União do Vegetal

This is a draft. The final account will include background information and, hopefully, our experiences nased on other such rituals.

Nicholas' experience

I was expecting the Vegetal service to be much like the Santo Daime, but I was wrong.

Their church relies on its sheer simplicity and quality of craftmanship for its elegance and beauty: a tall conical thatched roof with white walls and not a single ikon or decoration. The centre has no altar but a plain wooden oblong table with jugs of water, glasses and a large glass dispenser for the ayahuasca, surrounded by the congregation sitting on reclining 'garden' chairs facing inwards. There was a light hearted, almost casual, air - in fact we were given no instruction at all - yet we felt welcomed and well looked after without being told what to do or fussed over. The church was part of a well-kept complex of buildings including adequate WCs, a creche and a hall with kitchen, quite extravagantly designed by an architect member and well built. It struck me that this showed the signs of a religion that had recently become established: it had the feeling of self confidence yet without the wild enthusiasm of the newly converted, yet it was still free of the heavyness and dogma of the older religions.

The ritual began with each person being making their way to a queue anti-clockwise around the central table where an elder served the sacrament. He looked each person in the eye as they approached and then dispensed an appropriate quantity of ayahuasca into a glass which was taken back to our seats. Once everyone was seated, we all drank together. Water was offered to clear the taste and many people went out to spit or to the WCs before returning, settling back comfortably in their seats and closing thier eyes. I relaxed into it too, and perhaps I shivered as a poncho was gently laid over my knees.

I had strong visions which were different to previously: no brightly coloured geometric swirls this time. Instead, I became enveloped inside a warm and shady world, a forest scene, where trees and plants all had personalities which were clearly visible. They were all somehow vibrant and buzzing, and some morphed into faces as I watched. I realised that I was being given a revelation of the spirits or life energy in everything: it was as though the spirits were showing me what was always there but I had not noticed, and I felt priveledged. At the same time, my internal dialogue carried on, describing the experience for the observer in me.

Later, perhaps when the effect had become weaker, I had a series of rather superficial visions, like dreams. I felt that I could steer these whichever way I wanted, including going deeper, yet I was aware that I chose not to through fear of what I might be faced with. While we were each meditating, an elder spoke monotonously and I was surprised to pick out enough words to hear that he was reciting a legal document, which I later learned were the church's Articles of Inauguaration. Later on there was a short but exquisite blast of violin music. Then people got up to speak, one at a time, like in a Quaker meeting, and somehow I felt that I could follow what was said in mood if not words.

After about 3 hours the service ended and we moved to another building decked out with food and (non-alcoholic) drinks, presumably brought by the congregation, for another 3 hours social. The people were from various backgrounds and age groups; they were open, sincere and yet light hearted. The women in particular were all extremely alive and sparkly eyed while the men were soft and warm, the antithesis to macho yet sexually aware and never prim. The few who spoke English came up to us: doctors, a pilot, a pop singer and owner of a small engineering firm.

Anja's experience

It was an honour to have been invited to partake in a U.D.V. ceremony, but I wasn't really in the mood. My cathartic, highly spiritual experience at the Peruvian ritual had been so strong that I resented having 'to go back' to the church service idea. I went anyway, telling myself 'stay open' and 'every experience is different and has a value of its own'.

We entered the most beautiful 'church'. Round, with a thatched roof, all natural materials, simple, no signs of 'religion'. I felt at ease there. The people were gentle, even soft. It was a big family and I felt very welcome. We were all given the sacrament and waited in our places so we could drink together, confirming my big family feeling. The taste was surprisingly good... well, not as bad as any other ayahuasca I had had but it was still a relief to me that we were not going to drink a second time. This was it. We could sit back and relax.

A sense of soft flowing waves came over me. Although I rarely saw vivid images, I could tune into a sense of flowers with hundreds of little tiny petals opening and closing like firework stars, but much softer and slower. The flowers came in all colours amongst many images of plants and vines and leaves, some turning onto snakelike creatures, but that made me feel nauseous, so I stopped it. I went to the loo. I realised that's how it works for me: I let go from the bottom first, I don't vomit straight away, maybe later, but it felt good to sit on the loo and let go. When I came out someone was waiting for me to see if I was allright. A gentle nod and reassuring eye contact was all I needed to know there was support at all times.
Back in my seat I drifted on again. I felt I was pulled up by a kind of umbilical cord - or was it a vine? - It turned into a long muscle, the fibres clearly showing and pulling me up. Up out of my heaviness into the spirit world of plant and life and energy. Was this the world of the vegetal?
People came up to speak in front of the group. I could not understand Portuguese and was quite glad of it as I was not interested in the doctrine at the time, I was happy to listen and feel the open hearts from which these people spoke. The Padre came along asking everyone how they were doing - no words for us: just thumbs up and a twinkly eye. The best communication! We were part of it, even though the 3 of us were the only outsiders there.
I floated back into my own world. The feeling was gentle. Music was played - Ave Maria. I was very moved by it. It instantly connected me with my mother, she was there, right with me (my mother died 5 years ago). I felt her warmth, her presence, tears came into my eyes and I felt happy and good. After the music finished many faces passed my inner eye. Helpers and people to be helped. I saw many black children. Many faces of men and women looking, asking for help. I was moving into my energy body, seeing with my aura. I was aware of my place in the web of humanity, the support of the spirit world and my responsibilities regarding all humans: to relieve suffering of whoever I meet, whatever colour, creed or background they have. I have a role to play and my compassion must not be limited.
I then saw a golden corridor with a door half open at the end. I walked through the corridor to the door. Golden light was streaming through the door. It felt very familiar. I knew this golden world from visions in earlier sessions. We were asked again if we were all right. Eye contact was enough.
The speakers finished, the Brazilian music brought us down, people got up, chatted. I looked around and was struck by the gentleness of the men. They looked like big elephants to me, caring and strong. The women were sparkling. They brought life and joy in the whole place. Their eyes were so bright and full of fire!

The next day someone in our group said "you look different, you look permeable" Was it my spirit, was it me being open-hearted, human?

©Nicholas Saunders and Anja Dashwood 1996

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