Where does power come from? According to the traditional belief-system of the Piaroa, a largely nonviolent, egalitarian people of the upper Orinoco basin in Venezuela, it could come either from the sun or the moon. But the power granted by the sun was destructive and poisonous, and had to be carefully controlled. The unrestrained life of the senses led to arrogance, competition, greed, violence, madness and tyranny. Only the moon could grant the healing power wielded by sages (ruwang) and implicated in the ideal life of the mind. “It was the clear yet moderate light of the moon, in contrast to the strong light of the sun, that was described as ‘the precious light of wizardry,'” writes anthropologist Joanna Overing (“The Aesthetics of Production: The Sense of Community Among the Cubeo and Piaroa,” Dialectical Anthropology 14:3, 159-174, 1989).
The light of the moon, its clear, fresh light without color, was the light of the words of the ruwang‘s life-giving and life-protective powers, or his productive capabilities. The moon-lit water within the crystal boxes of song and wizardry owned by the gods was clean, clear and fresh, and it was with this water that the ruwang each night cleansed and beautified the words of his chants. All of the contents of the crystal boxes of the gods remained beautiful because these ethereal beings, through a pure “life of thoughts” (ta’kwaru), continually cleansed their powers…. Beauty (a’kwakwa), thoughts (ta’kwaru) and the products of work (a’kwa) were linguistically linked….
[A]ll productive powers were potentially evil in use. The creator god of these productive forces during mythic time was physically ugly, mad, evil and foolish in action. The source of his capabilities to use and transform resources of the earth – to garden, to hunt, to cook – were the poisonous hallucinogens given to him by the supreme deity under the earth. He also used the poisonous powers of the sun to increase the force of his capabilities. The tremendous powers he created constantly poisoned his desires (his “life of the senses”)…
Mythic time was a time of rapid technological development, when the means for using the earth’s resources were created, and because of the poison of the forces that allowed for this creation, it was also a period that increasingly became characterized by the violent competition over the ownership of the new technology and the resources which it made use of. While at first the gods were more or less peacefully able to acquire such resources and the forces for productive activity through marriage and exchange, these forces became too multiple and strong for the gods to master… and slowly they poisoned the wills and desires of those who received them. As time went on, the characteristics of greed, arrogance, anger and lust made impossible the maintenance of peaceful community and intercommunity relationships. All of the creator gods began to steal and then murder for access and ownership of ever more powerful forces for transforming the resources of the earth; and then they began to murder and cannibalize for the ownership and the control of the domains themselves. All relationships developed into those of predator and prey, and… peaceful community life became impossible. This creative period of history ended when all transformational forces for production were thrown out of this world into a new and stable home in celestial space: these powers are those that are housed today in the safety of the crystal boxes of the present-day gods described above.
It is highly significant that the ethereal, celestial gods who today own these productive forces have no “life of the senses” to be so poisoned.
For more on the Piaroa, including another paper by Dr. Overing, see here.