Vine of the Dead
My trip to Peru, was principally based around a journey into the Amazon to take part in a series of ayahuasca ceremonies. Ayahuasca or ‘vine of the dead’ is, in the words of, author and psychedelic proponent, Chris Killham:
“a fluid plant-based psychoactive potion indigenous to the Amazon rainforest, is the only combinatory vision-inducing agent in the world. That is to say, it takes more than just one plant to make the brew. Prepared from the vine Banisteriopsis Caapi and, most commonly, the leaf Psychotria viridis, ayahuasca is a healing agent, a portal to the spirit world, and an enigma that has baffled and intrigued scientists and anthropologists for centuries. The use of ayahuasca among Amazon native people likely dates back over two thousand years”
Natives to the Amazon who take part in rituals based on the ingestion of this ‘medicine’, believe that it can cure a range of issues both physical and psychological. The ceremonies are led by shamans, who, in theory have had years, even decades of experience working with these plants. They facilitate the healing through the singing songs or ‘icaros’, which apparently have been taught to them by the plants themselves, during times of extreme isolation deep in the jungle. The shamans, supposedly invite the plant spirits into the ceremony and draw out any nefarious spirits that have buried themselves within a person, perhaps as a result of a cursing. They, then work in accordance with the ‘medicine’ to heal a person.
Why was I here giving any credence to what sounds like bollocks of the highest order? Well, recent research , while still in its infancy, has shown promising results, in using ayahuasca to treat persons suffering from a range of psychological issues such as depression and addiction. Fortunately, I find myself devoid of these issues, however, I am a fan of psychedelic wanderings and the introspective gifts they can produce and this was literally the Grand Daddy or more appropriately the Mother (Nature) of them all!
No Sex, No Coffee
After being picked up at the hostel in Iquitos, a port city in the Peruvian Amazon, we battled through torrential rain in our quest to enter the jungle. On more than one occasion, I believed that death was imminent, due to the manic drivers around us, giving less than a shit that visibility was at absolute zero. Arriving, at the picturesque centre, deep within the jungle, we had a chance to get to know the guys we would be sharing the next five days with. There were some interesting cats: scientists, musicians, free-spirits, actors, and artists. From the offset it became abundantly clear that I had the wrong idea about this experience. Whilst some of the literature I’d read was a little “woo-woo” in nature, most of the testimonies were from rational and secular types, that had taken part due to an interest in psychedelics. But what I was presented with, was every single New-Age sensibility one could imagine, individuals who would quite happily extol the virtues of homeopathic medicine and the significance of star signs.
We were offered a special ‘plant dieta’, which would supposedly make one more receptive to the ayahuasca, and aid with the ‘healing’. I was immediately sceptical of this, after being informed that the plant dieta would require you to refrain not only sex, but any physical contact with one another. No red meat and no caffeine; my issue was the lack of sound reasoning for any of this, it all revolved around ‘negative-energies’. No brushing your teeth with Colgate, no deodorant and no chemical based bug spray; there were a lot of freaking mosquitoes! I was not prepared to be a stinky-ass dude, bitten up to shit, sporting yellow teeth by the end of the week.
A Little Vomit Amongst Friends
The first ceremony commenced a few hours after arriving. Sat in a circle on our own individual mattresses, within a large and beautiful moloka (ceremonial hut), we went up three at a time to receive the ayahuasca. Upon my turn, I was presented with this obnoxious black liquid, incomparable with anything I’ve ever consumed, it tasted like poison! I drank just over half a glass, fortunately, it was possible to keep it down without invoking a gag reflex.
After about fifteen minutes, I started to have some mild visuals, there appeared to be smoke hanging above the entire moloka. I attempted to maintain an upright posture, however when female shaman, Estella began singing her icaros, I began to feel incredibly nauseous. It felt thoroughly bizarre, having a bucket next to the mattress that in a room full of people, I was supposed to puke into. I really did not want to be the first to purge (the term used for the vomiting). I eventually had to force my fingers down my throat to release me from this cell of nausea. Whilst satisfied with the outcome, I started to feel a creeping weirdness over my entire body. Then things went off like a bomb. I just remember not being able to get to my bucket quickly enough as foamy sick exploded from my mouth, with the force of a pyroclastic flow, in what truly was an involuntary purge.
It was also very difficult to conceptualise what came next, a lot of it was irretrievably lost. The experience was fully out of my control. Immediately, I didn’t want to be there. I felt like I’d been punched through the centre of the planet. I felt as if death was upon me. I was terrified and consumed with the feeling of leaving everyone behind, I felt their pain and was heartbroken by it. Yet, this did not last for long, something about it felt very familiar, I quickly made peace with death’s approach, which in-turn dissolved any feelings of fear; in-fact it felt comfortable and warm. Interestingly, post-ceremony, my own fear of death, which had previously run rampant over my thoughts has completely disappeared.
I was pulled from this feeling of warmth and had all sense of self ripped violently from me, I was there, I was conscious, but I had no idea who I was or where I was. I was trapped in a state of unknowing. I felt as if my consciousness was fading into the blackness before briefly returning into a state of confusion. It felt like I had been choked into unconsciousness. Anyone familiar with that feeling will understand that when you come round, you are not really sure what has occurred and it takes a while to grasp reality. The difference here was that it happened to me continuously. I would come round and have this inescapable feeling that I had committed a horrific act and was locked in a prison cell. I could not fathom what it was, I had actually done, but the awful feeling of letting people down attacked me without respite.
I Am Who I Am
My fear and confusion suddenly subsided when something spoke to me and said:
“You are, who you always thought you were”
I thought about it and agreed, ‘Oh yeah, I am’!
It seemed rather profound at the time. After this I started to come round and reality began to interject itself into the experience. I became very happy, although, I have no idea why. I lay there smiling for the rest of the ceremony. My jaw hurt as I had a large Jack Nicholson-esque grin spread across my face for close to three hours.
During this time a message kept coming to me over and over again that ‘Nothing exists outside of the present moment’, considering that I spend my entire existence outside of the present moment, this was definitely something to be pondered over.
I awoke without a traditional comedown, although reality did seem a touch skewed, I was quite happy to drink my chamomile tea and stare off into the distance for prolonged periods. The day after the ayahuasca ceremony was set aside for relaxing and reflecting on the experience, I was seriously thankful for this, as the thought of putting that poison back in my body was enough to make my stomach do gymnastics.
The opportunity for reflection or in my case reading about the eccentricities of Bobby Fisher was cut short when the day began with a debate, which essentially boiled down to scientists vs. the enemies of science. The London born, owner of the centre, was espousing conspiratorial silliness which was anathema to the German scientists, who could not help but counter with objective facts. We were treated to such fallacious and offensive nonsense such as ‘Big pharma was profiting from keeping people ill’, ‘Chemotherapy was being used to kill people’. Not forgetting, psychics exist, and miraculous healing take place, including a woman who had been constipated for twenty years, and ayahuasca had seemingly set the faeces flowing! Everything was based upon anecdotal evidence, and any conclusions founded on means-tested science had to have an agenda.
For my scientist friends, I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the proselytising of popular spiritual and self-help guru, Eckhart Tolle, and his importance being ranked above that of the father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung. This blockade of idiocy, combined with the fact that neither of them had a positive first ceremony, led the couple to make the decision to leave. This really sucked, I had intended to spend the entire time questioning them about every single thing that I could think of. I felt a really strong urge to go with them…
Part two coming in a few days