THE WITCH'S DREAM by Florinda Donner
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Donner is a young anthropologist and native of Venezuela. As a possible dissertation thesis she chose a study of healers reputed to be particularly noteworthy in northeastern Venezuela. There she journeyed in the 1970's and began an association with a woman pseudonymously called dona Mercedes Peralta. Donner's narrative--far removed from the antiseptic quality of a thesis--is a remarkable telling, not only in terms of her ability to get inside this strange reality, but also because of the personal stories she gathered from some of the healer's most extraordinary patients. Clearly, this book has a foregone appeal for those already committed to a belief in spiritualism, mystic forces and the like. However, Donner is uncommonly good at getting a skeptical reader to suspend disbelief. She manages this by a candor and matter-of-factness that make it clear that what she wants to do is report her experiences. These include events for which she has no rational explanation. For example, on more than one occasion she apparently demonstrated mediumistic powers. She also learned how to take rapid short puffs on a cigar to fill the air with smoke--an essential part of the healer's lore--and she learned the various distinctions between mediums, spiritualists, witches and healers. For Donner, the importance of this experience lay in her ability to plunge into another world and adapt. As Carlos Castaneda says in his foreward and as Donner's Mexican woman advisor iterated, it was necessary to follow ""the warrior's path"" by not giving in to fear or loneliness. Over the course of her time with dona Mercedes, she witnessed the healer at work using a combination of incantations, Catholic ritual, medicinal plants, Western drugs, massage. . .altogether a marvelously eclectic armamentarium that did indeed work wonders in the hands of a gifted individual whom the reader comes to know and like--for her sense of humor and intelligence as much as for the spells and melodrama. As counterpoint to the seances and healing episodes, Donner adopts the third person to tell the stories of several of the patients. Any one of these wouldrate as a glorious tale of ghosts and the supernatural--from the seduction of the Swedish wife of a pompous boor to the tale in which Donner herself figures as the connecting link (the witch's dream of the title). That story of love and betrayal and death ends with the appearance of Mercedes' lover of long ago at her doorstep. No matter how one chooses to interpret the events--as coincidence, suggestion, effective herbal and Western medicine/psychotherapy--or as Donner herself prefers, as evidence of inexplicable forces that we sometimes are able to access--this is wonderfully rich material that reflects Donner's remarkable empathy and fine ethnographic eye.

Pub Date: Aug. 9th, 1985
Publisher: Simon & Schuster