Inner Traditions have posted a preview copy of the book on Scribd. It’s also available now as an ebook.
Pablo Amaringo wrote an inspirational foreword to the book, a link to that is here;
Inner Traditions have posted a preview copy of the book on Scribd. It’s also available now as an ebook.
Pablo Amaringo wrote an inspirational foreword to the book, a link to that is here;
Alonso del Rio is a powerful maestro who interweaves Shipibo and other icaros with sacred music of his own to lead you on your journey; he is both a talented musician and an inspiring communicator of the Amazonian shamanic world. He first came into contact with ayahuasca in 1979 after spending three years working with huachuma (San Pedro). This was when he met Don Benito Arevalo (the father of Guillermo Arevalo), a grand Shipibo shaman with whom he developed a long relationship, and who gave him his first teachings in ayahuasca and other medicinal plants.
Article Reprint from Sacred Hoop Magazine: Summer 2004 Issue.
This interview and photos also included in the book I co-authored ‘Plant Spirit Shamanism‘ published by Destiny Books.
Shamans 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
The 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.
Note: Our new Retreat Ayahuasca & Visionary Art is taking place November 2012.
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.
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?
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.
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
Shamans 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.
******* ******* *******
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
There has been a huge surge of interest in Ayahuasca recently. There is a growing belief that it is a kind of ‘medicine for our times’, giving hope to people with ‘incurable’ diseases like cancer and HIV, drug addictions and inspiring answers to the big ecological problems of modern civilization.
General Information about Ayahuasca
After being virtually ignored by Western civilization for centuries, there has been a huge surge of interest in Ayahuasca recently. There is a growing belief that it is a kind of ‘medicine for our times’, giving hope to people with ‘incurable’ diseases like cancer and HIV, drug addictions and inspiring answers to the big ecological problems of modern civilization.
Spirituality is at the centre of the Ayahuasca experience. Purification and cleansing of body, mind, and spirit in a shamanic ceremony can be the beginning of a process of profound personal and spiritual discovery and transformation. This process can continue indefinitely even if one never drinks Ayahuasca again. One thing is sure, and that is that every person gets a unique experience. We believe that by seriously looking at the way Ayahuasca is used we can improve our life experience and benefit more from this medicine.
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. For example, Peyote, the cactus used by the North Native Americans, is said to contain 32 active alkaloids, so when one of those alkaloids, mescaline is synthesised in a laboratory, contrary to popular opinion, the result is not at all the same.
The oldest know object related to the use of ayahuasca is a ceremonial cup, hewn out of stone, with engraved ornamentation, which was found in the
Pastaza culture of the Ecuadorian Amazon from 500 B.C. to 50 A.D. It is deposited in the collection of the Ethnological Museum of the Central
University (Quito, Ecuador). This indicates that ayahuasca potions were known and used at least 2,500 years ago.
Ayahuasca is a name derived from two Quechua words: aya means spirit, ancestor, deceased person, and huasca means vine or rope, hence it is known as vine of the dead or vine of the soul. It is also known by many other local names including yaje, caapi, natema, pinde, daime, mihi, & dapa. It plays a central role in the spiritual, religious and cultural traditions of the Indigenous and Mestizo (mixed blood) peoples of the upper Amazon, Orinoco plains and the Pacific coast of Colombia and Ecuador.
The plants are collected from the rainforest in a sacred way and it is said that a shaman can find plentiful sources of the vine by listening for the ‘drumbeat’ that emanates from them. The mixture is prepared by cutting the vines to cookable lengths, scraping and cleaning them, pounding them into a pulp. Meanwhile the Chacruna leaves and picked and cleaned.
So what, perhaps, is the advantage of ayahuasca over other disciplines? In the words of Padrino Alex Polari de Alverga of the Santo Daime Community in Brazil, “Daime (ayahuasca) is basically a shortcut, it’s as if we had been travelling down the same highway as the rest of humanity, but then, in order to arrive at our destination more quickly we took a side road. When taking such a shortcut, however, we must be very careful and clear-minded. It is a shortcut that leads us to truth, but only if we follow in the footsteps of the Masters who have preceded us.”
Medicines like ayahuasca can help us along our path but we still have to do the work ourselves. My experience is that these kind of allies can help us open the doors of perception, but what we do when we get there is entirely our own challenge.
To understand ayahuasca in the local context, one cannot avoid taking a look at the ecological environment, such as the forest, cultural environment and indigenous cultures. This has structured the cultural content of ayahuasca.
There are many legends and myths about ayahuasca, one the more romantic is from the Shipibo people who live up the river in the heart of the jungle in the Peruvian Amazon.
This tale is centered around women, more so than men, as they look after the children and their health, whilst the men are out hunting and fishing. Men are more interested in plants that aid their inner spirits whilst hunting. Women are more interested in plants that will allow their children to grow.
There was one particular woman who was very interested in plants, who liked to pick the leaves of different plants. She would then crush the leaves into a pot and soak them in water over night. She would then take a bath every morning before sunrise (the way to find out about various plants and their effects is to bathe in them). She bathed in them every morning until she had a dream. In her dream a woman came and said, “why are you bathing every day?”
She answered, “I am doing this as I want you to teach me.” The other woman said, “You must seek out my uncle, his name is Kamarampi. I will show you where to find him”. The woman led the other woman to her uncle. The uncle showed her how to mix the leaves of the chacruna, which was a bush she had taken leaves from to bathe in. He showed her how to prepare the brew of Ayahuasca, he told her to go and tell the people the knowledge of how to use the brew. The Indigenous people past and present have taken Ayahuasca to enable them to focus on other dimensions. One example: – To enable them to be more successful on a hunting trip they would contact the Mother spirit of certain species, through the Ayahuasca. The hunt would be more successful.
One of the many mysteries surrounding Ayahuasca is how the vine became to be used with the Chacruna leaves as although they both come from the same soil but always grow apart otherwise the ayahuasca winds around the Chacruna and kills it. No one knows this but we get a clue from how the shamans interact with the plant. Javier Arevalo a shaman from the Peruvian Amazon told us “ in the old days his grandfather and uncles used to sit around after taking ayahuasca and he said that ayahuasca was originally taken alone and in the visions they saw that Chacruna was missing. Ayahuasca would say I am the doctor that gives the vision. His grandfather responded, how can we find this plant? The response in the vision was, you can find it by turning two corners. So they went around two corners and found a bush which attracted them which was Chacruna i.e. the ayahuasca showed them.
This is a fundamental principle, in the visions it is the spirit doctor of ayahuasca which tells them what is wrong with their patient, what medicine they need, or who has caused the illness or malaise.
Integral to the ceremony are the chants that the shaman sings. These are known as Icaros, and the chant will direct the nature of the ceremony or visionary experience for the group and for individuals as the shaman during the ceremony will chant specific Icaros for that person’s needs.
The words of the chants are symbolic stories telling of the ability of nature to heal itself. For example the crystalline waters from a stream wash the unwell person, while coloured flowers attract the hummingbirds whose delicate wings fan healing energies etc. You might see such things in your visions but the essence which cures you is perhaps more likely to be the understanding of what is happening in your life, allowing inner feelings to unblock so that bitterness and anger con change to ecstasy and love. To awaken from the ‘illusion of being alive’ is to experience life itself.
There are several different kinds of Icaros, at the beginning of the session. Their purpose is to provoke the mareacion or effects, and, in the words of Javier Arevalo, ‘to render the mind susceptible for visions to penetrate, then the curtains can open for the start of the theatre’.
Other Icaros call the spirit of Ayahuasca to open visions ‘as though exposing the optic nerve to light’. Alternatively, if the visions are too strong, the same spirit can be made to fly away in order to bring the person back to normality.
There are Icaros for calling the ‘doctors’, or plant spirits, for healing, while other Icaros call animal spirits, which protect and rid patients of spells.
Healing Icaros may be for specific conditions like manchare, which a child may suffer when it gets a fright. The spirit of a child is not so fixed in its body as that of an adult, therefore a small fall can easily cause it to fly. Manchare is a common reason for taking children to ayahuasca sessions.
Preparation for the Ayahuasca Experience
In the West there are lots of stories like ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ reminding us that plants have spirit power, Alice in Wonderland explored this world too. There is a large body of knowledge of power plants even if the form has been adapted to fairy tales and ‘domesticated’, not to under rate the richness of Grimms’ tales.
When a person drinks Ayahuasca, especially with a trusted shaman, there is a chance to learn and trust the plant. You discover that it works in its own way. It is a great moment getting to this point. Then there is the question of whether the plant trusts us, because it can be abused and used for getting the wrong kind of personal power. Without intention, vision, preparation, and a shaman, it is a drug not a healing medicine.
A major difficulty for Westerners is the diet and the living conditions in the rainforest. There is also the care clients need afterwards, as one is extremely vulnerable after drinking Ayahuasca. Also some of our attitudes need to change, for example some people find vomiting unpleasant.
In the Ayahuasca ceremony purgative cleansing of the physical body is an essential preparation for the new level of emerging consciousness. Vomiting and occasionally brief diarrhoea are common effects during the initial sessions.
The Shaman’s Diet
An integral element of this preparation is to undertake a diet intended to reduce excessive sugar, salt, oils, pork, fat, and spicy food in the body in
preparation to be in communion with the spirit of Ayahuasca. Reduction of these should commence as soon as one commits to the experience.
Pork in particular is considered to be impure and is studiously avoided by Ayahuasca practitioners. Complete abstinence from pork and lard for at least two weeks prior to the first ceremony is recommended to participants to reduce the impact of the purge. It is also recommended that this abstinence continue for at least two weeks after the final ceremony.
In the initiatory diet for those seeking personal cleansing and healing, chicken, fish, wild game meat, fruits, and vegetables may be eaten but with little if any salt, sugar, oils or spices. The cleansing effect and strength of the visionary experience can be greatly enriched by one’s commitment to these preparations.
Sexual abstinence also forms part of the diet and is a traditional requirement of Ayahuasca cleansing and healing. We recommend abstinence from sexual activity for a few days prior to the ceremony, and to continue a day or two after the last ceremony.
As all Amazonian shamans will tell you, and in the words of Dona Cotrina
“ Sex is bad. The ‘mother plant’ loves you and if you make love to another person, you are being unfaithful to her”. For this reason it is often said that Ayahuasca is jealous, and if you do not respect her, she makes you ill instead of healing you. You will also not be able to see any visions. The ill effects from not respecting the diet are called cutipa and range from a sense of trauma and stress to skin problems.
This is a complex issue in the Amazonian tradition. Basically women in their menstrual cycle are not permitted by Amazonian shamans and curanderos to be present in the preparation of the brew, drink Ayahuasca or attend the ceremonies. This is an ancient tradition rooted mainly in safety considerations rather than sexism, as female shamans in the Amazon also follow these prohibitions.
Some shamans say the presence of a woman in menstrual flow prevents them from “seeing” the causes of illness among those present in the ceremony, thus obstructing their ability to make diagnoses and facilitate healing.
Although Eagle’s Wing are unable to make any exception as this rule is observed by shamans in the Ayahuasca tradition, our experience is that shamans have a degree of flexibility and can perform a special chacapa session with participants to address this.
It is important to know that, in some cases, the consumption of Ayahuasca in combination with some groups of prescription & non-prescription medicines can bear health risks.
1. Prescription Medicines
If you are taking prescription medication (including antibiotics), are subject to high blood pressure, have a heart condition, or are under treatment for any health condition), please consult your GP.
Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis Caapi) contains MAOI’s (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) generally in the form of harmine and harmaline therefore Medical consultation is essential if you are taking Prozac or other antidepressants affecting serotonin levels, i.e. serotonin selective re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI).
SSRI’s block the reuptake of serotonin in the brain and because MAOI’s inhibit breakdown of serotonin, the combination of MAOI’s and SSRI’s can lead to too high levels of serotonin in the brain. SSRI’s are much more common than MAOI’s which are found in some anti-depressants. Consult your GP about the use of temporary monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI).
These medications generally require a period of six to eight weeks to completely clear the system and must be reduced gradually.
2. Non-Prescription Medicines
Non-prescription medications such as antihistamines, dietary aids, amphetamines and derivatives, and some natural herbal medicines, i.e. those
containing ephedrine, high levels of caffeine, or other stimulants, may also cause adverse reactions. We recommend that you discontinue all such medications, drugs, and herbs for at least one week prior to and following work with Ayahuasca.
3. Recreational Drugs
Avoid all recreational drugs, in particular MDMA (Ecstasy), cocaine, heroin. Also do not drink alcohol on the day of the ceremony.
4. Herbal Remedies
Use of herbal remedies for depression such as St John’s Wort (which also influence the serotonin levels) need to be discontinued as per 2 above.
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).
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