Ayahuasca may be a buzzword now, but it’s a serious art form. The use of the psychotropic plant for healing purposes has its origins in the Amazon. Those who have tried it have lots to say on the topic…
Rebekah Shaman is an urban plant medicine shaman.
I’ve been working with ayahuasca for 23 years; I fell into it – literally I went to Peru in 1997 to work in a hotel in Machu Picchu. While there I had an emotional breakdown and almost died falling down a mountain. A tree saved me. I went into the mountains to think about it all and a shaman came and spoke to me in a vision. He told me, ‘I have the answers and medicine if you find me.’ So I flew to Amazon, found him and trained as his apprentice. It completely changed the direction of my life. Now, I work as a plant medicine shaman in London and I work with cannabis and cacao here. I regularly take people to the Amazon to do ayahuasca retreats.
What is ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is a brew that the shamans offer to people. My teacher was living in a village in 1997 with no communication – it was very cut off and deep in the jungle. He would treat the local sick with tree barks, leaves, roots and plants. The ayahuasca brew would be taken by the sick for the shaman to diagnose what was wrong with the person. The ayahuasca builds the communication bridge so the shaman can communicate with the plants and offer the right medicine. It’s not used for psychotic or emotional reasons in the Amazon; more as a diagnostic and purging tool.
An ayahuasca journey lasts about five or six hours. You go on a massive journey. It takes a while to come back together and leaves a profound impact. Ayahuasca works differently for everyone, but most people feel clearer, more connected to themselves and nature, and more aware of their purpose and place when they return.
How often should we take it?
“It’s not legal in the UK – it was made illegal in 2012. It’s also not for everyone. It came to you through the underground when I started and there was a magic to it. Now there’s more of a consumerism around it, but if it’s not administered properly, you can get into strong emotional difficulty. The shaman, and the way the medicine is planted, grown, harvested and prepared are really important.
In terms of sustainability, I think you should look to nature for how much you consume. One ayahuasca vine takes five years to grow, so it should be taken on a limited basis, like a medicine.
Rafa takes groups wanting to learn more about sacred plants to Mexico and Colombia
Ayahuasca is the combination of two plants: the vine Banisteriopsis caapi and the leaves of the chacruna. The Chacruna plant contains the Diméthyltryptamine (DMT) and the vine (Banisteriopsis) is what allows our body to absorb the DMT.
How did you get into it?
My journey started in January 2009. I left London heartbroken – I separated from my partner and left my job as project coordinator at the Indo American Refugee and Migrant Organisation. I was seeking a new beginning and knew about psychedelics – I had experimented with magic mushrooms before. In a way I was destined for this path. Often people say that the plant finds you when you are ready – indeed it found me.
I travelled to Colombia, my home country. I looked for the medicine in many places. Just when I was about to give up I received a call from a friend telling me to travel to Jardines de Sucumbios, where the most renowned Taita/Shaman lives. His name is Taita Querubin Queta Alvarado and he is the highest authority of the Cofan people.
How does one do it?
You prepare a week before by following a strict diet of no red meat, alcohol, drugs and sex. Some tribes have more strict diets, like no sugar, salt, wheat and so on. Sometimes the shamans will give you a medicine to help cleanse days before you drink the ayahuasca. We Westerners are often too intoxicated with drugs, alcohol and heavy energies in general, so the purging medicine helps you to be lighter and more ready to receive the medicine. We call the ayahuasca medicine as it help you heal.
On the day of the ceremony they give you the brew to drink, and then you go to meditate in silence. The effects will kick in in about 30 minutes to 1 hour later.
Always do the ceremony with people that you fully trust and who are experienced and recommended. The medicine is very strong and it can change your life dramatically in a positive way, but in the wrong hands and in the wrong environment it can be dangerous. But this is to do with people not being responsible and mindful. Ayahuasca is not a drug. We produced DMT in our bodies naturally.
How do you feel when you do it?
The first symptoms are nausea and also some bowel movement or stomach discomfort. More often than not people will vomit, this is part of the ritual and there is no shame on it. It is actually quite liberating and healing. The purge or vomit is not just physical but also feels like an energy purge.
These symptoms are often accompanied by visions and profound realisations about the spirit world, about our divine nature, the existence of good or the existence of “hell”. The vision journey varies depending on the person and what they are going through in their personal life.
Trying to describe this experience does not do justice to the journey because everybody is different and every ceremony is different as well. You will never have the same experience.
In my first journey/ceremony I was asked to believe in God and stay in the light. I did not believe in God as such – I was an atheist. After my first experience I knew there was a force of creation and that I was part of it. My second ceremony was all about asking forgiveness from people I had hurt in the past. On the same night, I was then asked by the “plant” to forgive those that have hurt me in the past. It was an extremely liberating experience.
How often do you do it?
Some people do it once a year, or if they are healing a specific illness they may have to do it more often. Some communities in the Amazon drink it every week.
The medicine is heavy in your system so you have to be careful. Your liver and kidneys will overwork during the ceremony, as well as your brain. Is also important to have aftercare.
Have you felt any downsides?
The only downside is related to people – some people will reject the new you. You will be stigmatised by some. You must also be careful if you suffer from certain medical conditions. If you suffer from mental health and heart conditions you have to be very careful and always tell the shaman about it, especially if you taking medication for depression and other similar conditions.
Remember that ayahuasca is not legal in the UK, so opportunities to explore have to be pursued elsewhere. But armed with information, you can decide for yourself…
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