People in Ecuador (and all over the world) will visit their local shaman for a wide variety of reasons. Luckily for me, walking through the market in Cuenca on Friday, I stumbled across the weekly visit by local shamans, and stopped to watch them work.
People had come in family groups, mothers with small babies and toddlers, men from the outskirts of the city, all looking for help or relief from ailments (physical and spiritual). The shamans come every Friday morning and people had their preferred shaman, with expectant and encouraging lines formed in front of each one. People would lean in to listen to diagnosis, and nod and chat when the shaman commenced her cleansing.
A typical cleansing will start with you sitting in front of the shaman on a small stool. You can say what (you think) your symptoms are, but the shaman will confirm the issue by asking Mother Nature to assist and reveal what afflicts you.
Once she has worked out your imbalance, she will select special herbs which she will then use you rid you of pollution (or evil spirits) by actually whacking you all over with the bunch of herbs. Once you are tingly from the herb flailing, she will look at you carefully to ensure it has worked to rid you of whatever ails, otherwise you are in store for another round of the herbs. The used herbs (now contaminated with bad spirits and pollution) are placed in a large black garbage bag, ready for burning after the session is over.
After the shaman is satisfied your energy has now changed for the better, she will confirm it by rubbing a raw egg over your body. Cracking it into a cup, she reads which way the yolk sits and determines whether you need extra help – by adding or removing something from your diet.
To finish the cleansing, the shaman will swig from a Gatorade bottle of suspicious cloudy liquid, or another bottle containing a mix of herbs chopped up in the bottom. She will spray this liquid at your face, and down the front and back of your shirt as a form of extra protection against evil spirits.
I was told small children are taken to see a shaman if they cry too much – a sign they have been infected with a bad energy. However the screaming toddler I saw get treated was not impressed by any of it. When the shaman lifted his shirt to spray water on him, he screamed loudly, hiccupping in disbelief his mother would let someone do that (and then PAY them)!