Tuesday, 31 August 2004

Ayahuasca: The Concept of Plants as Teachers among four Mestizo Shamans of Northeastern Peru - Luna

A shaman must be a strong person physically and spiritually. Each of the four informants I worked with considers himself a survivor of innumerable encounters with black shamans or with evil spirits. Very often these struggles take place during sleep. The shaman will dream that he is attacked. If he loses the combat, he may never wake up, or will be badly hurt. One of the functions of the diet is to make a person strong. And the constant use of tobacco has a similar function, the smoke of the plant being a strong defense against evil people, Yacuruna, Chullachaqui and bad spirits.

Arkarta in the Quechua language means "defense" (J. Szeminski, pers. commun.). I questioned each of my four informants about their arkana. Don Jose told me about four of them: huairamanda arhana, yahtamanda arhana, yahumanda arhana and meolinamanda arhana. Huairamanda arhana is a hurricane which will blow away his enemies. The other three are defenses against enemies coming from the earth, water and air. He describes them as darts which were given to him by his murraya or spirits. On the other hand these spirits guard the place where he is taking ayahuasca.

Don Celso, when curing serious cases of witchcraft, surrounds himself with all his defenders. These are animals representing air, water and earth; the condorpischu, a little white bird with a red neck, will fly around his head. A lion will be on his right shoulder, a black panther on his left shoulder and an elephant in front of him. To defend him from enemies of the water he is surrounded by a mermaid, a naca-naca (Micrurus sp., a poisonous snake), a white eel and a lobo marino or nutria. A shushupi (bushmaster), another very poisonous snake, will be around his neck, with its head beside his mouth. His last defense if he is in great danger is a school of piranhas, small voracious fish that will devour his enemies.

Don Emilio, when taking ayahuasca, places four angels armed with swords in the four corners of his home. His personal defenses are a little bird that will alert him in case a witch is approaching, a black bull and a huge winged Brazilian black man with daggers in his hand and belt, who will follow the bad spirits and shut them in dark tunnels in the Andean mountains.

Don Alejandro also places four guardians around him. These are the "mother" of four trees and they are armed with guns. In case of great danger he has another weapon impossible to resist: a war airplane, that will bomb and destroy his enemies. When I questioned him as to how he acquired such a weapon from the spirits, he told me that he could not answer. It was a "professional secret".

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