The Magic Act
This article is excerpted from Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy, recently published by Inner Traditions. The book presents the shamanic and genealogical principles the author discovered to create a healing therapy that could use the power of dreams, art, and theater to empower individuals to heal wounds that in some cases had traveled through generations. The following is an interview conducted by Gilles Farcet.
If I understand you well, one must, in Psychomagic, learn to speak the language of the unconscious in order to consciously send it messages.
Exactly. And if one directly addresses the unconscious in its own language, in theory it is going to answer. But we will get to that. For now, I would like to explain how the magic act contributed to the advent of Psychomagic. While in Mexico, I found myself confronted with the power of harmful sorcery. I, very naturally, asked the same power of beneficial sorcery. If those forces could be put to the service of evil, couldn't they be used for the service of good? I also searched for a good wizard. Then a friend spoke to me of the famous Pachita, a small, good eighty-year-old woman. People came from far away to consult her in the hope of being healed. I was very moved by the prospect of meeting this famous sorceress, so I prepared myself for this.
What do you mean "moved"?
I had my guard up. After all, nothing guaranteed me that this woman wasn't also evil. In Mexico, there are very dangerous sorcerers who can covertly introduce a little soreness into the unconscious of a visitor and trigger a delayed reaction. You see, at first you don't feel a thing, but at the end of three or six months, you're in agony . . . I therefore protected myself when I visited Pachita. You understand, she wasn't just any sorceress: her consultations could easily attract three thousand visitors. I tell you, it was sometimes necessary to evacuate her by helicopter. So it suited me to take precautions.
How does one protect oneself from the influence of a sorcerer?
It was in a way my first psychomagic act. Above all, I felt that at all costs, I had to disguise myself. To go to her in the fullness of my old identity was to expose myself to the worst. So I began by dressing myself in brand new clothing from head to toe. It was important that my clothes not be chosen by me. I gave money and my measurements to three friends and asked them to go buy all the clothing they wanted to.
Why three friends?
For depersonalization and so that the outfit thus obtained did not reflect the taste of any particular individual. Socks, underwear, everything had to be absolutely new. It was not until I departed for the meeting with Pachita that I put on these new garments. In addition, I prepared a false identity card: another name, another birth date, another photo . . .
I bought a slab of pork, wrapped it in silver paper, and put it in my pocket as a reminder. So each time I put my hand in my pocket, the rather unusual contact with the meat would remind me that I was in a special situation and that I should avoid letting myself get caught up, no matter what happened. I arrived at the apartment where Pachita was operating that day, and I found myself in the presence of about thirty other people, some of whom occupied important social positions. I should point out that I met her under relatively privileged conditions, far from those crazies who press around her while she operates in a public place. I made myself part of the intelligentsia. Although she had never been to the cinema, Pachita knew that I was a filmmaker, director of the film El Topo, which had been talked about a lot. I approached and saw a tiny old woman, stocky and nearly blind. Her forehead was rounded and her nose fell downward giving her the appearance of a monster. I had just entered when she tossed me a piercing look and heckled me, "Boy, my boy!"-it was a little strange to hear myself called "boy" at more than forty years old-"What are you are afraid of? Get closer to this poor old lady."
Slowly, I got near her, stupefied. She had used the right expression to address me. At this age, indeed, I was not mature. While I was no child, my level of maturity was not really that of a forty-year-old man. At heart, I had remained an adolescent.
"What do you want from me? What do you want from this poor old lady?" she asked me.
"You are a healer, right?" I responded. "I would like to see your hands."
To general astonishment-everyone wondered why she suddenly granted me so much importance-she put her hand in mine. This old lady's hand had such softness, such purity . . . It could have belonged to a young girl of fifteen. I couldn't believe my senses.
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "You have the hand of a young girl, of a beautiful young girl!"
At that moment, instantly, I was invaded by a feeling, difficult to describe. Facing this deformed old woman, I felt myself in the presence of an ideal adolescent, the girl that the young man in me had always searched for. She had her hand raised, palm toward me, and it clearly appeared to receive something. I was completely lost, and I did not know what to do. From her assistants a murmur arose. "Accept the gift," they all told me, "accept it!" I thought quickly: the gift of Pachita is of an unspeakable nature; but I wanted to act like I accepted the invisible gift. So I made a gesture as if taking something in my hand. But as soon as I approached her, I saw something shining between her ring finger and middle finger. I seized the metallic object that was nothing other than an eye on the inside of a triangle. Now, it was precisely the symbol of El Topo . . . I began to draw some conclusions from this-at the very least-striking experience: "This woman is an exceptional magician. When she first put her hand in mine, I clearly felt that she was not hiding anything. She had prepared her blow, but how did she make this eye emerge from out of nowhere? How did she know this object was the symbol of my film? In any case, she had me." I then asked her if I could serve as her assistant, and she immediately accepted.
"Yes," she told me. "You will be the one to read the poem that will cause me to go into trance."
So I began to recite a consecrated poem to the divinized Mexican hero, Cuauhtémoc. Suddenly, this shriveled old lady let out an enormous cry, close to the roaring of a lion, and she began to speak in a man's voice, "My friends, I am happy to be among you. Bring me the first of the sick!"
The patients began to line up, each holding an egg in his hand. After rubbing their whole bodies with it, the sorceress broke it and examined the white and the yellow to detect the evil . . . If she found nothing grave, she prescribed infusions, or sometimes stranger things like café au lait enemas. It happened that she advised eating termite eggs and making a plaster with mashed potatoes and human excrement . . . When she judged the problem serious, she proposed a "surgical operation." Witnessing these interventions, I saw incredible things; compared to these operations, the work of Filipino healers would seem innocent.
Oh! I could tell you of hundreds of operations. Later, indeed, I continued to serve as her assistant. I wanted to be the first to scrutinize the phenomenon, and thus I was witness to the most unprecedented things. I'll first describe the ambiance. The majority of the time Pachita operated at her home at the rate of one or two sessions per week. This apartment was pervaded by a pestilential odor because she gathered up all the sick animals in the neighborhood to live there for a time and do their business . . . It was torture to wait in this place breathing in the dog, cat, parakeet droppings . . . Yet, as soon as Pachita entered the room to operate, the odor seemed to disappear just from her presence. Without a doubt, it was her incredible presence, the allure of a queen who made us forget these nauseating fragrances. This little old lady had the aura of a great reincarnated lama.
What do you believe made her so impressive?
I often asked myself . . . Because in the end Pachita impressed the disbelievers as well as the followers! What is certain is that she was disposed of an energy superior to the normal. One day, the wife of the president of the Republic of Mexico invited her to a reception given on the patio of the government palace where a number of cages held a great variety of birds. When Pachita arrived, these hundreds of sleeping birds at once woke up and began to chirp as if to greet the dawn. There were a number of witnesses there to confirm this incident. But she did not leave it to her charisma alone. She knew how to create an ambiance around her appropriate to captivating the guest and the patient alike. Her house was kept in semidarkness; thick curtains prevented any light from entering and were so effective that arriving from outside, one was plunged into a world of darkness. Some assistants-all of whom were convinced of the objective existence of the "hermanito" (little brother), as Pachita had named the spirit that she supposedly contacted and who, in her opinion, worked the healing-led the newcomer down the hall in his sudden blindness. These assistants played, it seems to me, a key role in the smoothness of the "operations."
You mean to say they helped the sorceress execute the conjuring?
It could be that Pachita was a genius conjurer . . . In fact, it will never be known. What's for sure is that all these assistants, in the role they played, were not accomplices to trickery; all of them had an immense faith in "the Little Brother." In the eyes of these brave people, the hermanito was the one that mattered. Pachita was but an excellent healer; a "channel," as one would say today, an instrument of God. They respected the old lady, but they did not venerate her until she was in trance. For them, the disembodied being was more real than the person in the flesh through which he manifested. This faith by which Pachita was surrounded generated a magic atmosphere, which contributed to persuading the patient of his chances for a cure.
How would an ordinary consultation with Pachita proceed?
Seated in an obscure hall, a group of clients waited their turn to enter the room where the sorceress operated. All the assistants spoke with low voices, like in a temple. At times, one left the "operating room" concealing a mysterious bundle in his hands. He went into the bathroom, and by the half-opened door, those in the waiting area could see the glow of a burning object. The assistant came out and murmured, "Do not go in there before the evil is burned. As long as it is active, it is dangerous to approach. You could catch it." What was this "evil"? The waiting clients didn't know anything, but knowing they had to hold their urine as long as the immolation lasted created a strange impression. Little by little, they were leaving consensus reality, to topple over into a completely irrational parallel world. Then suddenly, from the operating room, four assistants appeared carrying an inert body wrapped in a bloodstained cloth. They put the body down like a corpse. Indeed, once the operation was over and the bandages in place, Pachita required the patient's absolute immobility for a half hour-or sudden death. Fearing being crushed by magic forces, the recovering patients do not make even the slightest movement. Immobile as a rock, they definitely appear dead. It goes without saying that this clever staging puts the next candidate into a state. When Pachita calls in a deep voice, always using the same expression, "It is now your turn, darling child of my soul," that generally makes them shake and regress into childhood. In this sense, this sorceress does not treat adults but children, and all are treated as such, whatever their age. I once saw her give a bonbon to a minister and ask him in a serious and tender voice, "What hurts you, my little boy?" People give up body and soul to her, taking her as an antidote for their terror.
You have described the ambiance and the preliminaries, which is certainly very important; but I would like to know how the operation itself proceeds in general. As "assistant," you were a privileged witness.
Only up to a point, because I was, like the others, captivated by the magical ambiance! Pachita always had the patient lie on a cot, by the light of a candle, because the internal organs in her opinion faced damage from electric lights. She marked the place on the body where she was going to "operate" and surrounded it with alcohol-soaked cotton. The odor filled the room, enhancing the "operating room" atmosphere. The healer was always followed by two helpers-I was often one of these two assistants-as well as half a dozen followers who were forbidden to cross their legs, arms, or fingers, so that energy could circulate freely. At her side, I saw her finger sink almost entirely into the eye of a blind man . . . I watched her "change the heart" of a patient: with her hands, she seemed to open his chest; the blood ran . . .
She made me plunge my hand into the wound. I felt the flesh wriggle, and I withdrew my fingers, bloodied. From a jar to the side, I passed her a heart from who knows where-from the morgue or the hospital-that she "transplanted" to the patient in a magical way. Soon after being placed on the chest, the heart seemed to be absorbed and disappeared just like that, as if inhaled by the body of the patient. This phenomenon of "inhalation" was common with all of the "transplants": she would place a piece of intestine on the person being operated on and no sooner would it disappear into him. I saw her open a head and put her hands in it. There was an odor of burning bone, the sounds of liquid . . . The operations were not lacking in violence and constituted a rather shocking show, in Mexican fashion, but Pachita showed, at the same time, an extraordinary softness.
What was the role of the followers present?
The sorceress relied on their presence. Should an operation seem to be going badly, both Pachita and the patient would solicit the active help of all the people present.
Can you give me an example?
I remember an operation during which El Hermanito screamed sharply from Pachita's mouth, "The child is getting cold! Quick, heat the air or we are going to lose him." A second later, we were all running, on the verge of hysteria, in search of an electric heater. As soon as we plugged it in, we realized the electricity was out! "Do something or the child is going to be in agony!" growled the Little Brother, while the patient, on the verge of cardiac arrest from actually seeing his stomach opened and the guts in the air, whimpered, frozen in terror, "My brothers, I beseech you, help me!" And we all gathered around and put our mouths against his body, blowing on it with all our might, worried, forgetting about ourselves, trying frantically to warm him with our breath. "Very good, my children, my dears," the Little Brother cried suddenly. "The temperature is back up, and the danger is passed. I can continue."
Did you ever lose a patient?
No. To my knowledge, Pachita has never killed a person while trying to heal him, even if the operations often had critical moments. That seemed in a certain way to be part of the process.
Did the patients suffer?
In general, yes. The operations could be painful. When Pachita died, her gift was transferred to her son Enrique, who operates like his mother. When I assisted him, I noticed that the hermanito spoke more sweetly and that the knife no longer caused pain.
I remarked about this to one of the assistants who responded, "From incarnation to incarnation, El Hermanito makes progress. He has learned recently to not make his patients suffer."
You have said that Pachita showed a lot of tenderness, in spite of her big knife. You were treated by her yourself, weren't you?
Yes, I had a pain in my liver, and I was curious to try having an "operation" myself. Pachita told me that I had a tumor on my liver, and she agreed to treat me. I decided to make a game of it, telling myself that she couldn't possibly kill me. Because, of all the people she had operated on, there had not been a single mishap. The time had come to put myself on the hot seat.
And you weren't afraid, about the pain?
No, because for me it was all theater. I wanted to undergo an operation to see what would happen. But when I found myself on the bed in front of Pachita, with a huge knife in her hand and surrounded by her praying followers, I did begin to feel afraid. I would very much have liked to get up and leave, but it was too late. I realized that she was cutting me with her scissors . . .
I felt the pain of my flesh being cut with scissors. Blood ran, and I thought I was going to die. After she made the cut in my stomach, it felt like my belly had been ripped open. I had never felt that bad in my life. For about eight minutes, I suffered atrociously, and I went completely white. Pachita made me drink some herbal tea, and then I could feel blood rushing through my body again. Then she acted like she was pulling out my liver . . . Finally, she passed her hands over my stomach to close the wound. And the pain instantly disappeared! If it was sleight of hand, the illusion was perfect. Not only did those present see the blood running and my opened belly, but they also felt the same pain as the patient. Since then, my liver has never bothered me. Leaving aside the cure, that was one of the greatest experiences of my life. That woman was something spectacular, as impressive as a mystical Tibetan lama. Never had I felt so much pain, nor so much gratitude, as in that moment when she told me I was cured and that I could go. In that instant, I saw in her the Mother Goddess. What a psychological shock! Pachita was a great psychologist; she knew the human soul.