National Geographic : 1990 Jun
FOR WHAT ails them, many Peruvians employ the ser vices of a curandero, or curer, a person skilled in the use of herbs and potions to heal bodily ailments and to fend off dark and threatening spirits. Such curers apparently per formed similar functions in Moche times; they appear fre quently on Moche pottery. During a curing session in the village of Lim6ncarro, Pajarito (right), a curer's helper, exhales a mist of water and perfume towards a skull from a pre Hispanic tomb. Participants believe the spirit of the skull will then protect them as well as the curer from sorcery during the session or perhaps from the evil spells of rival curers. The curers use chants and prayers that come from both pre-Hispanic and Christian sources. The session, which generally begins around 11 p.m. and lasts much of the night, takes place mostly in total darkness. The curer himself, Maestro Antonio Chavez Soplapuco (lower, far right), uses a flashlight to identify the potions, herbs, and charms that repose on his mesa, or curing table. Here he inhales a magic potion. Curers often make potions out of perfume mixed with such items as lime juice, sugar, and holy water. They may also use a hallucino genic brew made from the San Pedro cactus. During the night the maestro will take to the sword-the sticks standing upright on the table-and fence with harmful spirits to keep them away from the sufferer. Several healthy participants apparently came for the sounds, if not the sights, of the curing. Near the village of Motupe (right), Prospero Obando, a cripple, lights candles at the foot of a cross that marks a way station for pilgrims.