I have noticed that in general westerners are misinformed about the different types of Amazonian shamans. This is especially true in regards to ayahuasca shamans. It is unfortunate that this is the case because westerners who come to Peru to drink ayahuasca often do so with some expectations that may not be met if they drink with the wrong type of shaman. In fact, in some situations, drinking with the wrong shaman can be dangerous.
This confusion is largely around the difference between “ayahuascero” and “currandero”. For many westerners they are just looking for a shaman that works with ayahuasca and therefore end up drinking with an ayahuascero. After all, the name fits….right? The answer is yes….and no.
An ayahuascero is simply someone who has the ability to prepare the ayahuasca brew, set up the space for an ayahuasca ceremony, and conduct the ceremony. Sounds good right? Maybe…..
A major problem is that if there is healing to be done, it is largely out of the hands of the ayahuascero shaman. An ayahuascero is generally not a healer, or they are a healer still in training. (Note: when I use the words “healer” or “healing”, I am talking about healing on all levels- physical, mental, and energetic/spiritual as ayahuasca is a truly holistic medicine.) Ayahuasceros are relying on the medicine to provide the insights and healing. Ayahuasceros are not actively working with the guests energies or the medicine to maximize healing and insights. They may notice that there is something “off” in the guest’s body or energetic body, but usually an ayahuascero does not have the training to do anything about it. In fact a good ayahuascero that sees something is amiss in a guest will refer that guest to a currandero for actual healing. Now, if you are considering drinking ayahuasca you may be thinking, “I don need any healing”. This may be true….or not.
Sometimes people go to an ayahuascero “just for the experience”, not for healing. Then they go into ceremony to discover they have some very significant energies/spirits that they were unaware of and those energies need to be dealt with. Again, if the ayahuascero is of high integrity, he/she will refer the guest to a quality currandero. There is a bit of a catch though. If the energy that manifests is too powerful or overwhelming for the ayahuascero it can be a problem. I have heard stories of this happening. An ayahuascero comes across a very strong energy or spirit in a guest, they can’t deal with it, and they end up running scared out of the ceremony. Not good for the guest in question nor the other guests in attendance.
To summarize, an ayahuascero is essentially that can run a ceremony. They can cook the brew, set up the space, serve the ayahuasca, sing icarros, and run the ceremony. They generally are NOT healers.
A currandero, as the name implies, cures people. A currandero has a large toolbox to draw from as the training for a currandero is much more extensive and varied.
Curraneros do a large number of plant and tree bark dietas. These dietas form a strong bond between the currandero and the plants dieted. Those plants become allies, and the plants teach the currandero how to work with them during ceremony and in healing. A currandero can call on one of his plant/tree allies to protect the guest, to bring in the medicine, and help cure a guest.
A currandero has learned to work with energies/spirits that may be in the guest. If the spirit or energy is not useful or harmful, the currandero helps the patient learn to control that energy/spirit so that it does not cause further negative manifestations in ceremony nor in life. It is also possible that an outside spirit may try to get into a guest during ceremony. A currandero protects the guest from these outside spirits. This skill of managing energies/spirits is particularly important in an ayahuasca ceremony as a person’s energies open up significantly in this space.
Finally, curranderos often have the ability to make remedies for various ailments like candida, arthritis, herpes, and in some cases cancer. These plant remedies are administered alone or in conjunction with ayahuasca. The idea behind the remedies is to cure the root cause of an illness vs. the western model of just treating the symptoms.
As you can see there is a significant difference between an ayahuascero and currandero. Personally I think working with a currandero is a safer and better way to go. A good currandero has much more training and a large toolbox to draw from. Of course I am biased as the maestros I work with at La Familia Medicina are all curranderos/ayahuasceros /vegetalistas/paleros. Note: a currandero can also be an ayahuascero , but not necessarily vise versa.
Below are som brief descriptions of some other types of Amazonian shamans:
Vegetalista- a shaman that works with various plant medicines. This can be done alone or in conjunction with ayahuasca.
Palero- a shaman that works with tree barks. These tree barks are used in dietas alone (Puro Palo dietas), or with ayahuasca. The trees are another source of remedies.
Tobaccero- a shaman that works with tobacco. Tobacco is a strong medicine , a strong purgative that cleans the body out. It can be drunk, snorted on its’ own or mixed with a brew such as ayahuasca.
Brujo/Bruja- The literal translation for brujo is sorcerer and bruja is witch. These people dwell on the darker side of shamanism in Peru and throughout Latin America. A brujo is a shaman that does not necessarily act in a guests best interest, they act in their own interests. A brujo is most interested in money and power. There are more brujos than shamans in Peru because it is easier to become a brujo and oftentimes more profitable. The lines between shaman and brujo can get blurry as many shamans become tempted by money and/or power. Those shamans try to straddle both paths of love/light and power. Unfortunately the path of power is quite seductive.
The above is by no means complete. My main intention is to educate westerners about the difference between curranderos and ayahuasceros. This is due to the significant and increasing interest in ayahuasca by westerners.