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Andean shaman, Juan Navarro, was born in the highland village of Somate, department of Piura. He is the descendant of a long line of healers working with san pedro and with the magical powers of the sacred lakes known as Las Huaringas, which have been revered for their healing properties since the earliest Peruvian civilization.

 At the age of eight, Juan made a pilgrimage to Las Huaringas and drank san pedro for the first time. Now in his 50’s, every month or so it is still necessary for him to return there to accumulate the energy he needs to protect and heal his people.  Healing sessions with san pedro involve an intricate sequence of processes, including invocation, diagnosis, divination, and healing with natural ‘power objects’, called artes, which are kept, during the ceremony, in a complicated and precise array on the maestro’s altar or mesa.  Artes may include shells, swords, magnets, quartz crystals, objects resembling sexual organs, rocks which spark when struck together, and stones from animals’ stomachs which they have swallowed to aid digestion. They bring magical qualities to the ceremony where, under the visionary influence of san pedro, their invisible powers may be seen and experienced.  The maestro’s mesa, on which these artes sit, is a representation of the forces of nature and the cosmos. Through the mesa the shaman is able to work with and influence these forces to diagnose and heal disease. Always on these altars are seguros – magical  amulet bottles filled with perfume, plants, and seeds gathered from Las Huaringas. According to Juan Navarro, a seguro is a “friend” or “ally”, someone you can turn to for advice and information, who will listen and share your problems. Less poetically, a seguro is a clear glass bottle which contains perfumes, sacred water and, of course, a selection of plants chosen for their specific healing and spiritual qualities.  These bottles are kept on an altar, in sacred space, and regarded as objects of great power. Whenever the person who has a seguro requires help with any practical or spiritual problem, he will take it from the altar and sit with it against his heart, speaking with it as if to a friend. The seguro will absorb and transform the energy of his problems but, more importantly, if he listens carefully, the person who seeks its advice will hear the answers he needs from the spirit of the plants themselves. A seguro can help you maintain and deepen your link to the sacred because, of course, it contains your plant ally. If there are other plants you have journeyed to or would like to learn from, these can be added to the seguro as well and, when you know the language of your ally, this plant spirit will communicate your desire to the other plants, which will also offer their healing and support. You therefore gain access to the natural world and its powers more widely. To create a seguro, you will need a glass bottle, approximately 5” high, which can be sealed. Fill this 1/3rd full with perfume of your choice and top up with water. In Juan Navarro’s seguros, this is water from the sacred lakes of Las Huaringas, but mineral water (as pure as possible) can also be used. Once this base is prepared, meditate for a while on the qualities you would like in your life and which plants might bring you these things. Be informed in this by your work with the doctrine of signatures – heather for luck, honesty for truth, goldenrod for wealth, and so on.  Add these plants to your bottle, arranging them as attractively as possible (some seguros are so beautiful they are works of art in themselves), then place your plant allies in the bottle so they can act as mediators for all others. Before you seal the bottle, blow your dominio (intention) into it three times, and then put on the lid. Place the bottle on your altar and reflect on its qualities often. Whenever you are in need of advice, sit with your seguro and speak with it. Then notice how things change for you.  Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email ross@thefourgates.com for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

Pusanga plants

The quest for love unites us all. What if you could find it – and a simple perfume could help? That would be magic, wouldn’t it? Read on! 

In the spiritual traditions of the Amazon in Peru, this magical perfume is called pusanga. It is a made from flowers and plants which have the power to attract to the people who wear it the things they really want. For that reason, pusanga has developed an impressive reputation as “the love medicine of the Amazon”’ because love, of course, is the thing most people do want!

 HOW PERFUME ATTRACTS AND HEALSBeautiful smells derived from flowers and herbs have always been used for healing and attracting love. Even the word ‘perfume’ comes from per fumer (Latin, ‘through smoke’), and is a reference to its ritual use in ceremonies for the gods who offer love’s blessings. The ancient Greeks, for example, believed that sweet aromas were how the deities made their presence known. The oracle priestesses of Delphi would sit in the smoke of bay leaf incense to allow these gods to speak through them during divinations to help people in their search for love.In India, too, seers called dainyals would surround themselves with smoke – this time of cedarwood – which would send them into trance and give them prophetic visions.Fragrance has also 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, and musk. Saffron was crushed and smeared beneath their feet.  The reason for these rituals is that smell is the most powerful of our senses and is able to stimulate desire, longing, and lust, stir our memories, and carry associations of love and happiness. Scientists have found that even a year after we meet a new person, their aroma stays in our minds, whereas visual memory drops to 50% after just three months, so we may not even remember their faces. The sense of smell is handled by the limbic system, which controls our emotions, so perfumes evoke feelings as well as memories, and we experience not just an odour but a mood.  

This is the secret of pusanga. By mixing plants and flowers to create particular aromas which affect the moods of those who smell them, the shamans of the Amazon say that pusanga can cause anyone to fall hopelessly in love with the wearer. One of these shamans, Javier Aravelo, puts it this way: “When you pour pusanga onto your skin it penetrates your spirit and gives you the power to draw in love”.

 How you find the right plants to do this is another secret, known as the Doctrine of Signatures. This is the idea that the Creator has left a mark or “signature” on every plant in the world to show what it is used for. The discoverer of this phenomenon was Paracelsus, a 6th century alchemist who noticed how the appearance of plants so often reflects their qualities – that the seeds of skullcap, for example, resemble small skulls and, it turns out, are effective at curing headache, or that willow, which grows in damp places, heals rheumatic conditions, which are caused by damp and the build-up of fluid on the joints.  In fact, as Thomas Bartram, a modern herbalist, 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”. AMAZON PUSANGAFollowing this Doctrine, the basis for pusanga in the Amazon is agua de colpa. This is water collected from clay pools deep in the rainforest, where there are no people, only thousands of brightly-coloured animals who gather to drink from the water. Some of these animals are natural enemies, but at the clay pools they stand peacefully together to drink from water which is rich in mineral content and needed for their well-being. This water, in other words, has the power to attract some of the most beautiful creatures on the planet to a place where they exist harmoniously together. Added to this magical water are special herbs, plants, barks, roots or leaves, which also have the quality of attraction due to their colours, names, or where and how they grow. In the rainforest, for example, there are vines called sogas, which are recognised as pusanga plants because they wrap themselves around trees and draw close to them so they grow together.  Special scented liquids, such as agua florida (which means “water for flourishing”), are also added to the mixture, which is then blessed by the shaman to empower it. This is done by blowing or singing into the pusanga, sometimes with the breath, sometimes with sacred tobacco smoke. The traditional blessing whispered to the pusanga is “salud, dinero y amor” (“health, money and love”).  Once it is made, pusanga is used like a perfume, with a few drops rubbed on the pulse points of the wrists and neck, or a capful or two can be added to bath water.  MAKING YOUR OWN PUSANGA

If you want more love in your life (and who doesn’t!) and would like to make pusanga of your own, just follow these instructions and romance will come your way!

 The Doctrine of Signatures is your guide to collecting the plants you need. Pusanga plants for love all have certain characteristics. Their names are often significant, such as passionflower or honeysuckle (“honey” for sweetness and “suckle” for nurturing). Their colours are bright and attractive. The way they grow may also be important (ivy, for example, winds itself around other plants so the two intertwine and are drawn closer together). Their archetypal qualities may also call you (rose, for example, is nowadays practically synonymous with love). Where the plants grow can also have meaning (two plants standing together in sunlight within an otherwise dark forest signify a bright future, for example) – and so on. Look for plants that mean something to you and the desires you have. When you locate each plant spend a little time with it, explaining your need and asking it to offer itself to you before you pick it (you don’t need to take the whole plant; a single leaf, a flower, or a piece of bark will do as this contains the energy of the whole. Try to avoid taking roots if you can). Then, when you take a piece, offer your thanks and perhaps a gift of your own, such as corn or tobacco, as they do in the Amazon. All of this is important in helping you connect with nature and develop the right attitude of respect. 

When you have the plants you want, take them home and put them in a clear bottle. If you intend to use the pusanga over a few days, you can fill the bottle with water taken from ‘power places’, such as Holy water from a church or a place of spiritual power like the Chalice Well at Glastonbury, or you can use spring or mineral water. If you want to keep the pusanga a while, though, it is better to use alcohol instead of water as this will preserve the plants.

 You can also add aromatherapy oils to your blend, which, in traditional magic, also have helpful qualities. To attract a new lover, for example, add a few drops of rose, jasmine, and bergamot. For a ‘deepening love’ add rose, vanilla, and a sprinkling of gold glitter. For passion during love-making once you have found your mate, add ginger, patchouli, and sandalwood. 

Finally, add your prayers to the mixture, too, as the shamans do, by blowing three times into the pusanga bottle while you tell the perfume what you want it to do for you. Then wear it as a scent and expect more love in your life!

  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

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In the shamanic traditions of Northern Peru, the san pedro cactus (Trichocereus pachanoi), or ‘cactus of vision’, opens the doorway to expanded awareness and acts as mediator between man and the gods.   San pedro grows on the dry eastern slopes of the Andes, between 2,000 – 3,000 metres above sea level, and commonly reaches six metres or more in height. It is also grown by local shamans in their herb gardens and has been used since ancient times, with a tradition in Peru that has been unbroken for at least 3,000 years.  The earliest depiction of the cactus is a carving showing a mythological being holding a san pedro, which dates from about 1,300 BC. It comes from the Chavín culture (c. 1,400-400 BC) and was found in a temple at Chavín de Huantar, in the northern highlands of Peru. The later Mochica culture (c. 500 AD) also depicted the cactus in its iconography, suggesting a continued use throughout this period. Even in the present Christianised mythology of this area, there is a legend told that God hid the keys to Heaven in a secret place and that San Pedro (Saint Peter) used the magical powers of a cactus to find this place so the people of the world could share in paradise. The cactus was named after him out of respect for his Promethean intervention on behalf of mortal men. As can be imagined, early European missionaries held native practices in considerable contempt and were very negative when reporting the use of san pedro. One 16th century Conquistador, for example, described it as a plant by which the natives are able to “speak with the devil, who answers them in certain stones and in other things they venerate”. As you might also imagine, a shaman’s account of the cactus is in radical contrast to this. Juan Navarro, a maestro within the san pedro tradition, explains its effects as follows: “It first produces a dreamy state and then a great vision, a clearing of all the faculties, and a sense of tranquillity. Then comes detachment, a sort of visual force inclusive of all the senses, including the sixth sense, the telepathic sense of transmitting oneself across time and matter … like a kind of removal of one’s thought to a distant dimension”. Considered the ‘maestro of maestros’, san pedro enables the shaman to open a portal between the visible and the invisible world for his people. In fact, its Quechua name is punku, which means ‘doorway’.  AN INTERVIEW WITH A SAN PEDRO MAESTROJuan Navarro was born in the highland Andean village of Somate, department of Piura. He is the descendant of a long line of healers working not only with san pedro but with the magical powers of the sacred lakes known as Las Huaringas, which have been revered for their healing properties since the earliest Peruvian civilization. At the age of eight, Juan made a pilgrimage to Las Huaringas and drank san pedro for the first time. Now in his 50’s, every month or so it is still necessary for him to return there to accumulate the energy he needs to protect and heal his people.  Healing sessions with san pedro involve an intricate sequence of processes, including invocation, diagnosis, divination, and healing with natural ‘power objects’, called artes, which are kept, during the ceremony, in a complicated and precise array on the maestro’s altar or mesa.  Artes may include shells, swords, magnets, quartz crystals, objects resembling sexual organs, rocks which spark when struck together, and stones from animals’ stomachs which they have swallowed to aid digestion. They bring magical qualities to the ceremony where, under the visionary influence of san pedro, their invisible powers may be seen and experienced.  The maestro’s mesa, on which these artes sit, is a representation of the forces of nature and the cosmos. Through the mesa the shaman is able to work with and influence these forces to diagnose and heal disease. What happens during a san pedro ceremony?The power of san pedro works in combination with tobacco [see below]. Also the sacred lakes of Las Huaringas are very important. This is where we go to find the most powerful healing herbs which we use to energize our people.  We also use dominio [the linking of intent to the power of the plants] to give strength and protection from supernatural forces such as sorcery and negative thoughts. This dominio is also put into the seguros we make for our patients [amulet bottles filled with perfume, plants, and seeds]. Dominio is introduced to the bottle through the breath. You keep these seguros in your home and your life will go well.  How does san pedro help in the healings you do?San pedro helps the maestro to see what the problem is with his patient before any of this healing begins. The cactus is a powerful teacher plant. It has a certain mystery to it and the healer must also be compatible with it. It won’t work for everybody, but the maestro has a special relationship with its spirit.  When it is taken by a patient it circulates in his body and where it finds abnormality it enables the shaman to detect it. It lets him know the pain the patient feels and where in his body it is. So it is the link between patient and maestro.  It also purifies the blood of the person who drinks it and balances the nervous system so people lose their fears and are charged with positive energy.  In the ceremonies I’ve attended a lot seems to happen. Can you explain the process?Patients first take a contrachisa. This is a plant [actually, the outer skin of the san pedro cactus] which causes them to purge [i.e. to vomit – a removal from the body of toxins], so they get rid of the spiritual toxins that are within their systems. This is a healing. It also cleans out the gut to make room for san pedro so the visions will come. They also take a singado. This is a liquid containing [aguardiente and macerated] tobacco which they inhale through their nostrils. The tobacco leaf is left for two to three months in contact with honey, and when required for the singado it is macerated with aguardiente.  How it functions depends on which nostril is used. When taken in the left nostril it will liberate the patient from negative energy, including psychosomatic ills, pains in the body, or the bad influences of other people. As he takes it in he must concentrate on the situation which is going badly or the person who is doing him harm. When taken through the right nostril it is for rehabilitating and energizing, so that all of that patient’s projects will go well.  Afterwards he can spit the tobacco out or swallow it, it doesn’t matter. The singado also has a relationship with the san pedro in the body, and intensifies the visionary effects. During the ceremony I also use a chungana [rattle] to invoke the spirits of the dead, whether of family or of great shamans, so they can help to heal the patient. The chunganas give me enchantment [i.e. protection and positive energy] and have a relaxing effect when the patient takes san pedro. What is the significance of the artes and of Las Huaringas?The artes that I use come from Las Huaringas, where a special energy is bestowed on everything, including the healing herbs which grow there and nowhere else.  If you bathe in the lakes it takes away your ills. You bathe with the intention of leaving everything negative behind. People also go there to leave their enemies behind so they can’t do any more harm.  After bathing, the maestro cleanses you with the artes, swords, bars, chontas [bamboo staffs used as healing tools to lightly beat or ‘stroke’ a patient and scrape negativity off him], and even huacos [The energetic power of the ancient sites themselves]. They flourish you – spraying you with agua florida [perfume containing healing spirits] and herb macerations, and giving you things like honey, so your life will be sweet and flourish.  Not far from Las Huaringas is a place called Sondor, which has its own lakes. This is where evil magic is practiced by brujos [Sorcerers] and where they do harm in a variety of ways. I know this because I am a healer and I must know how sorcery is done so I can defend myself and my patients. As I said, a lot goes on in a healing! So, with all of this, just how important is san pedro?What allows me to read [i.e. diagnose] a patient is the power of san pedro and tobacco. Perceptions come to me through any one of my senses or through an awareness of what the patient is feeling; a weakness, a pain or whatever. Sometimes, for instance, a bad taste in my mouth may indicate that the patient has a bad liver.  

Of course, I must also take the san pedro and tobacco, to protect myself from the patient’s negativity and illness, and because it brings vision.

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

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Continued from Part 1… MOCURA/MUCURA: PSYCHOLOGICAL AND EMOTIONAL STRENGTH

One of the qualities of this plant is its ability to boost one’s psychological and emotional strength. For this reason it is regarded as a ‘great balancer’, restoring connection and equilibrium between our rational mind and feelings. For example, it is good at countering shyness and can enhance one’s sense of personal value and authority by helping to overcome painful memories (of past embarrassments and ‘failures’, etc).

 Mocura is also used in floral baths to both cleanse and protect against malevolent forces such as sorcery and envidia (envy). Its medicinal properties include relief from asthma, bronchitis, and the reduction of fat and cholesterol.  

In the West, there are a number of plants that have similar effects and bring calm and balance to the soul. These include lavender – which Pliny regarded as so powerful that even looking upon it brings peace –  meadowsweet, pine, and rosemary.

 Burning pine needles will purify the atmosphere of a house and a pine branch hung over the front door will bring harmony and joy to the home. Rosemary, especially when burned, is cleansing and centring, and it is said that if you concentrate on the smoke with a question in mind, rosemary will also provide the answer. There is a European belief that carrying rosemary leaves will protect you from sadness. It is also quite pleasant to drink with honey as a weak tea. 

In terms of body energetics and magical uses, moss, orange, and strawberry leaves are effective at removing bad luck, and loosestrife, myrtle, and violet leaves help to overcome fear.

 ROSA SISA: HARMONY AND HEALING THE SOUL This plant is often used to heal children who are suffering from mal aire (‘bad air’), a malady which can occur when a family member dies and leaves the child unhappy and sleepless. The spirit of the dead person lingers, it is said, because it is sad to go and aware of the grief around it, so it stays in the house and tries to comfort its family. This proximity to death, however, can make children sick.  Rosa sisa is also used to bring good luck and harmony in general. One of the ways that bad luck can result is through the magical force of envidia. A jealous neighbour might, for instance, throw a handful of graveyard dirt into your house to spread sadness and heavy feelings. Those in the house become bored, agitated, or restless as a consequence. The solution is to take a bucket of water and crushed rosa sisa flowers and thoroughly wash the floors to dispel the evil magic.  Many Peruvians also grow rosa sisa near the front door of their houses to absorb the negativity of people who pass by and look in enviously to see what possessions they have. The flowers turn black when this happens, but go back to their normal colour when the negative energy is dispersed through their roots to the Earth. Rosa sisa is also used for making dreams come true, by blowing on the petals with a wish in mind, like we do with dandelions. It can make these wishes happen because it is bright like the sun and contains the energy of good fortune. Marigolds have similar magical uses in the West. Aemilius Macer, as long ago as the 13th century, wrote that merely gazing at the flowers will draw “wicked humours out of the head”, “comfort the heart” and make “the sight bright and clean”. In Europe, just as in Peru, marigolds are often grown beside the front door or hung in garlands to protect those inside from magical attacks. For the same reason, and to empower the spirit, marigold petals can be scattered beneath the bed (where they will also ensure good – and often prophetic – dreams) or added to bath water to bring calm and refreshment to the body and soul. 

As well as drinking marigold tea, the petals can be used in salads or added to rice and pulses as another way of dieting them. Physically, the tea is good for bringing down fevers (especially in children), for gastritis, gallbladder problems, and tonsillitis. Rubbed on the skin, marigold petals will heal skin diseases, cuts, bruises, and rashes.

 Alternatives, to create harmony in the self and home, include gardenia, meadowsweet, and passion flower. PIRI PIRI, MEDICINAL SEDGES: FOR VISION  Native people cultivate numerous varieties of medicinal sedges to treat a wide range of health problems. Sedge roots, for example, are used to treat headaches, fevers, cramps, dysentery and wounds, as well easing childbirth and protecting babies from illness. Special sedge varieties are cultivated by Shipibo women to improve their skills in weaving magical tapestries that embody the spiritual universe, and it is customary when a girl is very young for her mother to squeeze a few drops of sap from the piri piri seed into her eyes to give her the ability to have visions of the designs she will make when she is older. The men cultivate sedges to improve their hunting skills.  Since the plant is used for such a wide range of conditions, its powers were once dismissed as superstition. Pharmacological research, however, has now revealed the presence of ergot alkaloids within these plants, which are known to have diverse effects on the body – from stimulation of the nervous system to the constriction of blood vessels. These alkaloids are responsible for the wide range of sedge uses, but come, not from the plant itself, but from a fungus that infects it.  There are a number of Western plants that are also said to produce visions – i.e. communion with the greater spirit of the world. The leaves of coltsfoot and angelica, when smoked, for example, will induce such visions, and damiana, when burned, will also produce these effects.  Angelica has long been regarded as a spiritual plant with almost supernatural powers. It is linked to the archangel Raphael, who appeared in the dreams of a medieval monk and revealed the plant as a cure for plague. Native Americans used it in compresses to cure painful swellings and believed it sucked the spirit of pain out of the body before casting it to the four winds. It has also been heralded as an aid to overcoming alcohol addiction as its regular usage creates a dislike for the taste of alcohol. Recent research suggests that it can also help the body fight the spread of cancer. Its leaves can be added to salads and this is another way to diet this plant.  

Coltsfoot is another plant with wide-ranging properties but is most highly regarded for its soothing effects on respiratory and bronchial problems. One way of dieting it, paradoxically, is to use it in herbal cigarettes. These can be made by adding a larger part of coltsfoot to other aromatic and soothing herbs such as skullcap or chamomile. Cut the herbs to small lengths and mix them thoroughly with a little honey dissolved in water, then spread the mix out and let it to dry for a few days. It can then be rolled to make cigarettes or smoked in a pipe.

 UNA DE GATO: FOR BALANCEUna de Gato (‘cat’s claw’) is a tropical vine that grows in the rainforests. It gets its name from the small thorns at the base of the leaves, which look like a cat’s claw and enable the vine to wind itself around trees, climbing to a height of up to 150 feet. The inner bark of the vine has been used for generations to treat inflammations, colds, viral infections, arthritis, and tumors. It also has anti-inflammatory and blood-cleansing properties, and will clean out the entire intestinal tract to treat a wide array of digestive problems such as gastric ulcers, parasites, and dysentery. Its most famous quality, however, is its powerful ability to boost the body’s immune system, and it is considered by many shamans to be a ‘balancer’, returning the body’s functions to a healthy equilibrium.  From a psycho-spiritual or shamanic perspective, disease usually arises from a spiritual imbalance within the patient causing him to become de-spirited or to lose heart (in the West we would call this depression). Interestingly, Thomas Bartram, in his Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, writes that in the West “some psychiatrists believe [problems of the immune system, where the body attacks itself] to be a self-produced phenomenon due to an unresolved sense of guilt or dislike of self… People who are happy at their home and work usually enjoy a robust immune system”. The psychiatric perspective, in this sense, is not so different from the shamanic view. Cat’s claw is believed to heal illness by restoring the peace of the spirit as well as the balance between spirit and body. The medicinal properties of this plant are officially recognized by the Peruvian government and it is a protected (for export) plant. It is, however, widely available in the West in capsule form and this is one way of dieting it, although its spiritual affects will be less strong, since, once a plant has been processed in this way, much of its spirit is lost. Echinacea can also be used as a substitute for cat’s claw and will stimulate the immune system and prove effective against depression and exhaustion. As an alternative, you might try a mixture of borage, cinnamon, and blackberry, all of which are regarded as lifting the spirits and good healers in general. CHULLACHAQUI CASPI: CONNECTION TO THE EARTHThe resin of the chullachaqui caspi tree, extracted from the trunk in the same way as rubber from the rubber tree, can be used as a poultice or smeared directly onto wounds to heal deep cuts and stop haemorrhages. For skin problems, such as psoriasis, the bark can be grated and boiled in water while the patient sits before it, covered with a blanket, to receive a steam bath. It is important to remove the bark without killing the tree, however, which can otherwise have serious spiritual consequences. Oil can also be extracted by boiling the bark, and this can be made into capsules. The deeper, more spiritual, purpose of this tree is to help the shaman or his patient get close to the spirit of the forest and in touch with the vibration and rhythm of the Earth. Through this reconnection with nature, it will strengthen an unsettled mind and help to ground a person who is disturbed.  It will also guide and protect the apprentice shaman and show him how to recognise which plants can heal. The tree has large buttress roots as it grows in sandy soil where roots cannot go deep (chulla in Quechua means ‘twisted foot’ and chaqui is the plant). This forms part of Amazonian mythology, in stories of the jungle ‘dwarf’, the chullachaqui, which is said to have a human appearance, with one exception: his twisted foot. The chullachaqui is the protector of the animals, and lives in places where the tree also grows. The legend is that if you are lost in the forest and meet a friend or family member, it is most likely the chullachaqui who has taken their form. He will be friendly and suggest going for a walk so he can guide you or show you something of interest. If you go, however, he will lead you deep into the rainforest until you are lost, and you will then suffer madness or become a chullachaqui yourself.  

Ross has speculated that the reference is to the initiation of the plant shaman, who must go deep into the jungle to pursue his craft by getting to know the plants and the forest. Such trials can, indeed, lead to madness or even death for the unwary, but for those who succeed, they will become great healers, in touch with the spirits of nature, like the chullachaqui himself. For those who are not ready to meet these challenges, the advice of the jungle shamans is simple: when out walking in the forest, should you encounter a friend or a family member, always look at his feet, as the chullachaqui will try to keep his twisted foot away from you. Do not go with him – turn back and run away!

 The chullachaqui, symbolically, is a tree and the motif of the ‘world tree’ – the spiritual centre of the universe which connects the material and immaterial planes – occurs in many cultures and is often to do with initiation. In Haiti, it is Papa Loko (a variant of the word iroco, which is the name of an African tree) who meets the shaman-to-be in the dark woods at night to initiate him into the Vodou religion. In Siberia, too, there is a tradition that the shaman-elect must climb a silver birch while in a state of trance and make secret, spirit-given, markings on one of its topmost branches. While it is interesting to speculate about the initiatory symbolism of the chullachaqui, it must also be pointed out that Amazonian shamans regard it as very real being. Javier Aravelo, for example, has a photograph of a chullachaqui’s tambo, which he swears is real. The tambo is a hut that stands about four feet high and is used as a dwelling. Javier discovered this one next to a cultivated garden deep in the otherwise wild rainforest In the West, we have our own tradition of magical trees. One of these is willow, a tree sacred to the Druids. Ancient British burial mounds and modern day cemeteries are both often lined with willow, symbolising the gateway this tree provides between the living and the dead, spirit and matter. The brooms of witches are also bound with willow, enabling their flight to the otherworld.  To deepen a connection to the Earth and the spirit, willow can be ‘dieted’ in place of chullachaqui caspi by burning crushed bark fragments with white sandalwood or myrrh and bathing in the smoke.  CHUCHUHUASI: INCREASED LIFE FORCE  This is another Amazonian tree which forms an important part of the jungle pharmacopoeia. The bark can be chewed as a remedy for stomach ache, fevers, arthritis, circulation, and bronchial problems, but it is rather bitter and so more often it is macerated in aguardiente or boiled in water and honey.  

Western alternatives include burdock for arthritis and for ‘fevers’ as they manifest through the skin in the form of eczema, psoriasis, acne, etc, and ginseng for problems of the circulation. Kola is good for stomach complaints (diarrhoea and dysentery, etc) and saw palmetto is a general tonic which is useful for bronchial problems.

 Chuchuhuasi is also regarded as a “libido stimulant” and aphrodisiac, giving the person who drinks it a renewed sense of life and vigour. With these properties in mind, chuchuhuasi is the main ingredient in cocktails at many bars and restaurants in Iquitos, on the banks of the Amazon river, the most popular of which is the Chuchuhuasi Sour, where it is mixed with limes, ice, and honey. In the West, plants with similar aphrodisiac qualities include burdock, ginseng, kola, and saw palmetto berries. These are not just aids to sexual potency, but reconnect the dieter to the joy of living and a love of involvement with others.  Join us for an authentic experience of ayahuasca, San Pedro, and plant spirit shamanism in the beautiful rainforests and mountains of Peru. Email ross@thefourgates.com for a FREE Information Pack or visit the website http://www.thefourgates.com and look under the Sacred Journeys section.

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Planta maestras (plant masters or plant teachers) are key among the shaman’s tutelary spirits, his chief allies and guides to the worlds of health and healing. In ordinary reality, they are also considered the jungle’s most skilled and important ‘doctors’ because of their usefulness and relevance to the healing concerns of most patients. Through knowing these plants, the shaman can deal effectively with the diseases of his people.

 

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

 

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

 

CHIRIC SANANGO: FOR LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Continued in Part 2/…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Javier’s thoughts on this were simple and enlightening:

 

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

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

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

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

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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.