All shamans are unique and special healers, capable (to different degrees) of interacting in two different worlds – on the spiritual plane as much as the material one. It is important that those who decide to make forays into the practice of shamanism must have a demonstrable vocation for service to others, to save lives, and not be susceptible to the black arts.
In the vast majority of cases, the decision to dedicate oneself to the art of healing is not a personal decision, but are beings chosen by the spirits who constantly watch over the balance of life. For this reason, among the first things that the apprentice of shamanism must learn is to protect himself using his arcanas, or spiritual protectors, as shields against evil spirits who will try to do harm because they see the future healer as a threat to themselves.
If he is to have a long life expectancy, the shaman must be very skilled in enlisting the aid of benevolent entities and defending himself against evil ones – not to mention being able to tell the difference. These entities have access to information about the human condition that we do not – at least, not directly. The spirits may be able to diagnose a patient’s illness and prescribe natural earthly treatments. They can also help the shaman by carrying out spiritual healing on the patient, restoring harmony between the spiritual body and the physical body. Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), one of the foremost researchers of comparative shamanism, describes the shaman’s trance state as ‘ecstasy’: he or she is literally traveling through ecstasy, co-opting the assistance of its more amenable inhabitants often as part of the healing process of individual human sufferers, or perhaps to resolve difficulties facing the community at large.
True shamans of the Shipibo culture, also known as curanderos, have the gift of clairvoyance as well as the power to heal, the capability to communicate with different spirits and to travel through different realms; the ‘beyond’; the world of under-water beings; the uncontaminated world deep in the forest and, indeed, the entirety of cosmic space and other, parallel, dimensions. Specifically, such Shamans have the power to enter the subconscious of their subject, or patient, during their ayahuasca trances and to explore their past, present, and the probabilities for their future and guided by the different spirits of the teacher plants, to diagnose and cure a vast number of diseases.
Over the passage of time, there came to light the existence of certain very famous shamans known as Merayas, a title which denotes no ordinary shaman. Merayas are those who have reached the very peak of shamanic achievement, they have achieved the ability to harmonize fully their auras with the beings of nature and are thus able to see these supernatural beings who live in the interior of the forest, and the great aquatic and cosmic spaces. They are able to travel, fully aware, in each of the four worlds known to the Shipibo culture.
Furthermore, the Merayas are able to change their physical form into an animal, such as a puma, an eagle, an anaconda, or a jaguar – into an object, such as a rock – or become temporarily invisible. How this was achieved is unknown; perhaps by some form of mass hypnosis.
Surprising tales are told about shamans who assume the form of birds or nocturnal beasts by night and travel to different places for various reasons, but generally to heal a patient’s ailments. Very often, the person visited by such a shaman is only aware of the healing process in the dream state. Others are temporarily hypnotized so that the spirits summoned by the shaman may operate on the patient’s body. They are neither awake nor asleep, but in an intermediary level where they may be aware of the spirits healing them: and the following day, their sickness is healed. In other words – healing at a distance.
Part of the process of acquiring such knowledge in Shipibo shamanism and becoming a force for healing requires the frequent use of the many benefits and teaching properties of Ayahuasca, because its effects enable the shaman to visualize spiritually many different astral beings, such as the Mother of the Rivers and the Plains and the energies of the Sun and the Moon, as well as other luminous entities, and with the guidance of these, to correct mental and spiritual imbalances, and to diagnose a person’s ailments.
Heberto’s grandfather, Don Guillermo Ramirez (or Yosi Ocha in the Shipibo language), is widely believed to have been the last of the Shipibo Merayas.