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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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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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In Peru, floral baths known as banos florales (‘flower baths’) are a staple of shamanic healing from the high Andes to the Amazon basin, where they are used to wash away unhelpful spirits so that blockages are removed and the energy of the universe can flood in to correct the imbalance.  Shipibo shaman, Artidoro, describes the process in Peru.  How are these baths taken?The bath is most often taken on the morning after ayahuasca ceremonies so that the body is modified to accept the new information of the visions. But this is not always true. Sometimes baths are taken before the ceremony to open the person up, and sometimes they are taken by themselves, as a healing. A tub is filled with water and to this is added the plants that the patient most needs, like mocura and ajo sacha, some of the most powerful doctors. Agua florida or agua de colpas [i.e. water from jungle clay licks, which is rich in nutrients] may also be added.  The patient must approach in a sacred manner, in prayer that his needs will be met, and with the intention that they will. The shaman then pours the water over his head and lets it run down his body, also blowing him with smoke to purify him, or with perfume so he will flourish. Sometimes the patient turns as this is happening – first to the left [in a circle, anti-clockwise], then to the right [clockwise]. The first turn is to get rid of negativity; the second to draw in positivity. The bath takes place on the bank of a river so the energy that is removed will find its way to the sea [i.e. be taken away completely]. What plants are used in baths?Floral baths do not contain large numbers of plants. Specific plants or flowers are chosen instead according to the patient’s ailment. I begin by cooking up good smelling plants from the forest, and to that essence I add a little alcohol and a little agua florida. Then I get flowers and mash them and add that juice to the mixture and put it into bottles. When I do this, I diet and refrain from eating salt, etc. You can either have a one-off floral bath or you can have a series of them for a deeper and more thorough effect. A common reason for people to want to take floral baths is that something is not going well for them – like, for example, they can’t get work or they are having bad luck. First I give them a cleansing bath to take away the saladera [bad luck] which is shows up as salt on their skins. In that bath I put ajo sacha, mishquipanga, ruda and romero [rosemary]. Then the floral bath follows to give the things the client wants: luck, work, etc.  Can you give examples of other baths and what they are used for?For changing luck, mocura is used and the patient will find that after a couple of weeks, things have changed. For example you may find the job you were looking for, or where your life felt stuck or turbulent there is some momentum; things start to shift. Mocura is also used for clearing negative thoughts and feelings sent to you by others. For cleansing the spirit, the dark red leaves of pinon colorado are used to undo sorcery and harm. This plant is also used in steam baths and when this is done you can actually see the phlegm, which is the bad magic, appear on the patient’s skin as it comes out of the body.  

For flourishing or blossoming, bano de florecimiento plants are used. These help us to connect with and draw upon the strength and courage within ourselves, to overcome obstacles, and to lead a purposeful and productive life in accordance with our soul’s intention. The mixture for this bath is agua de colpa water from a place in the forest where pure rainwater collects. Often hunters drink this water as well to attract the animals.

 

To this is added albacca, which is a plant used widely in Peru for its strong, sweet perfume. It is used instead of an aerosol spray to freshen a house and is also placed on corpses during funerals. From a floral bath perspective, it attracts lots of friends and positive outcomes. It is also used medicinally for gastritis, appendix, or gall bladder problems, in which case you can take it as a tea. Menta [mint] is also added to freshen and re-vitalise the bather. Menta is also good for calming the nerves and releasing worries and preoccupations.

 When the person bathes, all of these plant qualities are absorbed by the skin and the spirit. 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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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.