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Encounter With an Amazonian Ayahuasca Shaman


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The Ayahuasca article with an interview of the shaman Javier Arevalo by Howard G Charing & Peter Cloudsley appeared in 'Healing Today' Magazine August 2001

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Encounter With an Amazonian Ayahuasca Shaman

  1. 1. HEALING TODAY - AUGUST 2001 Preparation o f the Ayahuasca, b l o w i n g tobacco smoke i n t o the m i x t u r e . A FTER BEING virtually ignored by alkaloids, so when one of those alkaloids, context, one cannot avoid taking a look at Western civilisation for centuries, mescaline (LSD) is synthesised in a the ecological environment, such as the there has been a huge surge of laboratory, contrary to popular opinion, forest, cultural environment and interest in Ayahuasca recently. There is a the result is not at all the same. indigenous cultures. This has structured growing belief that it is a kind of Ayahuasca is a name derived from the cultural content of Ayahuasca. medicine for our times, giving hope to two Quechua words: aya means spirit, There are many legends and myths people with incurable diseases like ancestor, deceased person, and huasca about Ayahuasca, one the more romantic cancer and HIV, drug addictions and means vine or rope, hence it is known as is from the Shipibo people who live up inspiring answers to the big ecological vine of the dead or vine of the soul. It is the river in the heart of the jungle in the problems of modern civilisation. also known by many other local names Peruvian Amazon. Spirituality is at the centre of the including yaje, caapi, natema, pinde, This tale is centred around women, Ayahuasca experience. Purification and daime, mihi, and dapa. It plays a central more so than men, as they look after the cleansing of body, mind, and spirit in a role in the spiritual, religious and cultural children and their health, whilst the men shamanic ceremony can be the beginning traditions of the Indigenous and Mestizo are out hunting and fishing. Men are more of a process of profound personal and (mixed blood) peoples of the upper interested in plants that aid their inner spiritual discovery. This process can Amazon, Orinoco plains and the Pacific spirits whilst hunting. Women are more continue indefinitely even if one never coast of Colombia and Equador. interested in plants that will allow their drinks Ayahuasca again. One thing is sure, children to grow. and that is that every person gets a unique There was one particular woman who experience. We believe that by seriously Always respect the was very interested in plants, and who looking at the way Ayahuasca is used we liked to pick the leaves of different ones, Ayahuasca and it wii! allow can improve our life experience and crushing the leaves into a pot and soaking benefit more from this medicine. you to walk the path which them in water overnight. She would then Ayahuasca is the jungle medicine of will make you strong, take a bath every morning before sunrise the upper Amazon. It is made from the happy, and healthy. (the way to find out about various plants Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi) and and their effects is to bathe in them). She the leaf of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria bathed in them every morning until she Viridis). The two make a potent medicine The plants are collected from the had a dream in which a woman came and which opens the doors to experiencing rainforest in a sacred way and it is said said, "Why are you bathing every day?" the energetic world which underlies the that a shaman can find plentiful sources of She answered " I am doing this as I want world of everyday. The vine is an the vine by listening for the drumbeat you to teach me." The other woman said inhibitor which contains harmala and that emanates from them. The mixture is "You must seek out my uncle, his name is harmaline among other alkaloids, and the prepared by cutting the vines to cookable Kamarampi. I will show you where to leaf contains vision-inducing alkaloids. As lengths, scraping and cleaning them, find him". She then led her to the uncle. with all natural medicines, it is a mixture pounding them into a pulp, and then He showed her how to mix the leaves of of many alkaloids that makes their unique adding the chacruna leaves. The mixture the chacruna bush. He then showed her properties. For example, Peyote, the is then boiled about twelve hours until it how to brew the Ayahuasca and to go cactus used by the North Native is a thick brown liquid. and tell the people the knowledge of how Americans, is said to contain 32 active To understand Ayahuasca in the local to use it. The Indigenous people, past andPage 20
  2. 2. HEALING TODAY - AUGUST 2001present, have taken Ayahuasca to enable member of family. In my case both mythem to focus on other dimensions. One grandfather and my uncle were maestros.example: To enable them to be more You go off deep into the forest with yoursuccessful on a hunting trip, they would maestro and make a very simple shelter orcontact the Mother spirit of certain tambo. A shaman must not live in a bigspecies, through the Ayahuasca. The hunt house, its just for sleeping and dieting."would be more successful. How long do you have to diet the plant? One of the many mysteries "fust one day to know its process, thesunounding Ayahuasca is how the vine next day you move onto another. This is ifcame to be used with the Chacruna leaves you do not return to the city, you can getas, although they both come from the Javier A r e v a l o A m a z o n i a n shaman through a lot of plants. This is differentsame soil, they grow apart, otherwise the from dieting a plant for a month say." Loreto, Peru. Several generations of hisAyahuasca winds around the Chacmna So does every condition or illness have a family have been Shamans and at the ageand kills it. We are given a clue as to how particular plant to remedy it or is it a of 17, he knew this would be his future.the shamans interact with the plant from spirit energy which comes through the However it was not until he was 20 whenJavier Arevalo, a shaman from the plant which can cure many things? his father died from a virote (a poisonedPeruvian Amazon. He told us that in the "One plant may cure lots of ailments. dart in the spiritual world) sent by aold days his grandfather and uncles used A particular plant has a spirit which can jealous brujo, (sorcerer) that he feltto sit around after taking only Ayahuasca either heal or kill. As for example with compelled to follow the arduous five-yearand, in a vision, they saw that Chacmna another shaman (who we worked with apprenticeship to be a Shaman.was missing. In the vision Ayahuasca said earlier), who had not dieted Ayahuasca Javier was more than co-operative" I am the doctor that gives the vision". His correctly and poomf it caused fever and with us and willingly gave us answers tograndfather responded, "How can we find people caught colds." the following questions:this plant? The answer was: "You can find So why would a plant kill or cure? What is the role of a Shaman?it by turning two corners". So they "Because an hechicero (sorcerer) alsosearched and were attracted to a "He learns everything about the learns from the plants. He may forchacruna bush. rainforest and uses that knowledge to heal example learn from dieting a plant which his people since they do not have money In the visions it is always the spirit has spines orphlegm which could be good for Western style doctors. He usesdoctor of Ayahuasca who tells them what for certain things. But if he is bad no one Ayahuasca to discover in his visionsis wrong with their patient, what medicine can stop him and in the night ffoooo he which plants will be effective for whichis needed, or who has caused the illness uses it for harm or to kill. These are the illnesses."or malaise. brujos who come backfrom theforest with How do you perceive this? eyes red like the huayruro (red beans with "The spirits or plant doctors tell us. AsAyahuasca and the spirit of plants black spots). He is a bad shaman and we they are pure, they are made happy when In the West there are many stories like have to cure the people they harm. " we are too, so we must diet in order toJack and the Beanstalk reminding us that Who would want to do such things? attract them. That means we should notplants have spirit power; Alice in "There are some people who have a eat salt, sugar or alcohol, and abstainWonderland explored this world too. squabble with someone, and then they go from sex. The spirits come and say, forThere is a large body of knowledge of off to see a brujo and say This Senora talks example they will cure in two months ifpower plants even if the form has been too much and has insulted me, kill her the patient takes a particular plant. Thenadapted to fairy tales and domesticated, and Ill pay you. They pay them and they the shaman goes out to lookfor the plant."not to undenate the richness of Grimms do harm." It is said that every environment has thetales. Why and how did you become a Shaman? necessary plants to heal the people. Is When a person drinks Ayahuasca, that so? "I never thought of being a shaman. Iespecially with a trusted shaman, there is took Ayahuasca from 14-years old just to "Yes, every plant has a spirit, thean opportunity for that person to learn clean my stomach. later my father said I shaman goes into the forest as part of hisabout and develop a trust in the plant. He heard you chanting, you are going to be a apprenticeship and spends two yearswill discover that it works in its own way, shaman. I dont want to I said. later when taking plants and roots. He takesalso demanding tmst from the user in that I was 20 my father died from sorcery so Ayahuasca too and the spirit tells himit can be abused and used in the wrong then I wanted to learn in order to take what it cures. Then the shaman triesway. Without intention, vision, vengeance. During my apprenticeship I another plant, each time rememberingpreparation, and an accompanying had a change of heart and understood which ailment is cured by what."Shaman, it is a drug not a healing that God knew best in such situations." Does each Shaman have to find it all outmedicine. Why did the brujo want to kill your for himself or is there a body of We worked extensively with Javier father? knowledge handed down?Arevalo and had many discussions on the "Because he was a curandero who "The maestro goes with the apprenticerole of the Amazonian Shaman and the had cured someone who had been into the wilderness and gives him theuse of Ayahuasca. Javier comes from harmed by the brujo. It happens because different plants and it is like a test or trialNuevo Progreso, a community of 50 we curanderos undo the work of the to overcome. The maestro is usually afamilies on the Rio Napo, Department of brujos and they get angry with us. This is Page 21 i
  3. 3. HEALING TODAY - AUGUST 2001 the famous spiritual battle between the When I look at you by day I see just a as their practice includes strict dieting or brujos. When you cure you send the bad normal young man, when you wear your fasting for extended periods, also sexual magic back to where it comes from and clothes and move into the Ayahuasca abstinence plays a major role. In the brujos get their own dirty medicine space you become different, a different essence they have to control their basic back. This is why there is a fight between presence, you become larger... natural drive and strive to total mastery the good and the bad." "The medicine is not in the body, the of their body. Only in this way do they Ive heard that if the Shaman cannot body can wear clothes for example, and have the strength to work with the control himself, then the spirits get out of you see that by day. But at night you dont spirits and so help others. It is also hand? see my body, you see my spirit which difficult to separate the working of the "Ifyou cant dominate the spirits of the receives the medicine which transforms Ayahuasca and the involvement of the jungle you are nobody, instead of curing me through the vision. I have to be pure so Shaman and these healing spirits. One they run away or take no notice of you." as to be a receptacle of the spirit of the thing is clear and that it is the chanting, So the control of the spirits is medicine. It is essential too for a shaman or the icaros, that the Shaman sings, fundamental? to be happy, the shaman laughs at influences the form and direction of the "Spirits are like angels. God withstood everything, because a happy heart is what experience. Whether it is to be a healing 40 days of hunger and temptation by the cures. He cant have a long face or fight ceremony, or for example a divination devil and was resurrected. Thats what we with his wife and children." is dependent on the specific icaros that have to do too." You started off with a desire for revenge, the Shaman chants. To separate the This is Christianity, but your people were what changed you into a Shaman? Shaman and the spirit from the drinking practising long before the missionaries "My grandfather saw that my heart of Ayahuasca has no purpose. The came. Is it possible to separate the was bitter and he told me that it would not Shaman may chant very specific icaros Christian from the wisdom of the jungle? get me anywhere. My heart was still hard for a particular patient that in some way "No, no, they work together. But it has and wanted to kill! Bit by hit through is communicating with the nothing to do with going to a church. You taking the very plants that I had intended consciousness or energy of an illness or learn all this in the wilderness. The spirits to use for revenge, the spirits told me it was virus. Once again there can be no there are the angels of each plant to which wrong to kill and my heart softened." separation between the spirit of you add your will to heal the client. This is Ayahuasca and the physical form of the will of Christ." Conclusion Ayahuasca. It is also important not to Where does the power of the Shaman One of the most important principles take Ayahuasca without considering end and the spirits begin? that we have found talking and working and embracing the recommendations "The shaman receives the power from with Shamans all over the world is the and traditions that accompany it. Always the jungle, he doesnt have any power of commitment, dedication, and sacrifices respect the Ayahuasca and it will allow his own that he doesnt get from the that they make in being of service to their you to walk the path which will make forest." community. Their discipline is formidable you strong, happy, and healthy. • Howard G. Charing is a partner in Eagles Peter Cloudsley has been Wing Centre for Contemporary Shamanism. researching Peruvian fiesta music since His initiation into the world of Shamanism 1980. He has built up a documented was sudden - caused by a serious accident (a archive of traditional music and lift crash) resulting in severe injuries and a interviews, and has collected for the near-death experience. After months of British Museum. Throughout this time physical pain and disability, he had a transfor- he has travelled extensively in Latin mational experience which started him on the America, especially Peru, studying the path to healing. Details of Eagles Wing wealth of music and diversity of programmes, workshops, journeys to meet popular religions. Peter has taught indigenous shamans in Pern, Roger Delin in courses at the City Lit and elsewhere the Philippines, together with books, tapes and (on music and popular culture in Latin CDs can be found on the internet at America) and speaks fluent Spanish &, or call or write to Portuguese. 58 Westbere Road, London NW2 3RU, tel. 020 7435 8174.Page 22