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David Hewson’s “Mother Earth”

This beautiful guilded painting by David Hewson, Mother Earth, is 4 X 8 feet and was installed, on the 9th of January, in the entrance of a heart center for a hospital in the United States. David Hewson started it about a year ago, inspired by a doing a native ceremony outside of Cusco, Peru.

David Hewson’s unique artwork carries within it the heart and beauty of the Amazon Jungle, in which he lives, and its inhabitants: plants, animals, people and mythological beings alike.

More of his art can be found on his web page together with links and information about the other aspects of the jungle… the uglier truths of contaminations, roads buildings, injustices and deaths. Well worth a visit!

Plants of Ayahuasca Shamanism

Art : Caapi Dreams by Donna Torres, 2016
© Donna Torres. Used with express permission. Visit her website at

This is an introductory beginners guide to several plants significantly connected to Ayahuasca shamanism. The forest is a ‘university of Life’ in which the shaman studies. Learning of the medicinal and spiritual qualities of each plant is part of the path of Vegetalismo.


Banisteriopsis caapi – Ayahuasca, Oni, Yage
Psychotria Viridis -Chacruna
Cyperus – Piripiri
Nicotiana tabacum – Mapacho
Brugmansia suaveolens – Toé
Brunfelsia grandiflora – Manacá, Chiric sanango
Tynnanthus panurensis – Clavohuasca
Anadenanthera colubrina – Vilca
Salvia Divinorum – ska María Pastora
Mimosa Hostilis – Jurema


Banisteriopsis caapi – Ayahuasca, Oni, Yage

banisteriopsis caapi
Indigenous names -yagé, huasca, rambi, shuri, ayahuasca, nishi oni, népe, xono, datém, kamarampi, Pindé, natema, iona, mii, nixi, pae, ka-hee, mi-hi, kuma-basere, etc

Taxonomy – Malpighiaceae (liana family)

Comments – The Banisteriopsis vine is a Malpighiaceous jungle liana found throughout Amazonian Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, western Brazil, and in portions of the Río Orinoco basin. It is employed across the Amazon basin for the treatment of disease and to access to the visionary or mythological world that provides revelation, blessing, healing, and ontological security (Dobkin De rios 1972, Andritsky 1984). Banisteriopsis caapi constitutes the common base ingredient of Ayahuasca, where it is ‘married’ with other plants, such as Psychotria viridis (chacruna) or Diplopterys cabrerana (chagropanga, chaliponga, oco-yage). Banisteriopsis caapi contains beta-carbolines that exhibit sedative, hypnotic, entheogenic, anti-depressant and monoamine oxidase inhibiting activity (McKenna DJ, Callaway JC, Grob CS 1996). Furthermore, the tea constitutes a complex and diverse indigenous pharmacopia, with many other plants added depending on specific medicinal or spiritual intentions. These include Brugmansia suaveolens (Toe), Brunfelsia grandiflora (Chiric sanango), Tynnanthus panurensis (Clavohuasca), Cyperus (Piripiri), Petivaria alliacea (Mucura, Anamu), and Mansoa hymenaeamanilkara (ajos sacha) among many others.

the Ayahuasca vine

the Ayahuasca vine

The use of Ayahuasca may well be primordial, its use extending back to the earliest aboriginal inhabitants of the region (Schultes and Hofman 1992). The oldest known object thought to relate to the use of ayahuasca is a ceremonial cup, hewn out of stone, with engraved ornamentation, which was found in the Pastaza culture of the Ecuadorean Amazon from 500 B.C. to 50 A.D (Naranjo, 1979, 1986). The patterning of traditional textiles, pottery and body art of various tribes can also be partially attributed to the visionary form constants of shamanic perceptions. The abundance of myths describing the origin of Ayahuasca as deeply intertwined cosmologically with the creation of the universe, earth, and tribal people, suggests a long history of human use. “… diverse indigenous groups all believe that the visionary vine is a vehicle which makes the primordial accessible to humanity.” (Luna, 2000). Ayahuasca is the most revered and respected sacred medicine of the New World.

Psychotria Viridis -Chacruna

Indigenous names – Chacruna, Amirucapanga, Kawa-kui, Rami-Appani

Taxonomy – Rubiaceae (coffee family)

Comments – The foliage of Psychotria viridis is a principle admixture of Ayahuasca potions employed throughout Amazonian Peru, Ecuador and Brazil, prepared with Banisteriopsis caapi to make the ceremonial healing medicine Ayahuasca.

In Columbia, the plant Diplopterys cabrerana is often used instead. The combination of Yage vine with Chacruna is sometimes known as ‘The Marriage’ of ‘power’ (caapi) and ‘light’ (viridis), with Chacruna considered feminine in relation to the Grandfather Yage. The shamanic ‘mareación’ occasioned by ‘The Marriage’ is used for the purpose of shamanic healing, vision, and personal and collective integration.

Cyperus – Piripiri

Indigenous names – Piripiri, Ibenkiki.

Taxonomy – Family Cyperaceae (Sedge family)

Comments – People throughout the Amazon cultivate numerous varieties of sedges for a wide range of uses. The Machiguenga and Shuar use sedge rhizomes and bulb tops of Cyperus to treat headaches, fevers, cramps, dysentry, wounds, childbirth, and to improve weaving and hunting skills.

Cyperus species are congenitally infested with Balansia cyperi Edg. (Clavicipitaceae), a fungi shown to produce “several unidentified ergot alkaloids” (Plowman et al., 1990). Among these alkaloids, some of which are toxic, there are some, like ergonovine and ergine, known to have psychoactive properties (Bigwood et al., 1979).

In the Amazon basin, the Sharanahua Indians add powdered rhizomes of Cyperus to Ayahuasca potions (Schultes & Raffauf 1990). This may be Cyperus prolixus (Mckenna et al. 1986). Cyperus are also reported to be smoked in shamanistic practices (Plowman et al., 1990, Schultes & Raffuf 1990), and are also reportedly used in eyedrops by Shipibo-Conibo women in connection to the traditional Quiquin healing designs and textiles.

Nicotiana tabacum – Mapacho

Indigenous names – Mapacho, Lukux-ri (Yukuna); ye’-ma (Tariana); a’-li (Bare); e’-li (Baniwa); mu-lu’, pagári-mulé (Desano); kherm’-ba (Kofán); dé-oo-wé (Witoto)

Taxonomy – Solanaceae, Nightshade Family, Potato Family

Comments – Nicotiana are native in North and South America, especially in the Andes (45 species) and in Polynesia and Australia (21 species). Tobacco is one of the most important plants in the lives of all tribes of the northwest Amazon (Wilbert, 1987). Associated with purity, fertility and fecundity, it plays a major role in curative rituals and important tribal ceremonies. Recreational use is uncommon.

Tobacco is employed in the medical practices of many tribes. The Tukanoan peoples of the Vaupés often rub a decoction of the leaves briskly over sprains and bruises. Amongst the Witotos and Boras, fresh leaves are crushed and poulticed over boils and infected wounds. The Jivaros of Ecuador take tobacco juice therapeutically for indisposition, chills and snake bites, and also during war preparations, victory feasts and shamanic ritual.

Nicotiana is used across the Amazon “as a transformation agent side by side with Anadenanthera, Banisteriopsis, Trichocerus pachanoi… and Virola in the jaguar complex and lycanthropy in general” (Wilbert 1987). The ayahuasqueros of Perú mix tobacco juice with Ayahuasca, crushing the leaves and softening them with saliva, leaving the juice overnight in a hole cut into the trunk of the lupuna tree (Trichilia tocachcana), the sap of which drips into the tobacco juice. Amongst the western Tukanos of Colombia and Brazil, curanderos give their students tobacco juice to cause purging and shamanic journeying. Amongst the Quichua of Eudador, the aspiring shaman must apprentice with tobacco juice during their training.

One of the most widespread additives to Ayahuasca, the Shuar, Shipibo and Piro, Machigenga, Cocama, Barasana, Aguaruna and Campa vegetalista’s imbibe tobacco juice (of n.tabacum and n.rustica) or lick ‘ambil’ (an edible tobacco preparation) with Banisteriopsis Caapi (Wilbert 1997). Tobacco is also smoked in the ceremonies and curative rituals of certain tribes such as the Lamista, Shipibo, and mestizo curanderos, who blow smoke over the Ayahuasca brew and over the patients, combined with appropriate icaros.

This tobacco is virtually unrecognisable from commercial tobacco. It is without chemical treatment and additives, and has a fragrance that the Spirit of Ayahuasca is said to like (Luna & Amaringo 1991). Tobacco is fundamental to the world-view of the American shaman (Wilbert 1991).

Brugmansia suaveolens – Toé

Indigenous names Toé; Floripondio; Maricahua; Campana; Borachero; Toa; Maikoa (Jivaro); Chuchupanda (Amahuaca); Aiipa (Amarakaeri); Haiiapa (Huachipaeri); Saaro (Machiquenga); Gayapa y Kanachijero (Piro-Yine); Kanachiari (Shipibo-Conibo), Angels Tears, Angels Trumpet.

Taxonomy – Solanaceae (Nightshade)

Comments – The family Solanaceae are the most widespread and widely used class of vision inducing plants (Ott 1996). Often called the ‘tree Daturas’, Brugmansia are now recognized by botanists as deserving of a distinct taxonomic status within the family Solanaceae. All species of the genus are native only to South America. Brugmansia suaveolens, a 10 foot tall flowering bush, grows in the tropical lowlands of the Amazon where it is used as a shamanic inebriant and as an Ayahuasca admixture (Schultes & Raffauf 1992). The shamanic use of Brugmansia is concentrated mainly in the west: along the Andean and Pacific fringe of the continent from Colombia down to southern Peru and the middle of Chile. The plants are widely traded for both their psychoactive properties and ornamental value. The Kamsa and Ingano people of the Sibundoy Valley in the Columbian Andes distribute a number of species throughout the Amazon.

Brugmansia is also sometimes used in conjunction with tobacco. The present-day Tzeltal Indians of Mexico smoke the dried leaves of B. suaveolens with Nicotiana rustica in order to obtain visions that indicate the cause of various diseases. The Jivaros use Brugmansia in initiation rituals to communicate with the ancestor spirits. The Jivaro Indians of eastern Ecuador and Peru used species of Brugmansia in a decoction which was taken as an enema by their warriors ‘to gain power and foretell the future’ (De Smet 1983). A Jivaro boy as young as six may take Brugmansia or Ayahuasca under the supervision of his father in order to create an ‘external soul’, a ‘psychic ‘organ’ capable of communicating with the ancestors through visionary experiences (Rudgley 2000).

The brugmansia genus is typically rich in anticholinergenic alkaloids, hyoscyamine, atropine, and scopolamine. Substances which block cholinergic transmission interfere with the operation of the parasympathetic nervous system, and may result in toxicity or death because of action on basic life-support functions (Winkelman 1999). Since tropane alkaloids are extremely toxic in very small amounts, curanderos use toé very cautiously, a local informant has written that only 1 leaf is used in an Ayahuasca tea to be consumed by 5-10 people. The use of Brugmansia for magical purposes is the province of skillful master curanderos only.

Brunfelsia grandiflora – Manacá, Chiric sanango

Indigenous namesManacá, Manacán, Chiriguayuasa, Chiric sanango, Chuchuwasha, Manaka, Vegetable Mercury, Managá Caa, Gambá, Jeratacaca

Taxonomy – Family Solanaceae

Comments – Manacá is a medium sized shrubby tree growing up to 8 meters in height and is indigenous to the Amazon Rainforest. It can be found in the Amazon regions of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela. Manacá has a long history of indigenous use in the Rainforest as both a medicinal plant and a magical plant. It’s common name Manacá, comes from the Tupi Indians in Brazil, who named it after the most beautiful girl in the tribe, Manacán, because of its beautiful flowers.

The active constituents of Manacá include the alkaloids Manaceine and Manacine, scopoletin and Aesculetin. Manaceine and Manacine are thought to be responsible for stimulating the lymphatic system while Aesculetin has demonstrated analgesic and anti-inflammatory activities. Scopoletin is a well known phytochemical which has demonstrated analgesic, antiasthmatic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antitumor, CNS-stimulant, cancer-preventive, hypoglycemic, hypotensive, myorelaxant, spasmolytic and uterosedative activity.

It is used within spiritual and medicinal contexts by many tribal peoples including the Kofan, Siona, Ingano, Runa and Shuar, who are known to add the bark, leaves or roots to Ayahuasca (Kohn 1992; Plowman 1977; Schultes and Raffauff 1990). It is also used alone as an entheogen by the Kofan and Siona-Secoya peoples. Shamans consider B. grandiflora a spiritual guide (Plowman 1977).

An informant has written that 2-3g per person is used in native contexts for stimulation of the lymphatic system and as an ayahuasca admixture. This herb can be dangerous in excessive doses.

Tynnanthus panurensis – Clavohuasca

tynnanthus panurensis
Indigenous namesManacá, Manacán, Chiriguayuasa, Chiric sanango, Chuchuwasha, Manaka, Vegetable Mercury, Managá Caa, Gambá, Jeratacaca

Taxonomy – Family Bignoniaceae

Comments – “Our informants believe that the spirits of these admixtures present themselves either during the hallucinations elicited by the beverage or in the dreams following the intoxication, and that they disclose to the initiate their pharmacological properties. Our informants also recognise the synergistic effect that sometimes occurs when several plants are taken together. This concept is based on the idea that these plants “know each other” or “go well together,” while other plants “do not like each other.” (D McKenna 1995)

Tynnanthus panurensis, Clavohuasca (‘clavo’ = ‘clove’ , ‘huasca’ = ‘vine’) is a large woody vine that grows up to 80 meters in length which is indigenous to the Amazon rainforest and other parts of tropical South America. The vine bark has a stong distinctive clove-like aroma, earning it common name, Clove Vine. The vine cross-section has a distinctive maltese cross corazon.

Besides the rubiaceous admixtures such as Psychotria Viridis almost always included in Ayahuasca, a host of admixtures are employed depending on the magical, ritual, or medical purposes for which the potion is being made and consumed (Schultes 1957; Pinkley 1969; Rivier and Lindgren 1972; Luna 1984; McKenna et al.1984). Clavohuasca is one such Ayahuasca admixture (Burman, Luna 1984),

Clavohuasca is traditionally prepared by macerating the vine bark and wood in alcohol or most commonly, the local sugar cane rum called aguardiente. In Brazilian herbal medicine, the plant is called Cipó Cravo and it is considered an excellent remedy for dyspepsia, difficult digestion, and intestinal gas (brewed as a water decoction) as well as an aphrodisiac (macerated in alcohol into a tincture). Indian tribes in the Amazon in both Peru (Shipibo-Conibo) and Brazil (Kayapo, and Assurini) highly regard Clavohuasca as an effective aphrodisiac for both men and women.

There is no published clinical studies as yet on Clavohuasca. Preliminary phytochemical analysis by Brazilian scientists have discovered an alkaloid they named “tinantina” as well as tannic acids, eugenol and other essential oils.

Anadenanthera colubrina – Vilca

Indigenous names Vilca, Cebil (Argentina), Huilca, Angico preto (Brazil), Curupay-atá (Paraguay).
Anadenanthera colubrina
Taxonomy – Family Leguminosae

Comments – Anandenanthera colubrina is mimosa-like tree that occurs around N. Chile in the Andes, where Argentina & Bolivia meet. It can grow to 80 foot high and have a trunk diameter of up to 2-3 foot. The seeds of A.colubrina has been employed via snuff, enema and smoked preperations for medicinal and shamanistic purposes for ~4000 years by the Inca and other cultures of Argentina and Southern Peru, as evidenced by the presence of cebil seeds in preceramic levels (2130 B.C.) at Incacueva, a site in the northwest of Humahuaca in the Puna border of the Province of Jujuy, Argentina (M. L. Pochettino, A. R. Cortella, M. Ruiz. 1999).

The seeds of A. colubrina are still used to cure the sick, benefit and protect the community, and for oracular or divinatory purposes (Logan 2001), by the Mataco Indians of the Rio Bermejo and Rio Pilcomayo area of Argentina (Repke 1992; Torres 1992) where it is known as huilca or vilca and cébil (Altschul 1967).

In terms of it’s usage alongside Ayahuasca, it has been reported that “Tiwanakuans, like the Guahibo today, combined sniffing Anadenanthera with chewing the ayahuasca vine” (Beyer, referencing Torres & Repko, 2006, p. 73); and that “the Piaroa today, pounded shoots of the ayahuasca vine into a paste along with Anadenanthera seeds” (Rodd, 2002).

As well as the seeds, an exudate that is secreted from the leaf tips appears to exhibit entheogenic properties (Logan 2001). This exudate attracts ants which serves to protect the plant from predators. Plants need full sunlight and prefer well-drained soil. Let the soil dry completely between watering. A. colubrina can handle some short term freezing conditions.

Calea zacatechichi – Thle-pelakano

Indigenous names – Thle-pelakano (Leaf of God) , zacatechichi (bitter grass), “hoja madre” (mother’s leaf), Zacate de perro, ‘dream herb’.

Taxonomy – Family Compositae

Comments – Calea zacatechichi is a heavily branching shrub with triangular-ovate, coarsely toothed leaves 3/4-2 1/2 inc. (2-6.5 cm) long. The inflorescence is densely many-flowered (usually about 12). The plant grows from Mexico to Costa Rica in dry savannas and canyons (Schultes and Hoffmann, 1973).

The name of the species comes from Nahuatl “zacatechichi” which means “bitter grass” . Calea zacatechichi is very important in native herbal medicine, an infusion of the plant (roots. leaves and stem) is employed against gastrointestinal disorders, as an appetizer. cholagogue, cathartic. antidysentry remedy, and has also been reported to be an effective febrifuge. It is also utilized by the Chiapas and Chontal of Mexico as a shamanic plant. They call the herb ‘Tle-pelankano’ (leaf of God) and believe it facilitates divinatory messages during dreaming. When the cause of an illness needs to be identified, or a distant or lost person found, dry leaves of the plant are smoked, drunk as a tea, and put under the pillow before going to sleep.

“…zacatechichi administration appears to enhance the number and/or recollection of dreams during sleeping periods. The data are in agreement with the oneirogenic reputation of the plant among the Chontal Indians… Calea zacatechichi induces episodes of lively hypnagogic imagery during SWS stage I of sleep, a psychophysiological effect that would be the basis of the ethnobotanical use of the plant as an oneirogenic and oneiromantic agent. ” – Journal of Ethnopharmacology 18 (1986) 229-243 “Psychopharmacologic Analysis of an Alleged Oneirogenic Plant : Calea Zacatechichi” by Jose-Luis Diaz and Carlos M. Contreras

Petiveria alliacea – Mucura

Indigenous names – Mucura, Chanviro, Mikur-ka’a, Anamu, Tipi
petivaria alliacea
Taxonomy – Phytolaccaceae

Comments – Petiveria alliacea is an herbaceous perennial that is indigenous to the Amazon Rainforest and can be found in other areas in Tropical America and Africa.

It has a long history in vegetalismo practices in herbal baths and as an ayahuasca (yage) admixture. Ritual amulets containing Mucura and Ajos Sacha are exchanged between partners. It also has uses as an analgesic, diuretic, emmenagogue, vermifuge, insecticide, and sedative. It is a purifying and protective plant. It is thought to protect against witchcraft and attacks from humans and animals. Traditionally is used as a herbal bath in a purifying cleansing ritual called ‘limpias’. An infusion of 2 grams of dried mucura is soaked overnight in a liter of water to wash off the ‘saladera’, a ‘salt’ or phlegm that lingers in the subtle body and is thought to cause bad luck.

Mansoa hymenaeamanilkara – Ajo Sacha

Indigenous names – Ajo Sacha, Lavender Garlic Vine, ajo macho, ajos del monte, bo’o-ho, be’o-ja, boens,frukutitei, niaboens, posatalu, pusanga, sacha ajo, shansque, boains.

The Spirit Woman of ‘Ajo Sacha’ by Yolanda Panduro & Don Francisco Montes Shuna.

Taxonomy – syn. Mansoa Alliacea, Bignoniaceae

Comments – Literally translated as “false” or “fake garlic”, ajo sacha is a vine-like tree whose leaves, when crushed, smell like garlic, with a hint of onion. Its leaves, bark, and roots have analgesic, antipyretic, and antirheumatic properties, and the preparations made from its parts can be used either orally or topically.

A revered plant teacher throughout the Amazon basin, Ajos Sacha traditionally is used as a herbal bath in a cleansing ritual called ‘limpias’. The curanderos prepare the leaves of Ajos Sacha by cutting them very carefully into tiny pieces, water is added, and the essence strained and collected into a vessel, often icaro’s are sung over it, and a little magnet is dropped inside the vessel, to add ‘strength’ to the preperation (Luna 1984). Then the client washes themselves with the liquid and rinses the mouth out to cleanse them of the saladera (salt), a phlegm that has accumilated in the organism, causing bad luck and ill health (Dobkin de Rios 1981). The vegetalista whistles the appropriate icaro over the patient whilst ‘painting’ the person with the liquid (Luna 1984).

Ajo sacha is used as an Ayahuasca admixture (Padoch and De Jong 1991, Luna 1984). Ayahuasca and other plants that have cathartic properties expel the phlegm from the organism. “Vegetalistas say that Ayahuasca is needed for cleansing all the flemosidades (phlegm formations) that accumulate in the intestines” (Luna 1984). It is used generally for sensibility and awareness, and Ajos Sacha is considered an ‘Amansador’, which means that people and animals will not harm the person who uses this plant. (Karsten 1964)

Salvia Divinorum – ska María Pastora

Indigenous names ska Maria Pastora, hojas de la Pastora, Yerba María, pipiltzintzintli, hoja de adivinación (leaf of prophecy)

Taxonomy – Labiatae/Lamiaceae

Comments – Salvia divinorum is native to forest ravines and other humid areas of the Sierra Mazateca of Oaxaca, Mexico, between 750 m and 1500 m altitude. Ethnobotanist R. Gordon Wasson has proposed S.Divinorum is the ancient Aztec plant pipiltzinzintli. Leaves of Salvia divinorum are used for curing and divination by the Mazatec Indians who call the plant “the leaves of the shepherdess” ; this term could refer to a nature deity, as the biblical Mary was not a shepherdess.

Salvia divinorum is traditionally employed as quids amounting to 20 to 80 leaves, nibbled by the curandero, the patient (or apprentice) or both, depending on the situation. Following its ingestion the Shepherdess is supposed to guide the individual, but only in absolute quiet and darkness. The plant is also used as a “medicine” for ‘panzon de barrego’, a swollen belly caused by sorcery, as well as for headaches and rheumatism.

Mimosa hostilis – Jurema

Indigenous namesVinho da Jurema, Jurema, Jurema Preta, Tepezcohuite, Tepescohuité, Arbre de peau, Ajucá, Caatinga

Taxonomy – Syn. Mimosa tenuiflora, Family Leguminosae

Comments – Mimosa Hostilis occurs from the vast Brasilian caatinga northward to the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico (Barneby 1991). In Mexico the stem-bark is a well-known ethnomedicine. In 1984, in Mexico City, the explosion of a gas factory caused the death of 500 people and badly burned more than 5000. The hospitals and Red Cross sought an emergency treatment for the multitude of patients and turned to the ancient Mayan Tepezcohuite, which proved extremely successful.

In 1946, Brasilian microbiologist Oswaldo Gonçalves De Lima reported the shamanic use of ajucá or vinho da jurema among the Pancarurú Indians of Brejo dos Padres near Tacaratú in the valley of the Rio São Francisco in southern Pernambuco. Cold-water extractions of Jurema, with no other additives, is employed by numerous groups scattered sparsely over northeastern Brasil including the Xucurú of Serra de Ararobá in northern Pernambuco (Hohenthal 1952); Kariri-Shoko of Colegio near the mouth of the Rio São Francisco which demarcates the Alagoas/Sergipe border (Da Mota 1987); the Atikum of the Serra do Umã in western Pernambuco (De Azevedo Gronewald 1995); the Truká (Batista 1995).



Bibliography – Ayahuasca

Andritzky, W., Jan-Mar 1989; Sociopsychotherapeutic functions of ayahuasca healing in Amazonia. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs Vol 21 (No. 1) 77-89.

Brent, M. (2001). Ayahuasca, Religion and Nature. Lila : Transpersonal Shamanic Database.

DeKorne, Aardvark, & Trout 2000; Ayahuasca Analogs and Plant-Based Tryptamines. The Entheogen Review .

Dobkin de Rios M. 1972. Ayahuasca & It’s Mechanisms of Healing. From Visionary Vine: Hallucinogenic healing in the Peruvian Amazon. San Francisco: Chandler Publishing.

Hoffmann E, Keppel Hesselink and Yatra-W.M. da Silveira Barbosa. (2001) Effects of a Psychedelic, Tropical Tea, Ayahuasca, on the Electroencephalographic (EEG) Activity of the Human Brain During a Shamanistic Ritual. MAPS – Volume XI Number 1 Spring 2001.

Luis Eduardo Luna & Steven F. White., 2001. AYAHUASCA READER : Encounters with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine. Synergetic Press ISBN 0 907791 32 8

Luna, L E & Amaringo, P., 1991. Ayahuasca Visions : The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman. North Atlantic Press

Luna, L E. Vegetalismo : Shamanism among the Mestizon Population of the Peruvian Amazon. Almqvist & Wiksell Internaltional. Stockholm/Sweden.

Luna, L E. 1984. The Concept of Plants as Teachers among four Mestizo Shamans of Iquitos, Northeastern Peru. The Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 11 (1984) 135-156

Metzner, R, Ph.D. (editor)., 2000. Ayahuasca – Human Consciousness and the Spirits of Nature. Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York.

McKenna DJ, Callaway JC, Grob CS (1998), The scientific investigation of ayahuasca: a review of past and current research. The Heffter Review of Psychedelic Research, Vol 1, pp 65-77.

McKenna DJ, Callaway JC, Grob CS (1996), Human Psychopharmacology of Hoasca, A Plant Hallucinogen Used in Ritual Context in Brazil. The Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease Volume 184(2) February 1996 pp 86-94.

McKenna D, Towers GHN, Abott FS. 1984. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors in South American hallucinogenic plants: Tryptamine and beta-carboline constituents of ayahuasca. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 10:195-223.

Naranjo, P. 1986. “El ayahuasca en la arqueologica ecuatoriana”. America Indigena 46(1). Ott, J. (1994). Ayahuasca Analogues: Pangean Entheogens. Natural Products Co., Kennewick, WA.

Savinelli, A, Halpern J H, MD. (1995). MAOI Contraindications. MAPS – Volume 6 Number 1 Autumn 1995 – p. 58

Schultes RE, Hofmann A (1992) Plants of the gods: Their sacred, healing and hallucinogenic powers. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Schultes RE, Raffauf RF (1992) Vine of the soul: Medicine men, their plants and rituals in the Colombian Amazonia. Oracle, AZ: Syngertic Press.

Shanon, B. Ph.D (1998). Ideas and Reflections Associated with Ayahuasca Visions. MAPS – Volume 8 Number 3 Autumn 1998.

Shanon, B. Ph.D 1999. “Ayahuasca visions: A comparative cognitive investigation,” Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the Study of Consciousness 8 (in press). Edited by C. Rätsch & J. Baker. Berlin: VWB Verlag.

Topping, D,M. Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, University of Hawai’i. (1998). Ayahuasca and Cancer: One Man’s Experience. MAPS – Volume 8 Number 3 Autumn 1998 – pp. 22-26

Topping, D,M. Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, University of Hawai’i. (1999). Ayahuasca and Cancer: A Postscript. MAPS – Volume 9 Number 2 Summer 1999 – pp. 22-25

Bibliography – Cyperus – Piripiri

Schultes R.E & R.F Raffauf, 1990. “The Healing Forest : Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia”. Dioscorides Press, Portland, OR.

Ott J., 1996, Pharmacotheon. Entheogenic drugs, their plant sources and history, 2° ed., Kennewick, CA, Natural Products.

Plowman T.C., A. Leuchtmann, C. Blanet & K. Clay, 1990, Significance of the Fungus Balansia cyperi Infecting Medicinal Species of Cyperus from Amazonia, Econ.Bot., 44:452-462.

Bigwood J., J. Ott, C. Thompson & P. Nelly, 1979, Entheogenic Effects of Ergonovine, J.Psyched.Drugs, 11:147-149.

Russo, Ethan B. M.D. Department of Neurosciences. 1996. “Schedule 1 Research Protocol: An Investigation of Psychedelic Plants and Compounds for Activity in Serotonin Receptor Assays for Headache Treatment and Prophylaxis”. From MAPS – Volume 7 Number 1 Winter 1996-97 – pp. 4-9.

McKenna, D.J. et al. 1986. “Ingredientes biodinamicos en las plantas que se mezclan al ayahuasca. Una farmacopea tradicional no investigada” America Indigena 46(1):73-99.

Bibliography -Nicotiana tabacum – Mapacho

“Mapacho” – Amazon Spiritquest Public Information Service

Ott ,Jonathon, “Pharmacotheon” pub. by: Natural Products co.

Schultes, R.E. and R.F. Raffauf. 1995. “The Healing Forest: medicinal and toxic plants of the northwest Amazonia”, Dioscorides Press, Portland, Or.. ISBN 0-931146-14-3

Wilbert, J. 1987. “Tobacco and Shamanism in South America”, Yale University Press, New Haven, Conn.

Wilbert, J. 1991. “Does pharmacology corroborate the nicotine therapy and practices of South American shamanism?” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 32 (1-3):179-186

A.L. Jussieu. “Mapacho Analysis, preparation, and use of Nicotiana tobaccum”. Historical, Ethno & Economic Botany Series Volume 2

Bibliography – Brugmansia suaveolens – Toé

Schultes RE, Raffauf RF 1992. “Vine of the soul: Medicine men, their plants and rituals in the Colombian Amazonia”. Oracle, AZ: Synergetic Press.

Schultes, R.E., and Raffauf, 1990. “The Healing Forest. Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia”, R.F. Dioscorides Press, 1990.

Rudgley, R, 2000. “The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Substances”. Griffin Trade Paperback; ISBN: 0312263171

Ott ,Jonathan, 1996. “Pharmacotheon” pub. by: Natural Products co.

De Smet, P.A.G.M. 1983. “A Multidisciplinary overview of intoxicating enema rituals in the western hemisphere”. JouRnal Of Ethnopharmacology 9(2,3):129-166.

Bibliography – Brunfelsia grandiflora – Manacá, Chiric sanango

Schultes, R.E., and Raffauf, 1990. “The Healing Forest. Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia”, R.F. Dioscorides Press, 1990.

Leslie Taylor, Personal field notes with Curandero Jose Guerra Cabrerra near the village of Tam Hisaco. September, 1997, with Curandera Consuela Garcia of the Ecuadorian Ashur tribe, April, 1997, and with Curandero Don Antonio Montero at ACEER, Peru. August 1996

Rios, Marlene Dbkin de, 1992, “Amazon Healer, The Life and Times of an Urban Shaman”. Avery Publishing Group, Carden City Park, NY

“Powerful and Unusual Herbs from the Amazon and China”, 1993. The World Preservation Society, Inc.

Ott ,Jonathan, “Pharmacotheon” pub. by: Natural Products co.

Plowman, T.C, 1977. “Brunfelsia in ethnomedicine” Botanical Museum Leaflets Harvard University 25(10):289-320

Plowman,T.C, 1980. “The genus Brunfelsia : A conspectus of the taxonomy and biogeography” In : Hawkes, J.G. et all. (Eds.) The Botany and Taxonomy of the Solancaceae. (Linnean Soc. SYmposium Ser. No. 7) Linean Soc., London, England. pp.475-491

Kohn, E.O. 1992. “Some Observations on the use of medicinal plants from primary and secondary growth by the Runa of eastern lowland Ecuador” Journal of Ethnobiology 12(1): 141-152

Biblography – Tynnanthus panurensis – Clavohuasca

Schultes, R.E., and Raffauf, 1990. “The Healing Forest. Medicinal and Toxic Plants of the Northwest Amazonia”, R.F. Dioscorides Press, 1990.

Dennis J. Mckenna, L. E. Luna, And G. N. Towers, 1995. “Biodynamic Constituents in Ayahuasca Admixture Plants: An Uninvestigated Folk Pharmacopoeia” From Ethnobotany Evolution of a Discipline. ISBN 0-931146-28-3. Copyright © 1995 Dioscorides Press.

Duke, James and Vasquez, Rudolfo, 1994. “Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary”, CRC Press Inc.

James Duke, 1997. “The Green Pharmacy”, Rodale Press

Cruz, G.L. 1995. “Dicionario Das Plantas Uteis Do Brasil”, 5th ed., Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Bertrand 1995.

Ott ,Jonathan, “Pharmacotheon” pub. by: Natural Products co.

Luna, L,E. 1986. “Vegetalismo : Shamanism among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon. Almqvist and Wiksell International, Stockholm, Sweden.

Rivier, L and J.E. Lindgren. 1972. “Ayahuasca, the South American hallucinogenic drink : An Ethnobotanical and chemical investigation”. Economic Botany 26(1):101-129.

Pinkley, H.V. 1969. “Plant admixtures to Ayahuasca, the South American hallucinogenic drink”. Lloydia 32(3):305-314.

Biblography – Calea Zacatechichi

Lilian Mayagoitia. Jose-luis Diaz And Carlos M. Contreras. “Psychopharmacologic Analysis Of An Alleged Oneirogenic Plant: Calea Zacatechichi” – Journal of Ethnopharmacology 18 (1986) 229-243 Eleavier Scientific Publishers Ireland Ltd.

Jose Luis Diaz, MD. “Ethnopharmacology and Taxonomy of Mexican Psychodysleptic Plants”. 1979

Bibliography – Ajo Sacha

Karsten, R. 1964. “Studies in the Religion of the South-American Indians East of the Andes.” Helsinki : Societas Scientiarum Fennica. Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum XXIX.1.

Padoch, C. and W. De Jong. 1991. “The house gardens of Santa Rosa : Diversity and variability in an Amazonian agricultural system”. Economic Botany 45(2):166-175.

Rios, Marlene Dobkin de, 1984, “Hallucinogens : Cross-Cultural Perspectives.” University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM.

Ott ,Jonathan, “Pharmacotheon” pub. by: Natural Products co.

Luna, L E. Vegetalismo : Shamanism among the Mestizon Population of the Peruvian Amazon. Almqvist & Wiksell Internaltional. Stockholm/Sweden.

Bibliography – Anadenanthera

Altschul, S. von R. (1964) A Taxonomic Study of the Genus Anadenanthera. Contrib. Gray Herb.193. 3-65

Califano, M. (1976) El Chamanismo Mataco. Scripta Ethnologicano. 3, pt. 2- 7-60

Furst, P. T. (1974) Hallucinogens in Precolumbian Art. In: King, E.M. and Traylor (Ed.) Art and Environment in Native America. Texas Technical University, Special Publications of the Museum, no. 7, pp. 55-102

Logan, N., (2000) Anadenanthera. Ethnobotany Special Event at Fort Lewis College

Ott ,Jonathon, Pharmacotheon pub. by: Natural Products co.

Pochettino M L. Cortella A R. Ruiz M. (1999) Hallucinogenic Snuff from Northwestern Argentina: Microscopial Identification of Anadenanthera colubrina var. cebil (Fabaceae) in Powdered Archeaological Material. Economic Botany 53(2)

Schultes, R. E., Vilca and its Use. (1967) In: Efron,D.H. (Ed.) Ethnopharmacologic Search for Psychoactive Drugs. Washington, D.C., US.Public Health Service Publ. no. 1645, pp. 307-314

Schultes, R. E., (1972) The Genus Anadenanthera in Amerindian Cultures. Cambridge, Mass., Botanical Museum, Harvard University.

Torres, C Manuel.(1996) Evidence for Antiquity of Entheogens in the Central Andes. Entheobotany: Shamanic Plant Science A Multi-Disciplinary Conference on Plants, Shamanism & Ecstatic States. 18-20 October, 1996 Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco, CA.

Torres, C Manuel. (1992) Cohoba/DMT Snuffs. Botanical Preservation Corps Field Seminars, Audio recorded lecture.

Torres, C Manuel. (1999) The Use of Psychoactive Snuff Powders in Pre-Columbian San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. From ‘Visions That The Plants Gave Us. Richard F Brush Art Gallery.

Torres, C. M., Repke, D. B., Chan, K., McKenna, D., Llagostera, A., & Schultes, R. E. (1991). Snuff powders from pre-Hispanic San Pedro de Atacama: Chemical and contextual analysis. Current Anthropology, 32(5) 640-649.

Biblography – Salvia Divinorum

Valdes L.J., et al. 1983. “Ethnopharmacology of Ska Maria Pastora (Salvia divinorum, Epling and Jativa-M.)” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 7(3):287-312

Ott J., 1996, Pharmacotheon. Entheogenic drugs, their plant sources and history, 2° ed., Kennewick, CA, Natural Products.

Wasson, R.G. 1962. “A New Mexican psychotropic drug from the mint family” Botanical Museum Leaflets. Harvard University 20(3): 77-84.

Bibliography – Mimosa Hostilis

Ott ,Jonathon, Pharmacotheon pub. by: Natural Products co.

The Way of the Psychonaut

Best Foreign Documentary at the First Hermetic Film Festival in Venice, Italy

A Documentary on Stanislav Grof’s Journey of Consciousness…

 The Way of the Psychonaut: Stanislav Grof’s Journey of Consciousness announces its highly-anticipated VOD release for October 14, 2020. The feature length documentary explores the life and work of Stanislav Grof, Czech-born psychiatrist and psychedelic psychotherapy pioneer. Stan’s quest for knowledge, and insights into the healing power of non-ordinary states of consciousness, provides a roadmap for how humanity might navigate these unprecedented times.

The seamless blending of historic footage and re-enactments tells Stan’s story, from the horrors of the Nazi occupation of Prague, to his arrest by the communist regime, and his eventual disillusionment as a “fresh baked psychiatrist” forced to administer hundreds of electroshock therapies and insulin comas weekly. Everything changed after his life-altering first LSD session, and the expansion of his work over the past 60 years continues to impact us today.

Albert Hoffman called Stan the Godfather of LSD. For Esalen Institute co-founder, Michael Murphy, Stan is the throughline – one of the few who maintained interest in the therapeutic possibility of psychedelics when others changed focus. Murphy notes that the current psychedelic renaissance wouldn’t be possible without Stan’s diligence. In fact, most of the researchers and policy experts driving the current efforts credit his discoveries and insights.

Stan Grof’s journey from a materialist scientist into an explorer of the human psyche eventually brought him to the US and the Esalen Institute, where he served as Scholar-in-Residence for 14 years. During his time there he invited consciousness luminaries representing a broad range of disciplines to share their insights – the techniques they introduced rippled out into the rest of the country and beyond. The Way of the Psychonaut recounts this story with powerful imagery and a hypnotic soundtrack that draws the viewer in, while elements from filmmaker Susan Hess Logeais’ personal story demonstrate the healing potential of Dr. Grof’s work.

“The best film created to date on the life and work of Dr. Stanislav Grof. His work is represented with great clarity, which is rare in film … Two thumbs up and required viewing for students of Grof’s work.”

Joe Moore, co-founder of Psychedelics Today


Visit Official Website for links to purchase and stream on:
Vimeo VODVimeo OTT – Amazon – Apple TV & GooglePlay

EPK available at ‘Host a Screening’ on Watch page

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For more information, please contact

Ayahuasca vs Iboga vs Ibogaine

How to determine if Ayahuasca, Iboga, or Ibogaine is what you need

All plant medicines are not created equal. There’s a lot of confusion about each plant’s superhero powers, especially when it comes to Ayahuasca and Iboga. If you’re feeling the calling and need some serious healing but don’t know the difference between Iboga, Ibogaine, and Ayahuasca, or which plant to turn to for the help you need most, this article will give you the info required to make the best decision possible.

First, some context, and full disclosure. I have been drinking Ayahuasca for 14 years, and I completed a comprehensive 10 year apprenticeship with several Shipibo Maestros. I have a deep, unbreakable, mad-love relationship with this divine technology, so I can speak with a shred of authority about when and where to use her.

Iboga and Ibogaine have been in my field of awareness even longer than Aya, but I have never partaken in either. My amazing powerhouse partner, however, is alive because of Ibogaine, and is an executive at a clinic in Cancun with over 7 years of experience with Ibogaine treatment. She has helped me craft this deep dive to ensure accuracy and truth. But in the end, it’s your instincts and guidance that matters most; this will simply help you make a more informed decision about where to turn for healing and insight.

What is Iboga, and When to Use It

Iboga is an ancient, immensely powerful psychoactive shrub from the depths of West Africa. He has been used for thousands of years in sacred indigenous ceremonies, and is considered the ultimate mind medicine. He’s very masculine (for most), very intense, and he’s administered in small ceremonial settings, often with eye masks and the integration of wild, African jungle songs from the Bwiti tribe.

Centers that feature Iboga for healing are the best option to turn to when you feel called to ancient wisdoms and benefits like empowerment, awareness, masculine amplification and healing, plus psychospiritual work for any of the above. He aids in self-discovery, the removal of negative energies, connection to nature, enhanced communication with spirit, and various physical healings as well.

I cannot stress enough how intense this medicine is reported to be, and how crucial it is to do this work with highly trained and competent individuals. Iboga is not shy about addressing the dark side of our consciousness, and in many ways it’s considered a full-fledged mindfuck. Practitioners that study this ancient art don’t actually consume a full amount of medicine while they work with others – this is completely the opposite from Ayahuasca. You are almost totally incapacitated while under the influence – one of the effects is an inability to walk properly, so you’ll need help going to the bathroom, and therefore will have helpers assisting you.

Iboga is a master plant healer, and since he’s most focused on healing the mind, so that we can once again access our hearts, he is amazing for people who are coming to terms with previous addictions, obsessions, and illnesses that relate to our beautiful brains. He’s not the one to turn to if you’re in full-fledged addiction, however – that is covered in the next section. But he is the one that can help make sense of destructive patterns, and he’s absolutely perfect if you feel called to a strongly masculine experience of deep, altered consciousness.

What is Ibogaine, and When it’s the Right Choice

While Iboga features multiple alkaloids, Ibogaine is a single alkaloid extracted from this powerhouse plant, and is used exclusively for those in active addiction. Ibogaine is ideal for opioid addictions like heroin and all the related pharmaceuticals (OxyContin, Fentanyl, etc.), as well as cocaine, alcohol, Suboxone, Methadone, and other stimulants.

Ibogaine is far more effective with active addiction because it’s a concentrated, isolated extract of the alkaloid in Iboga that specifically targets addictive tendencies. The amount of Ibogaine you receive in a traditional Iboga dosage is simply not powerful enough to combat the thralls of addiction in the same way. Iboga IS the right choice for deep psychospiritual work with this plant. Working with Ibogaine, however, can literally reset the addict’s neurochemistry back to a pre-addicted state; in as little as 45 minutes.. One flood dose of Ibogaine can also mitigate up to 90% of the post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) for-3 months, depending on the speed of metabolism. This gives recipients time to shift their lifestyle away from the destructive patterns, which provides a solid chance for success.

Ibogaine absolutely MUST be taken in a medical setting. There are inherent dangers to working with this potent substance, especially to the heart. And because addicts often have already taxed their cardiovascular system, it’s doubly important to be in the care of a trained doctor to avoid serious complications. Centers that offer Ibogaine treatment are only viable if they have 24-hour emergency trained doctors and nurses observing your experience.

How Ayahuasca Differs from Iboga and Ibogaine

While there are reports of Ayahuasca helping addicts to fully recover, her superhero power is more in the aftermath of the addiction detox. She can help individuals fully understand the traumas and patterns that triggered the addiction to begin with, and bring in clarity, self-love, and a tremendous sense of acceptance and peace.

Aya is also fantastic at clearing the body and spirit of all the various toxicities that addiction – and life – can create. She is sometimes affectionately called La Purga, as she is aces at pushing out the poisons, emotions, and “panema” (dark cloud of energy). Because she is an uber powerful MAOI herself, anyone on these medications also need at least 30 days off before partaking as it can create an overdose of Serotonin in the system to combine the two, which is a very serious condition.

Ayahuasca is also the feminine, whereas most describe Iboga as highly masculine; each can help us connect with the divine aspects of our two dualistic, partnership energies. If you are healing traumas from Mother, Ayahuasca is your girl. Iboga is a better choice for healing Father wounds, but honestly, both plants are powerful enough to take you through either experience. These are just the default energies, but they are immensely diverse.

The Final Decision

Here is how to make the final decision between these three incredible substances.

  1. Your physical health status is key. If you are in active addiction, Ibogaine is it. If you seek physical healing, Ayahuasca is safer and a more common choice.
  2. If the work you seek is psychospiritual in nature, either Ayahuasca or Iboga can be life-changing. This comes down to a matter of calling – your heart knows the answer as to which plant is saying your name. Listen. And trust.

If you need help preparing for or integrating these or any other psychotropic medicines, I’d be honored to help.

Best of luck in your journey to better health, and expanded consciousness. Thank goodness there are plants that offer hope for recovery and a reconnection to our true selves.

What It’s Like to be an Ayahuasca Shaman

Succumbing to the intensity of feeling every conceivable emotion throughout the unpredictable expansion of Ayahuasca, every time she is consumed.

Letting one’s eyesight transform into portals of a kaleidoscopic landscape, where you decipher the flow and disturbances of each human frame that sits in circle around you.

Honoring the epic, insanely sacred responsibility of creating spiritual and physical safety for every being that surrenders themselves into your loving care. Holding court over a tribe of spiritual warriors, expressing the bravery of doing the deep, frightful inner work that allows each being to witness and integrate their shadows and their superheroes.

Being the guide, the protector, the tone-setter.

Working with the spirit world in sacred partnership. Developing unbreakable bonds with guides, totems, and guardians.

Holding space for humans experiencing the horror and glory of an ego death and inevitable rebirth. Bringing them out the other side with grace and love. Managing freak outs, egoic projections, and all manner of outbursts.

Knowing that everything is always unequivocally OK.

When you lead Ayahuasca ceremonies, this is all just another day at the office.

So what kind of person makes for the best partner with the medicine?

The one who is called, and who has the commitment and tenacity to make this process the center of their world. Anything less is dangerous, disrespectful, and half-ass.

Ayahuasca gives the whole light-blasted and bloody-real multiverse. She will help you treat cancer, PTSD, soul loss, terror, mental anguish, physical ailments – you name it. But if you want to be the vessel that she works through, you have to be all-in to serve her correctly. There is no part-time, occasional, sort-of shaman. You either give your all to Her, or you are not in relationship at all. She wants your edges, your hidden spots, your whole heart and soul. And in return, she’ll help you make the darkness conscious.

The Difference Between a Shaman and a Facilitator

I know the word “shaman” sounds loaded and messy these days. Before it got bastardized by fakers who are enamored with the power but not the diligence to do the work, it used to be a simple definition: One who sees in the dark. Bridge-walker. Someone who lives in both worlds – the tangible, and the spirit realms.

Think of a shaman as you would a surgeon, only in a spiritual sense. This is psychic surgery.  You wouldn’t give yourself over to a doctor who didn’t put in the time to train and hone her craft. Please don’t give yourself over in a spiritual sense to someone who woke up one day and decided to blindly lead the way into the unknown.

A shaman never takes that name themselves – it is gifted by the plants, mentors, and the community they serve. It is not something for the ego to flaunt, but for the soul to own. And you should see and feel the truth of who they are through the energy they emit.

A facilitator is someone who normally has no formal training, and does not know the ancient art of spiritual protection. They may have consumed a lot of medicine, but they likely do not have a true connection with the essence of the work. To be a good sitter does not mean you are a good leader. It’s one hell of a job. And a facilitator quite often does not live the lifestyle of a healer. They fit this work into the other elements of their lives.

If you sit with someone who pours and hopes for the best, you are at risk of facing energies that neither of you are equipped to handle. Even those lovely beings who facilitate with a big, open heart can’t guarantee safety if the truth of duality comes barging in.

Good intentions do not guide us through the darkness. Experience does. Trust, knowledge, and an internal GPS through hell is the only thing that is truly reliable when the darkness comes knocking.

The core difference between a shaman and a facilitator is this: The shaman has been to the depths of darkness. He/she has the map back to the light.

Please choose wisely who you sit with.

What a Shaman Sees in Ceremony

You’ve probably seen the beautiful Shipibo tapestries by now.. These are complicated in both intricacy and meaning, but in essence, these patterns represent two core elements of shamanic work:

1)    The energy grid of all living things. Shamans see this grid illuminate when under the influence of the medicine. Sometimes participants see it too, with eyes wide open. This is Ayahuasca’s language; the core part of the training involves learning to interpret what the colors and patterns are telling you about the energies of the being you are working with. When a shaman sings an icaro to you, he/she is re-weaving the energy grid. They sing directly to the distorted parts, reworking the broken bits with love, intention, and healing. They take in the darkness, transmute it into connected-ness and health, and sing it back into the person with unconditional love. The pattern morphs and changes with the songs.

2)    These tapestries also represent the physical manifestation of the icaros. You can see that the lines are continuous; a maestro shaman’s songs often are as well. They sometimes learn to sing on the inhale and exhale. Songs in Shipibo are especially fast and powerful. Gifted shamans sing with intensity and clarity, manifesting a deep connection to every single word. When all the experience, love, and power is focused on you during a doctoring, it can be the most transformative, wildly erratic experience you’ve ever felt. And that’s precisely why we sit with a real-deal being – absolutely anything is possible in those moments. The combination of strong medicine, strong maestro, strong participant, and strong icaro = infinite healing potential.

The shaman not only sees the grid of each individual, but the collective energy of the room itself. Some nights are dark and heavy, and that’s often obvious before we even drink the medicine. Some nights are a cavalry of goddess goodness, full of rainbow spirals and dancing spirits. Most are all of the above.

It doesn’t matter what energies come to play to a seasoned pro. What matters is holding safe space for the gathered tribe, remaining neutral to the drama, and doing the work of making the unconscious conscious.

Why Your Favorite Shaman is Probably Not Very Friendly

An experienced healer knows that the closer they are to the people they serve, the more taxing and draining the process becomes. That’s why most leaders do not get friendly with the participants. They are often accused of being aloof and standoffish. This isn’t because they don’t adore humanity (that’s a prerequisite for this job – if you don’t love people, you will absolutely burn out), but because distance and detachment is a core element of safety.

When you need help before or after the ceremony, turn to the organizer or assistants instead. That’s precisely why this takes a team to properly serve a community. The shaman cannot afford to give too much of their energy away outside of the circle. It takes every ounce of concentration and intention to do this job when the medicine kicks in; they mean no harm by keeping their distance.

The shamans always lived on the outside of the village for a reason. They can’t afford to get too close; there is such a thing of knowing and caring too much. Once they are engaged with the energy they are trying to clear in any intimate fashion, they can become Velcro. That which they help remove can come to roost inside them, too. It’s a hazard of the job, and one a shaman cannot take lightly.

With Great Sacrifice. . .


Choosing the path of shamanism is just like any other dedication to service. It requires tremendous detachment to the material, and an almost obsessive dedication.

In my journey with the medicine, I have had to let go of many friends, a high paying job, regular connects with my family, my quiet comfy home life – even my husband and stepson. It’s not that everyone has to give it all up; just those aspects that don’t fit in with the essence of the calling. It turns out my calling is deep. The medicine uprooted my life and brought me all around the world to serve dozens of people in ceremony. I gave up my entire past life to be in partnership with her. And there are absolutely no regrets.

In return, she gives me the magic of watching lives change every day of my life. She gives me the gift of expansion, of knowing the secrets of energy work, of exploring the recesses of my own consciousness and being the vessel for others to do the same.

I wake up most days in awe that this is my life. That a small town girl from Montana has been gifted such a profoundly magical journey. It kicks my ass on the regular, but if I’m being honest, I love that too.

In order to be in integrity, the transparency and realness I must walk in makes my shadow quiver and groan. I drink 100+ times a year as my job, and at least a dozen more to do my own work . I must manage an honest balance between insane humility (I am not the one to create the magic – all credit goes to the Mother), and sincere empowerment (she is powerless if I channel her in smallness). I have to feel the depth of the suffering I share in as a human being, and witness with so many of the beautiful souls I get to work with.

Some nights my body becomes ravaged with the energies I help to clear, as I don’t always own protection. This last week, I got flattened by the energies of a sexual predator whose shadow was so manipulative and dark I almost burst into tears in ceremony as the little girl inside me looked for a safe place to hide. Instead, I sang to him and cleared him and ignited my compassion for all beings and my trust in the medicine. But my body took on the toxicity my mind ignited and I spent the next couple of days purging and sweating out the toxins.

That’s how it goes. The wonderful highs of watching people heal their beings and rediscover their souls, and the epic lows of experiencing the depths of darkness, my own ego’s desperate space of control, and all the static that comes with becoming more conscious of duality.

So in the end, it takes an almost inhuman amount of commitment and trust to be a shaman. The plants you serve will ask you to give up every last attachment, to push you into a near-constant space of discomfort and self-examination. They will take everything from you that doesn’t align with this work. But if you trust them, they will give you the entire multiverse: Including support, unconditional love, miracles, expansions, and mountains of indescribable magic.

Still interested in following the path? Reach out if you feel called; I am always honored to help fellow sha-peeps unravel the next step in their journeys. We are #OneTribe.

About the Author:

Tina “Kat” Courtney, The AfterLife Coach, is a traditionally trained Ayahuasquera and a vocal advocate for all sacred psychedelic spaces. Kat is an experienced Ayahuasca and Huachuma shaman who has devoted her life to bringing the plants to sincere seekers in a safe and loving container.

Art at 2019 World Ayahuasca Conference

Coming up this May 31st in Girona Spain is the World Ayahuasca Conference.

The Conference gives a platform to Indigenous healers such as Manari Ushigua, ethnobotanists such as Terrence Mckenna, anthropologists such as Jeremy Narby, and many others to gather and share their work, thoughts and direction for our Earth’s Sacred Plants and the lessons they offer us.

Psychoactive plants were not always demonized and considered dangerous…. This demonization came primarily with European colonialism when it grabbed the America’s. For other cultures, these plants have been held sacred for hundreds if not thousands of years. Traces of substance, artwork and paraphernalia have been found in ancient sites from the Americas to Egypt. Just recently traces of Ayahuasca were found in a shaman pouch carbon dated at over 1000 years old.

These teacher plants were held in the highest esteem and usually reserved for the Priests and Priestesses. Today in indigenous societies the plants are still primarily taken by priests and curanderos. The psychedelic tourism and recreational use of these powerful plants is to be discouraged. Used with reverence these plants connect us to our Higher Self, reflect our  problems and help us heal emotional and psychological problems. Used recreationally they can be disorienting and dangerous.

Around the world, conscious people are pulling together forums, round tables and conferences for Indigenous healers, botonists and researchers to gather together in order to discover, exchange knowledge and educate the public about these magic teachers.

These platforms bring together an audience who understand and can deeply appreciate the visionary work of artists who have voyaged into their most profound Self via psychoactive plants, meditation or breathing methods.

Curators Sitaramaya and Gloria Valdez have organized five galleries to beautify the walls of the Conference. There will be 200 artists in total! A true visual bonanza. Included in this selection will be a Dreams & Divinities Gallery curated by Liba WS with over twenty painters.

Find here a link to the online gallery:

A Gallery for the World Ayahuasca Conference

For more information on the Conference:

World Ayahuasca Conference 2019

What is Rapé

Many thanks for for contributing this article

Tobacco snuff is a sacred shamanic medicine or tool, that has been used by tribes of the Amazon basin for thousands of years and is an essential part of their tribal culture and history. Rapé is the name for one of many of these snuffs, and it’s foundation lies by numerous indiginous tribes in Acre, Brazil. Curiously, Rapé is not sniffed, snorted or inhaled. Instead, it is administered (blown) into the nostrils with a special blowpipe called “Kuripe” (self administration) or “Tepi” (another person administers). This “blow” is quite forceful and not specifically pleasant. It can be rather shocking.

The appearance of a Rapé is a grey- to sand coloured, very fine and dry dust. It is traditionally prepared by ceremonial pounding of Tobacco (N. rustica) with tree ashes, followed by patiently filtering it through a fine mesh, resulting in a dust as fine as 125 micron. The varieties of Tobacco used are not the commonly known N. tabacum, but N. rustica, such as “Corda” or “Moi” and in cases also “Mapacho”. Given the potency of the tobacco, Nicotiana rustica, which is stronger and darker than Nicotiana tabacum, it can elicit mind alerting and grounding effects

The ashes that are the second important component in a Rapé come from the bark of a variety of medicinal or sacred trees. The production and choice of ashes and the exact composition and ratio of ingredients often remain a secret of the tribe.

South American shamans use tobacco as a sacred, wholesome medicine and there exists a very close connection between tobacco use and shamanism that has little in common with our western way of tobacco use. Indigenous tribes use tobacco in ceremonies, to predict good weather, fishing, or harvest, and for spiritual (e.g. vision quest, trance etc) and curing purposes, but rarely for smoking. The use of tobacco by indigenous tribes in South America, such as the Kaxinawá, Nu-nu, Yawanawá, and Katukina, is profoundly entrenched in their culture, and has been employed at least since the Mayan civilization for ritual, medicinal and recreational purposes.

Effects and Usage 
Using Tobacco snuff or Rapé has many different purposes for indigenous tribes, whereof female puberty rites, initiation rites, cashiri drinking festivals, social rites, and healing ceremonies. Yet, every tribe has their own routine: some apply it every day after breakfast and dinner, other tribes use it three times during the night.

A typical Rapé ceremony involves a mutual administration by two persons. The Rapé is blown high up into the nostrils with a pipe made from bamboo or bone. The intense blow immediately focuses the mind, stops the chattering, and opens the entire freed mindspace for your intentions. Furthermore, this helps releasing emotional, physical, and spiritual illnesses and eases negativity and confusion, enabling a thorough grounding of the mind. Likewise, shamans use Rapé to re-align with their energy channels and with their higher self, and to intensify their connection with the world and the universe. In addition, Rapé paves the way for detoxifying the body and cleans out all excess mucus, toxins, and bacteria, thereby, assisting in fighting colds and snuffles. Moreover, Rapé stimulates the mind with its nicotinic content that in turn releases a.o. epinephrine, acetylcholine, and dopamine, supporting an increased focus, presence, and intuition. Interestingly, their are many rumours that Rapé could decalcify the pineal gland(1), which is involved in melatonin secretion, circadian time perception, and drug metabolism. Calcification of the pineal gland has been associated with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, and fluoride exposure, which further stresses the importance of a healthy pineal gland. Yet, whether Rapé can really help the decalcification of the pineal gland, is highly debated and needs still to be scientifically proven.

Origin and History
The beginning of Rapé is reflected in the origin of tobacco, which supposedly stems from the Americas. The first written tobacco snuff use ever reported, was documented from the Incas, who used it to cure sundry diseases and to “purge the head”. The Inca used only wild tobacco varieties and ground the roots of the plants. Already 5,000 years ago, Native Americans cultivated tobacco and were probably the first ones to smoke, chew, and inhale tobacco. Until today, America remains famous for producing tobacco: in 2010, Brazil became the world’s largest tobacco exporter and the second largest tobacco producer (FAOSTAT). This is mirrored in the Rapé use and production of Brazilians: indigenous people in Brazil are well-known for producing one of the best Rapé blends. Furthermore, Brazilian indigenous tribes were the first ones known to use snuff (WHO). Whereas, snuff was only introduced to Europe in 1500; the Franciscan monk, Friar Ramón Pané, who travelled with Christopher Columbus in 1493, was the first European to found out that the Indians used snuff and introduced this exquisite sacrament to Spain when he returned. This was the beginning of a long tobacco and snuff area in Europe.

Production of Rapé
In addition to Tabaco, a blend of Rapé is composed of tree ashes, aromatic or medicinal plants or the ashes thereof. The Tabaco is first cut into small pieces and then dried over a low fire. Then, ashes and tobacco are pounded and pulverized in a large mortar and pestle. After many days of slow and ceremonial pounding, the result is sieved through the finest cloth, and the remains ground up again until finally a very fine, smooth dust is obtained. The mixture is stored in bottles or plugged tubes, or ornameltal bottles which are often made from bone, to keep the produce as fresh as possible.

Medicinal Values
For indigenous Americans, tobacco is medically used as a cure of certain diseases, sores, wounds, and as a defense against insects (Curtis 1935) and also as an analgesic and narcotic substance that eases fatigue, pain, hunger, and thirst (Elferink 1983). Rapé enters deep into the nostrils, thereby cleaning out any residual mucus and exerting potent antibacterial effects (Pavia et al. 2000). If the body is too congested with toxins, vomiting can be a side effect that leads to a thorough cleansing. There are even special Tabaco blends (Machiguenga snuff) that are made to counteract influenza and other diseases (Russel & Rahman 2015). Furthermore, the Tabaco that is contained in most Rapé blends can potentiate the healing capacity of other plants, like Ayahuasca. Moreover, in its original sense, tobacco is even a hallucinogen. It contains two alkaloids, namely harman and norharman, which are closely related to harmine and harmaline (Janiger et al. 1973). These two beta-carbolines inhibit monoamine oxidase (Herraiz et al. 2005), leading to antidepressive and stimulatory effects (Farzin 2006).
As Rapé contains nicotine, its use increases the brain blood flow and affects the release of several stimulatory neurotransmitter, such as epinephrine, acetylcholine, and dopamine (Wolk et al. 2005, Cryer 1976; Domino et al. 2000), thereby heightening your focus, presence, and intuition and opening the body to higher communication and holistic thinking and understanding. As mentioned above, Rapé has the reputation of decalcifying the pineal gland, which is involved in melatonin secretion, circadian time perception, and the function of the immune system (Skwarlo-Sonta et al. 2003). Even though, this has not been confirmed by scientific studies, this is of great interest, given that degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson´s disease, and fluoride or mercury exposures can lead to calcification of the pineal gland (Luke 1997; Luke 2001). The calcification of the pineal gland can easily be tested by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that show the degree of calcium phosphate on the gland. Furthermore, even normal aging has been associated with pineal gland calcification and decreased melatonin production (Kunz et al. 1999), whereas children rarely show calcified pineal glands. Moreover, it is suggested that our polluted water, which is often filled with hormones and residues of pesticides, as well as food additives, excess sugar and sweeteners, can lead to calcification of the pineal gland. Pineal gland calcification has also been shown to be associated with decreased melatonin levels and a high risk for ischemic stroke, intracerebral hemorrhage (bleeding), and with breast cancer (Kitkhuandee et al. 2014; Cohen et al. 1978). This risk for stroke was still higher when the patients were also affected by high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol/triglycerides (Kitkhuandee et al. 2014). The most prevalent movement disorder, Parkinson’s disease (PD), is also affected negatively by decreased amounts of melatonin (Polimeni et al. 2014). The main pathological event in PD involves the destruction of dopaminergic neurons, through oxidative damage. Melatonin can prevent this oxidative damage to occur (Antolín et al. 2002), making melatonin a possible preventive treatment in PD and other diseases where oxygen radical-mediated tissue damage occurs. In sum, melatonin enhances brain plasticity, interacts with the immune system, counteracts oxidative stress within the nervous system, and a key hormone in circadian time perception and other crucial biological functions. Tools, like Tobacco snuff or Rapé that potentially promote a healthy pineal gland function, thereby counteracting its calcification and heightening its melatonin production, are of great interest and the subject is highly debated.

Application: A Ceremony Between the Giver and the Receiver
Traditionally, Rapé is administered with two different types of pipes, which are made from bamboo or bone. The first type of pipe is requiring the presence of another person, who will blow the snuff powerfully into each nostril of the partner who is going to receive the Rapé. For that reason it is generally referred to as the blow pipe and in Brazilian it is called the „Tepi“. The other type of pipe is a self-applicator and is named „Kuripe“. The connection between mouth and nose is easily established through the V-shape of the pipe.
Blowing the Tepi involves an intimate connection between the Rapé giver and receiver. Both are closely connected by mouth, nose and by breath, and both need to open and allow the other spirit and intention to enter, permitting the healing to take place. Often the person blowing needs to be an experienced tribe member, as he sends his intention and spirit to the person inhaling, which affords a strong mind and clear focus. Hence, the essence of this blowing ritual does not depend on the strength of your blowing, but whether you can share yourself while doing it and thereby empowering the receiver. These ‘blowing rituals’ are of great importance in the shamanic tradition, which perceives the healing energy of breath (also known as ‘Soplada’ – which means blowing healing energy) as a major tool for healing (Fotiou 2012; Jauregui et al. 2011).
If you are an inexperienced Rapé user, it is easier to receive your first experience with the use of the Tepi, and an experienced user as the giver. The first blow should quickly be followed by the second blow in the other nostril. This can be challenging for an unexperienced user, given that the first blow can be totally overwhelming. Still, if you are using the Kuripe, it is important to continue with the second blow as soon as possible, to harmonize the energies of both nostrils and hemispheres.

Fig. 1 
Huni kuin Rapé administration

There are many different ways of blowing, depending on the intentions used. The most common blow affords a deep inhalation that is followed by a long blow that is increasing in strength towards the end of the breath. With this increase at the end of the breath, Rapé gets pushed further up and achieves the best cleansing. The giver needs to inhale deeply, enabling a deep powerful blow from the stomach that is carried outwards with good intentions.

Generally, it is recommended to start off with a dosage not bigger than a pea per portion. As it is very important to blow the Rapé into both nostrils, you would need two pea-sized portions as a good start-off. Yet, everyone has a different tolerance and might therefore favour a smaller or larger dose. Ideally, you start with a pea-sized portion, but then you need to experiment for yourself, in order to find the most suitable dose.
Self-administration is simple, the physicality of it only involves placing a small (half a pea sized) amount into the top of the applicator (nasal end). Then you connect your mouth to the other end and you start blowing. You can experiment between shorter sharper blows to longer more gentle attempts. Of course it needs to be applied to both nostrils.
It is worth centering yourself prior to using Rapé and make sure you are in a calm environment. You can use the Rapé as a tool to transform intentions and it also cuts through whatever mental or emotional field you are in. The initial experience and the strong sensation lasts for a few minutes, while the newly gained state remains for a very long time.

Set and Setting: how to take Rapé
Every medicinal plant is considered by indigenous tribes as a sacrament and as a prayer or intention. We recommend to use this sacred medicine, Rapé, in an environment that is honoring the plant for its teaching and healing abilities. Incense, crystals, chumpi stones, tribal music, and nature, create a perfect space for a meditational and reflective rapé use. Also, it is very essential to aim your mind and prepare an intention before embracing Rapé; sit in silence and aim your mind before you get started. This intention can be focused on insights, physical healing, energetic healing, or anything that necessitates healing or clarity in your life. Once you found an intention, ask the universe or the spirit world to help you through that process. Thereafter, the receiver deeply inhales the medicine, first through the left nostril, which symbolizes death. Afterwards, Rapé is applied to the right side, which represents rebirth. After the experience, it is best to remain with the eyes closed, while both inhaling and exhaling slowly through the mouth, enabling a thorough grounding and maintenance of focus. Try not to put your experience into words while grounding, rather try to concentrate on your thoughts and energy that is released by the medicine. Try not to fall into suffering or drama, but discover how easy it is to channel the experience into your heart, and notice the warrior power and grounding that provides, and how it rebalances you.

The Moment After
Snot and mucus will be finding its way out: first through the nose, later as phleghm through the throat. It is very important to allow the outward flow, as the mucous and fluids will carry your physical and etheric waste with it, so one gets rid of it. Do not force it up, and do not swallow it. Simply just breathe only through the mouth after first application. Then when things have calmed down, softly breathe out through the nose. You will see powder coming out. You dont want to inhale this powder in the lungs. After a while of breathing, it will start dripping and the nose can be cleaned. Ideally, this is done by holding one nostril closed with a finger, and emptying the other nostril forcefully, with a strong blow of air exhaled through the nose. When this is done with both nostrils, often several times, one can immediately feel a new and open access to fresh air, and breathing through the nose is greatly enhanced. After a while, the remains may drop back into the throat. It is important to bring this phlghm up into the mouth again and spit it out. This may need some coughing, but it is very necessary and rewarding. To be able to freely experience the cleaning process, it is best to be outside, where the phlegm can be spit onto the ground. This last process of spitting the phlegm, is a great final affirmation of the expelled negativity that physically and visually leaves the body and is given back to mother earth. If you continue to feel dizzy and unwell after using Rapé and eventually purging, it is recommended to drink some water, non-caffeine tea, or fruit juice and stay with your eyes closed, either lying or sitting. The water will hydrate your body and help remove all toxins that are still being excreted, and the natural sugars will support grounding.

Creative Process
The Rapè, Tabaco powders and ashes that we offer are sacred healing tools stemming directly from Amazonian tribes. This powerful medicine is rare and produced laboriously with sacred plants collected by the members of the tribes during a ceremonial process. The composer of the blend, needs to be an experienced shaman with thorough knowledge about the diverse plant kingdom of the jungle. The jungle holds not only the biggest variety in plants, one also needs to know which part of each plant can be used, considering that the ashes, root or bark can have a different purpose and effect than leaves or seeds of a given plant. Only 1 to 2 kilograms may be produced at a time. This sacred preparation is a process that may take up to weeks. Usually, the chief of the tribe – the Pajero – works under a strict diet and in a trance-state when endlessly pounding and mixing the Rapé ingredients together. The other members of the tribe are responsible for the collection of the ingredients. The plants will either be sun dried or roasted and are various times filtered through a fine cloth and then mixed with other ingredients to obtain the final batch. In earlier times, the ‘Pajero’ used the final batch in a ceremony on his own. Nowadays, the whole tribe is taking part in this magical ceremonial event. Only since recently, the tribes share their sacred medicine with foreign friends, passing on the knowledge and application for the next generations. Still, many of the blend compositions remain a secret of the tribe.
The money that the tribes earn through our collaboration is used to provide education and a safe home for the local children. Our intention is to continue this succesful and sustainable connection with these tribes, enabling both, the tribe and our customers, to benefit from this exchange.

Here you can watch a video on the chief of the Yawanawa talking about sustainability:
BIRA, chief of the Yawanawa speaking on the role of spirituality in true sustainability

Rapé is a sacred medicine and ought to be used with respect and good intentions. We strongly discourage the combined use with alcohol. Remember to not swallow the blend, but blow your nose carefully and spit out the remains. Due to the tobacco content of most Rapé’s, a compulsive use can lead to dependence and can cause heart disease, stroke, atherosclerosis, and other vascular diseases. Therefore, you should never use Rapé during pregnancies.

Tribal music
Shaman Songs of the Amazon Rainforest: Xanu Yara

Shaman Songs of the Amazon Rainforest: Pasha Dume

Yawanawa Music

Rapé workshop in the Kaxinawa tribe:
Hapé Medicine workshop and Sacred Ceremony with 2 Amazonian Master Shamans from the Kaxinawa


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The Economics of Ayahuasca: Do You Get What You Pay For?

Art by Josh Usmani

Money is a complicated force woven within our cultural psychology, and when you combine it with our spiritual pursuits, the energies can go haywire.

Most of us have no problem justifying the cost of our iPhones, our doctor-prescribed medications, our exotic vacations, jewelry and clothes and food and furniture; even the cost of a spa massage. If the items we want or need are beyond our reach, we find a way through savings and patience, or putting in extra elbow grease and effort. Humans are manifesting monsters when we have our eye on the prize.

For many of us, however, paying for a spiritual experience brings up all kinds of resistance and stories. There’s a lot of discourse that proposes a process that brings you closer to God should be free; perhaps because it’s our birthright to know our divinity. How does someone have the audacity to charge for that?

But what if the reverse is true? Isn’t it audacious to assume someone’s life calling should be given away? Isn’t the most valuable thing in the world our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being?

An Ayahuasca ceremony can completely transform your life. From your physical health to your emotional stability to the way you connect with the world, this medicine has the power to completely reshape your beingness and bring you back into your natural state of joy and serenity. But she is only as powerful as the vessel she moves through to connect with you, and if that vessel has worked for decades to purify and bond with her energy, they are a core reason your life improves.

The people that dedicate their lives to this path deserve compensation for all their tremendous work and devotion. Furthermore, you deserve the blessing of giving them money or an energy exchange as a show of gratitude and respect; for them, for Ayahuasca, and for the entire tradition.

The Psychology of Giving and Receiving

 Paying for anything gives it value. If we don’t hold something as valuable, we are far less likely to receive it with an open heart. Some sort of energy exchange is almost always necessary for one to truly experience the full gift and value of any object or experience. This is especially true for healing.

Let’s first examine this by thinking about how we receive gifts. When we receive something for a holiday from a loved one, it’s usually either an expression of their love for us (which is itself an energy exchange for the love we give to them), or something given out of necessity because it’s a bloody holiday and one has to give gifts.

I would venture to guess the gifts you love the most came from the people closest to you. While it may seem those gifts were in fact “free”, they are instead physical tokens of all the times you listened, laughed, and bonded together. There were likely dozens of energy exchanges long before the gift landed.

And the gifts you love the least often feel that way because they aren’t personal or customized; they are after-thoughts, or given by someone who doesn’t know you that well. So they lack the same level of meaning, no matter what their monetary value is.

This is the psychology of giving and receiving. In order for a gift to be meaningful, it is given and received. And it’s our ability to receive that makes or breaks the process.

So let’s bring that in to the healing space.

Yes, in theory, it would be lovely if Ayahuasca were free to everyone, as everyone deserves to heal. But would that really bring about the results we envision?

No way. That goes against our psychology.

“Yage” by Kailyn Deyn

It’s true that in indigenous cultures, the medicine man or woman doesn’t always charge their tribe for services. But then, in these cultures, everyone has a role to play, and everyone is always giving and receiving. The hunters, the chefs, the caretakers, the builders, the healers – they are all held as equals, and each one helps create balance and happiness for the whole tribe. Their payment is receiving the gifts of all other roles, that is incredibly divine.

Our culture honors money as a way to create that balance, which is no less sacred and effective at its core. Some of us still embrace the barter system too, which is awesome. In my Ayahuasca and psychedelics coaching practice, I love receiving someone else’s gifts in lieu of cash as payment. I’ve received incredible artwork (just look at that Ayahuasca inspired painting by Kailyn Deyn!), psychic readings, sound healing sessions, and all kinds of beautiful exchanges. In many ways, these are far more powerful and meaningful than a cash exchange. Regardless of what is given, however, it’s the balance that matters.

So showing up for an Ayahuasca ceremony without giving anything in exchange does not create the energy for anyone to fully receive and heal. Balance, balance, balance.

How Spirituality and Money Became a Dirty Combo

I have gone toe-to-toe with the expectation that healing should be free a gazillion times. When I ran the Las Vegas Ayahuasca circle, people came from all over the country to sit with us, and I frequently held space for the arguments around cost.

I get it. Somewhere along the way in our culture, connecting to spirit via a money exchange started feeling as dirty as paying for sex. If you want to know why, ask the church.

The issue is integrity, not the actual money exchange. We have endless examples in our world of people who pretend to have our highest good – priests, healers, monks, teachers – but are actually seduced by money and power. And it feels utterly devastating to be duped by the people we trust the most.

I went to Catholic mass every Sunday as a kid, and when the donations basket was passed around, I loathed that feeling of responsibility and expectation. There were always those people who eyeballed the process, silently judging those who didn’t give an offering. It was as if God’s love was equal to the check you wrote that weekend. That felt so out of context for a holy place.

But because we’ve allowed money to be the core of our safety and foundation, a balance is necessary. If we can’t give money as thanks for a spiritual connection, what on earth is of value to us anyway?

Integrity. That’s really what we’re seeking. And the moment we are betrayed by those we gave trusted funds to, our whole paradigm falls to pieces. We are now damaged, and fear has replaced trust. Because human beings are fallible, the whole space of money exchange for healing and expansion has become deeply tainted.

 But we can reclaim that by trusting the process, and continuing to give value to the things that matter.

Stop Saying Money is a Necessary Evil

 I once knew a jungle-based shaman who refused to charge for his ceremonies. “Money is the white man’s devil,” he stated. And in time, he, too, succumbed to the darkness he resisted. He secretly lusted for abundance, and started chasing fame instead. And soon enough, people in his ceremonies started reporting infractions and darkness galore. Safety went out the backdoor, and his internal battle come to the forefront.

Isn’t that the way of duality. . .if we vilify anything, we have created a conflict. A war we must engage in. And eventually, we will breakdown.

All this darkness and manipulation and pain is not money’s fault; currency is energy, like anything else. I actually had the spirit of money visit me once in an Ayahuasca ceremony; he went by the name “Moneta”. I sat in the truth of that vibration; it’s a giving energy, a beautiful, supportive, divine light.

It’s us humans that bring our dualistic darkness to the exchange.

You see, every time we receive money, it’s part of a contract. I will give you X dollars for Y goods or services. If those are not delivered with honesty, there is a disconnect.

And money gets blamed. But money has zero fault.

We also come with sky-high expectations at times, and our agendas get in the way of a balanced exchange. I saw that in ceremony from time to time. People would come with the expectation that the shaman was there to heal them, to essentially do the work for them, because they paid for the experience. When that false assumption came to light, there was occasionally deep friction.

But that’s on us once again. If we owned our end of each monetary contract, money would never get blamed for being the bad guy.

It’s also true that the more someone faults money as “the root of all evil”, the less of it they are likely to manifest. Energy goes where it is invited, consciously or subconsciously.

At the root of anyone who does not want to pay for a spiritual experience lies scarcity and fear. They may have been wronged, betrayed, and hurt by similar exchanges, and they unknowingly project that through mistrust on others, or money itself.

You know what doesn’t work for those people? Giving them free Ayahuasca ceremonies.

My Rites of Passage with Giving Away Healing

When I started organizing ceremony circles, I had this big, huge, “everyone gets to heal!” heart. There was one big bit of wisdom I was missing, however – not everyone wants do to do the work that healing requires. We all have divine timing. And no one can force a miracle.

People would come to us a lot without the ability to pay, and I often paid for them. I paid for dozens and dozens of folks to have ceremonies. I made it a habit to take my 20% cut of the profits and donate it back to the process by giving people free ceremonies. And I often went overboard and took money out of my pocket too.

By and large, this blew up in my face.

Because of the lack of giving and receiving, most of these beautiful souls did not have the profoundly healing experience they were hoping for. Why? Because they didn’t put any skin in the game. The universe requires that we give of ourselves in order to get what we want in return.

By paying for other peoples’ ceremonies, I was robbing them of that vital balance.

There were exceptions, of course – people with humongous hearts and hurts that were equally large, who came with such humility and gratitude, that itself was a legitimate offering. Those that showed up with a gift for the shaman or a basket of fruit for the tribe – they would have transformative experiences. Those that stayed late and cleaned the buckets or swept the house – they, too, created the necessary exchange.

I learned that nothing is given to us without our willingness to work for it, because we don’t know how to value a handout.

Contrast is necessary. Giving and receiving are a sacred duo.

One Graceful Way to Combine Money and Healing

I have landed in a place through my coaching practice that feels heavenly with regards to money. It’s been a tough road to get here, but it feels like I’ve unlocked a graceful way to combine these two with grace and harmony.

I have my set rates, and those that can pay them, do.

But those that can’t show up frequently, and I have a simple formula: Tell me what you can pay. Name your price.

That leaves the responsibility on the individual to first stretch into some place of offering. They create value first and foremost by working through the discomfort of asking for a discount, and then honestly stating what they can pay.

I am wholly taken care of by Moneta, and therefore feel so aligned to never turn someone away because of money.

I’m not giving away the gifts and wisdom that I worked hard to attain, but I’m not making it out of reach for anyone either.

It’s a delicious harmony. But it takes trust that balance will prevail.

Money is not the root of any evil. It’s a supportive, powerful force. The more we bring our integrity and love to that union, the more supported we can be too.

I hope we can reclaim some of this ugliness around giving an energy exchange for a healing; we all deserve to have a cleaner experience of giving and receiving.

And let us not forget that there is enough to go around. Our world presents us all with an opportunity to thrive; we only need to hold the attitude that everyone is worthy. Everyone gets to win. I know we’re not there yet, but I know that’s where we’re headed. It may be a bumpy road full of greed and fear-mongering and a deep space of separateness, but on the other side of that ugliness lies a beautiful space of inclusion, love, and abundance.

I will see you there.

So, do you think Ayahuasca should be free?

About the Author

Tina “Kat” Courtney, The AfterLife Coach, is a traditionally trained Ayahuasquera and a vocal advocate for all sacred psychedelic spaces. Kat is an experienced Ayahuasca coach and guide, helping anyone prepare for and integrate this amazing medicine. Kat also works with people confronting issues around death and shadow, and anyone looking to be more deeply connected to soul. She is soul coach communicator and lover-of-death. Her calling is to be a light as we walk through our darkness, and to remind us that everything is always OK.




Why I Quit Ayahuasca Shamanism After 11 Years and 1,000 Ceremonies

I’m alive because of Ayahuasca. I am connected, soulful, expanded, and spilling over with self-love, mostly because of the blessing of attending around 1,000 sacred plant ceremonies. But if my intuition proves correct, I will never drink Ayahuasca or any other plant medicine again.

Why? Because it worked too well.

Let me explain.

The Standard Story: Ayahuasca Saved My Life

When I first found Ayahuasca – or rather, when she first found me – I was deeply depressed, though I pretended to be the happiest chirpy ass blonde LA girl you would ever meet. I had paralyzingly painful migraine headaches at least every 2 weeks. I drank alcohol almost every single day, as much as my body could handle. I did drugs most weekends to escape and to feel better, but increasingly, they were making me feel worse.

I was fake. I was miserable. I was dying inside and out.

In short, I was on a fast-track to total self-destruction, but I appeared as though I had the ultimate dream life. I had a famous boyfriend. I co-owned a video game studio. I was interviewed on national television and a major documentary. It would seem this small town Montana girl had it all figured out.

Life was exploding. And I was imploding.

But then came Ayahuasca. In my first cycle in 2006 in the Amazonian jungle, I woke up to the truth: I hated myself, and I hated my life.

That was the most honest realization I had ever experienced.

She (Ayahuasca) also gave me the courage and resolve to do something about all this darkness. I knew I had to change just about every aspect of my life. And that was OK. Because for the first time, I finally believed I deserved to feel better.

When I Grow Up, I’m Gonna be an Ayahuasca Shaman

The changes started the moment I returned to my LA home. Career, friends, boyfriend, house, drugs, alcohol – every part of my world started experiencing the necessary overhaul.

And in those 2.5 years of massive transformation, I drank in as many ceremonies as I could afford before I was offered the blessing of apprenticing with a couple of different maestros. In the process of ending the old destructive patterns, I thought I had discovered my life’s work: To be an Ayahuasquera. A shaman. A cuarendera. A healer.

I gave my all to this process. Every piece of me was committed. I did a total of 5 intensely restrictive and challenging plant dietas that spanned a sum total of almost 3 years. I became an organizer for a very large national Ayahuasca community, in which I did all the interviews, production, and aftermath assistance in addition to co-leading ceremonies. I sat in hundreds of Ayahuasca ceremonies with the maestros I worked with, guiding thousands of people through preparation, the medicine itself, and integration.

It’s an unspeakably challenging process, working with these plants. Learning to facilitate. The level to which one must be honest, transparent, strong, courageous, trusting, and disciplined is indescribable. My teacher warned me it would only get more difficult, and that was true; but that only made me more dedicated. More willing to give more of myself.

Things are Not What They Seem

Over the course of a year or two, about a decade after I went full throttle, it became abundantly clear to me that my life’s path was different than I imagined. I was not meant to lead ceremonies. My attachment to the process almost killed me, in truth, and maybe I’ll share those details some other time. The circumstances aren’t important right now, however, what I mean to share is this: Shamanism is not for everyone.

The fundamental understanding of anyone committing to a shamanic path is that there are good and bad energies (spirits) all around us, and a shaman aids in protection and clearing. Plants have spirits. Animals. Rocks. Humans, of course. The earth itself. The shaman is the bridgewalker, traveling to other realms to help with soul retrieval and spiritual cleansings that impact the tangible (body) and intangible (soul, mind, emotions, etc.)

I watched people with cancer heal themselves. Diabetes. Depression. Lyme disease. Kidney failure. Heart congestion. PTSD. Intense emotional traumas. You name it, I’ve seen it transformed in this process.

Nothing is Capable of Healing Us. We Have to Do It Ourselves.

Ayahuasca itself, contrary to what others say, is not a healer. She is a consciousness expander, which is far better. She shows us how to heal ourselves, if we’re ready and willing. She can’t force it, she can only show us the portal. If our soul knows it’s time, then magic can unfold.

She opens us up to a different perspective, a more expanded view of ourselves, our tribe, and our world. She gives us the opportunity to understand our true nature, our patterns, our fears, and then provides guidance (through the vessel of a trained and authentic shaman) to choose differently. To heal. To expand.

Ultimately, however, Ayahuasca is what I call “the medicine of duality.” She works by creating deep experiences of contrasts like fear and fearlessness, darkness and light, resistance and surrender.

But the more I worked with her, the more I became more singular in my awareness. By that I mean non-dual. And by that I mean – all contrasts collapsed into the one. I learned through EXPERIENCE (as opposed to thought) that hot and cold are just opposite sides of the same coin. Darkness and light are both made of God-stuff; they are all from source. And so in the highest truth, they are fundamentally the same experience, we just receive them from a filter of preference and feeling and compartmentalization.

In the true spirit of duality, she also helped me to own the truth of our human experience – that is, our divine (perceived but still very real) separateness. That means going deeper into soul, where pain is undeniable. I have experienced fear so wildly intense I sincerely thought I would combust from the realness. In that space, every moment felt like a lifetime. Each millisecond I had to hold on for dear life, thinking something far worse than death was about to consume me.

Despite knowing it’s all an illusion, my emotional experience has hit every corner of the spectrum. And to that part of me, this shit is very, very real. My soul doesn’t give a rat’s patootie if my mind says it’s all just perception. I feel. And to the part of me in separateness, that’s the real deal.

Until it wasn’t. Until I started experiencing it all as oneness. Until I accidentally uncovered a more unified truth.

Experiencing the Darkness as Part of the Light

I still feel the darkness – so intensely at times I think I might lose consciousness. But I never, ever believe it’s anything other than exactly what I need. I know it’s all love. And in that, the duality has fallen away.

This actually made me powerless as an Ayahuasquera.

Why? Because although I see and experience all those spirits, including the demonic ones, I started to deeply understand they are only projections that stem from our current perspective and vibration. They are both real (if we believe in them), and then when we see the bigger picture of reality, they become projections.

Both real and unreal. The ultimate contrast.

The trick of this is, since I don’t believe in their existence as entities, and in our fundamental separateness, the tools fell away. They became ideas rather than tangible tactics. Holograms rather than bona fide methods.

It became like watching a movie. Yes, I would see the dark energies around a given being, especially while they were being doctored and helped. But I personally could not separate that those entities were simply (or not so simply) there not to torture and maim and harm, but to teach and reflect and assist. Darkness is the bad guy that teaches us our most profound lessons. And since we can’t kill the darkness, we might as well turn our curiosity to it and dare to understand.

There’s Nothing Wrong Here. Except that We Think There’s Something Wrong.

I stopped wanting to interfere with the beauty of our journeys. I stopped feeling like something was wrong. I stopped believing in the boogeyman. I stopped knowing how to combat the darkness because I realized that darkness is there to teach us our lessons. Yes, it fucking sucks to have illness and disease and paralyzing fears. Pain and loss and separation and drama and OMG there’s so much suffering in this world!

But none of this is an accident. These are gifts that we must own, integrate, understand, and love before we can transcend them. The only way out is through.

As Ayahuasca would tell me, you can hide kid, but you can’t run. Shadow is part of self. Self is part of all. There is nothing to fix. Only to listen to. Only to understand.

To sum it up, I learned to accept everything as perfect.

And since I saw someone’s (and my own) dis-ease as an aspect of soul, as an opportunity to heal and expand and grow, I no longer felt being a healer was my calling. Outside of duality, there is nothing to heal.

I was out of a job. I had been divinely duped.

Getting Dumped by Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca, in her infinite wisdom, pushed me out of our relationship. She basically dumped me. She dumped me HARD. But as I recovered, I discovered what is always, always true – that was a supreme, ridiculously awesome gift.

It was not done to me, this dismantling of identity – it was done for me.

And so, despite once dedicating my entire life to Ayahuasca and plant medicine, despite giving up everything to do this work, despite tattooing the plants and animal totems all over my body – I am personally done with shamanism.

Or am I ?

Life is always full of contrasts.

In truth, I am done with my old identification with shamanism. I had to do the “let go of something so a bigger vision can materialize” trick.

I once thought that there could be nothing bigger or more rewarding then helping people ease their suffering. As usual, I was wrong.

Understanding Suffering, Not Eradicating It

Now, I am taking all that profound learning, all those nights of terror and breakthrough and bliss and duality, and embarking on two journeys (duality again):

1) Deepening my own relationship to soul. Doing my best to own that I am only a vessel of divinity, that I don’t know shit, that everything I go through (especially my suffering, the part I resist the most) is a gorgeous blessing, and that the intention of learning and expanding is All There Is (because it all leads to love….)

2) Guiding others through the uncharted territory of soul. Helping whomever is called to work with me to know themselves – and thus the entire experience of consciousness – in a more whole and complete way. Whether they are working with Ayahuasca and the master plants or not, I am overjoyed to help people understand their true essence. Their eternal nature. That everything is both real, and not real. That we are both mortal, and immortal.

I am not doing this by leading ceremonies. I have chosen instead to be the before and after guide, as that is where I can stay in my integrity.

But let me make one thing very clear: This is MY personal journey with Ayahuasca. She taught me the secrets of the universe, and then disengaged from our union.

This is not to say that others can’t have the exact same realization and be a stronger shaman for accessing the non-dual state. That just wasn’t my destiny. I wished with all my being that I could have it all. I was so attached and in love with being with her. But she and my soul had other plans, and I am honoring that completely.

Knowing all is perfect does not by default make you a defunct shaman. It just made ME one 🙂

Authentic Shamans and Journeyers are All Spiritual Warriors

I honor with all that I am every brave soul who both facilitates and participates in these sacred, time-honored experiences. It is NOT the easy path. It can be, and often is, the most rewarding experience of one’s existence.

I am humbled and overjoyed to be the cheerleader. To guide the before and after. To help in the unraveling. To the connection to truth. To a deeper understanding of self. And most importantly, to a more complete experience of love – love of self, others, and the whole cosmic multiverse. And that means loving our shadow, which in its most complete form means loving Death.

So thank you, Ayahuasca. With all that I am, and all these tears I cry for you now, I honor you. I adore you. You will be Mamacita to my soul for all of eternity. I will miss our crazy ceremony times together. More than I can express. It seems impossible that one could grow out of and away from you, but such is my truth.

But to watch others experience the unique messages you have for THEM – it’s like being with you myself, repeatedly, in a continuous stream of truth and love.

Go Forth and Find Your Own Truth

If you are called by her, answer. If you are called again, keep answering. It will be the journey of lifetimes. But if it ever feels complete, do not take offense. All we can do is be true to our own soulful awareness. That’s love. And love really is all there is.

About the Author:

Tina “Kat” Courtney, The Afterlife Coach, has worked with Ayahuasca for 11 years, with a decade as a shamanic apprentice. She works as an Ayahuasca Coach, guiding others through the integration and preparation process with all sacred plants and master plant dietas. Additionally, Kat works with people confronting issues around death and shadow. Ever the Gemini, Kat is also the co-founder of RedRoar, a cause-oriented and conscious marketing agency. She’s a transformational junkie with a major love of polarities, and she adores helping others love their darkness too.

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“Para Curar, Solamente Para Curar”

Richard Grossman, L.Ac., O.M.D., Ph.D.
Reprinted with permission

We are all gathered in a large outdoor circular building called the “maloca”. It’s 9:00, time for the evening ceremony to start, and G., our leader, is snoring. But it’s okay. Somehow the snores blend into the music of the jungle: the frogs, crickets, cicadas, night birds, and other sound that are beyond my ability to recognize. It’s beautiful.

Like G., we are all lying on thin mats on the ground. At the center of the room, next to the large ceramic pot containing a roll of mapacho, jungle tobacco, three candles are waxed to flat stones. Above us, the beams and posts that support the palm frond roof move with the flickering light. Sometimes it seems like the beams all move along with the night music. Occasionally a mosquito buzzes by, its harsh whine interrupting the tapestry of the night creatures music. Occasionally a few whispers break the silence, punctuated by gentle laughter. The night is warm and humid, as are most nights here in the center of the Peruvian Amazon. Occasionally a breeze moves through the trees and a branch falls. I close my eyes to rest, knowing that soon G. will wake up, or one of his assistants will wake him, and we will begin another ceremony.

Fifteen years ago I had my first experience with such a ceremony. Not in the jungle, but at a house in the Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking the ocean. Then night music was only crickets and the sound of an occasional car or airplane going by. And I was afraid. Terrified, really. The unknown does that. And this was to be a journey into the unknown. I had watched as my friend and guide carefully measured out a dose of the ceremonial medicina. He handed it to me, and I gulped it down: a one-way act of complete commitment. Now, whether I wanted to or not, I was going to enter a deep, and totally new, healing space.

I lay down on the floor, on a comfortable mattress in the center of the room, flanked by tall speakers playing soft and soothing music. And I waited. And waited. Eyes closed, I began to see things: patterns of light and energy moving in time with the music. The fear dissolved. Multi-colored and multi-dimensional swirls of light/sound all blended together. It was almost seductive, drawing me in deeper and deeper. This continued for about half hour, and then a thought came to my mind: “This is too much.”

I felt a tightening in my stomach. Fear. It was too much. Too strong. Sucking me into a world, a dimension I didn’t know. But there was a strange familiarity to it all, as though, illogically, I had gone through this before. I could have stopped it with my will, but there was no choice. Not if I was there to heal. So I went into that world though I could have stopped it with my will had I let my fear control me. Though really I had no choice because I was there to heal, and stopping it would have stopped the healing.

I felt a tightening in my stomach. Fear. It was too much. Too strong. Sucking me into a world, a dimension I didn’t know. But there was a strange familiarity too it all, as though, illogically, I had gone through this many times before. So I went into it. Memories rose up. Childhood pain. Traumas, both remembered and forgotten. The day my dog died. I was six. I had never cried. Never even realized then what it meant for death to come to something I loved. Now the tears came. My beloved uncle, who had a heart attack and died while showering. More tears. The bicycle accident that caused the loss of my index finger at five. Ambulance sirens. Pain. Fear. Terror. More memories and pain than I could handle.

And then, something miraculous. I heard, as though from outside myself and within myself at once, a soft voice. “Trust and Forgive,” it said, over and over. “Trust and Forgive.” So I trusted. I forgave. And I felt those wounds and memories relax and lose their emotional charge. Then…back further. Through birth into . . . what to call it? Past lifetimes? Collective memories? Imagination? But real…oh, so real. A concentration camp in Germany. Walking with others to the gas chamber. The smell of burning bodies permeating the air I was and wasn’t breathing. I wanted to run away, but there was no where to go. There was nothing I could do. My fate was to walk into those showers, to breathe in the poison gas, to become one of those burning bodies. A small part of me knew that this wasn’t really happening. I could still feel the mattress under my back, still hear the music and crickets, still knew that I wouldn’t be gassed and burned. And it was still so real.

I thought I would open my eyes. End the experience. Talk to R., who was guiding me in this ceremony. But I knew that there was more to learn and to heal. And then I was back there again. And again I heard it: “Trust and Forgive.” No, I thought, I can’t. This is too horrible. “Trust and Forgive.” It’s impossible; no one can forgive this. “Trust and Forgive.” But I don’t know how to do that. Or maybe I do. Maybe I have to. So I did. I forgave and let go. And trust? Trust what? Trust this insane vision? Trust myself? Trust my ideas? Trust my religion? Trust God? “Just Trust. And Forgive.”

So I did. I let go, at the deepest cellular level, of the pain and the fear; of the hatred and the anger. And I somehow recognized these memories and feelings. They were subtle, almost invisible, always in the background of my life, like glasses you wear daily and forget you have on, or the distant highway sounds that you no longer hear. Yet always there, always coloring, like an invisible shadow, the way I had interacted with and seen my world, perhaps since my birth into this life. I opened my eyes to talk about what I was experiencing. Or tried to. Only a mumble came out. I managed to ask, “How long?” It had not yet been an hour. I closed my eyes again; back into the vision, into that all too real vision. And I let go, relaxing completely into the unfamiliar feeling. Breathe. Relax. Trust. Forgive.

And suddenly, with the forgiveness, I was out of the death camp. But the Journey was just beginning. Rome. I was a woman. Tortured. At the bottom of a latrine. Tied down, slowly being covered with feces. Screaming. Though no screams came out of my mouth there in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was horrible. Smelled horrible. And then, again: “Trust and Forgive.” And when I did, it was over; there was peace. But there was so much more: Tortured in the Inquisition. A slave about to be locked, alive, into a tomb in Egypt. Places and times I didn’t even know or recognize from the history I had studied. So many times humans have tortured and killed one another. All of it locked, somehow, deep within me. I could tell that the medicina didn’t create these visions; it just shined its light into those inner corners, crannies and hidden caves – where I didn’t want to go – so that I could see what was already, what was always there. So I could let it heal, help me heal.


I am back in Peru, in the maloca, G. softly calling my name. I go and sit on the mat in front of him. He carefully measures a small cup of the medicina and hands it to me. I hold it to my heart, as I always do, and voice a silent prayer: May this Journey show me what I need to see. May this help me heal that in me which needs healing. May this ceremony be not only for myself, but may it be for all who are suffering, all who have suffered, all who may suffer in the future. I drink the earthy, bitter tasting brew in one fast gulp, return to my place in the maloca, rinse my mouth out with a sip of water, and wait. Each person in turn is called up to receive the medicina. Each in turn returns to their mat and sits, listening to the magical sounds of the jungle creatures, tuning into their inner worlds.

Then, unexpectedly, I have a strong bout of coughing. I’ve been doing that for about a week, probably a combination of breathing in the diesel fumes that are so common in third world cities, and sleeping in the Andes without enough blankets. Tonight this one spasm of coughing continues and multiplies, painful and deep in my lungs.

I scan the other people in the maloca, especially those who have traveled to be with me in the jungle. Eight in all, all so different, all who trusted me enough to come on this Journey: a yoga teacher, a psychotherapist, a photographer, a nutritionist, a woman who has suffered from chemical sensitivity and fibromyalgia for 10 years, and others, all different walks of life. Some have had difficult times in the last two ceremonies, as repressed areas of their pasts began to come into awareness. It is to them that I send out a silent prayer of good intention, for their healing and deepest good.

Time passes. L., the woman with the fibromyalgia, is having a tough time. “I’m dying, I’m dying” she keeps moaning. Others are affected by this. One shouts out to me, “Please, do something for her. Help her.” Yet I knew that she has to go through whatever she is going through, that she isn’t dying, at least her physical body isn’t dying, just the part of her that holds onto her illness. And that this is the medicina taking her to a place where she can go through the cause of her illness to find real healing.

A few weeks ago, during a ceremony with an elderly Shipibo shaman in San Francisco Pucallpa, another woman, D., was struggling. A long-time healer, experienced with medicina, she was surprised to find an area of deep darkness and suffering still within herself, and it frightened her deeply. The shaman worked with her for at least an hour, mostly comforting her as the medicine did its work. Finally she got into a better state. “Porqué tomo? (Why do I take this?)”, she asked after a few minutes. “Para curar” (to heal), he said, softness, love, experience and understanding in his voice. “Solamente para curar (only to cause healing)”

Here in the ceremony, I am coughing strongly and regularly. Breathing is beginning to be difficult, and I wonder if all of the fumes I have breathed in are trigging an allergic asthma; not a comforting thought to have when I am hours away from the nearest hospital or doctor. From very far away I hear “Richard”, very softly. I think I am imagining it, but then again, even softer, “Richard”. It is G. calling me to come to him for healing. Again, I sit in front of him. He starts singing. His song lasts about 10 minutes. Then he blows mapacho smoke from his pipe over me in an ancient ritual of cleansing. After he is done I go back to my mat, sit down and take a deep breath. No congestion, no cough. I try it again, still no coughing, not then nor for the rest of the evening.

The next morning I notice that L. is glowing, a large smile on her face. I start laughing, one of those laughs that comes from deep within the heart. I ask her to tell me everything. I can’t go into details here due to confidentiality, but essentially she says that she was able to let go of an issue that has been bothering her for 10 years. That she realized that her illness was a direct result of her inability to forgive someone from her past. And that the night before, in the midst of all of her suffering, she understood that the suffering was her own creation. That no one and nothing else had created it. This allowed her to forgive and begin the process of true healing. This healing path is not for everyone. It is a path for those who are willing to heal, to look at and confront their deepest wounds, and to forgive themselves and others for everything. To let go of that, even of those cherished wounds, pains, and injustices which makes us who we think we are, blinding us from who we really are.

In a meeting with G. the next day, I ask him what he had done to me. Very simply, very humbly, he says that he had sung an icaro (healing song) to my lungs, and my lungs heard the song and let go of their illness.

Weeks after we return to the U.S., L. comes to see me. Her fibromyalgia and chemical sensitivity are not fully gone, she says, but they bother her less than they have in years.

Why do I do this? Why do I take people into a foreign country, into the jungle, to be bitten by mosquitoes, to live in an environment that can be uncomfortable and challenging, to take strange herbs, to confront their most fearsome inner demons, to work with shamans who embody an ancient healing tradition? And why do they come with me?

Para curar, solamente para curar.

Richard Grossman is the founder of Heart Feather, a healing travel experience. He is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine with over 30 years of professional experience. He is also a sound healer and the creator of soundJourney, a multi-instrumental sound healing experience. He has lived and traveled in China, India, Mexico, Peru, and Ecuador, and has worked and studied with healers and shamans from many diverse backgrounds. More about Dr. Grossman and his work can be found at, or

“Templo Sacrosanto” by Pablo Amaringo

Visionary Experiences

There are a number of human experiences — I am thinking of such things as hallucinations, lucid dreams, visions, apparitions, false awakenings, out-of-body experiences, DMT journeys, eidetic visualization, hypnagogia, waking dreams, and active imagination — that are characterized by presentness, detail, externality, and three-dimensional explorable spacefulness. We can call these visionary experiences.

Specifically, visionary experiences have in common that they

  • occur with the force of a present perception of external reality;
  • have what appears to be the same quantity and quality of sensory detail as ordinary experiences;
  • are experienced as external to the experiencer;
  • occur in what seems to the experiencer to be an extended, three-dimensional, explorable perceptual space;
  • and frequently involve interactions with apparently autonomous others.

Such visionary experiences can be categorized in several ways. First, we can distinguish overlapping visionary experiences from total ones. An overlapping vision appears to occur within the otherwise normal perception of the environment: a person with Charles Bonnet syndrome sees a monkey sitting on his neurologist’s lap (Ramachandran, 1998, p. 107); a bereaved widow sees an apparition of her deceased husband standing in the hallway; an ayahuasca drinker sees cast-iron lawn furniture placed in front of a jungle hut (Beyer, 2009, pp. 232-233). A total vision, on the other hand, substitutes an entirely different perceptual space for the ordinary environment: a lucid dreamer floats down a staircase; a runner hovers in the air, looking down at her own body during a marathon; an ayahuasca drinker has a vision of a golden child standing by a garbage-strewn empty lot (Beyer, 2009, p. 241).

Either type of visionary experience may be multisensorial, incorporating vision, sound, and kinesthesia. Of course, there can be ambiguity. I may seem to awaken in my darkened room to see a figure standing in front of the dresser by the bed. If I have in fact awakened, then the figure appears to occur in my normal perceptual space; if this is, instead, a false awakening, and I am in fact dreaming, then clearly the vision has constructed not only the figure but my room as well.

The same descriptions would fit a wide variety of total visionary experiences. Whether in lucid dreams, active imagination, or hallucination, people move through explorable landscapes — along a country road (Jung, 1935/1997b, ¶394, p. 144), through unfamiliar streets (Green & McCreery, 1994, pp. 1-2), high enough in the air to see the tops of the trees and small hills (Alvarado, 2000, p. 184). They interact with objects and people — push open a door (Jung, 1935/1997b, ¶394, p. 144), carry on a conversation (Jung, 1962/1997a, pp. 28, 30), confront an angry father (Laberge & Gackenbach, 2000, pp. 169). They turn corners and see unexpected things — a small chapel (Jung, 1935/1997b, ¶394, p. 144), a war memorial (Green & McCreery, 1994, pp. 1-2), a sunlit glade (Green & McCreery, 1994, p. 11). Unexpected events occur — a sparrow alights on one’s hand (Green & McCreery, 1994, p. 11), something with pointed ears scurries out of sight (Green & McCreery, 1994, p. 69), the hands of a clock suddenly move (Jung, 1935/1997b, ¶394, p. 144). These descriptions come from active imagination, lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences, and false awakenings, but they have a striking phenomenological consistency.

Total visionary experiences convey the sense of being in an explorable environment, often in the presence of autonomous other-than-human persons. This sense has been discussed, in particular, by analysts describing active imagination — a world they call imaginal and I have here called visionary. For example, transpersonal psychologist John Rowan says, “It is crucial to understand that the imaginal world has a reality of its own, within the four walls of its own realm” (1993, p. 63). Here, Hillman says, “we have to engage with persons whose autonomy may radically alter, even dominate our thoughts and feelings” (1983, p. 55). Psychologist Mary Watkins says that one creates for oneself a home in the imaginal (1976, p. 124). “The imaginal world,” says Rowan, “is a world where real things happen” (1993, p. 54). Henry Corbin, a scholar of Sufism and Persian Islam, calls this visionary world the mundus imaginalis, “a very precise order of reality, which corresponds to a precise mode of perception” (1972/2000, p. 71).

These visionary experiences can also be characterized along two dimensions — first, according to the degree to which the experience is entered into intentionally; and, second, by the amount of control the experiencer exercises over the content of the experience. Active imagination would be high in intentionality and low on control; Tibetan tantric eidetic visualization would be high on both; and a Charles Bonnet hallucination would typically be low on both.

The same type of experience may occur at different points along these dimensions on different occasions. Hallucinations of the deceased are a commonly documented part of the grief reaction (Bentall, 2000; Grimby, 1993; Reese, 1971). Such experiences may vary on intentionality, to the extent that the bereaved attempts, for example, to engage the deceased in conversation or perhaps even attempts to call the deceased for purposes of communication. A lucid dreamer may — or may not — be able to control the actions of dream objects and persons, or be able to do so to varying degrees.

Such visionary experiences appear to be a central and consistent component of shamanism generally — most prominently, for example, in the ayahuasca shamanism of the Upper Amazon (Beyer, 2009). Shamanic experiences would rank high on intentionality and relatively low on control, like active imagination. While the shaman can control his or her own actions while interacting with the spirits, the shaman has no direct control over the actions of the autonomous spirits; the shaman can ask a question, ask for help, even demand compliance, but most commonly cannot compel a particular response (see, e.g., Jakobsen, 1999). In this, shamanic experiences are similar to some Buddhist and Hindu eidetic visualization practices; conversely, certain spontaneous Buddhist visionary samādhis would rank low on both intentionality and control.

Visionary experiences also appear to be quite widespread across cultures. For example, it is possible to trace the development and spread of both spontaneous visions and eidetic visualization as a meditative practice in both Hinduism and Buddhism (Beyer, 1977). Similar visionary experiences can be found in the writings of certain Muslim mystics of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, especially the Persian Suhrawardī and the Arabic Avicenna and Ibn al-‘Arabī (Corbin, 1972/2000; Chittick, 1994). Here imaginal dialogues between men and their angels form the central experience around which a cosmology of levels and worlds revolves (Watkins, 2000, p. 75).

In Europe, the surrealists independently plunged into the visionary world, which they called the imagination. “The imaginary,” says André Breton, “is what tends to become real” (quoted in Alquié, 1969, p. 126). And, in his Surrealist Manifesto (1971a, p. 66), he wrote, “Perhaps the imagination is on the verge of recovering its rights. If the depths of our minds conceal strange forces capable of augmenting or conquering those on the surface, it is in our greatest interest to capture them.” Similarly, in his Second Surrealist Manifesto (1971b, p. 89), Breton called the imagination the “vital and highest faculty of the mind,” the illuminator and not the falsifier of reality, the unveiler of hidden zones. Guillaume Appollinaire, in his Calligrammes, writes of “kingdoms vast and strange,” where “there are new fires of colors never seen, a thousand mysterious phantoms, which we must say are real” (quoted in Balakian, 1947, p. 106). “Reality, then,” says Breton’s biographer Anna Balakian, “in its dynamic sense proceeding from an interior state, nurtured by what we call imagination, and brought to an exterior existence . . . is what Breton calls the ‘surreal,’ in a sense that it has no connection with the unreal” (p. 89). Paul Eluard says, “Images are, images live, everything becomes image. They were long mistaken for illusions because they were restricted, were made to undergo the test of reality, an insensitive and dead reality” (Eluard, 1932, quoted in Ray, 1971, p. 126).

There seems to be much in common among the various visionary experiences — active imagination, hallucinations, lucid dreams, out-of-body experiences, false awakenings, ayahuasca visions, shamanic journeys, waking dreams, apparitions, and eidetic visualization. There may indeed be an additional experience that shares with visionary experiences their characteristic presentness, detail, externality, autonomy, three-dimensional explorable spacefulness, and interaction with apparently autonomous others. I am talking, of course, about reality.

If reality is a visionary experience, it lies toward the bottom of the scale of control. To the extent that the boundary between reality and other visionary experiences is fluid, and may be influenced by culture, training, and experience, it may rank higher on the scale of intentionality than we usually believe.

Say you dream that you trip over a rock, look up, and see a child holding a flower and smiling at you. You might then seek to understand the meaning of the dream — to explore its depths, to find its message, to swim in its currents, to interrogate it and let it speak. You might go back intop the dream, or call it up in active imagination, and speak to the rock, the child, the flower: Who are you? What do you want me to do? Will you be my teacher?

Now suppose that in reality you trip over a rock, look up, and see a child holding a flower and smiling at you. Why do we disrespect reality so much that we deny to it the meaning we seek in a dream or vision? Soul, says Hillman, is “that mode which recognizes all realities as primarily symbolic or metaphorical” — including mere reality.

To the extent that these experiences are convincing, detailed, explorable, real, they make fluid the line between the visionary and the everyday worlds. Perhaps they teach us to de-reify the world, to personify, to mythologize — to obliterate the boundaries, construct a visionary world from the detritus of the everyday, let us see through, turn the world into metaphor, into magic.


Alquié, A. (1969). The philosophy of Surrealism. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Alvarado, C. S. (2000). Out-of-body experiences. In E. Cardeña, S. J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.), Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence (pp. 183–218). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Balakian, A. (1947). The literary origins of Surrealism. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Bentall, R. P. (2000). Hallucinatory experiences. In E. Cardeña, S. J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.), Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence (pp. 85–120). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Beyer, S. (1977). Notes on the vision quest in early Mahāyāna. In L. Lancaster (Ed.). Prajñāpāramitā and related systems: Studies in honor of Edward Conze. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Buddhist Studies Series.

Beyer, S. (2009). Singing to the plants: A guide to mestizo shamanism in the Upper Amazon. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Breton, A. (1971a). Le manifeste du Surréalisme. In Waldberg, P. (Ed.), Surrealism. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Breton, A. (1971b). Le second manifeste du Surréalisme. In Balakian, A. (Ed.), Andre Breton: Magus of surrealism. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Chittick, W. C. (1994). Imaginal worlds: Ibn al-’Arabi and the problem of religious diversity. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Corbin, H. (2000). Mundus imaginalis: Or the imaginary and the imaginal. In B. Sells (Ed.), Working with images (pp. 71–89). Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications. (Original work published 1972.)

Eluard, P. (1932). Poetry’s evidence (Beckett, S., Trans.). This Quarter, 5(1).

Green, C., & McCreery, C. (1994). Lucid dreaming: The paradox of consciousness during sleep. London: Routledge.

Grimby, A. (1993). Bereavement among elderly people: Grief reactions, post-bereavement hallucinations and quality of life. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 87, 72–80.

Hillman, J. (1983). Healing fictions. Woodstock, CT: Spring.

Jakobsen, M. D. (1999). Shamanism: Traditional and contemporary approaches to the mastery of spirits and healing. New York: Berghahn Books.

Jung, C. (1997a). Confrontation with the unconscious. In J. Chodorow (Ed.), Jung on active imagination (pp. 21–41). Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1962.)

Jung, C. (1997b). The Tavistock lectures. In J. Chodorow (Ed.), Jung on active imagination (pp. 143–153). Princeton: Princeton University Press. (Original work published 1935.)

Laberge, S., & Gackenbach, J. (2000). Lucid dreaming. In E. Cardeña, S. J. Lynn, & S. Krippner (Eds.), Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence (pp. 151–182). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Ramachandran, V. S. (1998). Phantoms in the brain. New York: Harper Collins.

Ray, P. (1971). The surrealist movement in England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Reese, W. D. (1971). The hallucinations of widowhood. British Medical Journal, 210, 37–41.

Rowan, J. (1993). The transpersonal: Psychotherapy and counselling. London: Routledge.

Watkins, M. (1976). Waking dreams. New York: Harper Colophon.

Watkins, M. (2000). Invisible guests: The development of imaginal dialogues. Woodstock, CT: Spring Publications.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the DEA Religious Exemption Process

This article is to inform about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the RFRA exemption procedure, and the process of getting a RFRA exemption from the Drug Enforcement Administration, in the United States.

The First Amendment and RFRA

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

There are two clauses to this:

1) “no law respecting an establishment of religion

2) “no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof

The first clause is known as the establishment clause, the second as the free exercise clause. The establishment clause is interpreted as meaning that the government cannot show favoritism to any religion or give special privileges to any religion. The free exercise clause is interpreted as meaning that the government cannot interfere with religious practice.

The establishment clause and the free exercise clause can come into conflict when a particular religion’s practices conflict with “generally applicable laws.” On the one hand, allowing a special exception could be interpreted as giving favoritism or special privileges to a particular religion, violating the establishment clause; on the other hand, not allowing the special exception could interfere with the free exercise of religion and violate the free exercise clause. Over the decades, the courts have seesawed between which of these clauses gets priority.

In Smith v State of Oregon in 1988, the Supreme Court gave priority to the establishment clause over the free exercise clause, ruling that allowing Klamath tribal member Al Smith the right to use peyote would be special privilege for his religion. But that ruling went so far in the direction of the establishment clause that it alarmed religious groups across the country. It potentially opened the door for the government to pass a “generally applicable law” that, for example, would prohibit the wearing of hijabs or skullcaps and refuse to allow religious exceptions, since such an exception would give special privileges to particular religions.

An unprecedented coalition of religious groups across the religious and political spectrums came together to push for the passage of RFRA.  RFRA was overwhelmingly passed by Congress. It has been modified through subsequent case rulings.  (It mandates only the federal government, not state governments, but some states have passed state RFRAs.)

RFRA basically mandates that courts give the free exercise clause priority over the establishment clause.

In other words, the principle of no interference with religious freedom gets priority over the principle of no special privileges for a particular religion, if certain guidelines are met. RFRA spells out those guidelines.

Some people think that RFRA is all about entheogens, but there are countless issues that RFRA also potentially applies to — from the refusal of medical treatment for children to the refusal to remove a burqa for a passport photo, from animal sacrifice to the right not to work on the Sabbath, from religious-based conscientious objection to military service to the prohibition of polygamy, from the right of Jewish prisoners to kosher foods to the destruction of Native American sacred sites by logging and mining, from the right to discriminate against gay people for religious reasons to the right of religious pacifists to refuse to pay war taxes.  Potential RFRA issues are endless; not only could laws against many otherwise illegal activities, such as polygamy, potentially be challenged on religious grounds, but anyone could invent a “religion” and claim that almost any behavior is religiously mandated.

Thus, to claim a RFRA exemption, a person or group must prove they have:

(1) A religious belief

(2) which is sincere

(3) and the exercise of which has been substantially “burdened” by the law in question.

Then the burden of proof shifts to the government to show that:

(1) It has a “compelling interest” in burdening the religious practice, and

(2) It has burdened the practice in the least restrictive manner possible.

Let’s look at what each of these factors mean, as developed in entheogenic case law.

“Religious”: What makes a belief “religious” has never been defined by the courts, but there are criteria the courts use to distinguish “religious” from “philosophical” and “psychological” beliefs.

In the case US v Meyers, a man named Matthew Meyers appealed a conviction for growing and selling marijuana on religious grounds. The appeals court rejected the claim that the Church of Marijuana was a religion because its doctrine began and ended with its’ belief about marijuana, lacking “ultimate ideas” addressing “fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of life”; “metaphysical beliefs” of a “transcendental” nature; “organized moral and ethical codes”; “comprehensiveness of beliefs”; and “accoutrements of religion,” such as sacred writings or teachings, clergy or keepers of knowledge, ceremonies, and rituals. Although there is still no formal legal definition of religion, these criteria, known as the “Meyers factors,” have been used as a guideline by the courts ever since.

There is no court precedent for courts including altered states of consciousness, heightened awareness, healing, clairvoyant experiences, or vibrational attunement in their definition of religion. The courts look for systematic beliefs and systematic practice of those beliefs, not beliefs made up extemporaneously.

“Sincere” means that a religion is not just made up to get around the law.

“Burdened” means that the law or government’s action prevents or impedes the practice of the religion. (In court, groups that use multiple entheogenic sacraments have lost their cases because no single sacrament is seen as essential to their religious practice.)

“Compelling interest” means that the government must show a compelling reason for disallowing the requested exception.

“Least restrictive” means what it sounds like — that the government must achieve its ends with the minimum restriction possible.

In the UDV case, the government did not contest the UDV’s status as a religion. The government’s entire argument was over two compelling interests presented by the government: public health and safety, and the danger of diversion to the black market.

In the Santo Daime case, the government did challenge the religious legitimacy of the church. But the judge ruled in the Daime’s favor on this point.  So that case then also hinged on the government’s two “compelling interests” — first, public health and safety, and second, diversion to the black market.   And these are the compelling interests that groups seeking RFRA exemptions will have to address.


The DEA Exemption Process

Ever since UDV gained a precedent for religious exemptions, the DEA has put in place a procedure for religious groups to apply for RFRA exemptions without going to court.  In order to gain an exemption, the applicant must demonstrate that the already existing precedents apply to them.  

The process of judging these applications can take as long as several years.  But there is no fee for this and no court costs; the only expenses may be for the help of a lawyer.

The DEA approaches these applications like a court making a decision. They employ the Meyers factors (see above) and examine the religion closely. They gather evidence, including research on the internet, study it carefully, and ask many follow-up questions of the applicant. Eventually, they issue an opinion, written very much like a court opinion, full of citations and careful analysis and explanations of their reasoning.

The reason that the DEA takes such care is that someone turned down by the DEA can appeal to the district court, which will look at the DEA’s opinion exactly as it would look at an opinion issued by a lower court. If the district court finds the DEA’s decision to be legally unsupported, it can overturn the DEA’s decision. So far, although numerous cannabis churches have been turned down since RFRA was passed, this has never happened.

Once a group has obtained an exemption for their entheogenic sacrament, they don’t have the liberty to use it freely any way they want to. Their sacrament is overseen by the DEA’s Office of Diversion Control — the department of the DEA that oversees doctors, pharmacies, and pharmaceutical companies that import, process, manufacture and/or distribute controlled substances. Just as pharmacies must keep records of all controlled drugs that have a demand on the black market, the legal ayahuasca churches are required to keep records of how much ayahuasca was received, how many people drank how much ayahuasca on which dates, etc., and must keep those records for the government to inspect.

Also, an exempt church must keep their sacrament under secure lock and key, and must have ceremonies with a definite beginning and end, not allowing the sacrament to be consumed outside of ceremony.


Misinformation and misconceptions

Contrary to widespread misinformation, ayahuasca has not been legalized for religious use in the United States.  Courts do not legalize particular entheogens for religious use.  They give exemptions from the law, on a case by case basis, to specific groups.  (Peyote’s unique legal status has come through the executive and legislative branches, not the courts.)  The law itself, in regard to ayahuasca, has not been changed.

Another fiction that has been widely spread that exemption is all about membership in a religious organization that has gained an exemption. This falsehood was invention by a group called  Oklevueha Native American Church, which sells memberships under the fraudulent claim that buying a membership in their church (which can be done online, without ever meeting a church member) will make it legal to consume otherwise illegal plant substances.  

In actual fact, membership in a group means nothing at all.  In the UDV and Santo Daime court cases, the issue of membership did not even come up. One does not have to be a member of the UDV or SD to attend their ceremonies; guests are allowed to participate. Nor do members of the UDV or SD have the legal right to drink ayahuasca in any other venue. The courts did not legalize UDV and SD members to do whatever they wanted; they legalized UDV and SD practice because these practices were evidently safe.


Retreat “churches”

Recently, many ayahuasca retreats in the US have declared themselves to be “churches.”  They have done this because the Oklevueha Native American Church (ONAC) has fraudulently advertised that if a group affiliates with ONAC, that will give them the legal right to offer ayahuasca to the public and to advertise and promote their businesses openly.   Some have disaffiliated from ONAC but continue to follow its fraudulent model.

Several of these retreat churches have been invited by the DEA to apply for religious exemptions, and have made the application.  But their chances of success may not be good.

These retreat churches likely will not pass the test of sincerity. The Peruvian retreats upon which they are modeled consider themselves to be healing centers and businesses, not churches. They are frankly commercial, set up to attract customers.  And ayahuasca shamanism in the Amazon is considered a healing profession, not a religion; it is conducted by individual practitioners, as a way of making a living.   Ayahuasca retreats in Peru don’t claim to be religions or churches because calling themselves that gives them no legal privileges in Peru.  

It would be hard for a retreat center to make the case that they are calling themselves a church, or that they paid huge fees to affiliate with ONAC, for any reason other than getting around the law. (In fact, they openly admit that that was their reason for affiliating with ONAC, not because of religious doctrine.)

The retreat churches will likely will not pass the test of being religious.   Furthermore, few if any retreats would pass any of the Meyers factors.

These retreat churches have no religious requirements and ask no questions about people’s religious motivations in joining.  Joining is only a matter of paying a membership fee, which can be paid online without ever even meeting anyone from the church.  Whatever cut-and-pasted doctrines a center may put up on its web page, people who buy memberships are given no religious teachings or commitments, nor instructions about how to continue to follow their new religion after they leave — even though they have bought a lifetime membership, in order to participate in their new religion for perhaps one week out of their entire life.

This is in contrast to the stable communities of fellowship that are real churches, and the committed practice of people who are genuinely following a religion.

Another reason why the retreat churches are unlikely to get exemptions is the issue of safety.    UDV and Santo Daime prevailed on the safety issue because of their long histories and track records in Brazil, their disciplined practices, and the fact that the government could present no evidence that contradicted their claim that, as they practiced it, the use of ayahuasca was safe.   

Groups with no track record of safety will have a more difficult case to make. Indeed, many of these groups have ceremony leaders with very questionable training, even though an ayahuasca ceremony (with groups of people under the influence of a powerful mind-altering substance) is a situation that requires the highest degree of competence and integrity in those entrusted with the people’s care.  

When courts make decisions that set precedent, a major consideration is what the impact of the precedent will be; whether it will lead to good public policy. A court might question whether it would be good public policy to open up the right to pour ayahuasca, in exchange for hefty “donations,” to anyone who decides to set up their own ayahuasca church, regardless of their qualifications or lack thereof, and to advertise freely on the internet, where people can make limitless claims about whatever they are selling.

And finally, the retreat churches do not fall under existing legal precedent.  There is no legal precedent for the privilege of offering ayahuasca to the general public, for money, and even advertising and promoting ayahuasca in the media, in the spirit of attracting customers, not adherents.

The DEA seeks only to fulfill its legal obligations under existing court precedent. A group that doesn’t fall under existing precedent is unlikely to get an exemption through the DEA.  So ayahuasca retreat centers, shamanic circles, and other kinds of groups that have no existing precedent for religious exemptions would have to bring their cases to court to establish new precedent.


A final note of personal opinion

Healing centers with ayahuasca in the US should have their own road to legality, which can involve research, development of professional standards, and certification by professional associations.  A healing center should not need to pretend to be a religion, and a healing practitioner should not need to pretend to be a religious leader.  

An important reason for this is that a professional association has stricter standards and oversight than the oversight over religious groups (which in the United States is practically nil).  If, as a matter of public policy, the courts opened the door for anyone who called their practice “religious” to offer and promote ayahuasca to the public, that would be putting a very powerful tool into the hands of anyone at all – charismatic manipulator or psychopath or simple incompetent – with no oversight.  Indeed, the existing “church” scene is already riddled with fraud and worse.   Healing work with this powerful tool that is ayahuasca requires accountability and oversight, not the unaccountability of religious institutions.  The road to develop ayahuasca’s potential for healing should be opened legally, in a way that keeps it accountable.   

This article is adapted from a much longer article titled “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the DEA Exemption Process, and Ayahuasca Healings” posted on Bia Labate’s web page.

Four Transformations that Ayahuasca Tourism is Producing in the Traditional Ayahuasca Practice

No longer a means, but an end

Paradox: ayahuasca is not the core of the ayahuasquero medical system. In the tradition, God (slippery word) is the doctor and the medicine. Ayahuasca is the curandero’s tool to connect to the spirit world. So, he receives the healing music, the icaro, which he sings over the patient’s body during the ceremony; their spiritual allies inform him of the nature of the malady and the treatment needed by the patient, the medicinal plants and the diet the patient should follow. Patients of a certain seriousness do not take ayahuasca; in some indigenous populations only the healer takes it.

In the ayahuasca practiced (and modified) by foreigners, everything revolves upon the crucial moment to hasten the vomitive infusion, in whose molecules, one might venture, God is found.

No longer purge but vision

The ayahuasca brew is known locally as “the purge”: rather than to address a specific disease, the locals consume it to cleanse the stomach and the blood, throw up bad energy and attract good luck: hunting, sales, wife or husband. Thus, the purgative property of the remedy (result of the vine’s alkaloids, Banisteriopsis caapi) is privileged over its visionary property (due to the DMT of the chacruna, Psychotria viridis).

Westerners, in popular texts and widespread opinion, celebrate DMT; the vine’s function is to allow the DMT not to be destroyed in the stomach but instead reach the bloodstream. They show tolerance with the natives, who gave the drink the name of the less important plant in the formula. Vision happens to be an obsession in the West: they only care about the DMT and the supposed fantastic worlds it delivers. Assumptions: colourful visions are rarely reached.

No longer war but love

Ayahuasca is taken on the warpath: the curanderos are engaged in ruthless struggles against envious sorcerers. The work of the curandero reaches its highest expression when caring for a patient with daño: the sorcerer has pierced the patient’s body with the dreaded and painful virote (magic dart), or perhaps with a dangerous animal that gnaws the bowels. If the curandero overcomes the disease, it turns against him with redoubled energy; if he is not well prepared he will die.

Oblivious to this spiritual war, foreigners see a path towards love and self-knowledge in the world of ayahuasca; many find it.

No longer divine gift but market product

How to put a price on healing that is the work of God? Before Monster gazed upon ayahuasca, curanderos did not charge: their work was offset by voluntary donations (food, tools, even money). Not so voluntary: the mechanisms of reciprocity of Amazonian society determined them: nobody wanted to be labeled a miser and ostracized.

But foreigners do not sleep on the floor, they are neither satisfied with banana and fish, nor can stand mosquitoes: they want to be comfortable. Moreover, they do not bring chickens to exchange and if they are given the chance they have the habit of leaving without paying (mixing spirit and matter disgusts them). Thus, the dangerous gentleman Mr. Money  (faithful follower of Monster) comes to play, and also the fearsome Lady Inflation, without forgetting Intermediary, such a bright spark.

Carlos Suárez Álvarez is an independent researcher who lives in the Colombian city of Leticia, by the Amazon river, since 2007. He’s got a Master’s degree on Amazonian Studies by the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and has focused his research interest in economic development and cultural change throughout the Amazon. The ideas suggested in this article are developed in extenso in his multimedia book Ayahuasca, Iquitos and Monster Vorāx, a multimedia narration that portrays the work of seven maestros of Iquitos, along with the remarkable transformations that the so called phenomenon of “ayahuasca tourism” is producing in traditional practices.     

He is author of Ayahuasca, Iquitos and Monster Vorāx, a multimedia narration with 90 videos, 240 pictures, 20 chants and a thought provoking text that you can read/view/listen here:

So You want to Become an Ayahuasca Facilitator?

Originally published at

I’ve been giving Ayahuasca (and also Acacia and Syrian rue) to people for over 14 years. Around the world, more and more, I see people wanting to get into this story and become an ayahuasca facilitator.

A lot of people don’t know that actually giving ayahuasca to the regular people in any kind of visionary dose is not traditionally carried out in South American countries like Peru. Traditionally in Peruvian Amazonia, it would be the vegetalista or curandero who will drink ayahuasca and then perceive the sickness and know what plants can treat that sickness. He may give the patient ayahuasca, but they would rarely have visions, as how they traditionally brew ayahuasca is not for visions. Ethno-pharmacologists Terence McKenna and Jonathon Ott found this out directly when they first went to Iquitos in the 1980’s and neither of them could find ayahuasca that would give them visions.

So within that Peruvian mestizo paradigm, giving ayahuasca to the “gringos”, the white people, is in no way representative of their tradition. It is in fact a new tradition. Therefore, why do so many people so vehemently adhere to these so-called traditions? Especially when much of these traditions involve what westerners would see as sorcery? Is it just a case of better the devil you know?

True indigenous people, just drink ayahuasca, there is no brouhaha about it, the medicine is the medicine. I have heard of people drinking with the Shuar people in Ecuador and the whole tribe will drink ayahuasca together in the daytime, in the forest recreationally and heard similar stories from people who have drunk with indigenous people in Brazil. There is no “shaman” there, they are all enjoying and being with the space unfolding together. And you will see this in many indigenous cultures, an example is this clip showing Bruce Parry being given a sakona snuff (like yoyo, containing 5-MeO-DMT) with many members of the tribe.


So many of the facilitators are really just pandering to both their customers views and conceptions of what is “spiritual” and what is “traditional”. And yet, some facilitators may tip their hat to what is considered traditional, and others may not have a bar of it.

Many people like structure, they like sitting in one place, and having lots of rules. Each to their own. I personally dislike such structure and find it encourages a juvenile, dependent state of affairs. Are we really empowering individuals in this endeavor?

I believe as soon as everything turns back toward the facilitator, we have lost the group, we have then lost unity. Neither do I believe that the group space has to be paramount or a most essential factor. Groups occur because it is convenient for many people to drink at one time, rather than giving people one on one sessions, which some may see as an ideal situation, but very time inefficient for the facilitator. A lot of people just want something “religious” to hang their hat on, something “important” and spiritual. And yet, if you take a large enough dose of tea you will go beyond that anyway.

Having said that, many facilitators are not giving people the bigger doses and that is because it is more work to give people higher doses, as people can spin out, start channeling, making all kinds of crazy noises and so on. But at this edge, is where a lot of the most powerful work can occur.

And if you do give people bigger doses, as a facilitator, you must be able to deal with extremely crazy situations. The fact is, people can dramatise themselves losing control. Shit can happen (literally!) You must deal with these situations and help everyone back to a calm and grounded state.

You have to delegate difficult people, and some people may try and steal the “power” from you they believe is in this space. Some people may be very loud. You must allow them get quiet or find a space for them be loud. Sometimes there may be a few people becoming loud at some points.

You must also deal with the energies of the group, and this is more difficult to talk about. In this case, you are making the tea and also serving the tea, and creating a space or container for people to have an experience. It is very similar to how a party will be dependent on the nature of the host of the party and the friends he invites to his gathering, and the vibe that is generated through everyone who attends.

Yet, I see many facilitators, not so much creating space or a container for people to experience, but continually filling in that space, because they want to show their value in that space, and make themselves known in that container.

Carlos Castaneda talks of impeccability, and I believe it is useful to understand how much is expected of you, if you are to engage in this sort of work. In this work, anything that is out of alignment will be shown and brought to the surface very quickly. If there is major stuff you haven’t at least looked at, then it can compromise the space. As the host, you don’t want anything to happen which disturbs other people, which is arising out of your own issues. At the same time, you are always being challenged in different ways. The point, your own “stuff” shouldn’t be influencing the group to any significant degree.

If you are a male, you will inevitably at some point have women coming onto you during the state, as some women will instinctively beeline for the individual they see as having the power or status. Very obviously, it is just not appropriate to initiate this sort of contact. You cannot favour one person over another. In a way, you must be something of a non-person, at least that is how I approach it.

Yet, many people are trying to become a “person”, a “shaman” or “special person”, people should turn to as an authority. But really, Fuck your ego. If you haven’t drunk enough, and more importantly done the inner work in your actual life and dealt with your ego, so that it isn’t controlling the show, maybe you should think twice about giving medicine to people to actually going into a place of ego dissolution. Or, can people really dissolve their ego safely in the space you have created if you haven’t done so yourself?

Giving people ayahuasca is really nothing to do with power, nothing to do your ego. You are not a shaman just because you are giving people some herbal tea. Real “shamanism” or deep metaphysical work, is its own focus.

You are more like a glorified barista. As making good coffee is quite an art, but making medicine is much more involved than that. It might even take a good couple of years before the medicine is really where you want it to be. There are so many variabilities to deal with, it might be many years until you can bring most people into the “sweet spot”, which is not too strong and not too weak.

In terms of holding space, much of it, like in life, is in what you don’t do rather than what you actually do.

There is a strong tendency, even in making the tea, for the individual to want to make their imprint upon the tea, or for what they are doing in the space to be primary. All this comes back to one’s philosophy: are the plants guiding the people or are you?

If you do not let the plants guide the people, and you are guiding people, how do you think this is going to work out?

My view is that the plants resent the show being stolen from them, and will not actually show up in a real sense, if there is an individual trying to steal the show from them.

The idea of ritual and ceremony is really just there to give the idea that something “spiritual” or “sacred” is happening. But what we are essentially talking about is taking the space seriously. And it can be just as often sheer madness, than “spiritual” or “sacredness”, as it can often be stinking shit and unhinged insanity we are dealing with. But it is useful to keep in mind that this madness is our madness. The plants are not mad. WE are mad. The plants are also not above us or even wiser than us, and how they view the world can even sometimes be perceived as somewhat capricious and childlike.

What is really needed first of all I think, from the facilitator, is a supportive presence, and curation of space. Much of this is related to your attitude, vibe, your thoughts and feelings and how you are being and acting. Much of it, in my view is being like an anchor, solid and stable – and therefore you should be solid, stable and cool as a prerequisite. If you are ungrounded, or easily knocked off balance, fearful, or being heavily provoked in this state or easily put on the back foot in this space, this is likely going to affect other people in the space.

Which brings me back to the medicine, how much traveling in the high seas have you done? Unless you know the upper limits of where you can go, how can you provide a foundation for people to go there in a space that you organised?

I pretty much know every state that people have gone into. I can empathise with them and know how to help them and what to say, because I have been to many of these states, perhaps several times.

And any state that people are in, and in what they describe and talk about, I can decipher and interpret what it means and what is occurring for the person. This is a big part of it, that people can come to you and be understood in what they are experiencing.

A lot of the more traditional people say “you need us!” and “our way is the right way”, which is of course just their perspective. Yes, the traditional people’s ways can engender respect in participants, but simply just singing their songs and wearing their clothes, and doing what they do, is not going to bring about authentic respect. And just doing what they do, is not going to help deal with malevolent entities.

My view on entities is that they are all around us all the time, and that we already deal with them on a subconscious level anyway. And we need to learn how to deal with them if we truly want to survive and thrive. That many people are not dealing with such entities very well is a big problem in our world and many people appear possessed and negatively influenced.

So it is not that the curanderos are somehow protecting a pristine space where the entities are not. I would say they are already an influence.

It is not like the ayahuasca space is somehow different to say the pub, where people drink a lot and similarly expose themselves to entities, or at psychedelic trance parties, where the dance floor can be a feast of entities, as people are open when they take psychedelics there. Are people taking a shaman to the pub with them when they drink at the pub or taking their shaman to psychedelic dance parties?

Or just in taking psychedelics in general one can open oneself up to entities. My advice is that the psychedelic space is a good place to learn how to deal with them, and learning to deal with them, can carry over into one’s daily life and benefits can come from that.

Generally, the worst these entities can do is to possess you, to make you mad or take you to hellish realms. Having experienced all these things, I can say I don’t have any fear about it. I have found a good way to deal with them by making short sharp high-pitched sounds I am calling “torping”. Other people may have different techniques. I found people generally know to deal with their own “demons” in them. Afterall, they are theirs! The fight is theirs to fight and that is right. Ayahuasca puts them into a space where they will more likely know what to do.

Traditionally orientated people may say they are singing icaros that call in good spirits to protect people from the bad spirits. But the point is, you should be innately inviting in good spirits who allow a permeable membrane, through the creation of a positive space. And not all the bad spirits are purely ”bad”, they can represent part of the adventure and provide an edge to the space. They can show us things too. For myself, they don’t really have anything “on me” now, just like your enemies vicious condemning attacks can be turned around into radically accepting self-appraisal and reflection. When you have done enough work on yourself, they don’t have anything much to work with against you. There is no truth in their words and so you can more easily deflect their attacks.

Some people have been asking me that they want to get into this, and to serve medicine. So this is my advice to people who want to get into this. What is your motivation? This is seductive stuff. There is money involved. Is this going to feed your ego? Are you going to become a control freak and want to “get something out of this”? Are you a servant of the plants or are you just serving your ego?

The work should be for itself, not for “what you can get out of it”.

I can say what I get out of it, if there is a good group, is especially strong feelings of satisfaction, even getting high to the point where I will have difficulty functioning, that the feeling is so strong it surpasses that of any drug or substance I have ever taken. I spoke to a friend who runs workshops who said he gets the same feeling running workshops that do not involve any sacrament. I have to say I enjoy it, even though dealing with the energies and situations can sometimes be quite intense and processing all these energies can take up quite a lot of one’s internal CPU, even in the week after a ceremony.

I recommend people start small, and learn the ropes. We live in an age of instant noodle shamans, and plastic shamans. Yes, sure the medicine wants to spread, and it appears to be becoming dilute, so concentration and focus is required to created a distilled and truly effective, respectful space.

My view is like with anything related to healing and personal transformation, is that maybe 80-90% of the practitioners are going to be feeble, just going by the book and not actually pulling the rabbit out of the hat.

Many people want to find some sort of traditional yoda like figure to teach them the ropes when it comes to these plants, and I say good luck to them! I can’t say I’d recommend to people to go to South America and learn the icaros and diet with the plants. But the plants will communicate with you anytime if you are prepared to listen. THEY are the teachers. You can learn from them now. Sure, if you can find an ayahuasca yoda teacher, good for you! Go and do that if that feels right for you.

But I think the best learning is through experience. So start small. Hold groups by donation. Perhaps do not charge money for some time. I did it by donation for 7 years, and the first time I charged money was a powerful initiation it took me some months to recover from.

In terms of this non-traditional space, it appears increasingly accepted that the facilitator will play recorded music and give people the tea, and hold space for them. The alternative is normally one guy (or gal) sings the whole night, with or without instruments. I think it just makes sense to play all the very beautiful music from all over the world that one can play in such a space.

However, many are concerned about how some facilitators are going about this, with reports of one facilitator are playing The Cranberries, John Mayer and Eric Clapton. Although this may be great music for chillaxing with a martini at the bar, to my mind its focus is much too worldly to really allow people to go deep into what the medicine can offer.

For sure, westerners often do clearly lack qualities like reverence and respect, and many can seem to go over the top, in their tokenistic display of such qualities. But playing music which makes no effort at all to instill a reverential or respectful state of mind, might well work against such a space.

The plants are good employers I think and it is a beautiful thing to be supported by this work. But at the end of the day, people are ultimately seeking this medicine, not your talking and not you. So many people have not done the work on their ego, and fall prey to the seductive power this work can bring. At the end of the day, people who have been conscious and working on themselves for a long time, normally understand that Ayahuasca is one tool, and one focus, among many.

Great scientific news on ayahuasca’s therapeutic potentials

According to Jordi Riba’s presentation at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Psychedelics Research ‪that was held this weekend in Amsterdam harmine and tetrahydroharmine potently stimulates the formation of new neurons from stem cells in vitro. This data has not been published yet but opens a whole new avenue of research. Ayahuasca harmala alkaloids could potentially be used in the treatment of neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, This is a revolutionary finding in the field!

This is the summary of his presentation:

Recent advances in the study of the neural mechanisms and therapeutic potential of Ayahuasca

Background: Ayahuasca induces an introspective experience characterized by emotion, visions and autobiographic memories. Increasing evidence suggests that ayahuasca has therapeutic potential. However, the mechanisms underlying these benefits are poorly understood. Objectives: Here we present data on the neural and psychological mechanisms associated with ayahuasca. Methods: Studies of brain oscillations, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and psychological facets. Results: Ayahuasca disinhibits posterior sensory processing areas, sub-acutely decreases neurometabolic markers of functional activity in the posterior cingulate cortex, and reduces judgmental processing of experiences. Conclusions: Ayahuasca modifies ordinary neural hierarchies, decreases activity of key areas of the default mode network and allows an accepting and detached view of one’s own thoughts and emotions. We argue that these mechanisms may be useful in the treatment of several psychiatric conditions.

An Introduction to Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca (aya-spirit/dead, waska-vine/rope) or Yage (ya-hey) are native Amazonian names for the jungle vine Banisteriopsis Caapi, and the medicinal tea prepared from it. Ayahuasca is used throughout the Upper Amazon to enable access to the visionary or mythological world and for physical, mental and spiritual healing Dobkin de Rios 1972, Grof 1994, Andritsky 1984).


The Banisteriopsis caapi vine is a Malpighiaceous jungle liana found in the tropical regions of Peru, Bolivia, Panama, Brazil, the Orinoco of Venezuela and the Pacific Coast of Colombia/Ecuador. The vine is the common base ingredient of the Ayahuasca tea. B. caapi contains beta-carbolines that exhibit sedative, hypnotic, anti-depressant, monoamine oxidase inhibiting, and threshold visionary activity.

Ayahuasca is a synergystic potion. A wide variety of admixture plants is used by the indigenous tribes of the Upper Amazon. Vine-only brew is sometimes used. Most typically the vine is mixed with a tryptamine carrying plant. The foliage of Psychotria viridis (Chacruna) is the principal admixture of Ayahuasca potions employed throughout Peru and Brazil. In Columbia and Amazonian Ecuador, the plant Diplopterys cabrerana (Chaliponga) is often used instead.

These plants provide the “light” or the visionary qualities, but these tryptamine-containing plants are not orally active alone. The monoamine oxidase inhibiting action of the B. caapi vine makes it possible for the tryptamines to produce powerful visions. In turn, the admixture plants potentiate the Vine.

The combination of the Caapi vine with Chacruna or Chaliponga is sometimes known as a marriage of Power and Light. This marriage unlocks the full shamanic mareacion and its visionary mythological vistas.

This medicine has been used for millennia in order to enter the sacred supernatural world, to heal, divine, and gain insight into nature and spirit.


The use of Ayahuasca may well be primordial, its use extending back to the earliest aboriginal inhabitants of the Upper Amazon region. Abstract liminal patterns such as zigzags, serrated lines and geometric forms found on ancient relics and traditional textiles, pottery and body art of various tribes represent the perceptual threshold between everyday and transpersonal realms of consciousness. These relics, combined with an abundance of myths describing the origin of Ayahuasca as deeply intertwined cosmologically with the creation of the universe, earth, and tribal people, indicate a long history of human use.

Ayahuasca is a revered and respected sacred medicine, considered a spiritual and physiological panacea par excellence, because its medicine can instruct in healing, visionary insight, and the art of using plants for various purposes. Sometimes it is referred to simply as la Medicina – the Medicine.

For indigenous people such as the Napo Runa of Ecuador, Ayahuasca is “the mother of all medicines” and “the mother of all plants.” Other peoples regard Ayahuasca as a Grandfather or Grandmother. Ayahuasca, “the Vine with a soul,” is perceived as a communicating being who guides, teaches, and heals. Ayahuasca also acts as a mediator and translator between the human and plant worlds, and teaches humans how to communicate with plants and use them for various purposes.

Modern use

In modern times, many new Ayahuasca traditions have continued to grow like the spreading tendrils of the Vine. Ayahuasca seems to adapt itself to the needs and intents of those who use it the way the vine adapts its form to the shape of the tree on which it grows.

At the turn of the twentieth century, during the Rubber Boom, mestizo rubber tappers entered Amazonia. Because rubber had to be harvested from wild, separated trees, these men worked mostly alone in the forest. (Many Indians were brutally enslaved by rubber companies as well, but that is another story.) When these mestizos fell ill, they had to turn to Indian curanderos. Some of them ended up apprenticing to the curanderos and learning the Ayahuasca practices. In other cases, mestizo rubber tappers were kidnapped by Indians and lived several years with them.

From that, as the mestizo cities of Iquitos and Pucallpa grew, so did a mestizo Ayahuasca tradition that blended indigenous Ayahuasca practices with some Catholic worldview.

The next branch of new Ayahuasca tradition also came from a rubber tapper. The Afro-Brazilian Raimundo Irineu started Santo Daime, a church that blends African traditions with esoteric Christianity and Ayahuasca. Santo Daime replaces the older practice of individual shamanism with a kind of group shamanism, in which an entire group of people can perform healings collectively.

Other syncretic Ayahuasca churches followed, such as the Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV) and Barquinha in Brazil and Soga del Alma in Peru. Santo Daime and UDV have become international, with meetings in many countries in the world.

There are also syncretic movements with Sufism (Fatimiya Sufi Order), Gnosticism (Gnostisismo Revolutionario de la Concienca de Krishna, based in Colombia), Sikhism, and Wicca (Padeva). New syncretic movements will undoubtedly continue to appear.

Another syncretic movement is between Ayahuasca shamanism and western psychotherapy. The most famous center for this is Takiwasi, a treatment center for drug addiction in Tarapoto, Peru, in which Ayahuasca shamans and western psychotherapists work together using Ayahuasca to help treat addicts of cocaine and other drugs.

Yet another Ayahuasca tradition, which began in the 1980s but became stronger in the late 1990s, is that of the western psychedelics tradition. Within this tradition, a custom started of using the word “ayahuasca” to mean any combination of MAOI and DMT, because the chemical action on the brain was what mattered. Their perspective was that Ayahuasca was simply an orally active form of DMT, the B. caapi vine was merely the potentiator of the DMT, and that any combination of plants, or even of pharmaceuticals and laboratory chemicals, that similarly resulted in orally active DMT was basically the same as Ayahuasca. Within the western psychedelic tradition, the term “ayahuasca” is often used to refer to a brew made of Peganum harmala and a DMT source, typically Mimosa hostilis.

Since some in the western psychedelic movement are serious spiritual seekers, within the western psychedelic movement has developed a tradition of using Ayahuasca primarily for mystical experiences, and for that purpose Ayahuasca and Mimosa/Rue can both serve — they can both be good catalysts for profound cosmic mystical experiences — as can many other Plant Teachers. But they are each distinct Teachers, each with its own distinct personality, each to be be respected for itself.

A new Ayahuasca syncretic tradition is developing via what is known as “Ayahuasca tourism.” Individuals from industrialized countries are traveling to South America to drink Ayahuasca with Amazonian healers, and Amazonian healers are learning to adapt their healing traditions to the needs of patients from the western world. This is creating a new syncretism, because, just as mestizo curanderismo adapted to the issues of mestizo people, the needs, issues, and quests of people from industrialized countries are deeply different from kinds of problems and illnesses that Amazonian indigenous and mestizo curanderos have traditionally had to address. As a result, a new tradition is developing as some curanderos learn to adapt to the needs of foreigners; some curanderos are creating retreats specifically geared to foreigners (often in partnership with foreigners) and many of these have web sites.

The Ayahuasca tourism industry is centered in Iquitos, Peru, and to a lesser extent Pucallpa. Traditional healers in the Amazon, both indigenous and mestizo, charge for their services; reciprocation is important in Amazonian and Andean culture, and in the Amazonian world one’s willingness to offer something of value communicates the seriousness of one’s intent to the spirits. Needless to say, since foreigners represent money, there are increasing numbers of charlatans in these regions who represent themselves as trained shamans and offer Ayahuasca to tourists. These individuals can copy the outward forms of ceremonies they have witnessed, but in the Amazon a real shaman, or curandero, or vegetalista, or yachak, or paye, or paqo, has undergone highly disciplined training. People considering visiting these regions to drink Ayahuasca are encouraged to do research and educate themselves first.

Individuals who want less touristic, gringo-oriented settings, who want to share Ayahuasca in the context of real life of Amazonian people, may go to other regions, including Colombia, Ecuador, or other parts of Peru. Indigenous as well as mestizo people are very open about sharing Ayahuasca (but payment is expected in return). By sharing Ayahuasca with foreigners, the Indians gain allies, because Ayahuasca drunk in the rainforest frequently converts the drinker into a passionate defender of the rainforest. (Indeed, Ayahuasca may have something to do with why the Amazon rainforest has become a passionate international cause in the past couple of decades.)

Sometimes Amazonian healers actually take on western apprentices and train them in their ancient practices. These western apprentices — who may remain in South America helping to run Ayahuasca retreats, or who may bring their healing practices back to their own countries, and who may blend their ayahuasquero training with other training they have had — may be considered part of the broader “neo-shamanic” movement, a movement to adapt shamanism to the needs and problems of the industrialized world.


No plants (natural materials) containing DMT are at present controlled under the United Nations 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Consequently, preparations (e.g.decoctions) made of these plants, including Ayahuasca are not under international control and, therefore, not subject to any of the articles of the 1971 Convention.

In Brazil, a protracted legal battle in the 1980’s ended with the Brazilian government finding Ayahuasca churches use of Ayahuasca was safe and showed no signs of harming the members. In 1992, Brazil formally legalized the constituent plants and Ayahuasca tea.

In the United States, the plants that are used to make Ayahuasca are legal. However, the chemical N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is contained in the admixture plants, is a controlled substance. While it is not illegal to possess or sell plants containing DMT, processing, preparing, or having the intent to prepare for consumption would be considered illegal. However, brewing Ayahuasca with the B. caapi vine alone would be completely legal in the United States.

In Canada, harmaline (contained in the B. caapi vine) is a Schedule III controlled substance, therefore Ayahuasca brews may violate the law

In 2005, France added Banisteriopsiis caapi, Peganum harmala, Psychotria viridis, Diplopterys cabrerana, Mimosa hostilis, Banisteriopsis rusbyana, harmine, harmaline, tetrahydroharmine (THH), haroml, and harmalol to the list of controlled substances.

In Australia, harmala is a controlled substance, but the vine is not.

The Santo Daime church has successfully established its right to use Ayahuasca for spiritual/religious purposes, first in Brazil, and then through legal battles in Netherlands and Spain. In 2006, the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of the UDV church right to use Ayahuasca in their services.

Legal issues forum is found at


Growing these plants will be one of the most rewarding aspects of your experience. Growing the plants yourself helps you develop a relationship with the plants. Using an Ayahuasca brew with plants you grew deepens the experience; the plants will have gotten to know you and this will emerge as a very important aspect in your journeys with Ayahuasca.
Even growing them as companion plants can deepen your experience with the Ayahuasca brew.

The Cultivation forum is found here:


A basic preparation for Ayahuasca (Caapi and Chacruna) can be found here:

Prepared Ayahuasca brew can keep its potency in storage almost indefinitely, although its taste may become more unpleasant. The unbrewed plant material loses some potency in the original drying process, but after that remains stable for years.

The Preparation forum is found here:

Safety precautions

Care should be taken with foods (e.g tyramine/protein containing foods) and drugs (e.g SSRI s) that have a contraindication for MAOI’s.

The beta-carbolines present in Banisteriopsis caapi, primarily harmine and tetrahydroharmine, inhibit the enzyme Monoamine Oxidase and reduces the metabolism of serotonin. Due to the MAO-inhibiting action of the vine, otherwise non-orally-active tryptamines such as N-N DMT and 5-MEO DMT from the admixture plants (Psychotria viridis or Diplopterys cabrerana) can reach receptor sites in the brain, unlocking the entheogenic mareacion.

This MAOI action also makes certain foods and pharmaceuticals hazardous that otherwise would not be.

Lists of foods that should be avoided can be found here:
There are no records of fatalities from eating proscribed foods, but there are numerous reports of severe headaches.

Interaction with pharmaceuticals can be much more dangerous than food interactions.

Many antidepressants (eg, Paxil), tricyclics, heterocyclics, SSRI’s, migraine medication such as sumatriptan (Imitrex) amphetamines, and opiates may also cause serious drug-drug interactions with MAOI’s — even some OTC pharmaceuticals like antihistamines, decongrestants, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, diet pills, and allergy medication can have potentially serious interaction with Ayahuasca.

If you are taking pharmaceuticals, please inform yourself about the potential for MAOI interaction before taking Ayahuasca. If you don’t find an existing thread about your medication on the Information forum, you are encouraged to start one.

Lastly, there is a very rare and idiosyncratic reaction to caffeine and Ayahuasca in a very few individuals. While well under 1% of people have this reaction, it can be life-threatening to those few to combine even a small amount of caffeine with Ayahuasca. There is evidence that this reaction may be linked to a fast metabolism or a history of stimulant abuse. Until you know you are not in this category, be careful combining Ayahuasca with caffeine. A discussion of this may be found here:
See also


There is another aspect to diet with Ayahuasca, the spiritual dieta. The dieta has many variations, because it is practiced in many cultures (practically all traditional Ayahuasca cultures have a form of dieta, which is remarkably similar across cultures that are otherwise very dissimilar), and because it has various purposes: being healed, learning how to heal others, and learning how to communicate with plants. A dieta can last any length of time from one day to years. In its essence it involves avoiding strongly flavored food and sexual stimulation. In a western setting, it would undoubtedly include fasting from television and mass media as well. For more threads on dieta, click here:

The Purge

“When it came, it was earthshaking! ALL the filth, negativity, malice, ill will, and unforgiveness of myself, was loosed from me. Image after image of all life’s unpleasantries, ill will, the dual part of my nature, that evil that is seamlessly woven into the very fabric of much of this world, and pollutes, and deviates us from our true soul/self, it was all gloriously expelled over the course of 20-30 long, glorious, vomit saturated minutes.”

The Purge may be strong or mild, may happen several times in one session or may not happen at all, but it is a central part of the Ayahuasca There are ways to reduce the purge, but if you can learn to accept it and flow with it can actually be very enjoyable. It is a release and purification. If you fight it, it will be more difficult and unpleasant. Give in to it and just go with it. Imagine all of the distractions, discomfort and pain you have within you being released with each purge. Let it flow as it is supposed to. Accept it as part of the experience.

After it is all through you will feel very good, very clean and pure.

The clearer ones system, the better able one is to receive and integrate spiritual energies the knowledge of Ayahuasca. The concept of subtle body phlegm is an important one in Amazonian shamanism. Vegetalistas say that Ayahuasca is needed for cleansing all the flemosidades (phlegm formations) that accumulate in the intestines. The flemosidades are believed to arise from environmental toxins, certain foods, trauma (susto, soul loss), and moral transgressions such as ill will, etc. Analogous to blockages of chi in the meridians, or prana in the nadis, flemosidades disrupt the smooth functioning of the body and mind. Clearing the flemosidades prepares the body to journey deeper into health and wisdom.


The Ayahuasca potion is a multi-levelled medicine that works on both the soma and psyche. It is very difficult to try to say exactly ‘what’ Ayahuasca does or ‘how’, because it presents a profound mystery to the human psyche.

Since it is for no one person to say what Ayahuasca is and what it does, this website exists as a means for explorers to exchange information and insight into this profound Medicine.

Thoughts and Knowledges About Women in Indian Universe and Life

Translated from the book “Runapaqpacha Kawsaypi Warmimanta Yuyay, Yachaykunapash” (literally, “Thoughts and Knowledges About Women in Indian Universe and Life”) by Achiq Pacha Inti-Pucarapaxi (Luz Maria de la Torre)

A creation story from Otavalo, Imbabura, Ecuador

This story gives a sense of what “Pachamama” means (the feminine universe) and also gives a sense of the Andean conception of gender roles. “Kamak” in the word “Pachakamak” (from the verb kama- and the agentive suffix -k, “one who,” [-q in Cuzco/Bolivian Quechua]) is as complex in meaning as “Pacha.” Kama- might be translated as “to create order,” “to align with shared or common purpose,” or other meanings (I have seen it translated as “to breathe unity into”).

In everyday life in the Andes, Pachamama is invoked constantly, daily, given offerings and songs and asked for help, whereas Pachakamak is rarely ever mentioned.


After Pachakamak, the Great Spirit Bringing Order to the Totality of Creation, created this world and Man and Woman, he told them to rest and to come back calm and refreshed the next day, so that he would give to each of them the duties in this world for which they had been created.

The human beings rested well in their new Earth home, which Pachakamak said he gave them to receive.

The Woman went to sleep immediately, and the next day quickly went to receive what Pachakamak gave. She rose and appeared together with the sun of dawn; she went and left the Man asleep. The Man had not gone to sleep immediately but had remained awake for a while to look at the world. Thus, today the woman is the one to arise very early.

The Woman arrived where Pachakamak was, to speak with him about the duties she would have in life, wanting thus to receive her destiny.

The Orderer of the Universe led her to see all that was growing. All the stones, all the mountains, all the beautiful maturing soil, rivers, lakes, all the happy plants and flowers, all the fragrances and colors he showed her. And also the work with the animals’ lives, their behavior, what each one did, their skins, he showed her.

Thus they walked among all things that live and grow. The blue upper world was there, where Father Sun, in charge of giving food and power to all living things, makes his beautiful light and warmth. And at night the upper world was filled with stars, and with the moon who also feeds life.

The Woman was in awe of all the great beauty showed to her. Each new beautiful thing that appeared before her, she asked that it be hers, all the great beauty that Pachakamak had made to grow. She touched and felt the heartbeat of life of all the different beings of creation — all the varied stones in the world, the minerals, the hard rocks and the sparkling crystals that came from the fertile earth. Every insect and every animal attracted her enormously, their great variety, their whimsical and harmonious forms, their skin and the color of their fur. But she always looked down, and she was attracted most of all to the puppies and the defenseless beings. She took them into her arms and held them in the warmth of her lap, and a desire grew inside of her to have all of this in her domain, under her care, to keep them so beautiful, and maybe she could make them even more beautiful, and care for them, and protect the puppies and the defenseless beings.

Everything was so beautiful and needed her care, it seemed that she couldn’t choose anything in particular to keep near her. Finally she decided, and said to the Great Pachakamak:

“Everything you have shown me is so wonderful. In the life of this world I want to work with and care for all that is so very beautiful, to obtain everything that is necessary to sustain their lives and that of my husband. I want Woman’s domain to be over all that exists here, everything that is on Earth, to care for it and observe it daily.”

The Woman’s words seemed so powerful to Pachakamak that he gave everything that grows and lives on Earth to the Woman. Everything was left in the Woman’s care.

“I put you in charge of life,” said the Great Soul. “From then to now, the different things you see, you will give life to the different things. Your mission will be to give continuity to eternity; to give Time within eternity. The different things will be born from your belly; you will give bodies to the human beings and to all life.

“You will have understanding, love and tenderness in order to be able to fulfill your duty. Your desire will always be to clothe, feed, sustain and care for life, and to keep life in order. Yours will be beauty, harmony, balance, which are necessary for this task. You will be sensitive, loving, and benevolent, since the continuity of creation depends on you, and in this everyone will help you. You will be ready to give your life for that which you have desired, because the children who are born from you need your care in order to prolong their lives, and it may be that they demand of you the greatest extreme, to give your own life in order that they be born.

“You will always seriously see everything that is in the present. Everything that presents itself to you, you will transform into beauty. You will decorate things and you will care for everything that is beautiful and worthy. The spirits of Water and Earth will always accompany you, and the Moon with all her children, the stars, will be with you directing your life.

“All the Universe that you see is feminine; the whole field of life which you have chosen and which I give to you. I give you the responsibility to generate, maintain and protect life, nature, and the Man. Through you the Man will be able to live, and he will seek you because you will give him the strength to be useful and you will direct his strength. In your work, I will help you together with all the other Powers, so that as you mature you will continue in your desire to reach out to all life. To your children, you will give life, love, and wisdom.”

Thus spoke Pachakamak and withdrew. The Woman was left happy. She took the responsibility that Pachakamak had given her, as she had wanted. All of Pachamama — Mother Earth, Mother Nature, Mother Universe — was hers. Something had only to appear and take form and presence, and the woman was its master and caretaker.

Then the Man appeared before the Great Pachakamak and said:

“I come into your presence, now tell me what work in this world is to be mine.”

The Great Pachakamak told him, “The Woman came first and desired everything that she saw. The Universe is now feminine, she has taken the responsibility to care for all life and has gained the honor of prolonging and sustaining life. So I have given to her everything that you see before your eyes.”

The Man was surprised. But then he recovered his breath and asked, “If you have given everything that exists to the Woman, what work is left for me?”

The Great Pachakamak assumed his state of wisdom and said: “The Woman has taken on everything that is visible in this world. You will not take the responsibility for what is visible. Everything that is visible is the responsibility of the Woman. But your place will be everything that is hidden from sight. I see that you will dedicate yourself to the ‘invisible world’ of the Creation.

“Everything that exists and appears, everything that has form and presence, everything that leaves a ‘footprint’ upon the Earth is the feminine world. Everything that does not exist or does not yet exist, everything that is invisible in the field of the world, everything that cannot be seen, everything that is hidden from the normal look of light and form, is your world. Here you will find the world of the future, of projections and plans, of dreams and ideals that hope to appear one day. You will go to that world in order to bring those things, you will make them appear, and you will put them into the hands of the Woman, and she will give them life. Yours will be the world of death, of transformation, of renovation. Yours will be the world of causes. You will not look at form but at what originates and gives form, its causes. Yours will be the world of mysteries, which will call you to resolve them. In this universe, the days of the future will be yours. Your work will be to think of what will come after the present day. You will be able to look beyond the visible world of the present and past. You will bring about the future. You will be a creator, and your knowledge will be of the depths. If you cannot find these depths, you will be a sterile and useless being and everything will be against you. But if you discover the mysteries of the depths you will be a great yachak (shaman).”

The Man was taken by Pachakamak to the world of laws, to the processes of transformation, to the internal world of thought, to the world of creative imagination, to the world of decisions, to the world of death. The Man descended into the depths of human passions, meeting hell and rising to unknown heavens.

“You will be a seeker, an explorer. You will have the curiosity and restlessness to discover what does not appear. Thus, you have dominion over the invisible, which will permit you to organize and govern the visible. You will seek wisdom, which will give you strength and authority.

“If you do not have wisdom, you will be useless to others. That which you seek and find does not belong to you. If you want to be a worthy Man, a son of Pachakamak, then you must share everything that you gain. The more that you share, the more will return to you.

“Yours is the field of magic. You will make it appear through your wisdom. You will give life to things that do not exist, but the moment that they take on existence, they no longer belong to your domain, but to the domain of the Woman. Because of this you will always be together with her, and from this joined action the universe will continue forward.”

The great Pachakamak reunited the human pair and felt satisfied and proud of his children.

This gives a sense of Andean conceptions of gender roles, and also makes an interesting contrast to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve, with its message about gender and about being expelled from the Garden and punished with the “curse” of work.

This also gives a sense of why shamanism is considered a masculine occupation in the Andes and Upper Amazon, even when practiced by women; when women practice it, it is generally considered to be an expression of their masculine side.

The globalization of Ayahuasca: Harm reduction or benefit maximization?

Department of Educational Studies, University of British Columbia, BC, Canada

Received 9 June 2006; accepted 1 November 2006. Available online 4 December 2006.

International Journal of Drug Policy 19 (2008) 297–303

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Ayahuasca is a tea made from two plants native to the Amazon, Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, which, respectively, contain the psychoactive chemicals harmala alkaloids and dimethyltryptamine. The tea has been used by indigenous peoples in countries such as Brazil, Ecuador and Peru for medicinal, spiritual and cultural purposes since pre-Columbian times. In the 20th century, ayahuasca spread beyond its native habitat and has been incorporated into syncretistic practices that are being adopted by non-indigenous peoples in modern Western contexts. Ayahuasca’s globalization in the past few decades has led to a number of legal cases which pit religious freedom against national drug control laws. This paper explores some of the philosophical and policy implications of contemporary ayahuasca use. It addresses the issue of the social construction of ayahuasca as a medicine, a sacrament and a “plant teacher.” Issues of harm reduction with respect to ayahuasca use are explored, but so too is the corollary notion of “benefit maximization.”

Keywords: Ayahuasca; Entheogen; Hallucinogen; Religious freedom; Benefit maximization


In February 2006, the United States Supreme Court ruled that religious freedom may trump U.S. drug laws with respect to the ceremonial use of ayahuasca, a tea indigenous to the Amazon and long revered by its peoples (Hollman, 2006). The case of Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV) addressed the question of whether ‘hoasca,’ which contains the Schedule I substance dimethyltryptamine, could legally be consumed as a sacrament by the Brazilian-based UDV church according to the provisions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Passed by Congress in 1993 in response to the question of whether the Native American Church had the freedom to use ceremonially the scheduled drug peyote, the RFRA established that the limits of drug laws in the United States were at the boundaries of religious liberty.

The U.S. ayahuasca case is just one of several similar ones in countries such as Australia, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. The issues raised by these court actions centre not only on religious freedom, but also on the substance in question: ayahuasca. Although somewhat obscure in pantheon of psychoactive substances, ayahuasca has begun to thrive beyond the Amazon. Practitioners, policy-makers and researchers face significant challenges in responding to psychoactive substance use that resists traditional conceptualizations and categorizations of illegal drug “abuse.” In this article, I briefly describe ayahuasca, its effects and its traditional and contemporary uses. I next explore some philosophical and policy issues raised by the “globalization” of ayahuasca, the burgeoning world-wide interest in and use of the tea. This discussion leads to a questioning of the deficit model of drug use implicit in the term “harm reduction” with respect to ayahuasca, which arguably warrants a re-framing such that policy discussions address the corollary concept of “benefit maximization.”

Ayahuasca and its effects

“Ayahuasca” is a word from the language of the Quechua people, a group indigenous to the Amazonian regions of Peru and Ecuador (Metzner, 1999). Translating as “vine of the soul,” ayahuasca refers both to Banisteriopsis caapi, a liana found in Western parts of the Amazon basin, and to a decoction prepared from B. caapi that typically contains other admixture plants. One of the most common admixtures to the ayahuasca tea is the leaf of Psychotria viridis, a plant from the coffee family. To avoid confusion, in this article the plant will be referred to by its botanical name, B. caapi, and the common tea preparation of the combination of B. caapi and P. viridis simply as ayahuasca.

The synergy between the respective psychoactive chemicals in B. caapi and in P. viridis is a remarkable pharmacokinetic interaction. The B. caapi vine contains harmala alkaloids, such as harmine and tetrahydroharmine, which are short-acting reversible monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitors. MAO inhibitors are a pharmacological class of antidepressant chemicals that function by preventing the breakdown of the monoamine neurotransmitters in the brain (Julien, 1998). P. viridis contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT, a potent hallucinogen which is active when taken parenterally, but not orally (Shulgin, 1976). This is because the gastrointestinal tract also contains the enzyme monoamine oxidase, which metabolizes orally ingested DMT long before it can reach the brain. However, when DMT is ingested in conjunction with an MAO inhibitor – as is the case with the ayahuasca tea – its immediate metabolism is delayed, thus enabling it to reach the brain (McKenna & Towers, 1984; Ott, 1999). From a biomedical perspective, then, ayahuasca’s unique effects are a function of the combination of DMT and the potentiating psychoactive harmala alkaloids ([Callaway et al., 1999] and [McKenna et al., 1984]). In contrast, the explanation of ayahuasca’s effects by Amazonian indigenous peoples reflects a paradigm involving spiritual domains and supernatural forces, an account corroborated if not validated by the phenomenology of the ayahuasca experience.

The extensive range of ayahuasca preparations in the pharmacopoeias of different indigenous peoples throughout the Amazon region indicates that its use long predates first contact with Europeans. The variety of names given to B. caapi, such as yagé, caapi, natem, oni, nishi, also suggests widespread historic use (Luna, 1986). However, the legacy of colonialism in South America, as with so many other parts of the world, has irredeemably impacted indigenous peoples and their traditions, including cosmologies in which ayahuasca has played a central role (Whitten, 1981). Colonial and religious authorities tended to condemn ayahuasca shamanism as diabolical and discouraged its practice ([Taussig, 1986] and [Vickers, 1981]). Nevertheless, the ritual use of ayahuasca among indigenous peoples of the Amazon continues to the present day, albeit with varying degrees of Christian syncretism through past and present influence of missionaries in the region (Luna, 1986). Likewise, cross-cultural transfer of ayahuasca healing knowledge among indigenous peoples and to non-indigenous people continues to occur ([Gray, 1997], [Luna, 2003] and [Pollock, 2004]); this includes mestizo vegetalistas who offer alternative health treatments to urban dwellers in countries such as Peru (Dobkin de Rios, 1973).

The specifics of traditional Amazonian ayahuasca practices – as with the name for the tea itself – vary across different cultural groups, but there are some common elements, most notably a ceremonial context for its consumption. Rituals are conducted by an experienced healer, or ayahuascero, who has undergone many years of training to become adept in administering the brew. Preparation for this role includes long periods of isolation, sexual abstinence and adherence to strict dietary taboos involving certain foods or meats. Some of these behavioural directives apply also to participants in the ritual who will drink, as they risk invoking untoward spiritual forces if these are violated. Rituals invariably incorporate chanting or singing of icaros – special songs through which healing, divination or connecting with spirits may be effected – and often include an accompanying use of other sacred plants, such as tobacco ([Demange, 2002] and [Luna, 1986]). In many respects, ayahuasca is a paradigmatic entheogen, or psychoactive substance used for spiritual purposes (Ruck, Bigwood, Staples, Ott, & Wasson, 1979; Tupper, 2002).

Ayahuasca’s psychoactive effects are qualitatively similar to those of other drugs from the same pharmacological class, such as LSD and psilocybin, yet they are also phenomenologically unique. The effects generally begin 30–40 min after ingestion, peak by about 2 h and have completely subsided by 6 h (Riba et al., 2003). Ayahuasca produces moderate cardiovascular stimulation, including moderate increases in heart rate and diastolic blood pressure (Riba et al., 2003). Users report sensations of visual or auditory stimulation, synaesthesia, psychological introspection and strong emotional feelings ranging from occasional sadness or fear to elation, illumination and gratitude (Shanon, 2002). The tea itself has a bitter taste and cannot be described as pleasant to drink. Emesis, or vomiting, is not uncommon during the ayahuasca experience, an effect which is generally regarded as a spiritual or physical cleanse.

The long-term effects of ayahuasca on regular drinkers have not yet been well studied by medical scientists, as the tea has remained relatively obscure until the last few decades of the 20th century. Preliminary small-scale investigation on members of Brazilian ayahuasca churches suggests that the tea is not physiologically or psychologically harmful when used in ceremonial contexts (Barbosa, Giglio, & Dalglarrondo, 2005; [Callaway et al., 1999] and [Grob et al., 1996]; Riba & Barbanoj, 2005). Shanon (2002) has analysed the phenomenology of the ayahuasca experience from the perspective of cognitive psychology, work that suggests many avenues of future psychological research. Evidence for ayahuasca dependence is lacking; indeed, some have suggested ceremonial ayahuasca use may have therapeutic applications as an adjunct to treatment for addictions ([Mabit, 2002], [McKenna, 2004] and [Winkelman, 2001]).

Contemporary ayahuasca uses

In addition to continued ayahuasca use among traditional indigenous and mestizo denizens of the Amazon, other types of ayahuasca practices have arisen in modern times. The inevitable mixing of indigenous and dominator cultures in South America over time has resulted in hybridities of ayahuasca use that continue to evolve through the forces of globalization. Brazil has been the source of several syncretistic religious movements that combine elements of indigenous ayahuasca use, African spiritualism and Christian liturgy. These include the Santo Daime, founded in the 1930s by Raimundo Irineu Serra; the União do Vegetal, founded in 1961 by José Gabriel da Costa; and the Barquinha, a group, which split from the Santo Daime in 1945 (MacRae, 2004). As with traditional indigenous ayahuasca practices, these modern groups incorporate a strong ritual context in their uses of ayahuasca. Towards the end of the 20th century, chapters of the Santo Daime and the União do Vegetal started to be established beyond Brazilian borders, in such countries as in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain and the United States.

The Santo Daime is both the oldest and the most internationally active of the syncretistic Brazilian ayahuasca churches. Its origins trace back to the 1920s, when its founder – a Brazilian rubber tapper named Raimundo Irineu Serra or Mestre Irineu – encountered the tea through contact with Amazonian indigenous peoples in remote forests of the Brazilian frontier state of Acre (Alverga, 1999). The Santo Daime remained obscure and geographically isolated in the rural Amazon for many decades. However, when Mestre Irineu died in 1971, the church split into several different factions, one of which – the Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light, or CEFLURIS – has been central in the Santo Daime’s subsequent expansion (MacRae, 2004). From the 1970s, CEFLURIS has attracted middle-class Brazilians and international visitors to its rituals and established chapters in urban Brazilian centres and more recently overseas (MacRae, 1998). After a period of legal vicissitudes, in which the status of ayahuasca was uncertain, the Brazilian government in 1991 determined that the benefits of its ritual use outweighed any potential risks and recognized the rights to sacramental use of the tea by groups such as the Santo Daime and the UDV.

As a result of expansion into countries unprepared for the policy conundrums posed by non-indigenous entheogenic substance use, the Santo Daime and its adherents have faced legal action in several different countries in the past decade, including the Netherlands, Spain and Italy. In the Netherlands, as with the UDV case in the United States discussed above, the courts ruled in favour of religious freedom and the Santo Daime was granted the right to use its sacrament legally in Holland (Adelaars, 2001). In Canada, a chapter of the Santo Daime in the province of Quebec has applied for an exemption to the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act in hope of obviating a costly legal battle; the Canadian government is still considering the application (J.W. Rochester, personal communication, February 7, 2006). These cases epitomize the struggle between groups seeking the legitimation of the sacramental use of ayahuasca and governments in liberal democratic states endeavouring to uphold both religious freedom and punitive drug laws.

The forces of information and communications technology have also provided avenues for the expansion of use of ayahuasca-like preparations. A quick Internet search results in scores hits for websites selling live cuttings or dried samples of B. caapi, P. viridis and numerous other plants, such as Mimosa hostilis and Peganum harmala, that are botanical sources for dimethyltryptamine and harmala alkaloids. The Internet also abounds with information (and misinformation) about how to prepare ayahuasca-like brews and “trip reports” of first-hand accounts of experiences individuals have had with these ([Bogenschutz, 2000] and [Halpern and Pope, 2001]). Predictably, some amateur psychonauts or self-styled kitchen shamans have harmed themselves through experimenting with ayahuasca analogues in recreational contexts (Brush, Bird, & Boyer, 2003; Sklerov, Levine, Moore, King, & Fowler, 2005). However, it should be noted that reported adverse outcomes are extremely rare and have been sequelae to uncontrolled use of non-traditional preparations (Callaway et al., 2006).

Ayahuasca tourism has also become a cultural phenomenon in the Amazon at the turn of the 21st century. With growing awareness of ayahuasca in developed Northern countries has come the concomitant desire among some to seek “authentic” ayahuasca experiences in countries such as Peru, Ecuador and Brazil ([Dobkin de Rios, 1994] and [Winkelman, 2005]). The effects of ayahuasca tourism on both the local people and the economies of these regions are open to interpretation, but are significant and continuing to grow. Some indigenous healers in the Amazon have expressed concern about the ill-trained or manipulative locals who may exploit naïve or undiscerning travellers and potentially cause inadvertent harm through careless administration of ayahuasca (Dobkin de Rios, 2005).

The expansion of ayahuasca use can be expected to continue as public awareness of the tea grows and as it becomes further available both through commercial sales and through spiritual communities. Accounts of ayahuasca experiences and the tea’s purported spiritual and health benefits are beginning to appear in mainstream English news media stories ([Creedon, 2001], [Montgomery, 2001] and [Salak, 2006]). Some of the effects of ayahuasca – for example, its tendency to provoke vomiting and its sometimes heavy emotional and psychological effects – may discourage casual experimentation. However, its relative obscurity and lack of negative associations from the demonizing of such hallucinogens as LSD, psilocybin and peyote in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as growing interest in alternative medicines and therapeutic practices, may increase ayahuasca’s uptake among the general public. Thus, ayahuasca presents unexpected challenges to judicial systems and policy-makers, who struggle to balance tensions between criminal justice, public health and human rights interests.

Constructing ayahuasca—ontology

One of the conundrums ayahuasca presents for contemporary drug policy is ontological. Ontology is a branch of metaphysics that involves the philosophical analysis of existence and the categorization of reality. Modern drug laws and policies are ontologically predicated on a mechanistic view of the universe, as they are socio-political extensions of the modernist project of scientific materialism. According to this view, drugs and their effects can be wholly explained by the sciences of biochemistry and psychopharmacology. Reinarman and Levine (1997) identify this as pharmacological determinism, the belief that a drug’s effects are caused solely by its pharmacological properties, irrespective of psychological idiosyncrasies or social context. However, a constructivist perspective acknowledges that beyond this, drugs are powerful cultural constructs. The effects they produce on human consciousness and behaviour are functions not just of their biochemistry, but also of the rich symbolic and social meanings they are given.

From a constructivist perspective, drugs cannot be fully understood merely by analyzing their chemical structures and how these interact with neurophysiological systems. One needs to consider also the meanings underlying their growth, production, preparation, consumption and categorization, all of which can vary across cultures and over time. For example, the concept of “medicine” is a cultural construction that in contemporary Western societies is given meaning through the powerful institutions of medical practitioners and systems. Particular substances are deemed medicines not by any properties inherent in them, but by virtue of their being blessed as such by members of powerful professional classes (i.e. physicians and pharmacists). Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) had this blessing in the 1950s and early 1960s, when it was considered a promising psychiatric medication, but was quickly delegitimized when its non-medical use became headline news and the subject of moral panic ([Dyck, 2005], [Littlefield, 2002] and [Sessa, 2005]). Alcohol was also once deemed a medicine, whereas today in most societies it is a recreational (or sometimes ceremonial) substance, except in some Muslim states, where it is a dangerous prohibited drug ([Baashar, 1981] and [Heron, 2003]). Indeed, the common phrase “alcohol and drugs” betrays a lingering implicit ontological commitment to the notion that alcohol is something other than a drug.

Ayahuasca quintessentially defies the simplistic categorization of being merely a “drug”—or, in the terminology of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, a “drug of abuse.” Indeed, ayahuasca has been culturally constructed by its various users as a medicine, a sacrament and a “plant teacher.” In the Amazon, ayahuasca is considered a master plant, both a diagnostic tool and a force for healing ([Demange, 2002] and [Luna, 1984]). Along with tobacco, it is one of the most important substances in the pharmacopoeias of Amazonian folk healers (Bennett, 1992). Yet ayahuasca has also come to be culturally constructed as a sacrament by religions such as the Santo Daime and the UDV. For their adherents, the tea is considered a divine gift allowing contact with forces and energies from which humans are ordinarily cut off in our quotidian lives. And ayahuasca is quintessentially a “plant teacher,” a natural divinatory mechanism that can provide esoteric knowledge to adepts skilled in negotiating its remarkable effects. These conceptualizations pose a challenge to modern Western drug policies and laws, which are premised on a rationalist/positivist ontology that constructs psychoactive substances essentially as chemicals and their effects as simply mechanistic.

Ayahuasca, globalization and public policy

The policy implications of contemporary ayahuasca practices can be usefully explored by regarding them as a cultural manifestation of globalization. By the term globalization, I refer to the economic, political, technological and cultural transactions and integrations resulting from the increased ease of movement for people, goods and ideas at the turn of the 21st century. As Collier and Ong (2005) observe, “[g]lobal phenomena … have a distinctive capacity for decontextualization and recontextualization, abstractability and movement, across diverse social and cultural situation and spheres of life” (p. 11). Thomas (2005) cites the resurgence of religion – including the spread of new religious movements and cultural and religious pluralism – as one of the “megatrends” of the 21st century. In response, states and faith communities alike “are being forced more than ever before, to define, defend or redefine the social boundaries between the sacred and the profane in the face of modernization and globalization” (Thomas, 2005, p. 26). The evolving spiritual practices whose nexus is the ayahuasca tea exemplify well these trends and tensions of globalization.

Ayahuasca has begun its ascendancy into popular global consciousness at a time of unprecedented interpersonal and intercultural knowledge exchange. One issue this raises is that of cultural appropriation. I would be remiss not to acknowledge humbly that ayahuasca is an exemplar of indigenous knowledge, a shamanic technology or cognitive tool that has long been what may best be described as intellectual property of the native peoples of the Amazon. Accordingly, its commodification, commercialization and secularization are concerning trends. The issue of intellectual property came to public attention in the 1990s when representatives of Amazonian tribes formally protested against the U.S. patent office, which had naïvely granted a patent on ayahuasca to an American pharmaceutical entrepreneur—it was subsequently rescinded (Fecteau, 2001). However, dismissing the growth of interest in ayahuasca as merely appropriation is somewhat simplistic. The genesis of the Brazilian ayahuasca churches – which are in many respects primary drivers of ayahuasca’s globalization – was arguably a by-product of cross-cultural fertilization (MacRae, 2004). There is also reason to believe that, in the age of wikis, file-sharing and the open source movement, the concept of intellectual property is rapidly becoming a quaint anachronism, a development that concerns corporations and academics as much as it does indigenous peoples.

Curiously, in the 1960s, ayahuasca largely stayed off the Western cultural radar despite increased popular interest in visionary plants such as peyote and psilocybin mushrooms. Unlike only a few decades ago, however, the collective mindscape of the early 21st century is being expanded and shaped by revolutionary information and communications technologies (Friedman, 2005). Thus, insofar as ayahuasca is being variously and simultaneously culturally constructed in the (post)modern world, novel forces are at play. For example, authorities whose interests might be served by the dissemination of inaccurate or deprecatory representations of ayahuasca – as they have been countless times in the past for other illegal drugs – are hard-pressed to challenge the size and scope of factual information easily available to the lay public. The use of the Internet by ayahuasca aficionados allows for a diversity of thought and expression about the tea and its effects that poses significant challenges to policy-makers.

It is my contention that the policy issues presented by contemporary ayahuasca practices are not easily dealt with from the traditional framing of modern drug policies. Schön (1993) proposes that the framing of policy solutions for social issues is constrained by underlying, often implicit, “generative” metaphors. With respect to non-medical psychoactive substance use, two dominant constructions of the problem are identified by Marlatt (1996): drug use as a moral issue and drug use as a disease. The first constructs some drugs as intrinsically malevolent, imbuing them with agency and the power to override human free will. Implicit in this “malevolent agents” metaphor is the notion that people who use drugs are wicked and need to be punished; it is this generative metaphor that underpins the global regime of prohibition of (some) drugs. The second dominant metaphor constructs psychoactive substances as pathogens. This metaphor has become the predominant one in the field of public health, where it is prevalent in the discourses of treatment and prevention. With the “pathogens” metaphor, drug use is constructed as a disease against which youth need to be inoculated and for which people who use need to be treated.

The two dominant metaphors underlying current drug policies – “malevolent agents” and “pathogens” – are particularly unhelpful in framing policies with respect to entheogenic substance use. Ayahuasca’s long tradition of uses as a medicine, sacrament and plant teacher poses a challenge to such simplistic metaphorical categorizations. Rather, I submit that a shift to a generative metaphor of drugs as “tools” offers a much more nuanced way of conceiving of the risks and benefits posed by ayahuasca practices. Rather than essentializing psychoactive substances as inherently dangerous, to regard them as tools – ancient technologies for altering consciousness ([Eliade, 1964] and [Winkelman, 2000]) – allows for a realistic assessment of their potential benefits and harms according to who uses them, in what contexts and for what purposes. To be sure, as with the use of any tool, there are risks associated with ayahuasca use, especially for those who are not prepared for its effects or who treat it as a toy. However, both traditional and contemporary ceremonial ayahuasca practices suggest benefits that the tool metaphor better accounts for in terms of policy considerations.

The philosophy of harm reduction is also further illuminated by a shift to the generative metaphor of drugs as tools. To the extent that policy-makers or practitioners emphasize a behaviour’s potential risks, the harm reduction policy approach is justified. However, the tool metaphor for psychoactive substances warrants a corollary notion of “benefit maximization,” the other side of the harm reduction coin. Instead of approaching drug policy from a deficit perspective – implied by the “malevolent agents” and “pathogens” metaphors – the tool metaphor opens discursive avenues for realistic policy considerations of benefits as well as harms. Although harm reduction has been a valuable concept in challenging abstinence-based approaches to non-medical drug use and shifting policy to a more humane public health perspective, its limitations become apparent with the “drugs as tools” generative metaphor. Along these lines, the Health Officers Council of British Columbia (2005) has incorporated the concept of beneficial substance use in a recent policy discussion paper arguing for government regulation of currently illegal drugs; the paper explicitly makes reference to ceremonial use of ayahuasca (p. 5).

A traditional harm reduction approach to ayahuasca would emphasize similar general types of cautions as those for LSD, psilocybin or other psychedelic drugs. These include knowing and trusting the source of the substance, controlling set and setting (e.g. psychological preparation and physical surroundings), having a “sitter” who can be mindful of safety, not driving or engaging in other risky activities while under the influence, and discouraging use by individuals with underlying psychiatric disorders. It would also include specific cautions regarding diet and combining medications. The MAO-inhibitor effects of harmala alkaloids in the ayahuasca tea warrant dietary restrictions for foods containing the monoamine compound tyramine. Tyramine eaten in combination with MAO inhibitor drugs may result in hypertensive crisis. Likewise, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can have potentially harmful interactions with MAO inhibitors, so people taking these kinds of medications are advised to avoid ayahuasca (Callaway & Grob, 1998). Interestingly, indigenous ayahuasca practices in the Amazon also universally incorporate strict dietary and behavioural protocols (Andritzky, 1989).

A benefit maximization approach to ayahuasca use, by contrast, would involve the creation of policies to provide legitimate access to ayahuasca in ceremonial settings. This process would include considering a variety of policy levers at the disposal of public health authorities to ensure the minimization of risk (Haden, 2004). Such an approach might begin with the formalization of the harm reduction protocols listed above. It might also include enacting provisions to ensure ayahuasceros or spiritual leaders are skilled and competent in leading rituals (either through self-regulation or certification), inspecting and licensing facilities or centres where ayahuasca ceremonies are conducted, and regulating production of the tea to ensure it conforms to specified purity or potency (as is currently done in some countries with other natural health products). A benefit maximization approach would certainly entail further research into both the short- and long-term effects of ayahuasca and the social practices in which it is used, which may in turn provide further policy direction.


The growing interest in and use of ayahuasca by modern non-indigenous peoples poses significant conceptual challenges regarding drugs and drug policies. Ayahuasca has a rich history of use as a medicine, sacrament and plant teacher, cultural constructions that do not readily fit contemporary drug policy frames. The globalization of ayahuasca in the latter part of the 20th and the early 21st centuries is a phenomenon that demands reconsideration of some of the metaphysical and sociological presuppositions of contemporary drug policies. Already several legal cases have opened the door to granting religious freedom to the ceremonial use of ayahuasca. Accordingly, policy-makers would be well advised to consider other policy tools than criminalization to balance the competing interests of criminal justice, public health and human rights. With respect to harm reduction theory, the contemporary uses of ayahuasca lend weight to the corollary notion of benefit maximization.


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Heartbeat of the Medicine Bird by Daniel Mirante

Communion With The Infinite – The Visual Music of the Shipibo tribe of the Amazon

The Magical Art of the Shipibo People of the Upper Amazon

Underlying the intricate geometric patterns of great complexity displayed in the art of the Shipibo people is a concept of an all pervading magical reality which can challenge the Western linguistic heritage and rational mind.

These patterns are more than an expression of the one-ness of creation, the inter-changeability of light and sound, the union or fusion of perceived opposites, it is an ongoing dialogue or communion with the spiritual world and powers of the Rainforest. The visionary art of the Shipibo brings this paradigm into a physical form. The Ethnologist Angelika Gebhart-Sayer, calls this “visual music”.

The Shipibo are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Peruvian Amazon. These ethnic groups each have their own languages, traditions and culture. The Shipibo which currently number about 20,000 are spread out in communities through the Pucallpa / Ucayali river region. They are highly regarded in the Amazon as being masters of Ayahuasca, and many aspiring shamans and Ayahuasqueros from the region study with the Shipibo to learn their language, chants, and plant medicine knowledge.

All the textile painting, embroidery, and artisan craft is carried out by the women. From a young age the Shipibo females are initiated by their mothers and grandmothers into this practice. Teresa a Shipiba who works with us on our Amazon Retreats tells that “when I was a young girl, my mother squeezed drops of the Piripiri (a species of Cyperus sp.) berries into my eyes so that I would have the vision for the designs; this is only done once and lasts a lifetime”.

The intricate Shipibo designs have their origin in the non-manifest and ineffable world in the spirit of the Rainforest and all who live there. The designs are a representation of the Cosmic Serpent, the Anaconda, the great Mother, creator of the universe called Ronin Kene. For the Shipibo the skin of Ronin Kene has a radiating, electrifying vibration of light, colour, sound, movement and is the embodiment of all possible patterns and designs past, present, and future. The designs that the Shipibo paint are channels or conduits for this multi-sensorial vibrational fusion of form, light and sound. Although in our cultural paradigm we perceive that the geometric patterns are bound within the border of the textile or ceramic vessel, to the Shipibo the patterns extend far beyond these borders and permeate the entire world.

One of the challenges for the Western mind is to acknowledge the relationship between the Shipibo designs and music. For the Shipibo can “listen” to a song or chant by looking at the designs, and inversely paint a pattern by listening to a song or music.

As an astonishing demonstration of this I witnessed two Shipiba paint a large ceremonial ceramic pot known as a Mahuetá. The pot was nearly five feet high and had a diameter of about three feet, each of the Shipiba couldn’t see what the other was painting, yet both were whistling the same song, and when they had finished both sides of the complex geometric pattern were identical and matched each side perfectly.

The Shipibo designs are traditionally carried out on natural un-dyed cotton (which they often grow themselves) or on cotton dyed in mahogany bark (usually three or four times) which gives the distinctive brown colour. They paint either using a pointed piece of chonta (bamboo) or an iron nail with the juice of the crushed Huito (Genipa americana) berry fruits which turns into a blue- brown-black dye once exposed to air.

Each of the designs are unique, even the very small pieces, and they cannot be commercially or mass produced. In Lima I met with a woman who had set up a government funded community project which amongst other matters established a collective for the Shipibo to sell their artisan work and paintings. She tells that a major USA corporation (Pier 1 Imports), enamoured by these designs ordered via the project twenty thousand textiles with the same design, this order could never be fulfilled, the Shipibo could simply not comprehend the concept of replicating identical designs.

The Shipibo believe that our state of health (which includes physical and psychological) is dependent on the balanced union between mind, spirit and body. If an imbalance in this occurs such as through emotions of envy, hate, anger, this will generate a negative effect on the health of that person. The shaman will re-establish the balance by chanting the icaros which are the geometric patterns of harmony made manifest in sound into the body of the person. The shaman in effect transforms the visual code into an acoustic code.

A key element in this magical dialogue with the energy which permeates creation and is embedded in the Shipibo designs is the work with ayahuasca by the Shipibo shamans or muraya. In the deep ayahuasca trance, the ayahuasca reveals to the shaman the luminous geometric patterns of energy. These filaments drift towards the mouth of the shaman where it metamorphoses into a chant or icaro. The icaro is a conduit for the patterns of creation which then permeate the body of the shaman’s patient bringing harmony in the form of the geometric patterns which re-balances the patient’s body. The vocal range of the Shipibo shaman’s when they chant the icaros is astonishing, they can range from the highest falsetto one moment to a sound which resembles a thumping pile driver, and then to a gentle soothing melodic lullaby. Speaking personally of my experience with this, is a feeling that every cell in my body is floating and embraced in a nurturing all-encompassing vibration, even the air around me is vibrating in acoustic resonance with the icaro of the maestro. The shaman knows when the healing is complete as the design is clearly distinct in the patient’s body. It make take a few sessions to complete this, and when completed the geometric healing designs are embedded in the patient’s body, this is called an Arkana. This internal patterning is deemed to be permanent and to protect a person’s spirit.

Angelika Gebhart-Sayer, Professor of Ethnology, University of Marburg writes that “Essentially, Shipibo-Conibo therapy is a matter of visionary design application in connection with aura restoration, the shaman heals his patient through the application of a visionary design, every person feels spiritually permeated and saturated with designs. The shaman heals his patient through the application of the song-design, which saturates the patients’ body and is believed to untangle distorted physical and psycho-spiritual energies, restoring harmony to the somatic, psychic and spiritual systems of the patient. The designs are permanent and remain with a person’s spirit even after death.”.

Whilst it is not easy for Westerner’s to enter and engage with the world view of the Shipibo which has been developed far away from our linguistic structures and psychological models, there is an underlying sophisticated and complex symbolic language embedded in these geometric patterns. The main figures in the Shipibo designs are the square, the rhombus, the octagon, and the cross. The symmetry of the patterns emanating from the centre (which is our world) is a representation of the outer and inner worlds, a map of the cosmos. The cross represents the Southern Cross constellation which dominates the night sky and divides the cosmos into four quadrants, the intersection of the arms of the cross is the centre of the universe, and becomes the cosmic cross. The cosmic cross represents the eternal spirit of a person and the union of the masculine and feminine principles the very cycle of life and death which reminds us of the great act of procreation of not only the universe, but also of humanity, and our individual selves.

The smaller flowing patterns within the geometric forms are the radiating power of the Cosmic Serpent which turns this way and that, betwixt and between constantly creating the universe as it moves. The circles are often a direct representation of the Cosmic Anaconda, and within the circle itself is the central point of creation.

In the Western tradition, from the Pythagoreans, and Plato through the Renaissance music was used to heal the body and to elevate the soul. It was also believed that earthly music was no more than a faint echo of the universal ‘harmony of the spheres’. This view of the harmony of the universe was held both by artists and scientists until the mechanistic universe of Newton.

Joseph Campbell the foremost scholar of mythology suggests that there is a universe of harmonic vibrations which the human collective unconscious has always been in communion with. Our beings beat to the ancient rhythms of the cosmos. The traditional ways of the Shipibo and other indigenous peoples still reflect the primal rhythm, and their perception of the universal forces made physical is truly a communion with the infinite.

Article Source: Communion With The Infinite – The Visual Music of the Shipibo tribe of the Amazon