Ayahuasca ceremony 1

Written by Stuart Revnell No Gravatar

We arrived in Puccalpa late on Saturday, after a delay of several hours. Within twenty minutes, we had our bags, had met Jill, one of the retreat owners, and were in a moto taxi to the port.

An hour later, we were in the communal kitchen area, sitting down to our first dinner- a lovely vegetarian spread with salads, quinua (a type of grain similar to bulgar wheat) and fruit. Jill, an American lady, runs the retreat with her partner Casey, and Steve, another American who recently moved down to Peru to help them for a few months. As for the participants, in addition to me and Jane, there were four other men – one British, two Americans and a Canadian whom we had met at the airport. We did the polite introductions, and before long, the conversation turned towards people’s experiences with ayahuasca. Only two of the group had done it before – the British man had done it in England, then again in Brazil, and one of the Americans had been at Tierra Vida the previous year. For the remaining four of us, we were in uncharted waters.

Soon the conversation moved on towards other subjects. We discussed Miracle Mineral Solution (a natural compound which has purportedly been proven to cure all manner of ailments, from malaria through to AIDS), David Icke, alleged corruption at the heart of the US FDA (Food Drug Administration), the notion that governments want to keep their citizens poor to control them, sungazing (a practice whereby people don’t eat for extended periods of time, instead relying on the sun for their energy), and so on.

It was clear that there was a predisposition within our group towards what might be called, for want of a better term, ‘alternative’ lifestyles and beliefs, and the conversation interested me a great deal, although I did have a great sense of scepticism about most of what was being discussed. Everyone was tired though, so it soon tapered off – Jane and I soon retired to our cabin, in the middle of a banana plantation, where we drifted off to sleep as the jungle throbbed with the sound of birds and insects.

The next morning we all mucked in to help with the preparation of the ayahuasca. It takes four days to brew apparently, so this one was being prepared for the final ceremony. The first stage is to beat the vine with a hammer until it splits into thick strands. These are then pulled apart, shredded finely and placed in a huge pot with the leaves of another plant which contain DMT. The brew sits on the fire for four days, and over this time, the leaves and vine shreds are removed from the the pot, and the mixture is left to simmer, reducing to an overall volume of three to four litres.

The beating of the vine was tiring but rewarding work, as we all got to know each other a bit better. By midday, we were ready for another delicious vegetarian lunch. The food was incredibly appetising and healthy – it felt as it my body was soaking up nutrients with every mouthful.

At around 16:00, we met in the maloka – the traditional circular, wooden structure where ceremonies take place – to discuss our intentions. This is an important part of the ceremonies, and involves expressing what you hope to get out of the ceremony. We all duly did so to the best of our abilities, but it was pointed out to us, however, that the intention, whilst useful, does not necessarily dictate your experience. In the ayahuasca community, the effect of the ‘medicine’ is embodied as a feminine spirit, referred to as Madre Ayahuasca (Mother Ayahuasca), and commonly simply referred to as ‘she’. It seems to be accepted that ‘she’ will bring the drinker what is needed, and that the intention, whilst guiding this, may be overruled at her discretion.

After sharing our intentions, we then did a ceremonial ‘smudging’, where sage and palo santo (‘saint stick’ – a Peruvian wood) are burnt together and the smoke is fanned across your body with a feather, in order to clear unbalanced and negative energies from your body.

We then had a few hours to relax before the ceremony began at 20:00. I was filled with a mixture of excitement, foreboding, apprehension and nervous energy as I waited, and the hours seemed to drag painfully slowly. Finally it was time though, and I made my way over to the maloka with my flash light, pillow and water bottle.

The room was lit with soft candlelight, and eleven thin mattresses were laid out in a fan pattern around the room, each one with a small ‘purge bucket’ next to it. The shaman, or curandera – a lady of around sixty – sat opposite me on the other side of the room with her husband, also a shaman. She is part of the Shipibo people who live in Peru, and whose culture is heavily influenced by the use of ayahuasca as a plant healer. The room had a serene quality to it, and felt very safe. I lay down on my mattress in silence, and after fifteen minutes or so, Jill, Casey and Steve entered the room. They took the big bottle filled with the ayahuasca to the shaman, and she began the blessing – a process involving blowing smoke over the bottle, which made a sound like a child blowing across the top of a glass bottle to make a rudimentary flute.

After ten minutes, it was time to begin. Jill poured a glass of the ayahuasca – around half the volume of a small glass of wine – and brought it over to me. “You first,” she said, and handed me the glass. We had been told that the first time would be the easiest, as we wouldn’t know what to expect, and so I downed the mixture as quickly as possible. All the same, it has to be pretty much the foulest consistency and taste of anything I’ve ever drunk. – acrid, bitter and viscous, with a pungent earthy, smoky taste. I rinsed my mouth with water, and, despite having given up smoking six years ago, lit up a machapo – a traditional roll up cigarette made from strong tobacco, used in ceremonies to help to take the taste away.

Everybody took their dose, the candles were extinguished, and I lay back to wait for the medicine to take effect. After what seemed like a long time, I felt like I was beginning to drift off. Then suddenly I was startled by a high pitched sound, as the female shaman began to sing an icaro. Icaros are songs used to communicate with the spirits of the natural world, to heal the sick, and to actually provoke certain kinds of visual displays or visions in those medicated with ayahuasca.d

The sound was eerily beautiful, and as it went on, I felt like something was beginning to happen. I had a fleeting glimpse of some colours and a dull, faint, kaleidoscopic pattern. What appeared to be a highly detailed technical drawing of an insect flashed into my mind – like a blueprint for a species, or something similar. But each time it happened, I felt myself grabbing hold of the vision, and attempting to dissect it. What is it? Is it a vision? What does it mean? Is it another dimension? My rational mind was racing, and I didn’t feel able to let go and surrender to the ayahuasca.

The shaman began to sing to each one of us in turn – when she reached me, the last one in the circle, she sat cross-legged in front of me in the dark, and sang her beautiful, ethereal songs as I felt myself drifting to the edge of something, then pulling back again. Finally, she finished her singing, I sat up, and she blew smoke and flower water over my head, then got me to place my hands together, and blew smoke into them. She patted me, motioned me to lie down again, and went back to her side of the room.

Soon afterwards, I began to feel very sick, and my head started swimming. I propped myself up on one elbow, and the room had the faint quality of a 3D picture without the glasses, with blurred, overlapping reds, greens and blues. I felt more and more nauseous, sat up, and was violently sick into my bucket. The foul taste of the ayahuasca was in my mouth, and I threw up again. I suddenly felt very panicked and afraid, and called quietly out for help. Jill came over, brought me some tissues, and placed her hand on my back while I threw up, all the while crying too. It felt extremely violent, and after a few minutes, she called the male shaman over, who came back to sit in front of me and sing some more. I felt too weak to sit up, so lay down, feeling feverish and nauseous as the songs wafted over me. Gradually, though, I began to feel better, and when he bent down to blow smoke over me once again, he said “Se pase nada” – “Nothing more is happening here”.

I looked out of the window at the moon, and whatever had happened that night felt like it was over. I drifted off into a fitful sleep, waking up next morning at dawn as the same came into the maloka, and six exhausted figures heaved themselves up to face a much-needed day of rest.

One Response to “Ayahuasca ceremony 1”

  1. Steve BorgesNo Gravatar says:

    Beautiful description of your first journey, Stuart. Thank you for sharing!

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