Medicinal and Shamanic Plants of Peru, a set on Flickr.
I’ve been adding more photos from the archives.
Medicinal and Shamanic Plants of Peru, a set on Flickr.
I’ve been adding more photos from the archives.
An interview with Ayahuasca Shaman – Artidoro Aro Cardenas, by Peter Cloudsley & Howard G Charing (2003)
This article has been revised to include plant classification names. An extract from this interview appeared in the book Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA).
Photos of Artidoro are in the photo set ‘Shamans of Peru’ on Flickr at;
Since the late 90’s Eagle’s Wing has conducted Ayahuasca and San Pedro Retreats in Peru. We have our 2008 programme available for viewing, downloading, or printing on this blog.
Ayahuasca, is regarded as the ‘gateway’ to the Soul. The fourth part of this article continues to explore this fascinating plant brew from the Amazon Rainforest. Ayahuasca is the jungle medicine of the upper Amazon. It is made from the ayahuasca vine ( Banisteriopsis Caapi) and the leaf of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis). The two make a potent medicine, which takes one into the visionary world. The vine is an inhibitor, which contains harmala and harmaline among other alkaloids, and the leaf contains vision-inducing alkaloids. As with all natural medicines, it is a mixture of many alkaloids that makes their unique properties.
I discovered that Ayahuasca is a medicine, so unlike the Western understanding, a medicine which works on every level, on the physical and non-physical beings, our consciousness, our emotions, and our spirit. It is as if you are drinking not just a liquid brew but imbibing an ‘other’ intelligence which knows exactly what is needed to help you. This is a communion in the true sense of the word, an intense experience of euphoria and ecstasy. A journey of deep and profoundly meaningful personal and trans-personal insights , a searchlight on the hidden thoughts and feelings in the sub-conscious mind, an erasing of the ego boundaries and a merging with the greater field of consciousness of creation.
The was more and more to experience, dieting some of the teacher plants such as Ajo Sacha and Guyasa, I felt my senses being altered , expanded in some ineffable way, and becoming aware of the song, the very rhythm of the rainforest. There was sound, smells, and sights around me, which I had not been aware of in my normal everyday waking state. I could zoom in on smells, and sound, I realised that the rainforest was one entity with the insects, birds, and animals being a part of the totality of the rainforest. I am in paradise when lying in my hammock; it is like floating within a living three-dimensional sensorial experience of sound, colour, smell, movement, and vibration all in harmony and great beauty.
The work with the visionary plants not only provides a philosophical frame of reference for my life so to speak, but is also a path for deep soul healing, and generates a desire to engage fully and with enthusiasm the world around me. Celestial visions are always very nice and pleasing but they must never cloud, disguise, or distract our real purpose to live in the full embodiment of being a human on this beautiful planet and striving to enrich that special and unique experience, our ‘earth walk’. I recall some years ago when I led a group to the Amazon Rainforest, our initial gathering with our shaman Javier Arevalo so we could all introduce ourselves. Javier was very curious about Westerners, and was interested in knowing what we were searching for with the visionary plants. One participant stood up and said she wanted a clear and definitive understanding of the male and female principles of the universe, the cosmic “ying and yang” as she put it. Well Javier was totally mystified by this question, as when I have attended his sessions with local people who visit him for a consultation or session they ask about everyday problems and concerns such as “is my boyfriend / husband / girlfriend cheating on me?”, or “why am I unlucky in finding a job?”, “I need help to overcome this disease”. Well we worked with our participant to explore what the real question was behind her initial enquiry, finally she said that she was really looking for love in her life, and of course, Javier could understand this deep desire completely, and was subsequently able to help her discover and reconcile the inner obstacles, which had been preventing this.
The Western rational mind can only struggle, to take as an example the famed ‘love potion’ of the Amazon known as the Pusanga. In rational terms it makes no sense whatsoever, how can a concoction of leaves, roots, and seeds attract a lover, or good luck to you?
My experience working with shamans in preparing Pusangas (which normally is prepared away from their clients so it was a privilege to be invited to participate in the preparation) showed me that far from interfering with the freedom of other individuals or putting a ‘number’ on them, we were altering something within ourselves, which was brought out by the ingredients, the magic of the plants. Whatever it was, it felt wholesome and good. It is what is in oneself… one’s own magic. Asking Javier Arevalo (the shaman) what does the Pusanga actually do, is it inside us or outside of us? His response was “When you pour it onto your skin it begins to penetrate your spirit, and the spirit is what gives you the force to pull the people. The spirit is what pulls”.
The anthropological term ‘sympathetic magic’ does not give this justice, to illustrate this, the water used in the preparation of an authentic pusanga (which has been specifically made for you) has been collected from a deep trek in the rainforest, sometimes 40 or 50 miles, where there are no people and where clay pools collect and thousands of the most beautiful coloured parrots and macaws gather to drink from them for the mineral content. Now the great leap of imagination required is to bring into yourself the knowledge, the feeling, the sense that the water in the Pusanga has drawn in or attracted thousands of the most brightly coloured creatures on the planet. If you do this, it can generate a shift in consciousness in you.
You can sample this for yourself, just find a quiet moment and space, close your eyes, and with the power of your imagination as the launch pad, draw in the verdant, abundant forest filled with life, colour, and sound. Sense the rich vibrancy of the rainforest as a single breathing rhythmic totality of life force. When you have this image, expand it to include, the humid warmth, the smell of earth, the scent of plants, hear the sound of insects and bird song, allow all your senses to experience this. Then with a conscious decision draw this sensory experience into your being. Whenever you are ready, open your eyes, and check how you are feeling.
Maestros do not invent diets, they are given by the plant spirits themselves, but there is more to it than simply abstaining from certain foods and activities. It involves a state of purification, retreat, commitment, and respect for our connection with everything around us – above all the rain forest. When we listen to our dreams, they become more real, and equally important as everyday life.
Morality, Ethics and Power
This is a subject that is worth looking at as we in the West and particularly those who are engaged in following a perceived spiritual path in which there is an implicit or explicit ethical component, find the use of a pusanga (or equivalent) to attract a specific person an action which takes away and subverts that person’s free will. This is criticised as an unmoral and harmful action occurring within a tradition or system without perceived , never mind understood moral values.
This moral view is not shared in other societies and traditions, and there is a profound difficulty experienced by Westerners in assimilating this concept of values surrounding power.
For example the Amazonian (amongst others) tradition portrays a spectrum of existential states, with the highest or most desirable being that of the powerful person, and the lowest or least desirable being that of the powerless person. Power is defined as the ability to do what one wishes, obtain wealth, make others perform desired actions (even against their will), or harm others without being punished or harmed in return. The proof of power is the individual’s material wealth, or social and political status, and their ability to offer patronage. These are not received as immoral acts, and I recall with my colleague Peter Cloudsley attempting to relay the Western view to Javier Arevalo without any success. The conversation went as follows;
Howard & Peter: “Something we make a big problem out of in the West, is that a shaman might be a magician to one person and a sorcerer to another. Asking for the pusanga to attract a specific person takes away that person’s choice. We see it as bad. How do you see it?”
Javier: “Take the case of a woman who refuses when you offer her a Coca Cola because she thinks you are lower class and that she is better than you. She might want others to think that she is better than you. That makes you feel like rubbish so you go to a shaman and tell him the name of the girl. He prepares the pusanga. Three days go by without seeing her and she begins to think about you, dreaming about you and begins looking for you”
Howard & Peter: “Yes, we understand, but in our culture we think its wrong to counteract someone’s will.”
Javier: “But its only so that she will want you for the moment, so she’ll go to bed with you and then she can go”.
Howard & Peter: “(laughing) But if it happened to me, and let’s say I originally found her unpleasant and she did it to marry me I’d be outraged! It would be awful if I only discovered after having children and making a home with her! And would I ever know?”
Javier: “You would be hopelessly in love with her, you’d never know. That’s why it’s a secret.”
Howard & Peter: “Can a jealous third party separate a couple or break a happy marriage?”
Javier: “Yes, they can ruin a happy home. They come as if to greet the couple and soon after the couple are arguing and hating each other and the third party is secretly having sex with one of them”.
Howard & Peter: “Is this why the women from Lima are afraid of the girls from Iquitos?”
Javier: “Yes it happens, they think they are dangerous and will break up their homes.”
Howard & Peter: “Does anyone have freedom if everyone is using pusanga?”
Javier: “its normal you get used to it.”
Howard & Peter. “We like to think we are free, this suggests that we are constantly subject to other peoples’ Pusanga.”
Javier: “laughing, but you all want women, and women all want men!”
Eventually we realised that there was no way that we could communicate this Western ‘moral’ viewpoint. Javier did not see that there was a problem. It was a massive cultural divide we could not cross. His people feel free the way they are and can have extramarital sex using magical means of attraction and without attaching our Western guilt to it.
Looking at this ‘down to earth’, guilt trip free viewpoint, on an earlier occasion when Javier asked the group that I was leading, what they really wanted deep down in their lives, many people gave cosmic, transpersonal, and spiritual sounding answers and were quite mute when he spoke about Pusanga. After a while the participants opened up to their feelings and many admitted they wanted love, apparently behind their desire to put the world to right, resolve planetary issues, and speak to the flowers. It was as though it were not acceptable to wish for love. Javier remarked “These thoughts tangle up their lives. Love solves problems”.
As an observation, if we (and that’s all of us) had more love in our lives, maybe we wouldn’t be worried so much about the state of the world, and be less judgemental, destructive, and just simply be willing to help others and alleviate suffering. It is because people do not have enough of this precious and enriching commodity that we live our lives increasingly bombarded by aggression, with new definitions , ‘road rage’ , ‘air rage’ , ‘safety rage’, ‘word rage’, ‘whatever-you-want rage’ We would also need less material goods, and titles all of which reinforce the boundaries of the ego-mind and separate us from each other and the natural world.
Below is a video of Plants used to prepare Pusanga. The soundtrack is a beautiful Icaro chanted by mestizo shaman Artidoro (recorded on Eagle’s Wing Ayahuasca Retreat).
Javier was interviewed by Howard G Charing and Peter Cloudsley in the Peru, Amazon Rainforest 2000. In this interview Javier discusses his involvement with the shamanic Plant medicines of the Amazon, and Ayahuasca in particular.
Healing is at the centre of the Ayahuasca experience. Ayahuasca not only has a powerful and profound effect on the mind and spirit, but also on the physical body. This kind of purification of the body, mind, and spirit in a Ayahuasca ceremony can be the beginning of a process of profound personal and spiritual discovery. This process can continue indefinitely even if one never drinks Ayahuasca again.
Ayahuasca is the jungle medicine of the upper Amazon. It is made from the ayahuasca vine ( Banisteriopsis Caapi) and the leaf of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis). The two make a potent medicine which opens the doors to experiencing the energetic world which underlies the world of everyday. The vine is an inhibitor which contains harmala and harmaline among other alkaloids, and the leaf contains vision inducing alkaloids. As with all natural medicines, it is a mixture of many alkaloids that makes their unique properties
Since the late 1990’s we have worked extensively with Javier Arevalo and we had many discussions on the role of the Amazonian shaman and the use of ayahuasca. Javier comes from Nuevo Progreso, a community of 50 families on the Rio Napo, Department of Loreto, Peru. Several generations of his family before him have been shamans and already at the age of 17, he knew this would be his future. However it was not until he was 20 when his father died from a ‘virote’ (a poisoned dart in the spiritual world) sent by a jealous brujo, (sorcerer) that he felt compelled to follow the arduous five-year apprenticeship to be a shaman.
Javier, what is the role of a shaman?
He learns everything about the rain forest and uses that knowledge to heal his people since they do not have money for Western style doctors. He uses Ayahuasca to discover in his visions, which plants will be effective for which illnesses.
How do you perceive this?
The sprits or plant doctors tell us. As they are pure, they are made happy when we are too, so we must diet in order to attract them. That means we should not eat salt, sugar or alcohol, and abstain from sex. The spirits come and say, for example they will cure in two months if the patient takes a particular plant. Then the shaman goes out to look for the plant.
It is said that every environments has the necessary plants to heal the people?
Yes, every plant has a spirit, the shaman goes into the forest as part of his apprenticeship and spends two years taking plants and roots. He takes Ayahuasca too and the spirit tells him what it cures. Then the shaman tries another plant, each time remembering which ailment is cured by what.
<a href=”http://www.scribd.com/doc/80663597/Love-Magic-and-the-Vine-of-the-Soul-Interview-With-Ayahuasca-Shaman-Javier-Arevalo”>Link to the full article ‘Love Magic and the Vine of the Soul and interview with shaman Javier Arevalo</a>
Taking a dive into the archives (pre-digital camera days) – In 2002, Eagle’s Wing brought over Ayahuasca Shaman Javier Arevalo from the Amazon Peru to hold a 10 day Ayahuasca and Plant Spirit Shamanism camp in the mountain valleys of Wales.
Around 40 participants lived in yurts, tipis, and tents in the beautiful Pennant Valley. Some of the pictures were taken in Brighton (where I live), and where Javier was my guest. He really enjoyed his visit to the UK and made many friends over here.
The soundtrack is a recording of Javier chanting the Chullachaqui Icaro.
The Shipibo people of the Upper Amazon in Peru, have a unique and complex form of visionary art. 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.
What with all the new software tools which are now available, I’m starting to dip into the photo archives and create a few movies of the images of our Retreats from over the years.
Images from Eagle’s Wing Ayahuasca Retreat, held at our Retreat Centre Mishana, in the Amazon Rainforest of Peru. August 2006.
“Whether the diet is to heal the body or the spirit or whether it is part of an apprenticeship, what makes it work is your good intention towards the diet. Also the good intention of the maestro who helps make the connection with the spirit of the plant. He must know how to get into the altered state to be in contact himself first. They are beings, which have their own forms or they can be like human beings with faces and bodies. When the spirit accepts the dieter, and the dieter has the will, the spirit grants them energy. The path to knowledge opens, the healing takes place, as the case may be.”
Shipibo maestro Shaman Guillermo Arevalo who worked with our group on our Ayahuasca Retreats
Our intention in this journey is to provide the conditions and orientation to enable participants to follow a proper diet, and for it to be as near as possible to what indigenous people have done for thousands of years, (although we can avoid unnecessary hardship, in any case a diet is not a trial of endurance).
The diet is a journey of self-exploration and the maestro is there to give support, not to impress us with a ‘show’, as do some of the ayahuasca shamans who work with Westerners. It is tempting to imagine that shamans with the gift for engendering powerful experiences in their clients are necessarily spiritually evolved and benevolent, but unfortunately this is not always the case. It is more important that the shaman is an evolved and impeccable person, who will guide us to learn for ourselves and benefit from our experiences in safety.
Participants will undertake to ‘diet’ a plant for a full six to eight days, selecting their plant from a range of options which will be explained by the maestro and depend on individual requirements. Some plants are good for specific ailments as, for example Chuchahuasi for arthritis and other bone conditions, although there is always a magical world opened up by the plant spirit. Other plants have specific spiritual benefits. Chirisanango and Ushpahuasanango, for example, open up the heart and are healing to emotions. Guayusa works very curiously on one’s dreams, affording an experience of being conscious while in fact asleep or dreaming. The plants used will all be compatible with Ayahuasca so that we can benefit from the plant diet during Ayahuasca ceremonies. There will be a programme of talks, exercises, individual sessions and group meetings without prejudicing the spirit of the diet. This is a way to learn from observation and intimate contact with nature, practical artistic exercises using local materials.
We will participate in the gathering and preparation of Ayahuasca, a prolonged ritual in which power is invoked from the planta maestra. We will learn about healing plants and how to find them.
Working with teacher plants is known as the ‘shaman’s diet’. The purpose of the diet is to prepare the body and nervous system for the powerful knowledge and expansion of consciousness given by teacher plants. In everyday life, the mind creates the illusion that we are separate from reality, and thus protects us, like a veil, from experiencing the vastness of the universe. Access to the truth without preparation could be a radical shock to the system. It offers a significant challenge for the rational Western mind to come to terms with the teacher plants, and a leap of imagination is required to incorporate the ‘other’ consciousness of the plant.The magical world to which we are transported by plants is not accessible through the verbal rational mind but through dream language or an expansion of the imagination. Thus dreams & our imaginative powers act like doorways during a plant diet and connect us with the plant spirit.
• Mocura; taken orally or used in floral baths to raise energy, or take you out of a saladera (a run of bad luck, inertia, sense of not living to the full). This plant gives mental strength and you can feel its effects as also with ajosacha, both are varieties of garlic and have a penetrating aroma. Mental strength means it could be good to counter shyness, find one’s personal value or authority. Medicinal properties include asthma, bronchitis, reduction of fat and cholesterol. Another of its properties is that it burns of excess fat.
• Piñon Colorado; this plant has short lived effect after drinking but helps dreaming later on when you go to sleep. Piñon Colorado can also be worked with as a planta maestra (teacher plant). Medicinal properties include dealing with Insect bites and stings, vaginal infections, and bronchitis. It is possible to take the resin which is much stronger but toxic if too much ingested. The resin can be applied directly to the skin.
• Chiricsanango; this plant is good for colds and arthritis and has the effect of heating up the body, so much so that the maestro advises a cold shower after each dose! This plant can be used in baths for good luck, and bring success to fishing, hunting etc. This planta maestra also makes possible for people to open up their heart to feel love for people and animals, and identify with other people as though brothers and sisters.
It grows mainly in the Upper Amazon and only a few restingas (high ground which never floods) in the Lower Amazon. The shamans say that plants connect us with nature because they take their nourishment directly from the earth, as well as the sun’s rays, the air. They allow us to know and recognize ourselves. A shaman must know this and must love his people to heal them. The gift of Chirisanango is self esteem i.e the ability to recognise ourselves.
The shamans say that this plant opens up the shamanic path, assuming that we are prepared to live under the rules of shamanism, to do this we need courage and no fear of extremes or negative & challenging circumstances. We need to understand what role we will play in society and have the heart of a warrior.
• Guayusa; It is good for excessive acidity and other problems in the stomach and bile. Also it is both energizing and relaxing at the same time and develops mental strength. This also has the most interesting effect of giving lucid dreams i.e when you are dreaming you are aware that you are dreaming. The plant is also known as the “watchman’s plant”, as even when sleeping you are aware of the outer physical surroundings.
On another personal note, I found the experience with this plant also to be quite incredible. I found that the usual boundary between sleeping and being awake to be more fluid than I had anticipated. Even now, sometime after taking the plant my dreams are more colourful, richer, and lucid than before. For those interested in ‘dreaming’ this is certainly the plant to explore.
• Ajo Sacha; An important planta maestra in the initiation of Amazonian shamans. Mental strength, acuity of mind, saladera (explained above), for ridding spells, self healing. Originally used to enhance hunting skills by covering up human smell with the garlic smell of Ajosacha.
On another personal note, I found my senses being altered and enhanced with this plant. I could zoom in and focus on sounds emanating from the rainforest, my sense of smell became sharper, and in some ineffable way I could tune into the breathing or rhythm of the rainforest. The sound of insects and birds was no longer a random phenomenon, these sounds became a rhythmic breath, rising and falling. No wonder that it is used for hunting as one’s sense are heightened in an incredible way.
• Icoja; A bark used for malaria, fever, an astringent, disinfectant for healing septic wounds. Used against Uta – a kind of leprosy found in the Amazon. Wounds are washed directly with this plant, and it is also used for an infectious disease (Pilagra) in children.
• Chanca piedra; Used for Kidney problems especially kidney stones (hence the name ‘stone crusher’), gall bladder, disinfectant. This is recognised as a gall bladder and liver tonic. It is also used for cleansing the urinary system and for dealing with intestinal parasites. This plant is only used for its many pharmaceutical properties, not a planta maestra per se.
• Sachamangua; This is a large single seeded fruit, which when you crush the fruit and squeeze the juice into the nose, it warms the area locally (it can sting a bit), and it is effective for curing sinusitis. It also helps the eyesight and restores visual acuity by relieving the pressure from the sinuses. You eliminate a lot of mucus and this gives relief. The fruit when ripe is normally eaten peeled or roasted, and is a little like the aguaje fruit, but for medicinal uses it must be green. It is also good for tired feet in an poultice. Taken orally it is useful for the liver when struggling with the digestion of fat, it is also a treatment for gases. Fungal spores in the nose can cause itching, rhinitis or allergy and Sachamangua is effective for this too. Athlete’s foot can also be treated with the dry powder, like talcum powder, prepared from this fruit.
• Cat’s Claw (una de gato); Cat’s Claw is a tropical vine that grows in rainforest. This vine gets its name from the small thorns at the base of the leaves, which looks like a cat’s claw. These claws enable the vine to attach itself around trees climbing to a heights up to 150 feet. The inner bark of this vine has been used for generations to treat inflammations, colds, viral infections, arthritis, and tumors.
Cat’s Claw can be used as tonic to boost the body’s immune system. And is considered by many as a ‘balancer’ returning the body’s functions to a healthy equilibrium. Its has anti-inflammatory and blood cleansing properties as well as being able to clean out the entire intestinal tract and therefore helps treat a wide array of digestive problems such as gastric ulcers, parasites, and dysentery.
From a psycho-spiritual, plant spirit, or shamanic perspective in which disease and illness can be initiated by a spiritual imbalance within a person causing the person to become de-spirited, or losing heart (in the West we would call this depression), it can restore this inner sacred union of spirit and physical body.
The medicinal properties of this plant are officially recognized by the Peruvian government and it is a protected (for export) plant. It is available widely in the west in capsule form. In the markets in Iquitos it is available in bark form, and many indigenous communities
• Boahuasca; Used to heal Cancer of the stomach and intestines and prolapses. Also used against Uta, and cancerous, malignant wounds. The shaman’s make an ointment from the ash and apply directly.
The underlying truth that is revealed in working with the plant spirit or consciousness is that we are not separate from the natural world. We perceive ourselves to be separate beings with our minds firmly embedded within our being (typically our head). The plants can show you that this way of being is an illusion and that we are all connected, all of us and everything else is a discrete element in the great universal field of consciousness. This is an area where the ancient knowledge of the peoples of the rainforest and modern quantum physics point in the very same direction, “Reality is an illusion, albeit a persistent one’ Albert Einstein.
Another way of seeing the shaman’s diet is that like the platitude ‘all roads lead to Rome’, all plants lead through different paths of experiences to the same place, i.e a deep and expanded understanding of one’s place in the world around us and a recognition of self as an intrinsic element of this.
The indigenous people of the Amazon see life as having enough purpose just as it is. Fulfilment comes from being in tune with the spirits so there is an abundance of fish, bananas, yucca for making masato (alcoholic beverage), and plenty of healthy children, in short, life is for being happy!