Increasing popularity of ayahuasca ceremony also gave rise to the number of fake, inexperienced, opportunist so called shamans in the Amazon region. In some villages almost every man can claim that they are a shaman. Being clueless on what to expect, how to approach or the things that should be taken in to consideration, I needed to do some investigation first. Luckily I had a Peruvian friend who wanted to share the experience however was as clueless as myself at the time. Though most of our online searches directed us to Iquitos, a friend of her from Iquitos told us that the origin of and the real place to have the medicine is Pucallpa. Unfortunately he did not know anyone there who could help us. So we started to look for a relatively trustworthy contact in Pucallpa. At this stage the main criteria was trust since the person – the shaman, should be experienced, have good intentions or at least should not take advantage of us in the ways we do not wish to be taken advantage of and on top of that, should be affordable. The least of our worries was that the medicine turns out to be ineffective but even this is huge waste of time and money which is a big deal when you are travelling with a tight budget. After making some inquiries I was able to locate a guy in Pucallpa through a social media site with positive references. He was from the Shipibo tribe which invented and used ayahuasca tea for the first time. After a brief online search his name appeared on various related sources such as some seminars in Europe which gave us some level of confidence about his serious approach to the subject. So we headed for Pucallpa and the next morning of our arrival we contacted him and luckily he responded immediately. We met with him and told him about our expectations and concerns. As far as I can tell he also wanted to make sure that we are not just a couple of junkies looking for a different trip. After establishing mutual trust he told us that he is still only a student and need years to be able to prepare and direct a ceremony however his maestro could help us if we wished so. So we wished. Another stroke of luck was that he was somewhere close by. Pucallpa is not a very big place, maybe being close by was something he could do by simply existing. He looked around 50-55 years old and was very thin. Most of what we talked to him is lost to me since my Spanish was not that good and Hilda could not translate everything to me at that time. But I got the answers for my main concerns which were addressed positively. Accordingly we decided that he is not a crook. He clarified a lot of things which had conflicting information on the internet. For example holding the ceremony in the jungle is only a way of presentation and has no other effects. What he kept repeating was that the mental state should be calm, relaxed and positive and the other details are not that important, but just helps to get in the mood and prepares you to have a positive mind. One important thing though, was the use of prescribed medicines in the recent past which was very important and could react with the tea. Another important aspect was the diet. According to what he says, the diet does not need to be as strict as it is described on the sources we found on the internet. The only and most important part is the absence of prescribed medicines. According to him the food diet can start one day before the ceremony, which we had started the previous day, and should not consume sugar, oil, and meat especially pork. On the day of the ceremony we should have a very light breakfast just enough to have enough energy for the day and if we get too hungry we were allowed a very light snack in the afternoon. Having enough energy during the ceremony is more important than the diet he said. Alcohol is a no no but interestingly tobacco and marijuana could be used. Since we are non-smokers this didn’t affect us much but I somehow found it interesting. To me it seems like as if the diets suggested online, which some of them went up to two weeks are exaggerations and is designed to keep the people in the facilities for a longer time. Though I am sure it helps for mental preparation, it is not a requirement but mostly a tourist trap which we could not afford. On top of that, to us a jungle lodge idea in Pucallpa is not very appealing because to fight against smuggling and other illegal activities in the area, there are no protected natural areas in the region. Though not as much as a busy big cities, but there is human activity almost everywhere which limits the nature we were going to be exposed.
So, due to our concerns, he offered to do the ceremony in his house the first time and if we wish to try another one, we could go to his lodge in the jungle. This sounded quite reasonable to us and was the main reason that we trusted him. We decided to do the ceremony the next evening in his house in the city.
While waiting for the next evening we shared this information with the owner of our hostel. She had tried twice but never had any “visions”, just the regular shapes and colours. She added that she tried the cheapest possible options where they played the chanting through tape. She paid only 30 soles for this. She also mentioned a few instances where ordinary people introduced as shamans try screwing the tourists in both senses. There were stories of a lot of tourists who lost their stuff, time, money, physical wholeness or the least, their patience. In the village close by, called San Francisco, every able bodied man was a shaman, and it was a business over there. According to her, anybody can be called a shaman but it takes a lot of time to be a medicine man. For the rest of the day and the next day till evening we did some sightseeing in Pucallpa.
II. THE SET UP
In the evening of the next day we met with our shaman and went to his house, to a room specifically designed for the Ayahuasca ceremony. It was a kind of large room with mattresses on the floor. The floor was covered with vinyl, which probably helped keeping the place clean, especially the vomit. There were vomit buckets next to each bed for this purpose. Throwing up is an important aspect of the ceremony. It is called “purge” and is a sign that the negativities are leaving your body. There were wooden windows that can block all the light when required and on the walls there were paintings of the shaman talking to Pachamama executed very naively along with some animals of the forest. Probably due to the cultural pressure, the drawing of the tree depicting Pachamama had her breasts covered. I find these kinds of cultural details very interesting. Showing the breasts for the women is not even remotely sexual for the original jungle people, which was introduced by Christianity.
So this was the room we were going to sleep after the ceremony. The Maestro sat in front of us and started telling us what was going to happen and how we should behave. Like most recreational drugs this medicine also had its jargon. When people try to explain and somehow try to understand their experiences involving altered mind states, they come up with various allegories. They try to clarify things and give the substances or the plants in this case, some characteristic traits. Like the K-hole or like a more relatable public figure such as Dionysus. I always thought the human side of Dionysus is the allegory for euphoric state of human beings. The Maestro told us that both plants will talk to us and each of the plant has their own characteristic. He added that we were also kinds of plants and our hair is like plants (if so then our heads are big vases), as well as our skin. And lots of other behavioural things which I half understand. Though I found this version of the world created by within a soup of unrelated and out of context information interesting, the questions I had, had the potential of ruining the mood. Also, there is a little chance that he was making kind of sense on a different level in Spanish when combined with the parts that I do not fully understand. Still, this talk was very informative for me to understand the source of all the mysteries and stories about Ayahuasca ceremonies. On top of these stuff, what was useful was that we should not be scared under influence and keep our concentration and mental integrity the whole time. Nice and useful advice indeed, which could be said for mushrooms as well. In fact during our whole lives, too.
III. THE CEREMONY
Before the ceremony we were required to take a “Flower Bath”. After having a shower, from the bucket he provided, we needed to pour a bit of the water four times, facing the cardinal directions and then let the water dry on us. The water was dark in colour, had a flowery smell and really had a refreshing effect. I believe that the talk and the flower bath are done to provide a relaxed mind and body for the ceremony to decrease the possibility of a bad trip. He mentioned at one point that there is no bad trip but there is you not enjoying what the plant tells you. After the bath he wore his traditional shaman outfit and joined us. Meanwhile two of his students arrived and sat on the other beds. Though we didn’t like this in the beginning, nothing bad happened. He lit a Mapacho cigar and offered us as well. After finding out that it is just a personal preference but not a requirement, we, the non-smokers did not smoke. Then he started chanting while blowing smoke in different directions. He took the plastic water bottle, (which really looked out of place, an ordinary 0.5 liter plastic bottle which killed the spirit,) filled with the tea that was brewed for the last three days, blew smoke in it, shook it and chanted. He repeated this a few times. Later he poured some tea in a wooden cup and gave it to Hilda. She drank it all at once. She said it was not that easy since the liquid was too thick which I also found out within moments. To me it tasted a bit like molasses without sugar. A bit thicker, an unpleasant acrid taste. I think a bit of pomegranate syrup could make it drinkable, but I kept this idea to myself.
I have to admit that I really am not sure about the chronological order of the events I am about to tell. I am not 100% sure if those things really happened or was my imagination. I tried to include only the things that I am mostly sure of and as expected, they are highly subjective.
After drinking the tea we started waiting for the effects to take place. Meanwhile Maestro gave others some tea, smoked and chanted. When I saw him drinking tea as well, the last bits of doubts in my mind disappeared. The initial signs were localized numbness and a sensation of heat in various parts of my body. I felt my stomach and intestines as well from time to time. Well, it could have been gas as well, but under the circumstances I thought it was the tea. Then he turned off one of the lights. This made me aware of some changes in my perception but it was not easy to spot what it was as it was always at the edge of my vision disappearing when I look that way. Like a glitch in the matrix. It was a bit like falling asleep, or waking up or getting out of the effects of anaesthesia. Everything seemed normal but somehow it was not. After a bit of shaman chanting from the Pucallpa region, he completely turned off the lights. That was when the first shock hit.
The shades of the shapes that I was seeing with the lights on, instantly filled with lights, lines and shapes when lights went away. They were mostly kaleidoscopic shapes moving constantly. The texture was somewhat like the mushroom effects but instead of the distortion of the existing vision, this was in complete darkness and was created from within. It had the effect as if everything you normally see are shades of reality and in fact in reality this is what they were. I am sure this is how they observe the lizard men that rule our planet. In the dark most of the time, I was not sure if my eyes are closed or not. Sometimes I was having flashes of light. Some seems to be my imagination and some are the light of the torch that Maestro is using to check on us. The sounds were getting distorted and start to have echoes. I am not sure if I really hear those because the chanting from the Maestro was quite clear and very close but other sounds were not. This may be one the purposes of the shaman, to keep a thin line to reality. It is as if I would get lost in a too deep place if I was only by myself. It feels like a dream but a sound or the occasional light reminds you where you were. When I think I don’t think I could move any part of my body, but when I move it, I could move it without any problems. The motor capabilities doesn’t seem affected, it is just in my mind that I think I am unable to move. Along with the visual show lots of thoughts and ideas come and go without any conclusion. Some are related to that moment and some to my life in general. While these mental ups and downs continue I try to understand if the occasional spasms in my belly are serious enough to go to the toilet or to bend over to the vomit bucket. I was more inclined to keep the current state as long as possible and enjoy the moment as long as I can without interruptions. Meanwhile the passing ideas were somehow becomes more related, like a train of thought or somehow responsive. However I am not sure of the context. It is like saying hi to a person you see every day you were never introduced. The localized numbnesses were as if a doctor was physically examining you. And all of a sudden one of those ideas told me directly “You have nothing wrong, why are you here?” But before I was even able to say “But …” I felt as if it turned away from me. It felt like a rejection. Then whatever it was trapped in my intestines finally decided that they don’t want to stay in any longer. I got up and headed for the toilet. People normally vomit during the ceremony. On very rare occasions diarrhea could be observed as well. Before I came there, I was hoping not to have diarrhea which is obviously not very comfortable in public. I thought I could handle vomiting, this way or another. The first lesson ayahuasca thought me was that I needed to get rid of such social restraints. After reaching the toilet and while vigorously discharging my insides, I thought “This is it, It is talking through my sphincter and telling me that I have a sensitive stomach”. According to the shamans, this “purge” is the sign of purification and cleansing and a very important aspect of the ceremony. Many people see snakes or insects leaving their body from their mouths while throwing up. Since I was not able to observe what was coming out of me, I will not be able to use such a symbolism. While observing layers of leaves, octopi and other fish like in a frozen lake on the floor of the toilet, I remembered a certain water in Sierra Leone said to have healing properties. It is believed that it cleansed your body. I always thought the “cleansing” can be done with any filthy water and wondered why they thought specifically that water was thought to be cleansing, somehow similar to the situation I was having at that moment. I was thinking that this experience was a fiasco for me and thought “what counts is to take part” since I was expecting to have some kind of experience that involves me getting in touch with my subconscious in this way or another. However while going back to the room, I really felt cleansed, intestinally. When I got back Hilda told me she felt nothing so far, so asked the maestro for another cup. She told me I could have one more if I wanted to. Unlike Hilda, I felt something; maybe a bit more than something but not to be outpaced and with the hope of not ending the experience at that moment, I also asked for another cup.
Before the second tea took effect, life was great, while I was sitting on the bed. I was able to concentrate on ideas a bit longer. And then it hit me. Along with now the familiar light and shapes show, more meaningful dialogues started. It was as if my subconscious was criticising me for some of my actions through my memories. It was like a football match critics, a memory comes, comments are made and a discussion follows. The discussions didn’t last long but the good things were, it felt like the person in question was someone else, it didn’t have emotional connection with me. It was more like case studies. These dialogues come to the point of what is wrong with me and I searched the reason of my anxiety, shyness, reservedness, lack of sociability and such. Immediately I received an answer. However it was not a psychanalytic approach as I thought it would be but a more cognitive approach. With extremely vivid memory flashbacks, my subconscious showed me a bunch of my memories, with descriptions, and told me to change these behavioural patterns. Though these were according to my subconscious at the time, I was convinced. When I live through that short moment, I felt extremely light and I wanted to rethink those dialogues when I sober up, though I was not sure how. Still the moment was extremely relaxing and comforting. While I was enjoying this newfound comfort, I found myself in a fantasy place, in a stormy night, sailing a pirate ship. I had my pirate hat though under a storm, I felt content and proud. Then it – my subconscious- told me” This is you, why are you trying otherwise? Why are you forcing things that are not you? “And with that millions of memories flashed before my eyes at once. It looked only like a fantasy at that moment but the more I think of it now it seems to have a much deeper personal meaning. Though so far I never had a pirate fantasy in my life, or so which I was aware of but now I did, hence:
Before I could digest all these things at that time, I felt another impossibly strong inner pressure in my belly again. I tried to run to the toilet as much as the conditions allow me and started a second bathroom session. However, this was not quite as sufficient by itself and unlike what people tell me about vomiting (that they feel they throw up for a long time and feel lots of things come out but in the next morning they only find a drop in the buckets), I also started vomiting like a firehose. No snakes were involved this time, or if so I was not in a shape to pay that too much attention or catch a glimpse in the pressured liquid running as fast as it can from my insides. Luckily the session lasted shorter though much stronger. I went back to the room and sat down. The maestro came and blew smoke to my hand, feet and head. The light show was also coming to an end. I laid in the corpse position and try to digest and somehow rethink my experience. I was extremely calm and relaxed.
Then Hilda started to throw up. I was happy to see her feeling something at least. Her evening did not go to waste and it would give us something to talk about the next day. Then she also left for the bathroom. Meanwhile none of the students who were much experienced than us, never left for the bathroom though threw up a lot of times. When she came back she told me that almost all effects were disappearing. I told her I feel the same and can fall asleep peacefully now.
The next day when I woke up the students had already left and Hilda was talking to the Maestro. We both agreed that we do not want a second try, at least for the time being so left.
According to the Maestro, the effects we had were related to his chanting and intentions while blowing smoke in the tea but not the quantity we consumed. So according to him, even if we had five cups, the results would not be different than what we experienced which I have serious doubts. It turns out that one of the students was talking to Jesus and only with one cup of the same tea. Which is another issue to discuss I guess. When people believe in god or another higher force, they tend to connect these experiences with such beliefs. So if I try this once more, there is a chance that I can talk to Dionysus.
As a summary I can say that it is a very labor intense and messy to be used as a recreational drug but definitely has medicinal effects. It does help you to make connections which were not easily perceived or somehow visible in the beginning which I think the main cause of the calming effects. As some sources say, it has a big potential to shorten the duration of psychanalysis.
Now that I am writing this, it’s been a week since I had the experience. Compared to one week earlier, I feel much better, calm, relaxed and content. I didn’t felt any anxiety yet but it was a relaxed week. So I can not say if this is due to the medicine. But I am more clear and precise in my thoughts. I can solve small issues with much ease and increased certainty. My body and mind and the life I am leading seems more in harmony. It is as my “chakras” are opened.
For the time being without much enthusiasm and premature excitement I can confidently say that I have discovered the source of the patterns most common on the local clothing which are what you see as the light and color show.
Typical designs of local clothing
Now it’s been three months since that day. Though subtle, the things I have realized at that time made a positive effect in my life. Now I feel more confident about myself and realise most of my anxiety stems from my perceived or real unrealistic expectations of the society from the individual. This is something I was able to do after interpreting my experience for some time. This caused a lot of internal rewiring and once it is done, it feels quite good. So far my anxiety levels did not increase. When it tends to I use my newly acquired tool (some of the memories I keep alive in my mind to solve some basic things in life now) to calm it down and it works perfectly. However, the main purpose of the medicine somehow failed. The medicine is normally used to diagnose the ailments of the people of the tribe by the medicine man. It turns out that at the time, I had a sample of dermatobia hominis in my body, which passed undetected at the time.