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  • Marilyn Saltzman

Mama Juana

One of the experiences we had planned in advance was a ritual cleansing with Mama Juana, a Cotacachi Runa and yachak (shaman). True to form, I had done some research on Kichwa shamans and read that some used mind-altering drugs in their ritual. That’s not what I was looking for as I traveled to a distant country with grandkids. I was reassured our experience would be drug-free, but still faced the day with some trepidation, not knowing what to expect.

Apak greeted us when we arrived at a verdant valley with   a breathtaking view of Cotacachi volcano, known as Mama, and her waterfall. She was adorned on top with a dusting of snow from the previous evening, which according  to legend, means Papa, Imbabura Volcano, had been with her in the night, a reconciliation of star-crossed lovers.

We began by walking down a steep mountain path, and Apak stopped us near a cliff to caution silence as we passed the hives of bees. After taking off our shoes to cross a shallow, yet fast-moving, stream, we arrived at the sacred site where Mama Juana was waiting, dressed in the traditional Kichwa clothing including embroidered white blouse and belt, gold beaded necklace and long skirt. She also wore high blue galoshes, practical but probably less traditional. Mama had set up a sheet covered with seeds, corn and beans in patterns representing the sun, moon and earth. She gave us each a piece of wood, lit each one and then placed them on the ground, creating a small campfire.

We took turns at the ritual bath. Heidi was the first to engage in the short ceremony, which involved sitting on a rock in the stream while Mama Juana poured sacred water over us, then gently shook a pile of leaves over different parts of the head and torso. I noticed that for me, she focused on my shoulders, the place where I carry my stress. She somehow seemed to know where I needed healing. After pouring water over our bodies, she gave us oils to rub on our skin. Then we went to the fire and breathed in the healing smoke. All this was done in silence with sign language instruction.

Dian said he didn’t want to participate, but Mama convinced him otherwise, so the whole family shared in the experience.

After we each had our turn, Mama Juana took the wood from the extinguished fire downstream to dispose of any negative energies we had released.

My shoulders felt extremely relaxed and free as I began the ascent up the hill with Mama Juana at our side.

Thanks to Mama Juana, I felt an opening not only in my shoulders, but also an opening of my mind and heart to a totally different spiritual experience.

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