Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pedro Ruiz Calderón, Shaman

Sixteenth-century priest Pedro Ruiz Calderón has been in the news lately because a new translation of his trial has been published. Calderón, tried in Mexico City in 1540, claimed to have the full range of magical powers:
The priest actually bragged about the powers he had acquired according to records a researcher is working on publishing. He claimed to be able to teleport between continents, make himself invisible, make women fall in love with him, predict the future, turn metals into gold, summon and exorcise demons and, most importantly, discover buried treasure.
Nothing remarkable there; just another charlatan. This is the part that caught my eye:
According to the trial records, Calderón claimed that he went to hell itself to acquire some of his abilities. At one point, the records say he was in Naples, working for a viceroy. . . . He and three men went to explore a cave. He said it was 3,000 leagues below the surface of the Earth. . . . Apparently, the men got stuck there, with most of Calderón's companions dying. Calderón did not return empty-handed: "He brought back books from hell. He said one of them had the signature of the devil, the prince of darkness."
This is precisely what shamans do: journey to the land of the dead to bring back knowledge and power, making this case yet another one of the scattered memories of shamanism in the European Renaissance.

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