Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Curse of the Naipa Card Readers

Some of the things I believe would make the average man laugh out loud. I can't think of even one example of the stupid that I take as real because I take it as real, not stupid at all, though my experience shows different people have crazed reactions to some of my beliefs. One thing I take as real and good that others go into frenzies over is that wishy-washy middle-class American Protestantism is more good than bad; and more or less, if I may be so bold, not so bad at all. This, of course, makes me a fascist. Everyone knows. 
I never read the Guardian unless it's by mistake in the pursuit of something else. I wrote, until recently corrected, to my high embarrassment, about the “Manchester Guardian” newspaper. I knew it wasn't really a newspaper, but now I know it's not a paper at all, being on the Internet, and that it is simply “The Guardian.” I am old, which makes me a fascist.

And though I know and like some of the local witch doctors in the area, this being the jungle and the Amazon and thus the Amazon jungle, I don't take them as seriously as I would a doctor trained in America at a recognized medical school. Yes, dear reader, I am a racist. I am also a fascist. Everybody knows.

So, it will come as no surprise when I fascistically read a piece in The Guardian about the murder of 14 shamans in the Amazon close to where I currently live, and in reading the story, which appears nowhere else on earth but on the Net via The Groniad, that I racistically became skeptical of the whole thing, my anti-science capitalism showing through clearly. I am, after all, a “right wing religious bigot,” which I find that hard to believe, but what do I know, me being a sexist and all.

Dan Collyns in The Guardian, 6 Oct. 2011, “Peru shaman murders investigated,” reports that 14 Shawi shamans (curanderos) have been murdered in the Amazonian rain forests of Peru around Balsapuerto, near the city of Yurimagaus, one of the closer ports from Iquitos. The killers are reputed to be the mayor of the town and his brother, Alfredo and Augusto Torres. The two men were named in a report from the public prosecutor's office. The Peruvian government sent team to remote Amazon region to look into killing of 14 shamans. No arrests have been made."

That is not the important part of the story. Shamans are as competitive in their fields as are medical doctors who poison each other at the slightest provocation and are notorious for having sex with all the nurses on TV. It's worse in the jungle than on TV because in the jungle, in small and isolated villages where most shamans practice their arts in exchange for carinos,* e.g. chickens and rice and such payment in kind, people get on each others nerves badly and sometime violently. It might look pretty on the surface, thatched roof huts and doorless dwellings where no one would think of stealing anything; happy and smiling people silently spitting into bottles as they twist sugar cane juice into bowls and chat amiably about others in the area; children running naked in the tall grass playing innocently in the warm fresh air under the clear blue skies; bananas ripening in the sun waiting to be plucked by the pleasantly hungry passer-by... but no. This is not Mexico, and it's not Somalia, but it is still planet earth, regardless of what some would have us believe. Petty quarrels are as nasty and vicious as anywhere else, and they are common in tiny villages isolated. If shamans end up dead, this is not surprising, any more than battered women and abused children and bloated dogs and sewage running everywhere in the wet season, everyone sick from the yacuruna devils that live in the water , and most running to the shaman for a cure for the dano or evil eye placed because a envious neighbour bought a cochinada, an evil hex from the brujo around the corner and causes all this misery. If the shaman knows the way through the realms hidden to most of us and uses his ayahuasca properly to consult with the entidades, the spirit entities that reveal the nature of the illness in question as the shaman is hallucinating, he might learn how to cure the problem at hand. Or not, and he will lose the respect of the villagers if not; or worse, he will succeed and be the most hated man on the equivalent of the rainforest golf course because he's making the other shamans look like fakirs. No, the important part of the story is the Christians. Don't believe me. I'm a fascist. Believe The Groniad. They know.

Roger Rumrrill, an expert on Peruvian Amazon cultures and a government adviser [and co-author of A Hallucinogenic Tea Laced with Controversy: Ayahuasca in the Amazon and the United States], alleges that the mayor, who is an evangelical Christian, ordered the killings on hearing that the shamans planned to form an association. He said the mayor's brother was known in the area as a matabrujos or witch killer.

I find that of all the 19th century “scientists” from Mesmer to de Gobineau to Marx are either debunked, defunked, or kerpluked, and yet somehow Darwin is a sort of a god, like Obama, beyond reproof, and I, being homophobic and evil, don't see Darwin as the final word on much of anything. Experts are not so important to me. This is part of my fascist make-up. When an expert places the dano, “evangelical Christian” on someone, only an evil brujo would counter-attack with one of his own. Consider that done here. But Rumrrill knows his brujeria, and he goes full-out vicious:

"For Protestant sects, the shamans are possessed by the devil; a totally sectarian, primitive and racist concept," he said.

And he keeps pounding away:

"Until now the death of 14 curanderos who are the depositaries of Amazon knowledge wasn't worth the attention of the press," Rumrrill said. "That's an expression of how fragmented and racist this country [Peru] is.

I think we can take it that Rumrrill is a Darwinist. He's too sophisticated to believe that God created the world in six days and then took off on the seventh to caddy for Obama. But he believes, one must assume, in the healing powers of shamans. So long as the belief is in the ugliness of Modernity and the beauty of the primitive, then the belief is pure and noble. What is orthodox belief in the postmodern world of scientistic religion? Let's turn to Gregor MacLennan, Peru programme coordinator for the NGO Amazon Watch. 
"The death of these shamans represents not just a tragic loss of life, but the loss of a huge body of knowledge about rainforest plants and the crucial role shamans play in traditional medicine and spiritual guidance in indigenous communities."

This leaves me confused, in part because I am a fascist, but mostly because I can't put together the fragmented presention of pagan wishfulness in the postmodern and the scientism of the same people who go out of their ways to hate the traditional religions of Christianity and Judaism, ie. totally sectarian, primitive and racist concepts. Big Bang + Darwin + Amazonian shamanism = Enlightenment and Truth. It's not religion, of course, but the idiocy of the day mouthed by conformity hippies who have no ideas of their own. But what do I know. Well, I don't know that the whole story above is bullshit. I do know that there is no story beyond the original based on a complaint by an anonymous someone somewhere that goes nowhere and is only referenced by those who want to believe in the purity of the primitive and who want to pose as enlightened neo-pagans. The story is solely for believers, that is to say, those who believe their own conformity hippie bullshit while dumping on the beliefs of the sanctioned Other/hate figure. Or, as one commenter puts it:

I am a shaman and well I cannot kill a person using witch craft will that even work in a court these days in another country ..... who knows
Ayahuasca is used as a cure all so it should be safe with other hidden health problems complications like the woman who died in Canada had or med reactions etc.....
I was guessing at the reason for the children dieing so if it wasnt that there is another reason for the deaths they need to research, because you cannot kill someone with witch craft alone nor would a shaman do it at all they have a calling to heal that is so strong they would rather die than kill the other person .... it's a calling a healing process not the other way around period.

"Shamans in the Peruvian Amazon use psychoactive plants such as the jungle vine ayahuasca for spiritual ceremonies. As early as the 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese missionaries described its use by native people in the Amazon as the work of the devil."

This is why I have mentioned it they are hinting at the brew being the devils work ....
The land is also being fought over for logging and planting and the native people dont want to give up their homes their life the water ways the fishing the food .... why try to take the lungs of the world away[?]

In all fairness, the comment above is typical. The painfully obvious point is that some people, even intellectuals, are often morons and even more often moral cowards who will spin in the wind in any direction at all, making whatever whistling noises required to remain hanging on the line with their fellows. Anything, no matter how evil, is OK with them. It argues in favor of rational religion, e.g. Christianity or Judaism or just plain shutting up and going bowling with friends. But people want to, and probably need, religion. Thus we find idiots demanding the deaths of men they do not know over a serial murder case that very likely never happened, all because it is the norm to say one is too sophisticated to believe in the ordinary religions of our culture. Not no fundie Christianity for us because we are too special. For me, sorry to say, I don't believe the pomo bullshit. Well, it's 'cause I'm a fascist. Yes, you can read it for yourself many times in the Guardian and other-- many other-- sites on the Web. It must be true.

We see then that many sophisticated postmodernists believe a story about fundamentalist Christian serial killers in the Amazon preying on shamans, which is a bullshit story in fact. That, as we know, is not important; the important part being the moral outrage against the acceptable other; the group bonding over the hated scapegoat; and the reaffirmation of solidarity with Romanicised pagans. Very few people will honestly believe in their beliefs in paganism, but it's part of the intellectual uniform one must wear in public. I'm a rebel. It means I'm a fascist.

Interestingly, at least for those rebel left brain linear type fascists, one finds the academic/hippie/druggie Marlene Dobkin de Rios on this track:

Turning to culture, her book goes on to discuss how these hypersuggestible states were utilised by indigenous groups in initiations, socialising young people into their proper roles as emerging adults, and thereby contributing to the long-term survival of a group. Such transitional initiation rituals were usually managed by elders, within a socially sanctioned and often revered framework.

If only they knew, and if this were true, which seems possible, the above should set off alarms in the conspiracy theory chambers of young drug abusers and enlightenment types of all ages, but particularly those young enough to be suseptible to the charge. Most will not know and will not consider the implications of Dobkin's thesis. I wonder....
Being a fascist hardly slows me down in my pursuit of things to learn about the world, most of which is so painfully stupid I often wish I had stayed in bed—even if I had to stay in bed alone.One thing I got out of bed for was a trip to see Maestro Curandero Naturista y Advino sr. Ronel G.R.  We can skip the 20 things he can do as listed on his business card, that being the piece of photocopied paper with a smudgy graphic of a pentagram inside a circle with balls around it and other spooky magical stuff, and get right to the meat of the matter: he tells fortunes. He is so good at this divination business that he not only can tell the future, he can also tell the present! I'm a believer. Anyone who can charge $8.00 for that and actually get it is someone I want to hear from. He knows something I don't know, even if all it is is how to get money out of people for telling them the present.But there is more, far more, to it than that. The Maestro is a follower of none other than Shirky Gama. 

The things one learns.
In 1968 Claudio Cedeno Araujo, also referred to as Shirky Gama, founded the Sacred Mystical Order of Septrionism. Dobkins de Rios describes Septrionism as "a contemporary mystical approach to self-knowledge and self-development, with emphasis on change. Personal knowledge of the spiritual world is primary. The goal is to control our instincts and passions. It sees as its role to provide a new view of the world and to delineate universal laws of causality. The doctrine questions the mission of human beings in society and their relationship to eternal forces. The primary focus of the doctrine is helping humankind to achieve spiritual peace and to overcome afflictions and tribulations."

The Maestro is not the first of most well-known of the Belen Market Naipe Card readers, she being instead Marlene Dobkin de Rios, Ph.D. "who grew up in a Russian Jewish household in New York and studied anthropology in a field that could be labelled 'psychedelic anthropology' – the cross-cultural study of consciousness-modifying drugs and the non-ordinary states they facilitate."

One might well be skeptical of many things in this world, but the evil eye? That and other problems are better addressed by a maestro who knows the full story, and who can find it from a consultation with the magic of the cards. Dobkin de Rios is an American expert worth consulting before going straight to the man himself, Maestro Ronal.

Marlene Dobkin de Rios “The History and Structure of the Naipes”

The naipes are used often by folk healers who cure with herbs or psychedelic plants in a society in which witchcraft beliefs exist and people often expect that illness is caused by the evil will of others.

The cards become a psychological adjunct to a healer's therapy, a sort of intake procedure to learn more about a client so that the healer can appear to be omnipotent and replete with knowledge and power. We
cannot talk about the naipes as a divination technique without understanding the context in which these cards are used, particularly among the urban poor of Belen, who live in abject poverty in their shantytown. Healers are able to manipulate situations of misfortune that dog the steps of the urban poor as the healers diagnose illness and misfortune, appearing all-powerful and worthy of their fees.

Napoleon's spiritual adviser, Madame LeNormand, was born in a small village in France in 1773 and arrived in Paris when she was twenty-one years old. She opened a salon and read the fortunes of a number of highly placed ­individuals who were politically active in the French Revolution, including Robespierre. Apparently, Josephine de Beauharnais, later married to Napoleon Bonaparte, was one of her clients, and Madame Marie was reputed to have regularly read the naipes for Napoleon.

The naipes help healers to tap in to the causality of illness while, at the same time, allowing them to present themselves as all-powerful. This cannot help but dispel fear, anxiety, and self-doubts in their patients and provide a high expectation of cure. This personal influence of healers increases their manipulation of the patients' anxieties and provides a path toward eventual cure.

Witchcraft Beliefs and Illness

The residents of Belen recognize and openly discuss illness they believe to be caused by the malice of others. This becomes important in understanding the motivation of Beleños to seek out their fortune and often to discover who has caused them to be bewitched. Informants speak of malice everywhere-for instance, the evil will of neighbors and relatives who frequently seek out a witch to cause harm.

Healers who use the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca receive visits from patients who not only want to be healed from an illness but also may want to bewitch someone in particular for purposes of revenge. Some curanderos reject the proposition to do evil, but others specialize in the use of these hallucinogens for that purpose -- the brujo (witch) is socially shunned and secretive. Many ayahuasca healers themselves read the naipes at an initial interview of a client who is readying to take the hallucinogenic purge. This is done in order to get an idea of the stress facing the client.

Regarding witches, this class of individuals was known to harm others. Unlike African societies, in which witchcraft was suspected but never proved, in the Amazon, these witches are ready to take hard cash in advance to harm a client's enemy. They keep a little book in which they write down the details of the psychic "hit." Listed below are the main illnesses suffered by the Beleños, which often propelled them to seek help, first by a curioso, who reads the naipes, and subsequently by an ayahuasca healer to reverse the magical spell and return it to the perpetrator.

Daño This is an illness that is believed to be due to a witchcraft hex. Daño has various symptoms and chronic development. It can be caused by motives of vengeance or envy. In the Amazon, it is believed that daño is caused by a powerful medicine thrown on the threshold of a house in the early hours of the dawn. It can cause a period of bad luck, called saladera. Witches use ayahuasca, the plant hallucinogen, to cause this illness. The ayahuasquero claims to fly through the air and cause incurable illnesses and horrible misfortunes to his client's enemies. Some believe that witches control a series of spirits, whom they call upon to cause the evil. Still others believe that a thorn can be sent through the air, like a lance, toward an enemy. The witch is paid in advance on behalf of the vengeful client.

Mal de Ojo This syndrome is found throughout the Peruvian Amazon and all of Latin America, and is known in English as the evil eye. It includes symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, weight loss, insomnia, and depression. It is motivated by envy and afflicts children and adults whose personal beauty has caused them to be victims of the evil eye. Beleños believe that their neighbors or relatives envy whatever good fortune they may have. Anything can attract envy -- a light-skinned complexion, appearance of good health, indications that a person is eating well, and so forth. A person can provoke the malice of others if he has an amorous spouse or if his house is free from rancor. The naipes reading functions as a diagnostic tool as much for the client as for the ayahuasquero.

Historical Data on the Naipes Printed playing cards have been traced by Alfred Kroeber, one of the important founders of anthropology, to tenth-century China, and they appear four centuries later, almost simultaneously, in several European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. Kroeber suggested that either the Mongols or the Muslims might have transmitted such cards from China to Christian nations, despite the fact that Islam forbids all gambling. Another theory, mentioned already, is that Hindustani-speaking Gypsies, according to Papus and Levi, brought the cards from India to Europe. A game of French playing cards called tarot, used in divination and popular during the Middle Ages, was believed to have resulted from an adaptation of a card game called naibi (also referred to as nayb and known in Italy in the fourteenth century), to which was added a series of point cards. There are many theories about the origin of the naipes, some linking the cards to the minor arcana of the tarot or the esoteric Jewish kabbalah traditions. In the naipes deck, there are three picture cards in each of four suites: the King, the Caballo (Horse), and the Sota (Page). The Pages are used to represent women, and the Caballo and King represent men with different traits and characteristics. The Jack in Western card decks is replaced by the Sota (Page). The twenty-two major tarot cards are said to be related to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

If we turn to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, the term naipes is etymologically derived from the Arab word naib, "he who represents," or laib, "he who plays." Mention of the cards occurs in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and may have been introduced into Europe by the Crusaders. The game of naipes was said to symbolize the feudal structure of society. By 1377, the naipes were in wide use. The Gypsies were the first to use the cards for divination. If playing cards used in divination were known in fourteenth-century Spain, it would not be at all difficult, despite the lack of historical documentation, to trace the movement of such divinatory aids to Spanish America. Certainly, the Conquest period was a time in which men seeking adventure and wealth in unknown lands might be expected to take gaming cards along with them. A deck of forty or forty-eight cards, small and easily portable, without doubt found its way into the Hispanic world at the time of the sixteenth-century Conquest.

What is clear is that the naipes are not simple amusement for the clients but rather are used by them and healers as a diagnostic technique, especially when most clients believe that illness is caused by evil willing or witchcraft machinations on the part of "others." The healers manipulate a category that I call misfortune cards to plumb the depths of interpersonal conflicts, material loss, and sickness or death of loved ones to make their diagnosis.

But the Maestro is the man at hand, and so it is that I hiked over to Belen Market to Pasaje Pauquito to get my cards read. I'm not at all impressed with conformity hippie bullshit in the Groniad, and I couldn't care less about bashing Christianity just because it's hip to be Gnostic. I'm not a believer in pomo orthodoxy. But Naipe cards, well that's a whole nother story!

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

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