Chapter 4


1990-09-05, Quito

We sat on a stained hard wooden floor in the small, dark back of the house. In the musty bedroom that Celso Fiallos also uses as his Sanctum Sanctorum. Celso carefully, meticulously prepares a tableau of unusual objects to be used during the Limpia.

A German doctoral student, Dagmar had requested the cleansing earlier. She is grieving over a dead friend and has not reconciled herself to the loss.

A bag of stones in one hand, in the other swirling a bottle of Aguardiente. Taking a mouthful, the bag open, he sprays the rocks. Shaking the bag, twice more the Soplado.

During the preparations there are constant interruptions. A telephone rings incessantly. Celso always quickly reacting to the distracting bell, or to run off on some errand in the large house he shares with his sister in Quito.

Returning from the errands, he hands Dagmar a large fresh candle, instructing her to rub it over her body completely, head to foot.

While she is carrying out his instructions, the Curandero sets about tearing apart white carnations and colorful bougainvillea from their stems, then creating a pile of pink, red and white petals on the floor.

Dagmar completes her candle rubbing, he lights the candle, then sets the Bela on the floor, midway between them. Taking another swig from the Aguardiente bottle he sprays the pile of flowers heaped on the floor.

The Curandero sifts the flower petals dextrously with his fingers, creating a shape with them. Out of the chaotic pile as if formed by some unseen mold, emerges a Cross.

Celso rummages through the bag of stones and pulls out the largest stone, sets it between the candle and the flowered Cross.

Carefully selecting stones from the bag he aligns them just so, deliberately building a square enclosure around the Cross. Finishing this he sets five evenly-hand-sized stones in the midst of the flowers.

Celso Fiallos is a lean spare man. Standing about five foot nine inches in T-shirt and jeans, slightly balding, grayish, short, hair combed back and short, he looks to be around forty-five yet with the frenetic energy of a teenager.

His brown eyes, small and intense. An open thin friendly face, he is quick to question and equally fast to explain or to answer a query.

Celso is an urban shaman living in Quito. His activities center around a loose hub of a network of local Curanderos with strong ties to El Oriente, the jungle and the indigenous Los Colorados in Santo Domingo.

His home is a cluttered chaos amidst cleanliness. While he doesn't claim to be a Curandero, he speaks with authority on the various methods of healing, and is a close associate, if not student, of a number of highly respected Curanderos out in the villages.

He came to his present vocation, oddly enough when out for a stroll one day in years past. He accidentally stepped on a live wire.

Fifty thousand volts of electrical mayhem ripped from his feet up through the top of his head. He still bears the dark burn marks on his crown. Modern doctors in the hospital treated his burns and offered little hope of recovery from the internal damage.

Two Shamans from the jungle came visiting and worked their potent magic on the prone body lying in a hospital bed. He recovered and was transformed.

A common saying in this part of the world is that the Curanderos are the ones who are 'Struck by Lightening'. Don Celso became one literally.

Taking the bottle, swinging it over the arrangement of stones and flowers three times, taking a swig, then spraying the Cross three times.

Celso sits back, gently gazing at Dagmar. He begins; "You are sad." With a sigh: "You feel lost, lonely and helpless. And for what?"

He goes on to explain; "The nature of your sadness is from being lost in this world, nowhere to go, giving up hope because your friend is no longer here. She will never come back, Dagmar. There is nothing you can do to bring her back. It is the Great Spirit's will and the nature of existence. Birth and death are all part of the cycle. This you must realize. Also, that you are still living. This too you must accept."

He speaks of the body, its connection to the Earth and the bodies transitory nature. The split in the body between male and female energies.

Lighting a cigarette of natural tobacco, he proceeds to blow smoke onto the altar, in every corner and direction. Then taking a drink from the bottle, he sprays three times toward the lit candle.

Dagmar gazes attentively, her eyes never stray from the candle nor blink, as if this yellow-red flame is her sole anchor to reality.

The flame wavers, but never goes out. In a mixture of prayer, chanting in Quechua and Spanish, Celso intones a hymn.

Dagmar leans against the wall nervously scratching at her fingers, shifting her weight as she sits, watery eyes dropping a lonely tear now and then, evidently fighting back the flow.

Celso continues: "You must go on. You must make a life for yourself. Continue your studies and learn more from the Shamans in the selva. They will teach you the ways to live with all aspects of the world. Remember your friend in your heart, and accept her death."

Lighting another cigarette, blowing smoke on the altar between them, spraying the candle with Aguardiente, and chanting. Dagmar takes all of this in, her body spasms in agony, breathing heavy as her face flushes a deep red.

Picking up the largest stone, nearest the candle, handing it to Dagmar, instructing her to rub it over her body, arms, legs, feet, hands and hair. Front and back. Again with two other stones, then replacing these at the altar.

Celso explains the significance of the ceremony. The Cross of flowers, far older than the Cross of Jesus, signifying the connection between Humanity and the Heavens, or Spirits.

Blowing tobacco, a natural organically-grown variety, making visible the breath as it carries prayers in the smoke into the Spirit World, to be received by those abiding.

The alcohol in the Aguardiente, a purifying liquid, not necessarily swallowed. Used more for bathing the totems and the person, cleansing the energy, reviving the spirit.

The stones, specially selected rocks, containing the essence of Tierra, the Earth in both male and female manifestation. These are used to connect and ground spirit to nature.

With a swirl of the bottle over the altar, a swig, and rearing back, a powerful spray, the candle extinguished.

He rises, coming toward Dagmar, motioning her to rise. With more chanting, the Shaman sprays her body. The soaking is thorough, from top to bottom. Dagmar is dripping and must rub the liquid into her skin, tears pouring like rain from red eyes, mixed with the Aguardiente covering her face, her body convulsing in grief.

Taking a pile of leaves from a special plant, rubbing these over her body with both hands. Then holding them, half in each hand, pressing them into her pelvis and shoulders. Pressing to the sides of her head, then front and back.

With a motion indicating finality, spraying the plants with the Aguardiente, he commands the weeping woman not to look as he sets the brush ablaze with the candle and rushes outside to deposit her burden upon the soil.

Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman

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