In Caney tradition there are two kinds of spiritual leaders or guides. They are called “beikes” and “boitius”. Beikes are ceremonial leaders and teachers of groups. The beike’s job is to organize and lead group ceremonies which are necessary to maintain the balance and connection between the people and the Divine Consciousness of the Great Spirit. The beike’s job is to learn and become an expert in the tradition so that he or she can then teach and be a vehicle for the evolution and blossoming of the group. The boitiu, on the other hand, is an explorer. The boitiu’s job is to go into realms where not everyone can go. The boitiu does this through a technique called “journeying”. The journey takes the boitiu to places where she or he can gain spiritual power or wisdom and then bring it back to the community. These places are located in the spiritual realms that are identified as the “Three Cosmic Levels” of shamanic geography; The Upper World, the Middle World and the Lower World. Some of the power that the boitiu brings back from the spirit realm is used to heal. The boitiu is what many know as a “shaman”.
A person can be both a beike and a boitiu but that implies that this person is doing two jobs. At one time in the history of humanity most shamans were also ceremonial leaders and teachers, but as tribal society grew larger and more complex shamans increasingly yielded the task of ritual leadership to individuals who had the talent for organization and for inspiring people to work together. These individuals took the responsibility of learning the chants, rituals and wisdom that the shamans had discovered and brought back with them from the realm of the spirits. Upon getting these gifts from the shamans they then organized them into practical elements of communal tradition. This allowed the shaman the freedom to continue the more personal and intuitive tasks of “journeying”, visioning, and of individual, one-to-one healing.
Many of the beikes of the Caney Indian Spiritual Circle are also boitius. This is a job that is not acquired at will. A shaman is born, not made. People that are going to be shamans are born with that talent and inclination. Nobody can create a shaman out of a person that does not have the inborn gift. The “gift” to be a shaman can and often is considered more of a curse by some who are born with it. Often a person senses from childhood that he or she has something that is special or different.
The gift of shamanic ability is almost always associated with some kind of artistic talent. Shamans are almost always right-brained individuals with more intuitive ability than analytical or organizational ability.
Journeying is at the heart of shamanic culture and the Caney shaman journeys in much the same way as shamans all over the world. The process of journeying allows the shaman to launch himself or herself into a realm known by some as “non-ordinary-reality”. This is the realm that many shamans know as the “Spirit World”. It is in this other-worldly and dangerous zone that the shaman learns all that the people need to survive and thrive on the psychic plane of reality. This is knowledge that exists on an intuitive level and is hard to measure empirically. However the beneficial results are indisputable by even the most rigorous scientific standards.
Ancient Taino shamanism was extremely multifaceted but at the heart of Taino shamanic tradition was a special ritual that allowed the Taino shaman to journey in an uniquely Taino manner. This mystical ritual was called “Co-Oba”. This trance tradition was noticed and noted almost immediately by the Spanish when they first contacted the Tainos in 1492. The Spanish realized that when some Taino shamans needed to commune with the Spirit Realm they inhaled a powdery snuff which the Spanish named “cohoba”. The snuff put the shaman in a trance-like state and then he or she made pronouncements and oracles, and spoke of things brought back from the land of the ancestors.
Modern Caney shamanism understands and respects the unique relationship of the ancients with the magic ground powder derived from the black seeds of the teacher plant Co-Oba. We also respect and honor the relationship between them and the other plant spirits such as Digo (morning glory seeds, called “ololiuque” by Mexicans) and Ayahuasca. These spirits act as vehicles for the shaman’s soul to transport him or her to the spirit realm. We also understand that a relationship with a sacred plant is an unique and powerful thing as well as dangerous. That it requires a complex initiation that not anybody is entitled to. The plant picks the shaman and not vice versa. It is not a game.
In modern Caney shamanism we give the name “Co-Oba” not only to the plant substance used traditionally by our ancestors, but to any trance-like state used by one of our shamans to travel to the spirit world.
When we say that a shaman performs the Co-Oba ritual in the Caney shamanic tradition we mean that the shaman is journeying, no matter what method the shaman is using to transport his or her soul to the spirit realm. These methods can range from something as simple as a quiet meditative procedure in a quiet place, to a drum and rattle rythm induced trance, to a full-blown visioning trance using some sort of psychotropic plant substance.