What is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca has been used by the Amazonian natives of Peru for hundreds of years as part of a shamanic ritual to provide emotional and physical healing. This plant based ‘medicine’ is also used for divination and has deeply spiritual connections that allow those who consume it to see visions of the past, present and future.
What is Ayahuasca made of?
The shamans who lead these sacred ceremonies say that their ancestors were instructed on the preparation and use of Ayahuasca by the plant itself – often referred to as the Divine Mother or Goddess.
Ayahuasca is a special entheogenic brew made by combining the vines of the Banisteriopsis caapi plant and the leaves of P. viridis or other Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) containing plants. The plants are boiled in water for several hours to extract and combine the active ingredients.
What are the benefits of drinking Ayahuasca?
There are many reported benefits of drinking Ayahuasca from many people I know personally and the extended network of ‘friends of friends’. These include but are not limited to:
Removal of addictions – hard drug users, alcoholics and to a lesser extent smokers have all given up on their addictions after a single ceremony.
Depression & anxiety – the plant medicine helps people understand the source of their pain/fears through visions and as such these people are able to tackle their issues at the root.
Crohns Disease – there have been many reports that those who suffer from this ‘incurable’ disease have seen a drastic improvement in their condition and a few have even been cured completely.
Back pain & other physical injuries – There have been multiple reports on those with physical injuries from sports, operations and more, who have sort the healing power of Ayahuasca and claimed to see an improvement immediately after the ceremony and in the weeks following it.
Finding yourself – from a personal standpoint and wider reports; Ayahuasca showed me who I really was at the core of my being. On my journey I saw my entire life to that present moment play out like a movie – everything I had been through no matter how seemingly insignificant was revealed and narrated by the feelings of the people I had affected in one way or another in my life. Memories that had long been forgotten were brought back and I was empowered with full self-awareness.
Finding Answers – at the start of the ceremony you will be asked by the shaman what your question or purpose is for taking the medicine, no matter what questions you have – the answers will be revealed through visions and profound introspection.
What are the dangers of Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is not to be taken lightly or for fun. It is a very powerful medicine that should be approached with caution and respect. As such it is important that you take it under the guidance of a fully trained Shaman. I highly recommend the Kaxinawa tribe in Peru, who’s Shamans undertake a rigorous training regime that spans over a decade, BEFORE they are allowed to hold a ceremony. They hold ceremonies deep in the amazon jungle and other countries where the taking of this sacred medicine has been legalised.
Before I went through my first ceremony, my Shaman (also of the Kaxinawa tribe) informed me that those suffering from the following ailments or taking the following medications were strictly forbidden from drinking Ayahuasca:
Psychosis or Schizophrenia sufferers are strictly forbidden from drinking, this is primarily due to the fact that Ayahuasca puts you into a heightened and continually varying state of mind. People with the aforementioned disorders are more sensitive to the medicine and may suffer rather than benefit.
Anti-Depressant takers are strictly forbidden from taking the medicine as the combination can be dangerous. This includes many prescription drugs - the shaman will advise what prescription drugs are allowed a few weeks prior to drinking the medicine.
Beyond the above points, no one has ever died from drinking Ayahuasca to my knowledge. The shaman will gage the correct amount for you to drink based on their experience and intuition. With this in mind, the only real danger of drinking Ayahuasca is not doing it under the protection and guidance of a qualified, well trained shaman.
The shamans of the Kaxinawa tribe have been brewing Ayahuasca and holding ceremonies for over 300 years. These keepers of the medicine have the experience and knowledge to deal with all scenarios relating to the taking of Ayahuasca.
What happens on an Ayahuasca ceremony?
Prior to beginning the ceremony the shaman will advise on a strict diet that has to be followed for 2 weeks. During the diet it is strictly forbidden from consuming the following:
- No Red Meat
- No Pork
- No Alcohol
- No Class A drugs
- No Cheese & Dairy
- No Soya based food
- No Wheat
- No Processed foods & Ready meals
- No Hydrolyzed Proteins
- No Sugar
- No Spices & Flavourings
- No Caffeine
- No Salt at all
- No oils for cooking
- No Fried foods
- No Ginseng
- No Kava herb
- No St Johns Wort herb
- No Ephedra
- No Yohimbe
- No Sinicuichi
- No Rhodiola Rosea
- No Kanna
- No Boswellia
- No Nutmeg
- No Scotch Broom
- No Liquorice Root
As you can see the diet is quite comprehensive and must be strictly followed to maximise the effects of the medicine. Anything that you are required to bring for the ceremony such as buckets, tissue and bedding will be instructed by the Shaman weeks prior to the drinking of the medicine.
Though I did not vomit after drinking the brew - most people tend to and so a light breakfast/lunch is encouraged – though fasting on the day is a much better idea for those who have experience doing so.
What you can expect at the start of the ceremony is a detailed explanation of the history of the Kaxinawa, the order of proceedings and an opening prayer - not religious as such, but a prayer filled with love, blessing those present and those suffering worldwide. This prayer also blesses the sacred area and protects those within the ceremonial chamber.
The shaman will have helpers that vary in number, largely depending on how many people will be drinking at the ceremony – which can vary from 6 to 50 or more. Once the opening prayer is complete, the shamans and her helpers will prepare the Ayahuasca with further blessings, good intentions and energy work – by blowing, chanting and whistling in very specific ways. There is a lot of love radiating from the Shaman and her helpers, as well as the participants – many of which have drank the medicine several times.
Those participating then form a line and the Shaman gages each person and gives them an exact measure – which is usually no more than a shot. The brew has a very distinct taste that reminds me of a combination of super malt and cough mixture from the early nineties. It is thick and has a slight warmth as it goes down.
Immediately after drinking you are not allowed to drink any water for 45 minutes, otherwise this will dilute its effects before it has been absorbed into your system. It is encouraged to sit in an upright position, during this time the Shaman will dim the lights and begin singing the sacred songs of the Kaxinawa tribe that have been sung for over 300 years.
At the initial onset – you start to feel a loving warmth radiate throughout your body, with a very pleasant tingling sensation in the hands and feet – completely different from the dreaded pins and needles – more like a feather is being caressed lovingly over your soul. I recall beginning to see colours subtly flicker – purple, blue, green primarily – like distant stars. Remember though that Ayahuasca has a vary effect on each person, additionally each time you drink can be drastically different.
For two hours from the first drinking of the medicine, the Shaman and her helpers will chant, sing, stomp and dance around the ceremonial chamber, shaking various rattles and dried leaves from various sacred healing plants. You are then given an opportunity to take a second drink. If you want to go deeper and are able to walk in a straight line to the drinking ‘fountain’, then you will be allowed to drink under Shamans strict guidance. The second measure tends to be larger than the first. Some are more sensitive than others and don’t end up making it up to drink a second time, particularly women on their moon cycle.
After the second drink, more singing, chanting, drumming, native American flute playing and other healing music is performed for several hours – almost nonstop – which keeps you in a mentally positive state and encourages healing on all levels. Participants are encouraged to join in on some of the songs and discouraged from doing so when the sacred songs are sung, as the correct pronunciation and pitch are essential for these songs to work.
Finally the lights are turned on and the Shaman plays some uplifting music, and everyone has a good old boogie! At this point there are residual effects remaining and it feels incredible just to move your body, particularly after laying down for over 5 hours. The dance is a celebration of one love, all the healing and breaking of negative barriers.
After the dancing, the Shamans and her helpers prepare two jungle medicines that have been used in conjunction with Ayahuasca for hundreds of years; Rapé (pronounced ha-pear) and Sananga (Pronounced Sa-nah-ng-gah).
Rapé is a blend of a variety of jungle herbs and primarily - tobacco, Nicotiana rustica and Nicotiana tabacum. This powdered blend is used with a blow pipe, the Shaman will blow some in each nostril to help ground you and to clear out any remaining trauma – it works on your respiratory system. The Shaman says that Rapé has a male energy and Ayahuasca a female energy – so by taking the Rapé afterwards you are harmonising the polar opposites and creating balance. The Rapé tickled my nostrils and made me sneeze a few times. Others who took it ended up vomiting – this is the release of negative energies says the Shaman.
Sananga is eye-drops made from roots and bark of the Tabernaemontana undulata shrub – which contains a source of DMT – making it a relative of Ayahuasca. The Shaman says these eye drops will clear out and heal the ocular systems by encouraging the eyes to water. The eye drops have a burning effect similar to getting shampoo in your eyes. The more trauma you have in that area – the more painful the drops can feel. I watched other men writhe and scream after receiving them, however the women made sounds akin to those heard during intimacy. The shaman says that women often experience orgasm from these drops and that the pain is a pleasurable one. I take the drops, primarily because I kept having reoccurring eye infections. I find that it doesn’t hurt as much as I thought and there is an underlying current that feels really good – in a loving sense and radiating from my chest outward. My eyes have turned into rivers and a flood of water gushes like never before… the Shaman encourages you to force your eyes open and allow the water to be released – which is carrying any trauma along the way. Once the burning stops, I am able to see in what can only be described as ‘Ultra High Definition’ – everything is clearer, colours more vibrant and my eyes feel brand new. PS: I never got another eye infection since!
After the last two medicines have been administered – the lights are turned off and we can sleep after an epic journey that seemed to last forever.
In the morning, the Shaman closes the ceremony with sacred songs; we all hold hands in a circle and sing along together. Then comes the group sharing (which is not compulsory), everyone speaks of what they had experienced and learnt in detail – everyone’s story is different and moving, yet the endings all sound similar – in that they all return to love, healing and a deeper understanding of self.
Drinking the medicine was like having 10 years of therapy rolled into a single night. It was one of the life changing events that I never imagined I would experience. I won’t go into too much detail about my Ayahuasca journey here, I’ll save that for another time.
I hope you have found this article useful and informative. Remember Ayahuasca, Rapé and Sanaga are not for everybody and I am not recommending that you take these sacred medicines. If you feel the call to do so, then I wish you all the best and recommend you to do thorough research. Unfortunately I cannot help in contacting the Shamans nor can I help with where you can drink the brew.
Please check out Catalina's article on her recent Ayahuasca experience here
Thank you for reading and as always...
Stay positive, stay healthy, live with passion and compassion.
Your brother, Eye-Zen