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In 1959 an American anthropologist, Professor Michael Harner, travelled to the Peruvian Amazon to live with the Conibo Indians and learn the mysteries of shamanism at first hand.
Shamanism is probably the earliest form of spiritual exploration to have been practised by primitive man and in many remote regions of the world from Alaska to Australia it survives as the expression of indigenous peoples.
It is a visionary tradition based on an animistic world-view which holds that nature is alive with spirits and deities with whom the shaman can communicate and draw upon as a source of wisdom, healing, divination and magic.
A number of techniques are used to induce the trance states that allow the shaman's soul to enter the spirit realm including dancing, chanting, rhythmic drumming, fasting, vision quests (a form of meditation similar to creative visualization) and the ingestion of natural hallucinogenics.
Professor Harner was persuaded by the Conibo to ingest the juice of the "soul vine" ayahuasca in order to experience the spirit world for himself and was duly confronted by images of dragon-headed soul boats, a giant crocodile and humans with bird's heads.
He dismissed the experience as subjective, a stream of consciousness similar to a bad drug "trip" or nightmare, but was later astonished to meet an Amazonian shaman who described precisely the same creatures and landscape from his own experience.

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