On the planet Sarkovy, one of the many imagined by science fiction writer Jack Vance, the inhabitants, called Sarkoy, are experts in the art of killing by poison. An adept of this art is called a venefice, and it is believed that a Master Venefice can kill a victim merely by walking past him.
The venefices of Sarkovy are amateurs compared to sorcerers in the Upper Amazon.
Throughout the Upper Amazon, people believe that they can be made sick through ingestion of noxious substances prepared by their enemies and put surreptitiously in their food or drink — bat saliva or phlegm, the burnt bones of dead humans mixed with the entrails of water snakes, the blood of a black dog. Similarly, noxious substances can be thrown across the threshold of a house — vulture feces, for example, or cemetery dirt — or buried at a threshold or along a path where the victim walks.
This sort of contamination shades over easily into poisoning. Indeed, throughout the Amazon, poisoning is perceived as widely practiced. Cultivated or wild plant poisons are put into the victim’s food or drink, especially at festivals. The Cubeo claim a wide variety of poisoning methods — infusing poisonous plants into the victim’s drink; placing poison in the victim’s urine stream so that it enters through the urethra; spilling or dripping poison on the skin; inserting poison on the end of a stick into the nostrils of the sleeping victim; dropping poison onto a bench, where it enters through the victim’s anus.
The Cashinahua are famous for their knowledge of poison. A sorcerer can destroy a whole village with the smoke of a poisonous leaf burned over a fire, they say; or kill a woman by hiding poison in her skirt. The great Yawanahua warrior and shaman Antonio Luis — who obtained many wives by raiding against his enemies, and was a founder of the Yawanahua people — was finally killed by a Cashinahua sorcerer who added poison to his tobacco snuff.