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This article explores the implicit theory of mysticism in Ciro Guerra’s 2015 film Embrace of the Serpent (Sp. El abrazo de la serpiente). While many theories of mysticism argue that true mystical experience is unmediated and, therefore, universal, Guerra makes a more provocative statement in the film. He depicts two Westerners’ attempts to have an entheogenic mystical experience in journeys on the Amazon, guided by an indigenous shaman named Karamakate. While the first experience is unsuccessful, the second produces an astonishing mystical vision. The film’s apex transcends culture and suggests the power of the mystical to heal the trauma of colonization and cultural destruction, but not through an unmediated “universal” mystical experience. Rather, it is the “embrace of the serpent” to which the film’s title refers, based on Amazonian mythology. The film provides valuable insight into how mystical experience can facilitate cross-cultural understanding and deep healing after the trauma of colonization. Contrary to what a scholar of mysticism might expect, it is only by understanding culturally-specific mystical expertise can one transcend culture to benefit from the insights and healing of a mystical experience.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



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