ayahuasca retreat

ayahuasca retreat

Ayahuasca is a magical rainforest medicine made from ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis).

The mixture is prepared by cleaning specially-chosen vines and adding them and the leaves to water. This is then boiled and reduced for several hours, attended by shamans who blow their intentions and good wishes (soplada) into it, make prayers to their spirits for good healings and singing icaros (sacred healing songs) into the brew during its preparation and in ceremony.

When ayahuasca is drunk it can open up a new world that is extraordinary, amazing and healing – and yet it is the same world we are part of every day; ayahuasca simply opens our eyes to what is really before us.

The experience normally begins soon after drinking with a feeling of warm presence in the stomach which spreads throughout the body. Most people describe this as very pleasant, like being in a warm, body-temperature bath.

Approximately 40 minutes later visions begin, which may be of “other worlds” or new perspectives on “this” world and/or recollections in words, sights, sounds or feelings of episodes and events from your life which need to be healed and which you can now approach from a position of knowledge and strength, aided by the spirit of ayahuasca.

Healing comes through a subtle shift in awareness, a deepened understanding of your place in the world or an increase in personal power.

 

Icaros, healing songs of the shaman, are integral to the ayahuasca experience and direct the ceremony and the visions which may arise. The shaman has songs for each person’s needs, the vibrations of which summon healing energies with words that tell of Nature’s ability to heal.

As the shaman sings you might even see these things in your visions (ayahuasca was once known by the scientific name telepathine because of its ability to work in this way). Another common experience is to see rainbows streaming from the shaman’s mouth as he sings to you, becoming white light or healing colours as they enter your energy field.

Healing takes place as the vibrations of these songs rearrange the patterns, waveforms and frequency of your energy system, also empowering and directing the ayahuasca you have drunk so it can act with greater intensity and focus on your behalf.

As a result of this shift in energy you become, in a sense, a new person who can see and understand life from a new perspective and sadness, illness, anger or other unhelpful energies can be transmuted into ecstasy, well-being and love.

THE HUMMINGBIRD RETREAT CENTRE PERU

At The Hummingbird Retreat Centre near Iquitos in Peru, healing with ayahuasca is also part of a process which involves other aspects of traditional purification and energy work.

The Centre is run by two Westerners – British author Ross Heaven who has written several books on plant medicines including Plant Spirit Shamanism, about ayahuasca healing, and The Hummingbird’s Journey to God, about healing with San Pedro, and Tracie Thornberry, an Australian addictions  release therapist – but works with indigenous rainforest healers. During your stay at The Hummingbird the shamans and staff act on your behalf as a therapeutic team and may also prescribe healings for you which might include the following.

 

TRADITIONAL CLEANSING SAUNA

Traditional jungle “saunas” help to cleanse, detoxify and “leave the outside world behind”. Participants are wrapped in blankets and absorb hot steam from a pot containing herbs which rid the body of toxins. The Centre is

 

also constructing a sweatlodge (not a traditional Amazonian method but nonetheless effective) and when this is complete purification ceremonies in the lodge will also be offered.

FLORAL BATHS

Herbal and floral baths are also part of the treatments. Special plants and flowers for cleansing and empowerment are added to cooling water from the Centre’s lagoon and the mixture is poured over the body to restore balance and harmony to the soul. By “flourishing” the person in this way the baths also prepare them for the deeper healing of ayahuasca. A series of floral baths are normally taken as directed by the shamans and people normally bathe after every ayahuasca ceremony.

HEALING CONSULTATIONS

Individual consultations with the shamans typically take place each day as an opportunity to discuss your ayahuasca visions and healing needs. Translation services are provided.

As a result of these meetings additional treatments and plant medicines may sometimes be prescribed which the shamans will freshly prepare for you. Occasionally there is a small extra charge for this (for example if you wish to have larger quantities of medicines made up for you to take home) but normally these treatments are included as part of your programme.

CIRCLE MEETINGS

In the morning following every ayahuasca ceremony there is a circle meeting led by one of the Centre’s counsellors so you can discuss your experiences and clarify your visions and insights. Participants usually find this very helpful but attendance at them is not compulsory and they may choose to rest or do their own integration work instead.

PLANT WALKS

The Hummingbird Retreat Centre is in the rainforest so the jungle is your playground and you are free to explore it every day. Some of retreats also include guided walks with the shamans however to introduce you to the medicine plants of the forest and explain their uses in healing.

The rainforest is home to many rare species which cannot be found outside this region and it is estimated that 60-70% of all pharmaceutical medicines are derived from its plants – yet Western science has still only explored about 3% of its healing potential. Shamans know thousands of plants and are experts in their uses.

SHAMANIC WORKSHOPS AND SEMINARS

On some of courses at The Hummingbird (for example, The Magical Earth and Plant Spirit Shamanism programmes) shamanic healing techniques are also taught and explanatory seminars and workshops are offered so you can put your experiences into context and learn more about the rainforest, its myths, legends and the approach of its shamans to healing. Previous subjects have included:

  • Soul retrieval and ‘spirit extraction’
  • The doctrine of signatures in rainforest healing
  • Ayahuasca, icaros and spirit songs
  • Making your own pusanga, the “love medicine of the Amazon”
  • Exploring ayahuasca visions
  • Ancestral healing and symbols of power
  • The journey of the spirit canoe
  • Shipibo art and the nature of reality
  • And, during one event, a special spirit journey and baby-naming ceremony for a participant mother-to-be

 

If you would like to know more about ayahuasca or the healing work of The Hummingbird Centre with this powerful jungle medicine visit the website at http://www.ayahuascaretreats.org or email ross@thefourgates.com for a copy of its brochure.

Tags: ayahuasca, healing, ayahuasca retreats, ayahuasca ceremonies, shamanism, ross heaven, peru, the amazon, shamans, curanderismo, pusanga

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In the shamanic traditions of Northern Peru, the san pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi), or ‘cactus of vision’, opens the doorway to expanded awareness and acts as mediator between man and the gods.   San pedro grows on the dry eastern slopes of the Andes, between 2,000 – 3,000 metres above sea level, and commonly reaches six metres or more in height. It is also grown by local shamans in their herb gardens and has been used since ancient times, with a tradition in Peru that has been unbroken for at least 3,000 years.  The earliest depiction of the cactus is a carving showing a mythological being holding a san pedro, which dates from about 1,300 BC. It comes from the Chavín culture (c. 1,400-400 BC) and was found in a temple at Chavín de Huantar, in the northern highlands of Peru. The later Mochica culture (c. 500 AD) also depicted the cactus in its iconography, suggesting a continued use throughout this period. Even in the present Christianised mythology of this area, there is a legend told that God hid the keys to Heaven in a secret place and that San Pedro (Saint Peter) used the magical powers of a cactus to find this place so the people of the world could share in paradise. The cactus was named after him out of respect for his Promethean intervention on behalf of mortal men. As can be imagined, early European missionaries held native practices in considerable contempt and were very negative when reporting the use of san pedro. One 16th century Conquistador, for example, described it as a plant by which the natives are able to “speak with the devil, who answers them in certain stones and in other things they venerate”. As you might also imagine, a shaman’s account of the cactus is in radical contrast to this. Juan Navarro, a maestro within the san pedro tradition, explains its effects as follows: “It first produces a dreamy state and then a great vision, a clearing of all the faculties, and a sense of tranquillity. Then comes detachment, a sort of visual force inclusive of all the senses, including the sixth sense, the telepathic sense of transmitting oneself across time and matter … like a kind of removal of one’s thought to a distant dimension”. Considered the ‘maestro of maestros’, san pedro enables the shaman to open a portal between the visible and the invisible world for his people. In fact, its Quechua name is punku, which means ‘doorway’.  AN INTERVIEW WITH A SAN PEDRO MAESTROJuan Navarro was born in the highland Andean village of Somate, department of Piura. He is the descendant of a long line of healers working not only with san pedro but with the magical powers of the sacred lakes known as Las Huaringas, which have been revered for their healing properties since the earliest Peruvian civilization. At the age of eight, Juan made a pilgrimage to Las Huaringas and drank san pedro for the first time. Now in his 50’s, every month or so it is still necessary for him to return there to accumulate the energy he needs to protect and heal his people.  Healing sessions with san pedro involve an intricate sequence of processes, including invocation, diagnosis, divination, and healing with natural ‘power objects’, called artes, which are kept, during the ceremony, in a complicated and precise array on the maestro’s altar or mesa.  Artes may include shells, swords, magnets, quartz crystals, objects resembling sexual organs, rocks which spark when struck together, and stones from animals’ stomachs which they have swallowed to aid digestion. They bring magical qualities to the ceremony where, under the visionary influence of san pedro, their invisible powers may be seen and experienced.  The maestro’s mesa, on which these artes sit, is a representation of the forces of nature and the cosmos. Through the mesa the shaman is able to work with and influence these forces to diagnose and heal disease. What happens during a san pedro ceremony?The power of san pedro works in combination with tobacco [see below]. Also the sacred lakes of Las Huaringas are very important. This is where we go to find the most powerful healing herbs which we use to energize our people.  We also use dominio [the linking of intent to the power of the plants] to give strength and protection from supernatural forces such as sorcery and negative thoughts. This dominio is also put into the seguros we make for our patients [amulet bottles filled with perfume, plants, and seeds]. Dominio is introduced to the bottle through the breath. You keep these seguros in your home and your life will go well.  How does san pedro help in the healings you do?San pedro helps the maestro to see what the problem is with his patient before any of this healing begins. The cactus is a powerful teacher plant. It has a certain mystery to it and the healer must also be compatible with it. It won’t work for everybody, but the maestro has a special relationship with its spirit.  When it is taken by a patient it circulates in his body and where it finds abnormality it enables the shaman to detect it. It lets him know the pain the patient feels and where in his body it is. So it is the link between patient and maestro.  It also purifies the blood of the person who drinks it and balances the nervous system so people lose their fears and are charged with positive energy.  In the ceremonies I’ve attended a lot seems to happen. Can you explain the process?Patients first take a contrachisa. This is a plant [actually, the outer skin of the san pedro cactus] which causes them to purge [i.e. to vomit - a removal from the body of toxins], so they get rid of the spiritual toxins that are within their systems. This is a healing. It also cleans out the gut to make room for san pedro so the visions will come. They also take a singado. This is a liquid containing [aguardiente and macerated] tobacco which they inhale through their nostrils. The tobacco leaf is left for two to three months in contact with honey, and when required for the singado it is macerated with aguardiente.  How it functions depends on which nostril is used. When taken in the left nostril it will liberate the patient from negative energy, including psychosomatic ills, pains in the body, or the bad influences of other people. As he takes it in he must concentrate on the situation which is going badly or the person who is doing him harm. When taken through the right nostril it is for rehabilitating and energizing, so that all of that patient’s projects will go well.  Afterwards he can spit the tobacco out or swallow it, it doesn’t matter. The singado also has a relationship with the san pedro in the body, and intensifies the visionary effects. During the ceremony I also use a chungana [rattle] to invoke the spirits of the dead, whether of family or of great shamans, so they can help to heal the patient. The chunganas give me enchantment [i.e. protection and positive energy] and have a relaxing effect when the patient takes san pedro. What is the significance of the artes and of Las Huaringas?The artes that I use come from Las Huaringas, where a special energy is bestowed on everything, including the healing herbs which grow there and nowhere else.  If you bathe in the lakes it takes away your ills. You bathe with the intention of leaving everything negative behind. People also go there to leave their enemies behind so they can’t do any more harm.  After bathing, the maestro cleanses you with the artes, swords, bars, chontas [bamboo staffs used as healing tools to lightly beat or ‘stroke’ a patient and scrape negativity off him], and even huacos [The energetic power of the ancient sites themselves]. They flourish you – spraying you with agua florida [perfume containing healing spirits] and herb macerations, and giving you things like honey, so your life will be sweet and flourish.  Not far from Las Huaringas is a place called Sondor, which has its own lakes. This is where evil magic is practiced by brujos [Sorcerers] and where they do harm in a variety of ways. I know this because I am a healer and I must know how sorcery is done so I can defend myself and my patients. As I said, a lot goes on in a healing! So, with all of this, just how important is san pedro?What allows me to read [i.e. diagnose] a patient is the power of san pedro and tobacco. Perceptions come to me through any one of my senses or through an awareness of what the patient is feeling; a weakness, a pain or whatever. Sometimes, for instance, a bad taste in my mouth may indicate that the patient has a bad liver.  

Of course, I must also take the san pedro and tobacco, to protect myself from the patient’s negativity and illness, and because it brings vision.

  Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email ross@thefourgates.com for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

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Continued from Part 1… MOCURA/MUCURA: PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL STRENGTH

One of the qualities of this plant is its ability to boost one’s psychological and emotional strength. For this reason it is regarded as a ‘great balancer’, restoring connection and equilibrium between our rational mind and feelings. For example, it is good at countering shyness and can enhance one’s sense of personal value and authority by helping to overcome painful memories (of past embarrassments and ‘failures’, etc).

 Mocura is also used in floral baths to both cleanse and protect against malevolent forces such as sorcery and envidia (envy). Its medicinal properties include relief from asthma, bronchitis, and the reduction of fat and cholesterol.  

In the West, there are a number of plants that have similar effects and bring calm and balance to the soul. These include lavender – which Pliny regarded as so powerful that even looking upon it brings peace -  meadowsweet, pine, and rosemary.

 Burning pine needles will purify the atmosphere of a house and a pine branch hung over the front door will bring harmony and joy to the home. Rosemary, especially when burned, is cleansing and centring, and it is said that if you concentrate on the smoke with a question in mind, rosemary will also provide the answer. There is a European belief that carrying rosemary leaves will protect you from sadness. It is also quite pleasant to drink with honey as a weak tea. 

In terms of body energetics and magical uses, moss, orange, and strawberry leaves are effective at removing bad luck, and loosestrife, myrtle, and violet leaves help to overcome fear.

 ROSA SISA: HARMONY AND HEALING THE SOUL This plant is often used to heal children who are suffering from mal aire (‘bad air’), a malady which can occur when a family member dies and leaves the child unhappy and sleepless. The spirit of the dead person lingers, it is said, because it is sad to go and aware of the grief around it, so it stays in the house and tries to comfort its family. This proximity to death, however, can make children sick.  Rosa sisa is also used to bring good luck and harmony in general. One of the ways that bad luck can result is through the magical force of envidia. A jealous neighbour might, for instance, throw a handful of graveyard dirt into your house to spread sadness and heavy feelings. Those in the house become bored, agitated, or restless as a consequence. The solution is to take a bucket of water and crushed rosa sisa flowers and thoroughly wash the floors to dispel the evil magic.  Many Peruvians also grow rosa sisa near the front door of their houses to absorb the negativity of people who pass by and look in enviously to see what possessions they have. The flowers turn black when this happens, but go back to their normal colour when the negative energy is dispersed through their roots to the Earth. Rosa sisa is also used for making dreams come true, by blowing on the petals with a wish in mind, like we do with dandelions. It can make these wishes happen because it is bright like the sun and contains the energy of good fortune. Marigolds have similar magical uses in the West. Aemilius Macer, as long ago as the 13th century, wrote that merely gazing at the flowers will draw “wicked humours out of the head”, “comfort the heart” and make “the sight bright and clean”. In Europe, just as in Peru, marigolds are often grown beside the front door or hung in garlands to protect those inside from magical attacks. For the same reason, and to empower the spirit, marigold petals can be scattered beneath the bed (where they will also ensure good – and often prophetic – dreams) or added to bath water to bring calm and refreshment to the body and soul. 

As well as drinking marigold tea, the petals can be used in salads or added to rice and pulses as another way of dieting them. Physically, the tea is good for bringing down fevers (especially in children), for gastritis, gallbladder problems, and tonsillitis. Rubbed on the skin, marigold petals will heal skin diseases, cuts, bruises, and rashes.

 Alternatives, to create harmony in the self and home, include gardenia, meadowsweet, and passion flower. PIRI PIRI, MEDICINAL SEDGES: FOR VISION  Native people cultivate numerous varieties of medicinal sedges to treat a wide range of health problems. Sedge roots, for example, are used to treat headaches, fevers, cramps, dysentery and wounds, as well easing childbirth and protecting babies from illness. Special sedge varieties are cultivated by Shipibo women to improve their skills in weaving magical tapestries that embody the spiritual universe, and it is customary when a girl is very young for her mother to squeeze a few drops of sap from the piri piri seed into her eyes to give her the ability to have visions of the designs she will make when she is older. The men cultivate sedges to improve their hunting skills.  Since the plant is used for such a wide range of conditions, its powers were once dismissed as superstition. Pharmacological research, however, has now revealed the presence of ergot alkaloids within these plants, which are known to have diverse effects on the body – from stimulation of the nervous system to the constriction of blood vessels. These alkaloids are responsible for the wide range of sedge uses, but come, not from the plant itself, but from a fungus that infects it.  There are a number of Western plants that are also said to produce visions – i.e. communion with the greater spirit of the world. The leaves of coltsfoot and angelica, when smoked, for example, will induce such visions, and damiana, when burned, will also produce these effects.  Angelica has long been regarded as a spiritual plant with almost supernatural powers. It is linked to the archangel Raphael, who appeared in the dreams of a medieval monk and revealed the plant as a cure for plague. Native Americans used it in compresses to cure painful swellings and believed it sucked the spirit of pain out of the body before casting it to the four winds. It has also been heralded as an aid to overcoming alcohol addiction as its regular usage creates a dislike for the taste of alcohol. Recent research suggests that it can also help the body fight the spread of cancer. Its leaves can be added to salads and this is another way to diet this plant.  

Coltsfoot is another plant with wide-ranging properties but is most highly regarded for its soothing effects on respiratory and bronchial problems. One way of dieting it, paradoxically, is to use it in herbal cigarettes. These can be made by adding a larger part of coltsfoot to other aromatic and soothing herbs such as skullcap or chamomile. Cut the herbs to small lengths and mix them thoroughly with a little honey dissolved in water, then spread the mix out and let it to dry for a few days. It can then be rolled to make cigarettes or smoked in a pipe.

 UNA DE GATO: FOR BALANCEUna de Gato (‘cat’s claw’) is a tropical vine that grows in the rainforests. It gets its name from the small thorns at the base of the leaves, which look like a cat’s claw and enable the vine to wind itself around trees, climbing to a height of up to 150 feet. The inner bark of the vine has been used for generations to treat inflammations, colds, viral infections, arthritis, and tumors. It also has anti-inflammatory and blood-cleansing properties, and will clean out the entire intestinal tract to treat a wide array of digestive problems such as gastric ulcers, parasites, and dysentery. Its most famous quality, however, is its powerful ability to boost the body’s immune system, and it is considered by many shamans to be a ‘balancer’, returning the body’s functions to a healthy equilibrium.  From a psycho-spiritual or shamanic perspective, disease usually arises from a spiritual imbalance within the patient causing him to become de-spirited or to lose heart (in the West we would call this depression). Interestingly, Thomas Bartram, in his Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, writes that in the West “some psychiatrists believe [problems of the immune system, where the body attacks itself] to be a self-produced phenomenon due to an unresolved sense of guilt or dislike of self… People who are happy at their home and work usually enjoy a robust immune system”. The psychiatric perspective, in this sense, is not so different from the shamanic view. Cat’s claw is believed to heal illness by restoring the peace of the spirit as well as the balance between spirit and body. The medicinal properties of this plant are officially recognized by the Peruvian government and it is a protected (for export) plant. It is, however, widely available in the West in capsule form and this is one way of dieting it, although its spiritual affects will be less strong, since, once a plant has been processed in this way, much of its spirit is lost. Echinacea can also be used as a substitute for cat’s claw and will stimulate the immune system and prove effective against depression and exhaustion. As an alternative, you might try a mixture of borage, cinnamon, and blackberry, all of which are regarded as lifting the spirits and good healers in general. CHULLACHAQUI CASPI: CONNECTION TO THE EARTHThe resin of the chullachaqui caspi tree, extracted from the trunk in the same way as rubber from the rubber tree, can be used as a poultice or smeared directly onto wounds to heal deep cuts and stop haemorrhages. For skin problems, such as psoriasis, the bark can be grated and boiled in water while the patient sits before it, covered with a blanket, to receive a steam bath. It is important to remove the bark without killing the tree, however, which can otherwise have serious spiritual consequences. Oil can also be extracted by boiling the bark, and this can be made into capsules. The deeper, more spiritual, purpose of this tree is to help the shaman or his patient get close to the spirit of the forest and in touch with the vibration and rhythm of the Earth. Through this reconnection with nature, it will strengthen an unsettled mind and help to ground a person who is disturbed.  It will also guide and protect the apprentice shaman and show him how to recognise which plants can heal. The tree has large buttress roots as it grows in sandy soil where roots cannot go deep (chulla in Quechua means ‘twisted foot’ and chaqui is the plant). This forms part of Amazonian mythology, in stories of the jungle ‘dwarf’, the chullachaqui, which is said to have a human appearance, with one exception: his twisted foot. The chullachaqui is the protector of the animals, and lives in places where the tree also grows. The legend is that if you are lost in the forest and meet a friend or family member, it is most likely the chullachaqui who has taken their form. He will be friendly and suggest going for a walk so he can guide you or show you something of interest. If you go, however, he will lead you deep into the rainforest until you are lost, and you will then suffer madness or become a chullachaqui yourself.  

Ross has speculated that the reference is to the initiation of the plant shaman, who must go deep into the jungle to pursue his craft by getting to know the plants and the forest. Such trials can, indeed, lead to madness or even death for the unwary, but for those who succeed, they will become great healers, in touch with the spirits of nature, like the chullachaqui himself. For those who are not ready to meet these challenges, the advice of the jungle shamans is simple: when out walking in the forest, should you encounter a friend or a family member, always look at his feet, as the chullachaqui will try to keep his twisted foot away from you. Do not go with him – turn back and run away!

 The chullachaqui, symbolically, is a tree and the motif of the ‘world tree’ – the spiritual centre of the universe which connects the material and immaterial planes – occurs in many cultures and is often to do with initiation. In Haiti, it is Papa Loko (a variant of the word iroco, which is the name of an African tree) who meets the shaman-to-be in the dark woods at night to initiate him into the Vodou religion. In Siberia, too, there is a tradition that the shaman-elect must climb a silver birch while in a state of trance and make secret, spirit-given, markings on one of its topmost branches. While it is interesting to speculate about the initiatory symbolism of the chullachaqui, it must also be pointed out that Amazonian shamans regard it as very real being. Javier Aravelo, for example, has a photograph of a chullachaqui’s tambo, which he swears is real. The tambo is a hut that stands about four feet high and is used as a dwelling. Javier discovered this one next to a cultivated garden deep in the otherwise wild rainforest In the West, we have our own tradition of magical trees. One of these is willow, a tree sacred to the Druids. Ancient British burial mounds and modern day cemeteries are both often lined with willow, symbolising the gateway this tree provides between the living and the dead, spirit and matter. The brooms of witches are also bound with willow, enabling their flight to the otherworld.  To deepen a connection to the Earth and the spirit, willow can be ‘dieted’ in place of chullachaqui caspi by burning crushed bark fragments with white sandalwood or myrrh and bathing in the smoke.  CHUCHUHUASI: INCREASED LIFE FORCE  This is another Amazonian tree which forms an important part of the jungle pharmacopoeia. The bark can be chewed as a remedy for stomach ache, fevers, arthritis, circulation, and bronchial problems, but it is rather bitter and so more often it is macerated in aguardiente or boiled in water and honey.  

Western alternatives include burdock for arthritis and for ‘fevers’ as they manifest through the skin in the form of eczema, psoriasis, acne, etc, and ginseng for problems of the circulation. Kola is good for stomach complaints (diarrhoea and dysentery, etc) and saw palmetto is a general tonic which is useful for bronchial problems.

 Chuchuhuasi is also regarded as a “libido stimulant” and aphrodisiac, giving the person who drinks it a renewed sense of life and vigour. With these properties in mind, chuchuhuasi is the main ingredient in cocktails at many bars and restaurants in Iquitos, on the banks of the Amazon river, the most popular of which is the Chuchuhuasi Sour, where it is mixed with limes, ice, and honey. In the West, plants with similar aphrodisiac qualities include burdock, ginseng, kola, and saw palmetto berries. These are not just aids to sexual potency, but reconnect the dieter to the joy of living and a love of involvement with others.  Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email ross@thefourgates.com for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

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Fragrance has long been associated with the arts of love. In Japan, Geisha girls priced their services according to the number of incense sticks consumed during love-making, while in Indian tantric rituals, men were anointed with sandalwood, and women with jasmine, patchouli, amber, musk, and with Saffron crushed and smeared beneath their feet. In Europe in the 17 and 1800s, the use of eau de Cologne became a widespread and fashionable trend, where the morning ritual in many homes began with its application before a suitor of either sex would call upon a lover. This blend of rosemary, neroli, bergamot and lemon was also used internally, mixed with wine, eaten on sugar lumps, even taken as an enema, to refresh the ‘inner self’ and cleanse the spirit so that lovers could meet each other with a ‘pure heart’.But it is, perhaps, in Peru, that the magic of perfumed love has reached its highest skill, in the formulation of pusanga, which is often referred to as the ‘love medicine of the Amazon’, although it is far more than that.

Specialists in the use of fragrance to change luck and attract good fortune are known as perfumeros. One such specialist is Artidoro. Another is Javier Aravelo, an ayahuasca shaman who also works with fragrance.

 Artidoro, how did your involvement with perfumes begin?The story of my path of medicine began when I saw a brother-in-law who healed and chanted… I used to watch how the curanderos worked. I loved listening to what they talked about, how they prepared their remedies, their canticos [magical chants, similar to icaros]. Then I went off on my own deep into the jungle, to know the plants little by little, to smell the leaves and roots of all the different medicines. I had no maestro to learn from so I dieted plants for a year and a half alone, and then I returned to the city. I used agua florida, timalina, camalonga, and dedicated myself to studying all about smells.  How do you use perfumes to help people now?I get people coming for help with family problems where the woman has gone away from the man or the man has gone away from his children.  Supposing the woman has gone off, I use pusanga to bring her back so that the family can consolidate again. I call the plant spirits which work for that – pusanga plants such as renaco, huayanche, lamarosa, sangapilla, and I call her spirit back to her home. Or let’s say the mama is here with me and the father is far away. I pull him back so he returns to his home. In a short time he will be thinking of his children and his wife, and he comes back.  I don’t need to have the actual plants in front of me, I call their spirits. I make my own perfumes from plants, no chemicals. They have wonderful smells, and I chant at the same time as I rub them on the children and the woman. Then the man starts thinking or dreaming of them.  How does perfume magic like this work?A smell has the power to attract. I can make smells to attract business, people who buy. You just rub it on your face and it brings in the people to your business. I also make perfumes for love, and others for flourishing. These plants are forces of nature; they contain spirit. I watch for what that spirit attracts: maybe bright birds or butterflies, maybe many different animals come to feed from it. A plant that draws bright birds will also draw beautiful women; a plant that is popular and has many ‘customers’ will also be good for business. So these are the plants that I use to help my patients. 

Javier tells a similar story of humble beginnings. Several generations of his family have been shamans and at the age of 17, Javier knew this would be his future too, but it was not until he was 20, when his father died from a virote [A poisoned dart from the spirit world] sent by a hechicero (sorcerer) who was jealous of his father’s powers that Javier felt compelled to become a shaman.

 His first instinct was to learn the shamanic arts so he could avenge his father but his grandfather convinced him that this was not the solution because the only way to defeat evil was to spread more goodness in the world. Javier took the message to heart and found solace in the plants instead. How did your involvement with healing begin?My grandfather saw that I was bitter and told me that it would not get me anywhere. My heart was still hard and I wanted to kill! Bit by bit, though, through taking the very plants that I had intended to use for revenge, I learned from the spirits that it was wrong to kill and my heart softened. A shaman learns everything about the rainforest and uses that knowledge to heal     his people since they do not have money for Western doctors. The sprits or plant doctors come to me and say that they will cure a person if he takes a particular plant. Then I go out to look for the plant. It is said that every environment has the plants to heal the people.       As part of his apprenticeship the shaman spends years taking plants and roots, each time remembering which ailment is cured by what. The maestro goes with the apprentice into the wilderness and gives him the different plants and it is like a test or trial to overcome. One plant may cure lots of ailments. You are respected as an ayahuascero, but you are also a perfumero. How do you use perfume magic? Through my work with the plants, I have learned how to make pusanga, the Amazonian love potion. Pusanga has the power to attract anyone you wish, for the purposes of love, sex, or marriage.  Take the case of a woman who refuses when you offer her a Coca Cola because she thinks you are lower class and that she is better than you. That makes you feel like rubbish so you go to a shaman and tell him the name of the girl. He prepares the pusanga. Three days go by without seeing her and she begins to think about you, dreaming about you and begins looking for you…  In the West, such magic is often looked down upon as manipulative – it may even be seen as evil because it takes away a person’s choice and freewill, so they have no option but to love you. In the Amazon, however, it is considered normal practice to use pusanga in this way. And, in fact, despite our Western morals around this issue, when it comes right down to it, in America and Europe, people are often willing to use love magic to find or return a lover as well. Once we get past the ‘ethical’ considerations, we can be just as ‘manipulative’ as the people of Peru. Perhaps the people of the Amazon are more honest and upfront about their needs? Or perhaps they carry less of a Christianised concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ so are less afraid to ask for what they want? I asked Javier to comment on the moral question. Yes, we shamans understand there is an ethical concern, but put it this way: what if it happened to me? Let’s say I found a woman ugly and she did pusanga magic to make me marry her. Of course, if I found out I’d be outraged and it would be awful if I only discovered it after having children and making a home with her!  But the truth is, I would never know! I would be hopelessly in love with her, and because I had seen beneath her physical appearance, into her soul or her personality, my love for her would be genuine and deep! She would be the mother of my children! My wife! So the pusanga has not taken away my freedom; it has given me more: it has freed me from my prejudice and let me find real happiness. That is also why pusanga is a secret. You should never tell someone you have used it on them. Otherwise its work is undone. But, I persisted, does anyone have real freedom if everyone is using pusanga? Does anyone have freedom anyway? We are all taught what to believe, what is right and wrong, from when we are little. Are our minds really free? Pusanga is just a different freedom. But we all like to think we are free. If people are using pusanga on us, though, surely we become slaves to their will and victims of magic? (Laughing): You think you are not subject to magic every time you are with a woman or, if you are a woman, with a man? You think the woman you met tonight at the dance wears the same pretty dress every day, the same make-up, the same scent, when she is scrubbing the kitchen or at her factory job? You think that man dresses in a smart suit or wears that expensive aftershave when he is working in the fields? No!  They are doing those things to present themselves in a certain way, a way which is more attractive, but obviously not always true! We all use magic every day in order to make people like us and get what we want. Pusanga is just another way. Underneath everything we are all looking for love. 

As if to prove his point, a few days later Javier asked the group of Westerners we had taken with us to the jungle what they wanted from their lives. Many of them at first gave ‘cosmic’ and ‘spiritual’ answers to do with putting the world to rights, resolving planetary issues, saving endangered species, speaking with the flowers and so on, and were quite mute when Javier spoke about pusanga and its ability to meet their personal (rather than planetary) needs.

 

After time for reflection, Javier asked again what our participants really wanted and this time they admitted that what they wanted, behind their desire to save the world, was love. A personal love in their own lives.

 So why had they not said so in the first place? Many replied that it had not felt ok for them to ask for love. This was the message they had heard from their mothers (“Who do you think you are to ask for such things?”; “You’ve had more than enough!”), from teachers, and from the Western church (“Do unto others [but not unto yourself] as you would have them do unto you”) and through this conditioning they now felt their needs to be secondary to those of others. The contradiction or paradox, though, was that they believed themselves able to save a planet without first saving themselves – to give cosmic love when they had never received the love they needed in their own lives, so how would they even know what this love looked or felt like? 

Javier’s thoughts on this were simple and enlightening:

 

If we all had more of the love we need we wouldn’t be worried so much about saving the planet. It’s because people don’t have love that they create the problems of the world and why it has to be saved at all! It would be better if people got what they wanted because then they wouldn’t be so destructive. Thoughts tangle up their lives but love solves problems instantly.

  Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email ross@thefourgates.com for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

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In the ceremony of limpia – cleansing – the patient may sit on a wooden chair below which is a bowl of smoking copal incense. This will purify the patient’s body and is relaxing to any spirit intrusions, which are made drowsy by the smoke. As the limpia takes place, the shaman circles the patient, chanting, blowing tobacco smoke over her and stoking her body with flowers. The tobacco smoke eases the passage of the intrusion, which is then caught by and ‘re-housed’ in the flowers. Sometimes an offerenda is also made in thanks for the healing – or to the intrusion for leaving – in which case a gift of some kind may be tied up with the flowers. The whole bundle is then taken into nature and buried so the spirit will not be disturbed and others won’t be infected by it. Coastal shamans may take the flowers to the sea instead and cast them to the waves so the tide takes them away from the shore.  In the Amazon rainforest, it is not flowers that are used, but the leaves of the chacapa bush. These are approximately nine inches long and, when dried, are tied together to make a medicine tool which is used as a rattle during ceremonies. In a healing, the chacapa is rubbed and rattled over or near the patient’s body to capture or brush out the spirit intrusion. Once he has it in his chacapa, the shaman then blows through the leaves to disperse the intrusion into the rainforest where the spirits of the plants absorb and discharge its energy. Another way of dealing with intrusions is the use of cleansing leaf baths, a method practiced in Haiti as much as in Peru. Haitian shaman, Loulou Prince, explains: “There are specific leaves, strong-smelling leaves, which help people who are under spiritual attack. I mix these leaves with rum and sea water to make a bath for the person, then I bathe her and I pray to the leaves to bless her. I sing songs for the spirits and the ancestors as well, and ask them to come help this person.   “The rest of the bath that is left over, I put in a green calabash bowl or a bottle, and before the person goes to sleep at night, I have her rub her arms and legs with it. When that is done, no curse can work on that person and the evil is removed”.  How this ‘evil’ comes to infect a patient in the first place has to do with jealousy.  As an example, Loulou was asked to perform a healing for a young child brought to him by a woman who had four children, two of whom had already died through the actions of spirits that came to her house at night to suck the life force from them. The woman was a market trader who had made a little money (a rare commodity in Haiti). Her neighbour was jealous and had sent spirits to kill her children. “I bathed the child to break the bad magic. Then I gave him leaves to make his blood bitter, so it would taste and smell bad to the spirits, and they would go away. After that, the child got better; he got fat and he grew. That boy is a young man now”.

Intrusive spirits like these are believed, in Haiti, to make their home in the blood, which is why Loulou uses herbs to make the blood taste bitter and the body smell “strong”. This makes the host less appealing to the intrusion which then finds its way from the body. ‘Fire baths’ are often used in these treatments as well, where kleren becomes the base for a herbal mix which is set on fire and rubbed over the skin. The alcohol burns quickly and doesn’t hurt the patient, but it destroys the intrusion as it makes its way out of the body. Dr Stanley Krippner, professor of psychology at Saybrook Institute, concludes from his study of traditional healing that the power of our thoughts alone – whether positive or negative – has a profound effect on our health. When we accept the psychic emanations of others, pick up on their negativity and – crucially – when we allow their negativity to be absorbed within us so we find ourselves in agreement with our enemies, we open ourselves to illness.  This, too, is the basic philosophy of sin eating. In this old Celtic tradition, a sin is viewed as a weight or ‘blemish’ on the soul which will keep it Earthbound when the sinner dies and suffering while alive. The perception of sin is a powerful force towards illness, but it is our perception that we have done wrong which creates the weakness in our souls. The shame and guilt we carry is the spirit intrusion. The Tuvan shaman, Christina Harle-Salvennenon gives another example of spirit intrusions related to guilt: two young boys, patients of hers, who got carried away one day while they were playing and castrated a dog. When they came to their senses and realised what they had done, the boys ran home in shock. Both of them immediately became ill, one symptom of which was inflammation of their testicles.  Recognising the illness as buk, Christina demanded that the children tell her what they had done to cause its onset. The children, however, were overcome with guilt at their actions and refused to confess. Had they done so, it would have relieved the traumatic pressure in their bodies and given the shaman a direction for healing, but they simply could not. Both children died. Spirit extraction (the removal of intrusions) was sometimes performed by the sin eater by stinging the patient’s body with nettles, paying particular attention to the ‘corners and angles’ – the backs of the knees, elbows, back of the neck and belly – where intrusions tend to congeal.  The nettle stings would heat the skin and draw the intrusion to the surface, in a similar way to the ‘fire baths’ of Haiti. It could then be washed off in a cold bath containing soothing and cooling herbs such as chamomile, lavender, rose water, and mint.  Once this was done, the patient would also be reminded of the need to make reparation to the person they had sinned against or else their guilt – and so the intrusion – might well return. One simple tradition that has survived as a way of making amends for minor sins, of course, is to send a bunch of flowers. Sin eating philosophy, again, is in many ways consistent with the Haitian experience. Maya Deren writes, for example, that therapeutic actions may be “executed by the priest but must be carried out, in major portion, by the patient himself under guidance of the priest. The patient must himself straighten out his difficulties with the loa [spirits]… In other words, the patient treats himself, and this is another boost to his morale. Almost inevitably, no matter how ill the person is, he must take part in the rituals relating to his treatment”.   Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email ross@thefourgates.com for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

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There is one concept that underlies all work in plant spirit shamanism, which is that nature itself will tell you what they are used for and its well-stocked medicine cabinet is right in front of us every day.  Shamans recognise the spiritual powers and qualities of plants in many ways: the colours of their flowers, their perfumes, the shape and form of their leaves, where they are growing and in what ways, the moods they evoke, and the wider geographical, cultural, or mythological landscapes they occupy.  

Although such considerations do not play a role in modern medicine (which does not believe in these spiritual powers at all), it was not long ago that we, too, had an understanding that nature is alive and is talking to us in these ways.

 

The 16th century alchemist and philosopher, Aureolus Phillippus Theophrastus Bombast – better known as Paracelsus – introduced this notion in his Doctrine of Signatures treatise, which proposed that the Creator has placed his seal on plants to indicate their medicinal uses. This was not just idle speculation on the part of Paracelsus; nature itself taught him the truth of it.

 

“Seeking for truth”, he wrote, “I considered within myself that if there were no teachers of medicine in this world, how would I set to learn the art? Not otherwise than in the great book of nature, written with the finger of God…. The light of nature, and no apothecary’s lamp directed me on my way”.

 

In his ‘book of nature’, Paracelsus noticed how the qualities of plants so often reflect their appearance – that the seeds of skullcap, for example, resemble small skulls and, it transpires, are effective at curing headache. Similarly, the hollow stalk of garlic resembles the windpipe and is used for throat and bronchial problems. By the same token, willow grows in damp places and will heal rheumatic conditions, caused by a build-up of fluid on the joints.

 In fact, as Thomas Bartram remarks in his Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, “Examples are numerous. It is a curiosity that many liver remedies have yellow flowers, those for the nerves (blue), for the spleen (orange), for the bones (white). Serpentaria (Rauwolfia) resembles a snake and is an old traditional remedy for snake-bite. Herbalism confirms the Doctrine of Signatures”. Underlying Paracelsus’ treatise was the premise that nature was itself a living organism which must be considered an expression of “the One Life”, and that man and the universe are the same in their essential nature; an idea that was echoed (some would say proved) by Dr James Lovelock, 500 years after Paracelsus, in his Gaia hypothesis on the unity of life. Gaia shows, for example, that the Earth maintains relatively constant conditions in temperature and atmosphere, etc, which defy rational observations and predictive measurements of what ‘ought’ to happen. It is, rather, as if the Earth is a living organism, which consciously takes care of itself.  

Because of this “One Life”, Paracelsus held that the inner nature of plants may be discovered by their outer forms or ‘signatures’. He applied this principle to food as well as medicine, remarking that “it is not in the quantity of food but in its quality that resides the Spirit of Life” – a belief familiar to those who choose to eat organic food and share a common concern over Genetically Modified (GM) substitutes that lack ‘life force’, or spirit.

 

According to Paracelsus, then, the appearance of a plant is the gateway to its spirit or consciousness.

 The doctrine of signatures, per se, is not something known to many indigenous shamans, but they understand the principles behind it well enough – that nature is alive, aware, and communicates with us. These principles are not regarded as fanciful at all, but practical and important enough that they can save lives.

I discovered how the doctrine of signatures operates in the Amazon, for example, during an experience with the jergon sacha plant reported by one jungle traveller, who came across this plant accidentally, when walking through the rainforest with the shaman Javier Arevalo, studying the properties of the plants.

 “Javier queried why I always walked around with a machete. I jokingly replied ‘it’s against anacondas!’ “He paused for a moment then beckoned me to follow him. A few minutes later we came across this tall-stemmed plant. This was jergon sacha, he said. Javier cut a stem from it and proceeded to whip me around the body, paying most attention to my legs and the soles of my feet. He then said ‘no more problems, you are protected against snakes’. I asked him why this plant was used in this way, and he indicated the pattern on the stem which looks identical to the snakes in the forest.“Later, on a hunch, we started to investigate this plant and discovered some amazing correspondences. Jergon sacha is widely used as an antidote to snake venom in the Amazon. Referring back to the concept of ‘signatures’, this plant is a clear demonstration of the outer form indicating the inner qualities. Its use is directly related to its physical appearance, the tall stem closely resembling the venomous pit viper known as the Jararaca or Bushmaster, which is indigenous to the Amazon. The Bushmaster, unlike most other snakes, is aggressive and will defend its territory. It can strike in the blink of an eye from 15 feet and is rightly feared and respected.  “Remarkably, jergon sacha does turn out to be a highly effective antidote for the bite when its large root tuber is chopped up and immersed in cold water and then drunk, or placed in a banana leaf and used as a poultice wrapped around the wound. “Of course, the pragmatic statement here is that it is not possible to store anti-venom vaccines in the rainforest, where there is no refrigeration, so this plant has exceptional life-saving importance. This importance is recognised because the plant itself tells the shaman of its use through the markings on its stems”.

Another illustration of the connection between the form and function of a plant is provided by Artiduro Aro Cardenas, a shaman who works with plant perfumes.

 

“If the smell of a flower has the power to attract insects or birds, it can also attract luck to people”, he says.

 Artiduro makes fragrances which attract customers into a shop, for example (“You just rub the perfume on your face and it brings in the people to your business”), as well as perfumes for love, and others for “flourishing” – growth and success. “I watch what the plant does and if it is attractive [i.e. has the power to attract], I use it to attract. Plants are the forces of nature”, he says. “All I do is give these forces direction”.  Today’s system of homeopathy is also based on the principle of a sentient universe known through its signatures. Hippocrates spoke of a universal law of similia similibus curentur (‘like cures like’), and the modern pioneer of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), showed, through his experiments, that plants contain a healing ‘essence’ or spiritual quality that has an affinity with human beings and acts on them according to the nature of the illness they are suffering from. 

No-one really knows how homeopathy works, but the fact that it does seems clear. In 1836, for example, when cholera destroyed many Austrian cities and orthodox medicine was unable to stop its spread, the government turned in desperation to homeopathy and built a quick and crude hospital in which patients could be treated.

 

The results spoke for themselves: while orthodox hospitals reported deaths in more than 70% of cases, the homeopathic hospital recorded a death rate of just 30%.

 

Shamans have a simple explanation for this: the homeopathic doctors appealed to and engaged the spirit of the plants to intervene on behalf of their patients and the spirits answered their call.

  Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email ross@thefourgates.com for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

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Our fascination with perfume began thousands of years ago, with the burning of scented plants mixed with gums and resins to create incense that was used for ritual as well as practical purposes – for merging with the natural world to increase the effectiveness of hunting, for example, as well as for calling “the owner of the animals” to ensure plentiful game, and protection on the hunt itself. Anthropological evidence shows that from around 7,000 – 4,000 BC olive and sesame oils were combined with plants and flowers to make the first ointments. Some anthropologists speculate that early hunters, having covered their bodies with the scent of fragrant plants to mask their smell and attract game, noticed the healing properties of the plants they used and their curative effects on wounds sustained in hunting, and this is what led to the formulation of ointments and balms. Others believe it was women who first began to explore the effects of different fragrances as they met them in the plants they worked with and gathered.  Whatever the true origin of our use of fragrance, by at least 2,697 BC, it was certainly well established and we read in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, for example, of many uses for scented herbs. By 430 BC in Wales, the laws of Dynwal Moelmud show that plant medicine had also come to be highly regarded in the West and was protected and encouraged by the state, with commerce, healing and navigation known as ‘the three civil arts’.  One of the interesting folk uses for fragrant herbs within these Welsh traditions was the practice of ‘burying illnesses’ beneath aromatic plants. The sin eater, for example, would lay out wooden stakes in his garden, beneath which he would bury an animal bone with the name of a patient scratched on it. He would then plant flowers or herbs on top of these ‘graves’, according to the nature of his patient’s illness: thyme for colds and fevers, for example, rosemary for lethargy, parsley to purify the blood, and marigolds, among their other more spiritual virtues, to ease skin complaints and inflammations.  All of these plants might today be used by a herbalist to cure the same ailments, either as a tea or a salve, but in this folk practice, it was the energetic or sympathetic connection between plant and patient (represented by the name on the bone) that mattered. Each morning the sin eater would walk his garden, whispering to the plants and crushing a few of their leaves between his fingers. As they then released their aroma, it carried away a little more of the illness until the patient was cured. As in all shamanic practice, these plants were regarded as spirit allies who brought healing to the body, rather than medicinal substances. Chinese Taoists also believed, for example, that a plant’s fragrance was its soul, a belief later endorsed by the Gnostic Christians of 100-400 AD, for whom fragrance was the spirit of the plant and a gateway to the greater soul of the world. In their ceremonies surrounding death, the corpse was washed in perfume and incense lit around it so the soul of the deceased would mingle with these fragrances and, through them, find its way to god.  It is, however, the Egyptians that are most associated with perfume and who left most evidence of their fascination with the mystical attributes of scents. Manuscripts such as the Papyrus Ebers (1,550 BC) describe the use of plants such as elder, aloe, cannabis, and wormwood. Others, from even earlier, record the use of herbs in temple incense, oils and salves. Cinnamon was used to anoint the bodies of the living, for example, and myrrh – considered more precious than gold – to embalm the dead. Wall paintings, such as those at the temple of Edfu, show the distillation of perfume from white lilies. Others depict the use of aromatic cones (called bitcones) as adornments for the heads of temple dancers. These cones would melt into the hair and release their fragrance as the maidens danced for the pharaohs and gods.  Another use for aromatics was in fragrant sweetmeats called kyphi (which means ‘welcome to the gods’). This mystical substance was eaten in the temples of Ra to induce states of trance. Through the audience with the gods this brought, healing dreams would result, which were said to be the most potent cure for grief and a comfort to the soul.  

Incense cubes made from scented plants, gums and honey were also used by the Egyptians to consecrate their temples. The earliest known use of perfume bottles is also Egyptian and dates from around 1,000 BC.

 But the use of fragrance to engage the gods was not restricted to China and Egypt. Quite independently of one another a number of cultures evolved through their experience the conviction that beautiful smells provided a doorway to another world. The Hebrews used fragrance in their religious ceremonies and to initiate priests, for example; their anointing oil consisting of cinnamon, myrrh, and calamus, mixed with olive oil. The ancient Greeks also believed that perfume was god-given and that sweet aromas were how the deities made their presence known. They used the word arómata to describe the use of fragrance, making no distinction between medicinal and mystical perfumes, incense and medicine, or between spiritual and pragmatic uses. Every plant contained magic. Bay, for example, is a staple of Greek cooking, but was also used by the oracle priestesses of Delphi, who would sit within its smoke, heads covered, to enter the otherworld and allow the spirits to speak through them during their divinations.In India, too, in ceremonies of prophecy, seers called dainyals would cover their heads with cloth and surround themselves with cedarwood smoke, the aroma of which would send them into trance and chanting.Fragrant plants were also used extensively throughout Europe. In the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) was an ambassador for the connection between religion and the healing spirit of the plants. As well as an Abbess, Hildegard was a herbalist and is credited with the invention of sweet-smelling lavender water, which she saw as truly divine.  ‘Carmelite water’ was also developed at this time and offered a ‘miracle cure’ for spiritual diseases such as melancholy (regarded as a form of soul loss) and for improving the powers of mind and vision. The monks who produced Carmelite water guarded its spiritual formula, but we now know it was based on melissa (a plant regarded as a ‘spiritual communicator’) and angelica (‘angel root’, which was equally effective against evil spirits and infectious diseases, both of them forms of ‘spirit intrusion’).Another plant with a spiritually protective purpose during the Middle Ages was rue, which was also bestowed ‘second sight’. Indeed, rue was believed to be so powerful against conditions such as soul loss and melancholia that it was named from the Greek word, reuo (‘to set free’) and was used in many spells and formulas devised by the Welsh sin eaters, who knew it as gwenwynllys and used it as an antidote in cases of spiritual as well as physical poisoning. It was France, however, which emerged as Europe’s leader in the therapeutic use of fragrance. The term ‘aromatherapy’, in fact, was invented in 1928 by Rene Maurice Gattefoss, a French chemist whose interest was stimulated in essential oils when he burned his hand in a laboratory accident and plunged it into a pot of lavender oil to cool the burn. It healed within days, faster than any other treatment available at the time. Gattefoss was inspired and began to experiment with essential oils and fragrances from that day.He also inspired others, including Jean Valnet, a French doctor who worked as an army surgeon in World War II, and found essential oils such as thyme, clove, and lemon to be just as effective in treating wounds and burns. He later extended his work with fragrances, using them with equal effectiveness to treat psychiatric problems.

Today there are over 20,000 commercial fragrances on the market and the number of new releases each year has increased by more than 400% since 1973. The age-old associations between pleasant smells, a healthy soul, and the visionary calling of perfumes to and from the gods has not been forgotten, however, even in these times.

 Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email ross@thefourgates.com for details or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

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This journey is a magical experience of authentic Andean shamanism, using the methods, plants, and approaches that have been practiced in this region of Peru for thousands of years, including San Pedro: the Cactus of Vision.  Our accommodation is close to the heart of Cusco – the “centre of the world” – so you can enjoy Peru and its culture as well as its magic and medicine.  The programme includes: San Pedro: authentic ceremonies with the visionary cactus, led by Andean shamans Limpia: an Andean healing method where the shaman divines areas of unbalanced energy within a patient’s body. These are then rebalanced and any unhelpful energies are removed. Pago: an offering to the spirits of the land and a blessing for those who take part.  Coca Divination: using the leaves of the sacred coca plant to produce a picture of a person’s life – and sometimes past lives. Each divination is unique and sometimes followed by a ‘correctional healing’ to change the future and produce an outcome more favourable to your needs or desires.  Seminars and circle meetings: with the shamans and Ross Heaven, author of Plant Spirit Shamanism, to discuss your San Pedro insights, and provide you with background to Andean shamanism to enhance your understanding of this healing tradition. Email ross@thefourgates.com for a free Information Pack, or visit the website www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section. 

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A dedicated programme enabling you to experience authentic Plant Spirit Shamanism and Ayahuasca Ceremonies in the hauntingly beautiful Peruvian Rainforest.

There are seven Ayahuasca ceremonies, as well as jungle walks to meet the spirits of the plants, the opportunity to diet particular plants and absorb their powers, workshops on shamanism and plant magic, and the chance to work with shamans of the plant spirit tradition. One-to-one consultations and healings can also be arranged for you. 

We provide transportation in Peru to our jungle Retreat Centre, accommodation, food, translation services, ceremonies, shamans, workshops, and ‘medicines’.

Your stay at our Centre begins with a ceremony of beinvenida (“Welcome”), followed by a sauna to relax and purify you as you leave ‘the outside world’ behind. It ends with a ceremony of despedida, where you will be given a special ‘gift of power’ to take with you as you begin your journey home.  Between these two events, you are offered: ·          An opportunity to take part in traditional Ayahuasca ceremonies for cleansing, release, healing, and spiritual realisation ·          Flower, clay, and herbal baths to restore balance to the soul, and for “flourishing”: good luck and success·          Explorations of the rainforest with our shamans and guides, to gain insight into the healing powers of Nature·          Workshops on plants and shamanism led by Ross Heaven, author of Plant Spirit Shamanism·          The chance to diet plants which can help your unique quest to understand life and your spiritual mission·          A deepening of your knowledge of the plants though a visit to Pasaje Paquito, a treasure trove of medicinal remedies from all over the Amazon Rainforest·          The opportunity to get to know the rainforest people and their spiritual universe through exhibitions of Shipibo arts and textiles·          And the chance to work with some of the greatest Amazonian shamans, who are experts on healing and masters of the plants, in authentic rituals to help you on your journey We work with a team of expert shamans who will be chosen according to the specific needs of our group. Unlike ‘ayahuasca tours’, we have the services of four shamans who work together during ceremonies, singing icaros and conducting healings – an experience of total power. Write to Ross@thefourgates.com for a free information pack or visit the website www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

The Magical Earth Amazon Adventure

This site is a resource for articles and information on plant spirit shamanism, teacher plants including ayahuasca and San Pedro, and our journeys to the Amazon rainforest and Andean mountains of Peru so you can experience visionary healing and authentic shamanism using these ancient, mysterious – and effective – methods yourself.

It is managed by Ross Heaven, the author of Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul, who is available on email ross@thefourgates.com if you would like more information, including a FREE Information Pack on ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism.

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