Chapter 15


1990-12-03, Coca

He stares at the candle, a mixture of concentration and repose in his deep set eyes, following the wandering yellow flame like a moth, enraptured. Now and then raising his hand casually to his lips, taking a drag from the smoldering Full Blanco in his hand, he blows the heavy smoke forward, exciting the flame.

He continues to stare stone-faced, impassive.

Waiting for Celso Fiallos, the Urban Shaman, to keep an appointment is like waiting for Jesus Christ to put in an appearance after 2000 years of promises. He assured me, Three o'clock, no mas.

Finally he arrives, with that stockbroker's air of perfect impunity, at six. Celso lives on Indian time.

I am seated on the floor in his small bedroom, the space he also uses for ceremonias, against a bare wall by the door, anxious for the Limpia to begin. I've picked up the ritual objects he requested at a small tienda down the street. One white candle, a pack of Full Blanco cigarettes and a bottle of Puyo Puro, strong Aguardiente.

The Shaman instructs me to take the candle and to rub it all over my body, thus creating a relationship with the candle, infusing it with my energy and substance. Feeling somewhat shy, yet having rubbed more bizarre objects over me, I vigorously become intimate with the wax.

Celso sets the candle on the floor between us, lights it. The yellow and white flame glows warmly, spreading a silky light that casts shadows against paint-peeling corners and illuminating an otherwise dark room.

The space is filled with a musky aroma of plants, herbs, tobacco smoke, alcohol and incense all combined to fill the nostrils with a sense of visiting some old eccentric relative. The flowers placed on the floor in a circle add a quality of brightness that seems almost out of place, yet with the perfection of just that right shade of light streaming through an open window at dawn.

As the Maestro meditates on the candle, he blows smoke toward the flame, and toward me. Exciting the flame, it undulates with the sinewy ribbons of potential floating around it. Celso begins: "Alcohol is sacred. It is one of the traditional medicines and can be used to heal with proper intention. You must use alcohol."

"Ughh ...." Celso, never timid, initiates the ritual by exposing one of my strongest resistances. How did he spot that?

Forging ahead, the Curandero senses sadness. "You have a deep conflict within you. It has to do with your need for self-control and at the same time to express and be creative. You must find a way to reconcile these two parts of your being. This conflict is a burden that stops you."

Celso continues describing what he senses is a tendency to project craving and desire onto others, external objects of affection.

"Harmony can only come from within, you must learn to accept yourself. The Spirits can help when you summon them with clarity, yet the most important reality is simply love of self. This will be the strongest guard against evil you may have. It is your strength and your power."

Observing the candle further, Celso declares with a serious look; "You do not need a full Limpia, you are very clean and clear." Another breath of smoke, the candle flame divides like it is being sliced by the smoke into two distinct pillars. "There is a possible danger here for you. The split indicates a conflict is imminent and you need to choose between two directions."

An ominous sense of deja vu clouds my mind as I wonder if he is referring to the choice I have been wrestling with and need to make shortly. Between heading south into the perils of Peru and death at the hands of Sendero Luminoso, the Shining Path! Or north into the Cocaine Capital of the galaxy and death at the hands of Columbian gangsters!

Or maybe even some deeper conflict that I have been avoiding.

Taking a swig from the bottle of Puyo Puro, swinging the bottle around with his wrist, rearing his head back, he suddenly sprays the alcohol toward the candle. Shadows waver in the corners like waifs shifting in and out of subtle perception as the flame flutters.

Twice more. On the last, the flame dies. The result of the soplado, or spraying, indicates a change in a situation and perhaps a redirection in my life.

We take a break. Celso leaves to make a telephone call. A respite that I use to ponder the significance of his seering. He has mentioned things that disturb me and I realize I must confront what I had been avoiding. I feel a creeping buzz of hesitancy; some of this fits perfectly but other notions have a faint taste of slickness, like too many spices in the sauce.

However, all his insistence on looking inside and ignoring the outside world. Is that truly what he intuits, or is there something more, between him and me?

I remember that last night at Patricia's place when he was drunk and filled with intimations of disaster. He was full of warning and bleakness then. Can I really trust him now? Strange.

The shaman returns. Sitting once more, with bottle in hand and thin graying ponytail swaying back and forth, he soplado's the bela, or candle, once more. He points to a blood-like red area at the stem, around the wax.

"There is danger here also. A bad thing is happening and we are all mixed up in it." With concern in his eyes and voice he continues.

"The political and economic situation in Ecuador and other nations here in South America among the indigenous tribes is dangerous. There will be much terrorism, much fighting. The conflict becomes more active every day, with our traditional societies confronted with the government's desires to exploit the resources of the land and to use tribal labor for its economic gain. This is resulting in the disruption of unity within the villages."

"Extranjeros to our country must become aware of the peril to our indigenous cultures. They must be educated about the importance of maintaining our Selva and the tribal customs. It is their obligation to do this."

Feeling sympathetic agreement with the curandero, I also feel somewhat confused about his intentions. How am I connected with all of this?

He pours cups of Traigo mixed with Huayusa, a medicinal herb for cleansing the blood and other plant herbs. We drink.

Picking up the bottle of Puyo Puro, he waves it slowly before the candle and intones: Venga, Esteban, Venga Venga? "Come, Come Come, Where are You?"

Celso, swaying forward and back sitting cross-legged on the floor, begins to sing in a rhythmic gutteral chant. It's a slow raspy beckoning like the murmur of tree limbs rubbing together on a dark night. An old Quechua prayer to the Earth Spirits to gather and provide assistance.

There is a subtle yearning vibration that fills the space, weaving like a wisp through a net around the smoke and flame, touching lightly on flower and settling on hair with a fine snowflake-like touch.

Celso gazes steadily and says encouragingly: "You have much power and can put it to good use. Do not waste this special gift. Continue to pursue your work."

"You must become aware of the natural differences between male and female energy, the active and receptive sides that are both within you. You must be able to integrate both, then you will grow in power. It is generally easier for females to access the intuitive side, yet with careful direction males can tap into this shadow side as well."

The shaman cautions: "Do not dissipate your energy. Conservation and focus are necessary. Otherwise, there is a potential for illness and vulnerability to evil spirits."

Picking up a bush of aromatic leaves, motioning me to stand, he sprays the leaves with aguardiente, then sprays me. Rubbing the leaves over my body, starting from the head all the way down to the feet, he moves with a smoothness that belies the wet brush-like feel of the bush. He moves down, brushing and chanting constantly.

This is the beginning of the Grande Finale.

I sit on the bed, as the curandero sprays me again, commanding that I open my mouth and inhale. He takes another swig, then sprays down my throat, the liquid burns like fire in my gut as I roar a spontaneous response.

Celso taken by surprise, laughs. Tu es El Tigre! "You are a Tiger!"

Placing a silver coin in the middle of my forehead he blows smoke toward the coin and onto my hair. I must push and exhale with intention as he sucks out of the crown of my head and spits repeatedly on the floor. He is removing toxins and bad energy from my body.

Finally, commanding me not to look, he takes the leaves, holding the candle before them. Spraying a mouthful of Puro through the candle onto the leaves, igniting them in a ball of fire, he rushes for the door to deposit the blazing plants outside.

Copyright 1994 Steven Gilman

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