The second part of a look at the rich and powerful spiritual legacy of the Andean civilization which is only now being properly recognised after 500 years of obscurity. This interview of Doris Rivera Lenz, was conducted by Howard G. Charing & Peter Cloudsley. This interview appeared in Sacred Hoop Magazine Issue 57, and the book Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA).
Are people who come to you for coca divination often unwell?
If you ask me if people are unwell, the majority are unwell, in their spirit or mind, there are lots of problems today. They are particularly afflicted in the stomach, the solar plexus, and the belly button. It’s the place of emotional pain, and also where we are joined to life. This is what ayahuasca is, the rope that connects us to life.
What about people who sense that their bad luck is caused by someone putting a hex on them. What do you do? Can you send the hex back to its place of origin?
The first thing is to discover what is going on in the present. The wife had an accident, the husband was unfaithful, they haven’t got a job, the house is falling down… Then I look to see their capacity to accept a criticism, to listen to the mother leaf ticking them off saying: you have done this, you are insecure, weak, a drunk, or a prostitute. What is the story? Is it karmic or something that they are doing?
When there is jealousy in the jungle the black brujo might send out virotes (poisoned darts in the spirit world) while a good shaman blows mapacho tobacco smoke, and cleanses you with his shacapa leaves, but this sounds like a more psychological approach, you are seeing what people are doing themselves. How do you make sense of the belief that the problem is caused by sorcery?
You have to show the person he is not the victim of sorcery and that he is creating the problem in his mind. They need to go back over it; talking about it brings it out and is the first part of becoming well again.
It is true that some people will take vengeance through black magic when they feel prejudiced or offended in some way, because they are sick. When people think they have power and feel superior, the ego can become very negative. The first thing I do is to wake up the consciousness of the person who has been harmed and tell them that evil does not exist! ‘You are inventing it’, I tell them. Black brujos do exist of course, but you need to use a bit of psychology.
The power of black magic does not exist?
Neither good nor bad exists, it is a universe, and we create the good and the bad. But I recognise that the person may feel attacked. When someone falls ill it means they are weak and the curandero must speak positively and encourage them to shine light on it. Then they can create positive thoughts for themselves. If I agree and say they are bewitched its makes them worse.
I see you are trying to shift that person’s reality around but do you recognise that it can exist?
Of course, but the act itself is not so powerful as white magic, it is the negative spirit of the black brujo which creates the power of the spell. If you get hold of a chicken and take off its feathers, put a toad inside, and hang it in the doorway of a hated neighbour, you can give them a nasty fright, but without a powerful negative spirit nothing will happen. But if the intentions are very negative and the person is weak they will pick it up quickly.
The most powerful brujos are found in the jungle where there are powerful plants for healing just as there are dangerous plants that can paralyse your body and so on. But plants have much more wisdom than people. Do you think that if I go to a floripondio and say I want help to do harm to so and so, that it will be at my disposal? You have to make a pact with the spirit.
Do people need to believe that your ceremony has done something?
When people trust that you are a white curandero they open up, you have special permission to go into their soul, and work with suggestion. Lets say you give them a bath in a herb with spines, and you ask permission from the spirit of that plant to heal the person with fright or a bad spell – you bathe them, you put them on a diet, you cleanse them and purify them. You call their soul and give them strength and they get well.
You are a psychologist?
Its OK to say that.
A lot depends on the mind and education of the person. Some curanderos hardly speak to their clients, do they?
Yes, I talk a lot, but there are times when I can’t say anything.
Is there something similar going on when you pass eggs over people?
There are several ways of working with an egg. We know that an egg is the union of the masculine and the feminine. We should recognise that this union is supremely sacred. We are the product of an egg too. So the egg is the total energy of the mother’s and the father’s cells. You take the first egg of a hen, which is virgin, and ask the ‘angelic’, elemental spirit to take away the illness of a person, you ask the spirit for permission to do it. Then you pass it over their body, its like an X-Ray. You can also do it with guinea-pigs or rabbits, but I don’t like doing it with animals.
Is it a mechanical process or is there a link between you and the client?
There is a link, a connection with the spirit of the egg, because I don’t have X-Ray eyes. When I break the egg into a glass of water, there is no set interpretation that says that a bubble here always means this or that. The moment the human mind comes into the passing of the egg or a coca leaf reading, the process goes out of balance. If I want to comfort you, and I say: you’re not going to die, you’ll be OK, its spoiled.
The fact that there is a long tradition behind these methods of divination helps you?
Of course, its an ancestral thing.
What is different about people from the West? What do they need?
Their heads cutting off! No, its only a joke!
To be serious though, their religion has failed them, the church authorities have kept vested interests and institutions going. Eventually people have thrown the baby out with the bath water. In Peru, the campesinos have never really believed in the European religion, the Pope, sin, guilt etc. which has only confused them.
When the Inca Atahualpa was told by the Spanish he should be baptized, he replied:
‘No, I won’t change my God, for a God which has died already. I believe in one with never dies.’
Mother Earth is the feminine aspect of God, and father Sun is the masculine aspect, and we are a product of that. We are Gods and we should believe in ourselves first. Its fine to have Gods; the Oriental ones, an Inca, an extra-terrestrial, Buddha or Crishna, but there will never be anything like Mother Earth and the Sun, or the moon. Think what would happen if we lost them? That is God!
All Gods come through Nature. You can have as many Gods as you want, it doesn’t close any doors, no one is being judged, but what has become of Western religion? Materialism, loss of identity, loss of customs. How can we help people in the face of the avalanche of problems being created today? Cut off their heads? Give them a heavy dose of positive cosmic radiation?
There is so much struggle today. Take the climatic changes, for example, it shouldn’t be raining at this time in Cusco, yet it is pouring down, so people are no longer thinking about nature but money and the help they need. People have become completely insecure. Imagine if we went to live in nature again, surrounded by mountains, or in the rainforest, in nature.
Yet the tendency today is for everybody to want to move into the cities everywhere, to live like America, build motorways.
Its sad. I’ve spent time with people in the Andes. I have seen people leaving their traditional clothes and customs for the Maranata religion. They are a group that says why do you believe in the Earth, the Sun, the puma and the condor? Again religion controlling the Andean campesino. These people go to the city and see a TV and think, ‘what a beautiful TV!’ They sell their llamas and buy one. I am sad to see their children who are so pure, being contaminated.
They learn negative habits and are hypnotized, and no longer want to work their land. It really hurts in my soul to see a Q’ero curandero obsessing about dollars meanwhile forgetting his power. This loss of values for material things is happening so fast, its incredible! It’s the Western influence which has been working over 500 years.
They see on TV the huge kinds of potatoes which can be produced using fertilizers, and they think ‘how beautiful, I want that’, but they don’t know how the earth is ruined by fertilizers.
What do you see happening in the future on a planetary level?
People will get a nasty shock from seeing the increasing changes and natural disasters on the earth and we will be shocked into changing.
The only way we can change?
Unfortunately yes. To avoid the fear we need to work daily to balance ourselves, so that the collective fear will not infect us. Even if those around you are overcome you must be a maestro and maintain your centre. We have forgotten the power that an offering has, look how we are eating this chocolate and we have forgotten to give a little to the Earth.
Every body worries about their future, no? But there will come a time when no one will want to consult about it any more, they will have finally woken up to the realisation that there is no future in the way we are going. They will be shocked into living in the present and this will create a new human being. We will realise that individualism doesn’t work and this will unite us in a shared future.
The desperation will show the necessity of love. Who will want to do harm or be aggressive when money and material things have become useless? We will come back to a new kind of community consciousness. We are beginning to anticipate all this and becoming more conscious, but we are swerving about. However, people who see only the material world, are blind to it and live isolated from humanity. What happens to them when there is an earthquake or tidal wave? This is what Pachacuti is about, an awakening of a new consciousness, a return.
There is so much wisdom in nature, she rears us like her children, teaches us to ask permission, to care for her like ourselves.
Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest He is the author of Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA).