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!
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.
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.]
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.
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
With the end of the Mayan calendar cycle coming up soon, I thought I’d share a few images from the Mayan lands. This temple complex is in the edge of Belize, only one mile east of the border to Guatemala. The little town of San Ignacio is nearby and makes a good base for exploration.
[Click any of the smaller photos for full-size.]
Xunantunich (“Stone Woman”) is a more modern name, referring to a ghost woman who sometimes appears at the pyramid. The complex is from pre- to post-classic periods, lasting until up to about 900 CE. El Castillo, the main pyramid rises about 130 feet and has several carved friezes, some of which are eroded and others covered with plaster molds that echo the carvings beneath. Importantly, this acts to protect them while giving us a sense of how they look in situ.
Xunantunich (pronounced “zoo-nan-too-nich”) is particularly easy to get to, plus, I believe it is one of the most picturesque of the Mayan complexes in Belize. There is a little ferry that takes your vehicle (taxis are plentiful) across the Mopan river. You’ll probably see some very big iguanas sunning themselves on the road.
All the Mayan sites in Belize and surrounding areas are extremely interesting to visit. Caracol is within reach of San Ignacio, but requires a long drive over sometimes rough roads. I’ll post some photos of that site later. Also, one can book a day trip across the border into Guatemala to see the incomparable city-site of Tikal. This is an adventurous trip, as well, but very worth the effort and time to see this world-class site. Tikal photos soon, too.
This is the account of how
all was in suspense,
and empty was the expanse of the sky.
-Popol Vuh (The Book of the People)
Towards an exploration of the mind of a conquered continent.
Sacred plants and Amerindian epistemology
By Luis Eduardo Luna, Ph.D., Dr. H.C., F.L.S.
This excellent essay by Dr. Luna about shamanism and the use of sacred plants in the Americas, was recently posted on my friend, Graham Hancock’s, website. In it, Luna gives a useful overview of shamanism and its role in the pre-Columbian Americas and how it was repressed by the European influx (and is still repressed today).
In one of the most interesting aspects of this essay, Luna talks about how the Amazon is not the primeval wilderness we all think of, but is largely the result of massive human cultivation and manipulation over long periods of time. He says:
“The people of the Amazon live in one of the areas of the largest biodiversity on the planet. It is becoming increasingly evident that the biodiversity of the Amazon is to a great extent the result of the natural resource management of the pre-Columbian people. . . . To a certain extent the Amazon is an anthropogenic forest, a gigantic garden partially created by human beings through millennia of interaction with the natural environment.”
He also includes an interesting section on Shipibo shamanism and their wonderful geometric artwork. It’s one of the best explanations of the origin and function of the fractal-like designs I’ve read.
He also talks about the powerful cognitive transformations that can occur with plant teachers like ayahuasca. He relates an ayahuasca shape-changing vision that occurred to a French anthropologist, Dr. Françoise Barbira-Freedman, who took on the form of a jaguar (a common theme and experience in ayahuasca visioning). She said:
“Nothing I ever read about shamanic animal metamorphoses could have prepared me for the total involvement of my senses, body, mind in this process. . . . This vision engaged my whole self experientially in a phenomenological approach, which was blatantly at odds with the empiricist standpoint I intellectually favoured.”
He also relates Dr. Dennis McKenna’s transformation into a sentient water droplet who then directly experiences photosynthesis within a plant. Luna states that these kinds of experiences, “point to a new alter-ego, to an alternative epistemology: the gaining of knowledge through a radical self-transformation, by taking an alternative – non human – point of view, by cognitively merging with the focus of one’s attention.”
He concludes by stating that even though our science has explored the depths of space and the tiniest realms of quantum matter, “the exploration of consciousness is still a forbidden realm, vastly explored by shamanic societies yet neglected in contemporary science due to a great extent to religious preconceptions carried throughout centuries.”
I recommend this and other articles by Dr. Luna and also highly recommend Graham Hancock’s excellent book on shamanism entitled “Supernatural”.
– A Search for What Is Real in the Amazon Jungle of Peru
By David P. Crews
FINAL AYAHUASCA CEREMONY
A Vision of the Spirit and Heart
Note: This longer post concludes my Ancient Songs and Green Magic series on Ayahuasca. Please read beyond the fold for the final extraordinary visions and my Five Years Later postscript.
VISITING THE MURRAY HUITOTO TRIBE
from my trip journal:
Today, we boarded the boats to travel down the Rio Momón and on to the true Rio Amazonas: the Amazon itself. We rode a short way downriver from Iquitos to take a longer jungle hike and meet the Murray Huitoto people. This tribe lives a couple of miles inland from the great river, so we landed at a rough riverfront town and hiked through the beautiful dense jungle to find them.
The tribe was happy to dance for us and invite us in to see their world. We also delivered some needed medical supplies.
The chief was very welcoming, and although he spoke only Spanish to me, and I spoke none, we still had a very friendly conversation.
We swam in the small river here, enjoying the cool water and also the soothing mud from the banks – an exclusive facial and body treatment that would be costly in any big city salon! Rufus, don Howard’s red uakari monkey, joined us for some fresh jungle fruit and kept us laughing with his constant antics.
Back at the tribe’s camp, the matron of the group showed us their ayahuasca vines, planted at the base of certain trees and growing strong. As the vine is used, it is important to keep it cultivated.
Back at our lodge once more, it was time for our third and last ceremony.
THIRD AYAHUASCA CEREMONY
There is an ancient practice or technique in shamanism called “soul retrieval.” It is a healing for someone who has lost part of their spirit – their spiritual body. Perhaps they simply wandered away into a spiritual place and part of them did not return to our everyday reality. Perhaps someone stole that part of the person, or borrowed it and never returned it. Now the person is ill with a kind of emptiness or depression that cannot be cured by normal means. The shaman goes into trance state and travels off into the past or alternate realities, finds the part that is missing and invites it back. He or she recovers that spirit essence and reunites it with the ill person, making them whole and happy once more. This kind of healing is something a human shaman does, but it may not always be a human who heals.
“Anything will give up its secrets, if you only love it enough.”
– George Washington Carver
As my final opportunity to experience the tea approached, I re-evaluated my set of Intentions for it. After thinking about it, I realized I had been unconsciously self-centered in my original intentions. Instead of being completely open in my heart, I had been trying to get what I wanted while couching the request in careful language. I had been requesting, as if off a menu, to be shown the visions I desired. I wanted to see and learn what I wanted.
This time, I let go. I decided to simply open myself up and let Ayahuasca take control and lead me where, perhaps, I did not know I needed to go. She certainly did that in the first session! Having confronted Fear itself and then allowed to get my bearings in session two, I felt like I was oriented enough now to trust her and not be anxious or fearful this time. My new intention was: “Open me up. Show me Love. Let me be love.”
The Ayahuasca tea seemed slightly more viscous tonight. Once again, I felt fortunate that the drink went down rather easily and I had no problem with it. Since this was our final ceremony, don Howard and his wife Reyna placed wonderful little bead necklaces around our necks, each with a small pendant of Ayahuasca vine. Now, we waited in the darkness once again – waited for our next inexorable leap into the true unknown.
“For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so,
because it serenely disdains to destroy us.
Every angel is terrifying.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies
As we waited for the onset of Ayahuasca space, don Rober began his icaros. Several of the other participants were inclined to join in, and then many of the tribespeople in and outside the molloca also began to sing along, with a group energy that I found myself caught up in as well. It was a wonderful antiphonal surround-sound beginning to tonight’s ceremony and it boded well for the nature of this journey.
Once more, and to my relief, I entered Ayahuasca’s dimensions easily. As my head and extremities began to hum and vibrate with the powerful electric energy of the medicine, it grew in strength, then leveled off and remained a neon body buzz throughout the session. I saw some geometric patterns and some colors, but they were muted. Visual effects are easier to describe than other more internal effects, but now I noticed a different internal feel to this space from the previous ceremonies. The vine felt strong and it was deepening into me moment to moment. After some time, I was very deep, indeed, and I drifted on into another dimension.
Without warning or sign, I realized that something was coming towards me. There was no sound. As it drew near, it looked like a train or subway vehicle, which now pulled up at my left side and came to a stop. This seemed like an obvious invitation to board, but the train was too small to enter it. I thought, though, that I could probably get on top of it and ride it the way they do rail cars in India, so I climbed up and onto the top of the second car from the front. In a twinkling, as I did so, the train changed its form – morphing into a gigantic snake. I knew it was common in Ayahuasca visions to encounter these huge Ayahuasca snakes or jaguars or other elemental animal forms. It is sometimes a challenging test, but this seemed straightforward enough. I was going to ride the Snake!