Tuesday, September 18, 2007

What Compromises a Curandero

The question recently came up of whether curanderos/ayahuasqueros who work with gringos would be among those chosen if curanderos were needed to save the universe. The implication was: Do curanderos who work with gringos, rather than just locals on a river or on a city block, lose their authentic power, whatever that might be? I don't think so. So this was my answer. For whatever it's worth, of course....

Would the curanderos who treat westerners and locals (I know of none who exclusively treat westerners, though there might be some I don't know of) be among those chosen to save the universe in a moment of necessity? Sure. They're not lame because they treat westerners. They just happen to live near where westerners visit.
If you go on the 5th block of Pablo Rossel in Iquitos and find the curandero who lives there and holds ceremony every Tuesday and Friday for 30-50 people (of whom perhaps 2 or 3 drink with him) you'd find he would welcome gringos. He just doesn't know any. He's already serving the community and if a gringo asked to be part of the community he'd be welcome. If you go to the 12th block of Jivari in Iquitos and find the curandera who lives there, she'd welcome you as well. And if she did she'd be one of the people who serve gringos ayahuasca. Would that diminish her work? Doubt it.
What would diminish the work--if that's what the real question is--would be something that threw the curandero out of balance: a desire for women or men that they didn't or couldn't control; jealousy that affected their intent; greed, or anger or alcohol abuse. Any of those can come with the power that the money from gringos brings. But those things can grow anywhere where things are out of balance, even in the rainforest.
The only official apprentice I ever knew Julio, my friend and teacher, to have was Salis Navarro. He got hired to serve ayahuasca once a week to one of the big tour company's guests in the late 1980s, early 1990s. He was a forest man all the way. But within months--after dozens of men and women had thrown themselves at his feet--he foolishly believed he was important (more important than the medicine) and seduced a Matses man's wife; one of three wives of my friend Antonio, a young Matses warrior. Antonio blew his stomach out with a shotgun when his wife told him Salis had seduced her against her will.
The corruption can come from anywhere. Julio used to say to remember always that the medicine was the doctor, and the curandero was only given permission to use it. Once the curandero believed he was the medicine, or that it was his right to use the medicine, he'd lost his balance and would soon fall.
I always thought that was a good way to look at it.

7 comments:

Jupe said...

thanx for your thoughts Peter...nice stories about your son too....(Jupe from World Eyes)

The Grudge said...

I've wondered about that argument as well. The question whether the so called "drug tourism" would diminished the sanctity of the whole Aya experience. I personally can say no, but I haven't tried Aya with every currandero. Perhaps there are some that give Aya solely for money, but then is that a real curandero?

bamboo said...

They are human beings with one foot on both sides of things, but first and formost they are human and are subject to all the faults of any one on this earth.
I'm just happy that curandero do share with gringos or we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Arbol said...

Reminds me of these so called "enlightened western healers" from around the world in Iquitos I met this summer at the 2007 Shamanism conference. nuff said...

mariposa said...
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mariposa said...
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mariposa said...

Hi Peter, thanks for this thought you've shared with us. I have a question about Salis... Are these the real circumstances around his death? I am a friend of the Navarro family and have heard a very different account. I am just curious, for personal reasons, if there isn't more to what happened. I know this is a tad off topic, but it does concern the issue in a larger sense, I suppose. I am just curious if you remember anything more about this.