I have spoken before about my plant teacher doña María Luisa Tuesta Flores. She was born in September 1940, in the town of Lamas in the province of San Martín, and she died, the victim of sorcery, in July 2006. She had begun her healing career as an oracionista, a prayer healer, and, even after she became an ayahuasquera, her icaros, magic songs, remained inflected with the rhythms and melodies of prayers.
Her youth was filled with dreams and visions of angels and the Virgin Mary. She delighted in working with children; when she retrieved the soul of a child, lost through susto or manchari, sudden fright, the soul would appear to her as an angel. When she was seven years old, she had her first dream of Hermana Virgen, sister virgin, who began to teach her how to heal with plants. From that time on, she frequently had dreams in which either the Virgin Mary or an angel appeared to her. The Virgin would appear as a young and very beautiful woman, show her the healing plants, and teach her the plants to cure specific diseases. The angel would appear and tell her where in the area there was a child who was sick and needed her help. She then went to the house of the child and told the family what plant would cure the illness and how to prepare it.
She did not drink ayahuasca until she was twenty-five, when, injured in a magical attack by a vengeful sorcerer, she apprenticed herself to don Roberto Acho Jurema, already at that time a well-known healer, my own maestro ayahuasquero. Unlike many ayahuasqueros, doña María did not herself perform regular Tuesday and Friday ceremonies, although she would from time to time work together with don Roberto. Even as an ayahuasquera, she would go — as she always had — wherever her healing powers were needed.
Doña María often shook her head in dismay at my questions, my blockheaded inability to absorb the immense plant knowledge she offered to me. What I needed to learn I would learn, over time, from the plants themselves, she said; the way for me to learn was to “continue on, and all will be shown to you.” This was typical doña María. When I would say I couldn’t learn any more, she would scold me. Study, study, study, she would tell me. Follow, follow, follow.
Doña María was not a simple person, and certainly not a saint. She was genuinely warm, giving of her knowledge, impatient, dramatizing, complaining, generous, fussy, proud, unassuming, earthy, demanding, motherly. She lived as a healer in the disorderly landscape of the soul.
I feel blessed to have known her, even for such a short time. Here are two of her icaros, her healing songs.