taste that can be activated in visions. Its prominence may reflect the importance of shamanic physical and ritual actions that involve expulsion from the mouth and ingestion into it: vomiting, vocalization (singing, chanting, and speaking), blowing, spitting, oral spraying, ingesting entheogens, and sucking out disease and other attacking objects, which are ingested, then spit out again, completing the cycle. There is no doubt that the mouth serves as an obvious place to signal animal selves, especially by multiplying, enlarg- ing, crossing, and baring the teeth. One prime, dramatic example is the snake tongue in the more human side of the Cupisnique split- face represen- tation (fig. 7.14).7 Perhaps the most characteris- tic choice is to substitute long, pointed fangs for small, square, human teeth, encapsulating “preda- tory animal” as a general category. If the artist spe- cifically chooses crossed pairs of canines among smaller square teeth, then the referent is jaguar or puma (figs. 3.1–3.3, 7.14, 7.15, 7.27a). If denoting crocodilian or shark, the choice is wide jaws of minute, pointed teeth of equal height (figs. 4.6, 7.10). Because humans share teeth with most other animals but not certain other body parts such as tails or hooves, the mouth may be a feature well suited to ambiguous representation, as in the Chancay female shaman whose small, modeled, human mouth is literally overlaid with a wide, painted (I will argue whale shark), open maw (fig. 7.10). The human mouth may be expanded hori- zontally in other ways, as with enigmatic raised elements that “crocodilize” some doubles (fig. 4.7). Further infusions of ambiguity draw attention to the mouth, as in a split lip to refer to that of an alter- ego deer and/or to congenital anomalousness (fig. 5.1). Thus, the mouth can encapsulate many roles, aspects, and actions of shamanism and so communicate the important concepts of paradox and transformation in shorthand form. Its location as the viewer begins to look at the face helps the mouth focus the viewer on the conceptually sig- nificant upward sweep out of the body and into other states of being.

The specific depictions of ears offer opportuni- ties to draw attention to heightened hearing as a visionary perception. Ears arguably reference the diagnostic and curative information the entranced shaman receives aurally from supernatural sources and the magical chants, rhythms, and songs passed down verbally from master to apprentice. An artistic choice may be to give them deep inden- tions (fig. 4.2, 6.11, 7.10; Stone- Miller 2002b: 128, catalogue no. 268) to convey sounds entering the head, enlarge them beyond the normative (fig. 7.15), or outline them (fig. 5.2). Ears easily function as a status- indicating location in the ancient Americas because of the symbolic value of large and elaborate earrings. Often, earrings appear as part of the piece (figs. 4.6–4.10, 4.13, 7.19, 7.21), or separate real ones were inserted into pierced holes (ibid.: 103, catalogue no. 208; 186, catalogue no. 432), or both (fig. 4.3). While these types of ear decoration choices are not limited to shaman effi- gies, they do establish any figure’s relative social status.

Animal and human selves combine through ear substitution, such as vertical, human- shaped ears with cylindrical earspools on an otherwise croco- dilian head seat (fig. 4.6) or bat ears on an upside- down human figure (Calvo Mora, Bonilla Vargas, and Sánchez Pérez 1995: 57, fig. 26). In the split Cupisnique transformational head, the ear of the more human side has been replaced with an ani- mal head (fig. 7.14), which strongly suggests hear- ing with animal acuity during trance. It is not clearly the head of a particular species; again, ambiguity in ear form plays into the same issues of transformative flux as in other bodily parts. The exaggeratedly large, fanned ears on many Moche shaman effigies (figs. 7.3, 7.15, 8.14) cross over into the rounded, alert, feline ears of the animal self, especially those of the ocelot, which are quite large and white inside (7.17). Markedly round ears are found in Costa Rican examples as well (fig. 4.9), and some even specify the markings of deer ears (figs. 5.2, 5.8). Spirals are common in artistic versions of jaguar ears (fig. 5.18), perhaps denoting odd sound effects or information coming into the ear or making an interesting synaesthetic parallel with visionary perception of spirals. Double spirals are found in the ears of a Moche head with fangs, open trance eyes, and individual- hair eyebrows (Berrin 1997: 150), characteristic features of trans- formational shamans and animalistic visionary heads.

The nose, though perhaps less so than other organs, may nevertheless be activated in visions and therefore is ripe for human- animal artistic substitution and ambiguity. A flatter nose belongs to an animal, especially with nostrils that are more evident than usual (figs. 4.12, 6.10, 6.11; Stone- Miller 2002b: 143, catalogue no. 311). The nose of the Pataky- style jaguar is midway between human and animal, projecting like a human nose but arguably snoutlike and accented with whiskers (fig. 5.18). The Moche ocelot shaman effigy has a narrower, humanoid nose as well (fig. 8.1). An enigmatic double nose constitutes one of many facial and head protrusions underscor- ing a transformative state (fig. 4.7, 7.14, the more human side). As regards figure 4.7, her alter ego being the crocodile is not surprising, since by far the most salient and fantastical nose throughout Costa Rican art is the flamboyantly spiral nose/ snout seen on nearly every image of a crocodilian (figs. 4.2, 4.6, 4.9). The spectacled and brown cai- man species inhabiting Costa Rica do have snouts with prominent ball- like ends (Ross 1989: 62–63) that are likely the concrete inspiration for this ele- ment, but it becomes truly visionary emanation in its spiral elaboration (fig. 4.2). I speculate that the exaggerated nose may also represent the bellowing sounds that crocodilians make when their mouths are open and noses therefore elevated (Ross 1989: 104–108). A spiral nose appears on the more trans- formed half of a Cupisnique face (fig. 7.14), and a spiral nose connected to the spiral eye is a par- ticularly rich case of unified but multiple sensory experiences referenced in a Costa Rican stone effigy (fig. 4.9). A Wari jaguar- shaman figure has a spiral nose (fig. 7.27a), as does a sea lion in a Moche visionary scene (fig. 8.17). The key role of the spiral in trance perception seems to mean that it can be substituted or added to various sensory organs to denote their enhancement.

The importance of the crown of the head or fontanel as a spiritual entry point is reflected in effigies that may be open at the top or that wear fancy headgear. Effigy doubles can have a pri- mary, large, semifunctional opening on the top of the head. In one case (fig. 5.1), the large open- ing allowed the artist to support the leather- hard clay with his or her hand and thus better achieve the highly burnished surface. It also makes it pos- sible for something to be placed inside her body, although there is no evidence that there was, and literal inclusion of substances is not necessary if container- effigies are understood as spirit vehicles. In the case of the Moche goblet (fig. 7.15), the opening means that one would drink from the top of the head, the practical and symbolic functions obviously conflated. Other figures of shamans often combine marking the fontanel (fig. 4.8) and/ or back of the head (fig. 4.11) with the technicallynecessary firing hole. Yet the crocodile shaman (fig. 4.8) features an outlined, raised fontanel hole differentiated from the other holes in the back of the head and between the buttocks that actually released the air pressure during the firing. Thus, the fontanel hole was not necessarily practical but seemingly carried symbolic weight.

Another artistic choice actively implicates the fontanel area in a different way, by placing a real or depicted alter ego in that location. A full figure of a feline may be placed on the fontanel, as in figure 4.13. In the crocodile- human head seat (fig. 4.6) a person would sit on the crown of the head, and the archaeological evidence supports such seats as being used as benches for special group meetings of important people, perhaps shamans (Stone- Miller 2002b: 136). In a telling arrange- ment, during meetings or rituals such seated shamans would become the living alter egos of their seats’ dual beings. Birds are often placed in this position as well, particularly in greenstone carvings (ibid.: 155–156). Clearly placing the ani- mal self directly on the fontanel seems to cement the visionary content of this location. It visu- ally and conceptually doubles the head, dramati- cally juxtaposing the human and animal selves, the before and after of transformation.

Placing animals atop the head shades into a wide variety of headwear that occupies the same position and connotes status and/or the shamanic role. Sometimes two- dimensionally indicated, such as a painted headband (fig. 7.10), more often headwear is three- dimensionally part of the effigy. A crownlike hat found on a ceramic female figu- rine with jaguar features (fig. 4.12) is seen on many high- status female figurines (Wingfield 2009: 16). A stacked or tiered headdress type is character- istic of Costa Rican stone figures with transfor- mational masks/faces (fig. 4.9). Headwear may be both painted and projecting, as in the Moche goblet’s strongly modeled headband elaborated with the diagnostic ocelot spots and stripes (figs. 7.15, 7.16). In a more extreme case, the Chancay figurine’s painted headband was obviously aug- mented with now- lost materials attached by holes to the head itself (fig. 7.10). Such actual dressing of doubles certainly made them all the more equiva- lent to their subjects; real head cloths are included in Chancay fiber effigies (Stone- Miller 2002b:268). Depicted headgear not only can accompany real feathers, textiles, or hair but can cross the line back from hat to alter ego draped over the head: in the Moche goblet nearly the whole animal is present, with the frontal ocelot head in the center, two outstretched cat paws to either side, and tail falling down the back of the head (fig. 7.16). Simi- lar circlets or ringlike headdresses made from real birds do survive for the Moche (Donnan 2004: 62; Bourget 2006: 25, fig. 1.18). Such wearing of sym- bolic alter egos again underscores how costumes and transformational imagery are not really sepa- rate categories in shamanic practice (Stone- Miller 2004: 54–58).

As shamanic cephalocentrism might suggest, there are many other forms of the clearly doubled head, making it one of the most diagnostic com- ponents of shamanic art in these regions. Double- headed felines (figs. 4.14, 8.4–8.7), crocodiles (figs. 4.2, right, and 4.15; Stone- Miller 2002b: 127, catalogue nos. 264, 266), sometimes as shamans’ benches (figs. 4.7, 4.8), Vision Serpents (figs. 4.16, 4.17), and people (figs. 8.2, 8.3) are represented. At a basic level, showing a being with two heads is an immediate way to signal the out of the ordinary. If depictive of reality, then one is certainly anoma- lous with two heads, perhaps the most dramatic human congenital condition. More symbolically, with a two- headed animal self one may be consid- ered “extra animal.” With the sense of one’s head and consciousness expanding and “double” the intensity of normal sensations during the vision- ary experience, a second head as an artistic device certainly makes sense. The dual role and con- sciousness state of the shaman is aptly communi- cated by a being with heads looking in two direc- tions, whether pinwheeling (fig. 4.14) or back to back (fig. 3.2). Ambiguously single/dual heads that encode two readings, more and less human (as in fig. 7.14), epitomize this concept that more heads equals more sensing in both terrestrial and other- worldly realms, as well as more flux between the two.


mochica head pot


jaguar human revised enlarged


Olmec Standing Figure in Anthropomorphic Jaguar Transformation