Shamanism†refers to a variety of spiritual practices involving rituals, prayers and healing. †A†shaman (priest or practitioner) is considered an intermediary or messenger between the human world and the spirits. A Shaman’s role in ancient history has been that of a priest, doctor, spiritual healer and community advisor. In some places he/she is also termed as “witch doctor.”

In Belize, I had the opportunity to have a one-on-one conversation and personal ceremony with a Shaman. Mr. Jovencio Canto and I†met at the entrance of the Cahal Pech Mayan Ruins. Dressed in western style black pants and half sleeves shirt, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out as a Mayan priest from his looks. However, he had a strong gaze and a obscure calmness about him. His English was rather limited, but he spoke Spanish and Mayan. My translator, Lizbeth helped us though the conversation.

Mr. Canto told me that the practice of Shamanism is strongly enforced by a belief in the spiritual world. To receive positive results from a ceremony, you must have strong belief in the practice. He said during the two hour ceremony, he would invoke the spirits, make them an offering and tell them my asks.

We created a makeshift alter behind one of the temples which had been abandoned since the 9th century. Mr. Canto emptied contents of his bag – a few bowls that looked like coconut shells, a stainless steel mixing bowl, oil, rum, candle, and lots of bags full of herbs and barks. He laid out these bags of herbal medicine on a table, each one labeled with the disease its meant to cure. Before the introduction of modern medicine, these natural cures were used to treat most common ailments.

shaman medicine

Mr. Canto asked me to think about what I want from the spirits. I could dedicate the ceremony to a deceased family member, pray for my own health, prosperity, relationships or anything else I felt at the moment. Once I conveyed my desire to the Shaman, he would inform the spirits who came to our site.

We started a fore pit in the stainless bowl, and offered the flames straws, seeds and herbs. The bowls were filled with rum (traditionally a corn soup is preferred by the spirits), a candle was lit and prayer were made in Mayan. Then we had to leave the spot and wait for at least an hour for the spirits to arrive.

We waited on the steps of main courtyard, where I was able to have a deep conversation with Mr. Canto.†Here are some of the things we discussed…

How does one learn Shamanism?

Mr. Canto was taught by his master, a famous Shaman of current day time. The vigorous training took place over a number of years. Mr. Canto said his master could do the good and evil practices, but taught him only the good ones. That means he can heal people and help them with their desires, achieving peace, praying for a deceased, etc. He cannot do a ritual that involves bringing someone harm. He tells me that his master did in fact insert needles in dolls representing someone that would suffer in real life. But in the end, his master had a painful death due to these kind of practices.

Is Shamanism a full time occupation?

The Shamans provide services for the community and get a due payment, but these goods are only welcome addenda. Mr. Canto does not charge for his services, and blesses any donation one gives to him. He makes a living doing regular jobs, such as house painting.

Where is heaven and hell?

Mr. Canto said that we are already in hell. If we look around the pain and suffering mankind is facing, especially when it comes to their state of mind, it is a hell-like atmosphere. He seemed to believe that hell and heaven are here on Earth, and dependent on our actions. He could see spirits floating around, unable to enter the next realm, as they couldn’t attain salvation.

What advice would you give to people?

There are three things you must to do have a better life and a chance at entering heaven. (1) Do not hurt others in any shape or form; (2) Have an open mind about things; (3) Use†your powers for the right reasons.

After a Mayan-Spanish-English translated discourse, we returned back to the site of our alter. Mr. Canto said he could feel a breeze come through which meant that the spirits had come. He thanked them, blessed me and told me to have faith and my wishes would come true.

Mr. Jovencio Canto lives in a Mayan Village in the Mountain Pine Ridge area of Belize and can be reached at +501-664-8406. †

Sucheta Rawal