Knowing Where to Suck

We talked earlier about healing by sucking out the sickness -- the phlegmosity, the pathogenic object, the dart that was projected into the patient by a sorcerer. But how does the shaman know where to suck?

One way to tell where to suck is by touch. The place where the sickness is lodged may be warm or cold to the touch; rheumatism feels cold, for example, and an inflammation feels hot. The place may also be indicated by its pulsario or palpito, a pulsation or throbbing, which indicates to the touch the presence of a magical dart. Don Pablo Amaringo says that this is why shamans invoke the electric eel -- because its electromagnetic waves sensitize them to perceive pulsations in their patients.

In addition, doctor ayahuasca reveals where the sickness is located. Don Agustin Rivas says that the shaman who has drunk ayahuasca can see into the skeleton, brain, organs, or intestines of the patient; sometimes the shaman may see something white in the bones, and knows that something is wrong. For example: “I looked into Benjamin’s head, and saw his brain like a light, very clearly. Sitting in his brain was a little green leaf. The borders of the leaf were serrated and looked like they had been cut.”

Both the Shuar and the Aguaruna say that ayahuasca makes the body transparent, so the shaman can see the magic darts shot into it as glowing dots. A Shapra shaman told me that ayahuasca was a spiritual X-ray machine with which he could see the location of the magic darts inside a patient. In the same way, some shamans maintain that they can distinguish different types of sorcery by observing the aura around the patient; Pablo Amaringo says that zigzagging lights indicate an attack byt a chontero, a sorcerer; small waves crossed by dark lines indicate that the patient has been hit by a huaní, a crystal arrow shot from a steel bow.

Finally, the location of the sickness may be pointed out by the attending spirits, the maestros de la medicina, extraterrestrial doctors from distant planets or galaxies, the plant spirits, the souls of ancient and powerful shamans, who communicate mentally or speak clearly into the ear of the shaman.

These spirits speak in many languages. Sometimes they speak in castellano, Spanish, sometimes in idioma, tribal languages. Speaking with the spirits is just like a conversation with a human, says don Juan Curico, but with this difference: you understand them no matter what language you speak yourself. Thus, doña María Tuesta's spirits speak to her in a language she calls Inca — that is, Quechua — which is perfectly comprehensible to her, although she herself speaks no Quechua. Don Roberto Acho, at the start of each healing ceremony, is attended by outer space spirits who speak in computer language, like this: ping ping dan dan.

The spirits use clearly audible speech to diagnose and prescribe; they speak directly into the shaman’s ear, telling what is wrong, what icaros to sing, where to suck out the sickness or malignant darts. Don Roberto hears this as a voice speaking clearly and distinctly in his ear. “Suck in this place,” he told me the voice says. ”Blow mapacho smoke in that place. Use this icaro.” He spoke this directly into my ear, with startling clarity.

Don Rómulo Magin calls these spirits jefes, chiefs; they descend from the sky dressed like Peruvian military officers. Don Emilio Andrade Gomez calls them doctores or doctorcitos; they may be Indian shamans or the spirits of doctors that come from other parts of the world, such as England or Japan or Chile. To Elvis Luna, a mestizo shaman and painter from Pucallpa, they are brilliant celestial beings that appear like angels. To don Roberto Acho, they appear as dark-skinned people, Indians, almost naked, wearing only short skirts that cover their genitals. Doña María Tuesta calls them marcianos, Martians.

This is the way that ayahuasca gives diagnoses. Ayahuasca is thus used not to cure, but rather, as Cocama shaman don Juan Curico puts it, “to screen the disease and to search the treatment.” Mestizo shaman don Manuel Córdova says the same thing: “Ayahuasca, it tells you how, but by itself it cures nothing.”

It is a mystery, this ability to understand a language you do not know — Quechua, for example, or Martian. Musician Alonso del Río, who apprenticed for three years with renowned Shipibo shaman don Beníto Arévalo, talks about this phenomenon. "It doesn't go through the mind," he says, "but between one spirit and another."

Once the shaman has located the sickness, the pathogenic object, the dart, the trick is to massage the place to loosen the affliction, and then suck, as I said before, like crazy.

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