As I write this, I am in the Upper Amazon Jungle, on the Rio Momon. It is early in the morning, before dawn and there is a refreshing rainstorm cleansing the air and replenishing all the life that surrounds me. I have joined a group of eight other seekers who have converged here to work with the ancient and sacred spirit medicine called Ayahuasca. This is the first of my posts from the SpiritQuest Lodge, a spectacular facility here in Peru, designed and dedicated to the most authentic and unadulterated ancient shamanic tradition anywhere in the world encompassing Ayahuasca and other healing and teaching plants of South America.
I have come through my first of five ceremonies. Five is about the limit for anyone working in a set of ceremonies like this, so this is an intensive set of encounters with Ayahuasca. I will be presenting some brief descriptions of my experiences, but detailed analysis will have to wait until I’ve been able to integrate the experiences better. Most who come to work here are seeking healings of some kind. This is the prime modality of these plants and is a powerful reason for our human interactions with them. In my case, I have actually received bodily healings from my previous work some seven years ago. I have also been given sincere gifts of the heart from the Spirit who is an integral part of this teacher plant.
My reasons for returning are twofold. I wish to make an offering to that Spirit by my pilgrimage here and by giving my deepest thanks to her. Second, I request to learn from her and to ask her to bring energies to my life as she did seven years ago – energies that changed me and my life path profoundly. I have arrived at a new major life transition point. It is a good one and I hope to gather energy not only from within myself but from the larger holistic realm of spirit. I ask for a boost to my creative efforts in the coming years while also giving me the perspective and energies to corral my fears and overcome old habits that limit my progress.
My first Ayahuasca session was surprisingly mild. As a last minute thought while offering my Intentions to the vine, I asked the “little doctors,” or “doctorcitos” in the local parlance, to give me some help with my physical body, specifically in the lower digestive tract where I have lingering problems from some cancer surgery a couple of years ago. The doctorcitos are, to my understanding, intelligent parts of our own bodies who work at the molecular and DNA level as the maintenence crew for our systems. When they are encountered in visionary space, they are interesting characters, often very enthusiastic and helpful – anxious to “show you around.”
The onset of the visionary and spirit space in an Ayahuasca session is usually quite strong and dramatic. It can be overwhelming, but usually it feels like a strong wave that brings you up to a highly energetic state. I was waiting for this to happen, hoping for the best, but it seemed to take a very long time. I wondered if the tea was just too weak this time, but I noticed the others beginning their purging. Some were crying and otherwise dealing with the teachings and personal things of their visions, so I knew there was good Work being done and that the brew was strong. It seemed that I was to have an easier time of it tonight. Ayahuasca effects are very personalized, even though we all drink the same medicine.
Finally, the buzzing came, although slow and tentative. A very straightforward vision appeared of a few soda cans floating in a little cement gutter with a small rivulet of water. They turned this way and that, then one aligned with the channel and opened up it’s bottom to make a path for the water to flow through. The others did the same. Then the vision stopped and a series of other scenes, mostly nonsensical, took its place. I had a panoply of the type of visions that are what don Howard calls “taking out the trash,” which is the process of dumping a lot of cognitive chatter and ideation that gets in the way of deeper visions. Much of the imagery here is due to the DMT component of the tea and I saw a continuous background of intricate lines composed of vivid red, green, and blue. These formed into tiles and moved across the background in very pretty ways. This kind of geometric imagery is fun, but not meaningful. Knowing this, I realized that my session would not take me deep into Ayahuasca space this time and then it occurred to me that I had been told what this ceremony was about. That first little vision of the cans was a very plain “text message” from the doctorcitos saying something like, “Got your message, boss. We’re on the job!” They would go to work aligning my “plumbing” to make me feel better, and that is just what they did. After the ceremony was over, I spent the rest of the night in that same light vision space while dealing with purging and cleansing that, while unpleasant to do, was helpful to put my body right. This is a good thing that allows me more freedom and access to work on the deeper spiritual things to come.
Tonight, I go into the second session and I expect to be taken deeper into the space where visioning is meaningful. It may be easy or it may be hard. The Ayahuasca tea potentiates over time, becoming stronger each time we drink. The shamans here are among the best in the world, working in the old ways, and I feel truly blessed to be here in this amazing place, learning from and singing to the plants.
More updates as I go, as long as I am able to do so.
“There is another world, but it is in this one.”
– William Butler Yeats
“Although ayahuasca is often translated as ‘vine of the soul,’ the translation that may best convey the sense that ayahuasca has in Amazonian Quechua is ‘vine with a soul.’”
Gayle Highpine – Ayahuasca.com
A very interesting observation from an in-depth and enlightening article by Gayle Highpine, one of the moderators of the Ayahuasca Forums on ayahuasca.com. The idea of a vine having or representing an actual intelligence beyond human knowledge is easy to dismiss with a rationalist analysis. This analysis holds that the way Ayahuasca’s amazing effects were originally discovered was by long-term trial and error by native peoples. Those who promote this reductionist view, don’t understand just how ‘astronomical’ the odds would have to be to do so, nor do they have an appreciation of how medicine knowledge was developed in ancient times and still occurs today for those who are sensitive to it. There are around 80,000 catalogued plant species in the Amazon with an estimated one million more uncatalogued ones. Trial and error as a method to develop complex medicines in a natural setting is unrealistic.
Gayle tells how within a century of so of the introduction of European diseases, the people of one region, the Napo Runa of Ecuador, discovered over one thousand plant medicines in a very short time. Some of these are in complex chemical combinations. These plants are cooked with Ayahuasca and consumed to gain, through visions, specific knowledge about which plants to use to cure which diseases or illnesses. Ecuadorians developed a treatment for malaria within a quarter century of its arrival in their forests. This was quinine, which is still viable today.
“Humans have the same instinctive ability to sense medicinal plants as other animals do, even if most have never developed it,” she says.
It’s a fascinating article for those interested in the history and origins of the “Mother of all plants,” and she presents a lot of information I have not seen before.
This is a sticky post. Please scroll down for current posts! Thanks.
One main feature of this blog is the journal report I made of my initial experiences with Ayahuasca in 2006. I’m making this sticky post so you don’t miss this five-part series of essays called “Ancient Songs and Green Magic” covering my entire experience in the Peruvian Amazon. If you are curious about how a traditional, authentic Ayahuasca ceremonial experience happened to someone who had never taken it before (or anything like it!), I will take you with me through an entire arc of experiences from a lesson of sheer terror to wondrous love from Mother Ayahuasca herself, plus life-changing after effects that still resonate now. Begin the journey HERE or click the ceremonial image below. I welcome your comments. Scroll down for current posts.
While preparing for my trip to the Upper Amazon in two weeks, I’ve been thinking about my main area of interest and inquiry – contemplating and exploring the possibility of the actual reality of the other “spirit dimension” that one is so forcefully carried into when working with Ayahuasca. This is such an impressive experience that most who encounter it come away from it convinced that it is real and does exist independently somewhere or somewhen other than this physical universe we normally live in.
I’ve been reading a very interesting book that, while not speaking specifically to the plant teachers, analyzes and compares the phenomena and practices of shamanism with that of the psychological approach and theories of Carl Jung. I’ve always found the two sets of ideas to be very much intertwined and comprising two ways of describing the same thing. I’m particularly struck when Jung says things that show he understood the apparent reality of the “spirit dimension” of the shamanists. The book is “Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung – The Great Circle,” by Robert E. Ryan (2002).
One passage where Ryan speaks of Jung’s ideas really resonates with me:
“. . . one of the most important touchstones of Jung’s thought and the shaman’s experience (is that) events experienced by the mind in what we would call the ‘psychic or inner world’ would have their own claim to a reality equal to that which the same mind imposes on the unknowable world presented by the senses. Each is a realm of experience in which we seek durable laws with their own universality which allow us to track and predict change or transformation in that realm. We must suspend our reductive tendency to regard as ‘merely psychological’ an inwardly encountered pattern of experience capable of producing transformations in a process which has enlisted the depths of the human mind for perhaps tens of thousands of years, thus holding a pedigree enduring far longer than any of the discoveries of our Western scientific materialism.”
– “Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung – The Great Circle,” – Robert E. Ryan, Vega, London, 2002, p. 102
Western society is so immersed in materialistic way of thinking that it is easy to simply dismiss visions or powerful dreams as “just psychological phenomena” – that is, happening only in our brains and not exhibiting an external reality. In other words, brain fiction. Anyone who has worked with Ayahuasca will tell you that this is simply not believable. The vision space Ayahuasca takes us into is not only vivid and self-generated, but it is far richer and more detailed than one can ever imagine producing in one’s own mind, upon an instant, and with imagery so vastly original and unknown to that person in normal life. The entities one meets in this realm are vivid as well, and have their own agendas, interact with us as separate beings, and sometimes even require communication and the making of deals or arrangements between themselves and us.
It would be the equivalent of accusing the early European explorers of the Americas of having made their stories up, deluding themselves into believing that there was such a vast and amazing New World out there with all those strange things and beings in it.
Perhaps the spirit dimensions revealed by Ayahuasca are merely “brain fiction,” but if so, that hypothesis speaks of vast depths within our human machine that are not only unmeasured, but totally unsuspected and inexplicable. Why would we have evolved such a thing for the straightforward needs of an animal’s survival purposes? One may as well hammer a nail with a hydrogen bomb, or fill a tin cup by pouring in an ocean. For those who have ventured into it, this dimension or realm and the things that are seen on its shores is a great mystery – a new world and a new frontier that reduces all other human explorations to insignificance. As Graham Hancock has said, it may even represent the next stage of our own evolution. Who, seeing it this way, would not be thrilled and excited to go on such a journey of discovery?
I’ll be crossing quite a few borders on my way to and from Peru and the Amazon, but it is the esoteric border I will cross while sitting still in the heart of the great forest that I am most interested in, apprehensive of, and hopeful about experiencing. I can think of no greater adventure and no better thing to do with my energies and time than to plan my expedition well, board the magical boat of Ayahuasca, and venture into that new continent, slipping between the folds of space and time and seeing around that strange bend that no one can normally find. It is a bend not of this dimension. It can be navigated with the help of the teacher plants and the experienced human guides – our shamans. However, we must be ready, alert, and open to discovery not only about the new universe itself, but also to powerful discovery of our own selves as we cross and recross that often frightening border.
As I prepare myself for a series of ceremonial Ayahuasca sessions in June, I’m reading and re-reading many things about the great spirit medicine. I always enjoy Steve Beyer’s blog on Ayahuasca and I wanted to share a link to one of his very best essays from about a year ago, called “What Do the Spirits Want from Us?”
Link to article here.
In an orthodox, received-religion setting, this might remind us of a question posed by a preacher or teacher who rhetorically asks, “What does God want from us?” and then proceeds to answer their own question (often at great length) based on his or her own ideas – their own presumptions, fed by their own interpretations of the sacred texts they’ve “received.”
In the case of Ayahuasca and shamanism in general, it is very different. When Steve or his shaman or someone taking Ayahuasca asks this, he is being literal and expects an answer to come from without, not from within our ego mind. That is, he looks for an answer in the form of information available to be gained when we enter sacred dimensions and literally ask the spirits themselves. This is not a presumption. Anyone can go do this and see for themselves what they will see and ask what they will ask. The spirits are there whether we approach them or not. If someone does not “believe” in spirits but never approaches them in the way that those who do so find effective, then that person is speaking an opinion, not an observation based on knowledge or experience, which is to say it is also presumptive.
In his essay, Steve speaks about how we cannot be a tourist when dealing with the spirits, while being on a vision fast, engaging in a talking circle with others, or within our dreams. Doing these things requires a commitment and one’s full involvement and attention – a “being there” in the moment and being fully engaged.
This is especially important for me as I contemplate what I “want” from my ceremonies, and how I should approach those rituals and the spirit beings themselves in terms of attitude and expectations.
“We cannot just go to the spirits and expect them to give us what we want. They may well have other plans for us. In fact, rather than asking — or, as some people do, demanding — that they heal us, or transform us, or make us into someone else, we should just pour out our hearts to them in prayer. We should not go to them with requests or demands or even expectations.
We should tell them what we need; tell them what we fear; tell them what we regret. We should speak to them honestly from our hearts, and then listen devoutly with our hearts to what they tell us.”
In my initial ceremonies back in 2006, I found this to be true. Once I stopped listing out what I wanted to see and experience, I was able to listen, comprehend, and receive the wisdom, love, healing, and guidance I was hoping for. I had to get my own ego out of the way and out of the process by basically telling it to shut up and sit still for a while.
One of the most important points Steve makes is one I try to remember within the consensus reality of our everyday lives. This is the understanding that the Spirits are not “elsewhere” but are with us always and can and do influence our lives. We, ourselves, are Spirits as part of our constitution as human animals. Whether we envision them in this way as part of our own Self (which they are) or see them as alien entities (which I believe they also are), we can work in harmony with them and the energies they bring to us if we are aware and open – listening and understanding what we are shown with a heart open to love.
I’m back to some blogging after taking a few hard-work weeks off to remodel my old house for sale and then move myself and all my stuff into a new place. This has been a physical task that has taken a toll on my now aging body, but it is just one of those passages in life that re-adjusts us into a new set of possibilities going forward. It is also an apt metaphor for the kind of spiritual/mental “remodeling and moving” that I will be engaged in with my upcoming trip to Peru to work with Ayahuasca once again.
I will be in the Upper Amazon during most of June to participate in a number of ceremonies with Ayahuasca and Huachuma. These two are sometimes spoken of as Grandmother and Grandfather spirit medicines, complimentary in their effects and influence on us. This will be my first encounter with Huachuma, also known as the San Pedro cactus. This is South America’s version of the peyote cactus, and contains similar compounds.
It will be my second series of encounters with Ayahuasca after my initial passages in 2006 (see my five-part series here). I have been thinking about and longing to return to re-engage with Ayahuasca ever since those special days, and I am flooded with a wide range of emotions and thoughts. At the same time, my cognitive brain is busy figuring out all the travel and logistical arrangements. Good to let each part of me do what it is best at!
From airfares to immunizations, the travel details can get a bit complex, but they all work themselves out, of course. The emotional/spiritual aspects are far more interesting and are the focus of my work, so it is good to sort through them and express them at each stage of this new journey. So, here are some of the things I’m thinking and feeling about this upcoming encounter.
Stories of Ayahuasca visions can make it seem like a marvelous, loving, and wondrous experience only. They certainly can be a marvelous, loving, and wondrous experience – but not only. Ayahuasca has also been spoken of as the ultimate in psychic inner work, usually in a phrase like “One Ayahuasca session is worth 10 years of psychoanalysis.” However it manifests for each individual, it can, indeed, be an extremely powerful self-work and self healing experience. Sometimes dark and terrifying. Intense.
I touched on this in an earlier post, speaking of how this kind of teaching vision experience will come to us, but we do not know when it will come or how intense or troubling it will be for us. That’s where the apprehension comes in. There are also apprehensions about the physical rigors of taking the tea, of course. It is not a pleasant drink, and Westerners often have scruples with the strong purging that is part of the process. These are not things to be dismissed or ignored, nor is our apprehension about them something we should consider as wrong or misplaced. The apprehension is useful and is a good sign that the partaker understands what category of experience he or she is getting into and does not take it lightly or for granted. Drinking Ayahuasca is a sacred act, and one that demands our full participation, even as we know it may not be easy – even as we know it may be very hard and uncomfortable.
Or, it may be wondrous, marvelous, loving . . .
So, yes, I feel apprehension about my upcoming experiences. It has been seven years since I’ve partaken, and I’m curious about how I’ll handle and interact with the brew this time. Many have reported that after a long hiatus like this, when they take the tea again, it’s as if they continued right where they left off last time. I hope that is true for me. I would like to build on my experiences and insights and go deeper into my self-work and on further into the spirit dimensions to learn and to understand more.
I also recently touched on the joyfulness of being with others when working with Ayahuasca. This is the flip side of apprehension. I am truly looking forward to meeting a new group of fellow travelers. My particular everyday life does not include many who understand or “approve” of working with psychoactive spirit medicines, so it is a fulfilling and enriching experience to be surrounded for two weeks by a group who is nothing but sympathetic, interested, and encouraging in these matters. I felt this way when I attended an Evolver conference a couple of years ago with Graham Hancock and Alex Grey and about 40 others of similar mind and spirit. We were at home together.
So, I’m anticipating the joy of being with like-minded people from all over the world, gathered in this most unlikely and magical of places for such wondrous and useful work and play.
Just a little more than a month away. I am eager to begin.
I’ll continue to post my pre-trip thoughts. When June comes, I will be off the grid for at least two weeks (as far as I know) and will be journaling on-site every day for future posts and other creative works. Then, I will catch everyone up on my new experiences after the fact. I’ll be traveling a third week through Panama, but will have internet access for certain there.
“Sacred space and sacred time and something joyous to do is all we need. Almost anything then becomes a continuous and increasing joy.
What you have to do, you do with play.
I think a good way to conceive of sacred space is as a playground. If what you’re doing seems like play, you are in it. But you can’t play with my toys, you have to have your own. Your life should have yielded some. Older people play with life experiences and realizations or with thoughts they like to entertain. In my case, I have books I like to read that don’t lead anywhere.”
Excerpt From: Campbell, Joseph. “A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.” Joseph Campbell Foundation, 2011-08-01.
A lovely quote from the great Joseph Campbell posted on his Facebook group page today (here).
This resonates as I prepare to return to the Amazon in June for an intensive series of Ayahuasca ceremonies. One of the most enduring aspects of working with this great plant medicine is the spirit of play and joy that envelopes the group you work with. Even though there are often tough hurdles during the ceremonies, and honest apprehension occurs when approaching the unknown of this sacred space, this sense of camaraderie and joyful excitement suffuses the family of those who participate together, though we are all strangers before we meet in the great forest.
At least, that was my experience and it reflects the experiences reported by many others. It is part, I think, of what we sense as “authenticity” when working with Ayahuasca. It affects our holistic attitudes and spirits in a positive way that reflects what Campbell was talking about – the essence of sacred work as being like play and expressed in joy.
I am anticipating just such a time ahead. Fortunately, when we gather for this great work, everyone brings their own toys, and they are all really good ones!
The War on Consciousness – Graham Hancock (The talk that gave TED indigestion)
My friend, Graham Hancock, was recently given the opportunity to speak before a TEDx conference about the mysteries of consciousness and how ancient plant teachers and traditions are critical to our evolution, even as our current society does everything in its power to suppress them. TEDx got more than they bargained for, and they decided to take Graham’s and colleague Rupert Sheldrake’s talks down from their site. This caused a huge backlash against TED and they are now capitulating to the extent they are allowing Graham to post his talk online if he blurs out the TEDx branding (logos). [Unadulterated versions of the speech are available elsewhere on YouTube and the web.]
Graham posted the talk at this link (or click the images).
When phenomena are experienced by large numbers of people, it calls for examination. All science is based initially on discovery and speculation. We ask, “Here is a phenomena. What if this is true or that is true? Then, let us experiment and test it.” It is not “unscientific” to gather information and to assess it, but most scientists today do so within a tightly restrained culture of specialization and orthodoxy. When someone brings together and synthesizes information from a wide array of human experience (in this case, shamanistic effects of using visionary plants), presents reports on his own encounters (tests) with those plants, and then speculates on the possible importance of this to all of humanity, he is operating outside of those orthodox conventions – and the gatekeepers want to shut him down.
Graham rightly complained about TED’s censorship decision. TED did publish his rebuttal, and now Graham and Rupert have challenged them to a neutral debate on the issues.
Graham is not the first to understand or advocate for the things he speaks about in this area, but his public profile and oratorical skills makes him one of the more important presenters of the importance of humanity’s relationship to visionary plants. I encourage you to watch.
“Psychedelics are not suppressed because they are dangerous to users; they’re suppressed because they provoke unconventional thought, which threatens any number of elites and institutions that would rather do our thinking for us.”
Some thoughts from Dennis McKenna, ethnopharmacologist and brother of the late Terence McKenna, bard of modern psychoactive literature and thought. This is from his interesting new book, “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss,” detailing his life with his famous brother and how their adventures affected their lives and influenced many thousands more. Dennis goes on to say:
“Historically, those in power have always sought to suppress free thought, whether bluntly or subtly, because it poses an inherent challenge to their rule. That’s no less true today, in an age when corporate, political, and religious interests form a global bloc whose interests threaten all earthly life, including human life.”
[Dennis McKenna, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, North Star Press of St. Cloud, St. Cloud, Minnesota, 2012. p. 450-1.]
Dennis is known amongst many other things for his participation in the “Hoasca Project” – a pioneering effort to document and understand the pharmicokinetics and effects of Ayahuasca in the Brazilian Amazon.
BTW, Dennis’ book was funded through Kickstarter, the crowdsourcing site. It was the most successful book project in Kickstarter’s history.
You can learn more at his book site:
As I prepare to return later this year to the Amazon to work with Ayahuasca once again, I’ve been looking at some of the prep work I did a few years ago, prior to my first encounter with the great spirit medicine. One striking thing (especially looking at it now, long after the fact) was an I Ching reading I did a few months before I left for South America. I see and use the I Ching (the ancient Chinese life guidance oracle system) as a “synchronicity system” that reflects our greater selves back at us from outside the normal time stream. This can inform in ways that are surprising, especially if there is an emotional or life-altering component to the question one asks of the oracle (or rather, of one’s Self).
I asked, “Can I expect Ayahuasca to change my life in a positive way?”
The answer (which I’ll partly quote from my favorite English interpretation of the symbols by Stephan Karcher) was hexagram 36, “Brightness Hiding” (field over radiance). The symbol is of a setting sun, indicating travel through demon’s country.
It told me:
“Brightness Hiding describes your situation in terms of entering the darkness to protect yourself, or to begin a difficult new endeavor. . . Conceal your intelligence by voluntarily entering what is beneath you, like the sun sets in the evening. There is real possibility of injury in the situation. [Meaning the current life situation outside or before this action.] By dimming the light of your awareness and entering the darkness, you can avoid being hurt. This becomes a chance to release from old problems and inaugurate a new time.
“Putting your ideas to the trial by accepting drudgery and difficulty will bring profit and insight. Adapt yourself to the situation. . . . Don’t lose your integrity. Be clear about what is really happening.”
["I Ching - The Classic Chinese Oracle of Change-The First Complete Translation with Concordance", Stephen Karcher, Vega, 2002, p. 405.]
This passage one takes is not darkness for the sake of darkness – not an evil trip with no purpose for the voyager other than harm and fear. With Ayahuasca in particular, it is always a purposed passage through the underworld of our soul in order to learn what we are and where our weaknesses come from. We can benefit from this dark passage, this study of our under-structure. If we are shown them, we can better repair the creaking beams that hold up our thoughts, our egos, our presumptions, our social mores and norms, and our very beliefs. We can gain a holistic view of ourselves that will inform us once we are back in our ego-based persona, ingrained in the consensus reality flow of our “normal” lives.
This is not an easy or comfortable journey, this trek through the basement of our being, but it can bring us great value if we consent to do this work. The thing with Ayahuasca is that you will encounter this trying but important task, but you won’t control when it happens. Therefore, one must be ready for it at any time and we must truly and heartily consent to do this work from the beginning.
The rewards are definitely worth the real work we do and the apprehension we naturally feel as we approach the mouth of the dark cave of ourselves.
[For more comprehensive information on Ayahuasca, see my five part series, here.]
Ayahuasca is the great Spirit Medicine of the Amazon. It brings one directly into a different realm of reality. Whether one wishes to name that state as another dimension, a spirit or spiritual realm, or simply non-ordinary and alien, it is the most amazing transformation any human can safely experience and still remain on this planet in this human form.
After seven years of life reaction to my first Ayahuasca journeys (for which story see here), and processing and integrating the life changes it caused for me (all challenging but totally necessary to heal me and re-create me into a better man), I’m making plans to return to the Upper Amazon this summer or fall to continue my studies and explorations with that supreme medicine of the jungle. In doing so, my goal is to re-engage with the spirits of the plants and learn what I can about the things that I do not know. Sounds simple enough, right? However, this is a bit like saying, “I think I’ll go to Mars next month and do particle physics research.” The trip is extremely challenging, and the knowledge one is after is esoteric and in many ways alien to our current understandings or way of being.
Even though that is so, it is what I and others who work with Ayahuasca attempt. It’s exhilarating, to say the least, to cast one’s self into the raw frontiers of human perception – a pioneer in a fragile human ship, tossed by waves and seeking a comprehensible and attainable shore. It is even more remarkable when said pioneer suddenly realizes he is being guided by an interested, even friendly hand, but a hand that is distinctly and obviously not human. This force, this spirit, seems to want the pioneer to understand this new and intimidating realm and to help him or her process the information. This spirit also seems to want to influence the explorer’s own human life, both to heal the body and to affect the life path they take from that encounter going forward.
This is what has happened to me, and I’m thrilled with the prospect of setting sail once more and, hopefully, encountering that elemental spirit in some form again.
I was brought up as a Christian and I took it very seriously for over 40 years, even to the point of writing an influential book on New Testament interpretation. Taking the path of shamanism and exploring beyond the borders of current knowledge (religious, political, societal, and scientific) is viewed askance by those still embedded in orthodox structures of belief. It is often judged as a negative moral choice, influenced by the devil or the “world.” For the person who seeks knowledge beyond those structures, however, the process has nothing to do with moral choices. The acquisition of knowledge (especially “new” knowledge from unknown and untapped sources) leads to completely different and unexpected perspectives on everything, especially our worldview and the philosophies that worldview engenders in us.
In my search for What Is Real, the old orthodox religious worldview is simply inadequate and it has been left behind me as I have grown into new paradigms. Now, I and others like me, seek knowledge where it is most different from what I know. We seek not what is known, but what is unknown. This is the mantra of science and of humanity.
The unknown exists beyond the borders of our paradigms. We must seek it by traveling to and beyond the true frontier. Wish me a good journey and I promise to report any curious sightings in the new worlds beyond the veils of our mundane lands.
I am in the greater void.
Infused with intensity,
Straining for sustenance,
Comforted by reason.
Overjoyed by love,
Amazed by the newly seen,
Grasping for a higher throne
Made solid by the hand and mind
Of my recast soul.
There is much I would like to know about the nature of God,
but I should be satisfied with startling him.
La Selva – The Forest. That’s the name given by the locals to that greatest forest on Earth, that unimaginably immense ocean of green we call the Amazon Jungle.
It contains the greatest diversity of animals and plants in the world, and is the source of much of our breathing air and medicines. It is a vast repository of bio-chemical riches that we have only just begun to learn about, even as the trees and life systems are so carelessly and ignorantly destroyed en masse, every day.
Those who work with the traditional great psychoactive medicines of La Selva, like Ayahuasca, see this green sea as something more than “just trees.” For those who have traveled into the enigma of the jungle beyond the physical matrix, being in the midst of the jungle is a powerful experience. There is a palpable sense of the life force animated as a conscious and intentional entity. Gaia is not a metaphor. Mother Earth becomes a very real person. There is great mystery here and great capacity for gaining knowledge and for healing.
This is not a secret experience, reserved for an elite. It is available to anyone who would learn or who would be healed, but it is rarely an easy path. Dealing with one’s own personal psychic challenges can be the hardest work one has ever accomplished. And then, it can be challenging to actually come face to face with an Elemental being and live to tell of it, even if she should prove to be kind and loving. To paraphrase Terence McKenna, one might in that situation be most in danger of expiring from astonishment.
Having braved the journey and traveled through the amazing veil and returned to the physical world of trees and rivers, we are never the same. What unknown new measure shall we use to describe our new perspective of ourselves and our world? The old ones are surely as mundane as the lives left behind us, and will not suffice.
Regardless, it is better to have dared to see a marvel than to settle inside an old skin, fearing anything that changes us.
“I would rather know a fearful truth than remain deceived by comforting falsehoods.”
(A saying I wrote down many years ago, and one that in my life has typified that other old saying about being careful what you wish for, for you might get it.)
You can read about this kind of ancient and authentic journeying in my five part series on Ayahuasca, here.
[GoogleMaps image of Iquitos, Peru (the lighter area center), the Amazon River on the right, and the Rio Nanay as the black squiqqle on the left side.]
[ Click the image above or here for the story from Science/AAAS ]
Thought I’d pass along an interesting report on a study about the possibility of chocolate being found in North American pottery bowls.
Chocolate was used by many Mesoamerican cultures, usually as a sacred drink for the elite, but not always (and not the sweetened drink or candy we know today, of course). The possibility of it showing up in North American bowls like these shows that a more robust trade was going on between the peoples of the tropics in Central America and parts of Mexico and those of the more northern zones represented by the U.S. This is controversial, but I think there is a high chance of it being so.
A number of years ago, I was in Monument Valley enjoying the rare treat of talking with a loquacious Navajo man. Most Navajo are quite reserved, especially around strangers. This young man was very open and verbose, so we talked a good while about many things. In that discussion, I remember him bringing up the Kokopelli legend and iconic art image. Kokopelli was the humpbacked flute player that appears all over the West in rock art and in ancient legends and is so commercialized today on everything made to sell to tourists in the desert southwest.
He told me that in his tradition, Kokopelli was remembered as a real person – an itinerant trader who, a very long time ago (as much as 1,200 years according to current estimates), came up out of Aztec Mexico and even more southerly lands. He brought trade goods like the copper bells, shells, and parrot feathers that have been documented in the North. He was unusual in that he was able to move freely between tribes without being killed. This was because he was not only a tradesman, but also a healer. The legends tell and the artworks show him playing his famous flute, and my friend said this was probably to announce his presence to a tribe he was approaching. They knew his flute and song and allowed him to come without a violent challenge, even if he had just come from an enemy tribe. They did this because he could bring healing techniques and medicines from his southern cultures. Although I have no proofs of it, I would presume many of these were shamanic techniques as well. To these northern tribes, he was an exotic traveling shaman/medicine man. The humpback was probably derived from his large sack of trade goods that he swung on his back. Kokopelli took advantage of his celebrity status and the power it brought him. Although you won’t see it much in the tourist art, he is often portrayed with an erection, and was known to engage with the tribal women wherever he traveled. Modern archeologists even consider him a fertility deity figure.
I think there is so much we do not know about pre-Columbian people’s range of travel, capacities of trade, and interactions with distant, foreign cultures. Places like Chaco Canyon in New Mexico seem to have been religious centers linked to such trade of goods and ideas. It’s fascinating that, with our modern technologies, this new research is finding the traces of tropical chocolate still lying in the grit and whorls of these wonderful northern bowls.
(Click on any photo for full size.)
Ayahuasca is the great spirit medicine of the Amazon. When it is taken in context in the jungle environment and with an appropriate “set and setting,” the power of the tea is enhanced greatly. This mesa incorporates elements of mestizo shamanism from the Amazon and the Andes to reinforce the spiritual/dimensional space that the participants will be working in. The fractal patterns of the Shipibo tribespeople are especially potent in this regard, as they represent the actual dimensional space that one enters when working with the Medicine.
This is from Spiritquest, near Iquitos, Peru, just off the Rio Amazonas itself. I’ve developed quite a love of Shipibo design and I have obtained some mandalas and other designed artifacts and ceremonial clothing both from on-site there in Peru and from my home in the USA, but the textiles shown here are of superb quality, not available elsewhere. I believe they were made especially for the shamans and venue there on the Rio Momón.
The mesa serves as a representational symbol of the space or dimensions that will be accessed, both positive and negative.
For much more on Ayahuasca, please read my five part series titled, “Ancient Songs and Green Magic.”
“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life.”
- Joseph Campbell
•Click image to go to the film (19 min) •
A short film from an interesting group [The Overview Institute] whose mission is to find a better way to leverage the incredible power of seeing the Earth from outside of it. From the time I was a little boy, watching the space shots and avidly consuming every photo or film of Earth and space, I’ve always felt the frustration these folks are talking about. I truly grasped for myself that “Spaceship Earth” idea, and the concept that we’re all in this together on a small, fragile rock in the middle of infinite and truly harsh space. It is frustrating because as incredibly important this perspective is, it is so inactionable by most of us that we say “Wow,” and then go back to our daily affairs, politics, and wars. Because so few of us humans (about 500) have seen the Earth Overview personally, the idea of it has been relegated to a curiosity or a head-nodding stereotype. Instead, we should be using this priceless insight for the potent tool it is to bring humans together to solve our problems before the fragile craft is so damaged that we cannot. Truly perceived, the overview of our home and the perspective it brings us causes a major cognitive shift. If enough of us experience it and are so shifted, it could cause a true paradigm shift for our species.
I’ve said in this blog and elsewhere that we are not Earthlings. We are not a random thing that happened upon the surface of the Earth. We are not invaders nor are we some unique creation placed here by the hands (?) of some god or gods. We are Earth itself! We are the life that this planet has brought forth and we are intimately connected in every way to this ecosphere. We have minds that are more developed than any that have come before. By taking a bubble of it with us, we can escape the ecosphere for a while and gaze back upon it. We can perceive ourselves as being the planet we gaze at.
We may gain wisdom and learn to regulate ourselves, or we may not and become a colony of spores that overwhelm our own resources until the ecosystem shuts us down dramatically. In either case, we are natural – a part of the overall description of the Earth, including a description through time.
We are Earth.
More from the Overview Institute site at:
The Shape-shifter’s Tale
(a fragment of a myth)
He asked the Turtle, “Would you like to learn about things? Would you like to see what the world looks like for a horse?”
The Turtle replied, “A horse? That big thing? I don’t know what that would be like. It is too different from being a Turtle.”
“Yes, but you would learn what it is like!”
“I like being a Turtle. Turtle makes sense. Turtle is comfortable and safe.”
The Horse whinnied at him and said, “Neigh – OK, that was a joke. So is that little Sparrow. I’m a Horse and I am happy to be a Horse. That’s the mane thing!” And he whinnied several more times causing the Sparrow to fly away in disgust.
He did not bother to remind the Horse that he might learn what other things are like.
He came up to the Boy and said, “Would you like to learn about things?” The Boy smiled at him, so he continued, “Would you like to see what the world looks like for a Lion?”
The Boy said, “I AM a Lion!!” and, still smiling, he ran around the meadow making a roaring sound.
[Click on any photo for a larger image.]
The petroglyph panels above are from the remarkable (and remarkably accessible) Newspaper Rock State Park site, right along the roadway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah.
The Murui Huitoto tribe lives in the northern part of the Upper Amazon in Peru and northward into Columbia. The name Huitoto refers to their use of the Huito plant (Genipa americana), which provides a permanent dark black-blue stain for the skin. This is used ceremonially and will naturally exfoliate after about two weeks.
As with most Upper Amazon tribes, the Huitoto use and honor the Ayahuasca vine and psychoactive tea made from it. Wisely, they also cultivate the vine in order to replenish it and make it continually available. This is done in a synchronistic manner in the jungle environment, not in planted rows. Ayahuasca likes to grow on or around trees, so they will plant vines at the base of certain trees in their tribal areas.
[Click on images for larger photos.]
In 2006, I was privileged to meet one group of this tribe on the Amazon, just downriver from Iquitos. We hiked in a couple of miles from the great river and brought in some medical supplies. They honored us with dance and friendship, and we also swam in the small river there.
It is always intriguing to see the Ayahuasca vine growing in its natural setting, surrounded by all the wondrous plant life and animal life (including us) that stretches for thousands of miles. Ayahuasca is a great Spirit that lives in the heart of the life of the Earth.
See my five part series on Ayahuasca starting here.
I was recently profiled on a travel and camping blog by Daniel Lawton. He interviewed me about my shamanic experiences with Ayahuasca and my world travels.
Here’s the link:
The name “Tikal” has always held an air of exotic adventure for me, and rightly so. It is the name of one of the most famous and best understood of the ancient Mayan lowland cities, featuring some of the most iconic pyramidal structures in the world. When visiting Belize a few years ago, I took a rather adventurous day trip across the border into Guatemala to see this World Heritage Site.
The city’s original name is Yax Mutul. The modern name, Tikal, is from the 1800′s. The city is no small place. It stretches over more than six square miles and features over 3,000 individual structures from small rooms to the numerous massive pyramids, some taller than 200 feet. Six such pyramids form the main complex, rising sharply out of the Petén jungle like broken stone teeth. Tikal boasts six of the famous Mayan ball courts.
Tikal was home to as many as 90,000 people during its prime. It was established around 2,400 years ago and was abandoned about 1,100 years ago.
[Click on photos for a larger image.]
“We see the world piece by piece, as the sun, the moon, the animal, the tree; but the whole, of which these are shining parts, is the soul.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson – Over-soul, from Essays: First Series, 1841.
The idea of the “axis mundi” or world axis, represented by a “world tree” was important to ancient Mesoamericans. In Mayan lands, it was called Yaaxché and was believed to be a ceiba tree like the one in this photo. This amazing tree is only found in the tropics. No temperate zone tree looks like this! It has such a fantastic form and color, it almost seems like it must come from an alien planet – plus, it is simply huge. Whitish gray bark is topped with lines of dark red brush-like leaves and blooms. It is believed that the Maya planted four ceremonial ceiba trees at important sites like this: one at each cardinal direction. They are still highly regarded and respected by modern Mayans and other tribal people throughout the tropics.
The world tree reaches from the underworld realm through the human dimension and up into the spirit dimensions, connecting mankind with these esoteric realms in a directly shamanic manner. Some also understand the tree to represent the band of the Milky Way.
“All things share the same breath – the beast, the tree, the man… the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.”
- Chief Seattle
Sacred Datura – beautiful, powerful, and dangerous.
I was driving along the Potash Road near Moab, Utah, last month and was delighted to see not just a scattered few, but thousands of beautiful white Sacred Datura blooms all along the edge of the great Colorado River and the red sandstone cliff walls that contain that potent waterway. This species of Datura (datura wrightii) can be found from here down into Mexico and has been a ritual, shamanic plant in use for thousands of years by native peoples.
This species contains scopolomine and other alkaloids that are very dangerous when ingested. All parts of the plant are potent. The main issue is dosage, because the amounts of the tropanes are not consistent across individual plants or parts. The visionary experience can be useful and powerful, but it also can cause serious or fatal medical conditions.
Personally, I wouldn’t touch it on its own, although I might like to try what some have said is useful and safe – having a single bloom in my room while sleeping. Even the sweet fragrance is potent.
My only actual experience with this plant teacher was in the Amazon. The chemically identical plant in South America is the brugmansia or “Angel’s Trumpet,” which is the origin species. The bloom or leaf there is used as an admixture plant by many shamans or medicine people in their Ayahuasca brews. It is usually known there by the Quechua term, “toé.” See my previous post on this plant here.My shaman, Don Rober, used a very small portion of toé in his mixture of the Ayahuasca vine and Chacruna (psychotria virdis) leaves. This was to make the visions bright ["la Luz"!]. Like any good cook, he knows that a little spice goes a long way in a main dish.
“Datura may be the single most dangerous visionary plant in North America.
Well, maybe after tobacco.”
Dale Pendell – “Pharmako Gnosis – Plant Teachers and the Poison Path”, San Francisco, Mercury House, 2005; p. 250
Zozobra is “Old Man Gloom.” (Zozobra is “anxiety” in Spanish.)
Here is a link to a short (4 minute) film I made showing the ritual burning of the Zozobra in Santa Fe. It includes video, effected still photos, and some of my own original deep ambient music tracks. Run full size if you can, and please enjoy it!
Zozobra represents or symbolizes troubles, worries, and the problems of life. Once each year in September, the city of Santa Fe hosts a very unusual ritual: the burning of the Zozobra. This 51 foot tall statue is made mostly of paper and is actually a marionette – the world’s largest – which is ritually burned in front of tens of thousands of yelling participants, thus releasing all their collected sorrows and problems into the ether and bringing peace and happiness to all who engage with the rite. This ritual has been conducted every year since 1924 – for 88 years as of this year’s event.
[Click on any photo for a larger, higher quality view.]
I was lucky enough to be in Santa Fe on just the right day to attend, and I was truly fascinated to see this essentially pagan, shamanistic ritual played out in front of, for, with, and to a mostly typical American audience. Unlike some of the neighboring pueblo religious events, dances, and rituals that can be attended by non-Indians if they remain quiet and do not disturb the proceedings, this event, invented by a white man, is participatory by everyone and anyone. It is made to be palatable and acceptable to this presumably mostly non-pagan audience by one overriding fact: it is conducted as a very broad, humorous, tongue-in-cheek event. No one really appears to take it seriously and everyone has a party good time.
It struck me, however, that this is actually a very powerful ritual taking place here. Even through the fun and games, the essential and actual power of the symbol comes through for everyone who participates. It might be at a sub-conscious level, or buried under a layer of smirks, but there is no way such a grand metaphor, played out in live action, movie-climax style, cannot be effective as advertised. I have conducted similar rituals at home with friends and a backyard fire pit, casting our slips of paper all inscribed with our regrets and sorrows into the flames, and that was powerful even at that level. This ceremony is public, gargantuan, and potent.
Zozobra is an older manifestation of the modern “Burning Man” event in Nevada each year, but the shamanic ideas and the ceremony of the fire go much farther back in time than even Zozobra, of course. Shamanism is the oldest of the “religions” of mankind and one would think it to be fully buried and fossilized, but that is not the case. Shamanistic societies, tribes, and individuals thrive all across the world. Once in a while, a manifestation of it shows up like a lava intrusion into the solid granite of the orthodox religious cultures of our modern world. Zozobra is one of those, even if it is, perhaps, not intended to be by those who conduct the rite.
In my little film, I tried to show this multi-level contrast between the broad humor and the serious symbolic work by juxtaposing the circus aspects of the gathering and the undercurrent of true meaning by incorporating the intense, austere soundtrack of my deep ambient music. I hope you enjoy it, and I’m always interested in and open to your comments.