Author’s Note: Life has been extremely busy and changing for me lately. I apologize to you who are following me that I have not posted in quite a while. This may continue for a time, but I will occasionally post items that I find interesting. I hope that you will enjoy them, also.
Here is an intriguing article from a Christian site that outlines the plans for a kind of new “Good Friday Experiment” with psilocybin (magic mushrooms) offered to long-time meditators and also to traditional active clergy members.
“Roland Griffiths, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins, is leading the new research, which stems from findings that volunteers who’ve taken psilocybin in a wide variety of research settings often report profound mystical experiences.”
The goal is to see if the use of this entheogen will present to the participants a truly mystical experience–one of the same order as those achieved by practiced meditation masters (in particular).
For many orthodox, traditional clergy, however, accepting this offer would mean facing the first such mystical experience of their lives. It seems the study’s organizers are having difficulty recruiting the clergy members for reasons that can be interestingly speculated upon.
I have never been a member of an official clergy, but my own experiences in living and deep-studying Christianity through my first forty years and also in researching and writing a book on New Testament interpretation, lets me identify with a clergy man or woman who would be in a quite similar life situation when suddenly offered the chance to work with psilocybin. Before I decided to encounter Ayahuasca in the Amazon in 2006, I had never used any form of recreational drugs, not even tobacco or any form of alcohol. I still don’t use those particular chemical “allies” today. As one might expect, my initial encounters with Ayahuasca were raw and force-filled. They were the most intense and life-changing mystical or religious experience I could ever have imagined. The experience was not “fun.” It was fear-facing, awe inspiring, and love-power-energy filled. Like prophets of the Old Testament, I trembled and threw myself on the ground. I passed tests and followed a symbolic path to personally encounter and interact with a true Spirit Being. It was far more than and vastly better than anything I had expected, but exactly what I had hoped and worked for.
It seems that my attitude towards encountering the unknown is rare. In the case of this new Johns Hopkins experiment, the clergy have not responded to this opportunity to make such an encounter. Mike Young, one of the participant subjects in the original 1962 Harvard “Good Friday Experiment” speculates:
“It’s still the kind of thing clergy are scared to death to get close to,” he said. “We’ve portrayed drugs as demonic for so many decades. … It’s still toxic.”
Citing a book titled: Sacred Knowledge: Psychedelics and Religious Experiences, by Bill Richards, a veteran psychedelic therapist who is working with the team at Johns Hopkins, a more profound reason is speculated for the reticence of clergy to engage in this study:
“Could it be that a factor is fear of encountering what the theologian Paul Tillich called ‘the really real God’? ‘Revelatory experiences may have been fine for Isaiah and St. Paul, but for me?’
It takes a great deal of courage and a proactive attitude of desiring truth at any cost to take on a personal expedition to meet, perhaps, God himself, or to find out that the idea of God one has in their mind is inaccurate–or is something Else altogether.
Ayahuasca and Psilocybin (and the other natural holistic spirit medicines) are not for everyone. Although often misused as such, they are definitely not for “recreation” as drugs. Rather, they are a technology for entering the unknown. They are like a cosmic icebreaker designed and capable to take the intrepid explorer on an extreme challenge to an alien land. It very well may be a challenge to their primal understanding of reality and of themselves. That is scary. No question about it.
“I would rather know a fearful truth
than to remain deceived by comforting falsehoods.”
(David Crews – 1990)
“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.
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.
I just came across this interesting article on the brain’s structure and the nature of consciousness that was published by Wired last year:
For the last 15 years, I’ve been exploring consciousness from a deeply shamanistic perspective with my main purpose to attempt to determine the borders of ontology. This is a quest to determine what is actual and real as opposed to creative fiction. Humans are very good at creative fiction and many idea structures, especially religious ones, are fully and totally believed by many, as if they are real even though they cannot be shown to be ontologically “real.” I – my own consciousness – was subsumed into a fully Christian belief system for the first 46 years of my life. Others have been and still are fully subsumed into that and other, incompatible belief systems. In order to try to get a more reliable view or a better understanding of that border between what exists outside of human interpretation and what is caused by human invention, I have been led to work with some of the great “visionary plant medicines” of the world that seem to transport us into other realms and give us a perspective on our normal, mundane perceptions.
Working extensively with ayahuasca has opened me up to a frontier of exploration into a state that is beyond our everyday perceptions and it may represent a valid window or portal into another dimension of reality. Just as physical tools like microscopes and telescopes have, for the purposes of knowledge acquisition as well as of beauty and wonder, given us a view into worlds vastly smaller and larger than we can personally otherwise “visit,” these substances might be giving us an extremely useful view that we cannot normally access.
The question of ontology is not easily resolved, however, and that is due to our lack of understanding about the nature of consciousness itself, and how the brain functions in that regard. Much has been written and speculated about this, of course, and no one has the answer, but new ideas are emerging. This article is from a neuroscientist, Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and is from a basically reductionist viewpoint (although he delightfully calls himself a “romantic reductionist”): that any and all systems that are complex enough in the right ways, can be considered to be conscious. Here are a couple of excerpts:
Koch: “It’s not that any physical system has consciousness. A black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolated neurons in a dish, they’re not integrated. They have no consciousness. But complex systems do. And how much consciousness they have depends on how many connections they have and how they’re wired up.”
WIRED: “I still can’t shake the feeling that consciousness arising through integrated information is — arbitrary, somehow. Like an assertion of faith.”
Koch: “If you think about any explanation of anything, how far back does it go? We’re confronted with this in physics. Take quantum mechanics, which is the theory that provides the best description we have of the universe at microscopic scales. Quantum mechanics allows us to design MRI and other useful machines and instruments. But why should quantum mechanics hold in our universe? It seems arbitrary! Can we imagine a universe without it, a universe where Planck’s constant has a different value? Ultimately, there’s a point beyond which there’s no further regress.”
WIRED: “I’ve read that you don’t kill insects if you can avoid it.”
Koch: “That’s true. They’re fellow travelers on the road, bookended by eternity on both sides.”
It’s interesting to follow this article’s discussion as it traverses that narrow, fuzzy zone between empirical science and “faith.”
I am, however, attracted to this view of the physicality of consciousness. It seems more “right” because it is more holistic and scaleable. It neither arbitrarily excludes non-human systems from being capable of consciousness, nor tries to place human consciousness on some magical platform of superiority. Where such structural views or mappings of the machinery of consciousness can be limiting or “go wrong” is in stopping with the understandings we gain about the tool itself and deny or disregard the information that comes through that tool (the brain in our case). This hurdle manifests every time someone claims that consciousness altering plants or medicines are “just drugs” or cause “only hallucinations”.
As humans, some of us will certainly continue to push the frontier of knowledge in this direction, however obscure our pioneering pathways or how strongly we may be rejected or vilified in our pursuits. Perhaps soon, however, we may also witness other “self sentient” beings, such as a truly self-aware internet, come into their own consciousness – beings who will be able to assess their own experiences and develop their own data. Hopefully, we’ll be able to compare notes.
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.]
“The time has come for more psychedelic explorers to come out of the closet about the benefits of these life-changing visionary plants. I want to live in a world where exploring a self-improving, 100 percent natural drug doesn’t come with jail time. Where peaceful navigation of different realms of consciousness is a basic human right.”
Genna Marie Robustelli
This is from a very interesting article I found in The Tico Times (Costa Rica) from Genna Robustelli, about the effects and healing nature of the very intense entheogen called Iboga, native to Africa. I liked this report because it is focused on the curanderismo (healing) aspects of the experience, both from a physical standpoint and from a psychological/spiritual one. Encountering Dr. Iboga, as with Mother Ayahuasca, can result in a no-holds-barred, hard-core analysis of one’s situation in life and can bring clarity and new commitment to it. These experiences are unquestionably worth the discomforts one endures, but neither is an easy path to take.
Often, so called “trip reports” from psychic or entheogenic explorers can be so subjective or symbolic to that person that they are difficult for anyone else to completely relate to. This includes my own such reports from Ayahuasca experiences. Genna’s report is nicely described and gives what I can perceive is an authentic view of the physical and visionary effects that resulted. Although intrigued by Iboga, I have gravitated to Ayahuasca and felt that Iboga may not be the right path for me. I have to say, however, that I’m tempted by this particular set, setting, and approach. I’d like to see if it could help my own situation and provide another glimpse into that Other dimension that is so tantalizingly close to us, and yet seems so alien to our common lives. Iboga is obviously another powerful chemical ‘technology’ that can reveal the operating system of our souls and bodies – opening Blake’s doors of perception to reveal not only the Infinite, but our very selves within it.
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
― William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
“No medicinal value? No medicinal value my ass. This plant’s medicinal value is indescribable – it’s off the charts. And to abuse this plant would be an incredible feat of human determination.”
Genna Marie Robustelli
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).
Graham Hancock posted a link to this article and I want to pass it along on my blog as well. It is a thoughtful and interesting essay on the value of ‘psychedelics’ in society and the shifts in the perceived nature of reality one obtains when working with them:
He talks about the conundrum that although there is an infinite variety of unique personal experiences with these substances, there are also many common structures to those experiences from one person to another. Aaron states:
“An argument exists, and may not be easily solved, between whether the many compelling structural similarities give us a more fundamental insight into the nature of such mystical experiences than the seemingly endless amounts of detailed variation. Are they are a kind of metaphorical imagineering of the self, externalized and projected outward, or do they point to a more foundational ontological reality?”
This represents the very edge of the frontier. Since all such experiences are subjective, they can be denied by external reductionists while, for the partaker, the experience resounds with profound insights and meaning that he or she cannot deny by resorting to such reductionism and pretending it is all just a fantasy of brain chemicals. That being so, those who have had such immense experiences often find it difficult to interface with those who have not. Relating such experiences can result in being categorized as fanatical or delusional, which can affect their life in practical ways.
The structures of ancient shamanism provide a methodology to contain such experiences in a meaningful manner. Within it, we can place them inside a time-honored society and a set of techniques that, while never claiming to represent empirical proofs for the nature and reality of the vision experiences, legitimize them as personal and sacred experiences that have actual meaning across a broad spectrum of humanity.
Visionary experiences via psychoactive medicines like Ayahuasca, peyote, and psilocybin, often provide a new perspective that allows us – actually gives us the freedom and possibility – to examine that which we assume is reality and to question it for the first time:
“The extraordinary nature of my trips has forced me to question some basic assumptions about what it is that I, or we, can know. Objectivity, that holy ideal, seems now merely an attractive mirage, that when grasped at has actually left me stumbling and clutching air as it reappeares across the room.”
“. . . psychedelics instruct us on the arbitrary nature of consensus reality. A slight tweak in what constitutes our day-to-day brain chemistry, and colorful visionary patterns and interpersonal dissolution would be normality, while the idea that we are all separate individuals, apart from wholeness and love, would be the hallucinogenic trip.”
Once this happens for a person, this stretched and massively expanded perception of the universe can never be returned to the small container of reductionist consensus reality that he or she once held, perhaps by default. There exists now for them another vast and awe inspiring view of things. One only has to turn around and look at it. When we do, then who is to say which is the real and which the unreal? Perhaps both are ontologically real simultaneously in some larger multi-dimensional overview that takes us beyond our human limits.
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.
My friend, Mitch Schultz, director of the “DMT, The Spirit Molecule” film posted a link to some spectacular photos of an Iboga ceremony with the Bwiti tribe in Gabon, Africa. These are from a French journalist and photographer named Emilie Chaix.
Iboga is one of the world’s great vision-giving teacher plants, roughly comparable in power and depth to Ayahuasca, yet very different in its presentation and physical effects. An Iboga ceremony can be days long and extremely challenging to the partaker. It can also bring strong insights and learning, as well as healings, to the participant.
Click through to her site and check out this wonderful gallery of photos of the once very secret ceremony from the Bwiti tribe, who are maintaining this important world medicine tradition.
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.
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.
For those of you who may have anticipated an update before now, I appreciate your patience. I decided to wait until I returned home to write my final journal entries for my trip to the Amazon. After the third Ayahuasca ceremony, my work there became more intense and involving, plus the internet connections on-site were less than ideal for posting to the internet. I have safely made my way back to my home in Texas after a final week taking an initial look around Panama. Now, I can begin to catch up on these posts and eventually get some of my many photos and audio recordings posted as well. Please stay tuned!
The final two Ayahuasca sessions were more intense and physical than the previous three. As I somewhat anticipated after the first three ceremonies, the visions aspect of my work here was to be limited, but powerful in the end. It seemed I was to deal mostly with physical cleansing, healing, and insights, which I hope to carry forward into my everyday life. The fourth ceremony was especially physical in that I reacted with a hard sweat all night long. This is uncomfortable, if not concerning, and it really focuses one on the state of the body throughout the session. This hard-sweat ceremony happened to me once before, so I was aware that it might be a possibility this cycle.
My final, fifth ceremony was completely clear of the sweats and other discomforts, and this round of Ayahuasca did let me experience a powerful kind of vision. I won’t actually describe this in detail as it was quite personal and had to do with my own inner emotional state and body state after some recent surgery for cancer. I will say that in essence, it allowed me to experience a kind of complete healing and merging with the universe in a way that I feel is the actual state of being that is obscured by our material lives and bodies. I was made to feel completely loved and welcomed into an embrace of unity with the spirits that watch and love us. Understand that this is my interpretation of the shamanic experience I had, and not a claim for others to believe or reject. While common themes do occur and overarching interpretations can be implied, shamanism, especially of this kind and intensity, is only interpretable by the individuals who partake of the experience, and then only for themselves. There are no priests in shamanism.
Five Ayahuasca ceremonies. When done authentically in the proper set and setting and with properly prepared medicine, this is a massive set of experiences and represents the most that anyone should attempt in one cycle of work. Maestro Howard said that to do more would be like pouring water into a cup already brimming full. The experiences would just spill over and be lost along with their personal value to the participant. With the strict diet and these five intense ceremonies over about two weeks time, I was feeling very stretched and yet full indeed, and I was pleased and ready for it to come to its conclusion.
Some of my wonderful fellow participants headed home after this, and a few stayed with me at the sanctuary to engage in a different kind of plant teacher medicine: Huachuma. This is the great medicine of the ancient Chavin culture of Peru and I will describe that ceremony in my next post.
This is the second post from my Ayahuasca retreat in the Upper Amazon, in Peru. I have come through three Ayahuasca ceremonies, with two more to follow starting tomorrow night.
Tonight, we had a break from them with a special ceremony to work with another teacher plant called bobinsana. This beautiful blooming shrub is a heart-opening plant and working with it helps one suppress any tensions or anger in our lives. It also, and this is what most intrigues me, is a plant that brings vivid dreams and allows you to remember them. I have worked with my dreams for years and find it frustrating when I cannot recall them, so I will be very interested in this aspect of working with bobinsana.
Sometimes, when working with Ayahuasca, one receives strong visions. These are usually cathartic in nature and may be frightening or very beautiful and reassuring. Visions are not the only modality in which Ayahuasca works, however. It can be very healing even when there are no significant visions. In ancient times, and still in some places today, the Ayahuasca vine is taken by itself without the DMT admixture plants that bring the “light” of the visions. The physical purging, the discomforts, and the perspectives one receives as we witness our body reacting, are useful in themselves. We are cleansed and recalibrated to a norm that many of us have deviated from significantly. This is likely the case for me, as my first three sessions have not produced many visions of consequence.
I did see a representation of Mother Ayahuasca in my second ceremony, but she was presented as a stereotyped grandmother figure with a blank cloth face. My intent in this session was to personally thank her for the work she did for me and with me in 2006. I spoke into the vision that I understood that she presents many different faces to those who seek her and that I did not expect another dramatic audience with her as I had before. In response to this, the grandmother figure started taking on a series of faces of evil-looking characters, monsters, aliens, and then a few that were comical monsters. This seemed to be an affirmation of my comments.
In my third ceremony, I saw the face of my own beloved, late mother. It only lasted a moment, but I called out my love to her.
After the first two ceremonies, I had severe mariacion, or dizziness, that lasted into the next morning, along with ongoing purging overnight. The dizziness is not unusual, but the severity of it was for me. The cold flower bath the following morning helps to dispel this, as the psychic space that was opened up in the ceremony is closed again by don Rober. After my third ceremony, however, I experienced no dizziness at all and I was able to sleep comfortably. The tea is getting stronger and consequently more difficult to drink each time. I am looking forward to the final two sessions on Monday and Tuesday nights, and we will see if I have reached a plateau or if there is a vision of consequence in store for me.
To be continued as circumstances allow.
As I write this, I am in the Upper Amazon Jungle, on the Rio Momón. It is early in the morning, before dawn and there is a refreshing rainstorm cleansing the air and replenishing all the life that surrounds me. I have joined a group of eight other seekers who have converged here to work with the ancient and sacred spirit medicine called Ayahuasca. This is the first of my posts from the SpiritQuest Lodge, a spectacular facility here in Peru, designed and dedicated to the most authentic and unadulterated ancient shamanic tradition anywhere in the world encompassing Ayahuasca and other healing and teaching plants of South America.
I have come through my first of five ceremonies. Five is about the limit for anyone working in a set of ceremonies like this, so this is an intensive set of encounters with Ayahuasca. I will be presenting some brief descriptions of my experiences, but detailed analysis will have to wait until I’ve been able to integrate the experiences better. Most who come to work here are seeking healings of some kind. This is the prime modality of these plants and is a powerful reason for our human interactions with them. In my case, I have actually received bodily healings from my previous work some seven years ago. I have also been given sincere gifts of the heart from the Spirit who is an integral part of this teacher plant.
My reasons for returning are twofold. I wish to make an offering to that Spirit by my pilgrimage here and by giving my deepest thanks to her. Second, I request to learn from her and to ask her to bring energies to my life as she did seven years ago – energies that changed me and my life path profoundly. I have arrived at a new major life transition point. It is a good one and I hope to gather energy not only from within myself but from the larger holistic realm of spirit. I ask for a boost to my creative efforts in the coming years while also giving me the perspective and energies to corral my fears and overcome old habits that limit my progress.
My first Ayahuasca session was surprisingly mild. As a last minute thought while offering my Intentions to the vine, I asked the “little doctors,” or “doctorcitos” in the local parlance, to give me some help with my physical body, specifically in the lower digestive tract where I have lingering problems from some cancer surgery a couple of years ago. The doctorcitos are, to my understanding, intelligent parts of our own bodies who work at the molecular and DNA level as the maintenence crew for our systems. When they are encountered in visionary space, they are interesting characters, often very enthusiastic and helpful – anxious to “show you around.”
The onset of the visionary and spirit space in an Ayahuasca session is usually quite strong and dramatic. It can be overwhelming, but usually it feels like a strong wave that brings you up to a highly energetic state. I was waiting for this to happen, hoping for the best, but it seemed to take a very long time. I wondered if the tea was just too weak this time, but I noticed the others beginning their purging. Some were crying and otherwise dealing with the teachings and personal things of their visions, so I knew there was good Work being done and that the brew was strong. It seemed that I was to have an easier time of it tonight. Ayahuasca effects are very personalized, even though we all drink the same medicine.
Finally, the buzzing came, although slow and tentative. A very straightforward vision appeared of a few soda cans floating in a little cement gutter with a small rivulet of water. They turned this way and that, then one aligned with the channel and opened up it’s bottom to make a path for the water to flow through. The others did the same. Then the vision stopped and a series of other scenes, mostly nonsensical, took its place. I had a panoply of the type of visions that are what don Howard calls “taking out the trash,” which is the process of dumping a lot of cognitive chatter and ideation that gets in the way of deeper visions. Much of the imagery here is due to the DMT component of the tea and I saw a continuous background of intricate lines composed of vivid red, green, and blue. These formed into tiles and moved across the background in very pretty ways. This kind of geometric imagery is fun, but not meaningful. Knowing this, I realized that my session would not take me deep into Ayahuasca space this time and then it occurred to me that I had been told what this ceremony was about. That first little vision of the cans was a very plain “text message” from the doctorcitos saying something like, “Got your message, boss. We’re on the job!” They would go to work aligning my “plumbing” to make me feel better, and that is just what they did. After the ceremony was over, I spent the rest of the night in that same light vision space while dealing with purging and cleansing that, while unpleasant to do, was helpful to put my body right. This is a good thing that allows me more freedom and access to work on the deeper spiritual things to come.
Tonight, I go into the second session and I expect to be taken deeper into the space where visioning is meaningful. It may be easy or it may be hard. The Ayahuasca tea potentiates over time, becoming stronger each time we drink. The shamans here are among the best in the world, working in the old ways, and I feel truly blessed to be here in this amazing place, learning from and singing to the plants.
More updates as I go, as long as I am able to do so.
“There is another world, but it is in this one.”
– William Butler Yeats
“Although ayahuasca is often translated as ‘vine of the soul,’ the translation that may best convey the sense that ayahuasca has in Amazonian Quechua is ‘vine with a soul.'”
Gayle Highpine – Ayahuasca.com
A very interesting observation from an in-depth and enlightening article by Gayle Highpine, one of the moderators of the Ayahuasca Forums on ayahuasca.com. The idea of a vine having or representing an actual intelligence beyond human knowledge is easy to dismiss with a rationalist analysis. This analysis holds that the way Ayahuasca’s amazing effects were originally discovered was by long-term trial and error by native peoples. Those who promote this reductionist view, don’t understand just how ‘astronomical’ the odds would have to be to do so, nor do they have an appreciation of how medicine knowledge was developed in ancient times and still occurs today for those who are sensitive to it. There are around 80,000 catalogued plant species in the Amazon with an estimated one million more uncatalogued ones. Trial and error as a method to develop complex medicines in a natural setting is unrealistic.
Gayle tells how within a century of so of the introduction of European diseases, the people of one region, the Napo Runa of Ecuador, discovered over one thousand plant medicines in a very short time. Some of these are in complex chemical combinations. These plants are cooked with Ayahuasca and consumed to gain, through visions, specific knowledge about which plants to use to cure which diseases or illnesses. Ecuadorians developed a treatment for malaria within a quarter century of its arrival in their forests. This was quinine, which is still viable today.
“Humans have the same instinctive ability to sense medicinal plants as other animals do, even if most have never developed it,” she says.
It’s a fascinating article for those interested in the history and origins of the “Mother of all plants,” and she presents a lot of information I have not seen before.
This is a sticky post. Please scroll down for current posts! Thanks.
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.
While preparing for my trip to the Upper Amazon in two weeks, I’ve been thinking about my main area of interest and inquiry – contemplating and exploring the possibility of the actual reality of the other “spirit dimension” that one is so forcefully carried into when working with Ayahuasca. This is such an impressive experience that most who encounter it come away from it convinced that it is real and does exist independently somewhere or somewhen other than this physical universe we normally live in.
I’ve been reading a very interesting book that, while not speaking specifically to the plant teachers, analyzes and compares the phenomena and practices of shamanism with that of the psychological approach and theories of Carl Jung. I’ve always found the two sets of ideas to be very much intertwined and comprising two ways of describing the same thing. I’m particularly struck when Jung says things that show he understood the apparent reality of the “spirit dimension” of the shamanists. The book is “Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung – The Great Circle,” by Robert E. Ryan (2002).
One passage where Ryan speaks of Jung’s ideas really resonates with me:
“. . . one of the most important touchstones of Jung’s thought and the shaman’s experience (is that) events experienced by the mind in what we would call the ‘psychic or inner world’ would have their own claim to a reality equal to that which the same mind imposes on the unknowable world presented by the senses. Each is a realm of experience in which we seek durable laws with their own universality which allow us to track and predict change or transformation in that realm. We must suspend our reductive tendency to regard as ‘merely psychological’ an inwardly encountered pattern of experience capable of producing transformations in a process which has enlisted the depths of the human mind for perhaps tens of thousands of years, thus holding a pedigree enduring far longer than any of the discoveries of our Western scientific materialism.”
– “Shamanism and the Psychology of C. G. Jung – The Great Circle,” – Robert E. Ryan, Vega, London, 2002, p. 102
Western society is so immersed in materialistic way of thinking that it is easy to simply dismiss visions or powerful dreams as “just psychological phenomena” – that is, happening only in our brains and not exhibiting an external reality. In other words, brain fiction. Anyone who has worked with Ayahuasca will tell you that this is simply not believable. The vision space Ayahuasca takes us into is not only vivid and self-generated, but it is far richer and more detailed than one can ever imagine producing in one’s own mind, upon an instant, and with imagery so vastly original and unknown to that person in normal life. The entities one meets in this realm are vivid as well, and have their own agendas, interact with us as separate beings, and sometimes even require communication and the making of deals or arrangements between themselves and us.
It would be the equivalent of accusing the early European explorers of the Americas of having made their stories up, deluding themselves into believing that there was such a vast and amazing New World out there with all those strange things and beings in it.
Perhaps the spirit dimensions revealed by Ayahuasca are merely “brain fiction,” but if so, that hypothesis speaks of vast depths within our human machine that are not only unmeasured, but totally unsuspected and inexplicable. Why would we have evolved such a thing for the straightforward needs of an animal’s survival purposes? One may as well hammer a nail with a hydrogen bomb, or fill a tin cup by pouring in an ocean. For those who have ventured into it, this dimension or realm and the things that are seen on its shores is a great mystery – a new world and a new frontier that reduces all other human explorations to insignificance. As Graham Hancock has said, it may even represent the next stage of our own evolution. Who, seeing it this way, would not be thrilled and excited to go on such a journey of discovery?
I’ll be crossing quite a few borders on my way to and from Peru and the Amazon, but it is the esoteric border I will cross while sitting still in the heart of the great forest that I am most interested in, apprehensive of, and hopeful about experiencing. I can think of no greater adventure and no better thing to do with my energies and time than to plan my expedition well, board the magical boat of Ayahuasca, and venture into that new continent, slipping between the folds of space and time and seeing around that strange bend that no one can normally find. It is a bend not of this dimension. It can be navigated with the help of the teacher plants and the experienced human guides – our shamans. However, we must be ready, alert, and open to discovery not only about the new universe itself, but also to powerful discovery of our own selves as we cross and recross that often frightening border.