In Machi ritual practices, wholeness or balance is associated with well-being and health, therefore the performative element of gender takes precedence over the concept of gender as associated with sex. In order to achieve wholeness, it is necessary to encompass male and female principles, as well as those of youth and old age. When performing healing rituals, a machi will “assume masculine, feminine and co-gendered identities”, moving between these identities or combining them (Bacigalupo, 2007, p. 45). These co-gendered identities are fundamental to machi ritual practices. Because of the performative aspects associated with the taking on co-gendered identities, male machi will dress in traditional women’s clothing. This allows them to perform and embody the feminine aspects associated with healing and fertility. Altered states of consciousness such as dreaming, visions and trance states are also considered feminine characteristic By the same token, female machi have the ability to on the masculine aspects associated with warfare, aggression and hunting, although they do not dress in male clothing.
Colonial ideas continue to shape perceptions regarding gender in modern day Chile and persist in influencing Chilean attitudes toward the machi. Because of the co-gendered identities associated with Mapuche shamanism, the machi are considered effeminate and deviant in a country where concepts of power and prestige are closely linked to ideas of masculinity. Therefore, machi are further marginalized and ostracized. These views are not solely applied to the male machi, but are extended to the female practitioners who are labeled witches. However, male machi are forced to struggle to legitimate themselves and validate their religious practices in a manner in which female practitioners are not, due to the gender structure imposed upon the Mapuche by the dominant society (Bacigalupo, 2004, p. 520-1). In order to protect themselves from being labeled homosexuals and avoid further marginalization, male machi practice masculine values of Chilean society and utilize existing political structures by masculinizing “themselves as spiritual doctors and celibate priests” (Bacigalupo, 2004, p. 530).
Machi and Healing
Like practitioners of shamanic traditions in many other regions and cultures, the machi are employed in the healing of illness. According to anthropologist Barbara Tedlock, “shamanism is the oldest spiritual healing tradition still in…use today” (2005, p. 14). According to Mapuche beliefs, illnesses (or misfortune) can be the result of either natural or spiritual causes. However, the Mapuche believe witchcraft to be the primary cause of illness. Individuals can be cursed or hexed by a witch, referred to as a kalku. The machi walk a fine line between being considered a shaman or a witch, and may sometimes act in oppositional ways. For example, a machi might serve the community by healing and abating suffering, yet still take part in conflicts against...