Tag Archives: plant medicines

Ayahuasca Shaman Interview


Interview with an Amazonian Shaman

By Howard G. Charing & Peter Cloudsley

Originally published in Sacred Hoop Magazine Issue 36, 2002, (Titled, Love Magic and the Vine of the Soul)

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Ayahuasca Shipibo Shaman – Medicinal Plants of the Amazon Part 4


Used by Shipibo shamans for ceremonial workAyahuasca Shipibo Shaman, Enrique Lopez talks with our group about Amazonian shamanism, medicinal, and the spiritual properties of plants. Video taken at Eagle’s Wing Ayahuasca Retreatat Mishana in Peru, March 2008.

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The Sacred Attributes of Plants and Shamanism


The Sacred Attributes of Plants and ShamanismThe shamans work with the power of the plants in many ways, the colours of the flowers, the perfume, their shape, form, and associations. This although does not play a role in modern medicine, this understanding has a long history most notably introduced by the 16th century alchemist and philosopher Paracelsus, who in his famous “Doctrine of Signatures” treatise proposes his premises which are based upon the view that Nature itself is a living organism which must be considered as an expression of the One Life, and that man and the Universe are one in their essential nature, and that there is a ‘magnetic’ attraction between every part of nature and its corresponding part in man. He held that the inner nature of plants may be discovered by their outer forms or signatures. Paracelsus also applied this principle to food, “it is not in the quantity of food but in it’s quality that resides the Spirit of Life”.

Nowadays these are principles which are very familiar, in particular it one of the fundamental reasons for eating organic food. The huge concerns regarding the consumption of genetically-modified (GM) food is a powerful demonstration of the notion and ‘gut-feeling’ that it is basically wrong.

Even with this in mind, Paracelsus’s premise is a far more subtle , spiritual, and in essence shamanic then it’s rational minded critics deride, in as much the outer form is the just the gateway (i.e. an outer sensorial portal ) to the inner spirit or consciousness of the plant.

Of Paracelsus , Manly Hall the Canadian philosopher, and author has said, gained his knowledge “not from long-coated pedagogues but from dervishes in Constantinople, witches, gypsies, and sorcerers, who invoked spirits and captured the rays of the celestial bodies in dew” . As an observation it sounds just like the kind of people who do communicate with the plant spirits!
To illustrate the connection between the alchemical knowledge and the knowledge of indigenous peoples is this understanding of the form, and characteristics of the plant is not confined to the physical but also other attributes too , as an interview with the Amazonian maestro Artiduro Aro Cardenas who remarks;

‘A smell has the power to attract. I can also make smells to attract business, people who buy. You just rub it on your face and it brings in the people to your business, if you are selling, people come to buy. I also make perfumes for love, and others for flourishing. These are the forces of nature, what I do is give it direction with my breath so it has effect. I use my experience of the plants which I have dieted. I have a relation with the plants and with the patient; I can’t make these things on a commercial scale.

When I diet I take in the strength of the plant and it stays with me. Later I find the illness or suffering of the person or what it is they want, and the plant guides me and tells me if it is the right one for that person, and I cure them’

He also (as do many maestros) works with the plants not only to heal illnesses but to resolve domestic and family problems;

‘I get people coming for help to give up drug addiction, people with family problems, supposing the man has gone off and left his family, the Mama is here with me and the Papa is far away. I pull him back so he returns to his home so that the family can consolidate again. In a short time he will be thinking of his children and his wife, and he comes back. I don’t need to have the actual plants in front of me, I call the plant spirits which work for that, Renaco, Huayanche, Lamarosa, Sangapilla, perfumes and I call his spirit back to the family home. I blow smoke to reunite them.’

Another (in a very enjoyable way) the qualities, consciousness or spirit of the plant is used to attract benign forces is “los baños florales” or flower baths. In this the individual is bathed in flowers which have been soaking in water for many hours. The maestro prepares the water by blowing mapacho (jungle tobacco) smoke and at the same time placing his intention into the flower soaked water. Again these flowers and plants have been gathered from sometimes deep and not easily accessible locations in the rainforest and have been selected for their specific qualities which the maestro feels are needed to help that person.

On the edge of the Amazonian town Iquitos is the market river port of Belen, which has the famous street ‘Pasaje Paquito’ where many of the rainforest, herbs, plants, mixtures, tinctures are sold. Chatting to Delia the owner of the stall where I buy plants from, I remember her describing some of the potions, lotions, plants, tonics, barks, perfumes, roots, oils, aphrodisiacs and leaves, and remarking “when you talk to the plants you will get to know them like friends, they have their own spirits, their own personalities”.

Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA), and has published numerous articles about plant medicines.

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Ayahuasca and Yoga Retreats in the Amazon Rainforest


Note: Our new Retreat Ayahuasca & Visionary Art is taking place November 2012.

Click here to see the details

Ayahuasca & Yoga – Amazon Retreat: July 19th – August 2nd 2008

with optional extension week; August 3rd – 9th 2008

Ayahuasca Retreats and Journeys to the Amazon RainforestA dedicated programme in the Amazon rainforest, which is focussed on an inner and deep self-exploration and encounter with the power of the rainforest. This is an adventure into the magical world of the rainforest, and a transformative experience of the ancient mystical rituals of the plant spirit medicines. This programme will take place in the Mishana Private Retreat Centre. We have 57 Hectares (140 acres) of land with a lodge in the Allpahuayo Mishana Nature reserve.

Our lodge is located directly on the river which is part of a 58,070 hectare nature reserve. Due to a combination of geological factors and diverse soil types, the reserve supports a unique community of plant and animal species. It is the ‘jewel’ in the crown for bird-watchers and contains dozens of species which are unique to this area. The Reserve contains one of the highest biodiversities known in the Amazon basin. The Lodge is located directly on the Rio Nanay which is a tributary of the Amazon River. Our lodge is situated in-between two bends of the river giving an amazing panoramic view . We have our own boat so trips can be made to some interesting, and extraordinarily beautiful places along the river.

The lodge is a 2 hour river journey from Iquitos by power boat. We have the dedicated services of our maestro shaman. Included in the program are individual personal healing or consultative sessions based upon your personal needs by our shaman. The maestro will also provide experiential teachings about the fascinating medicinal and psycho-spiritual properties of the local plants. Participants can choose their plant medicine which will be made fresh for them. Our accommodation is in comfortable traditional cabins or tambos (dieting huts), a leaf roof supported by poles and with open sides (the most intimate way to sleep in the jungle). The beds benefit from a comfortable mattress and fly nets when necessary. The tambos are spread out to assure privacy and minimum disturbance from others.

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The Pusanga – the ‘Attraction Medicine’ from the Amazon Rainforest


Plant and Herb market in Pasje PaquitoThe 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?

Howard G Charing & Peter Cloudsley, interview Amazonian Ayahuasca Shaman Javier Arevalo. This is an extract from an article originally appeared in Sacred Hoop Magazine (2002).

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.

Shaman Javier Arevalo with Howard G Charing

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.

Issues of Ethics. Morality 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.

The cause of this difficulty is by an absence of congruence between the moral code of the observer, usually a member of the religions emanating from the Levant, typically Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and including the varied ‘new age’ spiritual paths (which have absorbed much of the external hierarchical concepts from these religions). These religions all possess the central and dominant characteristic of projecting the concept of ultimate ‘goodness’ on an external supernatural being which operates both outside of his creation and outside the laws of the universe , who himself decides which laws are to be implemented; “let this and that come to pass!”, and at the same time this supernatural being possess the mantle of a ‘personal god’ who has delivered a revelation which is described in a book, that people are to read and reverently accept, not to criticise, but to unquestionably accept and obey.

Now in all of this , those who would reject, or do not know these holy and inviolate scriptures are judged as jeopardising their eternal soul, and in effect are outcasts from their maker, typically the native and indigenous peoples (who have not yet been saved by the missionaries). So from this cultural theme there is a tendency to judge as inferior or despicable other cultural imperatives.
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 people 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.

For More information about our Amazonian Ayahuasca Retreats, visit our website;
Ayahuasca Retreats in the Amazonian Rainforest

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San Pedro the Cactus of Vision – Plant Spirit Shamanism of Northern Peru


Juan Navarro with MesaShamans from different cultures and traditions have been using psychoactive plants since the dawn of human emergence. These plants have been used traditionally for guidance, divination, healing, maintaining a balance with the spirit or consciousness of the living world.

Howard G. Charing and Peter Cloudsley talk with Maestro Juan Navarro

You can view the original article which first appeared in Sacred Hoop Magazine (Summer 2004 edition) on Howard’s website at; San Pedro Article & Interview with Juan Navarro

The hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus has been used since ancient times, and in Peru the tradition has been unbroken for over 3,000 years. The earliest depiction of the cactus is a carving showing a mythological being holding a San Pedro, and dates from about 1300 bc. It comes from the Chavín culture (c.1400-400 bce) and was found in a temple at Chavín de Huantar, in the northern highlands of Peru. Later, the Mochica culture, (c.500 ce) used the cactus in their iconography. Even in present day mythology, it is told that God hid the keys to heaven in a secret place and San Pedro used the magical powers of a cactus to discover this place; later the cactus was named after him.

La Mesa Norteña

Juan Navarro was born in the highland village of Somate, department of Piura. He is a descendant of a long lineage of healers and shamans working with the magical powers of the sacred lakes known as Las Huaringas which stand at 4,000 metres and have been revered since earliest Peruvian civilization. At the age of eight, Juan made his first pilgrimage to Las Huaringas, and took San Pedro for the first time. Every month or two it is necessary to return here to accumulate energy and protection to heal his people. As well as locals and Limeños (people from Lima), pilgrims also come from many parts of South America.

During the sessions Juan works untiringly, assisted by his two sons – as is common in this traditions – in an intricate sequence of processes, including invocation, diagnosis, divination, and healing with natural objects, or artes. The artes are initially placed on the maestro’s altar or mesa, and picked up when required during the ceremony. These artes are an astonishing and beautiful array of shells, swords, magnets, quartzes, objects resembling sexual organs, rocks which spark when struck together, and stones from animals’ stomachs which they have swallowed to aid digestion! The artes are collected from pre-Colombian tombs, and sacred energetic places, particularly Las Huaringas.They bring magical qualities to the ceremony where, under the visionary influence of San Pedro, their invisible powers may be experienced. The maestro’s mesa – a weaving placed on the ground on which all the artes are placed, (mesa also means ‘table’ in Spanish) – is a representation of the forces of nature and the cosmos.Through the mesa the shaman is able to work with and influence these forces to diagnose and heal disease.

The traditional mesa norteña has three areas: on the left is the campo ganadero or ‘field of the dark’; on the right is the campo justiciero or the ‘field of the light’ (justiciero means justice); and in the centre is the campo medio or ‘neutral field’, which is the place of balance between the forces of light and dark. It is important for us not to look at these forces as positive or negative – it is what we human beings do with these forces which is important. Although the contents and form of the artes varies from tradition to tradition, the mesa rituals serve to remind us that the use and power of symbols extends throughout all cultures.
San Pedro Cactus

San Pedro (trichocereus pachanoi) grows on the dry eastern slopes of the Andes, between 2,000 – 3,000 metres above sea level, and commonly reaches six metres or more in height. It is also grown by local shamans in their herb gardens. As can be imagined, early European missionaries held the native practices in considerable contempt, and indeed were very negative when reporting the use of the San Pedro. Yet a Spanish missionary, cited by Christian Rätsch, grudgingly admitted the cactus’ medicinal value in the midst of a tirade reviling it: “It is a plant with whose aid the devil is able to strengthen the Indians in their idolatry; those who drink its juice lose their senses and are as if dead; they are almost carried away by the drink and dream a thousand unusual things and believe that they are true. The juice is good against burning of the kidneys and, in small amounts, is also good against high fever, hepatitis, and burning in the bladder.” A shaman’s account of the cactus is in radical contrast:

“It first … produces … drowsiness or a dreamy state and a feeling of lethargy … a slight dizziness … then a great ‘vision’, a clearing of all the faculties … it produces a light numbness in the body and afterward a tranquillity. And then comes detachment, a type of visual force … inclusive of all the senses … including the sixth sense, the telepathic sense of transmitting oneself across time and matter … like a kind of removal of one’s thought to a distant dimension.”

San Pedro, considered the ‘maestro of the maestros’, enables the shaman to make a bridge between the visible and the invisible world for his people.The Quechua name for it is punku, which means ‘doorway’. The doorway connects the patient’s body to his spirit; to heal the body we must heal the spirit. San Pedro can show us the psychic causes of illness intuitively or in mythical dream language. The effects of San Pedro work through various stages, beginning with an expanded physical awareness in the body. Soon this is followed by euphoric feelings and then, after several hours, psychic and visionary effects become more noticeable.

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Talking with Juan Navarro

What is the relationship of the maestro with San Pedro?

In the north of Peru the power of San Pedro works in combination with tobacco. Also the sacred lakes Las Huaringas are very important. This is where we go to find the most powerful healing herbs which we use to energize our people. For example we use dominio [linking one’s intent with the spirit power of the plants] to give strength and protection from supernatural forces such as sorcery and negative thoughts. It is also put into the seguros – amulet bottles filled with perfume, plants and seeds gathered from Las Huaringas. You keep them in your home for protection and to make your life go well. These plants do not have any secondary effects on the nervous system, nor do they provoke hallucinations. San Pedro has strength and is mildly hallucinatory, but you cannot become addicted. It doesn’t do any harm to your body, rather it helps the maestro to see what the problem is with his patient. Of course some people have this gift born in them – as our ancestors used to say, it is in the blood of a shaman.

Is San Pedro a ‘teacher plant’?

Of course, but it has a certain mystery.You have to be compatible with it because it doesn’t work for everybody.The shaman has a special relationship with it. It circulates in the body of the patient and where it finds abnormality it enables the shaman to detect it. It lets him know the pain they feel and whereabouts it is. So it is the link between patient and maestro. It also purifies the blood of the person who drinks it. It balances the nervous system so people lose their fears, frights and traumas, and it charges people with positive energy. Everyone must drink so that the maestro can connect with them. Only the dose may vary from person to person because not everyone is as strong.

What about the singado? (inhalation of tobacco juice through the nostrils)

The tobacco leaf is left for two to three months in contact with honey, and when required for the singado it is macerated with aguardiente, or alcohol. How it functions depends on which nostril is used; when taken in by the left side it is for liberating us of negative energy, including psychosomatic ills, pains in the body, bad influences of other people – or ‘envy’ as we call it here. As you take it in you must concentrate on the situation which is going badly, or the person which is giving out a negative energy.

When taken through the right nostril it is for rehabilitating and energizing, so that your projects go well. It’s not for getting high on. Afterwards you can spit the tobacco out or swallow it, it doesn t matter. It has an interrelation with the san pedro in the body, and intensifies the visionary effects.

Tobacco is an important plant in the ceremonies – can you smoke in the session? No, no, no. It may be the same plant but here another element comes into play, which is fire. As the session is carried out in darkness, the fire in the darkness can perturb, create a negative reflection or vision. It can cause trauma.

You use a chungana (rattle) during the san pedro sessions and I ‘see’ the sound as a beam of a light penetrating the darkness. Yes, sound and light are interrelated. Chunganas are used to invoke the spirits of the dead, whether of family or of great healers, so that they may feel comfortable with us. the chunganas are to give us ‘enchantment’ (protection and positive energy) and it has a relaxing effect when taking san pedro.

What is the power of the artes – the objects on the mesa?

They come from Las Huaringas, where a special energy is bestowed on everything, including the healing herbs which grow there and nowhere else. If you bathe in the lakes it takes away all your ills. You bathe with the intention of leaving everything negative behind. People go there to leave their enemies behind, so they can’t do them any harm. After bathing, the maestro cleanses you with these artes, swords, bars, chontas (bamboo staffs), saints, and even huacos (the powers from ancient sacred sites). They ‘flourish’ you – spraying you with agua florida (perfume) and herb macerations, and giving you sweet things like limes and honey, so your life flourishes. We maestros also need to go to Las Huaringas regularly because we make enemies from healing people, so we need to protect ourselves. The reason for this is that two forces exist: the good and the bad. The bad forces are from the pacts which the brujos (sorcerors with negative
intentions) make with the devil. The brujo is the rival of the curandero or healer. So when the curandero heals, he makes an enemy of the brujo. It’s not so much because he sends the bad magic back, as because he does the opposite thing to him, and they want supremacy in the battle. Not far from Las Huaringas is a place called Sondor, which has its own lakes. This is where evil magic is practiced and where they do harm in a variety of ways. I know because as a curandero I must know how sorcery is practiced, in order to defend myself and my patients.

Do people go there secretly?

Of course no one admits to going there, but they pass through Huancabamba just like the others who are going to Las Huaringas. I know various people who practice bad magic at a distance.They do it using physical means, concentrating, summoning up a person’s soul, knowing their characteristics etc. and can make them suffer an accident, or make an organ ill or whatever, or make their work go badly wrong.They have the power to get to their spirit. And people can even do harm to themselves. For example, if a person has bad intentions towards another and that person is well protected with an encanto, (amulet) then he will do himself harm.

How does the ‘rastreo’ (diagnosis through psychic means) work? Are you in an altered state?

No, I’m completely normal and lucid. What allows the reading of a person’s past, present or future, is the strength of the san pedro and tobacco. It is an innate capability -not everybody has the gift, you can’t learn it from someone, it is inherited. The perceptions come through any one of the senses – sound, vision, smell, or a feeling inside of what the person is feeling, a weakness, a pain or whatever. Sometimes, for instance, a bad taste in the mouth may indicate a bad liver. All the things on the mesa are perfectly normal, natural things: chontas, swords, stones etc. They have just received a treatment – like a radio tuned to a certain frequency – so they can heal particular things, weaknesses or whatever. But always it is necessary to concentrate on the sacred lakes, Las Huaringas.

Is it necessary for the maestro to take San Pedro to have vision?

Of course, he must take San Pedro and tobacco. But it is to protect himself from the person’s negativity and illness, not because he needs it to have the vision.

In conclusion, we must acknowledge that we, as humans, have realised from earliest times that knowledge goes beyond sensory awareness or the rational way of understanding the world. San pedro can take us directly to a telepathic communion and show us that there is no such thing as an inanimate object. Everything in the universe is alive and has a spirit. This is the gift of the plants which offer us a doorway into the infinite.

Juan Navarro was born in the highland village of Somate, department of Piura. He is a descendant of a long lineage of healers and shamans working with the magical powers of Las Huaringas.

For Details of Eagle’s Wing Andean and Amazonian Retreats, visit our website

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The Medicine Plants of the Amazon Rainforest


The traditional shamans and healers of the Amazon Rainforest have been working with some of the most remarkable plants which have both powerful medicinal and psycho-spiritual properties for many thousands of years. This article explores these ancient traditional ways of the plant shamans by the author of Plant Spirit Shamanism (published by Destiny Books USA).

Ayahuasca Shaman Artidoro

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.

Some of the Medicinal Plants of the Amazon Rainforest.

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.

Chirisanango; 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 are increasingly cultivating this plant

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!

Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest He is the co-author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA), and has published numerous articles about plant medicines. Co-authored the ‘Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo’ published by Inner Traditions (USA).  Website http://www.ayahuascavisons.com

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Ayahuasca and Yoga Retreats in the Amazon Rainforest


Sunset at Mishana Private Retreat Centre

Ayahuasca & Yoga – Amazon Retreat: July 19th – August 2nd 2008

with optional extension week; August 3rd – 9th 2008

A dedicated programme in the Amazon rainforest, which is focussed on an inner and deep self-exploration and encounter with the power of the rainforest. This is an adventure into the magical world of the rainforest, and a transformative experience of the ancient mystical rituals of the plant spirit medicines. This programme will take place in the Mishana Private Retreat Centre. We have 57 Hectares (140 acres) of land with a lodge in the Allpahuayo Mishana Nature reserve.

Our lodge is located directly on the river which is part of a 58,070 hectare nature reserve. Due to a combination of geological factors and diverse soil types, the reserve supports a unique community of plant and animal species. It is the ‘jewel’ in the crown for bird-watchers and contains dozens of species which are unique to this area. The Reserve contains one of the highest biodiversities known in the Amazon basin. The Lodge is located directly on the Rio Nanay which is a tributary of the Amazon River. Our lodge is situated in-between two bends of the river giving an amazing panoramic view . We have our own boat so trips can be made to some interesting, and extraordinarily beautiful places along the river.

The lodge is a 2 hour river journey from Iquitos by power boat. We have the dedicated services of our maestro shaman. Included in the program are individual personal healing or consultative sessions based upon your personal needs by our shaman. The maestro will also provide experiential teachings about the fascinating medicinal and psycho-spiritual properties of the local plants. Participants can choose their plant medicine which will be made fresh for them. Our accommodation is in comfortable traditional cabins or tambos (dieting huts), a leaf roof supported by poles and with open sides (the most intimate way to sleep in the jungle). The beds benefit from a comfortable mattress and fly nets when necessary. The tambos are spread out to assure privacy and minimum disturbance from others.

Participants have a choice of using either the cabins in the ‘Casa Grande’ annex or tambos for their retreat. During the day when there are no activities, there will be hammocks to relax in, and you can read, or wander into the forest, or swim in the river (there is a small sandy beach). Our ceremonies and meeting will be held in either the Casa Grande with an open platform on stilts directly on the river with a magnificent view of the rainforest and star filled sky. or our maloca (ceremonial temple), a large circular tambo made of natural materials and shaped like a womb. We will eat our meals in the lodge, the traditional meeting place, where food is cooked on a wood fire.

Single Accommodation

One of the unique characteristics of this programme is that we offer single accommodation throughout both in the hotels in Lima, Iquitos, and at our Centre in Mishana. This ensures that participants can obtain the maximum benefit from their encounter with the plants. The Diet really needs to be taken in solitude and personal retreat without distractions. This is a defining characteristic of this programme. Typically other programmes do not offer this and dormitory / shared accommodation is usually the rule. Our Tambos (individual accommodation huts) are all different and are spread out, some with more isolation than others and we also have individual accommodation rooms in the wing of our Casa Grande for those who would prefer being close to the main facilities.

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, 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.

The Shamans
We are very delighted to have secured the services of some of the most experienced shamans in the region, during our Retreats we will work with one of the following shamans; Enrique Lopez (Shipibo), Artidoro Aro Cardenas, and Leoncio Garcia (Shipibo).

Enrique Lopez

Is a Shipibo shaman, he is originally from the Shipibo community of Roaboya on the River Ucayali. He started his apprenticeship as a shaman with his grandfather when he was 10 years old. We worked with Enrique at our last retreat, and found his ayahuasca to be very potent. His chants are all in the native Shipibo language which adds another dimension to the ceremonies. Enrique is knowledgeable about plant medicines and diets. The Shipibo people are regarded as masters of Ayahuasca. Enrique has a gentle and caring quality in his work with our participants.

Artidoro Aro Cardenas
We have worked with Maestro Artidoro on many of our previous Amazon Retreats, and again we were greatly impressed with his knowledge of medicinal and power plants, and his compassion and support for the participants. Although Artidoro is Mestizo he has lived amongst the Ashaninka Indians for many years, and has learned their languages which result in that many of his chants come from a variety of indigenous groups including the Ashaninka, Cashibo, and Capanaua .He has started his own centre near Iquitos.

Leoncio Garcia
The Shipibo maestro is now in his mid 70’s with the appearance of a man in his 50’s. He was born in the Shipibo community of San Francisco by Yarina Cocha (an oxbow lake near Pucullpa). On a number of occasions he has worked with medical doctors in various cities in Peru. Don Leoncio also founded a healing centre near Nina Rumi on the Rio Nanay.

Yoga in the AmazonOver the last years we have included an ad-hoc yoga component on our retreats working with different teachers. Since we have been working closer with Eugene we have decided to integrate this fully into our Retreat programme. Our experience with yoga retreats has been very positive and there is definitely a synergy between the practices.

Ayahuasca and Yoga RetreatEugene Bersuker is a Yoga teacher, trained in India, Shivananda Saraswati School of Yoga. Traditional Hatha and Yoga for Healing. Yoga postures and meditations used to relieve tensions, purify mind/body, and raise vibrations. An instructor in Chi Gong, and Eugene is also a Licensed Massage Therapist – Swedish and Shiatsu.


Click for info on our Ayahuasca and Yoga Retreats

Click to View some of our Photo Galleries;

March 2008 Retreat – Photos

November 2007 Retreat

January 2007 Retreat Photos

January 2005 Retreat photos

Our Retreat Centre at Mishana – Photos

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Ayahuasca and Visionary Plants – Companions to the Soul


The visionary plants and ancient traditions of the plant shamans reveal a hidden universe, in which the separation between the physical and the unseen universe is an illusion caused by our limited sensory perception. The body and soul permeates and infuses each other. The plant teachers show us a path to an expanded consciousness and communion with our sacred source, our soul companion.

Pablo Amaringo with Howard G Charing.Writing from my own personal perspective from my years of work and research in the Amazon Rainforest with the shamans and curanderos who drink the visionary plant brew called Ayahuasca. I use the term ‘shaman’ as a convenience as this title has only been ‘imported’ from the West into the Amazon quite recently in the past thirty years or so. A more appropriate general term could be ‘vegatilista’ or a seer and healer who work with plants from not only the physical or medicinal aspect but who are also in communion with the soul of the plant. in addition there are many ‘sub’ specialities, so a shaman who primarily works with chonta (a hard palm wood) is known as a chontero , a shaman who works with the aromas and scents of the plants is called a perfumero, and a shaman who works with ayahuasca is known as an ayahuasqero.

Ayahuasca is a combination of two plants (although other plants are added to elicit certain visionary experiences or healing purposes). This mixture of two plants the Ayahuasca vine and the Chacruna leaf, operate in a specific manner with our neuro-chemistry. The leaf contains the neuro transmitters of the tryptamine family (identical to those present in our brain) and the vine itself acts as an inhibitor to prevent our body’s enzymes from breaking the tryptamines down thereby making it inert. Science defines this as the MAOI effect (Monoamine Anti Oxide Inhibitor) and forms the basis for many of the widespread anti-depressant pharmaceutical medication such as Prozac and Seroxat. This MAOI principal was only discovered by Western Science in the 1950’s, yet interestingly this very principle has been known by the plant shamans for thousands of years, and when you ask the shamans how they knew this, the response is invariably “the plants told us”.

Ayahuasca has revealed to me more of the great dream of the Earth, and how disconnected we have become from our relationship with the living planet. I experienced the evolutionary process of DNA. Shown that many of the problems that we experience as a species is because we are primates, and even though humankind has done everything possible to dissociate ourselves from our animal origins, we remain driven by our animal glands and hormonal systems. Yet at the same time, we are in harmony with our higher state of consciousness that approaches that of dolphins, who are aware and in conscious communion as part of a soul mind.

This great question, the mystery of the communion of mind, soul, and body is a search that we humans have been on since we first raised our eyes to the night sky in wonder. Some of the ancient myths of the jungle from the Ashuar people of the Upper Amazon tell us of this separation, the myth of the ‘Moon Man’ as collected by Alonso Del Rio from Peru is such a one;

‘In the time of the ancestors there was a ladder, like a rope which connected the world of the Ashuar with the upper world. Here lived other beings just like the Ashuar but they were spirits. These beings were very powerful and could transform themselves into anything they wanted. One day Moon-man cut this ladder so that the people could no longer communicate with their spirits above, and thus they lost their power. ‘

In the Ashuar tradition the Moon Man is associated with the analytical mind and it is “rational thinking” therefore which has severed our sacred connection to the cosmic mind. This legend therefore speaks of humanity’s need to reunite with the consciousness of the universe, using the rope (ayahuasca) to climb our way back to the oneness we once knew. Only then can we re-enchant the world through imagination and inspiration. If we look deeply into our hearts can we say that we are any different from the indigenous peoples of the rainforest? The reflections of Carl Jung in his book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul point to the very same dilemma as the peoples of the Amazon;

<i>”If we are still caught by the old idea of an antithesis between mind and matter, the present state of affairs means an unbearable contradiction; it may even divide us against ourselves. But if we can reconcile ourselves with the mysterious truth that spirit is the living body seen from within, and the body the outer manifestation of the living spirit – the two really being one — then we can understand why it is that the attempt to transcend the present level of consciousness must give its due to the body. We shall also see that belief in the body cannot tolerate an outlook that denies the body in the name of the spirit.”</i>

The visionary plants and ancient traditions of the plant shamans reveal a hidden universe, in which the separation between the physical and the unseen universe is an illusion caused by our limited sensory perception. The body and soul permeates and infuses each other. The plant teachers show us a path to an expanded consciousness and communion with our sacred source, our soul companion.

;Howard G. Charing, is an accomplished international workshop leader on shamanism. He has worked some of the most respected and extraordinary shamans & healers in the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Philippines. He organises specialist retreats to the Amazon Rainforest at the dedicated centre located in the Mishana nature reserve. He is the author of the best selling book, Plant Spirit Shamanism (Destiny Books USA). His website:
www.shamanism.co.uk

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