Fragrance has long been associated with the arts of love. In Japan, Geisha girls priced their services according to the number of incense sticks consumed during love-making, while in Indian tantric rituals, men were anointed with sandalwood, and women with jasmine, patchouli, amber, musk, and with Saffron crushed and smeared beneath their feet. In Europe in the 17 and 1800s, the use of eau de Cologne became a widespread and fashionable trend, where the morning ritual in many homes began with its application before a suitor of either sex would call upon a lover. This blend of rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon was also used internally, mixed with wine, eaten on sugar lumps, even taken as an enema, to refresh the inner self and cleanse the spirit so that lovers could meet each other with a pure heart.
But it is, perhaps, in Peru, that the magic of perfumed love has reached its highest skill, in the formulation of pusanga, which is often referred to as the love medicine of the Amazon, although it is far more than that.
Specialists in the use of fragrance to change luck and attract good fortune are known as perfumeros. One such specialist is Artidoro. Another is Javier Aravelo, an ayahuasca shaman who also works with fragrance.
Artidoro, how did your involvement with perfumes begin?
The story of my path of medicine began when I saw a brother-in-law who healed and chanted I used to watch how the curanderos worked. I loved listening to what they talked about, how they prepared their remedies, their canticos [magical chants, similar to icaros]. Then I went off on my own deep into the jungle, to know the plants little by little, to smell the leaves and roots of all the different medicines. I had no maestro to learn from so I dieted plants for a year and a half alone, and then I returned to the city. I used agua florida, timalina, camalonga, and dedicated myself to studying all about smells.
How do you use perfumes to help people now?
I get people coming for help with family problems where the woman has gone away from the man or the man has gone away from his children.
Supposing the woman has gone off, I use pusanga to bring her back so that the family can consolidate again. I call the plant spirits which work for that pusanga plants such as renaco, huayanche, lamarosa, sangapilla, and I call her spirit back to her home. Or lets say the mama is here with me and the father is far away. I pull him back so he returns to his home. In a short time he will be thinking of his children and his wife, and he comes back.
I dont need to have the actual plants in front of me, I call their spirits. I make my own perfumes from plants, no chemicals. They have wonderful smells, and I chant at the same time as I rub them on the children and the woman. Then the man starts thinking or dreaming of them.
How does perfume magic like this work?
A smell has the power to attract. I can make smells to attract business, people who buy. You just rub it on your face and it brings in the people to your business. I also make perfumes for love, and others for flourishing. These plants are forces of nature; they contain spirit. I watch for what that spirit attracts: maybe bright birds or butterflies, maybe many different animals come to feed from it. A plant that draws bright birds will also draw beautiful women; a plant that is popular and has many customers will also be good for business. So these are the plants that I use to help my patients.
Javier tells a similar story of humble beginnings. Several generations of his family have been shamans and at the age of 17, Javier knew this would be his future too, but it was not until he was 20, when his father died from a virote [A poisoned dart from the spirit world] sent by a hechicero (sorcerer) who was jealous of his fathers powers that Javier felt compelled to become a shaman.
His first instinct was to learn the shamanic arts so he could avenge his father but his grandfather convinced him that this was not the solution because the only way to defeat evil was to spread more goodness in the world. Javier took the message to heart and found solace in the plants instead.
How did your involvement with healing begin?
My grandfather saw that I was bitter and told me that it would not get me anywhere. My heart was still hard and I wanted to kill! Bit by bit, though, through taking the very plants that I had intended to use for revenge, I learned from the spirits that it was wrong to kill and my heart softened.
A shaman learns everything about the rainforest and uses that knowledge to heal his people since they do not have money for Western doctors. The sprits or plant doctors come to me and say that they will cure a person if he takes a particular plant. Then I go out to look for the plant. It is said that every environment has the plants to heal the people.
As part of his apprenticeship the shaman spends years taking plants and roots, each time remembering which ailment is cured by what. The maestro goes with the apprentice into the wilderness and gives him the different plants and it is like a test or trial to overcome. One plant may cure lots of ailments.
You are respected as an ayahuascero, but you are also a perfumero. How do you use perfume magic?
Through my work with the plants, I have learned how to make pusanga, the Amazonian love potion. Pusanga has the power to attract anyone you wish, for the purposes of love, sex, or marriage.
Take the case of a woman who refuses when you offer her a Coca Cola because she thinks you are lower class and that she is better than you. That makes you feel like rubbish so you go to a shaman and tell him the name of the girl. He prepares the pusanga. Three days go by without seeing her and she begins to think about you, dreaming about you and begins looking for you
In the West, such magic is often looked down upon as manipulative – it may even be seen as evil because it takes away a persons choice and freewill, so they have no option but to love you. In the Amazon, however, it is considered normal practice to use pusanga in this way. And, in fact, despite our Western morals around this issue, when it comes right down to it, in America and Europe, people are often willing to use love magic to find or return a lover as well. Once we get past the ethical considerations, we can be just as manipulative as the people of Peru.
Perhaps the people of the Amazon are more honest and upfront about their needs? Or perhaps they carry less of a Christianised concept of right and wrong so are less afraid to ask for what they want? I asked Javier to comment on the moral question.
Yes, we shamans understand there is an ethical concern, but put it this way: what if it happened to me? Lets say I found a woman ugly and she did pusanga magic to make me marry her. Of course, if I found out Id be outraged and it would be awful if I only discovered it after having children and making a home with her!
But the truth is, I would never know! I would be hopelessly in love with her, and because I had seen beneath her physical appearance, into her soul or her personality, my love for her would be genuine and deep! She would be the mother of my children! My wife! So the pusanga has not taken away my freedom; it has given me more: it has freed me from my prejudice and let me find real happiness.
That is also why pusanga is a secret. You should never tell someone you have used it on them. Otherwise its work is undone.
But, I persisted, does anyone have real freedom if everyone is using pusanga?
Does anyone have freedom anyway? We are all taught what to believe, what is right and wrong, from when we are little. Are our minds really free? Pusanga is just a different freedom.
But we all like to think we are free. If people are using pusanga on us, though, surely we become slaves to their will and victims of magic?
(Laughing): You think you are not subject to magic every time you are with a woman or, if you are a woman, with a man? You think the woman you met tonight at the dance wears the same pretty dress every day, the same make-up, the same scent, when she is scrubbing the kitchen or at her factory job? You think that man dresses in a smart suit or wears that expensive aftershave when he is working in the fields? No!
They are doing those things to present themselves in a certain way, a way which is more attractive, but obviously not always true! We all use magic every day in order to make people like us and get what we want. Pusanga is just another way. Underneath everything we are all looking for love.
As if to prove his point, a few days later Javier asked the group of Westerners we had taken with us to the jungle what they wanted from their lives. Many of them at first gave cosmic and spiritual answers to do with putting the world to rights, resolving planetary issues, saving endangered species, speaking with the flowers and so on, and were quite mute when Javier spoke about pusanga and its ability to meet their personal (rather than planetary) needs.
After time for reflection, Javier asked again what our participants really wanted and this time they admitted that what they wanted, behind their desire to save the world, was love. A personal love in their own lives.
So why had they not said so in the first place? Many replied that it had not felt ok for them to ask for love. This was the message they had heard from their mothers (Who do you think you are to ask for such things?; Youve had more than enough!), from teachers, and from the Western church (Do unto others [but not unto yourself] as you would have them do unto you) and through this conditioning they now felt their needs to be secondary to those of others. The contradiction or paradox, though, was that they believed themselves able to save a planet without first saving themselves to give cosmic love when they had never received the love they needed in their own lives, so how would they even know what this love looked or felt like?
Javiers thoughts on this were simple and enlightening:
If we all had more of the love we need we wouldnt be worried so much about saving the planet. Its because people dont have love that they create the problems of the world and why it has to be saved at all! It would be better if people got what they wanted because then they wouldnt be so destructive. Thoughts tangle up their lives but love solves problems instantly.