The melody of the heart


This article was only meant to be about the J’ilol (and no this is not a new way of expressing laughter), but my research led me much further…


Since I have been in Mexico, I have learned to reconnect with the basic principles of everyday life, the life of a young French woman from the city had indirectly and cruelly distanced me from everything that the church considered as irrational. So today I will speak to you, through the wisdom of the world's healers, about something that everyone has ... The heart.

The first time I went to Chamula, I had the feeling I was visiting a magical village. It was love at first sight, I took my first steps and realised it was going to change my life. Kiki Suárez, an artist residing at San Cristóbal de las Casas since the 1970s described it perfectly:

“Chamula would look like any other modern village, from any other part of Mexico, if it weren’t for the Chamula people in traditional clothing, and this church... it is the only one in the world which makes me feel veneration, magic and mysticism, the only church where my soul shakes. I imagine that the day I enter purgatory it would look like this; hundreds and hundreds of floating candles in a dark space […]

In this church they play the bolonchón (traditional music and dance) which I like so much, they light copal (resin) and people pray; reciting and whispering in a language which is unknown to me, a song so special that it made me feel that we are here, in Chamula, and nowhere else on the planet. This place is so unique that it’s magic penetrates my bones.”


The term J’ilol refers to someone who has received celestial deities and, through his dreams, has the power to perceive via heartbeats. The flow of the patient’s arteries “talks” to the healer, transmitting to him the reason for his ailments. The music from the pulse in his wrist also whispers to him the actions that must be taken to help him heal.

I have often heard about the J’iloles, the healers who preside in this church, but I always saw it as a tourist attraction more than a true medicine. It must be said that the Chamula people know how to manage tourism very well, so it did not seem illogical to me that they try to bewitch visitors a little more. Moreover, I knew the Abuelita (grandma), who herself is a curandera (healer), and so I decided to let my prejudices go, open myself up to the extraordinary; well, why not? Incidentally, our dear abuelita plays her own role of J'ilol in this Tzotzil rock clip from the group Vayijel. Check it out, it's great!


"Even if a person wants to be J’ilol, he cannot learn it by himself, it must come to us the same way it did our ancestors […] This medicine cannot be taught, My grandfather did not teach it to me, but God gave it to me because he does not allow ancient knowledge to be lost"

Obviously the arrival of the Spanish has distorted the story a little :


“When Jesus Christ passed on the Earth, he emphasised the necessity of being with those who help others heal […] He never asked for anything in return and his remedies were based on spiritual force. When he got to heaven, he made the J’iloles his representants.”


Just as Jesus did not charge money for his miracles, the J’iloles must do the same, nevertheless they do accept volunteer donations. This made me doubt the authenticity of the ‘tourist healers’, because they are not free. Traditionally the task offered by the deities is a service and not a way of increasing wealth. Tourism has slightly warped the tradition or led to the appearance of imposters, quien sabe.


Here follows some accounts to better understand who the J'iloles are :


“I know how to heal others. I was 6 years old when I started to dream. I dreamt every night. A woman and man came to me in my dreams and taught me how to heal. They came from above, from where the sun rises. They taught me because the Jtolik, meaning God, had chosen me.” 

“When I was about 8 years old, I started to dream of becoming a J’ilol, and even though I dreamt without stopping, at this age I did not know it’s significance. I heard a voice say to me:

Pulsame (take my pulse) please,

Sense what my blood says and explain it to me”.



When I took a pulse in my dreams, I sensed what ailment afflicts the patient and what needs to be done to find health again; but here on earth, here where we touch the soil, I did not know how to listen to a pulse, how to understand it.”


Said in this way, unless you are a believer, it simply looks like a pretty, mystical and rather unreal story, yet taking a pulse is not an exceptional gesture because all general doctors that we know use it. So I researched the history of this practice in different areas of traditional medicine, different countries and distant eras. It turned out to be a rather international and timeless practice. An example of just one of these is the concept of Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicine :


"Nadi Pariksha is a technique used by ayurvedic therapists to give information on the constitution of the person, of their imbalances and the state of their body. Ayurvedic pulse reading is a complex technique, both ancient and traditional, which allows the reader to determine the level of equilibrium or disequilibrium between body and spirit. In India, ayurvedic doctors explain that when they take the pulse, their soul talks directly to the soul of the patient […] According to Ayurveda, the ailment steps in when the conscious spirit is separated from its source, the pure conscience. This resides at the level of the heart.”


Hold on, hold on, this is a rather familiar story!


In a lot of the world’s traditional medicine, an illness is a disequilibrium between body and mind, often due to a moral conflict or emotional trouble, sometimes even due to a simple fear. Health according to the descendants of the Maya:  “is conceptualised in a holistic perspective bringing together harmony between physical, psychological, social, spiritual and environmental domains; it depends on the relationship between man and mother nature, and it is this equilibrium which enables health and energetic stability.”

And during this time in India :

“When the ayurvedic doctor places his/her fingers on our pulse to feel the rhythm, they put themselves in a position to listen and to interpret the wave of blood which flows in our radial artery. He/she then feels the problems which disturb our physiology and can then give advice adapted to the disequilibrium of each person. […] The ayurvedic method of taking a pulse reinforces the connection between mind and body, between conscience and matter.”

In order to add a little mysticism about these particularly similar areas of medicine, I could say that during my research I realised that so many things coincided on opposite continents, even if in different eras. I could recall that even if the majority of us know it already, a number of similarities of this gender have already been demonstrated in various areas. Weaving techniques to quote an example in my domain, or the use of similar sacred motifs or well, “quite simply”, the construction of pyramids, buildings and gigantic and inexplicable sculptures all around the globe. And like all good documents on the subject I could leave you with these questions: does a collective unconscious exist? Is divine intervention excluded? Not for the J’iloles in any case.

This is Maria Sabina, a female doctor, master of hallucinogenic mushrooms and according to legend, spiritual guide for John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison. But I digress… →


In Chiapas, one of the stages of healing occurs during the Temazcal ceremonies. One enters, sometimes nude, sometimes in a swimming costume, as they see fit, into a hut built of branches and covers, named the “the mother’s stomach”. The ritual lasts about two hours, people are sat in a circle in the middle of scorching volcanic stones which make the participants sweat. People sing and exclaim anonymously in complete darkness, doubts and sorrows or hopes and prayers. A drum, called corazón (heart), paces the ceremony.


And these vibrations of the drums, of ‘hearts’, echo in the majority of the shamanism songs, that we call also “healing musics”.

For those who know me, you know that the Uekani adventure started some years ago in the Peruvian Amazon with the meeting of an Ayahuasca shaman. Before the ayahuascan ceremony, I had a meeting with him, and like a psychologist he asked me what was wrong, what led me to him, in order to understand my words better, and so he could sing the icaros to me which would lead me to healing when I took the potion. Since the ceremony, one of the icaros stayed with me; I only heard it once, yet it never left me, unconsciously I knew it, it slept deep down inside me. Some years later, at a very difficult moment it reappeared…

"Ábrete corazón y recuerda:

cómo el espíritu cura

cómo el amor sana

cómo el árbol florece

y la vida perdura"


“During the healing ceremonies the shaman accompanies his energetic movements onto the body of the patient with certain songs called icaros. Through these songs, he directs and transfers a part of his energy to the participants. […] The shamanism song is the arm of healing, the healer’s wisdom and vehicle of personal energy, the symbol of its power. […] It is common that the healers declare that the things they know, including the icaros, have been learnt in dreams.”


Hold on… The sound of heartbeats, music, and healing seem closely linked for healers but for those who are more "down to earth" I would finish this article by talking to you about modern western medicine, something we all know about.


« Today taking a pulse is such a common gesture that nearly everyone can do it. In hospitals, a nurse takes a pulse, just like a doctor would. Someone who feels they are falling ill or feels a change of state in their body can also take their own pulse. Measuring pulsation in comparison to what is considered a normal state of health, will indicate if there is any change. Furthermore, the idea of (musical) measurement allows the caregiver/healer to suggest a diagnosis or identify one of the major signs of an illness. This ‘musical/medical’ measurement does not only come from what the patient feels but also from the agreement on parameters accepted by the scientific community in relation to speed, regularity, etc. […] A heartbeat has a rhythm and a measurement that the doctor must master in order to establish not only if the patient is sick or well, but also what type of illness he is suffering from.”


“Pulsations and vibrations transform into a music of health […]”


"After a lot of scientific and philosophical essays on the subject throughout history, the learning process of listening to a pulse has been little by little popularised by modern doctors, currently it would seem that the majority think that it suffices to “feel a strong and rapid pulse, to make a diagnosis, everything else is only an incomprehensible speculation.” Yet there was a time when doctors in the antiquity era and middle ages found themselves following the words of the mayan healers, of the ayahuasqueros shamans or ayurvedic therapists."




“It is not an oddity”, said the doctor Marquet, “to paint the pulse with notes”


So, for those who still doubt it, it would seem that music is irrefutably vital.


Aurélie Sonnet


This English translation has been possible thanks to the PerMondo project:

Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations.

A project managed by Mondo Agit. Translator: Sarah Hyde.


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