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“Meditating Female Shaman Effigy”: Formal Analysis

One of the characteristics of Native Americans is the intention to live in harmony with nature. As a result, many artworks of the Ancient Americans before the 1500s were devoted to the theme of spiritual connection between humans and nature, and the role of shamans was underlined. In this paper, a formal analysis of «Meditating Female Shaman Effigy» will be developed to understand the importance of visual elements and history.

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«Meditating Female Shaman Effigy» is a sculpture from the collection of William C. and Carol W. Thibadeau (Michael C. Carlos Museum). It was created in Greater Nicoya, Costa Rica, Central America during Period IV (500-800 A.D.) (Stone-Mill 2004). This artwork is one of the brightest examples of the Rosales Zoned Engraved style. During the chosen epoch, the experience of shamans varied from loud dances and songs to calm meditating practices and spirituality. Stone-Miller (2004) admits that ancient effigies were usually presented sitting, with their hands on knees and closed eyes. As it is illustrated in Figure 1, a female shaman meditates and keeps her hands on her knees. It seems that the eyes are open because of the pupils being colored in black. However, the look is calm and detached, provoking a feeling of peace.

Focusing on its physical appearance, the chosen material is ceramic (dark red) with some black lines on the body. These lines could symbolize an idea of brain waves’ movement during meditation. The size of the sculpture is medium – 32 x 26 x 18 cm (Stone-Miller 2004). However, the author was able to add some critical elements to the image. For example, looking from the side, it becomes evident that the shaman is pregnant. The black lines are used to pay attention to the belly button of the shaman as the means that connect a mother and a baby. The sculpture reveals the essence of female nature when her true mission is to give birth to another human. The legs of the figure are crossed in the way all shamans do. On the one hand, this position makes the female open and vulnerable to the outside world. On the other hand, the author added several black lines of her lower legs to protect her and cover up certain parts of the body.

The power of the chosen sculpture lies in the possibility to combine several social, religious, and spiritual aspects of Ancient American life. The work proves that women were mainly the leaders of ancient communities. The lines on the figure tell about her experience and knowledge that penetrates the human body. The author worked with three main colors – red, black, and white. There are many ways to interpret this composition, but it is evident that the red background explains the nature of a person (blood). The use of black and white lines shows that there are always some good and bad impacts.

The sculpture «Meditating Female Shaman Effigy» is characterized by some important symbols inherent to the Ancient Americans. The use of ceramics and three main colors are the signs of the Rosales Zoned Engraved style. Shamanic thoughts are observed in the sitting position of the figure and the placement of the hands-on knees. Female strength and spiritual connection reveal a true idea of the chosen artwork.


Stone-Miller, Rebecca. 2004. “Human-Animal Imagery, Shamanic Visions, and Ancient American Aesthetics.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 45 (1): 47-68.

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StudyCorgi. "“Meditating Female Shaman Effigy”: Formal Analysis." January 5, 2022.


StudyCorgi. 2022. "“Meditating Female Shaman Effigy”: Formal Analysis." January 5, 2022.


StudyCorgi. (2022) '“Meditating Female Shaman Effigy”: Formal Analysis'. 5 January.

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