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Andean shaman, Juan Navarro, was born in the highland village of Somate, department of Piura. He is the descendant of a long line of healers working with san pedro and 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. Always on these altars are seguros – magical  amulet bottles filled with perfume, plants, and seeds gathered from Las Huaringas. According to Juan Navarro, a seguro is a “friend” or “ally”, someone you can turn to for advice and information, who will listen and share your problems. Less poetically, a seguro is a clear glass bottle which contains perfumes, sacred water and, of course, a selection of plants chosen for their specific healing and spiritual qualities.  These bottles are kept on an altar, in sacred space, and regarded as objects of great power. Whenever the person who has a seguro requires help with any practical or spiritual problem, he will take it from the altar and sit with it against his heart, speaking with it as if to a friend. The seguro will absorb and transform the energy of his problems but, more importantly, if he listens carefully, the person who seeks its advice will hear the answers he needs from the spirit of the plants themselves. A seguro can help you maintain and deepen your link to the sacred because, of course, it contains your plant ally. If there are other plants you have journeyed to or would like to learn from, these can be added to the seguro as well and, when you know the language of your ally, this plant spirit will communicate your desire to the other plants, which will also offer their healing and support. You therefore gain access to the natural world and its powers more widely. To create a seguro, you will need a glass bottle, approximately 5” high, which can be sealed. Fill this 1/3rd full with perfume of your choice and top up with water. In Juan Navarro’s seguros, this is water from the sacred lakes of Las Huaringas, but mineral water (as pure as possible) can also be used. Once this base is prepared, meditate for a while on the qualities you would like in your life and which plants might bring you these things. Be informed in this by your work with the doctrine of signatures – heather for luck, honesty for truth, goldenrod for wealth, and so on.  Add these plants to your bottle, arranging them as attractively as possible (some seguros are so beautiful they are works of art in themselves), then place your plant allies in the bottle so they can act as mediators for all others. Before you seal the bottle, blow your dominio (intention) into it three times, and then put on the lid. Place the bottle on your altar and reflect on its qualities often. Whenever you are in need of advice, sit with your seguro and speak with it. Then notice how things change for you.  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 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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Planta maestras (plant masters or plant teachers) are key among the shaman’s tutelary spirits, his chief allies and guides to the worlds of health and healing. In ordinary reality, they are also considered the jungle’s most skilled and important ‘doctors’ because of their usefulness and relevance to the healing concerns of most patients. Through knowing these plants, the shaman can deal effectively with the diseases of his people.

 

It can be difficult to find discrete Western analogues for some of these jungle plants because plants grow where they are needed and the healing required by a New York banker will be quite different from that of a Peruvian farmer. The psychological and spiritual benefits bestowed by such plants, and their ability to restore emotional balance, banish negative energies, or open the heart to love, are desirable in any culture, however, so it is possible to find plants with equivalent or similar effects if we wish to diet them and understand their qualities for ourselves.

 

With this in mind, here is a description of some of the more commonly dieted planta maestras and (either singularly or in combination) plants of our own that will produce like effects.

 

CHIRIC SANANGO: FOR LOVE

Chiric sanango grows mainly in the upper Amazon and in a few restingas (high ground which never floods). It is good for colds and arthritis and has the effect of heating up the body. (Chiric, in Quechua, means ‘tickling’ or ‘itchy’, which refers to the prickly heat that it generates). Plant shamans often prescribe it for fishermen and loggers, for example, because they spend so much time in the water and are prone to colds and arthritis. The patient should not drink too much at a time though because it can lead to a numbness of the mouth as well as a feeling of slight disorientation. It is also used in magical baths to change the bather’s energy and bring good luck to his ventures.

 Used in the West, the plant has a more psychological effect, but still to do with ‘heat’. Here, it enables people to open their hearts to love (it ‘warms up’ a cold heart, but will also ‘cool’ a heart that is too inflamed with jealousy and rage) and identify with others as if they were brothers and sisters. In essence, it helps people get in touch with the sensitive and loving part of themselves. Another of its gifts is enhanced self-esteem, which develops from this more healthy connection to the self.   Chiric sanango can be prepared in water, in aguardiente (weak sugar cane alcohol) or made into syrup by adding its juice to honey or molasses. It can also be boiled in water and drunk, or eaten raw and is said to better penetrate the bones if taken this way.  For a Western diet, mint has some of the properties of chiric sanango and is a balancer of the body’s physical and emotional heat. It can cool you down on a summer’s day but will also provide warmth when drunk by an open fire in winter, and it has the same effect on the emotions, promoting the flow of love as well as alertness and clarity. For these reasons it has been associated with the planet Venus, which was named after the Roman goddess of love.  Good plants to combine with mint include lemon balm and chamomile. Lemon balm was known in Arabian herb magic to bring feelings of love and healing (Pliny remarked that its powers of healing were so great that, rubbed on a sword that had inflicted a wound, it would staunch the flow of blood in the injured person without need for any physical contact with them), while chamomile is a great relaxant and a perfect aid to exercises in meditation and forgiveness. Recent research at Northumbria University in the UK has also proven the beneficial effects of lemon balm in increasing feelings of calm and well-being, as well as improving memory.   Chiric sanango also brings relief from arthritic pain and if this is your concern, Western plants that could be added to mint include marigold and ginseng. 

To make a tea of any of these herbs, simply boil the fresh ingredients (the amounts you use can be much to your own taste, but three heaped teaspoons of each is about right) in a pint or so of water for a few minutes and then simmer for about 20 minutes, allowing it to reduce, and blowing smoke – which carries your intention – into the mixture as it boils. This will wake up the spirit of the plants and attune them to your needs. Add honey if you wish, then strain and drink when cool.

 For a mixture that will last a little longer, add the fresh ingredients to alcohol (rum or vodka is recommended), with honey if you wish, and drink three-to-five teaspoonfuls a day, morning and night. These methods of preparation can be used for all plants. GUAYUSA: FOR LUCID DREAMS

This is a good plant for people who suffer from excessive acidity, digestive, or other problems of the stomach and bile. It also develops mental strength and is paradoxical in the sense that, just as chiric sanango is cooling and warming at the same time, guayusa is both energizing and relaxing.

 Guayusa also has the effect of giving lucid dreams (i.e. when you are aware that you are dreaming and can direct your dreams). For this reason it is also known as the ‘night watchman’s plant’, as even when you are sleeping you have an awareness of your outer physical surroundings. The boundary between sleeping and wakefulness becomes more fluid and dreams become more colourful, richer, and more potent than before. For those interested in dreams or ‘shamanic dreaming’, this is the plant to explore.

In the Western world, bracken, jasmine, marigold, rose, mugwort, and poplar, will produce the same affect of lucid or prophetic dreams. The leaves and buds of the latter were often a key ingredient in the ‘flying ointments’ of European witches, who used it for what we would call astral projection. A mixture of these plants can be used to produce a liquid (either fresh or in alcohol) that can be taken in the same way as the examples above. It is also possible to prepare them in a way that practitioners of Haitian Vodou use for working with their native ‘dreaming plants’, by making a bila, or dreaming pillow, by taking small handfuls of mugwort and poplar and blend them together. Sprinkle the mix with neroli, orange or patchouli oils (aromatherapy oils are fine) as well if you wish and, as they do in Haiti, a little rum and water to bind the mix together. Put your intention into this as well – that these herbs will help you to dream more lucidly and gather information from the spirit world – then allow the mixture to dry for a few days. When it is ready, crumble it into a cloth pouch and place it beneath your pillow. Keep a dream journal next to your bed and, as soon as you wake up next morning, immediately note down your dreams and your first waking sensations.

 AJO SACHA: STALKING THE SELF This plant is a blood purifier and helps the body to rid itself of toxins (spiritual or physical) as well as restoring strength and equilibrium lost through illnesses that have an affect on the blood. More psycho-spiritually, it helps to develop acuity of mind and can also take the user out of saladera (a run of bad luck, inertia, or a sense of not living life to the full). It is also used for ridding spells – i.e. undoing the work of curses or removing bad energy that has been sent deliberately or by accident (in an explosion of rage, etc).  In floral baths, it will relieve states of shock and fear (known as manchiari), which can be particularly debilitating to children, whose souls are not as strong or fixed as an adult’s; a powerful shock can therefore lead to soul loss. The same phenomenon, especially regarding children, is known to the shamans of Haiti, where it is called seziman, and those of India, who take great care to protect children from frights of this kind and are often employed by the anxious parents of newborn children to make protective amulets for their babies.  Another key to ajo sacha is that in the Amazon it is used to enhance hunting skills, not only by covering the human scent with its own garlic-like smell (the plant also has a strong garlic taste although it is in no way related to garlic), but by amplifying the hunter’s senses of taste, smell, sound, and vision, all of which are, of course, essential for success and for survival. It is therefore a plant of stalking. 

In the Western world this stalking ability tends to translate psychologically, and the plant becomes a means of helping an individual hunt or ‘stalk’ her inner issues. To underline this, the Shipibo maestro Guillermo Arevalo adds that this plant also opens up the shamanic path and helps us to see beyond conventional reality – if we have the heart of a warrior and are prepared to live under the obligations of shamanism. For this, we will need courage, the ability to face the truth, and to know our true calling, and no fear of extremes or ‘ugly’ things.

 

It is fascinating that this plant which is used to aid hunting in the rainforest still posses this same essential quality in an environment such as ours where food is purchased from supermarkets and we do not need to track down game at all, but we often have work to do in stalking ourselves. It is clear that this plant has extraordinary qualities.

 

Western plants with equivalent therapeutic uses include valerian and vervain. The former has been recorded from the 16th century as an aid to a restful mind and, in the two world wars, was used to combat anxiety and depression. Today, it is still used for these purposes. It also brings relief from panic attacks and tension headaches, which are regarded as symptoms of an underlying cause arising from an unresolved issue or stress of some kind. By relaxing the mind, the psyche is able to go to work on the real problem, aided by the plant itself.

 

One way of dieting valerian (which will also aid a deep and restful sleep) is by adding equal parts to passionflower leaves and hop flowers and covering with vodka and honey for a few weeks, after which a few teaspoons are taken at bedtime.

 

Vervain, meanwhile, was well-known to the Druids, who used it to protect against “evil spirits” (nowadays, we might say ‘inner issues’ or ‘the shadow-self’). It is also used to help with nervous exhaustion, paranoia, insomnia, and depression. Once again, by relaxing the conscious mind it empowers the unconscious to go to work on (stalk) the more deep-rooted problem.

 Another protective plant that also has the effect of purifying and strengthening the blood is garlic. Nicholas Culpepper noted its balancing qualities and wrote of it as a “cure-all”. It has long been associated with magical uses, protection from witches, vampires, and evil spells, and as effective in exorcisms (i.e. psychologically speaking, in ridding us of our inner demons). Roman soldiers ate it to give themselves courage and overcome their fears before battle. There is also a tradition of placing garlic beneath the pillows of children to protect them while they sleep and defend them from nightmares.

One way of dieting garlic is in the form of garlic honey – which is not as disagreeable as it sounds. To make it, add two cloves of peeled garlic to a little honey and crush them in a mortar, then add another 400g or so of honey to the mix. This can be drunk in hot water or simply eaten, two teaspoons a day, morning and night.

 

Other plants that are good for increasing ‘wisdom’ (inner knowledge) include peach, sage, and sunflower, all of which can also be dieted fresh or in a little rum or vodka.

 

Continued in Part 2/…

 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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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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The Incas regarded coca as the divine plant, mainly because of its ability to impart endurance, and its use was entwined with every aspect of life, art, mythology, and the economy of the Incan Empire.

 

Millions have chewed coca on a daily basis and the practice has continued for hundreds of years. It continues as a custom, not because coca (the basis for cocaine) is a ‘habit drug’, but because it is a part of Andean culture. Even today, distances are measured in cocadas – how far a load can be carried under the stimulus of one chew of coca.

 

Andeans chew coca just as they do everything else: ritually, deliberately, and systematically. A mouthful of leaves is carefully chosen from an exquisitely woven coca bag or chuspa and lliptia is chewed with the leaves to liberate their active ingredients.

But the ceremony which really brings out the spirit in the leaves is coca divination. Doris Rivera Lenz is an Andean curandera (shaman) who is expert in its practice. In the following interview, she offers insights into the nature of healing and illness, and the role of plant spirit medicine in this.

 

What is coca divination?

It is meeting with the spirit of the element that you are working with, whether it is coca, maize or a mountain. In the case of coca, you meet the mother spirit, soul or power of the plant, which is the sacred part which never dies.

 The practitioner must be in total communication: spirit-to-spirit. It is more like listening to the coca leaves than reading them. It is a higher state of consciousness. You have to be prepared to integrate yourself spiritually to help another spirit. Human beings are sacred cosmic seeds in evolution. The coca is a sacred seed like us, only of the vegetable kingdom. It has been created by the Earth to guide and heal its younger brothers: ourselves. Similarly we have been created to help other people. As we become more open, we discover plants like coca. Not everybody sees the spirit of coca, but it is here to help us. What is the cause of disease, and how is it cured by the spirit of the plants? Illnesses do not exist. We create them with our minds according to our attitudes and the things we do. Resentment, for example, causes cancer. A woman whose ovaries are unwell [with cancer] may be resentful and [so] suffers trauma. People who do not have the freedom to express their feelings suffer from throat problems, and so on. So how do we heal them? First we need to look at them through the coca leaves, to know what has happened. Why are they resentful, fearful, or anxious? What is causing their problems? Difficulties existing outside our bodies, such as a theft, disillusionment, or being lied to, affect us because we are predisposed to have this pain. Such people get ill because they are not in equilibrium with themselves. The coca shows when and how this began; it tells the story of how they got ill. Human beings are always predisposed by their attitudes. This is why you need to know their story. Someone who has a superiority complex or is aggressive and violent is on a downward spiral. They are weakened in their heart, stomach, and solar plexus: the ñawi or naira [the Andean equivalent of chacras] where emotional attitudes are held. In the Andes, people will frequently consider an aching stomach to have been caused by sorrow. A person who harbours feeling of hate may feel perfectly well for a time but problems with their children, their husband, or lack of money, intensify their emotions which degenerates their body on a cellular level. So they create their illness because they are already out of equilibrium.  Can you explain the concept of the ñawi and how it relates to illness?In Quechua it is ñawi, or in Aymara, naira. It means ‘eye’, or energy centre of the body, but chacra is also a very common word in Peru, and is Quechua for a piece of cultivated land or field. I believe it has the same linguistic root as the Hindu ‘chacra’. Just as some fields have lots of stones, and others are very fertile, so our bodies, also part of nature, are similar. Less than a generation ago, people would make offerings before preparing their fields for sowing. They would chew coca leaves, drink chicha or maize beer, and even play music – a whole ceremony. The ancient healers or shamans would give floral or smoke baths to people, curing them of illnesses, fright and so on – the ‘health’ of the land and the people were treated as interrelated. People identified themselves with their fields and with nature. So when I remove negative emotions from a person, it is like I am removing weeds from their chacra/field.  When they are feeling desperate, the people of the Andes benefit from going to a wild place or some ruins, to scream and shout so that even the mountains will hear. They align with natural forces; this puts them back into equilibrium. So, do people come to you for coca divination because they are unwell? Is it more than ‘divination’ as we would understand it in the West?The majority are unwell in their spirit or mind; there are lots of problems today. They are particularly afflicted in the stomach, the place of emotional pain, and also where we are joined to life.  The first thing is to discover what is going on: the wife had an accident, the husband was unfaithful, they haven’t got a job, the house is falling down… Then I look to see their capacity to accept criticism, to listen to the mother leaf ticking them off saying: ‘You have done this, you are insecure, weak, a drunk, or a prostitute’. What is the story? Is it karmic – or something they are doing? That sounds like a psychological approach – what people are doing to themselves. How do you make sense of the belief that some problems are caused by sorcery?I show the person that he is not the victim of sorcery and is creating the problem in his mind. Talking about it brings it out and is the first part of becoming well again. It is true that some people will take vengeance through black magic when they feel prejudiced or offended in some way, because they are sick. When people think they have power and feel superior, the ego can become very negative. The first thing I do is to wake up the consciousness of the person who has been harmed and tell them that evil does not exist! ‘You are inventing it’, I tell them. I need to use a bit of psychology. Black magic does not exist then?Neither good nor bad exists; it is a universe, and we create the good and the bad. But I recognise that the person may feel attacked. When someone falls ill it means they are weak and the curandero [an Andean plant healer] must speak positively and encourage them to shine light on it. Then they can create positive thoughts for themselves. If I agree with them and say they are bewitched it makes them worse. But do you believe that black magic can exist?Of course, but the act itself is not so powerful as white magic. It is the negative spirit of the black brujo [sorcerer] which creates the power of the spell. If you get hold of a chicken and take off its feathers, put a toad inside, and hang it in the doorway of a hated neighbour [An Andean form of cursing], you can give them a nasty fright, but without a powerful negative spirit nothing will happen. But if the intentions are very negative and the person is weak, they will pick it up quickly.  The most powerful brujos are found in the jungle where there are powerful plants for healing, just as there are dangerous plants that can paralyse your body and so on. But plants have much more wisdom than people. Do you think that if I go to a floripondio [a shaman who works with flowers] and say ‘I want help to do harm to so and so’, that their plants will automatically be at my disposal? No! You have to make a pact with the spirit. Do people need to believe that your ceremony has done something in order for it to work?

When people trust that you are a white curandero they open up. You have special permission to go into their soul and work with suggestion. Let’s say you give them a bath in a herb with spines, and you ask permission from the spirit of that plant to heal the person with fright or a bad spell – you bathe them, you put them on a diet, you cleanse them and purify them. You call their soul and give them strength and they get well.

 What is different about people from the West? What do they need?Their heads cutting off! No, its only a joke! Their religion has failed them, the church authorities have kept vested interests and institutions going. Eventually people have thrown the baby out with the bath water. We are Gods and we should believe in ourselves first.  All Gods come through nature. But what has become of Western religion? Materialism, loss of identity, loss of customs. There is so much struggle today. People are no longer thinking about nature, but about money and the help they need. They have become completely insecure. Imagine if we went to live in nature again, surrounded by mountains, or in the rainforest, how much more healing it would be. Yet the tendency today is for everybody to want to move into the cities, to live like Americans, build motorways. It’s sad. I’ve spent time with people in the Andes. I have seen people leaving their traditional clothes and customs. They say ‘Why do you believe in the Earth, the Sun, the puma and the condor’? They go to the city and see a TV and think, ‘What a beautiful TV!’ They sell their llamas and buy one. I am sad to see their children, who are so pure, being contaminated in this way. They learn negative habits and are hypnotized, and no longer want to work their land. It really hurts in my soul to see them obsessing about dollars and forgetting their power. This loss of values for material things is happening so fast, its incredible! But it’s the Western influence which has been working over 500 years. People will get a nasty shock from seeing the increasing changes and natural disasters on the Earth and we will be shocked into changing. Desperation will show the necessity of love. Who will want to do harm when money and material things have become useless? We will come back to a new kind of community consciousness. We are beginning to anticipate this and becoming more conscious, but we are swerving about. There is so much wisdom in nature, she rears us like her children, teaches us to ask permission, to care for her like ourselves. 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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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. 

Shamanic healing often employs plants to good effect, though it is rarely about herbalism, per se. Indeed, most shamans are explicit that the pharmacological properties of the plants they employ are of far less importance than the spirit which is held by the plant. It is the spirit which heals, while the plant itself is secondary, acting only as the home of the plant-spirit.

 

The point is illustrated by Amazonian shaman, Javier Arevalo, who works with the visionary jungle vine, ayahuasca.

 

Ayahuasca is a powerful plant mixture which is used by shamans to commune with the spirits who heal those who drink the brew, while the shaman guides the healing session and appeals to the spirits for his client.

 

The mixture contains ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). The final mixture is also called ayahuasca, from the Quechua words, aya (‘spirit’) huasca (‘rope’ or ‘vine’). Hence, it is referred to as the ‘vine of souls’ or ‘rope of the dead’.

 

It is prepared by cutting the vines into short lengths which are then scraped, cleaned and pounded to a pulp. The vines, along with chacruna leaves, are then placed in a cauldron, water is added, and the mixture is boiled for 10-12 hours, overseen by the shaman who blows sacred smoke into and over the brew. When ready, the mix becomes a muddy, pungent liquid.

 

Once ingested it produces feelings of warmth which spread from the stomach, creating a sense of well-being and skin elasticity, as if the skin has become rubber-like and no longer separate from the air. After this, the visionary effects begin. Images of snakes and vines in bright colours are common but, to the shamanic eye, images of the diseases which inhabit his client are also seen. It is these which enable him, and the spirit of ayahuasca, to heal.

 

During the visionary phase, purging may also take place through vomiting. This can be emotionally uncomfortable for Westerners who are brought up to control their bodily functions and not ‘let go’, but is welcomed by the people of the Amazon since it is this which removes the ‘poison’ that can lead to illness, and clears the system physically and spiritually.

 

Javier is a Maestro (master) of ayahuasca (also known as an ayahuascero) and has spent years understanding the ways and the spirit of this and other plants, which he refers to as “the jungle doctors”. His training was arduous, involving abstention from certain foods, from alcohol, and from sex, since the spirit of ayahuasca, while angelic and protective, can also be jealous.

 “Every plant has a spirit”, says Javier. “The shaman goes into the forest as part of his apprenticeship and spends years taking plants and roots. He takes ayahuasca too and the spirit tells him what it cures. Then the shaman tries another plant, each time remembering which ailment is cured by that. As the spirits who teach us are pure, they are made happy when we are pure too. So a shaman must diet in order to attract them. That means they should not eat salt, sugar or alcohol, and they should abstain from sex. You learn all this in the wilderness. The spirits there are the angels of each plant, to which you add your own will to heal the client”. 

Ayahuasca is egalitarian, according to Javier; its healing spirit being available to anyone who partakes of the drink, though it is often the shaman who carries out the healing, per se, once the spirit of ayahuasca has revealed the nature of the illness to him.

 

Laboratory tests reveal no significant healing properties for ayahuasca, only hallucinogenic qualities, so it is surprising to Western scientists that such results are possible. For Javier, the explanation is simple: the spirit of the plant is a remarkable healer.

 “I had a patient who was HIV positive and had been in hospital a fortnight”, said Javier. “That night we drank [ayahuasca, and] I saw in my vision that HIV was like the devil destroying him and that he was getting worse. “He stuck to the [ayahuasca] diet for two months [and] he also took bitter tasting herbs which cure internal wounds. After three times [three ayahuasca sessions] he was better and, when tested, proved HIV negative”. 

The author, John Perkins, has confirmed other ‘miraculous’ healings – among them, cures for deafness, depression, and endless accounts of life changes and new visions for a different personal future.

 

Against this backdrop of positive change, it is depressing for Javier that the rainforest, home to many healing plants still unknown to Western medicine is being destroyed so quickly by the ‘developed’ nations, with little consideration of the consequences. Every three seconds, one entire species is wiped out as a result of ‘progress’ so that Westerners might eat more burgers and drive more cars – the very things (pollution and fast food) which are, in many cases, causing illness in the first place.

 

People create such ‘madness’ as a result of confusion, says Javier. They are searching for love and belonging but, in the West, this comes through status, rather than loving intent.

 

Javier’s point was underlined a few years ago, when he worked with a group of Westerners and, prior to the ayahuasca ceremonies, asked the group what they wanted from their lives.

 

Most gave spiritual or ‘cosmic’ answers and spoke of world peace and saving the planet. Javier looked bemused. He asked again and this time, after a little more thought, people said what they really wanted was love. This Javier could understand because their requests were real – but it was as if people had not felt entitled to ask for them.

 

Yet, paradoxically, these honest desires are where true healing begins, since, if more people were able to experience love, there would be no need for the madness of developed society, and, consequently, no need to save the planet, which would never be in danger. “Love solves problems”, say Javier, simply. “Ayahuasca cures through love”.

 

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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.