A Soundscape by David P. Crews
[Total run time: 1:17:00]
Ayahuasca–Rain Passage is a visionary sound experience by award-winning musician David Crews, centered on a recording made on his second venture into the Peruvian Upper Amazon to work with the most renowned and respected whole-plant spirit medicine in the world, called ayahuasca–the Vine of the Soul. A jungle rainstorm arrived to guide the ayahuasca ceremony with the energy of Yacumama, the Water Spirit of the rivers and forest, bringing power and depth to the intense visions received from Madre Ayahuasca herself.
About the Music:
“This is a minimalist and immersive ambient soundscape. I designed this to be a deliberately slow and long work to suggest to the listener the mental and spiritual space one enters when working with ayahuasca in traditional ancient nighttime ceremony (which normally lasts from four to six hours). It is based on a 24 bit digital recording, made on location, of the natural sounds environment at SpiritQuest Sanctuary on the Rio Momón, a tributary of the Amazon. It includes the evening chorus of animals and insects, a large tropical downpour, and the post-rain night chorus. This is blended with the spirit songs of the shaman and my original deep electronic music ambient elements.
“Ayahuasca is best encountered when one is surrounded by and embedded into the vast living being that is the Amazon forest. My intention was to make a long-form piece centered on that rainstorm that, while containing creative electronic musical elements, remains an experiential ambient work. Great care has been taken to blend and guide the slowly evolving moods. In ayahuasca, each participant’s specific visions are unique, so I have presented a kind of impressionistic portrayal of the vision experience, very much centered in the entraining of the mind by the rhythms and white noise of the traditional songs, the leaf rattles, and the rain. At 1 hour, 17 minutes in length, this contiguous piece is best listened to in one sitting, when one is ready for an immersive meditational and transforming experience. It also works well as a low-volume truly ambient environment.
“The icaros (spirit songs) heard in this work were also recorded on location, during actual ceremony. They are the songs of don Rober Jarama, the highly esteemed banco ayahuascuero shaman associated with SpiritQuest. I have worked with don Rober over a seven-year period. He is completely authentic and simply amazing in his dedication to traditional mestizo and tribal shamanism in the Amazon. You will hear him whistle his opening Arcana to place spiritual protection on the participants, and also some of his sung icaros that help guide the ceremony throughout the night. Also prominent are the rhythmic sounds of the schacapa, a dry-leaf rattle that helps entrain the mind as the visions progress.
“The musical elements were created with LogicPro X on a Macintosh system and include timbres created in Alchemy, Air Xpand!2, ESX-24, EWQL Symphony samples, and other instruments and modules. Performance, production, and mastering completed at JaguarFeather Studios, Austin, Texas.
“My thanks and love to maestros don Rober Jarama and don Howard Lawler, and the staff and friends of SpiritQuest in Peru.
“I hope you find this journey into the incomparable vision space of ayahuasca to be useful, sublime, and amazing. Blessings and Light!”
-David P. Crews
“A prophet is not without honor except in his own country. . .”
An observation about reintegration and sharing one’s non-ordinary experiences for good or for ill.
Anyone who has worked authentically with Ayahuasca, gaining sight and knowledge, healing and wisdom, is partaking in the mythic Hero’s Journey. He or she is a legitimate explorer–one who travels to dangerous places, passing barrier guardians, personally encountering the divine Spirit or Spirits, and willingly undergoing tests and challenges that are often terrifying and that threaten survival. When the exploration ends, we who have so ventured return to our mundane world once again, full and overflowing with what has been taken in and we are electrically charged with it. It is a boon for ourselves (this is why we took on the challenge). We wish it to be one for our friends, our family, our tribe: those who did not and would not ever cross the border we crossed; those who would or could not face the challenges and return with the great wealth.
One of the most challenging parts of the Hero’s Journey then, is the return: the reintegration into the “normal” everyday world and trying to fulfill our role as conveyors of the treasures we found and the discoveries we made during our dangerous endeavor. It does not always work, this re-entry into our old world and it can redound to our discomfiture in our relationships with others. Joseph Campbell put it this way:
“[Prior to the Hero’s return from] the mystic realm into the land of common day. Whether rescued from without, driven from within, or gently carried along by the guiding divinities, he has yet to re-enter with his boon the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete. He has yet to confront society with his ego-shattering, life-redeeming elixir, and take the return blow of reasonable queries, hard resentment, and good people at a loss to comprehend. . . .
. . . As dreams that were momentous by night may seem simply silly in the light of day, so the poet and prophet can discover themselves playing the idiot before a jury of sober eyes.
. . . How to render back into light-world language the speech-defying pronouncements of the dark? How represent on a two-dimensional surface a three-dimensional form, or in a three-dimensional image a multi-dimensional meaning? How translate into terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ revelations that shatter into meaninglessness every attempt to define the pairs of opposites? How communicate to people who insist on the exclusive evidence of their senses the message of the all-generating void?”
This, Campbell says, is “the hero’s ultimate difficult task.”
–Joseph Campbell “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” (New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1949–Second Edition, 1968), pp 216-218.
After my first, most powerful and transformative foray into the realms of the Other, I naively presented my journey’s logs and observations to those who are close to me. The reaction was something like that one described by Campbell–the semantic and ontological challenges the very same as he outlined. Sometimes, I wonder if I should have done it, for he also wrote of the hero who might be tempted to “commit the whole community to the devil and retire again into the heavenly rock-dwelling, close the door, and make it fast. But if (an obstruction to his retreat has been placed), then the work of representing eternity in time, and perceiving in time eternity, cannot be avoided.”
[ibid, p. 218]
And, so I continue to share what I have experienced. I do so in diverse ways, including (especially) in this blog.
Thanks, once again, to Graham Hancock for the lead to this new study on the effects and the likely vital role the chemical DMT plays in human survival.
DMT is one of the ingredients in Ayahuasca and is a powerful vision producing chemical in humans. It has been speculated to have a seminal role in the bringing of consciousness into and then out of the human body at birth and death, leading Dr. Rick Strassman and others to call it the “Spirit Molecule.”
This new DMT study suggests a survival role for DMT and explores how it may extend life and revivability during the trauma of clinical brain death by flooding from the lungs into the brain to fight the damage from loss of oxygen.
It has been understood by many for some time that DMT is endogenous in humans, but most have thought that it originates within the brain itself in the pineal gland. This is the first time I have heard of it being sourced in the lungs, which actually makes a lot of sense if we understand the role it seems to be playing. Also, the concept of DMT connecting with the serotonin receptors in the brain may need some rethinking since serotonin itself is not hallucinogenic.
This Indiegogo campaign is to raise funds for basic research in this very restricted and expensive area of scientific inquiry.
I am always fascinated with new scientific data that works to bridge the gap between our reductionist physical world concepts and the so-called metaphysical or other-dimensional concepts and experiences we can have under the influence of entheogens or spirit medicines like Ayahuasca and DMT itself. If spiritual experiences are “real” and not just brain fiction, there must be a “real” connection in physics, biology, and chemistry. Claiming today that such rational links do not exist and then asserting that all such experiences are, therefore, fiction is a bit like someone from the early 1800s, before James Clerk Maxwell showed that electromagnetic waves could propagate through open space, saying that humans could not possibly talk long distances by “magic” vibrations through the air. The science for it existed even then. It was just unknown to the speaker. Or, as Arthur C. Clarke famously put it:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
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.
Photos ©2015 David P. Crews, CrewsCreative
Through a link from Graham Hancock, here is an interesting article about the medical benefits of Ayahuasca. There have been anecdotal references and rumors about physical cures and benefits of working with Ayahuasca for a long time, but this is a Nature Medicine study that points to one of the vine’s key ingredients as being potentially beneficial in the fight against diabetes.
Some quotes from the article:
“Psychoactive Plant May Hold Key to Reversing Diabetes”
“A chemical found in ayahuasca has the potential to regenerate pancreas cells that have been lost to diabetes.”
“Harmine occurs naturally in a number of plants around the world. It’s one of the ingredients in the psychoactive mixture ayahuasca, which is used by some indigenous people for religious purposes.”
I look forward to more research in this important area. I believe there is a largely untapped resource of powerful natural medicines to be found in our psychoactive plant allies. It is time to do away with the draconian and senseless laws that prohibit researchers from working with these plants.
Much can be done by targeting specific ills such as diabetes with an allopathic medical approach, but I think some of the benefits of working with the spirit plants like Ayahuasca come more subtly from ingesting the specific combination of natural whole plant molecules (and, in a larger view, connecting to the spirit of the plant) and may not express in the same way or be as beneficial when the isolated chemicals (like harmine) are tested individually.
Today, I’m presenting a virtual getaway, especially for anyone stuck in this year’s snowy winter. I’m pleased to offer you my short (7 min.) nature film I shot in November on location in the beautiful country of Costa Rica.
I love waterfalls, and Costa Rica has many lovely ones, both small and very large. All are situated in rain forest settings that invoke images of a lost, green, wild world.
This film also features my original symphonic music score. Be sure to go full screen and volume up.
I hope you enjoy “Costa Rica Waterfalls”!
I believe it is a valuable exercise and privilege to be allowed to see ourselves from a completely different perspective – one from the “outside.” For Westerners, our civilization and culture dominates our worldview so thoroughly that it is difficult to find such an “exterior” assessment of our own ways. Here is one – one that is authentic. This article from The Guardian features some of the observations of Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, one of the most influential tribal leaders in Brazil and an Amazonian shaman. As article author John Vidal says,
“In the past 25 years, he has travelled widely to represent indigenous peoples in meetings and, having lived in both societies, he has a unique viewpoint of western culture. With the help of an anthropologist, Bruce Albert, who interviewed him over several years, he has written his autobiography. It is not just an insight into what a Yanomami leader really thinks, but a devastating critique of how the west lives, showing the gulf between primordial forest and modern city world views.”
A few choice excerpts from that autobiography (from the article):
On western wealth –
“Their cities are full of big houses and innumerable possessions but their elders never give them to anyone. If they were really great men, should they not tell themselves that it would be wise to distribute them all before they make so many more?”
On shopping –
Their thoughts are constantly attached to their merchandise. . . .They do not seem concerned that they are making us all perish with the epidemic of fumes that escape from all these things. They do not think that they are spoiling the earth and the sky, and that they will never be able to recreate new ones.
On western cities –
Their cities are beautiful to see, but the bustle of their inhabitants is frightening. People there live piled up one on top of another and squeezed side by side, as frenzied as wasps in the nest. . . . I can never think calmly in the city. . . .Whenever I stay there too long I become restless and cannot dream.
On the environment –
When they speak about the forest, white people often use the word “environment”. What they refer to in this way is what remains of everything they have destroyed so far. I don’t like this word. The Earth cannot be split apart as if the forest were just a leftover part.
To my thinking, agreement or disagreement with this shaman’s specific views would be beside the point. What is important is listening to him and others like him – finding perspective and truth in the refreshingly honest view of ourselves and our culture spoken by those who live in another, nature-based society. Especially so, as their worlds are being so impacted by ours, whether they wish it or not.
The autobiography is:
“The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman” by Davi Kopenawa and
Bruce Albert, published by Harvard University Press.
As a follow-up for the summer photography in my last post, I’m pleased to present a six minute film titled “Big Bend–The Scale of Time.” This is a short preview for my upcoming reflective landscape film about Big Bend National Park in Texas. I am in the process of re-shooting footage in high definition to entirely update and replace the imagery from an older film, while retaining the music track and eventually the incidental poetic script and narration elements. This HD film is hosted on Vimeo and is best seen full-screen.
The cinematography and photography in this short version all come from a brief three-day visit to the park in June, 2014. I plan to return at least twice in the coming months (for longer stays) and obtain much more footage to fill out the main feature. What imagery will I get on my next trip? In June, I didn’t expect to get caught in that dramatic lightning storm or see a cloudy, no-sunrise morning suddenly erupt into an amazing spotlit fan of golden light. Big Bend always surprises me with unexpected scenes of wild and gentle beauty that translate so very well into visual art.
I hope you enjoy my film.
A note about the music: This is my original composition and performance excerpted from the longer film. It won the Calypso Award from the Moondance International Film Festival in 2006, and also a prestigious Silver Telly Award in that same year.
I have just returned from a short visit to the wonderful Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas, USA. I’ve been traveling here off and on since the spring of 1962, taking photos and video, hiking and camping, and doing inner work and vision quests. With some extensive new photography equipment in hand including a Nikon D5300 and a computerized slider, I’m setting out to shoot new cinematography and photography of the park in multiple seasons. This is to remake an artistic film I created some years ago using standard definition video. Now, I can remake it in full HD with professional rigging for camera moves.
I’ll post more of the video elements later, but for now, here are some of the still photographs I made this week, accompanied by some script excerpts from the original film.
I hope you enjoy them!
I urge you to click through to the larger images for much higher quality!
In Big Bend
The scale of time is different from
our time – the observers, ourselves – who come.
It is a different scale of time and of movement than
our time – our movement.
We are too fast to see it.
We cannot slow down.
There is an enchanted doorway –
a wonder and a sign.
A Temple of water
And walls of determination.
We briefly enter – and return again.
There is nothing between this sand and that yonder star
but empty space and a thin breath of blistered air.
A Weight Bears Down.
We cannot escape.
Our branches grow tough – and dark.
Our water, our blood, our thoughts
Dwindle . . . down.
The white light sears our flesh into dust,
and there is no wind to blow it away.
The desert does not sleep.
It is an endless movement – the motion of survival.
We look and listen . . . and there is
You can see it move if you are slow enough.
You can feel it, anyway,
if you are still enough.
Do not listen for it or watch for it.
This desert is young. This desert is old.
It depends on your speed, you see.
Some have come to change this land.
Some have changed it – some.
All who have come
Have Been Changed.
Some have gone now.
A fragrance lingers in secret places.
Their song echoes lightly on adobe and wood and stone.
The mesa shrugs, and it is gone.
She is clothed in riches. Bejewelled in green and yellow and brown.
An extravagance on this plate of rock – standing up, tasting the water.
Big Bend is not barren.
LIFE is everywhere in this Desert –
this Living Land.
Raising faces – arms to the air,
feeling deeply down for the lifeblood –
a watery current within.
Knowing how to keep that – and to hold it.
The desert is a mirror.
The desert is a portal.
It reflects our souls back at us,
and then offers a Way
into another Realm.
We are opened up
and slowed down.
The soft voices of the Plants can be heard.
The wordless brotherhood of the Animals is known.
The marvel of the Eternal Moment can be felt
In our very ground.
Big Bend is a Heart Land.
A place of shifting Shapes.
It is a healer of the Spirit.
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.
One of the most interesting writers about Ayahuasca is the featured author on Graham Hancock’s website this month. Rak Razam’s article on the “State of the Vine” is an interesting overview of how the great plant medicine is viewed, used, and evolving into our modern cultures. Rak wrote two excellent books on Ayahuasca: “Aya Awakenings: A Shamanic Odyssey” and “The Ayahuasca Sessions” (www.ayathebook.com) and continues to verbalize many views and overviews of the medicine, giving perspectives that are sometimes lost in the tangle of the vine as it is being used and sometimes abused today.
I was particularly struck by this excerpt about the reason many Westerners have decided to approach and work with Ayahuasca. I am one of these seekers, coming as I did to it at the same time Rak did in 2006:
“So when tens of thousands of Westerners started coming in search of ayahuasca–the vast majority with no obvious ailments–the curanderos soon realized there was still a sickness: this one of the soul, a spiritual malaise where people talked of being disconnected from nature, from the whole idea of spirit and spirituality, in any tangible way. That is why the came seeking visions, wanting to see spirits and validate the spiritual world that has long been disconnected from the West. They were filling a burning ache within them for re-connection, which is, of course, what religion means in the original Latin.”
If you have read my series on my original encounter with Ayahuasca, you know that this describes my reasons and approach to the medicine quite well. It also describes my actual experience in re-connecting with the Spirit of life itself. Working with Madre Ayahuasca led to the first and so far only event in my life that I can unflinchingly call a “religious experience.” One that was all the more mind and eye-opening for having had nothing at all to do with the religion of my first forty years on this planet, and everything to do with the life of this planet itself.
“These are still early days, and for all the teething issues that hit the headlines, a great archaic revival is underway, an understanding of the true nature of our reality and what we are embedded in. This is the true beauty of ayahuasca, and the invitation to become part of this movement is there as the vine reaches out to embrace the world.”
Her spirit infuses my life continually, as I am certain it does for most who encounter Ayahuasca with a good heart and honest intentions for visionary healing and enlightenment, whether that healing be physical, emotional, or spiritual.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
For I have come forth from You,
And, I return again to You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
Bless me through my feet.
Bless me through my legs.
Bless me through my body.
Bless me through my arms.
Bless me through my hands.
Bless me through my face.
Give me your blessing
As I gaze at your beauty.
I return your blessing
With every movement and
Every sacred Word.
I am filled up with You.
Bless me, O beautiful Earth.
I am your Child.
I am Earth.
[Click any image for a larger view.]
“Every rational creature has all nature for his dowry and estate. It is his, if he will. He may divest himself of it; he may creep into a corner, and abdicate his kingdom, as most men do, but he is entitled to the world by his constitution. In proportion to the energy of his thought and will, he takes up the world into himself.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”
“Beauty is the form perceived by the highest faculty of mind in the act of reflection. We naturally reside in the lap of a terrible beauty, terrible because it is devoid of sentimentality and utterly simple and just. It is also terrible because the emotion we describe as awe or wonder also has inherent within it an aspect of terror. If our ordinary experience is comfortable and banal, then revelatory experience is not, and the terror we experience at the edge of divinity in the country of the sublime is also terrifyingly beautiful.”
– Richard Geldard, “The Spiritual Teachings of Ralph Waldo Emerson”
“But to me nothing – the negative, the empty – is exceedingly powerful.”
– Alan Watts
“Beyond the edge of the world there’s a space where emptiness and substance neatly overlap, where past and future form a continuous, endless loop. And, hovering about, there are signs no one has ever read, chords no one has ever heard.”
– Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
I’ve long thought that many UFO or strange light sightings are of natural, earthly origin, if still quite mysterious in their scientific nature. British author Paul Devereaux wrote an insightful book on the matter in 1989 called “Earth Lights Revelation” that links these sightings with fault lines. It is almost certainly what causes things like the mysterious Marfa Lights in West Texas (which I’ve witnessed) and ball lightning. Surely, many standard UFO “bright ball of light” type sightings fall into this category as well. Some new articles with photos about this phenomenon have just been published, including the one linked above. I love the photo showing several such ball lights “floating” above the ground and presumably emergent from a local fault line there.
That said, there are also many sightings and encounters of other phenomena that go far beyond these lights, and which I believe originate in some form of ‘parallel dimension’. This alternate dimension can be accessed, if only with great discomfort and hard effort, through the ritual shamanic use of entheogens like Ayahuasca and Peyote. Graham Hancock’s book, Supernatural, is a great introduction to this concept.
All such adventures are subjective experiences, of course, (at least for now) but there is a large consistency across all such human reports. I offer my own report of such a powerful experience in my series on Ayahuasca, linked in the sticky post at the top of my Home page (or here).
“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]
“But ecstasy is not fun. Your very soul is seized and shaken until it tingles. After all, who will choose to feel undiluted awe, or to float through that door yonder into the Divine Presence?”
– R. Gordon Wasson
An original digital artwork by David P. Crews.
“He found himself wondering at times, especially in the autumn, about the wild lands, and strange visions of mountains that he had never seen came into his dreams.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Autumn is my favorite time of year in Texas because it lasts longer than spring and the temperatures are such a relief after our hot summers, but there is little leaf color until early December, and then only a hint of the kind of color one sees in the northeast or in the mountains of the great American West. I love to make a special trip to see the aspens change in Colorado. Here is one of my photos for you – just an autumn greeting and a wish-you-well for the upcoming Thanksgiving and other holiday times.
I took this one just outside Silverton, Colorado a couple of years ago.
What does autumn go on paying for
with so much yellow money?”
― Pablo Neruda
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.
I’ve been on a bit of a ‘blogcation’ lately, but one of the things I’ve been working on is a PHOTO GALLERY of my recent trip to the Peruvian Amazon to work with Ayahuasca. This was my second trip to work at the SpiritQuest Shamanic Sanctuary, where I engaged with the great spirit medicine in five intense ceremonies. This photo tour will take you with me, showing the sanctuary, the verdant grounds and jungle, the process of preparation of the medicine, the actual ceremonies, visiting with some of the local tribespeople (Yahua, Bora, and Shipibo), and a special ceremony to work with Huachuma.
See my previous posts on this trip for more detailed information about these events. There is general commentary provided with these photos, but as this gallery is intended for a broader audience, it does not present the in-depth detail you’ll find here on my blog. There are a lot of photos in the show, and I do hope you enjoy them. I have some video and audio elements I will share later.
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.
“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.
Click image for larger size and better resolution.
With my upcoming trip to Peru, I’ve been blogging a lot about Ayahuasca lately. I thought I’d give you some unrelated eye-candy for a change! Here’s a photo I took a few years ago at the incomparable Monument Valley on the Navajo reservation on the Utah/Arizona border. This is a special place not only to the Navajo, but to all Americans. There is no other landscape quite like it or the other great canyon vistas of the Colorado Plateau.