WHAT IS AYAHUASCA
The information below was compiled by Dan Woodward. Authorization to use this information was provided by Andrew Dunn. Additional resources and information about ayahuasca can be found on the Ayahuasca.Com web site.
Ayahuasca is a shamanic plant potion. The use of Ayahuasca may well be primordial, its use extending back to the earliest aboriginal inhabitants of the North West Amazon region (Schultes and Hofman 1992). The ethnographer McEwan (2001) believes that abstract liminal patterns such as zigzags, serrated lines and geometric forms found on ancient relics and traditional textiles, pottery and body art of various tribes represent the perceptual threshold between everyday and transpersonal realms of consciousness. These relics, combined with an abundance of myths describing the origin of Ayahuasca as deeply intertwined cosmologically with the creation of the universe, earth, and tribal people, indicate a long history of human use.
Banisteriopsis caapi, often refered to as Yage, constitutes the common base ingredient of Ayahuasca tea. B.caapi. (McKenna DJ, Callaway JC, Grob CS 1996). The vine is traditionally married with another plant - Ayahuasca is a synergystic potion. The foliage of Psychotria viridis (Chacruna) is the principle admixture of Ayahuasca potions employed throughout Peru and Brazil. In Columbia and Amazonian Ecuador, the plant Diplopterys cabrerana (Chaliponga) is often used instead. The combination of Yage vine with Chacruna or Chaliponga is sometimes known as a marriage of power and light . This marriage is necessary to unlock the shamanic mareacion and its visionary mythological vistas. Without marriage, the Yage vine alone is a purifier, a purgative, a physical medicine and anti-depressant but generally not a visionary catalyst.
Ayahuasca changes perceptual modalities in a dynamic yet nonetheless lawful way. This aspect of pattern within its effects makes the visionary state an inter-subjective territory and opens the way to interesting forms of healing and communication.
An Icaro is a magical song, a prayer, a melody - either whistled or sang - that functions in such a way. These songs are vibrations that smash the symmetry of the air into patterns, and these patterns are carried via the nervous system into consciousness, where the magic melody asserts energetic effects. They are forms of prayer that induce psychobiological effects and prevents people from becoming stuck in an aspect of the visionary experience. Don Francisco Montes Shuña (a Pucallpa-born maestro, of Capanahua descent, founder Sachamama Ethnobotanical Garden, cousin of Pablo Amaringo) defines the icaro as an "air or force charged with positive energy" - i.e. with healing power - "that all curanderos store inside their body", and are used to pull out the negative energy from the body of a patient. The plant with which a curandero has dieted, is regarded as the teacher of these power songs. A plant maestro may have learned many songs that to a great extent represent his power within the realms of Ayahuasca healing and visionary gnosis.
The Ucaylai, one of the headwaters of the Amazon has a reputation within Peru for being an area of intense shamanic activity. For the Shipibo, Conibo and Stetebo who live in this region, patterns elicited by shamanic states of consciousness are regarded as a synaesthetic ideographic language that has become integral to their aesthetic sensibility. 200 years ago their buildings, skin, ceramics and textiles, as well as mysterious shaman books (now lost, see Gebhart-Sayer, 1985) were all adorned with their distinctive, delicate pattern style.
Shipibo-conibo vegetalista say that geometric visionary designs are the symbolic visual aspect of healing songs (icaros). The shaman says, "My song is a result of the design image". Nishi Ibo (the spirit of Ayahuasca) reveals before the shaman quiquin design medicine, as luminescent geometric configurations. The shaman heals his patient through the application of the song-design, which saturates the patients body and is believed to untangle distorted physical and psycho-spiritual energies, restoring harmony to the somatic, psychic and spiritual systems of the patient. (Gebhart-Sayer, 1985)
"Essentially, Shipibo-Conibo therapy is a matter of visionary design application in connection with aura restoration… the shaman heals his patient through the application of a visionary design… every person feels spiritually permeated and saturated with designs. The designs remain with a persons spirit even after death…" (Gebhart-Sayer, 1985)
"I asked Don Basilio what comprised the arkana (shamanic defenses) he had sung over me... He took one of the beautifully decorated skirts used by Shipibo women, and pointing to the design, he said to me, "I put these in your body." This was a confirmation of the work carried out by Angelika Gebhart-Sayer in which she shows that the patterns used in the body paint, textiles, ceramics and other utensils of the Shipibo are symbolic representations of songs (icaro s) (L. E Luna, 1991)
In the New World, Shamanic practitioners are the keepers of an incredible amount of ecosystemic knowledge, such as the seasonal variations governing foods and medicines. Before the genocidal invasions of the Europeans, this sophisticated; highly connected knowledge enabled sustainable agricultural practices that supported millions of people. The peoples of the Amazon live within the infinitely complex ecosystems of the Amazon Rainforest, abundant with reptiles, insects, amphibians, birds and mammals, rivers, and forests. Accordingly, the plant kingdoms of the rainforests are a primary orientation of life, spiritually and physically.
In the Mestizo populations growing on the banks of major Amazon tributaries throughout Peru, the shaman of plant knowledge and medicine, who communicate with Sacha Runa (elemental spirits of the plants), are known as Vegetalista. The vegetalista regards plants as teachers, hosts to elemental spirits that can communicate with human beings. Ayahuasca is a revered and respected sacred medicine, considered a spiritual and physiological panacea par excellence. Ayahuasca is regarded as a Grandfather or Grandmother, because its medicine can instruct in healing, visionary insight, and the art of using other plants for various purposes. Sometimes it is referred to simply as la medicina - the Medicine. It is employed across the Amazon basin for the treatment of disease and to access to the visionary or mythological world that provides revelation, blessing, healing, and ontological solace (Dobkin De rios 1972, Andritsky 1984).
It is a consistent belief that for Ayahuasca to teach its medicine it is necessary to follow a program of cleansing via diet, sexual abstinence and purgatives for at least 6 months during the period of apprenticeship, for preparing the body and mind of neophyte so he becomes perceptive of Sacha Runa and other energetic forces. This may be prolonged to several years in one has a true vocation to becoming a powerful, disciplined shaman. In some cases the spirits will appear and prescribe the duration and character of the diet. No salt, sugar, alcohol, pork, peppers, fats, farm chicken, certain fruits and vegetables and cold beverages can be ingested (Dobkin de Rios 1973, Chevalier 1982, Luna 1984). The most important food prohibition is the avoidance of pork. The idea is that pig, farm chicken, fish and cold beverages espantan a los vegetales - make the plant spirits escape. Some of the plant teachers can be jealous; if the diet is broken they may punish the offender by causing an illness. This is expressed by the saying that the plants kutichiy , which means to take back teachings, good luck or health that has been imparted by the medicine plants.
Purification through purging and diet allows one to exist in a higher energetic state. Ajo Sacha - Mansoa hymenaeamanilkara, and Mucura - Petiveria alliacea are both used in limpias , cleansing baths, and are considered to aid in the expulsion of saladera (phlegm) from the organism. The curanderos prepare the leaves of Mucura or Ajos Sacha into an aqueous infusion, then the client washes themselves with the liquid and rinses the mouth out to cleanse them of the accumulated saladera that is causing bad luck and ill health (Dobkin de Rios 1981). The vegetalista whistles the appropriate icaro over the patient whilst painting the person with the liquid (Luna 1984).
Accessing the seemingly limitless vistas of the transpersonal consciousness often entails a phase of purging and resolving traumatic experiences that have imprinted and in some way constrained the body and mind (see the work of Stan Grof and Christopher Bach etc.). This purging is a deep cleansing, thorough and not an easy thing to experience. As part of this process, conventional ways of organising or ‘thinking about the world’are undermined through a shift that occurs deep in our emotional body. This phase has been described in the ethnographic literature of shamanism, as a shamanic initiation involving dismemberment. An author, writing of the state of psychiatry in the 1960's, spoke of ‘decompartmentalisation. All the conventional categories are flooded to breaking point, the dams burst, and new connections are made.
The clearer ones system, the better able one is to receive and integrate spiritual energies the knowledge of Ayahuasca. The concept of subtle body phlegm is an important one in New World shamanism. "Vegetalistas say that Ayahuasca is needed for cleansing all the flemosidades (phlegm formations) that accumulate in the intestines" (Luna 1984). The flemosidades are believed to arise from environmental toxins, certain foods, trauma (soul loss), and moral transgressions such as ill will, etc. Analogous to blockages of chi in the meridians, or prana in the nadis, flemosidades disrupt the smooth functioning of the body and mind. Clearing the flemosidades prepares the body to journey deeper into health and wisdom.
When the body is loaded with toxins, pesticides, fertilizers, and fungicides from poor food, pyro-toxins from tobacco smoke, ozone and other oxidants from air pollution, chlorine, lead, phosphates and fluoride in drinking water, Ayahuasca gives the body an opportunity to expel some of these poisons via vomiting and diarrhea. Ayahuasca is known by Mestizo s as la purga. It is helpful to remember what purging represents - a state of purgatory, a sometimes-painful place where the light of heaven burns up ill deeds. The fire of hell is the light of heaven; they are one and the same emanation of the Clear Light of awareness upon which we project our benevolent and wrathful realities.
The purge is experienced as a radical detoxification occurring on physical, energetic, emotional, psychological and spiritual levels. The vine can feel like something living, snaking through the intestines then insinuating itself into every capillary of ones being, leaching out things that are causing harm. Old memories, feelings, sometimes fearful and angry, can emerge seemingly out of nowhere. This is a form of psychic acupuncture that healing processes are performing upon our nervous systems, stimulating certain nadis so the energetic charge can be released.
“My mind seemed impacted upon by waves of rainbow frequencies. My ego swayed under its powerful influence. I lay back and immediately perceived the most bizarre entity against cavernous depth. It is archetypal, very Aztec, alternating with deities depicted in Nepalese Thanka cloths. I had the impression of looking down a giant serpents mouth, eyes, fangs, venom glands, throat. It beamed back at me a curious affection, and sank into the depths. Lightning bolts pulsed through my body, sets of muscles, beginning with my toes, feet, knees, thighs, right up my body to the top of my head, tightened and released. As this occurred, I felt various self images or egoic self-simulation programs arise, activate, and dissipate in a painful rhythmic dance. I felt a fire in my stomach, a fire in my veins. I felt like I was burning up under the energies that were moving through me. The tensions built to an incredible pitch. Suddenly my whole body released a kind of dermal tension and I felt my field of consciousness expand. Simultaneously internal tension became smoothed and I had the impression I had become symmetrical, like a crystal, aligned and thus perfectly transparent.
Proceeding the painful decompartmentalisation or psychic dismemberment emerges a psycho-integrative dynamic. A new unity arises in psychic functioning, like a phoenix from the ashes. This has been described as rebirth or liberation. Such behaviour has been observed in complex systems far from thermodynamic equilibrium. When a complex system encounters disturbance it has potentials for a radical reorganisation into a new pattern. The dismembered psyche organically patterns itself into new forms, unfolding its hyper-structures, uncoiling outward like the blossoming of a flower.