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Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World: Complementary Dualism in Modern Peru

Chapter Two
Mind And Body; Spirit And Flesh

The next afternoon, I returned to the Plaza to meet Amado and Juan Luis. On my way, I cut through one of the tourist markets and once again tried to engage in conversation with some of the vendors about yanantin. Just as before, my questions were received with strange looks and even suspicious uncertainty.

As I approached the Plaza, I found Amado and Juan Luis already standing near the fountain waiting for me.

I liked Juan Luis immediately. As I was to learn, he had a perpetually impish look on his face, giving one the impression that he was always about to tell the world’s funniest—and dirtiest—joke. In fact, he often was. He laughed easily and often, the kind of laugh that seemed to bubble up from the depths of him and explode forth, like the carbonation in a bottle of soda that had been shaken and then opened suddenly. One got the impression that, once started, it might not be able to be contained. Just the sound of it would have me doubled over in laughter whether I understood what was being said or not. Unlike Amado, Juan Luis had the lighter skin and rounder features of a mestizo, a mix of indigenous and Spanish descent. His hair was curly and stuck out at all angles.

After we greeted each other with hugs and kisses, I followed Amado and Juan Luis up to one of the second-floor balcónes overlooking the square. Amado and Juan Luis each ordered a slice of apple cake and a ponche de leche—warm, sweetened milk mixed with pisco, a corn alcohol made in the Pisco region of Peru. Though delicious, I had learned on one of my previous trips to Peru that ponche goes down a little too easily and that the resulting hangover, combined with the altitude, felt like being kicked in the head by a llama. I ordered a maté de coca instead. …

I told Amado and Juan Luis about the strange reaction I seemed to get whenever I asked people about yanantin. They exchanged knowing looks. Juan Luis started to giggle and, then, trying to be polite, lowered his eyes and took a long drag of his ponche through the straw.

“Not everyone here knows about yanantin, Princesa,” Amado said, “It is something that we were told to forget when colonization came in. We could not speak of it openly because, as you’ve heard, yana also means ‘black,’ and because of that, it was considered something dark. The Spanish saw it as the work of the Devil, and therefore we were taught not speak about it. That was part of the process of being disconnected from this philosophy.”

“Also,” he said, with a small smile creeping onto his lips, “sometimes the word yana is used as slang to refer to genitalia. They might have thought you were trying to make a sexual joke.”

“Or maybe they thought you were looking for a man!” Juan Luis piped up, with a wicked smile on his face.

Hearing this, my face turned bright red and I put my head in my hands.
“Oh, sweet Jesus,” I moaned.

Amado and Juan Luis burst into laughter. The Danish tourists sitting at the next table turned to look at us. The next five minutes were devoted to Amado and Juan Luis acting out a scene in which they imagined me going around asking people about their yanantins.

“Next time you should say yanantin-masintin rather than just yanantin,” Amado advised me.

“Why is that?”

“As I said yesterday, yanantin is defined in thousands of ways, no? Yet, I will say that it does involve the relationship, the alliance, the meeting, and the unity between two beings. Two beings. Not necessarily humans. Beings. But where it becomes very powerful and why it is used on the path of the medicine people is when you use the word masintin with it. This is where both of these beings come together in absolute service, in absolute mission together. Masintin is where the power of the two become the force that will allow whatever that these yanantin are dreaming to manifest.” …

Juan Luis turned to me and said, “Amado has said this to you and I would like to suggest it as well, that you come into ceremony with us and work with San Pedro, with The Medicine. This is the best way for you to understand yanantin.”

The San Pedro plant (Trichocereus pachanoi) is a tall, columnar, mescaline bearing cactus that grows in the hot sandy soil of the coastal desert of northern Peru. It is typically prepared as a liquid, the meat of the cactus boiled with water into a thick liquid so that the mescaline content—the vision-inducing ingredient—is highly concentrated. The result is a thick, mucilaginous, and highly bitter drink. As has been reported by Joralemon and Sharon (1993), the ritual use of San Pedro is one of the main tools of the curanderos of Northern Peru, who use the hallucinogenic substance ritually by either giving it to their patients, taking it themselves, or both. In this altered state, the curandero is able to diagnose an illness and then confront the spirit causing it. …

It is hard to explain why I did not immediately jump at Juan Luis’s invitation. At first, I assumed that my resistance was just an extension of the epistemological doubt that I had felt the day before—a skepticism that I could gain any “true” insight that would extend past what I felt would be the dubious insight of a drug-induced haze. My intellectual distrust was a part of it, to be sure. Epistemological doubt is, after all, part of my cultural inheritance. But now, with Amado and Juan Luis looking at me, waiting for my answer, I had to admit that it was not just skepticism that was at the base of my discomfort. It was fear.

Fear of what exactly? Fear of loosing control of my mind, I supposed. A dread of what might happen if I did. In general, Western culture is mistrustful of altered states of consciousness, of anything that takes us out of our “ordinary” epistemological framework and into non-ordinary states of awareness. This, too, is my cultural inheritance. … Although I liked to believe that my years of spiritual and psychological practice had given me a certain confidence in the workings of my own mind and psyche, faced with this opportunity that Amado and Juan Luis were presenting me, I also had to acknowledge my own anxiety about what I might discover within my own psyche. No matter how much inner work I had done in the past, I had no doubt that there were things about myself that I did not know; things hidden in the dark corners of my psyche that might emerge and destroy me on some fundamental level. What dark thoughts that usually lie hidden within its depths might be let loose? …