“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.
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.
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.
Check out this fascinating short animation called “Trip” from a duo based in Sao Paulo. They choreograph projected animated characters onto real life backgrounds.
The film illustrates the journey many are now making from traditional religions to the direct experience of shamanism, especially through personal interaction with vision producing plant medicines like Ayahuasca.
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.
As I prepare myself for a series of ceremonial Ayahuasca sessions in June, I’m reading and re-reading many things about the great spirit medicine. I always enjoy Steve Beyer’s blog on Ayahuasca and I wanted to share a link to one of his very best essays from about a year ago, called “What Do the Spirits Want from Us?”
Link to article here.
In an orthodox, received-religion setting, this might remind us of a question posed by a preacher or teacher who rhetorically asks, “What does God want from us?” and then proceeds to answer their own question (often at great length) based on his or her own ideas – their own presumptions, fed by their own interpretations of the sacred texts they’ve “received.”
In the case of Ayahuasca and shamanism in general, it is very different. When Steve or his shaman or someone taking Ayahuasca asks this, he is being literal and expects an answer to come from without, not from within our ego mind. That is, he looks for an answer in the form of information available to be gained when we enter sacred dimensions and literally ask the spirits themselves. This is not a presumption. Anyone can go do this and see for themselves what they will see and ask what they will ask. The spirits are there whether we approach them or not. If someone does not “believe” in spirits but never approaches them in the way that those who do so find effective, then that person is speaking an opinion, not an observation based on knowledge or experience, which is to say it is also presumptive.
In his essay, Steve speaks about how we cannot be a tourist when dealing with the spirits, while being on a vision fast, engaging in a talking circle with others, or within our dreams. Doing these things requires a commitment and one’s full involvement and attention – a “being there” in the moment and being fully engaged.
This is especially important for me as I contemplate what I “want” from my ceremonies, and how I should approach those rituals and the spirit beings themselves in terms of attitude and expectations.
“We cannot just go to the spirits and expect them to give us what we want. They may well have other plans for us. In fact, rather than asking — or, as some people do, demanding — that they heal us, or transform us, or make us into someone else, we should just pour out our hearts to them in prayer. We should not go to them with requests or demands or even expectations.
We should tell them what we need; tell them what we fear; tell them what we regret. We should speak to them honestly from our hearts, and then listen devoutly with our hearts to what they tell us.”
In my initial ceremonies back in 2006, I found this to be true. Once I stopped listing out what I wanted to see and experience, I was able to listen, comprehend, and receive the wisdom, love, healing, and guidance I was hoping for. I had to get my own ego out of the way and out of the process by basically telling it to shut up and sit still for a while.
One of the most important points Steve makes is one I try to remember within the consensus reality of our everyday lives. This is the understanding that the Spirits are not “elsewhere” but are with us always and can and do influence our lives. We, ourselves, are Spirits as part of our constitution as human animals. Whether we envision them in this way as part of our own Self (which they are) or see them as alien entities (which I believe they also are), we can work in harmony with them and the energies they bring to us if we are aware and open – listening and understanding what we are shown with a heart open to love.
I’m back to some blogging after taking a few hard-work weeks off to remodel my old house for sale and then move myself and all my stuff into a new place. This has been a physical task that has taken a toll on my now aging body, but it is just one of those passages in life that re-adjusts us into a new set of possibilities going forward. It is also an apt metaphor for the kind of spiritual/mental “remodeling and moving” that I will be engaged in with my upcoming trip to Peru to work with Ayahuasca once again.
I will be in the Upper Amazon during most of June to participate in a number of ceremonies with Ayahuasca and Huachuma. These two are sometimes spoken of as Grandmother and Grandfather spirit medicines, complimentary in their effects and influence on us. This will be my first encounter with Huachuma, also known as the San Pedro cactus. This is South America’s version of the peyote cactus, and contains similar compounds.
It will be my second series of encounters with Ayahuasca after my initial passages in 2006 (see my five-part series here). I have been thinking about and longing to return to re-engage with Ayahuasca ever since those special days, and I am flooded with a wide range of emotions and thoughts. At the same time, my cognitive brain is busy figuring out all the travel and logistical arrangements. Good to let each part of me do what it is best at!
From airfares to immunizations, the travel details can get a bit complex, but they all work themselves out, of course. The emotional/spiritual aspects are far more interesting and are the focus of my work, so it is good to sort through them and express them at each stage of this new journey. So, here are some of the things I’m thinking and feeling about this upcoming encounter.
Stories of Ayahuasca visions can make it seem like a marvelous, loving, and wondrous experience only. They certainly can be a marvelous, loving, and wondrous experience – but not only. Ayahuasca has also been spoken of as the ultimate in psychic inner work, usually in a phrase like “One Ayahuasca session is worth 10 years of psychoanalysis.” However it manifests for each individual, it can, indeed, be an extremely powerful self-work and self healing experience. Sometimes dark and terrifying. Intense.
I touched on this in an earlier post, speaking of how this kind of teaching vision experience will come to us, but we do not know when it will come or how intense or troubling it will be for us. That’s where the apprehension comes in. There are also apprehensions about the physical rigors of taking the tea, of course. It is not a pleasant drink, and Westerners often have scruples with the strong purging that is part of the process. These are not things to be dismissed or ignored, nor is our apprehension about them something we should consider as wrong or misplaced. The apprehension is useful and is a good sign that the partaker understands what category of experience he or she is getting into and does not take it lightly or for granted. Drinking Ayahuasca is a sacred act, and one that demands our full participation, even as we know it may not be easy – even as we know it may be very hard and uncomfortable.
Or, it may be wondrous, marvelous, loving . . .
So, yes, I feel apprehension about my upcoming experiences. It has been seven years since I’ve partaken, and I’m curious about how I’ll handle and interact with the brew this time. Many have reported that after a long hiatus like this, when they take the tea again, it’s as if they continued right where they left off last time. I hope that is true for me. I would like to build on my experiences and insights and go deeper into my self-work and on further into the spirit dimensions to learn and to understand more.
I also recently touched on the joyfulness of being with others when working with Ayahuasca. This is the flip side of apprehension. I am truly looking forward to meeting a new group of fellow travelers. My particular everyday life does not include many who understand or “approve” of working with psychoactive spirit medicines, so it is a fulfilling and enriching experience to be surrounded for two weeks by a group who is nothing but sympathetic, interested, and encouraging in these matters. I felt this way when I attended an Evolver conference a couple of years ago with Graham Hancock and Alex Grey and about 40 others of similar mind and spirit. We were at home together.
So, I’m anticipating the joy of being with like-minded people from all over the world, gathered in this most unlikely and magical of places for such wondrous and useful work and play.
Just a little more than a month away. I am eager to begin.
I’ll continue to post my pre-trip thoughts. When June comes, I will be off the grid for at least two weeks (as far as I know) and will be journaling on-site every day for future posts and other creative works. Then, I will catch everyone up on my new experiences after the fact. I’ll be traveling a third week through Panama, but will have internet access for certain there.
(Click on any photo for full size.)
Ayahuasca is the great spirit medicine of the Amazon. When it is taken in context in the jungle environment and with an appropriate “set and setting,” the power of the tea is enhanced greatly. This mesa incorporates elements of mestizo shamanism from the Amazon and the Andes to reinforce the spiritual/dimensional space that the participants will be working in. The fractal patterns of the Shipibo tribespeople are especially potent in this regard, as they represent the actual dimensional space that one enters when working with the Medicine.
This is from Spiritquest, near Iquitos, Peru, just off the Rio Amazonas itself. I’ve developed quite a love of Shipibo design and I have obtained some mandalas and other designed artifacts and ceremonial clothing both from on-site there in Peru and from my home in the USA, but the textiles shown here are of superb quality, not available elsewhere. I believe they were made especially for the shamans and venue there on the Rio Momón.
The mesa serves as a representational symbol of the space or dimensions that will be accessed, both positive and negative.
For much more on Ayahuasca, please read my five part series titled, “Ancient Songs and Green Magic.”
“A ritual is the enactment of a myth. And, by participating in the ritual, you are participating in the myth. And since myth is a projection of the depth wisdom of the psyche, by participating in a ritual, participating in the myth, you are being, as it were, put in accord with that wisdom, which is the wisdom that is inherent within you anyhow. Your consciousness is being re-minded of the wisdom of your own life.”
– Joseph Campbell
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.
Sacred Datura – beautiful, powerful, and dangerous.
I was driving along the Potash Road near Moab, Utah, last month and was delighted to see not just a scattered few, but thousands of beautiful white Sacred Datura blooms all along the edge of the great Colorado River and the red sandstone cliff walls that contain that potent waterway. This species of Datura (datura wrightii) can be found from here down into Mexico and has been a ritual, shamanic plant in use for thousands of years by native peoples.
This species contains scopolomine and other alkaloids that are very dangerous when ingested. All parts of the plant are potent. The main issue is dosage, because the amounts of the tropanes are not consistent across individual plants or parts. The visionary experience can be useful and powerful, but it also can cause serious or fatal medical conditions.
Personally, I wouldn’t touch it on its own, although I might like to try what some have said is useful and safe – having a single bloom in my room while sleeping. Even the sweet fragrance is potent.
My only actual experience with this plant teacher was in the Amazon. The chemically identical plant in South America is the brugmansia or “Angel’s Trumpet,” which is the origin species. The bloom or leaf there is used as an admixture plant by many shamans or medicine people in their Ayahuasca brews. It is usually known there by the Quechua term, “toé.” See my previous post on this plant here.My shaman, Don Rober, used a very small portion of toé in his mixture of the Ayahuasca vine and Chacruna (psychotria virdis) leaves. This was to make the visions bright [“la Luz”!]. Like any good cook, he knows that a little spice goes a long way in a main dish.
“Datura may be the single most dangerous visionary plant in North America.
Well, maybe after tobacco.”
Dale Pendell – “Pharmako Gnosis – Plant Teachers and the Poison Path”, San Francisco, Mercury House, 2005; p. 250
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!
“The Chavin Stela Raimondi is to some the most profound expression of core sacred plant consciousness in the history of mankind ..” – Otorongo Blanco http://www.biopark.org/peru/huachuma-journeys/huachuma-chavin.html
These are my photographs of the famous Raimondi Stela (carved stone panel) now located in Lima in the National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Peru. It is seven feet high and made of highly polished granite. The image is done in a shallow incised form called contour rivalry, where the design is made to be viewed from more than one direction, giving a deeper, multiple meaning to the imagery. This image is from the ancient Chavin civilization of northeastern Peru, specifically from the great Chavin de Huantar temple complex. It depicts an indigenous shaman or deity of this peaceful and wise culture. The Chavin revered and used the sacred cactus we call San Pedro – a vision producing cactus that contains mescaline, similar to the peyote of North America. This amazing entheogenic plant was a central sacrament and highly ritualized by the Chavin peoples going back as far as 3,000 BC and beyond. The stela was not found in situ, but rather fortuitously in a peasant’s hut by the noted Italian historian, archeologist, adventurer, and author, Antonio Raimondi, in 1874. The story is that as Raimondi was searching through the area, he was invited into a peasant’s hut for a meal. He was intrigued by the very strong and long stone table the peasant was using, and when he ran his hand under the bottom surface, noticed that it was carved. He obtained the stela, which now bears his name. The rich shamanic culture of the Chavin has been deeply studied and is being recreated and restored by my friend, don Howard Lawler, in Peru today. Information on Chavin, the sacred sacrament of Huachuma, and more (including authentic Ayahuasca work) can be found at his site: http://www.biopark.org/peru/huachuma-journeys/huachuma-chavin.html
. . . . . . . . . . .
– A Search for What Is Real in the Amazon Jungle of Peru
By David P. Crews
FLOWER BATHS and THE SECOND AYAHUASCA CEREMONY
Expressions of Normalcy in an Abnormal Realm
The rituals and ceremonies I am describing are those of mestizo shamanism, a mixture of tribal Indian and Hispanic traditions. One of the Hispanic healing influences is that of a “limpia” or cleansing bath. In the Upper Amazon, the flower bath is an important part of the Ayahuasca ritual. This is a literal bathing in water that has been infused with fragrant and beautiful blossoms. These also serve a spiritual purpose to cleanse and ward off negative spirits or energies. This limpia is administered by the shaman (Don Rober, in my case) who also ritualizes the procedure with shacapa and sung or whistled icaros and arcanas of protection.
Howard informed me that the flower bath serves to “close up” the spiritual space around the participants to keep us from being too open and vulnerable to negative magic. Thus, it is the crucial conclusion of the previous night’s ceremony.
Our flower baths were conducted first thing in the morning, with each of us receiving the bath individually at the hand of don Rober.
from my trip journal:
Tuesday – First Flower Bath.
I’m feeling very good this bright morning after a short but good night’s sleep. I am still bothered by the strong episode I had last night. In all my years of reading about Ayahuasca experiences, I’d never heard of the kind of thing I had just experienced.
Maybe this reaction was something specific to me? If so, it might happen again! I guess I looked worried as don Rober approached me and asked if I was “bien?” I assured him I was fine and he smiled and patted my back. Other participants also came up to me and gave me their love and encouragement. This is such an affirming and responsive group experience. It is reassuring and powerful.
Later, I talked with Howard about my episode and he assured me that “Ayahuasca can do that!” The type of episode I experienced, where one loses awareness of one’s self as participating in a ceremony, is rare. It is, he promised, something that can turn out to have much deeper meaning later on. He said I was unlikely to encounter that kind of experience or vision again, but if I should do so, “You’ll know how to handle it.”
As we finished our breakfasts, individuals took turns going to a tiny side platform, open to the jungle, to have don Rober administer their flower bath. Under a small thatched roof, a hard chair and a large galvanized bucket of water are the only things here. In the water, lovely purple and blue blooms float about – their fragrance strong and sweet. I took my turn and sat down in the chair.
Don Rober began the bath by dipping the water out and pouring it right over me, covering me head to toe with several waterfalls. This may be the hot jungle, but that river water is very cold – so cold and unexpected that I could not help but squeal loudly as I took huge breaths, my heart racing. Don Rober laughed and began his ministrations with smoking a mapacho of rustic tobacco and blowing the smoke into the crown of my head. He began to whistle his icaro and pat me with the shacapa.
After recovering from the initial cold water shock, the overall effect of the flower bath is one of comfort. I always left the flower baths with a feeling of being grateful and of being at peace.
INTERLUDE AND SHARING
Today will be a short interlude before diving back in to the strange dimension of Ayahuasca. Howard gave us a couple of days before the first session to become acclimated and let our bodies heal and settle before the first ceremony, but now we will move directly into the second session tonight.
Don Howard and don Rober led all of us on a day trip by long boats up the Rio Momón to search for shacapa leaves and wild Ayahuasca vine. We landed at a tiny rough village and hiked into the jungle about a mile or two to find a chagra or farm that belongs to another shaman.
Here, don Rober showed us the Ayahuasca vines growing naturally and other admixture plants like Chacruna. Shacapa leaves were also gathered and we returned to the boats for a good ride back down the river to our lodge, passing other small boats and several rafts of logs, each with a few people on board, floating them to market.
Today was the first opportunity to share experiences with the others who participated in last night’s ceremony. After visiting individually with most of my new friends, we all gathered at dusk to hold a traditional “talking stick” session to have a more formal interaction. Here, each person holds a ritual staff and in doing so, holds the floor for as long as they want to speak before passing the staff to the next person. It is relaxed and there is no hurry in this, so everyone can give as much detail as they wish or need concerning their experiences in the ceremony.
With as strong and harsh a first session as I had experienced, I expected others to relate similar tales, but to my surprise, most described their own sessions as mellow and pleasurable and even commented on how weak the Ayahuasca mixture seemed! It is one of the mysteries of the brew that it is so unpredictable in how it affects one person as opposed to another, even with the same mixture during the same ceremony. The shamans teach that this is because Ayahuasca is a Spirit being that works in a teaching and healing mode with each person and gives that person exactly what they need at that time. As each of us is different, the manifested effects are also vastly different from one to another participant.
Today’s sharing and story telling has helped me to settle down and not be so concerned about my difficulties in the first ceremony. In a couple of hours, we are going right back in to that other world and I feel more confident now. While waiting for the start of our experience tonight, the Amazon sky quickly turned dark and several of us spent this time star-gazing on this very nice, clear night. I was hoping to spot the Southern Cross, which I’ve never seen before, but it was too far south into the trees. Here in the dark skies of the Amazon, however, the Milky Way shined like a luminous bracelet around the world.
It was 8:30 and time to enter the molloca to begin our second ceremony with Ayahuasca. I had feelings of good camaraderie and joy mixed with a real sense of anticipatory nerves as I found my small chair.
SECOND AYAHUASCA JOURNEY
I will refrain from repeating a description of the ceremonial ritual procedures as they are essentially identical at each session, but there is nothing mundane about going into a new ceremony when it happens. I concentrated on my Intentions for the upcoming work, and I modified it somewhat from last night. I decided to make it: “Let me SEE; Let me LEARN without hurting me; and please HEAL me.”
Once again, it was time to take the Tea. For many of the others, it was obvious that the drink was truly disgusting and difficult to get down. For me, however, it was about the same as last night – not really that bad. I think holding my nose helps and just getting it on down quickly, but I had no trouble ingesting it or keeping it down. Just lucky, I think. Others have told me that I should not assume it will always be so easy.
It is a stunningly beautiful but quite dangerous plant, used with great respect and reserve by highly experienced ayahuasceros. Every part of the plant is potent and is poisonous if used incorrectly.
These were in a private garden in Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley area north of Cusco, Peru.
. . .
ANCIENT SONGS AND GREEN MAGIC
– A Search for What Is Real in the Amazon Jungle of Peru
By David P. Crews
“Ayahuasca is a symbiotic ally of the human species; its association with our species can be traced at least as far back as New World prehistory. The lessons we have acquired from it, in the course of millennia of coevolution, may have profound implications for what it is to be human, and to be an intelligent, questioning species within the biospheric community of species.”
– Dennis J. McKenna, Ph.D., Ayahuasca: An Ethnopharmacologic History
(Ayahuasca; ed. Ralph Metzner, (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999) p. 207.
One reason I took years to study Ayahuasca before working with it was to be as certain as I could be that this was an authentic and valuable encounter that would take me beyond what I know and can see, and not merely a drug encounter. There are powerful chemicals involved in the Ayahuasca tea, but taking this brew is the farthest thing one can imagine from a recreational drug experience.
One takes Ayahuasca advisedly and with the help of experienced leaders and supporters. It requires commitment and some sacrifices to experience it safely and authentically. For many who work with it, Ayahuasca is the most intense event they have ever experienced. At times, it is physically demanding and difficult. It has the potential to be extremely frightening. However, it can also give a person the most beautiful, glorious, joyful, and richly fulfilling experience of their lifetime. Its healing and teaching effects extend into the life one leads afterwards and affects the quality of that life. It can be genuinely life changing.
I had to be certain I knew what I was doing and with whom I was going to work because I am not actually a very likely or typical person to explore psychoactive medicines. My father is a pharmacist and I was conservatively raised to respect drugs and to never abuse them for “fun.” Also, I’m a teetotaler. I have never used alcohol – ever. Nor have I smoked tobacco – ever. A virgin to mind altering substances, I set out for the Amazon to ingest the most powerful one there is. Why would I want to take such a radical path from the one I was on?
In Plato’s famous cave, the allegory can be interpreted to depict humanity seeing the universe only as if by shadows cast on the wall by a great pyre of light. It is a light and a true world existing behind us that we can never turn and perceive directly. In studying religions, I’ve come to understand them as the human-made shadows we project from a greater reality – the reality that Ayahuasca can show to us. Ayahuasca gives us the opportunity, for the very first time, to turn our heads and look outside the cave into a greater view of What is Real.
So, this is a journal of my particular experiences in the Upper Amazon in Peru in 2006. I was determined to conduct this direct experiment in ontology. Knowing from my deep research that I would be physically safe, my intention was to see for myself what I might make of the visions and information that would come with working with Ayahuasca in a controlled, sacred, indigenous, and ritual setting. This would be a journey to try to determine what is real and what might simply be illusion or masterful creativity.
SHAMANISM – THE PROCESS OF SEEING
In 1951, Carl Jung wrote:
“In psychology, one possesses nothing unless one has experienced it in reality. Hence, a purely intellectual insight is not enough, because one knows only the words and not the substance of the thing from inside.”
C. G. Jung, Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (p. 33)
I was determined to go “inside” and see for myself. It would turn out to be an intense set of experiences – one that challenged my physical body through limiting diets, strong physical exertions and purging, and more to the point, challenged my mind and spirit on levels that can only be described as awesome and unexplainable.
This general approach to gathering information about things outside our everyday world by direct personal experiences is what we generally refer to as Shamanism. It is the oldest spiritual practice of humankind, stretching back tens of thousands of years and still being practiced in tribal and modern societies all across the globe today. Shamanism is not a religion, but a practice or a set of techniques that are used to investigate non-ordinary realms or states in order to learn and gather information useful to us in this world. Modern religions have emerged out of these practices with many specific personal shamanic stories becoming reduced to historical myths. These myth stories are often presented as magical proof texts for followers of a particular religion – those who are not afforded the opportunity to experience the magic for themselves.
Shamanism is the opposite of religion’s controlled beliefs and limited access to personal experience. Instead, it is defined by personal, direct experience of “spiritual” realms, beings, and other mystical encounters without relying on any other person’s testimony or doctrines or information. In a shamanic practice, each person goes through the process in order to see for themselves. Each person has to make up their own mind what the information consists of and whether it is meaningful or actionable. No one else can gainsay what you see or what I see in a shamanic state. We can compare notes afterwards and begin to draw maps of the realms we enter. Some knowledge has emerged by consensus over the millennia, but it is still a direct personal experience by nature. Please read the rest of Part II here.
An original digital artwork with a nod to Casteneda’s concepts.
ANCIENT SONGS AND GREEN MAGIC –
Ayahuasca and A Search for What Is Real in the Amazon Jungle of Peru
By David P. Crews
[ Click any image for a full size view. ]
I realized that I was now in the presence of the Spirit of the vine, Mother Ayahuasca herself. She never spoke to me in words. Her expression was one of contained joy, waiting to share something with me. She widened her expressive eyes, like an inquiry, and then she showed me something.
It was a coin.
It is pitch black. I am shaking violently from my head to my feet. My heart is racing – pounding like a mad drummer. Hot sweat is pouring off my hair, my arms, my nose – for I am facing down, crouched on my hands and knees. I do not know who I am. I do not know where I am. I do not know what is happening to me. I have just this moment emerged from a truly terrifying nightmare that was far more potent than anything I have ever experienced. The only sound is my heartbeat, hammering hard, and my frantic breaths, coming too fast as I crouch in the dark. I concentrate on those breaths – trying to calm them, willing them to slow down. Just slow them down. Push the panic back. I’m regaining some control. Wondering now, I turn my head to look up to the right and I am startled to see just the faintest dark silhouettes of human shapes, lined up in a long row fading off into the blackness. I am fearful of them. They make no sound and do not move. I begin to remember things, and I reach out my hand to feel the surface beneath me. It is a rough plank wood floor. I realize with some chagrin that I am, indeed, on the floor, trembling like a windblown leaf and draining sweat into a pool below my face. Then it comes to me, a memory I ran away from so fast that it could not catch up to me until this moment. Now it quick-streams into my mind in a flash of comprehension. I am in a sacred ceremony. I have partaken of a very powerful plant medicine. It is late at night. I am in a rude hut somewhere deep in a jungle beside a dark river. I remember. It is the Amazon Jungle. I am with others who have also partaken of this medicine and whose shapes now surround me in the darkness. I remember who I am. All of this has taken only a moment, and now, suddenly, a man is kneeling beside me. He is singing! I realize that he has been singing all this time, but I did not hear him until this instant when my mind focused on him. I know him. He is a shaman – the leader of this ceremony and the one who gave me the medicine. He begins to tap my head and body with a small fan of dry leaves that make a shushing sound with each beat, and then he leans down to my neck and then my forehead and makes a sucking sound as he draws some of this energy out of me – the energy that has frightened me so much that I have instinctively leapt through the dark onto the floor of the hut in order to escape. He spits that energy away from me, into the vast darkness, and immediately I begin to regain full control of my body and my mind. I am immensely comforted by the Shaman and by his singing and his ministrations, although I am still very shaky, upset, and drenched in salty sweat. A helping angel takes my arm now and supports me as I rise from that rough wooden floor and gingerly step back over to my seat, becoming another one of the silhouettes myself – lining up against the wall of the malluca, in the dark of night, surrounded by the chitters and cries of the night frogs and strange insects, somewhere along a fast brown river deep in the greatest and most potent forest on planet Earth.
That scene is an accurate portrayal of the aftermath of the first, terrifying stage of my experiences, as I pursued a philosophical and spiritual dream: to travel to the Upper Amazon and work with a special medicine that the indigenous peoples of South America refer to as the Mother of all Plants, a very special and unique substance known as Ayahuasca. (more…)