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Paul Devereux - Shuar [Jivan] Indians of Ecuador



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Paul Devereux – Sacred Sites

A noteworthy religious use of water in South America was – and perhaps still is – the resort to sacred waterfalls by the Shuar [Jivan] Indians of Ecuador. 

Starting at the age of about 6 years, the Shuar male is taken to a sacred waterfall – always the highest one within a few days travel – to seek a vision, an arutam.  Such places are believed to be the gathering points for ancestral souls, which wander around as breezes, scattering the spray from the waterfall.  It is these souls that vouchsafe a vision and the spiritual power that comes with it. 

The vision seeker walks naked and shivering back and forth all day between the cascade of water and the rock face with the aid of a balsa wood staff, chanting ‘tau, tau, tau’ continually. 

At night, the vision quester, who is fasting, drinks potent tobacco water and awaits the appearance of the vision.  This whole process can be repeated for up to 5 days until the vision appears.  If this still does not happen, a hallucinogen (Datura) is consumed.  The vision will generally take the form of a pair of jaguars or anacondas appearing out of the forest, a floating human head or a ball of fire.  The quester then has to approach the somewhat frightening vision and touch it, upon which it explosively disappears.  When the person returns home and falls asleep, he dreams of the ancestral soul who manifested the vision and the power of the spirit that entered his body.

The source of the experience

South American shamanism

Concepts, symbols and science items





Science Items

Activities and commonsteps