Ayahuasca Report by Peter Meyer
This report consists of text extracted from Chapter 3 and
Chapter 5 of the author's Peru Travel Diary.
Introduction and Terminology
This author recently spent several months in Peru, during which time he was looking for authentic shamans with whom to take ayahuasca and perhaps obtain a glimpse of the spiritual beings said to inhabit the world to which experienced shamans have access.
It is easy to find so-called “retreat and healing centers” in the Amazon which offer a supposed “jungle experience” and the opportunity to take ayahuasca under the guidance of indigenous shamans. There are lots of these to be found by searching on the web. They offer to host a visit of some days or weeks at a jungle lodge, usually at a cost of between $100 and $200 per day. Unfortunately, however, according to one of my informants, authentic shamanic practice involving the use of ayahuasca has been “extensively corrupted and modified by western influences over the past ten years. Consequently it is very difficult to find a genuine legitimate and ethical curandero without sufficient time, Spanish proficiency, and considerable trans-cultural experience and skills.”
First a few words about the meaning of the words “ayahuasca” and “shaman”.
The word “ayahuasca” has three different meanings. Firstly it refers to a plant, a vine whose botanical name is Banisteriopsis caapi. Secondly it refers to a brew which is made by boiling cuttings of the vine together with parts of a plant called “chacruna”, which contains dimethyltryptamine, DMT (the main vision-inducing component). Thirdly it refers to a female spirit, the Spirit of Ayahuasca, who often appears to those taking the brew ayahuasca.
People in Peru who use ayahuasca are known as “ayahuasceros”. Peruvians distinguish between what they call “curanderos” and “médicos” — who are healers — and “brujos”, who are sorcerors and practice so-called “black magic”.
Peruvians visit a curandero or a médico mainly for medical problems and, if they are seeking knowledge of the spirit world, for cleansing the body and mind of impurities, whereas they go to a brujo partly to seek healing for illnesses but also for more worldly aims such as success in romance and business,
Actually curanderos also use black magic sometimes, since there is a lot of rivalry between ayahuasceros of both sorts. A curandero who is trying to heal a patient must discover what is causing his patient's illness, and if the cause is the patient of another curandero then this can lead to a fight between the two of them
The word “shaman” originated in the work of Western anthropologists, and has only recently been adopted by Peruvians from Westerners who come to Peru looking for ayahasceros with whom to take ayahuasca. This has become a lucrative business for some ayahuasceros, since they charge at least US$50 per session. Ayahuasceros who are not “shamans” in this sense are called “médicos” by Peruvians, or “curanderos”, and they mainly have contact with Peruvians rather than Westerners.
I shall refer to curanderos, médicos and brujos collectively as “ayahuasceros”, simply meaning anyone who uses ayahuasca in some kind of practice, whether for healing, magical or artistic purposes.
The ayahuasca artist most well-known in the West is Pablo Amaringo, who lived in Pucallpa, and died there in 2009. His paintings depict animals, mermaids, UFOs, men, women, snakes, castles, flowers and other plants, and lots more, all in a swirl of psychedelic colors and designs.
My experiences when smoking DMT in the late 1980s and early 90s showed me that there is an alternate reality inhabited by intelligent, discarnate entities. In Peru I was hoping that by taking ayahuasca I would experience contact with entities in the spirit world to which accomplished ayahuasceros, such as Pablo Amaringo, have access. Of course, I did not expect that I would have visions such as Amaringo depicted in his paintings, or that I would have the same experience as with DMT, but I was at least hoping for visions of animals, such as jaguars and snakes, which would be evidence of spiritual beings in a spiritual world.
Each of the ayahuasceros with whom I drank ayahuasca charged 150 Peruvian soles (about US$50).
The First Ayahuascero, Alberto
I went to a large town called Tarapoto, which is a commercial center in the Eastern Andean foothills at an altitude of about 350 meters. There, by accident, I met a French man named Jean, who had been studying for the last three months with an ayahuascero by the name of Alberto Ferrari Chavez. Alberto's medical center is about 10 km from Tarapoto, deep in the forest. It's not a medical center in the Western sense, but Alberto calls it that because ayahuasca is regarded in Peru as a medicine, and it is taken to cleanse one's body, mind and soul.
All-night ayahuasca sessions are often called “ceremonies” for the benefit of ayahuasca tourists who are looking for some kind of ritual ceremony. But there's actually not much ritual involved. The session usually takes place in a circular structure made of wood with a thatched roof, called a maloca, and is large enough to hold up to 20 people.
None of the three ayahuasceros with whom I took ayahuasca speak English, and I relied on Jean and a couple of Peruvians to translate for me. Prior to the session with Alberto, I asked him some questions, beginning with, “Are the animals that appear to shamans under the influence of ayahuasca individual beings, with minds of their own?” He said, Yes, they are protectors of the forest. The feminine Spirit of Ayahuasca oversees and looks after those animal spirits. I asked if there is a spiritual being higher than Ayahuasca, and he says, Yes there are several, but normally they don't appear to humans. The spirit Ayahuasca is their 'doorway' whereby they minister to the human world.
I asked if this physical world, which we perceive via our senses of sight, sound, etc., is an illusion, or like a dream. He says, Yes and No. The spiritual and the physical worlds are each created by different non-physical beings, who cooperate (maybe with us) to produce what we see as the physical world. The Earth is maintained by several spirits, not just one.
Alberto's medical center does not have running water and relies on rainwater. The toilets are very basic. In the early part of an ayahuasca session it is common, at least among newcomers to the practice, to experience diarrhea. At sunset I went to check the toilets, in case I needed to go in the night, and I slipped in the mud, landing heavily on my back and severely injuring it, though not permanently. So during the ayahuasca session in the night my back was painful, which didn't help.
There were five Western students of Alberto living at his medical center, studying plant medicine and shamanic practice, and following a strict diet set by Alberto, who charges a rather hefty 600 US dollars for a week of this instruction. All of these students participated in this ayahuasca session, so with Jean and I there were seven people, in addition to Alberto.
For the first hour of the ceremony we just lay on mattresses in the dark. There were no lights except occasionally someone's flashlight. Each of us, going around the circle in turn, approached Alberto and received and drank a cup of ayahuasca, then returned to their mattress. There was total silence and darkness. We lay there waiting for the ayahuasca to take effect. The darkness was only broken by Alberto occasionally lighting up a hand-rolled cigarette made from tobacco plants which grow just outside the door.
Lying there, I heard something strange, and realized that it was Alberto singing/chanting icaros, which are magical songs. The curandero leading an ayahuasca ceremony normally does this. Alberto's icaros were sung softly and with the 'words' rapidly run together. Curiously, I heard them as coming from my left, though I knew (since he occasionally lit up) that Alberto was on my right. I wondered if he was somehow projecting his voice.
I had hoped that the ayahuasca would produce visions, but for an hour or so, nothing happened. Being told of this by Jean, Alberto then gave me more ayahuasca. After a while this produced some effect, but not strong. I was very annoyed that I had fallen and hurt my back. Initially I wanted revenge upon whoever or whatever caused this (assuming it was not a mere 'accident'). Then I turned to asking the Spirit of Ayahuasca to heal the injury.
Around midnight each of us sat before Albert to receive a limpieza (a "cleansing"). He shook a device made of leaves (called a chakapa) over most parts of my body — head, neck, limb joints — while chanting an icaro.
I spent the rest of the night thinking, not very clearly, mostly about personal stuff. No animal spirits appeared, and I was disappointed that apparently the Spirit of Ayahuasca had nothing to tell me. Three times I needed to piss, so I had to get up, painfully, put my boots on at the door, and go down the path to the toilets and return.
The night wore on. I frequently wondered whether it would ever end, and hoped that dawn would come soon, but it didn't. To make it worse, every hour, it seemed, a cock crowed loudly, right next to where I was lying. I wished that it would die. I was very uncomfortable because my back hurt if I moved, but eventually I fell asleep, but before doing so I decided that this ayahuasca experience best merited the epithet “awful”. I had no wish to repeat it.
I awakened to find that the day had dawned, and most of the particpants had left the maloca, so I got up. I was not feeling well. I sat next to the kitchen with Alberto, and Jean translated for me. I mentioned that I had smoked DMT many times, long ago, and had experience of the entities in the DMT space, and that I wanted to see whether some such entities would appear under the influence of ayahuasca. Alberto explained that taking ayahuasca is not meant to produce visions but rather is meant to cleanse one's body, mind and soul of impurities. When all three are healed then, and only then, will ayahuasca enable one to perceive the spirit world. Alberto also said that in this shamanic practice one has to be seriously involved with plants, to get into communion with them, to become part of the world of plants.
Upon leaving, my back was still painful, but I believed it would heal completely in about a week, and it did.
The Second Ayahuascero, Miguel
My French informant Jean mentioned a curandero he knew, by the name of Miguel Tapullima Cachite. I asked Jean if he had ever taken ayahuasca with Miguel, and he said No, because he believed (probably mistakenly) that Miguel is a brujo rather than (as Alberto is) a curandero. It sounded as if taking ayahuasca with Miguel might be interesting, so I asked Jean to arrange a meeting with him. We three met and I felt comfortable with Miguel, so three days later I arrived at Miguel's "healing center" in the forest, on the back of a motorbike driven by a Peruvian, Antonio, who was also going to take ayahuasca and who speaks good English.
Miguel was making the final preparations for the ayahuasca ceremony, emptying a bottle of thick black stuff into a metal pan. It looked disgusting. He took the pan down a short path to a hut with a fireplace, and placed the pan on the fire. This was one of the ayahuasca preparations that Miguel used that evening.
The maloca at Miguel's place is a large rectangular hall, with an array of folding mattresses along each wall, and many Tibetan prayer flags hanging in long rows just under the rafters. There were six people taking the ayahuasca that evening, including myself and two Australians. After it was completely dark all participants took their places. Miguel prepared his bottles of ayahuasca. There were three kinds, each "cooked" in different ways. Calling each of us up in turn, he mixed liquid from two of the bottles into a small cup, offering it to us. As usual, the stuff tasted awful. We each retired to our mattresses to await the effects in total darkness.
After awhile there was an effect, an energetic turbulence in my consciousness. It felt as if there was a struggle going on, with entities competing to enter my mind. But none succeeded, and after a while this wore off. About an hour later Miguel asked me if I want more ayahuasca. I said Yes, and he gave me another cup.
Now began the main events of that night. I started to feel sick, and eventually vomited (into a small bucket; there were buckets for this purpose beside each of the mattresses). I vomited several times. Although the volume of ayahuasca that I consumed was quite small, thick and concentrated, I vomited a considerable amount of liquid. I also developed diarrhea, and had to go in the dark (with the help of my flashlight) down the maloca and out to the toilet block (fortunately more modern than at Alberto's place), where I released a large amount of shit and also vomited some more. I felt awful, and very weak. During that night I had to go four times to piss and twice to shit. Most of the other participants didn't need to do this.
I saw no visions, but rather spent a lot of time thinking. I thought about a dream I had two nights before, in which I was in a very dark room with a man, dressed in black, hardly visible, and chanting in Tibetan (or Sanskrit?). It occurred to me that this person was Death, and that Death appeared to me in my dream, either to warn of my impending death or to inform me that my time had come, and I took seriously the idea that I might die that night. I was resolved not to die, but it would have made for a bad trip if I had had to spend the next few hours just resolving not to die so as to survive until the morning. So I decided to talk to Death. I requested Death not to take me, but to allow me to live, since I believe I still have lots do do in this life. Death did not say Yes, but apparently agreed to consider the request, so I was relieved that I probably would not die that night.
I then turned to thinking about other things, especially personal matters, in the past and in the present. I attended to issues going back more than 30 years, which made me feel sick again.
During the night Miguel several times went around to check how people are doing. Around midnight each of us sat before him to receive a limpieza. Miguel, like Alberto before, shook a device made of leaves (called a chakapa) over most parts of my body while chanting an icaro. In contrast to Alberto's icaros I didn't hear Miguel sing any other icaros during the night, though perhaps he did and I didn't hear him. Some hours later I fell asleep.
I woke at dawn. I didn't feel well, and remained lying down for some time. Eventually I got up, walked around outside for a bit, then returned to talk to Miguel, with the help of Antonio's translation. I told him about my dream of two nights before, and my interpretation that it was a dream in which Death appeared to me. Miguel and Antonio both disagreed, and claimed that the person in the dream was more likely a deceased relative of mine, who was asking for help. The only deceased male relatives of mine were my father and my stepfather (who both died a long time ago), and there was no indication in my dream that this person was either of those. Also, the person in the dream was definitely chanting in Tibetan or Sanskrit, not likely for my father or stepfather. Apparently Peruvians do not believe that there is person, god or spirit who is Death, unlike the Hindus and Buddhists, who personify Death as a deity (called Yama by Hindus and Yamantaka by Tibetan Buddhists). The Peruvians say that the time of death is decided only by God.
I got a moto back to the Plaza de Armas in Tarapoto. I was still feeling sick. I attempted to eat breakfast at the local coffee shop, but vomited. Back at my hospedaje I slept the rest of the morning, and gradually recovered.
The Third Ayahuascero, Felix
I travelled from Tarapoto to Pucallpa (with a stopover in Tingo Maria). In Pucallpa I went to visit the gallery of the visionary artist Pablo Amaringo. He died in 2009 and his gallery is now maintained by his son Juan Vásquez Amaringo.
The gallery is a large room, with about two dozen of the artist's paintings arrayed along the walls. In particular there are two large canvases. They have a wealth of detail, inspired by the artist's ayahuasca visions. There are animals, mermaids, UFOs, men, women, snakes, castles, flowers and other plants, and lots more, all in a swirl of psychedelic colors and designs. All very interesting.
I told Juan that I took ayahuasca twice in Tarapoto, and I would like to take it again in Pucallpa. Juan was quite receptive to my request and told me to come back the next evening and he would take me to his friend, a médico, to take ayahuasca.
Next evening Juan drove me to the house of the médico, not far away. His name is Felix Paredes and he looks quite old, though maybe only in his 50s. His house is a ramshackle affair, like all the houses in this neighborhood, which is not exactly a slum, but obviously is inhabited by poor people (at least, materially poor).
There were some young men sitting in the front room when I arrived. Felix took me to the back room, which had only a chest of drawers and three well-worn foam-rubber mattresses on the floor. He showed me a small adjacent room where he says I could sleep later. Felix told me to disrobe and led me to a shack outside where there was a tub of water containing leaves of some kind and indicated that I should pour water over myself from the tub, which I did.
Finally we were ready to begin the ayahuasca session. The three young men I met previously came in and sat on the mattresses. Only one was going to take ayahuasca that night. In contrast to the curanderos in Tarapoto, Felix wore no shaman-paraphernalia such as a feather headdress or beads, just his everyday clothes. Next to him he set up what he needed: a bottle of ayahuasca and some other bottles, and some objects such as rocks and stones, maybe fossils (presumably with some magical significance). He filled a small cup with ayahuasca, chanted over it and blew smoke on it, then invited me to drink it. I did, and as usual it had a revolting taste. He then gave a cup to the Peruvian man, and drank one himself.
During the next half-hour or so, the the Peruvian man seemed to be affected, covering his eyes with his hand. The ayahuasca was having no effect on me. Felix was regaling the Peruvians with some story, apparently occasionally amusing. After about an hour Felix turned off the light. The room was then almost totally dark. Felix began to chant icaros. I was still not feeling any effect, no psychedelic effect and no nausea. Felix came over in the dark and asked if I wanted more ayahuasca. I said Yes, and he gave me another cup.
After a while I lay down, but there was still no effect. I could almost have gone to sleep. Felix continued to chant icaros and there were strange sounds. Some of it was probably dogs barking, but Felix appeared to be making grunts and other noises, as if engaged in some battle with entities in the spirit world.
Felix came over again and began a healing upon me. This was not like the healings of the Tarapoto curanderos, which consisted mainly of chanting and shaking the chacapa (made of leaves) over various parts of my body. Felix also chanted, but was hands-on, rubbing my joints and massaging my shoulders, back and stomach. Apparently he was brushing away whatever bad things he detected in my body. Also he blew smoke over me.
Someone or something (I assumed it was Felix) placed a large stone of some kind in my hands. This was presumably some kind of power object. Since the room was almost totally dark I could not see how it looked, but it was heavy, and felt smooth but with bumps and hollows. I suspected that it was a meteorite. After further massage Felix took back the stone and returned to his seat on the other side of the room and I lay down.
Soon I started to feel sick. I sat up and took the bucket beside the mattress and vomited into it, twice. Apparently whatever Felix did led me to vomit.
I was still feeling no psychedelic effect, but I was thinking about stuff from my earlier life. I remembered a couple of instances where people acted badly toward me, and I asked myself whether I was still angry at them. I decided that they acted from ignorance and that there's no point in feeling angry about it, and I forgave them.
In the early hours of the morning Felix was ready to retire and told me to go to the adjacent small room and sleep. But I was still feeling sick, and diarrhea was threatening, and I didn't sleep. Eventually I went out to the next room and to the adjacent toilet and vomited, or tried to. The toilet was a sit-down toilet with no seat and no flush, and the floor looked none too clean. I was now feeling very sick, and could barely stand up. I went back to the bedroom and tried to sleep, but the threat of diarrhea kept mounting and eventually I went to the toilet again and shat. Back in the bedroom I lay down and eventually fell asleep.
At 7 am Juan and Felix woke me. Juan had come to take me back to my hospedaje. I was still feeling sick. Felix had me lie down and again massaged my stomach. I then asked about the stone that Felix placed in my hands last night. Felix opened a backpack and took out various stones and shells. But these were too small, and didn't have bumps and hollows such as I felt the previous night. I said, No, where is the larger stone? Felix denied any knowledge of it. He said that it must have been a stone that I saw in my imagination. But no, I felt it for sure; it was large and heavy. Felix might have denied knowledge of it from not wanting to show it to Juan. Or it was a stone that some spirit had materialized and placed in my hands. I definitely did not merely imagine it.
They asked about my possibly doing more ayahuasca sessions with Felix and I said, No, my body can't take this any more. All three of my ayahuasca sessions in Peru had been negative: no psychedelic effect and mainly nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, with just a few psychological insights concerning my earlier life. This third session had been as bad as the second, even worse, considering that it was conducted in an environment that I'd prefer to forget. So at that point I was ready to give up on ayahuasca, and at present, a couple of months later, I have not changed my mind.
Two final comments: (1) In the week before my ayahuasca session with Felix I had been coughing up a lot of yellow phlegm. This stopped the day after my session with him, so I have to credit Felix with curing me of this. (2) These reports of negative ayahuasca experiences should not be taken as a condemnation of all ayahuasca use. Ayahuasca is made in different ways in Peru, Colombia, Brazil and other countries, both in respect of (a) how the harmaline-containing Banisteriopsis vine is treated prior to boiling and (b) the relative proportion of the vine to the leaves of the DMT-containing chacruna plant (or other plant admixture intended to produce visions). It's likely that all three curanderos mentioned in this report used ayahuasca which either had too much of the vine or was prepared from vine which had not been stripped properly of the bark, and thus had additional chemicals in it besides harmaline. If intending to do ayahuasca it's important to find out as much as you can about your curandero and how he makes his ayahuasca, or from whom he gets it.
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