Sister Jaguar’s Journey is a memoir of Sister Judy Bisignano, a nun turned to pagan religion after visiting the Achuar tribe; natives t the Amazon Rain Forest. The author briefly touches on her years as a youth and moves quickly into the trials of becoming an Adrian Dominican num. Although, sadly, not the first description of horrific abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church convents, the abuse described by Sister Judy will elicit anger from any well meaning reader; and rightly so. After Sister Judy makes it as a nun in her convent, she details her mission life which is nothing short of extraordinary. And then things get a little peculiar as Sister Judy heads off with her therapist to the Amazon Rain Forest, drinks an ayahuasca mixture (a psychotic inducing drink) and becomes Sister Jaguar.
Sister Judy’s book is broken into three parts. The first is her memoir. The second is a very factual account of the Achuar tribe and what they believe. The third part of the book is a set of prayers in line with the Achuar’s beliefs which are prayers to Pachamama or Mother Earth.
There is a lot to be gleaned from this book. Sister Judy’s story in itself is remarkable. She went from a rather abusive home to a very abusive convent trying to find normalcy and belonging in her life. She found a path to forgiveness with her family along the way. As a nun on mission, Sister Judy made mountains move in her positions dealing with education even ending up publishing a book endorsed by NASA. She also assisted in helping illegal immigrants into the country through the church with a daring and adventurous plan.
The section on the Achuar tribe is quite fascinating to read just because it isn’t every day one gets to read a first hand account of someone who has been present in their villages and have gotten to interact with them as Sister Judy has. The co-author of this book, Sandra Morse, works closely with the Pachamama Alliance Inc. which assists the Achuar tribe and arranges the immersion experiences for people like Sister Judy. Sandra Morse’s described actions throughout the book really allow one a sense of understanding into the tribe. She is highly revered among the tribe. My favorite story of their adventures is getting their hair dyed complete with a picture.
As far as criticism for this book goes, I can find no fault with the writing or set up of the book. In fact I loved that. I was however, taken a back at least a little by Sister Judy’s willingness to partake of a psychotic inducing mixture (which later thinking back to the kind of nun she was I guess I wasn’t so taken aback) but I never made peace with how quickly and seemingly seamlessly she converted to a pagan religion. The only terribly off putting side of this was her usage of Biblical verses completely out of context as well as her interchangeable usage of God for Pachamama. The two religions are simply not compatible. For Christians, God created Earth and while we are caretakers of it, we are not to worship it. For the Achuar tribe, the Earth is god.
I recommend this book for anyone interested in history, sociology, culture, or religion. The information contained in Sister Jaguar’s Journey provides for anyone interested in the previous list is rich. Overall this is a well developed and expertly executed memoir with unique and interesting topics which should make for engaging discussion.