Shamanic healing often employs plants to good effect, though it is rarely about herbalism, per se. Indeed, most shamans are explicit that the pharmacological properties of the plants they employ are of far less importance than the spirit which is held by the plant. It is the spirit which heals, while the plant itself is secondary, acting only as the home of the plant-spirit.
The point is illustrated by Amazonian shaman, Javier Arevalo, who works with the visionary jungle vine, ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is a powerful plant mixture which is used by shamans to commune with the spirits who heal those who drink the brew, while the shaman guides the healing session and appeals to the spirits for his client.
The mixture contains ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). The final mixture is also called ayahuasca, from the Quechua words, aya (‘spirit’) huasca (‘rope’ or ‘vine’). Hence, it is referred to as the ‘vine of souls’ or ‘rope of the dead’.
It is prepared by cutting the vines into short lengths which are then scraped, cleaned and pounded to a pulp. The vines, along with chacruna leaves, are then placed in a cauldron, water is added, and the mixture is boiled for 10-12 hours, overseen by the shaman who blows sacred smoke into and over the brew. When ready, the mix becomes a muddy, pungent liquid.
Once ingested it produces feelings of warmth which spread from the stomach, creating a sense of well-being and skin elasticity, as if the skin has become rubber-like and no longer separate from the air. After this, the visionary effects begin. Images of snakes and vines in bright colours are common but, to the shamanic eye, images of the diseases which inhabit his client are also seen. It is these which enable him, and the spirit of ayahuasca, to heal.
During the visionary phase, purging may also take place through vomiting. This can be emotionally uncomfortable for Westerners who are brought up to control their bodily functions and not ‘let go’, but is welcomed by the people of the Amazon since it is this which removes the ‘poison’ that can lead to illness, and clears the system physically and spiritually.
Javier is a Maestro (master) of ayahuasca (also known as an ayahuascero) and has spent years understanding the ways and the spirit of this and other plants, which he refers to as “the jungle doctors”. His training was arduous, involving abstention from certain foods, from alcohol, and from sex, since the spirit of ayahuasca, while angelic and protective, can also be jealous.
“Every plant has a spirit”, says Javier. “The shaman goes into the forest as part of his apprenticeship and spends years taking plants and roots. He takes ayahuasca too and the spirit tells him what it cures. Then the shaman tries another plant, each time remembering which ailment is cured by that. As the spirits who teach us are pure, they are made happy when we are pure too. So a shaman must diet in order to attract them. That means they should not eat salt, sugar or alcohol, and they should abstain from sex. You learn all this in the wilderness. The spirits there are the angels of each plant, to which you add your own will to heal the client”.
Ayahuasca is egalitarian, according to Javier; its healing spirit being available to anyone who partakes of the drink, though it is often the shaman who carries out the healing, per se, once the spirit of ayahuasca has revealed the nature of the illness to him.
Laboratory tests reveal no significant healing properties for ayahuasca, only hallucinogenic qualities, so it is surprising to Western scientists that such results are possible. For Javier, the explanation is simple: the spirit of the plant is a remarkable healer.
“I had a patient who was HIV positive and had been in hospital a fortnight”, said Javier. “That night we drank [ayahuasca, and] I saw in my vision that HIV was like the devil destroying him and that he was getting worse. “He stuck to the [ayahuasca] diet for two months [and] he also took bitter tasting herbs which cure internal wounds. After three times [three ayahuasca sessions] he was better and, when tested, proved HIV negative”.
The author, John Perkins, has confirmed other ‘miraculous’ healings – among them, cures for deafness, depression, and endless accounts of life changes and new visions for a different personal future.
Against this backdrop of positive change, it is depressing for Javier that the rainforest, home to many healing plants still unknown to Western medicine is being destroyed so quickly by the ‘developed’ nations, with little consideration of the consequences. Every three seconds, one entire species is wiped out as a result of ‘progress’ so that Westerners might eat more burgers and drive more cars – the very things (pollution and fast food) which are, in many cases, causing illness in the first place.
People create such ‘madness’ as a result of confusion, says Javier. They are searching for love and belonging but, in the West, this comes through status, rather than loving intent.
Javier’s point was underlined a few years ago, when he worked with a group of Westerners and, prior to the ayahuasca ceremonies, asked the group what they wanted from their lives.
Most gave spiritual or ‘cosmic’ answers and spoke of world peace and saving the planet. Javier looked bemused. He asked again and this time, after a little more thought, people said what they really wanted was love. This Javier could understand because their requests were real – but it was as if people had not felt entitled to ask for them.
Yet, paradoxically, these honest desires are where true healing begins, since, if more people were able to experience love, there would be no need for the madness of developed society, and, consequently, no need to save the planet, which would never be in danger. “Love solves problems”, say Javier, simply. “Ayahuasca cures through love”. Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.
Plant Spirit Shamanism: San pedro
In the shamanic traditions of Northern Peru, the san pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi), or ‘cactus of vision’, opens the doorway to expanded awareness and acts as mediator between man and the gods. San pedro 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 and has been used since ancient times, with a tradition in Peru that has been unbroken for at least 3,000 years. The earliest depiction of the cactus is a carving showing a mythological being holding a san pedro, which dates from about 1,300 BC. It comes from the Chavín culture (c. 1,400-400 BC) and was found in a temple at Chavín de Huantar, in the northern highlands of Peru. The later Mochica culture (c. 500 AD) also depicted the cactus in its iconography, suggesting a continued use throughout this period. Even in the present Christianised mythology of this area, there is a legend told that God hid the keys to Heaven in a secret place and that San Pedro (Saint Peter) used the magical powers of a cactus to find this place so the people of the world could share in paradise. The cactus was named after him out of respect for his Promethean intervention on behalf of mortal men. As can be imagined, early European missionaries held native practices in considerable contempt and were very negative when reporting the use of san pedro. One 16th century Conquistador, for example, described it as a plant by which the natives are able to “speak with the devil, who answers them in certain stones and in other things they venerate”. As you might also imagine, a shaman’s account of the cactus is in radical contrast to this. Juan Navarro, a maestro within the san pedro tradition, explains its effects as follows: “It first produces a dreamy state and then a great vision, a clearing of all the faculties, and a sense of tranquillity. Then comes detachment, a sort 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”. Considered the ‘maestro of maestros’, san pedro enables the shaman to open a portal between the visible and the invisible world for his people. In fact, its Quechua name is punku, which means ‘doorway’. AN INTERVIEW WITH A SAN PEDRO MAESTROJuan Navarro was born in the highland Andean village of Somate, department of Piura. He is the descendant of a long line of healers working not only with san pedro but with the magical powers of the sacred lakes known as Las Huaringas, which have been revered for their healing properties since the earliest Peruvian civilization. At the age of eight, Juan made a pilgrimage to Las Huaringas and drank san pedro for the first time. Now in his 50’s, every month or so it is still necessary for him to return there to accumulate the energy he needs to protect and heal his people. Healing sessions with san pedro involve an intricate sequence of processes, including invocation, diagnosis, divination, and healing with natural ‘power objects’, called artes, which are kept, during the ceremony, in a complicated and precise array on the maestro’s altar or mesa. Artes may include shells, swords, magnets, quartz crystals, objects resembling sexual organs, rocks which spark when struck together, and stones from animals’ stomachs which they have swallowed to aid digestion. They bring magical qualities to the ceremony where, under the visionary influence of san pedro, their invisible powers may be seen and experienced. The maestro’s mesa, on which these artes sit, 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. What happens during a san pedro ceremony?The power of san pedro works in combination with tobacco [see below]. Also the sacred lakes of Las Huaringas are very important. This is where we go to find the most powerful healing herbs which we use to energize our people. We also use dominio [the linking of intent to the power of the plants] to give strength and protection from supernatural forces such as sorcery and negative thoughts. This dominio is also put into the seguros we make for our patients [amulet bottles filled with perfume, plants, and seeds]. Dominio is introduced to the bottle through the breath. You keep these seguros in your home and your life will go well. How does san pedro help in the healings you do?San pedro helps the maestro to see what the problem is with his patient before any of this healing begins. The cactus is a powerful teacher plant. It has a certain mystery to it and the healer must also be compatible with it. It won’t work for everybody, but the maestro has a special relationship with its spirit. When it is taken by a patient it circulates in his body and where it finds abnormality it enables the shaman to detect it. It lets him know the pain the patient feels and where in his body it is. So it is the link between patient and maestro. It also purifies the blood of the person who drinks it and balances the nervous system so people lose their fears and are charged with positive energy. In the ceremonies I’ve attended a lot seems to happen. Can you explain the process?Patients first take a contrachisa. This is a plant [actually, the outer skin of the san pedro cactus] which causes them to purge [i.e. to vomit – a removal from the body of toxins], so they get rid of the spiritual toxins that are within their systems. This is a healing. It also cleans out the gut to make room for san pedro so the visions will come. They also take a singado. This is a liquid containing [aguardiente and macerated] tobacco which they inhale through their 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. How it functions depends on which nostril is used. When taken in the left nostril it will liberate the patient from negative energy, including psychosomatic ills, pains in the body, or the bad influences of other people. As he takes it in he must concentrate on the situation which is going badly or the person who is doing him harm. When taken through the right nostril it is for rehabilitating and energizing, so that all of that patient’s projects will go well. Afterwards he can spit the tobacco out or swallow it, it doesn’t matter. The singado also has a relationship with the san pedro in the body, and intensifies the visionary effects. During the ceremony I also use a chungana [rattle] to invoke the spirits of the dead, whether of family or of great shamans, so they can help to heal the patient. The chunganas give me enchantment [i.e. protection and positive energy] and have a relaxing effect when the patient takes san pedro. What is the significance of the artes and of Las Huaringas?The artes that I use 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 your ills. You bathe with the intention of leaving everything negative behind. People also go there to leave their enemies behind so they can’t do any more harm. After bathing, the maestro cleanses you with the artes, swords, bars, chontas [bamboo staffs used as healing tools to lightly beat or ‘stroke’ a patient and scrape negativity off him], and even huacos [The energetic power of the ancient sites themselves]. They flourish you – spraying you with agua florida [perfume containing healing spirits] and herb macerations, and giving you things like honey, so your life will be sweet and flourish. Not far from Las Huaringas is a place called Sondor, which has its own lakes. This is where evil magic is practiced by brujos [Sorcerers] and where they do harm in a variety of ways. I know this because I am a healer and I must know how sorcery is done so I can defend myself and my patients. As I said, a lot goes on in a healing! So, with all of this, just how important is san pedro?What allows me to read [i.e. diagnose] a patient is the power of san pedro and tobacco. Perceptions come to me through any one of my senses or through an awareness of what the patient is feeling; a weakness, a pain or whatever. Sometimes, for instance, a bad taste in my mouth may indicate that the patient has a bad liver.
Of course, I must also take the san pedro and tobacco, to protect myself from the patient’s negativity and illness, and because it brings vision.
Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email email@example.com for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.
A dedicated programme enabling you to experience authentic Plant Spirit Shamanism and Ayahuasca Ceremonies in the hauntingly beautiful Peruvian Rainforest. The event is focussed on healing and self-exploration, and offers a transformative encounter with the magical powers of Nature through the ancient rituals of the Amazonian plant shaman. There are seven Ayahuasca ceremonies, as well as jungle walks to meet the spirits of the plants, the opportunity to diet particular plants and absorb their powers, workshops on shamanism and plant magic, and the chance to work with shamans of the plant spirit tradition. One-to-one consultations and healings can also be arranged for you. We provide transportation in Peru to our jungle Retreat Centre, accommodation, food, translation services, ceremonies, shamans, workshops, and ‘medicines’. Your stay at our Centre begins with a ceremony of beinvenida (“Welcome”), followed by a sauna to relax and purify you as you leave ‘the outside world’ behind. It ends with a ceremony of despedida, where you will be given a special ‘gift of power’ to take with you as you begin your journey home. Between these two events, you are offered: · An opportunity to take part in traditional Ayahuasca ceremonies for cleansing, release, healing, and spiritual realisation · Flower, clay, and herbal baths to restore balance to the soul, and for “flourishing”: good luck and success· Explorations of the rainforest with our shamans and guides, to gain insight into the healing powers of Nature· Workshops on plants and shamanism led by Ross Heaven, author of Plant Spirit Shamanism· The chance to diet plants which can help your unique quest to understand life and your spiritual mission· A deepening of your knowledge of the plants though a visit to Pasaje Paquito, a treasure trove of medicinal remedies from all over the Amazon Rainforest· The opportunity to get to know the rainforest people and their spiritual universe through exhibitions of Shipibo arts and textiles· And the chance to work with some of the greatest Amazonian shamans, who are experts on healing and masters of the plants, in authentic rituals to help you on your journey We work with a team of expert shamans who will be chosen according to the specific needs of our group. Unlike ‘ayahuasca tours’, we have the services of four shamans who work together during ceremonies, singing icaros and conducting healings – an experience of total power. Write to Ross@thefourgates.com for a free information pack or visit the website www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.
The Cactus of Vision journey is a magical experience of authentic Andean shamanism, using the methods, plants, and approaches that have been practiced in this region of Peru for thousands of years.
Our accommodation is close to the heart of Cusco – the so-called “centre of the world” – so you can enjoy Peru and its culture as well as its magic and medicine.
The programme includes:
San Pedro: authentic ceremonies with the visionary cactus, led by Andean shamans Limpia: an Andean healing method where the shaman divines areas of unbalanced energy within a patient’s body. These are then rebalanced and any unhelpful energies are removed. Pago: an offering to the spirits of the land and a blessing for those who take part. Coca Divination: using the leaves of the sacred coca plant to produce a picture of a person’s life – and sometimes past lives. Each divination is unique and sometimes followed by a ‘correctional healing’ to change the future and produce an outcome more favourable to your needs or desires.
Seminars and circle meetings: with the shamans and Ross Heaven, author of Plant Spirit Shamanism, to discuss your San Pedro insights, and provide you with background to Andean shamanism to enhance your understanding of this healing tradition.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a FREE Information Pack about workshops in plant spirit shamanism, or plant spirit shamanism, ayahuasca, and San Pedro journeys to the Amazon and Andes of Peru.
Journeys are led by Ross Heaven, a therapist, workshop leader, and the author of several books on shamanism and healing, including the best-selling Plant Spirit Shamanism. His website is http://www.thefourgates.com where you can read about his workshops or join his Sacred Journeys to the plant spirit shamans and healers of the Amazon and Andes.