In the Shipibo-Conibo culture, mud is used medicinally to reduce inflammation, lower fevers and can be very effective in the treatment of tumours. Many Shipibo shamans treat their patients with mud baths to cleanse the skin’s pores (a process familiar to westerners) but also so that the mud can absorb bad, or negative, energy from the body.
It is important to recognise that all plants possess energies, or spirits, both good and bad – just as any powerful force can be used for good or evil purposes. Thus a person may ‘diet’ any medicinal plant and learn from prolonged use of it how to be a shaman of its medicine – that is to say, how to make good use of it. But it is just as possible to ‘diet’ the plant with a view to learn its dark, or negative side in order to become a sorcerer, an evil-doer, a caster of spells. Whenever a person drinks the potion of teacher plants, or takes cleansing baths imbued with them, he (or she) will also receive part of the bad energy of each plant and for this reason the shaman icaro’s the mud – that is to say, blesses it with special intention, and bathes the patient in a special way (for instance, singing specific, sacred songs) so that the mud draws out all of the negative energy that has been absorbed. The mud bath – ignored by so many commercial ‘shamanic centres’ – is therefore of vital importance in any shamanic plant treatment.