The History and Structure of the Naipes
The following article is excerpted from Fate Fortune and Mysticism in the Peruvian Amazon, available from Inner Traditions.
The naipes are used often by folk healers who cure with herbs or psychedelic plants in a society in which witchcraft beliefs exist and people often expect that illness is caused by the evil will of others. The cards become a psychological adjunct to a healer's therapy, a sort of intake procedure to learn more about a client so that the healer can appear to be omnipotent and replete with knowledge and power. We cannot talk about the naipes as a divination technique without understanding the context in which these cards are used, particularly among the urban poor of Belen, who live in abject poverty in their shantytown. Healers are able to manipulate situations of misfortune that dog the steps of the urban poor as the healers diagnose illness and misfortune, appearing all-powerful and worthy of their fees.
I first ran into the naipes in Peru when, as a graduate student, I was sent by the Institute of Social Psychiatry at San Marcos University on the north coast of Peru to a special village, Salas, an hour and a half outside of Chiclayo. It was said that there more than a hundred folk healers used, in healing rituals, the San Pedro cactus laden with mescaline. Attending a healing ceremony one night in Salas, I heard a folk healer tell his wife to bring the naipes down to the area where the patients were seated. Having a long-term interest in fortune-telling, I asked the healer to tell me more about the naipes. He brushed me off, but this sparked my interest, which had been dormant for a number of years. When I arrived in Peru, I was game for divination techniques. In the marketplace in the nearby city of Chiclayo, an hour away from Salas, I purchased a pamphlet said to be written by Napoleon's spiritual adviser, Madame LeNormand, as well as other leaflets without attribution of an author. Some of the other pamphlets were said to be Italian, French, or Spanish in origin.
Madame LeNormand was born in a small village in France in 1773 and arrived in Paris when she was twenty-one years old. She opened a salon and read the fortunes of a number of highly placed individuals who were politically active in the French Revolution, including Robespierre. Apparently, Josephine de Beauharnais, later married to Napoleon Bonaparte, was one of her clients, and Madame Marie was reputed to have regularly read the naipes for Napoleon.
Most of the booklets based on her system agree on basic principles. Certain days of the week are most propitious for a reading -- Friday, Saturday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, for example. The client must cut the cards only with the left hand, which is nearest to the heart, or else the fortune obtained is thought not to be accurate. The person who takes it upon himself to read the cards must be sincere and strong and not frivolous. This card reader should also be observant and wash his hands and face before using the cards. Dropping a card while reading a fortune is said to bring bad luck. The system provided by Madame LeNormand was reprinted in four additional booklets. It is not the actual content of the system that is important to analyze. If we can get to the heart of the divining cards by using a rational mathematical probability statistic and examine the technique in light of what I have called an "ethno-projective device," we can learn a good deal about traditional folk psychotherapy.
The naipes help healers to tap in to the causality of illness while, at the same time, allowing them to present themselves as all-powerful. This cannot help but dispel fear, anxiety, and self-doubts in their patients and provide a high expectation of cure. This personal influence of healers increases their manipulation of the patients' anxieties and provides a path toward eventual cure.
Witchcraft Beliefs and Illness
The residents of Belen recognize and openly discuss illness they believe to be caused by the malice of others. This becomes important in understanding the motivation of Beleños to seek out their fortune and often to discover who has caused them to be bewitched. Informants speak of malice everywhere-for instance, the evil will of neighbors and relatives who frequently seek out a witch to cause harm. Healers who use the hallucinogenic plant ayahuasca receive visits from patients who not only want to be healed from an illness but also may want to bewitch someone in particular for purposes of revenge. Some curanderos reject the proposition to do evil, but others specialize in the use of these hallucinogens for that purpose -- the brujo (witch) is socially shunned and secretive. Many ayahuasca healers themselves read the naipes at an initial interview of a client who is readying to take the hallucinogenic purge. This is done in order to get an idea of the stress facing the client. Again and again, I observed men and women talking out loud during a reading, exclaiming that such and such a misfortune would be laid at the feet of a mother-in-law, an envious neighbor, and the like, making it easy to see just what stresses were present in that person's interpersonal environment.
Regarding witches, this class of individuals was known to harm others. Unlike African societies, in which witchcraft was suspected but never proved, in the Amazon, these witches are ready to take hard cash in advance to harm a client's enemy. They keep a little book in which they write down the details of the psychic "hit." Listed below are the main illnesses suffered by the Beleños, which often propelled them to seek help, first by a curioso, who reads the naipes, and subsequently by an ayahuasca healer to reverse the magical spell and return it to the perpetrator.
This illness is found throughout Peru and Latin America and includes many cases of a profound alteration of metabolism or nervous disorders. It originates in a violent impression of fear. Many people believe that susto has a supernatural origin, which is produced when a person's soul magically separates from the body.
This is an illness that is believed to be due to a witchcraft hex. Daño has various symptoms and chronic development. It can be caused by motives of vengeance or envy. In the Amazon, it is believed that daño is caused by a powerful medicine thrown on the threshold of a house in the early hours of the dawn. It can cause a period of bad luck, called saladera. Witches use ayahuasca, the plant hallucinogen, to cause this illness. The ayahuasquero claims to fly through the air and cause incurable illnesses and horrible misfortunes to his client's enemies. Some believe that witches control a series of spirits, whom they call upon to cause the evil. Still others believe that a thorn can be sent through the air, like a lance, toward an enemy. The witch is paid in advance on behalf of the vengeful client.
This illness is marked by symptoms of anxiety, hyperactivity, and inquietude without precise causes. In general, it attacks women. Sometimes it is experienced as a tumor localized in the mouth of the stomach. It is a hard mass that can cause pain, anguish, or anger that cannot be expressed.
This is the rancor that a person feels toward another, which can provide the necessary motivation to seek out a witch. Like daño, various bodily pains are attributed to the malice of one person against another.
Mal de Ojo
This syndrome is found throughout the Peruvian Amazon and all of Latin America, and is known in English as the evil eye. It includes symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers, weight loss, insomnia, and depression. It is motivated by envy and afflicts children and adults whose personal beauty has caused them to be victims of the evil eye. Beleños believe that their neighbors or relatives envy whatever good fortune they may have. Anything can attract envy -- a light-skinned complexion, appearance of good health, indications that a person is eating well, and so forth. A person can provoke the malice of others if he has an amorous spouse or if his house is free from rancor. The naipes reading functions as a diagnostic tool as much for the client as for the ayahuasquero. Clearly, the client has his suspicions, but the answer to one of the three questions posed by the client toward the end of the reading generally confirms his suspicions as to the cause of an illness. In Western medicine, we expect an answer to the questions "How did my body break down?" "What are the mechanisms?" "What medicine/technology must I engage in order to get better?" In Peru, there is a different focus among the urban poor. The questions they ask include, "Why am I ill, as opposed to someone else?" "Who is the perpetrator who has caused my body to break down in one way or another?" "Why me?" Any diagnostic tool such as the naipes reading or an ayahuasca session can be called upon. The role of the ayahuasca healer is to return the evil to the perpetrator before beginning to treat the illness. This explains the haste with which people want their fortunes told: Tell me now, right now!
Historical Data on the Naipes
Printed playing cards have been traced by Alfred Kroeber, one of the important founders of anthropology, to tenth-century China, and they appear four centuries later, almost simultaneously, in several European countries such as Italy, France, Germany, and Spain. Kroeber suggested that either the Mongols or the Muslims might have transmitted such cards from China to Christian nations, despite the fact that Islam forbids all gambling. Another theory, mentioned already, is that Hindustani-speaking Gypsies, according to Papus and Levi, brought the cards from India to Europe. A game of French playing cards called tarot, used in divination and popular during the Middle Ages, was believed to have resulted from an adaptation of a card game called naibi (also referred to as nayb and known in Italy in the fourteenth century), to which was added a series of point cards. There are many theories about the origin of the naipes, some linking the cards to the minor arcana of the tarot or the esoteric Jewish kabbalah traditions. In the naipes deck, there are three picture cards in each of four suites: the King, the Caballo (Horse), and the Sota (Page). The Pages are used to represent women, and the Caballo and King represent men with different traits and characteristics. The Jack in Western card decks is replaced by the Sota (Page). The twenty-two major tarot cards are said to be related to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
If we turn to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy, the term naipes is etymologically derived from the Arab word naib, "he who represents," or laib, "he who plays." Mention of the cards occurs in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and may have been introduced into Europe by the Crusaders. The game of naipes was said to symbolize the feudal structure of society. By 1377, the naipes were in wide use. The Gypsies were the first to use the cards for divination. If playing cards used in divination were known in fourteenth-century Spain, it would not be at all difficult, despite the lack of historical documentation, to trace the movement of such divinatory aids to Spanish America. Certainly, the Conquest period was a time in which men seeking adventure and wealth in unknown lands might be expected to take gaming cards along with them. A deck of forty or forty-eight cards, small and easily portable, without doubt found its way into the Hispanic world at the time of the sixteenth-century Conquest. On a trip to Argentina in 1968, I was fortunate to visit the National History Museum in Buenos Aires, where I held in my palm a very early deck of naipes, hand painted on parchment material, small enough to fit into someone's pocket or baggage.
A famous historian of Peru with Spanish and Incan heritage, Garcilaso de la Vega, published a drawing that shows abuses practiced by members of the clergy who gamed at cards. Still in the realm of speculation, we can only surmise that these cards became absorbed into Peruvian folk-healing practices. Today these cards are used throughout Latin America, not only for fortune-telling but also for entertainment and gambling.
Folk Medicine and the Naipes
Folk healers such as those in Peru treat many psychosomatic disorders. Native healers are most effective when there are psychosomatic and other psychological components to illness that have been precipitated by social complications. Such folk healers may be in a position to be more effective if their training and judgment from past experience predispose them toward a higher expectation of emotionally and culturally precipitated illness. Native healers have prestige, and they offer reassurance and suggestions to their patients. Any divinatory technique such as that of the naipes can tap in to culturally induced stresses, which contribute to illness. A healer who utilizes a technique such as the naipes can remove from the sick person agency and responsibility for a decision and cast it upon the heavens. If the healer is able to manipulate the divinatory technique in a clever manner, he can understand the source of the disorder, which can be part of conflict-filled and anxiety-laden social relations.
What is clear is that the naipes are not simple amusement for the clients but rather are used by them and healers as a diagnostic technique, especially when most clients believe that illness is caused by evil willing or witchcraft machinations on the part of "others." The healers manipulate a category that I call misfortune cards to plumb the depths of interpersonal conflicts, material loss, and sickness or death of loved ones to make their diagnosis.
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