A Peruvian shamanistic ayahuasca ritual

This is a draft; the book will include accounts from other participants (still to be transcribed) and, hopefully, our own accounts of experiences yet to come.

Nicholas' account

Entheotourism it may be, but this was too good to miss: an opportunity to take part in an overnight ayahuasca ritual run by two Peruvian shamen. We put our names down; passed the vetting and set off next day along with 16 others. Our companions included a Japanese journalist and a German woman of 62 who had never taken an hallucinogen before, but more typical was the Californian woman who seemed to spend her life taking part in New Age rituals. We were somewhere in between, having taken part in several other rituals involving ayahuasca.
We travelled up the Amazon for several hours, reaching our destination after dark: an empty shed surrounded by jungle. The boat journey was ideal to get to know the others, and on arrival we spent a while settling in and finding our places for the night. Our shamen then moved us around so that we did not know our immediate neighbours, as their instruction was to work on ourselves without getting involved in anyone else's process: it was to be between each one of us and the shamen only. We were taken out to see where we could shit (anywhere, it seemed) and were each issued with a toilet roll and a plastic soup bowl to vomit into. Blessings were made to the four directions by blowing tobacco smoke and spitting camphor like a fire eater sprays kerosine. One by one we were called up to kneel and be purified with smoke, camphor and chanting; recieved the awful tasting sacrament and went back to our places. The candles were extinguished and we were isolated, forced to look inward by the darkness. Trying to relax became an overwhelming preoccupation since I was acutely uncomfortable whichever way I sat. I thought this might be why I felt no effect of the ayahuasca other than nausea, but eagerly accepted more when ofered. As in the other ayahuasca rituals we had attended, I noticed that the second dose tasted worse: presumably our body's defensive way of steering us away from things that make us sick.
Our shamen sang chants, blew smoke and camphor and rattled leaves most of the night, sometimes to a particular individual who they felt needed attention, and it was a very moving feeling along with the night sounds of the frogs and crickets. Their method seemed to be to allow each person to have their own experience, but they would come over when they were aware of someone vomiting or having a trauma: not to stop it but to refresh and reassure them. There were no visions or flowing geometric patterns ; for me the overriding feeling was one of acute discomfort and nausea, yet I did respect the two shamen for their tireless chanting and the atmosphere they created with such a motley crew. At the end candles were lit and we hang up hammocks to sleep in, and next day we had time to talk among ourselves and discuss our experience with the shamen on the way back before facing the world. I took the opportunity to interview a Japanese man; a German woman of 62 and a Czech woman of 32 who were having their first psychedelic experience besides some Americans with loads of experience. It turned out that some people had very powerful visions and others nothing. I explain this a due to the actual drug being weak but the setting strong.

Anja's account

We moved down the river, calm, gliding. Jungle around us. It got dark and we landed.
We walked into the wooden hut. Lanterns, maglites, candles, ropes, organising, bustle.
Where to sit - you sit here. Where to shit ; you can here and there and everywhere. How does it go, what is going to happen, I try to fit in, centre myself, bring in the 4 directions, the ancestors, protection and all that; I am finding my place, we settle in.
They tell us: "Let it flow, don't hold or push, stay moveable and don't forget the joy." One by one we drink... three sips... tastes, oh well, not too bad. I want to take it in - let it in - penetrate me. The candles are blown out. Darkness. I sit and wait. They start singing, very nice, yawn. Little visions like on wrapping paper of Indian patterns. Foggy, sleepy, try to wake again, pull together. Not sure anything is happening, the bowl is there reassuringly, I feel nothing much, not very nauseous. "Are you alright? - dizzy?" No I am nothing, it's not working, I think. I burp a lot. I feel a block in my stomach (solar plexus), I get into a dozy sleepy state.
Waking up - I have given up that anything is going to happen, but I'd like to stay open. I must have been here for hours. Do I want to go out? Seems a lot of effort. I do feel nauseous; when I belch nothing comes out. I feel my abdomen, something feels stuck in my stomach, I know I need to move the energy down, My abdomen feels empty as if I am holding the energy back from moving into it. I associate this with getting pregnant. Am I holding the embodiment of a soul back? Am I blocking this - closing my womb? I drift off... "Anja ,Would you like a second go?" "Yes please". The taste is putrid, sour, like vomit. I feel drowsy, misty, I burp, wake again, my tummy rumbles, I feel less nauseous, my intestines bubble. I am a bit bored, fart a bit and decide to have a look outside. I stand up and am surprised how wobbly I feel - something must be going on!
Outside. It is open and calm and real. I like being there. I sit down and try for a shit - it may relieve the slightly blocked up constipated feeling. I empty. Its a great gush of liquid out of my bottom. I feel good about it, light. I like walking in the dark, feeling my way - happy I manage without a torch after the first time. I come back - I breath through my empty spaces, the nausea comes back, I better have the bowl, I make the movement one-two-three times, vomit gushes out to my surprise. I let it come from deep in my stomach, more and more again, I want to let it out from the very depth of me. Now I feel open, I feel as if I am the bamboo flute, the channel, as if I give birth, let it out top and bottom, all through me an open channel, pour it through. Yes I give up, I surrender. My shoes, the place, my hair, the space, nothing matters, nothing outer matters, I am blowing through, being blown through. I breathe right down to my anus. I empty my bowl through the window.
One of the shamen came and sat in front of me and sang and rattled the leaves all around me. His voice was so pure, so resonant, so flowing, I drank it in and felt like a baby drinking it in and letting it through, right to the bottom and out. His voice is so melodious, it's like a lullaby, just for me, I feel so supported, so grateful, so privileged, so safe to let go and be, so acknowledged, like a reward for my letting go. I am really moved - I'm so happy - there is help.
My emotions fill me. I start crying, deep cries. What do I cry for? Am I sad? No. Do I feel sadness? Yes. I cry for the old part, the frightened part, the part that struggled so hard, I feel for her, I pity her, I cry for her suffering. It is as if I can see me from the side of the guides. All guides, beings, energies are with me - and what's more, I am with them. I cry and cry and laugh and feel the immense relief and breathe and laugh and take in more and let it flow right through and I feel alive and I am happy and feel I belong. I feel a strong blow on my crown chakra; an icy flamey feeling and camphor runs over my head and down my face. Three times he blows; it feels exhilarating! Then he blows forcefully down my front, my breasts are bare (I took my bra off before the ritual) and I feel the camphorous air right down my belly. Then he blows three more times down my spine. Life, new life is blown into me. He gently strokes my back a few times. He asks me for my hands. I give them eagerly. I feel like an initiate. He blows the camphor in my hands. My face is dripping- my body tingling. I let it all be and feel an enormous strong awakening - 'whoosh' energy. I feel alive. I want to laugh, to really laugh, and run and open and dance and enjoy. Now I know the meaning of "don't forget the joy!" The Joy, I feel so joyous, I am overflowing - I am flowing over and connecting with the whole space. Thank you.
The songs continue. I flow into the song. My movement is one with the song, I almost know the words. I want to join in, I feel the dynamic, I know when it goes light, when it gets strong, when it finishes with the last blowy breath. I take part. I am part of the healing just by taking part, not by projecting, doing, just tuning into the air which is filled with vibration and motion. I go out. Another little shit- why not?
I float on the singing, feel the leaves around me rattling, I do tai chi like movements, my arms just floating. I flow into the song again - the song flows through my body. I move into a large energy field. One woman throws up violently towards the end; she is helped afterwards. I understand: first we need to let go, help is at hand but afterwards. The struggle to let go is a process to take on alone.

©Nicholas Saunders and Anja Dashwood 1996

Write to us

Council on Spiritual Practices Home Page