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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, March 27, 2018


One of the most pure "metaphysical myths" in comics appeared in HEAVY METAL. "Shaman" is noteworthy in that even though it involves a conflict of wills between Mexican magicians, there are none of the flamboyant mystical battles that fans know from DOCTOR STRANGE and similar features.

The story turns on a very basic conflict. Shaman Don Jose receives an appeal from a local woman whose child has suffered the curse of another shaman, whom the child's father insulted.. Don Jose relates that the other shaman, Eligio, "was a great shaman" versed in many powers as a result of traveling to "Wirikuta, the land of the gods," but that "now he draws his powers from the forces of evil, and does their bidding." Accordingly, in order to heal the infant, Jose goes into a trace, beating a shaman's drum. The "sacred peyote" is mentioned but Jose does not take it, suggesting that artist Kirchner had read enough Castaneda to know that even though Mexican shamans did use natural drugs to move into the other world, in time they were supposed to able to do so without such aids.

Guided the good spirit of "Kauyumari, the Brother Deer," Jose enters the sacred realm of Wirikuta, which is in essence the same dimension that Western occultists call "the astral plane. Eligio expects Jose's challenge, and attacks him first with locusts that devour Jose's astral form.

Jose overcomes this  threat through his ability to accept death, so that his own dissolution does not disturb him. Next Eligio tries to unleash what Jose calls "the dark side of my own nature," which takes the form of devouring serpents.

After this ploy fails, Eligio mounts a third attack, attempting to imprison the good shaman. Again, Jose overcomes by simply refusing to acknowledge the evil shaman's power over him.

The final confrontation ensues  when the two shamans meet, both displaying complex spirit-forms, one rather totem-like:

In contrast, Jose projects what might be described as a Meso-American mandala, a symbol of wholeness. Again, there is no combat as such, but Jose's demonstration of greater personal power allows him to free the cursed soul of the infant, and to banish Eligio from Wirikuta. A significant detail is that as the evil sorcerer flees, he's joined by the three animals that comprised his polymorphic totem, who may be the "false guides" of whom Jose speaks.

Then, when Jose returns to the mortal world, the infant's curse is broken, and Jose adjures the mother to caution her husband about future discourteous interactions with Eligio, despite the fact that the bad shaman's power has been broken.

Though the plot of "Shaman" is simple, Kirchner embeds it with an artist's appreciation for the integrity of artistic symbols, drawn, quite naturally, from the traditions of Meso-American art. In contrast to the more melodramatic mystical serials, Kirchner is concerned with one simple ritual-- the casting out of evil-- which according to mythologues like Jane Ellen Harrison, may be the core appeal of human religion.

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