Morena Luciani: A New World beyond Patriarchy. Interview for Passaparola Magazine

Photo by Anna Lami

Last March, following the congress, your book “Donne Sciamane” came out (Ed.Venexia). How come there has been such little attention to female Shamanism in anthropology?

As I have tried to point out in my book, both sides of this question should be examined, the historical as well as the epistemological aspect. At the time when anthropologists began to study Shamanism, anthropology was still a subject dominated by men. Consequently, male anthropologists focused their studies on male prerogatives, such as sickness during initiation, or magic flight. This was also due to the fact that women are usually rather reticent about sharing their sacred insight with men, and because in most of the studied populations women did not “show”, they had no political saying whatsoever. So they were defined healers, Curanderas, and so forth, while the men who were in charge were considered to be Shamans, and counselors of the chiefs, if not, in some cases, even chiefs themselves. We should also take into account that Shamanism was regarded to be the first “religion” of humanity, and thus continually related to Prehistory and the idea of Prehistory which archeologists, paleontologists and anthropologists had come up with. That very same image that we still find in films and cartoons, featuring big men wielding clubs and hunting down big game, while women must necessarily die young due to childbirth. As a part of this kind of picture, Shamans were seen as an integral part of a group of male hunters, and consequently any ritual, artistic, political or social function was deemed to be male.
But research has lately discarded any of these interpretations. For the oldest human remains discovered with ritual objects and paraphernalia are all female! In my book, I have attempted to analyze all the elements that have tried to cancel female spirituality from human history.

In our society, woman is subject to a separation from her body, and his separation manifests itself through painful pathologies, and an attempt to comply with models imposed by the male mind. What can the female body learn from Shamanism?

The female body can learn to consider spirituality as being its own essence, an integral part of itself, beginning from our menstrual cycle, which provides us with a biological occasion to live “right here and now”, since we experience every month, form when we were girls, uncommon states of mind… that which has been termed “female intuition”. Within patriarchy, such states of mind have been considered to be second rate. But as Camilla Power and Judy Grahn have pointed out, the red cycle is the very essence of human rituality. It is time, mathematics, and the “sanctuary”. And then there is that other issue, childbirth. The capacity to give life is in direct connection with the world of mysteries. In many cultures, such as the aboriginal people of Australia, women did not need any ritual or sickness or initiation to become Shamans. Childbirth was considered to be sufficient.

Morena, you are also an artist, and in your book you give ample space to the relationship between art and ecstatic experience. How do Shamanism and artistic creation relate?

This is a complex issue. I could write a whole book on this subject. But, to use a metaphor, I would say that art and Shamanism have been lovers since the beginnings of humanity. The phosphenic theories stipulated by Lewis-Williams, Dowson and Clottes clearly relate rock paintings to Shaman states of awareness, and neurology has done its part to change paradigms with regard to this subject. And then there is the work conducted by Archeo-Mythology and Gimbutas, as well as the social and historical analysis by Eisler. So our vision of art and Prehistory changes completely and fundamentally. Art had little or nothing to do with hunting, or with first faltering attempts to express some innate esthetic urge. Art was at the center of the celebration of life. It connected the world of the living and the world of the dead. It was regenerating. And women held a central and fundamental role. They were Shamans, healers and artists.

Permit me to cite from your book:
<<…all natural substances that expand and cleanse our perception, vision and ordinary state of mind, have been outlawed, whereas alcohol, which provokes dependence, and feeds egoism and violent personalities, is absolutely legal>>. Many psycho-active substances are illegal, but many people recur to substances that damage their health and nervous system. Has Shamanism anything to teach us with regard to this?

Shamanism teaches us to connect to Life, life with a capital “L”. We have been living in a necrophile culture for about five thousand years, and it has banned female energy both on a spiritual and a political level. Both tendencies went hand in hand. Women have always made use of psychoactive plants. These plants have enormous healing potentials, and Shaman culture all over the world have always held them to be sacred. They do not induce dependency, but rather “awareness”, and reestablish the balance of body, mind and spirit, as well as the balance between woman, man and nature … this is precisely what our present society lacks, suffering from the maladies of the ego, which privilege dangerous substances, abusing of them in an absolutely ludicrous and inconsiderate manner. The question women should ask is: “are we going to abandon our children to the specter of drug abuse, or do we intend to face this argument?”

Euthanasia continues to provoke animated debates all across Italy. A law that leaves free choice of medical treatment seems almost out of reach. In your book, Shaman woman is described as guiding both through birth and death. How would you define the figure that used to be termed as Accoppatrice?

She was an ancient and curious figure within the folk traditions of Sardinia, a country that has always preserved something of its old matriarchal heritage. Each time a person was agonizing, but unable to die, various endeavors and even the last unction having failed, relatives would use to summon the Accabbadora, a woman churned in things “magic”, who knew how to impart immediate death, and how to conduct the soul towards the netherworld. Taking into account that the Accabbadora was also a healer and a midwife, we are face to face with a woman that is, beyond any doubt, a Shaman.
Concerning Euthanasia, I can only say that is has been outlawed by Catholic Church. In a certain sense, it would seem to sever the “pact of life with God”. But the matriarchal societies of Ancient Europe, which continue to live on in places like Sardinia, took a different view. Death was part of the cycle of life. Death was not “shunned”. Tombs were replenished with the symbols of regeneration, and in many cases, the bones of the ancestors would even be buried beneath the kitchen floor.

Rashida Manjoo, spokeswoman at the United Nations on violence against women, has labeled recent events in Italy as femmicide. What do you think?

I think she is absolutely right, and that it is more than necessary that Italian law and media should finally call this nightmare by its real name. To date, 73 women have been killed this year by their husbands or companions, because they had claimed their need to be free in one way or the other. This is a very complex issue. And it seems to me that this rising violence against women is some sort of backlash of patriarchy… The power of women continues to surge and grow throughout the world, and there is something in the patriarchal mind that seeks to block this rising energy. Laima is working on an extended educational project to promote partnership, for we believe that gaining a new perception of relationships is of the utmost importance right now.

Excerpt from the interview by Sonia Sion. To read the full interview CLICK HERE (IT)