MYTH : MAGIC : CURANDERISMO
A curanderas perspective on healthcare
In curanderismo, disease is not just caused by physical processes but by social, psychological, emotional, and spiritual factors too. Thus, “there is a natural form of diabetes and a form caused by a supernatural agent, such as a brujo (witch or sorcerer). The same is true for alcoholism, cancer, and so on.” Curanderos therefore “manipulate the supernatural world as well as the physical world” to effect their cures and “on the spiritual level, illness can be caused, diagnosed, and cured by spiritual forces called corrientes espirituales (spiritual currents).”
Bilis (rage) is one example of a disease that is both physical and spiritual in nature. It arises from emotional causes and is common in people who feel themselves wronged by another and so excluded from justice that they carry their anger like an energy within them, which is strong enough to lead to stomach upsets or ulcers unless it is released. Their burning desire is for the wrongs they have suffered to be recompensed and while they are not, a churning acidity is felt in their guts — an impotent or repressed anger at wrongs that go unavenged.
Empacho and pulsario are similar conditions that also result from emotional causes. Both are blockages of energy at the top of the stomach that prevent its normal function and cause digestive disorders. Shamans describe such conditions as a form of crystallized pain, sorrow, or anger. They are more frequently diagnosed in women and may be related to hormonal imbalances, but men can experience them, too. Symptoms include restlessness, anxiety, and irritability.
Illnesses in both sexes and especially in children can also arise from mal aire. This is literally “bad air” although it refers more to a “bad atmosphere” surrounding an individual or family. Children are particularly susceptible as they are more sensitive to moods and environments. It can result in colds, shaking, and earaches, all of which may have a symbolic meaning as well as a physical presence (earache for example might result from a desire not to hear what is being said to, or around, the child).
In Andean psychology there are three realms, planes or states of consciousness, where our journey takes place. The first, Ukupacha, the lower world, corresponds to the place of primal experience and the shadow self where our instincts, intuitions, and fears hold sway. The second, Hanaqpacha, the upper or divine world, is the superego, the moral or divine self that drives us to act in an ethical and compassionate way. The last, Kaypacha, the middle world, is the ego, the moderator between the two that enables us to make choices so we can operate effectively in the world.
Problems arising from social factors include envidia, “envy or jealousy,” such as when a neighbor desires what is yours or resents you for your success. Instead of seeing you as an inspiration and working to achieve the same things themselves, they direct an unhealthy energy toward you and this becomes a form of spirit intrusion, which works away at your soul. Mal puesto (hexing or cursing) and mal d’ojo (the evil eye: staring intently with the desire to harm) are related to envidia and can result in vomiting, diarrhea, fever, insomnia, and depression in the person who receives the attack.
A more spiritual problem can also arise, known as mal suerte or saladera, “bad luck,” where the sufferer’s energy becomes so low or they become so disheartened that they cannot achieve anything positive. A related condition more common in the Amazon is daño(harm), a magical illness that is often sent by a sorcerer working on behalf of a client and is, therefore, a serious attack. Its symptoms include pain, fatigue, problems with breathing, and, over time, the appearance of tumors or other diseases that take physical forms in the body. Daño must be treated magically to remove the spiritual poison or virote — the “evil thorn” or dart-that has been sent to the sufferer and return it to its source.
Susto is soul loss: a condition where we lose part of our spirit or our energy becomes so blocked and depleted that we no longer have access to our full power or to aspects of ourselves that we need for our well-being and to get on with our lives. It may arise from shock, trauma, abuse, or injustice, and its symptoms can include nervous disorders, feelings of fear and panic, loss of appetite and energy, lack of trust in or engagement with the world, or a general malaise and decline as if from a broken heart.
Jean-Pierre Chaumeil makes an interesting observation about illnesses like these in his work, “Varieties of Amazonian Shamanism.” In the jungle traditions of the ayahuasca shaman, he says, diseases are more often diagnosed as having been sent to the sufferer by a neighbor or sorcerer (as in cases of daño). The cure normally involves removing the problem and returning its energy with full force to whoever has sent it. In the modern urban setting and in the Andes where San Pedro is the medicine of choice, such approaches have become softened — or in Chaumeil’s word, “moralized” — so that the healer is more inclined to locate the source of suffering not wholly in the spirit world or with an external enemy but within the patient himself.
This is congruent with the teachings of Ayahuasca: we must not blame others for what they have done, but face ourselves and our responsibilities so we find our salvation within — because that is where true healing lies. By doing so we understand the connections between us and the imbalances that have led to our illnesses, and we find that these often relate to some moral or social transgression on our parts as well, which has caused our problems or at least contributed to them through a chain of events that gave rise to a negative energy, which caused our disease. Thus, even if the illness has been deliberately wished on us by a rival, we as sufferers must ask ourselves honestly what we have done to provoke this attack; we are not absolved of all accountability just because we are victims, but are part of the web of interactions that led to it.
Mal aire is an example of this. It is commonly diagnosed as arising from a bad atmosphere in a home, so it is not an entirely spiritual problem but also relates to the social and psychological makeup of the people who live in that household. If they were happy and powerful they would not attract such an intrusive force. So the questions arise: What is the true nature of the problem? Why is there discord in the home? And what, practically, can be done to resolve this? The onus is also on the patient to identify and correct whatever he has been doing to weaken his spirit and put himself at risk. By taking responsibility for his illness he also gives himself the power to heal it.
It could be argued in view of this that Andean curanderismo is more sophisticated than jungle medicine. It does not involve just one cause and effect or one action and counteraction, but necessitates a deeper examination of our psychology, including our morals and motivations, behavior and underlying beliefs. In this way we come to understand the wider pattern of our interactions and the subtle flows of energy that influence our lives. The plant medicine shaman, then, as well as being a plant alchemist and spiritual expert often becomes a sort of psychologist, priest, confessor, or therapist who can help us see our behavior and how it fits into the wider universe.
<3 Thank you for contributing, Ross Heaven.
T O N I C O F T H E W E E K
A CUP of SUNSHINE
A morning healer to soothe the inner organs, ease the gut and alkalize the GI tract. Drinking "sunshine foods" + high vitamin C sources cleanses the blood and oxygenates the brain.
1tsp Turmeric powder
1/2tsp Curam elixir
1tsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp coconut cream powder
1tsp honey (or choice of sweetener)
black pepper sprinkle
Directions: Steep the turmeric in about 6oz of warm water with the curam elixir and cinnamon. Add your coconut cream, or choice of plant milk, and coconut oil, and whisk vigurously. Add more coconut cream if you'd like it a bit milkier. Top with cinnamon and black pepper. Enjoy!
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Photo by Graciela Iturbide
Collage by Ayham Jabr