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Shaman or Charlatan?

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Temple to Ixchel in the Muyil Ruins

Shaman or Charlatan? This is a subject often brought to our attention by local Maya people. First, I want to say that you may not agree with some of what you are about to hear, but this is simply the story as told to us. It is not my place to judge, but to listen, learn, and share what I hear.

Last year I was in the ruins at Muyil when I was bitten by two nasty biting flies called tabanoes. I am very allergic to them and looked for help with native healing plants immediately. I saw a man who looked like the gardener and went to him thinking he would be the one most able to step in and stop the poison from zooming through my veins.

His name was Phillipe. He was quiet, dressed in a long sleeved dark blue button up shirt and old tan colored dress pants, very non-assuming. He didn’t really say anything, but went to work immediately harvesting a plant that could help me and showing me how to apply its medicine. I felt better almost immediately. But when I turned to thank him, he was gone.

I asked the park guides about him and learned that he was the village healer and, even though I was under a time constraint and had to leave, I determined to return and find him.

A year later, I found myself back in the ruins at Muyil. The gardens were beautiful, pristine, and it looked like Phillipe had been hard at work. I asked around and finally found him. When he saw me, he recognized me immediate and grinned and big happy grin. I thanked him, which pleased him immensely. He was happy to see I was doing well. Curious, I asked him a few questions about his role in the village as healer.

The answers were surprising.

While Phillipe is very versed in wild plant lore and knows the medicinal purposes of many types of plants, he is not a herbatero (the Maya word for herbal healer/shaman). He uses his knowledge to help family and friends only and strictly understands that he is not permitted by the gods to do more than that! If he does, he will be severely punished!

One must be born a herbatero. It is a gift that is recognized in children at birth, typically children in a long, long line of such healers. Not even all children born to healers can become healers. They must be recognized as having the gift first. If a child is recognized as having the gift, they are taught the craft from birth onward.

Because Phillipe was not born under such circumstances, it could have terrible repercussions if he were to declare himself such a healer.

It is very rare to find such a healer these days. Most villages no longer have one. Phillipe and one of his friends talked to us about Maya people who declare themselves shamans without such blessings from family genes and the gods. The story tells us a lot about the moral values and ideals of the Maya people.

If a man says he is a shaman, he is surely a charlatan (we have heard this many times from the Maya people). A true shaman will never draw attention to himself and will go by the title herbatero which means herbal healer. Although, a true herbatero is truly magical, works with both plant medicine and energy, and can do amazing and very supernatural things!

If a herbatero sets a price and asks you to pay it, he is not a true herbatero, for a true healer relies on the gods to provide from him, loves his work, is his work, and does not concern himself with money. He knows his needs will be met. A shaman/charlatan, is focused on greed and money. So, if someone gives you a price for their services, you know right away you are dealing with a con-artist!

I know you may not agree with these ideas, of not being paid for your work, or being punished by the gods for healing as your work if you were not called to do it, of not promoting yourself as a shaman when you are truly a magical being, but rather only calling yourself an herbologist, but these things are so very core to the ways of the Maya people.

They are gentle, humble people with gifts so fragile and magical and powerful. I am in awe that I get to learn from them. I feel so honored that they openly share their stories with me.

How do YOU feel about these things?

I am moving forward, listening, learning, and feeling excited and so very privileged to learn from such beautiful people.

Still learning,


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