Interview: The Process of Becoming a Shaman

Shaman at La Luna Del Amazona in Iquitos
Shaman at La Luna Del Amazona in Iquitos | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip
Photo of Brandon Dupre
14 November 2017

The Peruvian shaman Don Martial Achote, 51, has been practising since he was 10 years old. We talked to him in the ayahuasca temple at La Luna del Amazonas retreat, and he discusses his upbringing and the path he took to becoming a shaman.

Where are you from?

I’m from a small Amazon village called Yanachi.

Don Martial Achote | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip
The path to the retreat | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

How did you know that you were going to be a shaman, that it was going to be your path?

Through my dreams. I had dreams when I was 10 years old that I knew I’d become a shaman. This was my experience and my path; it’s different for everyone. My parents and my grandparents knew the science of ayahuasca medicine and were curanderos (shamans). One afternoon my grandmother said to me, “Come here, son; one day you will know and your body will be protected and you will become a curandero.” This is the truth and how it happened.

Don Martial Achote | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

What did you see in your dreams?

I was protecting people in my dreams and healing them from their problems. I heard the icaros [songs] of the plants, and I would practise the songs with my grandmother everyday. In my mind, through my dreams, I began to learn the land and the forest, the voices of everything. My grandmother then asked me one day if I wanted to drink ayahuasca. I was 10 years old at the time. I drank ayahuasca and they said to let my dreams guide me through the ceremony, and my visions. They told me that I already knew everything in my dreams, and that the icaros would come to me. “Sing,” they would tell me, “sing the songs of the life of the forests. You know, you know it.”

The retreat | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip
The retreat | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Did you begin healing people at that age, or was there more that you had to go through?

Once I understood the songs and ayahuasca, I began la dieta, the shaman diet. I couldn’t eat sweets, oil, anything with sugar, and no meat. My first dieta I had to follow for 90 days, and I couldn’t even eat any fruits because of the sugar in them. My grandmother explained the diet to me and I had to to do it for my path, the path of the shaman.

At 12 years old, after learning a lot over the years, my grandparents asked me to practise with them, to lead with them in a ceremony. “Sit with us and sing with us,” they told me. “Sing the songs of the jungle.” I began to learn more and more at 12 years old. My understanding of the icaros improved and I kept singing and singing and I learned it, more and more, every day. I then learned the icaro that I now sing every day.

The retreat | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip
Ayahuasca ceremony | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

What is an icaro?

The icaros are the songs from the Earth, the songs to heal those people who need to be healed. It is how I work with the medicine and it is the song of ayahuasca.

Don Martial Achote | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

What was the next step in your path?

I practised like this at 12, 13 and 14 years of age and then began performing for my family; then at 15 years old I began healing other people, but I was a little embarrassed because I was such a young person to be healing people. I began healing people from my village and around it – anyone who would come and needed to be healed, to be cured by ayahuasca and by other plants. This continued at 20 years old, 30 years old. After 30 years I came here to Iquitos and I kept working and practising in the villages, and then I came to La Luna del Amazonas at 49. I’ve been working here ever since. I love working here and curing people of their aliments and showing them the medicine of the jungle.

Don Martial Achote | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Is the path to becoming a shaman a difficult one and, if so, do you want your kids to become shamans?

It is a little difficult. The diet is the most difficult part of becoming a shaman. I did a diet for one year once, and I couldn’t eat a lot of food, and I couldn’t have sex. A year. A year of a life of renunciation.

The retreat | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Do you want your children to lead this life?

Little by little I am passing the knowledge onto my sons, so that they can understand my work and live the tradition. I won’t be around forever and want my children to be able to remember me in their work as a shaman, and so that they can protect themselves. When I move on I want them to be able to take care of themselves and take care of other people.

Shaman at La Luna Del Amazona in Iquitos | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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