An Evening with don Quimbo, a Shaman from Ecuador

Stanley Krippner

At the conference "Shamanism in the New Millennium" held in Garmisch, Germany October 2000

Every Labor Day weekend, Professor Ruth-Inge Heinze chairs a conference on shamanism and alternative modes of healing at the Santa Sabina retreat center of Dominican University, San Rafael, California. September 2000 was no exception, and the shaman-in-residence was don Jose Quimbo who lives in Villa Peguche, Ecuador, an Andean hamlet just north of Quito, the nation's capital city. Don Quimbo, whose nickname is 'Shile' and whom local tradition refers to as 'don Quimbo' rather than the more common 'don Jose,' spoke the native language, Quechua, until he was 13, then went to school so that he could learn Spanish. Ambitious and a hard worker, don Quimbo eventually became a lawyer and entered the national government, the first indigenous person to do so in Ecuador. After four years, he was 'called' to shamanize and left his government position to serve as an apprentice to five female and two male shamans who lived in a community at the base of a volcano.

During the weekend, don Quimbo made a formal presentation, arranging his 'mesa' before the audience, revealing feathers, figurines (including a pair of terra cotta dancing bears), shells (on of which he blew), flutes (one of which he played), candles (all of which he lit) and a clay ocarina shaped to resemble a burial urn which had been designed to accommodate small animals. He told our group that in older times, the world was in disorder. At that moment, the Great Spirit organized the disordered matter. Then the world came into being. Some of us nodded and whispered, "It's 'order out of chaos' all over again."

Don Quimbo continued, "Energy is the first principle of life. Our Mother Earth is alive; everything that exists on this planet is alive. It is sound that moves the planets. It is not only the birds and the animals that send out sounds. If you make a single sound like dropping a grain of sand, it will go out and create sound over the whole planet;" Again; we held a caucus and agreed that this sounded like the 'butterfly effect' of chaos theory. Don Quimbo concluded by predicting, "We are coming to a time when our only identity will be what is in our hearts; this will replace national identity. So put your heart in the dove of peace's nest and you will be able to play your role in this great transformation." This time we were sure that don Quimbo had plugged into the holographic paradigm! Two members of our group made a financial donation to don Quimbo and-after engaging in an hour-long ceremony-recorded their impressions.


Patricia observed, "I had never met a shaman from South America before. Don Quimbo has a slim build, smooth chocolate-brown skin, moist brown eyes, a black mustache, and straight black hair that falls a bit past his shoulders. He is dressed in a white cotton shirt, white pants, and a black vest. He wears white slippers on his feet. The room is heavily scented with incense, and there is an elaborate altar on the floor of the room with candles, various statuettes, other objects and plant life... all placed carefully on a large cloth. Don Quimbo sits on the floor at one end of the arrangement and motions for me to sit at the other end. He pronounces my name, 'Pah-tree-sha.' My name has never sounded so lovely!

The shaman asks me what is my intent. I respond that I want to build a successful private practice as a psychological therapist and that I want to sharpen my intuitive abilities. We talk back and forth, as his assistant tries desperately to keep up with the translation. I am told that I have 'a very good heart' and that my practice 'will be successful in time.' I ask, perhaps rudely, "When will it be successful?" Don Quimbo replies that it is hard to say. Don Quimbo places his hands on top of my head and says that I have 'a strong mind.' As a result, I only 'need to trust that life will unfold as it needs to,' rather than 'asking questions about when, why, what, how, how long, and the like.'

The shaman goes back to his end of the altar and asks me to lie on the floor. I do so, making myself comfortable and closing my eyes. Don Quimbo plays several instruments in succession and I drift along, seeing vivid colors. Inwardly, I wait because I want to see more than colors. But then I simply let go and resign myself to watching those darned colors dance before me. At this point, the colors part and in my mind's eye I see-far in the distance-a city across a large, calm sea. The image resembles night, because the outline of the buildings is jet black. The sky behind it is a blend of red, orange and yellow, and I sense it is an ancient - not a modern - city. The city disappears and reappears a couple of times; sometimes the calm sea glistens, as if it is there by itself in the moonlight.

Following this journey, don Quimbo asks if I have any questions. I really want to know what the images meant but it is late and I am tired. I do not feel as if I heard anything that resonated with me in a satisfying way and I do not think I got my money's worth. But I did learn that sometimes it is wise to stop resisting and accept what comes during a journey. This is the attitude that brought me the images of the city and the sea and perhaps this insight was more valuable than the images themselves.


I sit across from don Quimbo, who lights candles, burns sage and twirls a feather around my body. He has a cloth spread out on the floor with different objects on it, including flowers, candles, stones, flutes, a conch, and a sculpture of a snake. He asks, "Why have you come to see me tonight?" I reply, "Sometimes I want to control things, or I get selfish and arrogant. These attitudes cause problems in my life. After a while, I snap out of it and feel that I haven't been myself and that someone else has been in possession of me." The shaman pauses, then reflects, "Yes, that is possible."

He comes over and holds a crystal at various points around my head. He goes back and sits across from me again. He tells me, "You are not possessed by a negative spirit but your crown chakra is blocked by auto-suggestion. You have too many thoughts and ideas in your mind; thoughts and ideas about events and people from your past. When this happens, the mind becomes cloudy because the blood in your heart can not reach your mind. This is not the normal blood that you are aware of but the sacred blood that contains love, compassion, feeling, and the spirit of life. So we have to join your heart with your mind, and restore the union."

For me, his diagnosis seemed quite accurate. Too often have thoughts and ideas about past occurrences monopolized my life at the expense of my living in the present moment, taking advantage of all its potentialities. I have been too cerebral, always thinking, reasoning, rationalizing, and rarely sensing and living in the tangible world. Sometimes, these runaway thought processes seem to have produced delusions and auditory hallucinations.

Through the translator, I am told to lay down on the floor. Don Quimbo places a stone on my forehead, another stone on my chest just over my heart, and other stones in each of my hands. The shaman blows through a conch shell and plays songs on different flutes. I am half asleep as I listen to the music. It seems as if one of the songs is a flower and that a serpent is coiled near my waist. I visualize a pyramid that has sheets of ice on its face. As he continues with the flute music, my spirit seems to arise from my body just as if it is emerging from the ocean.

When don Quimbo finishes the songs, he takes away each of the stones and we have a conversation about what I had seen. I tell him that about one year ago, I had a dream in which I had felt strong feelings of love, empathy, and compassion. That feeling is still alive but I know I have to work on it, consciously remembering to maintain the experience. In the presence of don Quimbo, it is as if he is drawing that feeling out of me, and highlighting it, helping me to experience it naturally all of the time. The shaman taught me some exercises that would help me put the sun's rays into my mind and heart. He also taught me an exercise for uniting the sky and earth 'energies' in my body. He told me to practice one exercise seven times each day: I am to imagine that I have become an eagle, slowly inhaling, raising my 'wings' until my fingers touch over my head. Then I am to inhale and bring down my 'wings' again.

In retrospect, don Quimbo's unification of my heart with my mind and his plugging me into my 'heart energy,' is still helping me. Before this session, I lived-for the most part-in my intellect. Now I feel more open to sensory experience. I remember his final words: "The sun's rays are shining on you. And the sun can heal you if you are open to its powers."


Shamans are men and women who deliberately engage in consciousness-altering techniques that enable them to enter the 'spirit world' where they allegedly obtain information that is useful to their clients and their communities. Don Quimbo's home community is in Villa Peguche, where he is referred to as 'the doctor.' However, like many contemporary shamans, he often travels outside his community to be of service to others and to teach Westerners about shamanism.

Don Quimbo, like other shamans I have known, incorporates material-such as the chakra system- from other traditions into his practice. Shamans are extremely eclectic, drawing material from both 'ordinary reality' and 'extraordinary reality' that will assist people who come to them for help. Don Quimbo often asks his clients about their dreams, as this is one way in which anyone can enter 'extraordinary reality' for a period of time, even if they do not understand the images that come their way. Don

Quimbo's 'mesa' or altar contains many 'objects of power' that he has collected during his career. Some of these objects are imbued with 'energy' that can help him enter 'extraordinary reality,' for example, the candles and the musical instruments that he plays during his healing sessions. Other objects represent 'power animals,' such as the snake and the dancing bears, while still others, like the feather and the crystal, are used for diagnosis or for healing, for example, the stones. Both Patricia and Glenn found themselves entering into changed states of consciousness, and it is likely that don Quimbo's state of consciousness was altered as well.

Glenn's' story indicated a longlasting effect, while Patricia's story was of moderate interest to her. However, each shamanic ritual is different and its effects also vary from person to person. My own impression of don Quimbo was quite favorable. Our interview went well; he answered my questions directly and allowed me to observe Glenn's' session.

The shaman serves as a guide between 'realities' but is also concerned with the natural environment. Like other shamans I have known, don Quimbo tries to awaken his audiences to the ecological crises that threaten the Earth, as well as the divisions among people obstructing world peace. I hope that his prophecy is correct and that there will indeed come a time when the only identity of humankind will be what is in the heart.