Pillan: The spirit of the volcano

Celeste Painepan Nicul

1 December 2020

Pillan are Mapuche spirit beings who live inside volcanoes. They are generally positive, but they can also punish with earthquake, drought, flood or disease.

The Mapuche silversmith Celeste Painepan Nicul tells how she acquired her cosmovision.

Pillan is an anthropomorphic figure that represents the ancient familiar spirits or protective ancestors. The Pillán inhabit volcanoes, therefore they are sacred places. The process of creating the piece is by hand with traditional ancestral techniques and methods of the Mapuche retrafe (silversmith) trade.

Our chachay (grandfather) Jose Painepan was a mysterious man, similar to the mawida (mountains). He knew like his hands the secret steps in the pire-mapu (mountain range). He also knew how to listen to the llaima (volcano) when he spoke.”The Pillanes are angry because nobody remembers them,” he said. Muday and toasted flour had to be prepared to remember them and celebrate their great deeds.

“A Pillan is not just anyone,” he said, that’s why they live in the dengü (volcano).


I write from the Wallmapu, Mapuche territory, from the heart of the Andes. Land of volcanoes. Land of our ancestors.

I am Celeste Painepan Nicul, Zomo Rütrafe Mapuche (silversmith). I am heir to an ancestral knowledge, transmitted from generation to generation. I am the daughter of Isabina Nicul Catalan and Mariano Painepan Montri, raised at the foot of the Andes, its volcanoes, rivers, lakes, slopes, native and millennial forests saw them grow. To be Mapuche is to be People of the Earth.

As a Mapuche family, we grew up around our fire pit, listening to and remembering our ancestors and their great feats. All Mapuche families come from a lineage. For example, my family is Painepán, which in Mapudungun (mother tongue) means celeste (heaven) and pan (bread), Pangui is an apocope of puma and nicul means fast. I am a Puma Celeste Veloz.

My roots and ancestral heritage allow me to develop as a Silver Mapuche woman, aware of the symbols of our sacred worldview that lives in harmony with the Ñuke Mapu / Mother Earth. That is why it is the duty of all Mapuche to be guardians of our culture and Wallmapu territory.

We must strengthen our language and our traditions. We must make llellipún, rogativas, thanksgiving. We must live in harmony with Mother Earth respecting her cycles. And we must honour and remember our ancestors so that the volcanoes do not wake up, since the spirits of our ancestors live there …That is why I am a Rütrafe who makes jewels that honour our ancestors and their great feats as warriors and guardians of Mother Earth.

I am a Mapuche silversmith by family tradition. I inherited the trade from my older brother silversmith who is descended from ancient retrafes (Mapuche silversmiths) and is knowledgeable about ancestral techniques and their symbols.

I come from a Mapuche father and mother. I was initiated into the rite of Katan Kawin (ear piercing) by my grandmother Antonia in a Wiñol tripantru (Mapuche New Year). According to tradition, Mapuche girls have their ears pierced in the light of the full moon.

I remember when I was about five years old my grandmother travelled especially from Lautaro to Santiago to pierce my ears and give me my first pair of chaguays (earrings). When the rite was completed, a party was held at my house and a lamb was sacrificed for the celebration. At that time I did not understand the meaning of such an important event. Now I understand that, more than a party, it was a ceremony where she transferred his kimün (wisdom) to me.

From there my Mapuche cosmovision was born, a sacred connection with our ancestors. That is why I am a Mapuche silversmith, to honour our ancestors.

You can follow Celeste at @akuchajoyas

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