The Shuar people – also known as “Jívaro” – are the custodians of one of the world's most important shamanic traditions.
The Shuar Spirits of the primary Jungle, such as the arútams and the tséntsaks, are the mightiest Powers that I have ever encountered.
It is difficult to explain what Arútam means according to Shuar people. When we tend to define what is in the Other Reality we always lose something.
We could say that arútam is a divine Power permeating the Universe and the Earth and producing practical effects which model our Reality.
In order to be effective in the this world Arútam acquires various forms. Each of these forms is related to different Powers, called “the arutams”.
The arútams in a way are the primeval gods ruling the Power of living beings, the good and bad luck, happiness and misery. They make our lives meaningful or meaningless.
The different forms that the Arútam-Gods acquire are some of the amazonian animals or powerful natural events like lightnings and meteors.
In other words, they are the essence of those powerful beings and not the animal itself.
For example one of the arútams is the Jaguar, here we are not speaking about the Spirit of one Jaguar, but of the essence of the "jaguarness". Therefore the power which is created and formed by every jaguar.
Such manifestations of Arútam are ancestral, emerging from the primeval ages and they have an enormous Power. Any force of Life can be traced back to the arútams. It's difficult to tell how many arútams there are; below I will try anyways to give a list of the most common ones:
Christianity has persuaded us that there is a unique and indivisible soul, which we receive before we are born. However all shamanic traditions have a different experience.
According to the Shuar, we have an "ordinary" soul, called nekás wakán ("true soul") – that stays within us from the beginning of our life and through it we identify ourselves. There are also at least two other souls that might come into existence, only in some very significant moments of our life.
– One is called muísak wakán (wakán or wakáni means "soul, shadow, image") and is a revenge soul. It comes into existence a few days after a violent death, if the person has been killed. This soul is thirsty for blood and seeks the one who killed him/her for a compensation. It wanders around or chases its killer until getting revenge.
This kind of revenge Spirit is known in all shamanic traditions. Muisaks are the restless Spirits haunting places where murders or massacres have occurred. They are no "complete" souls, they don't remember anything but their death, are full of hate and pain, and share almost nothing with the dead person's nature and his/her true soul.
– The second of the "acquired souls" is called arútma wakán, "soul of the arutam".
It comes into existence, if it ever does, only during a powerful ritual. It has the Power of an Arútam and comes from one ancestor who had the same Power.
For example if we receive the Anaconda arútam, it means then one of our ancestors in one of his/her other lives was an anaconda and he/she used to have its Power.
In the Shuar tradition the arútma wakáni makes the difference between miserable and meaningful lives.
It is created during a powerful ritual. In the moment when it is acquired, it immediately settles in our chest.
However it can get out of our body by its own will and travel to the Land of the Deads. It once belonged there, since it is an ancestor's gift. From the Land of the Deads it will bring us back wisdom and strength from our kin, our ancestors and the mankind.
The Power of this soul is huge: the one who owns it cannot be killed nor can they die of an accident. He has a high resistance towards diseases, too. They will rarely be beaten by their enemies and will never be defeated.
Natives claim that those people may die only because of an epidemic disease, which means they may only get killed by a very severe and widespread disease.
Depending on which arútam gave birth to the additional soul, it will have a special Power with which we will realize our Dream. The Dream is the task that Spirits have assigned to us and that the arútam will reveal in a vision.
Whatever our Dream is, it is always a real objective, making us feel realized both spiritually and concretely. This is the only thing able to give us real fulfillment because the Sky has assigned it out of pure love for us.
For instance, the arútam of the Crocodile brings the Power to be a healer. This means that healing is our task/duty: arutam gives us the Power to heal, and healing is the only thing that will make us feel fulfilled.
The expressions "undertaking a arútam quest" or “ find our own arútam ” always refer to the arútam soul, which is the arútma wakáni.
Rituals to acquire it are partly secret, usually they take place near a waterfall or a river because water streams are boundaries of this Reality. They are boundaries also in the Other Reality, separating this World from the Land of the Deads.
Water leads us through the boundary between life and death; in fact we are born – same happens in afterlife too – by crossing water (i.e. amniotic liquid).
- You can walk for your arútam out into the jungle in a stormy night, because electric storms are a "catalyst" for the arútam soul.
- You may encounter your arútam during a shamanic initiation.
After a limpieza (shamanic cleansing) the shaman–teacher sings his/her anents (sacred chants), blows his/her Spirit helpers all over your body and into your "crown", perhaps you drink an entheogen – such as ayahuasca or plain green tobacco juice – then you go to sleep and you may happen to dream your arútam.
- If the initiation fails, you need to fast 2 days, then a Uwishín (Shuar shaman) walks you out to a waterfall or a river where you have to stay 1 or 2 days, still fasting, drinking a bit of green tobacco juice (if you feel like it), chanting thousand years old anents the Shaman will teach you and invoking your ancestors.
If they decide so, the arútam will appear in a dream.
Special people may get 2 arútam souls in 2 different rituals (never both of them in a single one). People like that can't die of epidemics either: in few words nothing can kill them.
Two-arútam men or women are called kakáram, which means "powerful people".