DNA and the Origins of Knowledge, 2nd Printing (Originally published in 1998), New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2003.
The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby is an extraordinary and refreshing book. Written from the perspective of an anthropologist, the book unveils many myths in that science when it goes out ‘to meet the other’, and return to declare the peoples it met as schizophrenic, retarded or ‘possessed by the devil.’
But the author also reports how ethnology changed over time and become more objective in its look on cultures that are markedly different from our own.
Anthropologists discovered that their gaze was a tool of domination and that their discipline was not only a child of colonialism, it also served the colonial cause through its own practices. The unbiased and supra-cultural language of the observer was actually a colonial discourse and a form of domination./14
From the early twentieth century onward, anthropologists progressively extended the use of this Siberian term and found shamans in Indonesia, Uganda, the Arctic, and Amazonia. Some played drums, others drank plant decoctions and sang; some claimed to cure, others cast spells. They were unanimously considered neurotic, epileptic, psychotic, hysterical or schizophrenic./15
The change came abruptly. In 1949, Claude Lévi-Strauss stated in a key essay that the shaman, far from being mentally ill, was in fact a kind of psychotherapist—the difference being that the psychoanalyst listens, whereas the shaman speaks. For Lévi-Strauss, the shaman is first of all a creator of order, who cures people by transforming their incoherent and arbitrary pains into an ordered and intelligible form./15