This atypical episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia conjures up a single word, preferably delivered in the voice of vintage Keanu Reeves: “Whoa”.
It’s a thing of dark mystery, complete with haunting rituals, otherworldly spells and a fittingly unnerving musical score. This may be an episode of a documentary series from a hip content creator, but it feels more like half a horror film.
What’s so creepy about the episode?
The episode, titled “The Cactus Apprentice”, sees Hamilton Morris venturing into the Andean highlands of Peru to the mysterious landlocked province of Huancabamba. His task? To track down one of the area’s many curanderos (also known as shamans, healers, maestros or even witch doctors) who’ve been chosen by God to devote their lives to healing the troubled and sick. How? Through a series of ancient rituals that use native plants, herbs and even animals.
What’s Morris’s motive? To find one of these spiritual conduits brave enough to employ him as an apprentice. Cue ominous organ.
The San Pedro cactus
While these shamans use a variety of plants and elixirs (including the snorting of tobacco and drinking of moonshine) to cure what ails ya, one sits at the centre of them all: the San Pedro cactus. It’s an impressive, hulking growth that contains mescaline, the hallucinogenic substance Hamilton encountered in last week’s episode on peyote.
A brew boiled with slices of the thick succulent is said to help the healer get to the cause of the patient’s physical, psychological or environmental malady, casting out and banishing sickness, negativity or even evil. It’s not only a powerful love potion that’ll bring your estranged partner back to your doorstep, but the drinker is also said to be granted the ability to tell the fortunes of those in the vicinity, including their own.
A lot of spitting
For some reason, the swilling then spitting of moonshine (crazy strong booze) onto the subject is something these magic men swear by. What at first seems frightfully rude – “why are they spitting on that poor guy? What did he do to deserve it?" – seems more natural by the end of the episode.
Full body massages with live guinea pigs
Forget the use of one’s fingers and palms, a plump, living guinea pig rolled over every inch of your body is the preferred ancient Incan method of healing. Allegedly, as the guinea pig is a highly sensitive rodent, the rubbing of its body over yours leads to some kind of transference of energy.
Afterwards, the guinea pig then tells the shaman exactly what herbs or substances the patient should turn to in order to be healed. Unfortunately, the way the cute little thing does this is NSFW and a little hard to watch.
Hamilton in various stages of dress…
Watch this uniquely uncanny episode of Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia on Tuesday 30 January at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND. Missed the peyote episode? Watch it at SBS On Demand: