Argentine and Chilean Women’s culture of Shamanism: Photo of three young Mapuche Machis shamans in 1903. A machi is a traditional shaman healer and religious leader in the Mapuche culture of Chile and Argentina. Machis play significant roles in Mapuche religion and is a woman’s tradition, but on occasion there will be a male shaman. As a religious authority, a machi leads healing ceremonies, called Machitun and during the machitun, the machi communicates with the energy worlds (spirit worlds). Machies also serve as advisor, counselor, seer and oracles for their community. In the past, the women advised on peace and warfare as well.
The term is sometimes interchangeable with the word kalku, however, kalku has a usually shadow or dark connotation whereas machi is usually considered of the light, for the best interest of the person or community rather than the kalku gives to the self in a selfish way; but the terms have a common use that has been interchanged.
The Mapuches live in southern South America mostly in central Chile (Araucanía and Los Lagos) and the adjacent areas of Argentina. To become a machi, a Mapuche person has to demonstrate character, willpower, and courage, because initiation is many years and sometimes decades and very painful. Usually a person is selected in infancy, based upon the following:
Influence of the family
Her powers of healing disease
Self initiative when faced with fear
Machination is the ceremony to consecrate a new machi. The chosen child will live six months with a dedicated machi, where he or she learns the skills to serve as a machi. The machi woman is of great wisdom and healing power and is the main character of Mapuche medicines. The machi has detailed knowledge of non-hallucinogenic herbs (herbalism) and other remedies, and is also said to have the power of the spirits and the ability to interpret dreams, called “peumo” in Mapudungun.
Machis are also said to help communities identify shadow people and shadow witches or other individuals who are using supernatural powers to do harm to others. Mapuche traditional medicine is gaining more acceptance in the broader Chilean society. Sacrifice is not part of this tradition and when two men tried to do that in the 1960s claiming to be shamans, they were charged with murder.