ayahuasca retreat

ayahuasca retreat

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

THE HUMMINGBIRD RETREAT CENTRE PERU

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

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

 

TRADITIONAL CLEANSING SAUNA

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

 

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

FLORAL BATHS

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

HEALING CONSULTATIONS

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

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

CIRCLE MEETINGS

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

PLANT WALKS

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

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

SHAMANIC WORKSHOPS AND SEMINARS

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

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

 

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

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

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ayahuasca retreats

Ayahuasca retreats

 

If you are thinking of going on an ayahuasca retreat in the Amazon please check out the Hummingbird Retreat Centre. The Hummingbird is one of the most comfortable and best-equipped Centres in the Iquitos area. It’s run by Tracie Thornberry and Ross Heaven. Combined, their knowledge of ayahuasca is second to none. The Centre is well-connected and they know all the local shamans so know where to get the best ayahuasca medicine for you. The visions and their rewards of love and the feelings of deep interconnectedness and everything ayahuasca teaches amazed me. My last journey with the vine was so mind-blowingly beautiful that I laughed danced and cried tears of sheer joy. It really let me see the beauty and magic of the spirit world and I just laughed and sang to the shaman’s icaros. If you want to know more please feel free to ask me any questions. I’m putting a group together to visit the Centre next year and if you’re interested in joining me I’d love to hear from you.

Ross, Scotland

 

Just sending a big thank you for the beautiful experience of the ayahuasca workshop and the tour of the Iquitos market. I especially notice the effects of the healing work now that I’m in Cusco and have been around lots of people here. I am much more calm and grounded than I would probably normally feel.

The retreat was unique from the one I was at in 2002 and from ones I’ve read or heard about and this is a nice positive. For one thing, having strongly grounded female energy guiding the participants and someone who has done years of work with healing before, that seems to be missing in many of the aya retreats. From my perspective, feminine energy in leadership particularly in this kind of healing retreat gives more of a feeling of continuation of connection to the earth and plants than it did when in my first retreat with Howard Lawler [el tigre journeys]. I really liked, too, the bringing together of the employees, participants, friends, shamans, and local musicians, especially with the fiesta. The setting also is conducive for someone from a city needing deep healing.
Muchas gracias.
Sincerely,
Robyn, Canada

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Javier’s thoughts on this were simple and enlightening:

 

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

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

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

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

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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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.