Anthropology •  Gender Studies and Latin America

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The Gift of Life: Female Spirituality and Healing in Northern Peru

Bonnie Glass-Coffin

In this uniquely personal account of the lives and healing arts of female shamans in northern Peru, the author alternates diaristic writings about her own experiences with ethnographic description. Her analytical essays explore the concepts of sorcery, shamanism, and witchcraft, case studies of Peruvian women and their ritual healing techniques, the healers' religious and symbolic space, and the healing attributes unique to women. They alternate with chapters in which Glass-Coffin describes her introduction to Peru as a high school student, the traditional roles she adopted in her host family, the crisis that rocked her identity, her first ritual contact with a female healer, and her own tumultuous but ultimately rewarding healing journey under two female shamans. Male shamans, she concludes, sally forth into the spirit world to do individual combat with the sources of spiritual illness, whereas female shamans try to involve their patients more directly in their own healing.


Bonnie Glass-Coffin is an associate professor of anthropology and director of the anthropology program at Utah State University in Logan.


"Glass-Coffin's fully contextualized discussion . . . provides much illuminating material . . . (she) has contributed significantly to the discipline's ongoing conversation about our ontological and epistemological foundations."


Journal of Anthropological Research

" The Gift of Life is a sensitive and insightful examination . . . provide(ing) considerable ethnographic detail on healers and healing . . ."



6 x 9 in. 266 pages 17 halftones, 1 map