Re: Help with "A War of witches"

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Thu, 3 Aug 1995 00:20:34 -0500

Meredith Bruns asked for some comment on "A war of witches" by Timothy
J. Knab, Ph.D.

Knab appeared on a call-in show (on WILL, from the U of Illinois) a part
of a promotion for his book, and he has done other, similar shows on
NPR elsewhere. The WILL program, "Focus 580", gives interviewer, guest,
and callers over 50 minutes to play with. I listened, and couldn't
resist calling in (particularly because there weren't that many other
callers.) I don't remember ever meeting Knab, but he has been around
Mesoamerican anthro for at least twenty years.

First off, I spoke to him in Nahuatl; he understood and answered
appropriately, in Nahuatl. He later said his first mentor in Nahuatl was
Don Wigberto Jimenez Moreno--so it's no surprise that we were able to get
along. (Don Wigberto taught MY long-ago mentor, Norman A. McQuown.)

I called in because he said some things about Nahuatl prayers that are
familiar to me through working with Tzotzil Maya speaking curanderos, but
are interestingly different. (Example: he said something about praying
in fourteens, having fourteen underworlds, etc. I'm used to thirteen, so
I asked him about that. He said "Yes, thirteen is right, but they also
count the center, so that makes fourteen.)

What he said all through the program makes sense in terms of what I know.
I disagree with him on some points. I would, for example, never try to do
anything as a curandero. I work hard on telling people that I don't know
how to do that--I don't want to run the risk of being killed as a witch.
(Knab and I agree that among the people we know, both curanderos and the
people around them believe that the power to cure a disease or to counter-
act a misfortune carries with it the power to send that disease or cause
that misfortune.) Nonetheless, what Knab said about becoming a part-time,
low-level curandero made it seem both possible and, in the circumstances,
a natural thing to do.

Our ideas of the meaning of "knowing" are quite different. I begin with
an axiomatic assumption that the universe exists outside my head; he does
not completely share that assumption, holding that reality itself is
always relative. I'd say that my GRASP of reality, or yours, or his,
depends on the nature of the observer--but I still believe that my beliefs
about the universe cannot change the nature of the physical universe. (Of
course they can change the social and cultural universe, if I act on
them, or even just communicate them.)

I think Knab's a serious anthropologist, and probably a darned good one,
on the basis of what I heard him say on one interview show. I haven't
yet read "A war of witches", but I'm looking forward to it.

One thing I guarantee: he is NOT a Carlos Castaneda.

-- mike salovesh <>
anthropology department
northern illinois university

================= Responding to the following: ====================

<forwarded message>

Date: Wed, 2 Aug 1995 11:12:10 -0600
From: Meredith Bruns <WVMPB@TTACS.TTU.EDU>
Subject: Help with a book....

I'm hoping someone can reply to be ASAP regarding this book-(I'm passing
on the info to an editor/friend at The Sciences).

(message follows:)_____________________


"A War of Witches:
A Journey into the Underworld of the Contemporary Aztecs."
by Timothy J. Knab, described on the back cover
as follows:

"Timothy J. Knab, Ph.D., has spent years
researching and working with contemporary Aztecs. Formerly
an anthropology professor at the National University of
Mexico, he has also taught at Wellesley and Tufts, and is
the editor of 'A Scattering of Jades: Stories, Poems and
Mexico, he has also taught at Wellesley and Tufts, and is
the editor of 'A Scattering of Jades: Stories, Poems and
Prayers of the Aztecs.'"

"Aided by two _curanderos_, or healers, anthropologist
Timothy Knab embarks on a riveting adventure of sacred
rituals and journeys into _talocan_, the underworld of
gods and lost souls.... A suspenselful and chilling
personal narraive, "A War of Witches" chronicles Knab's
spiritual immersion into the contemporary Aztec culture
and, ultimately, his transformation into an authentic

Meredith, this guy sounds very Carlos Castaneda to me. Is there any way of
finding out whether this guy is legit?"

I have no familiarity with this book at all. (Anita?)
Meredith Bruns
The Center for Anthropology and Journalism