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6 On the Effectiveness of Symbols: Women’s Bodies as Mandalas

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Chapter Summary

Maternity, procreation, the intra-uterine universe, the embryo, gestational time, birth; all of these notions imply very real situations, at times paradoxical, at other times downright dangerous, which women must manage within their bodies. In his famous interpretation of the ‟symbolic efficacy” of a Cuna shaman’s song, Lévi-Strauss refers to a matrix-universe through which the shaman travels to save his patient. In China, it is the acquisition of this magic of birth that is described in the myths of the Lady of Linshui (Linshui furen), Chen Jinggu, most notably in one of the ritual theatre plays devoted to her, the Biography of the Mother (Nainiang zhuan). What type of message does this discourse on pregnancy deliver to women? Here, the ritual practice brings into play the three fundamental aspects of the human experience, the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real.



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