Scattered around Ecuador, you’ll find entire towns and villages inhabited by specialists of one kind or another. It’s a “guild town” system inherited from Spanish Colonial times, resulting in excellent silver work in Chordeleg, beautiful hand-made guitars in San Bartolome, and…
Shamans in Iluman?
That’s right…the little village of Iluman sits on the slopes of Volcan Imbabura, just off the Pan-American Highway between Otavalo and Cotacachi, high in Ecuador’s green, farm-flanked mountains of the northern Andes.
The market towns of Otavalo and Cotacachi may be better known to foreigners, but Iluman has a deep and widespread reputation of its own with locals throughout Ecuador and the sierras. A walk down Iluman’s narrow streets shows why.
Small plaques perch above many of the doors in Iluman village… plaques with registration numbers on them. These are the official registration numbers identifying traditional healers (curanderos in Spanish) who practice the craft of their ancient guild in their home “clinics.”
Iluman is where you go to get a professional spirit cleansing.
The methods used by the shamans and curanderos of Iluman are particular to the ancient highland tribes of the area. Lots of smoke, liquor, herbs, eggs, and candles are involved, and the process can get a little messy.
If you go for a typical cleansing session, the curandero will start by requesting that Mother Nature reveal the specific illness or imbalance that afflicts you. This may involve passing an egg or candle over your body, then examining the contents of the egg or the flame of the candle for a diagnosis. Or the curandero may simply look at you steadily and ask what the problem is. You’ll rarely know yourself what’s really wrong with you, but from your answer, the curandero can deduce the actual cause of your illness and determine the proper cure.
This is where the smoke, liquor, and herbs come in. Almost all cleansing ceremonies revolve around battering the pollution out of your aura with a barrage of cigarette smoke, whacks with bundles of medicinal herbs, and showers of raw cane liquor spit on you by the curandero. The fewer clothes you have on during this process, the better, but you’re generally allowed to maintain as much cover as you’re comfortable with. Some curanderos will actually light the liquor as they spit it at you in a kind of spiritual flamethrower, but they are well practiced in keeping the singed eyebrows to a minimum.
At the end of most ceremonies, a special batch of herbs will be lit on fire for you to stomp out, signifying that the pollutants in your aura have been chased away and extinguished.
All of this can seem pretty bizarre and unrelated to actual illnesses and cures to a “civilized” person… but I can say from experience that the power of a ceremony like this is undeniable.
No matter what you think is really wrong with you… even if you don’t think anything is wrong with you… you’ll definitely know that something has taken place after going through a ceremony like this. Getting cleansed in this way by a traditional healer will, at the very least, knock you out of your mundane and everyday thought patterns for a few hours and show you the world from a very different point of view.
Who knows? A different point of view may be exactly the cure for what really ails you… and the curanderos and shamans of the guild town of Iluman know exactly how to deliver those particular goods.
Editor’s note: As part of our “other side of Ecuador” week, we’re running stories about the sides of Ecuador you may not be familiar with. It’s all covered in detail in the new 2011 edition of the Ecuador Owner’s Manual. Remember, if you buy the Ecuador Manual this week, you also get a suite of free extras, including:
* 3 special reports on Ecuador’s colonial, mountain, and coastal opportunities.
* The Ultimate Ecuador Forum – more than 3 hours of audio presentations from our top Ecuador experts, including “Retire at 44,” “Starting a Business in Ecuador Made Easy,” “Low Priced Beach Buys,” and more.
Combined, this Ultimate Ecuador Kit 2011 has a $243 value. But when you order by Friday, you get everything I’ve listed here for just $89.