Mapuche magic. The Kalku and the Machi


The Mapuche culture is native to the steppes of South America, mainly in the current region of Araucanía. Despite the efforts, intentional or not, of all the societies that have trodden such territory, the truth is that not only the culture, but also the Mapuche people, have managed to survive persecution, refuge and exile. It would be a mistake to consider that these social transgressions have taken place exclusively because of their ethnic group, "the people of the land", although it is the first impression when they were reduced to reservations and their lands were sold. The truth is that there is a whole Mapuche socio-cultural universe that clashed profoundly with the Christian vision of the Spaniards, and later with that of Latin American societies understood as such, and highly influenced by European religious thought, having almost completely abandoned the beliefs religious naturalists or polytheists of yesteryear. The Mapuche have a complete cosmological vision, interrelated with the rest of the individuals, controlled by older beings to maintain balance, but without being deterministic. Therefore, both the one who is capable of understanding this balance and manipulating it to maintain it, as well as the one who breaks it by carrying out acts considered illegal, comprise a social category that, from the external point of view, cannot but be related to the manipulation of the invisible environment, that is, magic.

The beliefs and mythologies exposed here are not exclusive to the Mapuche people, rather, to the entire Chilean-Argentine region, remaining their folklore and superstition. However, it is true that it is in the Mapuche communities where they received and receive today a much more real value.

As in any exclusive context, in Christianity magic is not well received; however, it did not take long to make a division according to the objectives that the individual pursued. Both the kalku and the machi share the traits of what a shaman would be, from the anthropological point of view, a spiritual leader, with certain supernatural privileges and knowledge of natural medicine. Their path or destiny is marked by said supernatural privileges, that is, the ability to contact the divine and spiritual world, directly or through waking visions -perimontún- or premonitory dreams -pewma-, as well as the innate ability to cure diseases. To this can be added a küpai or lineage of machi, that is, that there was some ancestor who had already been a machi or kalku.


The word machi is, in truth, neither masculine nor feminine, since this religious-magical function can occur in both sexes, but even more: it combines both genders, at least conceptually, since it is part of a foreign world, to the physical earthly world in which human beings inhabit, the Nag Mapu.

Regarding the prevalence of one gender over another in this profession, where at first there seemed to be more men, but later the female classification for machi is used, that is, the predominance of women in this role, it is worth highlighting the words of the professor Quidel Lincoleo (2016) regarding the purely social issues that also influenced his determination:

<<Going back to the subject, I can say that another cause of the decrease in the number of male machi was the wars. In them they fulfilled the role of "pelón" (people with clairvoyance capacity). The "balds" actively participated in the battles, which is why many died. This is how the female machis began to prevail. Then, starting in the 20th century, the "wenxu machi" (machi men) have reappeared.>>

In addition, there was an increase in machis with the need to obtain good harvests after difficult times. We will refer to the machis in feminine, simply because of their greater number.

When someone is discovered or self-discovered as a machi, usually through a self-initiation through the first dream in which their abilities manifest, they begin their preparation, personally or in community, and later move to live alone with a machi. older, who teaches him, in a space of time indicated by his own rhythm, all the secrets he will need in his new mission.

There is no orthodoxy in the development of machi rituals or practices. But he will learn the remedies that he can obtain from natural medicine -lawen-, and he will distinguish between the four types of herbs: the so-called strong plants, Weychafeke Lawen, considered very powerful, and the weak ones, Füshku lawen, with lighter effects; and between the rukake lawen, plants for everyday use, and the reke lawen, more difficult to find and with more specific purposes. When an individual from the community specializes in preparing infusions, they are called machifes and lawentuchefes. They also learned about plasters and bleeding, as well as the use of hot springs.

There were also medicinal practices that someone with a machi position did not necessarily have to carry out: they were the empirical doctors of the towns. For example, the connoisseurs of bones, the ngutamchefes, in charge of healing physical injuries, or those who developed the diagnosis -willentún- of diseases through the urine of the patient. There were those who diagnosed foreign diseases brought by the Spanish, and there was deep knowledge of simple surgeries, since despite their current situation, they were a warrior people.

He learned divination -pelomtún-, which is developed through various techniques, most of them geomantic, throwing rods, seeds or other objects and obtaining answers from the figures they form when they fall, based on secret knowledge about the meaning of its different possibilities and combinations. Likewise, the concrete interpretation of the dreams or visions that you will have in the future, and from which you will be able to extract wisdom. And in general, he learned to develop all the rituals, not necessarily religious (one could say, magical), through which he will be able to use his powers. They also know the methods to enter a trance through dances and music, and to be able to contact the spirits.

She will return for the ordination ceremony, where she will be recognized as a true machi at the machiluwün. In this celebration, a new rehue or totem-altar will be established that will serve in their future ceremonies and will indicate their lineage and territory.

The purpose of the machi is always beneficial, it is to help her community, through the revelations received and the cures or healing rituals that she can perform to purify her people, such as the machitún or mapundugún, where the machi invoked the ancestors, who they live in a world superior to this, the Weg Mapu, so that they reveal the reasons for misfortune or the causes of illness, and thus be able to remedy them. To do this, respectfully climb the kemu-kemu steps of their rehue altars, make floral offerings, usually cinnamon, the sacred tree -which coincidentally has enormous medicinal powers due to its purifying action and its high levels of vitamin C-, to the spirits, and enters a trance helped by the rhythms of traditional instruments, and once awake, it will reveal what has been communicated to it.

Although the Mapuches believe in a Superior Creative Spirit, Ngenechén, -difficult to determine if influenced or not by the comparison with the Christian God, -they do not disdain the existence of spiritual beings much closer to them. In this case, the spirits that help the machi in their tasks are the Ngen, primordial spirits of nature, and the Pillán and Wangulén, male and female beneficial spirits, respectively, considered the first mythological ancestors, but also their own close ancestors. They have led an admirable life. This life must be governed by the Admapu, the identity law of the Mapuches, which is defined by the knowledge of interaction with nature and cosmic balance, respect for spirits and ancestors, the search for the good of the community and the hierarchical obedience in cases of crisis or war. Breaking the laws implied breaking the cosmic order and causing greater evils beyond the discomfort of society. This discomfort manifested itself in the form of disease, bad harvests, natural disasters... behind them there was always a criminal capable of causing them.


Here the opposite figure to the machi, the kalku, comes into play. At this point, we could identify, from the Western point of view and the own judgment of the Christians who arrived in the Araucanian lands, what would be the magical figure, clearly positive, of the machi, and what will be its counterpoint, the kalku, equivalent to the sorcerer or witch, in its most perverse sense.

Despite the fact that the number of kalku identified is usually mostly female (it is not new that in witchcraft the woman is always indicated), the truth is that it is mentioned by its masculine generic, since the distinction between the sexes is not and was not so differentiated as in the case of the machi, so that, despite everything, we will treat the kalku in masculine.

Although its beginnings are similar to those of the machi, like its powers, the kalku transgresses the Admapu by deviating from its precepts and using its abilities for its own good and injuring others. These desires commonly include power and wealth, as well as revenge, which is manifested through events that break the natural order of things, but it can also be the frustration of a machi facing a limitation of power. and desire. The second characteristic that defines it is that it is not helped by beneficial spirits, but malefic ones, called wefuke, which Christians were quick to identify with the devil or demons. This type of spirit may have been inherited, as was the case with goodwill from machi ancestors, but from kalku ancestors.

A wefuke is the embodiment of everything evil, from a liar to a murderer, they are evil spirits with no purpose other than to cause evil. Sometimes he acts on his own, other times, sent by good spirits to punish, and on many occasions he allies with a kalku. However, the kalku is totally free, it is not deceived or possessed by said being. It is a "do ut des" relationship, where the wefuke does damage thanks to the kalku, and the kalku achieves its purposes through the wefuke. The spirit feeds on both the bad feelings emitted by the kalku and the suffering it causes. The scope of the power of the wefuke is similar to that of the other spirits, sometimes greater, and is aided by the magical arts of the kalku, which in turn receives an extra dose of power for allying itself with the evil spirit. A wefuke can enter the bodies of others and cause disease in them, as well as the environment, through seemingly innocuous actions such as expelling breath or eating. Likewise, you can capture the souls of the deceased when they have not yet managed to meet with the rest. In this way the kalku can benefit from necromancy and from that same spirit, enslaved, to cause other evil actions.

But the evil in which the kalku himself is introduced is the need to establish his contract with the wefuke through a blood pact, which implies the surrender of a relative or person close to the kalku, although this fact can be saved through other goings-on. that the kalku perform with his arts and with other sorcerers.

His knowledge of natural medicine became the development of potions that deprive of liberty and poisons, such as the use of Palo de Brujos, and other solanaceous plants, with a narcotic effect and in high, deadly doses. They are knowledgeable of multiple spells related to destruction and sterility, such as the use of yolkless or rotten eggs, which are said to contain evil spirits. This type of "black magic", as the modern world likes to call it, is called kalkutun.

The life of a kalku is defined by its degeneracy. His non-magical life is summed up in gambling, drinking, dancing and orgy. It is said of them that they live apart from society, as it cannot be otherwise, but not in common houses, but in caves and other areas of difficult access, protected by beings such as snakes or the Invunche - a deformed human being, sometimes sometimes the witch's own broken children, guardians of said caverns or reni. The kalku dress in dark and haunt places filled with hate and sadness, such as battlefields or cemeteries, where they feed and use the wefuke. They themselves, say the legends, can take the form of nocturnal animals and considered bad omens, such as black birds or foxes. Like the machi, they take charge of disciples who put their wishes before the well-being of their people, and they can accept external "commissions" as long as their purposes coincide and they get some benefit, so they are not untraceable either.

On the other hand, the general superstition of the Araucanians regarding these evil individuals implies avoiding all contact with them: not accepting their gifts or food, not even their greetings, and if they are suspected, cleaning and purifying oneself as best suits them. This is because any small object or part of itself that the wizard or witch leaves in an individual will serve to manipulate it. The most common form is a small splinter or wound, "the arrows of the wefuke", through which it will draw your blood.

The common victims, it is believed, are usually rich people or people with a certain level or power within their circles, not only because of the benefits that the kalku can obtain, but also because of the benefit that the wefuke will obtain from his burial, where there will be too many people to contaminate.

- The confrontation.

The Mapuche understand that life and death are necessary cycles. However, the disease seems to terrify them on a higher level, since it is a breakdown of the balance of their body and of the natural in general. So, it seems evident that one of the major functions of the machi is to restore balance and cure disease, and, on the other hand, that one of the major effects and purposes of the kalku is to cause it. In this way, when a kalku is suspected of destroying order, the presence of a machi will always be necessary to repair it, through the aforementioned machitún, finding out the origin of the disease, using her knowledge of herbology to heal it, and using divination both for cures and to know the evil kalku and how to drive it away or defeat it.

The machis are in charge of preparing anti-venoms, and they help with specific healing rhythms with traditional instruments, which cause the removal of malevolent spirits, and the use of amuletic stones. These stones are usually minerals that are considered powerful in themselves, although the machis of today tend to ritualize them, introducing into them the magical virtues that interest them depending on the case, and that is how they are sold and used. They can be specific amulets to avoid evil or cure a disease, or permanent talismans for the protection of a person or a home. They can also use stones collected from specific places, such as natural sources, considered sacred or magical. They also know specific movements and expressions to invoke the help of the spirits.

The confrontation is usually of their arts, not of their people. However, when a kalku is identified, it may be physically punished by the injured community, its greatest punishment being burning to death, in the manner of a bonfire. This meant that the Spanish could immediately make a clear distinction between the machi and the kalku, since even if magic was used, the machi was always beneficial, while the kalku performed evil acts and received punishments similar to those of European witchcraft, and that was how the general descriptions remained. However, even so, they were very suspicious of the fact that one could accuse and condemn in this way on the basis of another magical act, such as the divination of the machi. The Araucanians did not allow themselves to be blindly carried away by the machi's predictions, but an assembly was also convened to take evidence and listen to testimonies, in which there are episodes where the Kalku openly acknowledge their actions.

But not everything was so evident in that good-evil duality: many points were not clear either for scholars or in the eyes of the conquerors. In the Arauco War, the ritual sacrifice of Spanish prisoners took place, whose companions were obviously horrified... but that could still be better understood than the sacrifice of certain individuals from the Mapuche community itself in order to calm a natural disaster. Much more complex was justifying the specific cases of anthropophagy, where the human was ritually zoomorphized. These acts were not as punctual as they wanted to register, and they totally broke the idea of a good and peaceful magic and a bad and violent one, even more so in the eyes of a world of Christian morals and customs.

Most of these violent practices would be relegated, but the indistinction of magic remains today, being criticized regardless of its purposes, both in the South American environment and in almost the entire Westernized Christian world. The role of machi in Mapuche societies has been reduced to a priestly religious role of reduced scopes, so that its continuity is not affected; This of course has not been the solution, since the machi fulfills the magical sense of manipulation and not waiting for the divinity. Luckily for them, throughout Latin America the desire to maintain indigenous traditions has not been lost, and this implies the permanence of certain discreet and esoteric rites in foreign societies, and attention in Mapuche societies to the open development of this type of actions. , which in turn helps prevent the loss of part of their cultural identity.

Pietro Viktor Carracedo Ahumada -


- Benjamin, W. Juicios a las brujas y otras catástrofes. Radio para jóvenes. Trad. Ariel Magnus. Hueders/Interzona. Santiago de Chile. 2014.

-Casanova Huardas, H. Diablos, brujos y espíritus maléficos. Chillán, un proceso judicial del S.XVIII. Universidad de la Frontera, Temuco, 1994

- Rodríguez, J.M., Quidel Lincoleo, J. Discusión sobre la presencia de la brujería europea y del chamanismo mapuche en un relato de Marta Brunet. Acta literaria 53, 2016

-Trivero A., Trentrenfilú, Proyecto de Documentación Ñuke Mapu. 1999

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