From the time the Europeans were introduced to tobacco, they understood that its smoke had served as a critical tool for the shamans and curanderos (folk healers) of South America. It had not only played a role in curing ailments like snakebites and toothaches; it was sacred as well. It was so sacred that the Aztecs thought the body of a goddess of childbirth and fertility was made of tobacco.
The shamans of one Central American tribe would rub a paste of tobacco on pregnant women to protect them from witchcraft. Tobacco was the central ingredient in elaborate brews. One treatment for gout involved making a foot bath of tobacco tea that included these preparations: Start by using leaves that had been left in a ditch so that ants could walk on them, then mix in some special rocks and the ground flesh and excrement of a fox. Then steep the stuff and soak your feet.
Tobacco smoke was the food that fed the spirits that inhabited the shamans, and in some South American tribes, surviving tobacco intoxication was part of the rite of initiation.