The Magical Rituals of The Shipibo (Bancos) Merayas

Remocaspi ritual – Photo © El Mundo Magico

The ancestral rituals of the Shipibo Merayas:

* Honouring The Chullachaki, Mother Spirit of the Rainforest: The Welcoming Ritual (Chullachaquin jato becanwe acai masha)

* The Remocaspi – or Pacho – Ritual

* The Ritual of Spiritual Purification

* The Merayas‘ Magical Fire Ritual

* The Shamanic Dance Ritual

* The Medicines’ Smoke Ritual

* Tattoos: Transferring Symbols of Power Ritual

* The Grand Ritual of the Merayas


The Remocaspi or Pacho Ritual.

Shipibo legends tell the story of Ashi, the primordial Meraya, the very first among all Merayas who shape-shifted himself into a semi-divine being, after having obtained unequalled supernatural powers. Ashi – the Grand Meraya – was the first to discover, identify and give names to different teacher plants, trees and vines of the selva. One night, whilst Ashi was engaged in teaching shamanic arts to his disciples, he saw in vision a pretty beautiful plant spirit being. He was in awe when he was revealed the great supernatural powers of the spirit of this plant, which nearly surpassed those of all other teacher plants. When Ashi asked the spirit for its powers and spiritual beauty to be transmitted to his disciples, he was refused and was told: “I never share my powers and knowledge with anybody!”. Ashi got then very angry and replied: “From now on your name will be Pacho” (which means, literally, “squashed”,” humiliated”, “cursed”) and then whipped him a great deal. After having been whipped and cursed by Ashi, Pacho promised to share its powers with everyone who would seek its knowledge, but attached the following condition: “All those who wish to receive my healing and medicine powers, aside from taking my concoction must compensate with making offerings to me and bow before me, so that I will hear their prayers”. It’s for this that now the Pacho – or Remocaspi teacher tree – hasn’t a smooth surface/bark as the other trees, but it’s deeply scarred, because of the whip lashes it received from Ashi. At dawn of the following day, Ashi ordered his apprentices to fast until midday. They then went through the virgin rainforest and came across an ugly tree: it was Pacho. They performed there their very first Pacho (or Remocaspi) ritual and offered each a mapacho (black jungle tobacco) cigarette. Going around the tree, Ashi’s disciples sang special supplicants’ melodies to Pacho and this way they could receive its powers.

This is the mythical origin of the ancestral Remocaspi ritual and this is why is important for a shaman’s apprentice to do it. This ritual consists therefore in imploring the spirit (genio) of this teacher tree, to receive its spiritual beauty, its medicine and healing powers, as Pacho has a very proud spirit and requires that all those who approach him to ask for its help, would do it in a special, highly respectful fashion.

Ritual of Spiritual Purification – Photo © El Mundo Magico


The Ritual of Spiritual Purification (Yora Payanti)

This ritual is about purification of the spirit, the soul or the aura of a person. It was widely employed by the Merayas (or Bancos – the highest-ranking shamans) and the Onanyas (master shamans) Shipibo to alleviate pain induced by a wide array of circumstances, like the separation from a loved one, bereavement, or the suffering of a mother/father for being apart from their son or daughter for a long time. Equally, this kind of ritual was used to treat patients who suffered from stress, as well as psychological or emotional problems. It was also employed to treat saladera, a chronic run of misfortune (ascribed to supernatural causes), and to facilitate the re-union of separated couples. Even brujos (evil sorcerers) recurred to this ritual to find peace in themselves, after having committed a black magic deed, to find relief from feeling guilty.

The ritual was also practised when one or more shaman’s apprentices withdrew in the forest to start a plant diet, to tune with nature and connect in dream with the plant spirits. Furthermore, the Merayas, with this ritual, could summon the spirit of dead relatives of their patients. During the Purification ritual, shamans will use specially prepared colognes made from teacher plants and trees (like the Chullachaki caspi, the Remo caspi, etc), which will be sprinkled and smeared on to the participants’ body (face, crown, arms and neck). The human body is said to have an unpleasant smell to the plant spirits (genios de las plantas), therefore when one begins a plant diet or any other type of shamanic treatment it is of paramount importance to take part in this ritual, as the fragrances of the perfumes prepared by shamans are very appealing to the invisible spirits of all plant teachers.

The Merayas‘ Magical Fire Ritual (Merayabaon Chi Paqueni)

In proximity of a very special event, the Shipibo Merayas were used to invoke and – thanks to their shamanic powers – materialize a supernatural fire with which conduct this ritual. They pleaded the fire god to give them energy, strength or a boost to their powers. They also asked the fire god to purify their spirits and souls. Their disciples and patients attended this ritual too. The fire that materialized during the ritual was not a normal fire, but a supernatural one, a special fire charged with powers. This magical fire was employed by the Merayas in a variety of circumstances, not only in the ritual itself but also in more mundane activities, like cooking for instance. In this last case, however, only the Merayas themselves could safely handle this fire. Anyone else who would have eaten a dish cooked over this supernatural fire might have died.

The Shamanic Dance Ritual (Onanyabaon Masha)

The Shipibo Merayas performed a special ritual dance to celebrate important achievements, like for instance the completion of a diet with plant teachers to seal or reinforce their shamanic powers, or to mark their newly reached status of Merayas. Equally, this dance could commemorate the successful completion of a plant diet (done either to become shamans, or to achieve supernatural powers, or for other special aims). It was a happy, joyful feast, only reserved to – and practised by – the Merayas and their apprentices (not the community in general).

The Magical Dance of the Merayas (Merayabaon Nashiti Masha)

Among all Shipibo shamans, the Merayas were the ones who extensively used this practice. By performing this ritual, those on the plant diet sealed a pact with invisible beings, to adapt to the spirit world. The ones who took part in the ritual asked the spirits (genios) of the plant teachers for their wishes to be granted. They then took special baths prepared by the Merayas with plants teachers. The Merayas had to sing intensely their icaros (magical melodies) to “charge” the plants themselves. This was a grandiose ritual, where at least four Merayas took part at once. The place where the ritual was to be performed, was preliminarily prepared by the Merayas sprinkling the area with the same plant infusion of the baths, to make sure the surface was well impregnated with the plant preparation, as otherwise the invisible beings (attracted by the scent of the plants) would not have come.

The Smoke Medicine Ritual (Rau Cuin)

The Merayas of antiquity used the smoke of different plant teachers to shield and protect themselves from spiritual enemies as well as a mean to ascend to heaven. This smoke was also used in a ritual way with their disciples or patients, to give them protections (arkanas), purify their spirits and souls and strengthen their energy field.

Transferring Symbols of Power Ritual (Nanebetan Mashen Siquiti Masha)

This ritual was of great importance in the Shipibo culture and was practised for different reasons. Shamans (Onanyas) and Merayas used to seal powers passed on to other people with impermanent tattoos, to mark the transmission of their knowledge and power. The same was done when a group of shaman’s apprentices withdrew in the forest to begin their diet with plant teachers, in isolation. They had to go through purification rituals in order to facilitate their adaptation to the natural environment and the encounter with supernatural beings and spirits. The tattoo was also considered, by dieteros, a mark of gratefulness towards Merayas for having made possible to achieve their objectives.

The Grand Ritual of the Merayas (Merayabaon Jone Jonebo Quenaquin Ani)

This ritual – performed at night – was the distinguished mark of Merayas’ (and Bancos’) style of work. Face down inside a large mosquito net, the Meraya entered in trance and summoned his spirit helpers and other invisible beings. Whilst the Meraya alone was in the mosquito net, everybody else was to attended outside. All participants and patients were to wait in total silence, opening their hearts, mind and spirit to receive healing from the spirit world, in the knowledge that invisible entities would have been working on them on that night.