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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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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Integral to any ayahausca ceremony are sacred chants sung by the shamans to call the protective jungle spirits, summon the essence of nature, and to provoke the mareacion or effects of the ayahuasca by making a plea to the spirit of the vine. In the words of Javier Aravelo, quoted in my book, Plant Spirit Shamanism, icaros “render the mind susceptible for visions; then the curtains can open for the start of the theatre”.

 Icaros may be magical chants or a melody that is whistled, sung, or whispered into the ayahuasca brew. They may also be sung directly into the energy field of a person who is to be healed during a ceremony.  An icaro can be regarded as an energetic force charged with positive or healing intent that the shaman stores inside his body and is able to transmit to another person or to the brew itself so that this positive energy is ingested when the mixture is drunk. These songs are taught to the shaman by the spirit of the plant allies he has an affinity with, and the longer his relationship with the plants, the more icaros he may learn and the more potent they will be.  The power and knowledge of an ayahuascero (ayahuasca shaman) is therefore measured in part by the number of icaros he possesses. Javier, for example, has worked with many different plants for 15 years and now knows the spirit songs of some 1,500 ‘jungle doctors’, including the icaro del tabaco (the song of tobacco – one of the most sacred of Amazonian plants), the icaro del ajo sacha (the song of ajo sacha) and the icaro del chiric sanango, amongst many others.   

There are precise and specific icaros for many different purposes – to cure snake bites, for example, or to clarify the vision during ayahuasca ceremonies, to communicate with the spirit world, or even to win the love of a woman. Huarmi icaros – from the Quechua word ‘huarmi’ (which, loosely, means “woman”) are of this latter category. 

 There are also icaros (called icaros de la piedra) which are taught to the shaman by encantos (special healing stones which offer spiritual protection), and icaros to the spirits of the elements, such as icaro del viento, which calls upon the spirit of the wind.  Other icaros, such as the ayaruna – from the Quechua words ‘aya’ (“spirit” or “dead”) and ‘runa’ (“people”) – are sung to invoke the “spirit people” – the souls of dead shamans who live in the underwater world – so they may help during a healing or an ayahuasca ceremony.   Icaros can also be transmitted from a master shaman to his disciple but, once again, it is nature that is regarded as the greatest teacher and the most powerful songs are those learnt directly from the plants themselves. To learn these songs the shaman must fast or follow a special diet for many weeks as he treks deep into the rainforest to find the appropriate plants and places of power where the magical music of nature can be heard. 

The words of the chants he then learns are symbolic stories telling of the ability of nature to heal itself: how the crystalline waters from a stream will wash clean and purify a person who is unwell, for example; or how bright-coloured flowers attract hummingbirds whose delicate wings fan healing energies. You might also see such things in your ayahuasca visions as a response to these icaros, but what actually heals you is more likely to be the insights that arise from the experience and which allow inner feelings to unblock so that bitterness and anger can change to ecstasy and love.

 A few verses from the icaro madre naturaleza (‘song of mother nature’), which was taught by the jungle to Javier Arevalo, demonstrate the deep bond between the shaman and the natural world, and the healing that is available to us all. 

In English:

Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
For if you will leave me
I would die or of the pain
My tears of desperation
My mother nature
Yes you have the gift of life
Sacred purification in you hands
Blessed mother nature

Don’t leave me don’t leave me
My mother nature
Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
For if you will leave me
I would die or of the pain
Tears of desperation
The white veil that your you have
As it covers this child
Clean my body and spirit
With the breath or of your lips
Dearest miraculous Mother.

Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
Don’t leave me, don’t leave me
My mother nature
For if you will leave me
I will die of the sorrow
My tears of desperation
In the mountains or upper jungle
Where you give me peace and prosperity
Without regrets neither bitterness
Dearest pure Mother

Don’t leave me , don’t leave me
My mother nature
Don’t leave me , don’t leave me
My mother nature
For if you will leave me
I would die or of the pain
My tears of desperation
Where you Take a bath with the plants
Blessed Child put onto me
Your crown of health
Eternally in my heart

In Spanish:

No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia naturaleza
No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia naturaleza
Por que vas i ti me dejares
Moriria o de las penas
Llantos y desesperaciones
Madre mia naturaleza
Si tu tienes el don de la
Santa purificacion en ti manos
Benditas madre naturaleza

No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia naturaleza
No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia naturaleza
Por que vas i ti me dejares
Moriria o de las penas
Llantos y desesperaciones
El velo blanco que tu tienes
Como cubre a esta criatura
Limpia mi cuerpo y espirutu
Con el soplo o de tus labios
Madre cita milagrosa

No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia naturaleza
No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia naturaleza
Por que vas i ti me dejares
Moriria o de las penas
Llantos y desesperaciones
En las altas o montanas
Donde pone paz y prosperaciones
Sin remordimentos ni rencores
Madre cita la pura

No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia naturaleza
No me dejes no me dejes
Madre mia naturaleza
Por que vas i ti me dejares
Moriria o de las penas
Llantos y desesperaciones
Donde Banas con las plantas
Obendita criatura ponme ya
La corona de la sanidad
Muy eternal en mi Corazon

  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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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. 

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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.