My First Shamanic Experience
…happened when I was 12 years old. It involved throwing some amateur dance shapes in my room (big fish, little fish, cardboard box, you know the drill) with my best mate Claire as we titted about listening to the psychedelic beats of 90’s indie-dance band “The Shamen” pumping out my Phillips Stereo, off’ve Argos.
We were definitely cool, and obvs ahead of our time compared to the other village kids, but in spite of those parochial delusions, I could feel a palpable sense of change, of moving from one stage of my life to the next.
24 years later and I’m in deepest darkest Peru, discovering what Shamanism is all about — the world of South American Shamans, learning about entheogens & plant medicine, and experiencing changes and paradigmatic shifts of the most natural kind.
Let’s start at the very beginning with some explanations.
Shamanism is any practice of healing and divination that involves the purposive induction of an altered state of consciousness. Visionary access to otherworldly realms and beings. Plant medicines, or entheogens, have been used in ancient traditions unique and native to the Shaman of South America for over 5,000 years. They’re regarded as embodiments of conscious intelligent beings that become visible in special states of consciousness, who can function as spiritual teachers, give you expanded perception and divination, the ability to hear more vividly, to see into other visible worlds or dimensions, and to obtain otherwise hidden knowledge.
NOT A DRUG
An important thing to mention at this point is that whilst they’re psychoactive (like psychedelics or hallucinogenics), plant medicines aren’t recreational drugs to just get high maaaaan. Entheogens are pure, natural medicines used in religious, shamanic, or spiritual contexts that often induce psychological or physiological changes. You need a safe environment with experienced facilitators, and upon taking these medicines it becomes very clear that they have a soul, that they want to tell you things, and that they should be met with courage and respect.
- Entheogens: Connecting to the sacred within
- Psychedelics: Mind manifesting
- Hallucinogenic: Vision inducing
Natural entheogens come in many forms, the most well known being Huachuma (also known as San Pedro), Ayahuasca, Kambo, Psilocybin, DMT & Peyote. Here, I’ll be focusing on my experiences with Huachuma and Ayahuasca.
My Second Shamanic Experience — Huachuma
…happened when I was 36 years old, drinking Huachuma high in the Apus of the Sacred Valley in Peru — a perfect setting for a gentle and beautiful medicine.
The Peruvian indigenous language, Quechua, is so rich and meaningful: “Hua” means to cultivate or furrow, “Chuma” means mind, so Huachuma means to cultivate the mind. Huachuma is one of the four most sacred plants of Peru, along with Tobacco, Ayahuasca and Coca. It’s a member of the mescaline family, a psychoactive alkali that occurs naturally and has hallucinogenic properties. Andean Shamans have been preparing and using Huachuma for at least 3,000 years, to stop the stream of thoughts and reconnect us to the presence that emerges in the stillness of nature.
WHY DO IT
Drinking Huachuma is a personal journey of discovery of the self and the universe. She increases your sensitivity, to receive love, to start to heal, to expand into clarity, health and vitality, to thrive, to open your third eye and reconnect with your intuition.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Ceremonies start in the morning and go throughout the day, lasting up to 10 hours or more. It’s necessary to do a preparation dieta for at least 24 hours before, purely to get the best out of your experience by clearing your body to allow the medicina to do its work, unobstructed. This means no caffeine, no citrus, no alcohol, no red meat, no pork, no sugar and no salt.
With Huachuma there was no trip as such, no hallucination exactly, it was a very gentle and caring experience. The medicina began to work, swathing me in a warm blanket of peace & tranquillity. Surrounded by the rolling hills and distant Apus of the Andes, a landscape full of vivid colours, I felt a deeper connection with and gratitude for mother nature.
Sat atop a hill with my sister from another mister, Nicole, the medicine brought on lucid and insightful conversation, an exquisite closeness between us, deepening our compassion for ourselves and others, and finding closure on some unresolved issues that were having negative impacts on our lives. I think I had a smile on my face the whole day… the kind that makes your cheeks hurt.
My Third Shamanic Experience — Ayahuasca
…happened when I was deep in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru, drinking thick Ayahuasca medicine by candlelight, blessed and administered by a traditional Shipibo Tribe Curandero, in a round wooden hut surrounded by nothing but darkness, the sounds of the Jungle and enchanting Icaros.
Ayahuasca goes by many names; ‘the vine of the soul’, ‘spirit vine’, and ‘vine of the dead’ are all translations of the word. Madre Ayahuasca is unique amongst plant medicines because it’s prepared from a combination of two plants: ayahuasca vine is boiled together with the leaves of a shrub called Chacruna, giving a sacred drink of psychoactive character that is consumed in a ritual ceremony, leading to reflection and cleansing. The psychoactive effects of Ayahuasca can be attributed to the Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) in the Chacruna (a substance also produced by our own body and responsible for our dreams). According to healers, Chacruna’s in charge of painting the visions whereas the Ayahuasca vine is the one teaching beyond those visions.
WHY DO IT
This brew has been used for more than 5,000 years by the shamans of the Amazon as a way to reach amplified states of consciousness. It’s viewed by some as therapy, by others as a portal into one’s subconscious, and most people claim that ayahuasca enables the drinker to experience intense revelations, moments of spiritual awakening, clarity, understanding where your blockages and obstacles are, to wake up to what you need, what other people need, more awareness of the world around us.
WHAT TO EXPECT
As with Huachuma, it’s necessary to do a dieta but for at least 72 hours, more if you can. The cleaner your body the better. This means no caffeine, no alcohol, no citrus, no smoking, no red meat, pork, sugar or salt. Ceremonies will differ depending on where and who you do it with, but generally, they can last up to 6 hours and are conducted at night, in silence. Your Intention, Expectation, Motivation and the Environment (set & setting) are going to be the most important determinates of your experience, while the medicines play the role of a catalyst trigger.
A truly fascinating phenomenon of Ayahuasca is that people (myself included) have reported seeing or experiencing the same things during ceremony. For example visions of the same Creatures, Beings, feelings of being operated on, probed, or seeing the same entities or spirits in the room, the list goes on. Shared visions like these between unique individuals imply a shared dream space, that Ayahuasca is our teacher, a medicine with a soul that opens doors for us to access another, shared, dimension by helping us tune into the right vibration.
It begins with silence. A single candle illuminates the safe sanctuary of the Moloka. The only sound is the jungle: bats, frogs, insects, the river flowing. I receive the thick, dark molasses-like medicine from Maestro, trying not to gag whilst setting my intention and asking Mother Ayahuasca to help me. After everyone has received their medicine, the candle is extinguished and we’re plunged into darkness and stillness. I sit, alert and with concentration.
I enter into a dreamlike state, losing all concept of time and space. It’s like that moment you crawl into bed and feel surrounded by warmth, darkness and peace. Few distinctions between then and now, real or imagined, it feels like I’m drifting in and out of a dream.
At a critical point, a new reality begins to filter in and the mareado (the visions) begins. It starts with stars, constellations, then a swirling, swaying mass of kaleidoscopic geometric shapes flows around and through me, softly exploding and imploding, changing so rapidly that I am unable to verbalise a description. 3D unfoldments of realities of extraordinary beauty and complexity, beyond colours and geometric shapes. Sometimes it makes no difference whether my eyes are closed or open, the same visions persist.
As the visions continue, I can also feel the medicine at work within me, clearing out the bad energies, opening me up, opening my channels to receive, to release. I have wept, I have purged, I have felt her surging into every cell of my body to the end of every extremity like electricity coursing through my veins to the point of discomfort, tensing up, fighting, but cleaning out all the crap that needed to be expelled from my body by whatever means necessary.
At a point in every ceremony, we’re each called up, in turn, to come to Maestro for limpia (cleansing). The effects of the medicine are strong at this point, so prising myself up from my bed to walk even the short distance was a wobbly challenge. Sat crossed legged in front of him like a child, I am engulfed by smoke as Maestro blows mapacho smoke to cleanse my mind, body and spirit. He then takes a branch of leaves and begins singing Icaros, songs to the spirits and the medicine, to clean me further, whilst shaking and patting the leaves all over my body. The combination of the beautiful sounds of his voice, the enchanting melody of the Icaros and the earthy instrument used to cleanse me is the most shamanic tribal experience I’ve ever encountered, and it sends me even deeper into my mareado.
Past traumas, issues I didn’t even know I was carrying or that needed addressing would float to the surface. If I questioned too much instead of letting go and trusting in the medicine, my visions would subside, like a subtle finger on lip ushering me to be quiet, to listen, to learn. Messages came to me loud and clear in a voice that spoke in a language I understood, knowledge and information contained in the core of the experience swept through me. Afterwards, I feel lighter, reborn, with more energy, more acceptance, more knowledge, more awareness.
It’d be impossible to talk about Ayahuasca without mentioning the feared or dreaded purging, or La Purga. It’s probably the thing I’ve heard that puts people off the most: the vomiting, the diarrhoea. No one likes feeling squiffy and I’m not going to lie, it can be a bit strange at first being in a room full of people, all of you puking at various times in the dark, some sounding like they’re having an exorcism, but from experience I can tell you that, in time, you come to welcome and recognize the purge for what it is — a purification of body, mind, and spirit, a release — it becomes easier to accept, because the purge is there for a reason. It doesn’t have to be so bad either. The purging can come in much gentler, subtler forms such as long exhalations of breath, yawning, crying or weeping — all ways in which your body is letting go, expelling bad energies.
WHAT AYAHUASCA TAUGHT ME
I believe Ayahuasca came into my path to cleanse me, to open me up, to remove confusion and to give clarity, and to reflect to me all the important work I have done in the core of my soul — I needed to look back over my journey towards my truth, to recognize my heritage, to deepen my connection to nature, to realise my potentials and to believe in myself. I needed to immerse myself in self-acceptance, gathering up every part of myself with love, gratitude and forgiveness — the kind of nurturing praise and acceptance that a mother offers a child.
Ayahuasca’s essence is her capacity to heal through empowerment, and at her heart is a compass that unerringly oriented and directed me down a path of simplicity and truth, and there is nothing more satisfying than the hard-won fruits of simple understanding.
Ayahuasca helped me to draw back a curtain. It was about letting go, respecting the medicine, trusting that Madre Ayahuasca knew exactly what I needed, which wasn’t necessarily what I wanted, to reveal hidden knowledge and inner wisdom. It’s as if I’ve taken the red pill — now I know there’s more, I know I’m more, and I can’t go back. I’m a more conscious and aware person, with a much lighter load and my feet rooted to the ground.
LIFE AUTHENTICALLY LIVED
With lasting positive influences on both physical and mental health, Ayahuasca is a symbolically of the human species. Just how the discovery was made, and who was responsible, we may never know. All that we can say is that this particular combination of plants is an undeniable and profound mystery, and nothing short of a blessing from nature.
Plant medicine puts more awake people on the planet, pushing humanity and collective consciousness forward. Life is a mystery to be lived, and the mystery is alive in the here and now, on the other side of the barriers of our courage.
“We’re on the brink of the adventure that we left the trees for — it’s in our hands, keep the faith, explore the edges, real invocation of spirit, pure challenge, pure self-authentication. Life authentically lived.”
If you have time to make it to the Sacred Valley then I highly recommend Bety and Peru Shamans in Cusco. However, there’s nothing quite like drinking the medicine in the Jungle where it comes from, and so I highly recommend Santuario Healing in Pucallpa.
There is an initiative is to help Protect the Amazonian Rainforest and the Santuario Huistin Community where I did my ayahuasca retreat. Now more than ever do they need our help. Donations of any kind, be it your eyes, your ears, or the sharing of any wealth you can spare is gratefully received: just click here to Protect The Amazon Rainforest.