THE HUMMINGBIRD AYAHUASCA RETREAT CENTRE, PERU

The Hummingbird ayahuasca retreat Centre is a rainforest shamanic healing Centre specialising in plant spirit medicines and traditional cures.

It provides a safe haven for contemporary seekers to find the healing and vision they need through the effective use of proven shamanic techniques and jungle medicines, leading to resolution, well-being, positive transformation and happiness.

The Centre takes its name from the hummingbird (el colibri) which in Peru is the guardian of healers and those who seek healing or wish to learn the shamanic arts and wisdom of the plants.

Located 14 kilometres from the jungle town of Iquitos within the Amazon rainforest, it offers healing retreats with some of the most respected and powerful ayahuasceros (ayahuasca shamans).

 

ABOUT THE CENTRE

The Hummingbird is a private retreat Centre owned and run by Tracie Thornberry and Ross Heaven.

Tracie is a counsellor specialising in drug and addictions release therapy who previously ran the Tranquilo Healing Centre in Iquitos. Professionally trained and qualified she integrates shamanism, plant spirit medicine and work with ayahuasca and San Pedro into her therapeutic programmes to provide a most effective way of leading people to wellness. She is very experienced with jungle medicine and has attended hundreds of ayahuasca ceremonies with many shamans, assisting in their work.

Ross is a psychologist, healer and the author of more than 10 books on shamanism, spirituality and healing, including the well-known works on ayahuasca and San Pedro, Plant Spirit Shamanism and The Hummingbird’s Journey to God. He first visited Peru to drink these medicines in 1998 and has worked with many of the country’s best-known and respected shamans both in the Amazon and co-facilitating workshops in Europe and the UK. He has drunk ayahuasca well over 200 times and led plant medicine workshops and ceremonies throughout Europe for several years. Since 2007 he has also brought groups to the Amazon and Andes to work with ayahuasca and San Pedro on his Magical Earth and Cactus of Vision journeys.

THE ETHOS OF THE CENTRE

The focus of The Hummingbird’s work is on vision and healing, a term which, in the Amazon, has a wider meaning than its Western usage and refers to an ultimately beneficial outcome brought about by the restoration of balance and positivity to the mind, emotions and spirit as well as the physical self.

It offers a pioneering yet ancient path towards these outcomes by blending its knowledge of shamanism, medicine ceremonies and the therapeutic arts with the expertise of indigenous healers who embody a compassionate, sincere and heartfelt desire to assist in healing and personal transformation.

Its aim is to make the profound benefits of ayahuasca accessible to all while at the same time preserving the wisdom of tribal people, their culture, medicines and methods of healing.

LOCATION AND ACCOMMODATION

The Hummingbird is set in 11 acres of beautiful rainforest well away from the noise and rush of city living. Some of its land is virgin forest which has remained pure for generations; some is open garden planted with trees and flowers where you can also see the blue of the sky (something of a rarity in the rainforest!) There are some lovely walks at the Centre, a lagoon and trees and flowers with brilliant blossoms.

Accommodation is in traditional palm leaf thatched huts called tambos or in the casa grande – the “big house” – a wooden longhouse which has been reformed to make individual rooms so that guests have the privacy and space they need for personal work and reconnection to nature but never feel isolated or alone; for some the best of both worlds.

All rooms are clean and comfortable and have a bed with a mosquito net (although mosquitoes are rarely a problem here), a lamp, a table and chair – and nothing else. This is authentic rainforest accommodation, used for centuries by indigenous people, and there are no gadgets, TVs, internet or other “mod cons” to get in the way of your experience so you can let go of the outside world and focus on your healing work with ayahuasca, the vine of souls

AYAHUASCA

The brew is made from ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). It is said that a shaman can find many sources of both by listening for the “heartbeat” that emanates from them.

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

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

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

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

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

 

SACRED SONGS

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

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

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

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

For more information on The Hummingbird Healing Centre visit http://www.ayahuascaretreats.org or email ross@thefourgates.com for a copy of its brochure.

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

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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.

Pablo Amaringo’s ayahuasca visions

The great visionary artist, Pablo Amaringo, was born in 1943 in Puerto Libertad, in the Peruvian Amazon. He was 10 years old when he first took ayahuasca – a visionary brew used in shamanism – to help him overcome a severe heart disease. The magical cure of this ailment via the plants themselves led Pablo toward the life of a shaman, which he pursued successfully for many years, healing himself and others from the age of ten.

 

In 1977, he gave up his healing work to become a full-time painter and to set up his Usko-Ayar school. Pablo is now widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest visionary artists. His book, Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman, co-authored with Luis Eduardo Luna, was published in 1993 by North Atlantic Books.

 In 2006, Pablo wrote the foreword to my book, Plant Spirit Shamanism. After a lifetime spent working with plants and with plant spirit shamanism, what do plants mean to Pablo? This article is from the foreword.  I owe my life to plants and they have informed everything I have done. From very young I liked to work with plants and I realised that they gave me daily sustenance, not just as foods, but in my soul. I loved and admired them greatly.  But in my adolescence they became even more important to me. I was very unwell in my heart but I healed myself with the sacred plant, ayahuasca, after many years of suffering – something which medicines from the pharmacy were unable to do.  After years of healing myself in this way, I became a shaman when I saw a curandera  [a curandera is the Amazonian term for a female shaman] heal my younger sister, also by using ayahuasca. My sister had been in agony with hepatitis, but with this single healing from the plants, she was cured in just two hours. That was why I started learning the science of vegetalismo [a vegetalismo is a shamanic healer who works primarily with plants]. Later I began dieting and taking la purga [another name for ayahuasca] and she taught me how to use plants for healing and to understand their application through visions. That’s how I came to be a shaman, ordained by the spirits. My visions helped me understand the value of human beings, animals, the plants themselves, and many other things. The plants taught me the function they play in life, and the holistic meaning of all life. We all should pay special attention and deference to Mother Nature. She deserves our love. And we should also show a healthy respect for her power! Plants mean many things to me: they give life to all beings on Earth since they produce oxygen, which we need to be active; they conform the enormous greenhouse which gives board and lodging to diverse but interrelated guests; they are teachers and show us the holistic importance of conserving life in its due form and necessary conditions.  More than this, though, plants – the great living book of nature – have shown me how to study life as an artist and shaman. They help us to know the art of healing and to discover our own creativity, because the beauty of nature moves people to show reverence, fascination, and respect for the extent to which the forests give our souls shelter. The consciousness of plants is a constant source of information in medicine, alimentation, and art, and an example of nature’s own intelligence and creative imagination. Much of my education I owe to the intelligence of these great teachers. Thus I consider myself to be the ‘representative’ of plants and for this reason I assert that if they cut down the trees and burn what’s left of the rainforests, it is the same as burning a whole library of books without ever having read them. For people who are not so dedicated to the study and experience of plants, this is not so important to their lives, but even they should be conscious of the alimentary, medicinal, and scientific value of the plants they rely on for life.  My most sublime desire, though, is that every human being should begin to put as much attention as they can into the knowledge of plants because they are the greatest healers of all. And they should also put effort into the preservation and conservation of the rainforest, and care for it and the ecosystem, because damage to these not only prejudices the flora and fauna but humanity itself. Even in the Amazon these days, plants are seen by many as only a resource for building houses and to finance large families. People who have farms and raise animals also clear the forest to produce foodstuffs. Mestizos and native Indians log the largest trees to sell to industrial sawmills for subsistence. They have never heard of the word ecology! I, Pablo, say to everybody who lives in the Amazon and the forests of the world that they must love the plants of their land, and everything that is there!  This expression of love must be a sincere and altruistic interest in the lasting well-being of others. We are not here simply to exist, but to enjoy life together with plants, animals, and loved ones, and to delight in contemplation of the beauty of nature. A shaman has in his mind and heart the attitude of conserving nature because he knows that life is for enjoying the company of this world’s countless delights. Any painting, or book, or piece of art that spreads this message is to be respected and every reader who picks up a book on this subject is to be honoured. I invite you to read on and to learn from the greatest teachers of all – the plants, our sacred brothers. Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul, by Ross Heaven, is published by Destiny Books, ISBN 1594771189.  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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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.