The curanderos (healers or shamans) of Peru and Bolivia travel from place-to-place as they serve their communities. Unlike established churches with buildings, formal, physical altars and stationary priests or ministers, and the expectation that the congregation will come to the church once a week, the curanderos travel to those who need their services. This means that their altars need to be light, portable, and easy to set up and put away. All of the altar pieces are usually bundled up inside of an Aguayo (pronounced uh-Y-oh), a piece of woven fabric about 45 inches square.
These portable altars are called a mesa or table and can be set up anywhere. My teacher, Don Juan Carlos Medrano Jimenez of Bolivia, use to set his mesa up on the ground, a tree stump, a large stone, or even occasionally on someone’s kitchen table.
Curanderos are eclectic and practical, and select altar pieces that resonate with them and that represent the spirits with whom they work. The Northern Costal Peruvian (NCP) mesa is probably the easiest to start with because the set-up is simple and straight forward. The NCP mesa consist of a manta (literally a table cloth or bed covering) laid on any flat surface from the ground to a table top. An assemblage of artes or sacred altar pieces are arranged on top of it. These artes are the tools that the curandero uses to conduct healing, for divination, and to communicate with Spirit. The collection of artes is very personal and is motivated by the curandero’s own spiritual guidance and training.
The NCP mesa is often divided into three vertical, left-to-right sections or campos (fields). Each campo is used for the specific type of healing that is being performed The left third of the manta is called the campo ganadero (cattle field) and it is the side of the manta where the curandero will place artes used to dispatch and release dense energies. The center third of the manta is called the campo medio, (middle field) and it is the section of the manta where the curandero will place artes used to balance and integrate energies. For example, this is the field where I “plant” my chakra balancing stones when I set up my mesa. The right third of the manta is called the campo justiciero, (righteous field) and is where the curandero will place the artes used to raise energy and bring good fortune.
Several times a year I host a workshop where the participants learn to build and use their own mesas. I provide them with an Aguayo and a few artes. We start with a NCP mesa and then move on to constructing and working with the more complex Andean mesa. However, if you want to work with a NCP mesa then grab a piece of notebook paper. Turn it sideways (landscape) and divide it into three columns. Write (1) campo ganadero, (2) campo medio, and (3) campo justiciero as the headings at the top of the appropriate column and then meditate on the artes or ritual objects that you would use to (1) dispatch and release dense energies, (2) balance and integrate energies, and (3) to raise energy and bring good fortune (see table below).
As the artes come to you then write them in the appropriate column. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the altar pieces or artes, they will come to you with time. If you are following a Druidcraft path then at least some of your artes will probably come from the Celtic/Nordic and Wiccan traditions. Remember, your mesa is yours and it represents your energy and your personal cosmology, not mine, and not that of a Peruvian or Bolivian curandero. Make it truly yours.
Have fun with this, and if you do it please email me a photo if you would like to share it with others.
Peace my friends,
I'm Dr. Dave, a modern druid. I lived and worked in Bolivia and Peru for over six years, where I and was trained by Andean Shamans, and today practice Druidcraft, eclectic shamanism and Ayurveda.