Excellent video podcast with Amber Lyon of reset.me, in an engaging and fascinating interview with my dear friend and shaman maestro of the Amazon, don Howard Lawler, aka. Choque Chinchay. This is a wonderfully long in-depth discussion about Ayahuasca–what it is and isn’t and how it is properly (and improperly) approached and worked with in its native Amazon setting. Howard is a superb teacher as well as shaman and it is always a blessing to listen to his knowledge and wisdom about the great teacher plants, especially Ayahuasca. This was shot on location at the SpiritQuest Sanctuary in the Upper Amazon where I’ve twice been fortunate to travel and to engage with the great plant teachers under the care and compassion of don Howard and don Rober.
I’ve spent many hours listening to don Howard, asking my questions and having in-depth discussions about the medicine. When you listen to him, you are hearing long and deep experience from one of the most authentic of the Amazon’s medicine men, and probably the best communicator in English for and about Ayahuasca. Enjoy.
A photography post for this hot summer’s day.
Here are some of my images from my last journey into an amazing landscape in southeastern Utah. Please click on any photo for a larger, better view.
I will be heading back into this area this fall to do some more photography and cinematography and I will look forward to sharing some of that with you then.
Here is a manifestly magical landscape where, as the ancients said, “There are more rocks standing up than lying down.”
Entering this land, we feel like we have stumbled into a giant, ancient, Atlantisian cityscape – thousands of massive buildings, scatter far over the rolling hills and loom profoundly next to our tiny forms. They are frozen in time as the wind and sun slowly melt the magnificent masonry into curious shapes. Long, inspiring parks of green and orange still echo the aesthetic design of a masterful and artistic urban planner. It is a scene that seems populated or that seems it should be – filled with milling crowds. When the black raven caws and the wind sighs around the rocks, however, we realize that it is too quiet for such crowds. There are few humans here. The rock pillars themselves form the sense of mass congregation.
Perhaps it is all mere sand and wind. Perhaps.
As we stand, dwarfed, by a reddened wall topped with curious minarets and colorful balanced spires, we may sense that this primordial cityscape was designed this very way by spirit beings or unknowable men and women of mystic vision, serving some need of the soul and heart that still resonates in us today. We feel the rocks ringing and singing their long songs, gazing ever into eternity.
Spirit hand prints of the Ancestral Puebloans who passed this way some 500 to 900 years ago. With time so long and slow in this magical land, it seems that the red paint should still be wet to the touch.
You can hear Time pass by in a soft and curious breeze between the painted walls.
“Most of the fairy tales of Europe originate from the Celtic tradition. Now, there are lots of fairy hills in Ireland and one of the things about a fairy hill is that it’s invisible and nobody knows it’s there, and another remarkable thing about fairy hills is that you can walk in what you think is a straight line but you will have walked around a fairy hill—it is that inaccessible. Yet this fairy world is just one small dimension deeper than the visible world; it’s everywhere. The fairies are the inhabiting nature powers, and the reason they are so fascinating and enchanting is that their nature and your unconscious nature, your deep nature, are the same. The fairies are representatives of that permanent energy consciousness that underlies all the phenomenal forms of life. This is Mother Goddess stuff.”
Joseph Campbell, Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine
[Source: The Joseph Campbell Foundation]
An interesting graphic animation of a reading by Dennis McKenna from his book “The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss.” In it, he describes a particularly awe inducing vision experience with the medicina. Dennis is the brother of the late Terence McKenna and his book is a good read about their relationship and their various pioneering adventures working with Ayahuasca and other entheogens.
His great vision, related here, is the kind of experience that draws people to Ayahuasca and can significantly alter one’s perception of themselves and of their place in the universe.
[Source: http://vimeo.com/80337226 — Voice Media Group]
This is a digital art and photograph collage, but the stone face is an actual formation I came across in a less-traveled region of a lightly traveled hoodoo wonderland called the Bisti Wilderness Area in northwestern New Mexico, USA (commonly called the Bisti Badlands). Is it pareidolia – an accidental shape that looks like a face, or is it an expression of animism? Yes, of course, and perhaps, I think, the other as well. Having taken myself down under the skin of consensus reality and once meeting a female Spirit of the Earth, I treat such things as this with respect and honor.
~ ~ ~ ~
Spirit Stone Woman (by David P. Crews)
Once, I was wandering through time,
Threading a tortuous line through
undulations and towers of rock and clay.
Sitting, resting from my efforts,
I looked up and saw her face,
Sudden awareness chilling my arms.
A crickle of power and presence:
I had come unawares into a place
of natural holiness.
I speak. I ask permission. I look.
I gaze into the sky as She gazes.
Who has spoken with her in ancient days?
How long has she watched the stars?
For whom does she wait?
A shape sits silent, breathing another air
poised on the edge of eternity.
My final ceremony in the Amazon was not with Ayahuasca, but with the ancient medicine of the Chavin culture of the northeastern mountains and coastal areas of Peru. Huachuma is the most common local name for the plant whose post-colonial name is the San Pedro cactus. As both cacti contain mescaline, Huachuma can be considered South America’s parallel, if decidedly not equivalent, to North America’s peyote. Just as with peyote, this cactus has been used for thousands of years to bring humans into a powerful spiritual dimensional experience for healing and for enlightenment.
The ritual and ceremonial forms associated with Huachuma are based on the mesa, a literal table or layout of ceremonial power objects in the form of a cross. Much of this has been co-opted by the Catholic church and most “San Pedro Mesa” ceremonies are very syncretic and include objects, references, and appeals to Jesus, Mary, the saints, etc. My interest was to find the older, more authentic, pre-Columbian version of the cactus ceremonies, representing true ancient shamanism. In today’s Amazonian or Andean cultures, this is not easily found, but Howard Lawler is, surely, the best source for this kind of experience. He has been restoring this ancient style and level of Huachuma ritual for decades, and has been able to attain and establish a truly non-syncretic and very powerful mesa ceremony. His Huachuma Mesada Pilgrimages are intense, nearly two-week long expeditions to the ancient sacred sites in northeastern Peru to engage with the plant in the way and in the very places that the ancients did.
He also offers an introductory mesa ceremony in the Amazon for those, like myself, who are there to work with Ayahuasca but also wish to have an initiation into Huachuma. This actually makes a lot of sense, as Huachuma began in the Amazon with the concept of the water mesada.
Yacumama is the serpent spirit that represents water and the essence of life springing from the great Amazon. He is pictured as a serpent and as the serpentine river that winds through the great forest of life, enlivening all the inhabitants from plants, to animals and us. Water is the essential ingredient for life.
In Ayahuasca rituals, one works with Pachamama, the great female spirit of the plants and animals – this is Mother Ayahuasca, the “mother earth” spirit who engages, teaches, and heals within the context of the Ayahuasca medicina. When working with Huachuma, one encounters a complementary male spirit, a Grandfather Huachuma. He is expressed in the Amazonian ritual in the form of Yacumama, the essence of water.
The ritual begins at the great mesa that don Howard has created inside the ceremonial molucca at the sanctuary. This large layout begins with the lower world, then the crossbar mesa representing the middle world (our everyday dimension), and the mesa at the top representing the upper worlds. There is also a lancon or stone stela like the one at the great temple of the Jaguar. This stands at the cross point and represents the “axis mundi” or the world axis. It leads up into the heavenly realms as well as down into the unconscious worlds. The mesa is a three-dimensional map to a multi-dimensional universe.
Huachuma cactus is reduced to a liquid that is intensely bitter, but is not disgusting or nauseating as Ayahuasca is. Also, there are no dietary restrictions with Huachuma as there is in Ayahuasca. One drinks the liquid and is offered an immediate chaser of limonade – a tart and non-sweet lemonade that really helps to offset the bitterness and slight discomfort of drinking the medicine. This will be offered at various times throughout the length of the ceremony, which can take eight hours or so.
[Click on any small photo for a larger view.]
Unlike Ayahuasca, this does not occur at night with darkness and the singing of icaros. Huachuma is an animating and animist agent and it is useful to take it during daylight and, in the initial stages, get out into nature to see and experience it. We took the medicine at about two in the afternoon and after the initial rituals, immediately got into the boat for a trip some miles upriver to a tiny settlement. We pulled into the bank and walked along a long covered wooden walkway to get to the village. A few locals came out to see us and some of the kids played in the river or with a soccer ball while one boy presented a monkey for us to see. As this is happening, I was coming alive with the energy of the Huachuma medicine. A gentle rain began to fall, and the individual drops were superimposed over the verdant green fields surrounding the settlement. Each drop vibrated like electric diamonds and the greens beyond seemed to glow with life and energy. This is a very active medicine that, in this initial phase, engages us in a physical and super-awake mode that leads to a strong sense of joy and happiness.
Everything is alive! This is what animism feels like! As we returned to our boat, I settled in and took a fresh apple to eat. It’s flavor was enhanced in the same energetic manner as the objects I saw. It was delicious! A truly wonderful sunset glowed in orange and red like an open kiln under the rain clouds that began to gather.
As we motored back down the Rio Momón, that rain began to fall in earnest – a true tropical downpour. This was no ordinary rain, with or without our enhanced senses. It rained in sheets until the boat was literally encased in a tube of water. Water below the hull, water rushing the canvas above our heads as if we were under a huge waterfall, and not rain streaks, but walls of solid water on all sides of the open-sided boat. The pilot had to slow to a crawl and use his searchlights to make our way safely back to the sanctuary. Howard said that in his quarter century of living here, it was the hardest rain event he had been in on the water.
Rather than feel in danger during this huge rain, I and the others felt safe, curious, and engaged. It was obvious to us that we had truly invoked Yacumama – the Water Spirit – and he had manifested for us in a very big way.
With a safe return to the ceremonial molucca, and with darkness upon us, the next phases of the medicine began. In the presence of the mesa, we entered into a more internal space where introspection and visioning can happen. This lasts until about ten o’clock when the medicine begins to dissipate and we retreat to the dining hall for a good meal. This was the first meal in about two and a half weeks for me that had any salt in it. We had some bits of chicken that were fried with some salt, and they were truly delicious after the long diet and having just been sensitized with the Huachuma.
I feel like I have internalized much of the work I did with Huachuma and will be processing it in my life for a while to come, just as with the work with Ayahuasca. I was unable to continue on with Maestro Howard on his Mesada Pilgrimage this time, but hope and intend to do so next year. These ceremonies: five Ayahuasca, one Bobinsana, and one Huachuma over two and a half weeks, is enough for me for now. I am very happy to have had the opportunity, however, to work with Huachuma this time and experience the great Chavin Mesa and the power of this level and style of shamanism, based as it is on the very work that our ancestors were engaged in over three thousand years ago.
San Pedro ceremonies are rather common in the Andes and are generally not nearly as powerful in terms of the actual medicine used. They also blend in all the syncretic religious elements that tint the experience and give it a shape that does not originate with the plant and its spirits. I feel very fortunate to have encountered Howard’s mesa, an authentic, pre-Columbian shamanism that resonates with the power and energy of the great Spirits.
For those of you who may have anticipated an update before now, I appreciate your patience. I decided to wait until I returned home to write my final journal entries for my trip to the Amazon. After the third Ayahuasca ceremony, my work there became more intense and involving, plus the internet connections on-site were less than ideal for posting to the internet. I have safely made my way back to my home in Texas after a final week taking an initial look around Panama. Now, I can begin to catch up on these posts and eventually get some of my many photos and audio recordings posted as well. Please stay tuned!
The final two Ayahuasca sessions were more intense and physical than the previous three. As I somewhat anticipated after the first three ceremonies, the visions aspect of my work here was to be limited, but powerful in the end. It seemed I was to deal mostly with physical cleansing, healing, and insights, which I hope to carry forward into my everyday life. The fourth ceremony was especially physical in that I reacted with a hard sweat all night long. This is uncomfortable, if not concerning, and it really focuses one on the state of the body throughout the session. This hard-sweat ceremony happened to me once before, so I was aware that it might be a possibility this cycle.
My final, fifth ceremony was completely clear of the sweats and other discomforts, and this round of Ayahuasca did let me experience a powerful kind of vision. I won’t actually describe this in detail as it was quite personal and had to do with my own inner emotional state and body state after some recent surgery for cancer. I will say that in essence, it allowed me to experience a kind of complete healing and merging with the universe in a way that I feel is the actual state of being that is obscured by our material lives and bodies. I was made to feel completely loved and welcomed into an embrace of unity with the spirits that watch and love us. Understand that this is my interpretation of the shamanic experience I had, and not a claim for others to believe or reject. While common themes do occur and overarching interpretations can be implied, shamanism, especially of this kind and intensity, is only interpretable by the individuals who partake of the experience, and then only for themselves. There are no priests in shamanism.
Five Ayahuasca ceremonies. When done authentically in the proper set and setting and with properly prepared medicine, this is a massive set of experiences and represents the most that anyone should attempt in one cycle of work. Maestro Howard said that to do more would be like pouring water into a cup already brimming full. The experiences would just spill over and be lost along with their personal value to the participant. With the strict diet and these five intense ceremonies over about two weeks time, I was feeling very stretched and yet full indeed, and I was pleased and ready for it to come to its conclusion.
Some of my wonderful fellow participants headed home after this, and a few stayed with me at the sanctuary to engage in a different kind of plant teacher medicine: Huachuma. This is the great medicine of the ancient Chavin culture of Peru and I will describe that ceremony in my next post.
This is the second post from my Ayahuasca retreat in the Upper Amazon, in Peru. I have come through three Ayahuasca ceremonies, with two more to follow starting tomorrow night.
Tonight, we had a break from them with a special ceremony to work with another teacher plant called bobinsana. This beautiful blooming shrub is a heart-opening plant and working with it helps one suppress any tensions or anger in our lives. It also, and this is what most intrigues me, is a plant that brings vivid dreams and allows you to remember them. I have worked with my dreams for years and find it frustrating when I cannot recall them, so I will be very interested in this aspect of working with bobinsana.
Sometimes, when working with Ayahuasca, one receives strong visions. These are usually cathartic in nature and may be frightening or very beautiful and reassuring. Visions are not the only modality in which Ayahuasca works, however. It can be very healing even when there are no significant visions. In ancient times, and still in some places today, the Ayahuasca vine is taken by itself without the DMT admixture plants that bring the “light” of the visions. The physical purging, the discomforts, and the perspectives one receives as we witness our body reacting, are useful in themselves. We are cleansed and recalibrated to a norm that many of us have deviated from significantly. This is likely the case for me, as my first three sessions have not produced many visions of consequence.
I did see a representation of Mother Ayahuasca in my second ceremony, but she was presented as a stereotyped grandmother figure with a blank cloth face. My intent in this session was to personally thank her for the work she did for me and with me in 2006. I spoke into the vision that I understood that she presents many different faces to those who seek her and that I did not expect another dramatic audience with her as I had before. In response to this, the grandmother figure started taking on a series of faces of evil-looking characters, monsters, aliens, and then a few that were comical monsters. This seemed to be an affirmation of my comments.
In my third ceremony, I saw the face of my own beloved, late mother. It only lasted a moment, but I called out my love to her.
After the first two ceremonies, I had severe mariacion, or dizziness, that lasted into the next morning, along with ongoing purging overnight. The dizziness is not unusual, but the severity of it was for me. The cold flower bath the following morning helps to dispel this, as the psychic space that was opened up in the ceremony is closed again by don Rober. After my third ceremony, however, I experienced no dizziness at all and I was able to sleep comfortably. The tea is getting stronger and consequently more difficult to drink each time. I am looking forward to the final two sessions on Monday and Tuesday nights, and we will see if I have reached a plateau or if there is a vision of consequence in store for me.
To be continued as circumstances allow.
As I write this, I am in the Upper Amazon Jungle, on the Rio Momón. 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.
This is a sticky post. Please scroll down for current posts! Thanks.
A main feature of this blog is the journal report I made of my initial experiences with Ayahuasca in 2006. This sticky post is here so you don’t miss my 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 ceremony happened to someone who had never experienced it or anything like it before, I will take you with me through an entire arc of experiences from a lesson of sheer terror to a wondrous encounter and 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.