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Observations placeholder

Stobart, Henry - A view from the Bolivian Andes – The Yatiri and being struck by lightning



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Bodies of sound and landscapes of music:  a view from the Bolivian Andes – Henry Stobart

In order to become a yatiri or aysiru (shaman) it is usually seen as necessary to have been marked out as different from other people in some way. This may take the form of, for example, a physical deformity. However, the most common way in which ritual specialists are seen to be marked out, or their powers confirmed, is through being struck by lightning.

Indeed, Francisco, a close friend from my host hamlet, told me how he had been struck by lightning several years earlier. Since that time he has been learning to become a yatiri, both through practice as a healer and guidance from more experienced yatiris. According to Tomas Huanca, it is through death, from a lightning strike, and gradual revival to life that yatiris acquire their special powers.

In explaining how lightning had struck him, Francisco referred to the lightning bolt-or wala (Sp, -bala 'bullet, shot'), which has often been compared with the deadly shot fired from a gun. As the wala flies through the air, he said, it sounds: lluq, lluq, .lluq and as it hits the ground, kururun, kururun, kururun.

Despite the popular association between lightning bolts and gunfire, Tomas Huanca notes that walas are actually .created through the fusion of the metal contents of rocks struck by lightning. He also observes that some walas acquire anthromorphic forms and are said to speak to people.

Francisco equated the lightning bolt with the brass globular whistle which he uses to summon the sapiri 'to speak'. This is identical in shape with the wooden wislulu and sometimes referred to with the same name. However, I was warned that it would be highly dangerous for anyone other than a yatiri to sound the brass wala. Its sound would cause the sapiri or Santiago to arrive, with fatal consequences for an ordinary person.

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Being struck by lightning