Bearing in mind the country's poverty and the fact that almost half the population is still pure Amerindian, it isn't altogether surprising to discover that the ancient shamanic healing arts are still flourishing in Peru. Evidence for this type of magical health therapy stretches back over three thousand years on the Peruvian coast. Today, curanderos (Spanish for "curers") can be found in every large community, practising healing based on knowledge which has been passed down from master to apprentice over millennia.
Curanderos offer an alternative to the expensive, sporadic and often unreliable service provided by scientific medics in a developing country like Peru. But as well as being a cheaper, more widely available option, curanderismo is also closer to the hearts and understanding of the average Peruvian.
With the resurgence of herbalism, aromatherapy, exotic healing massages and other aspects of New Age "holistic" health, it should be easier for us in the West to understand curanderismo than it might have been a decade or so ago. Combine "holistic" health with psychotherapy, and add an underlying cultural vision of spiritual and magical influences, and you are some way toward getting a clearer picture of how healing wizards operate.
There are two other important characteristics of modern-day Peruvian
curanderismo. Firstly, the last four hundred years of Spanish domination have
added a veneer of Catholic imagery and nomenclature. Demons have become saints,
ancient mountain spirits and their associated annual festivals continue
disguised as Christian ceremonies. Equally important for any real understanding
of Peruvian shamanism is the fact that most, if not all, curanderos use
hallucinogens. The tribal peoples in the Peruvian Amazon who have managed, to a
large extent, to hang on to their culture in the face of the oncoming industrial
civilization, have also maintained their spiritual traditions. In almost every
Peruvian tribe these traditions include the regular use of hallucinogenic brews
to give a visionary ecstatic experience. Sometimes just the shaman partakes, but
more often the shaman and his patients, or entire communities, will indulge
together, singing traditional spirit-songs which help control the visions. The
hallucinogenic experience, like the world of dreams, is the Peruvian forest
Indian's way of getting in touch with the ancestral world or the world of spirit