Nautilus

Why Light Inspires Ritual

Some years ago, cultural anthropologist Veronica Strang was fishing on a trip to the Orinoco River in South America. When the fish didn’t bite, she settled for a walk along the riverbank. “The light filtering through the rainforest canopy threw a shimmering green lacework onto the water, and suddenly there were bright yellow butterflies everywhere—thousands of them,” she recently recalled. “Their wings were a gorgeous egg-yolk yellow and, fluttering in the sun, they filled the air with magical, dancing light. It was like walking into a spell.”

Strang, a dynamic and compact woman in her early 50s, has taken home numerous accolades for her work, including UNESCO’s International Water Prize for two decades of studying the cultural meanings of water around the world. And from South America she took home a deep curiosity about that wondrous moment by the Orinoco River, which she has

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