Huancabamba - Northern Peru
The village of Huancabamba is a small village in Northern Peru with a big secret... it is a village of "brujos", witches.
Huancabamba lies in the misty Eastern foothills of the Andes at 1930 meters above sea level. Huancabamba is also know by it’s nickname: “Pueblo de los Brujos” or the “Village of Witches”. It has held a special place in Peruvian culture for centuries, being a center of magic, spirituality and ethnobotanical plant medicine usage. Huancabamba is known all over Peru and beyond for it’s powerful healer (curanderos) and witches (brujos). People from near and far with every manner of disease, depression and ailment come to the “Pueblo de los Brujos de Huancabamba” to seek a cure when modern medicine has failed them. For help with health, work, love; others visit the mysterious town to have curses removed, find lost objects or cast a spell for the return an estranged lover.
Above the town exists lagoons which are considered to be sacred. For 100s, if not 1000s of years the lakes and lagoons around Huancabamba has held a special spiritual significance for the people. Sitting at almost 4000 meters the lakes and lagoons of Huaringas have many names, the best well known be Lagoona Shimbe and Lagoona Negro. In order to access the lakes one must be accompanied by the witches who guard the lakes and dedicate themselves to magic and witchcraft, some light, some dark.
In the village below and the lagoons above ceremonies are held almost every night by one shaman or another. Often participants will drink the medicine at night, trip through the night with chants and sword waving, walk to the lagoons at first light and stripping naked, jump into the freezing, dark waters of the sacred mountain lagoons.
Normally the participants in modern ceremonies are given mild, sometimes imperceptible doses, it is believed that simply ingesting the medicines heals you and it is not necessary for a strongly psychoactive experience. The songs, rituals, bathing in the sacred lagoons and other ceremonial acts are considered most important.
Those who have drank the magical cactus are then asked by the shaman their name, occupation and other personal details. Then the shaman begins to chant and sing vigorously over the patient, in order to heal and remove bad energies. Through the night a vigel is held in the home of the shaman and at dawn at trek is under taken, climbing to 2000 meters or more, up to the sacred lagoons.
As “Inti” (Sun in Quechua) begins to warm Pachamama (Mother Earth in Quechua) the sacred lagoons are finally reached. Participants may be given tobacco juice which is snorted into the nose using a shell as a funnel before being commanded to jump into the freezing waters of a high mountain lagoon.
Huancabamba and the curanderos and brujos that live there are the last of a muddled lineage that started in the Guitarrero cave almost 10,000 years ago, blossomed in Chavin de Huantar more than three millennia ago and was carried through to the modern day. However during the Conquest and even now the people who work with these Sacred Plants are often ill-treated. They endured Spanish oppression for 100s of years in which time the religion based around “Huachuma” was changed, morphed and molded to be less offensive to the Catholic conquistadors. In this process the “San Pedro” ceremony, which relates to the Catholic Saint know as Peter, acquired and absorbed many aspect of Catholic religion, during modern ceremonies people often pray to Jesus, that Saints and Mary, complete with statuettes displayed on the ancient Andean “Mesa” (ceremonial cloth) and Coca leaf.
huachuma however, the ceremony is deeply influenced by outside traditions such as Catholicism, the witches of Huancabamba often invoke the names of Mary and Jesus and pray to statues of Saints and crucifies. The modern “Huachuma” ceremonies held in Huancabamba do NOT represent the tradition that we find at Chavin de Huantar or even in later cultures, it is a modern amalgamation of the ancient Huachuma ceremony blended with Catholicism and Spanish ideology, little of the ancient tradition remains.
Huancabamba has it’s darker side as well, it is not only famous for those who cure but for those who curse as well. Not all the practitioner in Huancabamba work in the light. With just a personal item, a photo of the victim and a small fee for the brujo anyone may be cursed, anywhere in the world. Often a piece of hair, a comb or toothbrush is stolen by the one who wishes to curse the victim and these items are brought to the brujo, then the brujo performs his dark art and through sorcery wills some terrible event to happen to the victim, be it fatigue, an accident or the loss of finances/business.
In the region of Huancabamba and beyond “Huachuma” is sometimes cooked with other plants to create the “Cimora” brew. Commonly combined with Brugmansia spp. this powerful (and dangerous) brew is considered to be stronger than “Huachuma” alone. “Cimora”, more common in ancient times is still made in some areas today, especially Northern Peru and Southern Ecuador. Keep in mind that while “Huachuma” is safe, other additives in the “Cimora” brew can be dangerous, even deadly if ingested in large amounts.
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