The Accidental Shaman: Journeys with Plant Teachers and Other Spirit Allies - Howard G. Charing 2017


curandera/curandero: A traditional South American native healer or shaman. The term comes from the Spanish word curar, which means “to heal.” A curandero works in a holistic way and may incorporate various healing practices including the use of medicinal plants, sacred ceremony, and spiritual and energy healing.

diet (la dieta): A discipline required of Amazonian shamans, healers, and apprentices who wish to learn directly from the plant spirits. It implies much more than the mere dietary restrictions of avoiding salt, sugar, meat, and alcohol. It also means refraining from libidinous thoughts and sexual activity. It is an extensive period of complete isolation for weeks, or even months, and often the apprentice must fend for himself in the wilderness.

encantos: Magical stones used by shamans for healing. Encantos possess hidden powers that can be combined with ícaros to heal.

ícaros: The word ícaro comes from the Quechua word icarai, meaning “to blow.” Ícaros are magical chants that are sung or whistled by shamans during ayahuasca ceremonies. There are several kinds of ícaros. At the beginning of a ceremony, their purpose is to provoke the mareación, or visionary trance state, and to render the mind more susceptible for visions to penetrate. The shaman on his plant diet learns the ícaros directly from the plant spirits. Ícaros have great power, and they influence the visionary experience of people drinking ayahuasca in a ceremony. Pablo Amaringo regarded the ícaro as the sound of the universe—the planets, stars, comets, and supernovas. Everything is created by music, by vibration, by sound. Ícaros are the music of creation.

mapacho: This is the common name for Nicotiana rustica, a locally grown tobacco that is one of the most important plants used by shamans in the Amazon. It is used for protection during ayahuasca ceremonies, for intensifying the mareación, and for giving soplos for healing. It is usually smoked in large cigarettes as puros (rolled in leaves similar to cigars) or in a pipe (cashimbo). It is matured for long periods and macerated in aguar-diente (alcohol). It can be “dieted” and taken internally or added to the ayahuasca brew to encourage purging. It can also be used for dressing wounds.

mareación: The visionary and trance effects of ayahuasca, which may vary greatly and depend on many factors. It may be necessary to purge and purify before the ecstatic and beautiful visions can be experienced.

ofrenda: An ofrenda, or offering ceremony, is the most important ceremony used by Andean Indians to relate with Mother Earth. The ofrenda is a symbol of reciprocity with nature and nature’s purpose and is an expression of gratitude, not of debt or obligation.

psychopomp: Meaning “guide of souls” or “conductor of souls.” One of the roles of the shaman is to be a midwife to the dying. In that role the shaman helps to usher the soul, or essence, of the dying person into the unity of the afterlife.

Quechua: The indigenous language of the Andean region of Peru. It was the language spoken by the Inca.

soplada: From the Spanish for “to blow,” soplo, or soplada, usually refers to the practice of blowing mapacho (tobacco) smoke onto a person. The smoke is directed onto specific parts of the patient. The soplada is an important part of healing and is typically used for cleansing and as a conduit for the shaman’s concentration and energy.


HOWARD G. CHARING, holds workshops internationally on shamanism as well as plant medicine retreats in the Peruvian Amazon. He is the coauthor of Plant Spirit Shamanism and The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo.