What is Ayahuasca & Common Questions
Ayahuasca (commonly misspelled iowaska) is the name given to a sacred plant medicine that comes from the Amazon rainforest where the indigenous people of the jungle have likely used it for thousands of years.
However, ayahuasca is no garden-variety plant medicine. The effects of ayahuasca are as extraordinary as they are profound. Most other plant medicines do not heal you by altering your entire perception of reality!
Working with ayahuasca is an intense, profound, and usually an incredibly transformative experience that can facilitate deep healing on all levels of your being – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Ayahuasca is a doorway to inner worlds that allows us to enter expanded states of consciousness and the experience of spiritual awakening. For many people, ayahuasca reveals the multi-dimensional nature of both reality and ourselves, and it leads us back to the knowledge of what we truly are – spiritual beings having a human experience.
The word ayahuasca is derived from two Quechua words (Quechua is an indigenous language of South America). ‘Aya,’ which means spirit, ancestor or deceased person, and ‘Huasca,’ which means vine or rope. Therefore, ayahuasca is sometimes referred to as ‘vine of the soul’ or ‘vine of the dead’.
The history of ayahuasca is relatively unknown, and will always be uncertain because there are no written records from the Amazon region from before the time when the Spaniards invaded. There are only various myths and oral traditions passed down through generations by the indigenous. However, a ceremonial cup was found in Ecuador, believed to be well over 2500 years old that contained traces of ayahuasca, so it has been used at least that long, and probably much longer.
Ayahuasca is used in many South American countries including Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, and by at least seventy different indigenous tribes of the Amazon.
Common Questions About Ayahuasca
All Amazonian shamans consider the ayahuasca vine to be the most important plant of the brew. This is because they understand it to be the spirit of the vine that provides the healing and insights, hence why the vine is also called Ayahuasca.
What is truly fascinating about the ayahuasca brew is the complexity of the chemical interactions that take place to enable the experience, especially when you consider that so-called ‘primitive’ jungle people discovered it.
The Chacruna/Chaliponga plants contain high quantities of DMT (dimethyltryptamine), a potent psychoactive compound that enables the powerful visionary effects common to ayahuasca experiences. What is unique about DMT is that it already naturally exists within the human brain, Many people believe that DMT is created in the pineal gland, which some spiritual traditions associate with the third eye.
American researcher Dr. Rick Strassman investigated the effects of DMT by giving high doses to sixty volunteers over five years. He later hypothesized that the pineal gland releases DMT when a person nears death and that DMT connects us to the spirit world. You can read about his work in the book DMT: The Spirit Molecule.
However, under normal circumstances, DMT cannot have any effect when ingested orally because it is destroyed in the stomach by an enzyme known as Monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A).
This is where the chemistry of the vine comes into play. The ayahuasca vine contains three primary harmala alkaloids – the β-carboline derivatives harmine, tetrahydroharmine (THH), and harmaline. These three harmala alkaloids are potent inhibitors of MAO-A enzymes. In other words, they prevent the enzymes from destroying the DMT, allowing it to pass through the stomach and eventually into the brain where it produces its incredible visionary effects.
However, what is not commonly understood is that there is far more to an ayahuasca experience than just the effects of the DMT. As stated earlier, all shamans say the vine is the most important plant of the brew, and not the plants containing the DMT. A useful analogy I like is to imagine that Ayahuasca is a cave and that DMT is like a torch beam illuminating the cave.
As a final note, do not let the complex sounding chemistry fool you into believing the Ayahuasca experience is nothing more than just chemical interactions in the brain. These chemicals somehow enable the ayahuasca experience, but they are not the experience itself. You could say that it is like the physical components of your computer all work together to enable you to experience the internet. However, your computer is not the Internet – it just allows you to access and interact with it. Likewise, the chemicals of ayahuasca somehow enable you to enter and experience the spiritual dimensions of the universe. You could say they allow you to access the cosmic internet!
Ultimately, it is up to each individual what he or she wants to believe. It is good to be skeptical, but with an open mind. Even the most cynical person must soon acknowledge – from their own experiences, or from the testimonies of countless others, that there are too many strange experiences that simply cannot be explained away by saying they are ‘your brain on drugs’.
People report out-of-body experiences, visiting friends and relatives back home and being able to verify what they encountered during their spiritual flights. Others report group-experiences, where people who take part in a group ceremony all report seeing, hearing and experiencing the exact same things. Telepathic communication is not uncommon.
Ayahuasca is about healing and spiritual growth. For example, it has shown incredible success rates in the treatment of old traumas, like in rape and abuse victims and war veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people report the advantages of ayahuasca when treating cancer and aids and a host of other afflictions, as well as depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction. The list is almost endless!
Ayahuasca should not be considered a drug, or certainly not in the recreational sense. The dictionary definition of drug is ‘a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body’. Within that extremely broad sense then you could classify ayahuasca as a drug. However, calling ayahuasca a drug evokes many negative connotations in most people. People who work with ayahuasca like to refer to it simply as ‘the medicine’ because that is truly what it is. Shamans often refer to it as La Medicina.
I believe that almost all psychedelic substances, particularly LSD and psilocybin have medicinal and/or therapeutic qualities and some recent research have begun proving their effectiveness in treating certain conditions. However, most psychedelic substances, particularly when taken in lower doses, can also be enjoyed on a purely recreational level. Many people who take mushrooms and LSD-like substances often do so to ‘trip out’, have fun, or enhance their creativity (not that I am saying there is anything wrong with that!).
No matter what dosage you take, ayahuasca is never a recreational psychedelic. Even at small doses, it can make you purge heavily and you may experience loss of physical coordination. Ayahuasca is a powerful natural medicine, but what is it a medicine for?
In many respects, experiencing ayahuasca is often a form of psychotherapy, but on a much deeper level than even the most skilled psychotherapist could ever reach. Even an experienced psychotherapist may have difficulty getting you to look deeply at feelings, emotions, or events from your past that you may prefer not remembering.
Ayahuasca, on the other hand, has little difficulty in getting you to confront all the things that you have been avoiding. However, you still have the choice of pushing it away and refusing the insights and healing that ayahuasca offers.
All human beings carry pain with them to varying degrees. We have all experienced loss, abandonment, rejection, sadness, bullying, abuse and quite a high number of us have suffered severe emotional or physical trauma in our lives.
All these painful experiences leave emotional scars on our being, but unlike a physical scar that remains visible, emotional scars are invisible and often it’s difficult to see the influence they still have on our lives. The wounds from our past, if left forgotten and unhealed, will profoundly affect our behaviors of today.
If you really want to experience ayahuasca, then it is important to have a willingness to look deeply and honestly into yourself and be ready to heal the wounds from your past.
If you’re thinking of drinking ayahuasca because you have read about some of the incredible cosmic and spiritual experiences that are often reported – and you quite fancy some of that for yourself – then you may want to reconsider. It is unlikely you will get what you want – or at least not straight away.
There is no doubt that ayahuasca has assisted in some remarkable, some would say miraculous, healings. You can find all kinds of testimonies from people claiming ayahuasca cured them of cancer, brain tumors and a wide variety of life-threatening conditions from which Western medicine generally provides little relief. Yet, not everybody gets the healing they desire, particularly concerning terminal conditions. So please do not look at ayahuasca as a miracle-medicine guaranteed to heal you. You must have no expectations.
Also, you must never expect the medicine to do all the work for you. There are three components of successful ayahuasca healing. The first is the ayahuasca, the second is the work of the shaman, and the third, and equally as important, is you. You must have a strong willingness to work with the ayahuasca. If you do not play your part in the process, then you almost certainly will not get the results you desire.
Real shamanism is not a religion. It is the art of healing and has nothing to do with the worship of any kind of deity. Having said that, shamans will call on spirits, and possibly also on biblical saints and figures such as Jesus, Mother Mary, and the Holy Spirit. Integrating Christian figures into the traditional culture is not strange to the shaman; to him, it is all the same thing.
Foreign-born shamans or Westerners who like to call themselves that sometimes tend to turn the shamanic ceremony into a religious-like event. While some people may have a need for worship of the gods, or religious bells and whistles, it has nothing to do with real shamanism.
In Brazil some religions have formed around the usage of ayahuasca. The most popular of which is Santo Daime
Ayahuasca ceremonies in the Amazon usually take place in either the shaman’s house or a ceremonial maloca. A maloca is a large jungle hut that is often octagonal or decagonal in shape, with a high sloping thatched roof that reaches its highest point in the center.
If the ceremony takes place in a house, participants are typically given a chair to sit on during the ceremony. If it is in a maloca, you are usually provided with a small mattress to sit or lie on.
Most Ayahuasca retreat centers have their own ceremonial maloca, which, depending on their size, can usually fit between ten and thirty people in a circle.
Please note. The following describes a traditional Amazonian ceremony. Religious ceremonies using ayahuasca can be completely different, as well as other ceremonies you may find happening in western countries.
Traditional ayahuasca ceremonies always take place after dark. In the upper Amazon, it gets dark rather early because of the close proximity to the equator. It is always dark before 7 pm and the length of the day is almost the same all year round.
Most ceremonies start between 7 pm and 9 pm, but some shamans prefer to start even later. A ceremony will typically last about 4 or 5 hours, and sometimes much longer.
It’s good practice to arrive at least thirty minutes before the ceremony begins. This gives you enough time to find a place in the room and enter a state of deep relaxation before you begin your inner journey.
I strongly advise against engaging in meaningless chatter for at least an hour before the ceremony begins. Use this time to relax, center yourself and focus on your intention.
To enter a relaxed state of mind, you may find it helpful to meditate or practice meditative breathing exercises. Practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi gung can also be very useful. Use whatever works best for you.
Usually everyone sits in a circle within the maloka or ceremony room
Once everybody is in their place and the shaman is ready to begin, it is time to drink the ayahuasca. Each person in the room will take turns to sit in front of the shaman and drink a cup of ayahuasca.
When a person goes forward, the shaman will pour a dose of ayahuasca into a ceremonial cup. The shaman will usually intuit the dose needed for each individual. First-timers are sometimes given a smaller dose than more experienced drinkers. The shaman will often blow mapacho smoke over the cup and he might also put his own intention or prayer into the cup and/or sing an icaro before handing it over.
After receiving the cup, you should focus your intention into the medicine before drinking it down. The medicine tastes foul, as you have probably heard, so drink the ayahuasca as quickly as possible (as you would a shot of tequila). The quicker you can get it down, the easier it is and less likely you will vomit it straight back up again.
When you have drunk the ayahuasca, you will return to your place in the room and the next person will go forward until each person in the room has drunk their dose. The shaman will usually drink last.
Protecting the space
One of the principle roles of the shaman during a ceremony is to protect the space and everyone in it. This is why, for inexperienced people at least, it is important to drink with a genuine shaman. Without the protection of a good shaman, you’re more open and vulnerable to negative energies and spirits.
Once everyone in the room has drunk the ayahuasca (or sometimes before), the shaman will usually go around the room and blow mapacho smoke over each person, primarily over their crown chakra and over their hands. Mapacho is pure jungle tobacco and is a very powerful and sacred plant medicine/spirit. The mapacho smoke acts as protection from negative energies and spirits.
After the mapacho blessing, it is time to turn out all the lights. The rest of the ceremony will take place in total darkness.
Some shamans will start chanting their icaros almost immediately after turning off the lights. Others will wait until they begin to feel the effects of the ayahuasca, which can be anything from around fifteen to thirty minutes after drinking. Some shamans will sing their icaros throughout the entire ceremony without stopping while others may take breaks from singing and sit in silence for long or short periods.
Icaros are sacred songs or chants that are given to the shamans, by their teachers or directly from the plant spirits. Each icaro has a particular purpose. Some icaros call in different spirits for healing or protection, while others intensify, or even reduce the ayahuasca visions. However, most icaros are for healing.
Closing the ceremony
The shaman will close the ceremony when he feels it is safe to do so, and when his presence in the room is no longer necessary. This is typically four or five hours after the ceremony starts.
Usually, the shaman will close the ceremony with some form of thanksgiving prayer. The shaman may formally declare that the ceremony is over, or he may just get up and leave.
It is important to maintain silence in the room after the ceremony has ended. Some people in the room may still be experiencing strong ayahuasca effects and will not enjoy being distracted by other people’s conversations.
If the ceremony takes place in a maloca, you can usually choose to sleep on your mattress, or you can go back to your bed in whatever accommodation is provided.
If someone ever tells you that he or she is enlightened because of ayahuasca – slap them! – Just kidding, please don’t use violence, but at least have a little chuckle to yourself.
I am sure that nobody has ever become permanently enlightened from drinking ayahuasca. You almost certainly will not find an enlightened shaman in the Amazon and they have surely guzzled more ayahuasca than anyone else has.
Ayahuasca can certainly allow you to experience expanded states of consciousness that may seem profound and enlightening. Sometimes it may seem like you have access to all knowledge in the universe and that you are enlightened and one with God. However, this is always a temporary and perhaps somewhat delusional state and not something that stays with you for long after the ceremony ends.
An idealistic view of many who have healed with ayahuasca is that if everyone in the world experienced this medicine, we could all heal ourselves, expand our consciousness, resolve all the problems of the world, and then live happily ever after.
It is certainly a beautiful idea. However, leaving aside the fact that there is nowhere near enough ayahuasca in the Amazon for everyone in the world to experience it, I think it is fair to say that most people are probably not quite ready to work with such a powerful medicine. Therefore, it is not something I recommend for everyone, or at least not for everyone where they are at right now. Often people grow, develop, and become ready later in their lives.
If you’re not ready to experience the medicine, it may have some rather unpleasant and less than positive effects on your psyche.
If you are considering drinking ayahuasca, here are some questions you may want to consider first. If you answer ‘NO’ to half or more of the questions, it probably is not the right time for you to experience ayahuasca.
Have you felt a strong call to work with the medicine?
Do you have a particular reason for wanting to work with ayahuasca?
Are you aware of emotional wounds, past traumas or illnesses that require healing? If so, do you have a strong willingness to heal them – no matter what?
Do you usually cope well with stressful or challenging situations?
Do you usually welcome change and new experiences into your life?
Can you be comfortable with, or at least open to, the idea of temporarily losing control of your mind (and sometimes your body) for a few hours?
Do you understand that ayahuasca is much more than just a psychedelic trip or drug experience?
Do you understand that consciousness altering substances can be medicinal and facilitate deep healing?
Are you free of any religious or spiritual beliefs that may conflict with you having an ayahuasca experience?
Do you consider yourself open-minded?
Do you try to take full responsibility for your life and your decisions, instead of always blaming other people or situations for your problems?
Do you have a desire to find a new or greater purpose in your life?
Do you trust your intuition?
Have you already done research into the effects of ayahuasca?
If you answered mostly ‘Yes’ then you’re probably ready to experience ayahuasca.
The short answer to this question is simply: No.
In the words of Terrence McKenna, “The only thing you’re likely to die of is astonishment!”
During your research, you may have come across some scary stories about people getting hurt or even dying from drinking ayahuasca. Let me put your mind at ease. Nobody who has drunk ayahuasca responsibly, free of medications, in the right environment and with the guidance of a genuine, experienced shaman, has ever died from drinking ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is not toxic to the body and, to the best of my knowledge, there has been no recorded evidence of physical or psychological damage caused by ingesting ayahuasca in a responsibly held environment.
Having said that, there have been a small number of deaths and injuries related to ayahuasca usage. It definitely can be dangerous if you have certain health conditions, or you are taking medications contraindicated with ayahuasca. These are primarily drugs that contain SSRIs commonly used to treat depression, such as Prozac.
As a precaution, you should not drink ayahuasca if the following applies to you:
You are taking any kind of antidepressants (for example SSRIs, SNRI, MAOI – a and b, TCAs Tricyclic, TeCAs and others) and some pain medications which influence serotonin. Before experiencing ayahuasca, you should stop taking MAOIs and SSRIs at least eight weeks before drinking ayahuasca (it could be less time depending on the drug and the dosage so you should consult with your doctor first).
You are taking antipsychotic medication
See a full list of drugs to avoid at ayahuasca.com
You have a chronic heart condition or severe blood pressure.
You have a history of mental illness, schizophrenia, severe bipolar disorder and/or suicidal tendencies.
You are currently on – or have recently finished an antibiotic treatment.
You suffer from diabetes (Some diabetics can drink ayahuasca safely, but you should discuss this with your retreat center or shaman).
You have had surgery within the last six months.
You are pregnant – this issue is hotly debated and some people believe that it is totally okay to drink ayahuasca while pregnant. Others think it’s not such a good idea. This is something you should discuss with your shaman and also use your own intuition.
You should also be very cautious if you suffer from epilepsy. There is some anecdotal evidence that ayahuasca has been used to treat epilepsy successfully. However, if you have epilepsy, it is important someone monitors you at all times during the ceremony. The danger is that if you have a seizure while in ceremony and vomit at the same time, you could potentially choke on your vomit and die. Therefore, you should not take part in ceremonies with many people where it will be impossible for you to be monitored closely at all times.
There are a few other dangers as well, but these are related to drinking ayahuasca with people who lack integrity, particularly what we call ‘brujos’ in the Amazon. These are shamans who essentially work with the ‘dark side’ of the force, and who use their powers to harm instead of heal.
Although far from a frequent occurrence, there, unfortunately, are reports of people being robbed, beaten and even raped by such people. Worse, a few people have died because of their negligence. For this reason, you should never ever go and do a ceremony with someone you meet on the street, without any way of verifying who they are. In places like Iquitos, you may get many people offering you ayahuasca ceremonies including taxi drivers, jungle lodges/guides and jewelry sellers in the street. Please never do a ceremony with someone you do not know or have no way of reliably verifying.
There are also additional plants that some shamans add to the ayahuasca brew that can potentially be harmful to some people. One of these plants is Toé (Brugmansia suaveolens).
Toé has become notorious lately and is perhaps vilified a little more than it deserves. It definitely can be dangerous, but many shamans still consider it a master plant teacher like ayahuasca and it can heal. However, it is also very toxic. Do not play around with Toé, it should only be used by people who are serious about shamanic training. Use it with extreme caution and only under the close guidance of a genuine and experienced shaman. It should never be given to first-time ayahuasca drinkers under any circumstance because it can inflict long-lasting, even permanent, psychological damage. It can even kill people in large doses. Also, unlike with ayahuasca, it is possible for people to have dangerous allergic reactions to Toé.
No doubt an entire book could be written to answer this one question, but I will provide a few brief thoughts.
The wise Indian philosopher and mystic Jiddu Krishnamurti once said; “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Well, it really is a profoundly sick society that we have created for ourselves. Only relatively recently have large numbers of people started to see the insanity of it all and realized their need to heal from it.
From the day we are born, most of us are abused (even traumatized) to varying degrees by a society that is ultimately controlled by psychopaths. For most of our lives, chemicals have poisoned us in our food, our water, our air and even our medicines. Often, what purports to be healthcare is nothing more than a scam for the pharmaceutical companies to make increasingly obscene profits for themselves. Western medicine generally just treats the symptoms rather than the root cause of the illness.
Our schools and universities teach and condition us to become good little corporate worker-bees, but they do not teach us how to be happy and well-balanced individuals and how to truly look after ourselves, or even think for ourselves. And if you shine a light on the messages that the corporate media pounds into our brains 24/7, you will find that most of their messages are just as poisonous to our minds as the dangerous chemicals are to our bodies. It is a rather grim situation to say the least.
Perhaps worse than all that, most people have become completely disconnected from nature and have no sense of spirituality and sacredness.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that people are finally waking up to all this. They are upset, and looking for answers. They are looking to cleanse and heal their bodies and their minds, and they have a strong desire to reconnect with their true nature and find a deeper sense of purpose to their lives.
The word on the grape(ayahuasca)vine is that ayahuasca can help with all that, and for most people it really can.
Many people have reported that just a few ayahuasca sessions were far more beneficial and more healing than many years of psychotherapy.
Out of places like Iquitos, there is a constant flow, perhaps now a torrent, of anecdotal stories of incredible healings credited to ayahuasca. Nobody who works with this medicine has any doubt that ayahuasca literally changes lives.
A global consciousness shift does appear to be taking place in the world, and few people would argue that ayahuasca is playing at least a small role in that.
People want to truly heal themselves and be whole again, and they want to know what they can do to play their part in healing the world.
I think this is broadly why more people want to experience ayahuasca.
Ayahuasca is legal in all South American Amazonian countries where people use it in traditional shamanic ceremonies: Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, and Brazil.
I am aware of ayahuasca retreat centers in both Mexico and Costa Rica and I believe it to be legal in those countries, but I’m not 100% sure. Portugal have also decriminalized all drugs and there are several retreat centers operating in Portugal. However, whether it is legal to serve the medicine there is possibly a grey area.
In other countries, where ayahuasca is imported, things are often not so clear. In some countries, the ayahuasca plants, as well as the brew are legal, but the chemical substance DMT is not. This may lead to confusion about the implementation of the law. In the UK for example, one person who organized ayahuasca ceremonies was found guilty of breaking the law on selling DMT and convicted to jail time. Yet, another person with similar charges was never even brought to trial.
In some countries, ayahuasca users have found a solution in the form of organized religion. By registering as a church and claiming the use of ayahuasca as a sacred ceremony, they remain protected by religious freedom laws. Two such churches recognized by some European countries and US states are Santo Daime and Uniao Do Vegetal (UDV). However, one cannot just show up and expect to take part in their ceremonies; there is usually some form of application process and admittance criteria.
If you want to experience ayahuasca, you have several options. Your choice depends on what it is you’re searching for, and of course on your available time and budget. Whichever you choose, always prepare and do your homework. Remember, there is no shaman school, no certificate or diploma, and essentially anyone can call themselves a shaman.
Since ayahuasca has gained worldwide attention, many people have become aware of the money they can make from offering ayahuasca ceremonies. This obviously attracts all kinds of elements – the good, the bad and the ugly. Sifting through the pebbles to find the true gems can seem like a daunting task. Many people find it a bit scary and confusing. That is why it is always a good idea to do research online, get references and read reviews. Fortunately, there are more reliable information sources available to help you find your way.
Here is a brief description of the main options that are available to you for experiencing ayahuasca.
This is one of the most popular and safest options. You make a reservation for a multi-day retreat (usually 7 to 14 days), where you stay on location at a lodge, usually in the Amazon rainforest. Everything is included; your transportation (except flights); special meals; several ayahuasca ceremonies and possibly other shamanic or holistic treatments. Accommodations, particularly in the Amazon, are often modest to rustic, but that is part of the experience.
Retreats can be very effective and there are several that come highly recommended. Keep in mind that this is often the most expensive option, although when considering the value of the experience (and in some cases the luxury of the lodge) everything is relative.
I would personally recommend retreats for most people, but there are certainly other worthwhile options particularly if you’re a little more adventurous.
Another option, if you would rather find your own path, is to come to the Amazon and find a good shaman who works alone. Talk to the people you encounter and you will soon hear about their personal experiences. This option is a bit more adventurous and certainly comes with a few more risks, but it could save you quite a lot of money. Not speaking Spanish can be a problem, so take your time finding your way.
Some shamans have their own centers, and can sometimes be just as expensive as western owned retreat centers, but many provide ceremonies in their homes at a much cheaper price. If you work with a single shaman for a period of time, then you are likely going to get much more personal attention than you would at a retreat center.
Local Ceremonies & Ayahuasca Churches
If traveling to South America is not an option, due to time, money or other considerations, finding an ayahuasca ceremony in your own country can be a reasonable alternative. However, keep in mind that these can be illegal, depending on where you live.
You can find people running ayahuasca ceremonies in most major countries in the world, but they may not be easy to find. Due to the legal issues, they do not openly promote what they do. Finding where and when these ceremonies take place can be difficult. It is often a case of knowing the right people, at the right time. Try befriending the owners of your nearest new age bookstore or natural healing center and perhaps they can point you in the right direction.
Keep in mind as well that it is almost impossible to find online reviews and testimonials for such ceremonies. My suggestion is that if you do come across someone who is running ceremonies then you should talk to them beforehand and see what kind of impression they give you. No matter how desperate you are to experience ayahuasca, if someone gives you a bad feeling then my advice is to say ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and walk away.
Another concern is that the police may bust your ayahuasca ceremony (this has happened a couple of times). You will surely understand that being arrested while under the influence of ayahuasca would be a rather unpleasant experience. Please educate yourself about the local laws and the risks in places where DMT is outlawed.
Ayahuasca churches: You will find the UDV (Brazil and US) and Santo Daime chapters in several countries. Also, other organizations worldwide offer ayahuasca ceremonies. You could do a search on Facebook, where you will find many groups. As always, do your research and get references and reviews if possible.
An Amazonian shaman is a healer, a medicine man, a doctor. And although they work as a bridge between the physical and the spiritual worlds, you should not look at them as spiritual gurus or holy priests. Even though they may seem to have super-human abilities, they are still just human beings who often have the same flaws and imperfections as we do.
So please understand that there are reasonable and unreasonable expectations you can project onto a shaman. Just do not put them on a high pedestal and expect them to act like saints.
It is hard to say what makes a good shaman, but there are a few clues you can use to determine if a shaman is worthy of your time and money:
In my opinion, a good shaman:
Is motivated only by healing and never uses their power to harm others.
Should not charge extortionate fees or be solely motivated by financial gain.
Never or rarely drinks alcohol.
Is open and honest about the way he/she works.
Does not abuse their power or get involved in power games.
Never takes advantage of the opposite sex and does not get sexually involved with their patients.
Should seem humble, and not have an inflated ego and not boast about having special powers.
Is never pushy or use any kind of manipulation to get you to work with him.
Will not tell you that he is the ONLY shaman that can possibly help you.
It may be difficult to judge a shaman when you first meet him. A friendly exterior may hide darker ulterior motives. Never feel obligated to remain with a shaman if you begin to feel he or she is not the person you originally thought they were. Look out for these warning signs, and run if you need to:
Evidence of using brujeria or dark magic
Always looking for ways of charging you more money
Appears drunk sometimes
Always secretive about the way they work
They seem to take a sexual interest in you or others
Seems manipulative and engage in power games with you or others
They continually inflate your own ego.
In most countries, you can legally buy both ayahuasca plants (vine and chacruna) from online stores, so that in theory you can brew the ayahuasca yourself. However, is it ever a good idea to brew ayahuasca and drink it on your own?
This is another controversial topic within ayahuasca circles. Some people (including many shamans) will say that it is irresponsible and dangerous to drink alone; others have had very positive experiences going alone.
The fact is, if you spend much time browsing the forums at http://forums.ayahuasca.com/, you will find reports from many people who have had success brewing their own ayahuasca and reporting very positive experiences.
Personally, I do not recommend it, but I am not here to tell you how you should live your life.
A few years ago I facilitated a private group of people on an ayahuasca retreat who were all self-professed ‘psychonauts’. They were all very experienced users of various poweful psychedelics but had never experienced ayahuasca. Most of them had such powerful experiences with ayahuasca that by the end of the retreat almost all agreed that they would never recommend anyone drink ayahuasca without a shaman present.
I believe you should only ever consider it if you already have a great deal of experience with other psychedelic plant teachers. Always have a sitter present – a person who stays completely sober – who can watch over you and help should you have any problems. Never drink ayahuasca completely alone until you have had plenty of experience with a sitter. You can find a lot more helpful tips and advice at http://forums.ayahuasca.com/
Keep in mind that ayahuasca is used by the shamans to open a gateway and enter the spirit realms. A shaman knows how to protect himself and the people in his circle from unwanted contacts and invasions from negative entities. You will understand that this takes experience and skills that require many years of training. Remember that by drinking alone, or without the guidance of an experienced shaman, you may open yourself up to influences and energies that you cannot control and that you have little defense against.
I don’t like to write much about what people can actually experience on ayahuasca because everybody experiences ayahuasca in their own unique way. The spectrum of experiences you can have on this medicine is vast and no two ceremonies are ever quite the same. You could drink ayahuasca ten times and have ten completely different experiences.
You can find many ayahuasca ‘trip reports’ online and they can be fantastically exciting to read; however, I recommend that you do not read many, or maybe not even any at all. The more you read about other people’s experiences, the more expectations you may develop about what your own experience will look like.
It’s important not to have expectations because they can easily get in the way of your actual experience. If you’re constantly judging what you think you should be experiencing against what you’re actually experiencing, you will likely miss out on valuable lessons that ayahuasca is trying to give you.
So, what I typically recommend to people who are drinking ayahuasca for the first time is to forget everything they have ever read, heard, or watched about ayahausca. Go into the experience with a blank slate and have no expectations or pre-conceived ideas about what will happen to you (This can be difficult, I know!).
What I will say is that most people will start to feel the effects of the ayahuasca between 20 and 60 minutes after drinking. However, sometimes the effects can come on much more rapid, or sometimes they may take longer.
You may experience some uncomfortable physical effects, like nausea, or intense hot or cold flashes. These unpleasant physical effects usually pass; however, it is common to feel a lot of nausea during your first one or two ceremonies. This is just something you have to live with.
If you are not feeling any effects after about 90 minutes, then it is usually fine to approach the shaman and ask for a second cup of ayahuasca.
Typically, most people will feel the effects of Ayahuasca for between three and six hours. Usually, the first two hours are the most intense.
Occasionally I get emails from people asking me “I really want to experience ayahuasca but I hate puking. Is there anything I can do to stop myself from puking?”
I understand why some people have a major resistance to puking. For some people, their only experience of puking is when they have been horribly ill, maybe as a young child, and so they always associate puking with having a horrible sickness.
But you just have to accept that there’s no way to stop yourself from purging on ayahuasca and nor should you want to. Purging is a major part of the healing and cleansing process. Ayahuasca purging not only cleanses the body, but also the mind and the spirit. It is truly a holistic purge and possibly one of the most cathartic experiences you will ever have in your life. Do not fight it; work with it and allow it to happen. Purging can help you eject all kinds of toxins from your total being.
The only time you should resist puking, if you can, is during the first thirty minutes of the ceremony. The ayahuasca needs a bit of time to enter your system. Puking too soon may lead to a less intense experience.
Also, do not expect your first one or two ceremonies to be super-intense or life altering. The first couple of ceremonies are often quite mild for some people. This is because we often have many energetic blockages that need clearing before we can go deep with the medicine.
Sometimes I see people being very disappointed after their first one or two ceremonies because they did not get the intense, mind-blowing effects they were expecting and hoping for. As I have said before, it is important to have no expectations and be patient with ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a medicine and she needs to eliminate your blockages before you can go deep. This process can take awhile for some people, but most people will break through by their third ceremony.
There are three tips I can give you for having the best possible experience with ayahuasca.
When you first go into ceremony, forget everything you have ever read or been told about ayahuasca. Put it all out of your mind and have no expectations about what you will experience. The spectrum of experiences one can have with ayahuasca is so incredibly vast, that the idea that anyone can have an expectation about what an ayahuasca experience is going to be like is just absurd. Expectations are for beginners and they can ruin your experience, so drop them.
This is related to expectations as well, but don’t obsess about having visions; the medicine works in many different ways. Not everybody has visions, or certainly not all of the time. Many shamans will tell you that it is not about the visions; that they are usually not important. What is truly important are the revelations, realizations, and the healing that you experience.
Let go and surrender to the medicine. It’s perfectly ok and natural to be feeling a bit of fear, but try and relax – trust the shaman, trust that you’re safe and can’t be harmed, and most importantly – trust the medicine. Ayahuasca experiences only become difficult when you try to resist what’s happening. So resist nothing, surrender, let go. If you can manage that, you will have great ayahuasca journeys.
Let it never be said that working with ayahuasca is easy. It could be one of the hardest and most challenging experiences of your entire life – and then some!
If you’re expecting to spend each ceremony surfing waves of cosmic bliss, then you’re probably going to be in for a rather rude awakening. Sure, ayahuasca is able to deluge you with more love and bliss than you can handle, but first she likes to make you work. And that work can be very, very challenging!
As I already stated, the best thing you can do is just surrender to the experience, no matter how hard it may be. However, if your experience becomes too challenging and you feel like you wish it would all just stop; there are a few things you can do to help get through these sticky patches.
First, remind yourself that you are safe and that you trust the medicine. This can sometimes help more than you could imagine. Know that no matter how negative, scary, or challenging the experience feels, it is just a part of the healing process and you’re going to come through it and be ok. Remember that just like every other experience you have had in your life, this too shall pass.
It can be helpful to sit up straight (if you’re not already sitting up). When lying down, you are in more of a submissive position. Sitting up can make you feel more present and in control of the experience. Also, take slow deep breaths and just focus on your breathing. Another thing that can help is to focus intently on the icaros the shaman sings.
If your visions turn dark and scary, know that you are protected and that your visions cannot harm you. They have no power over you. It may sometimes help to take a deep breath and blow them away. When visions get dark and scary, it is usually just a visual manifestation of the negative energies you’re releasing. Be grateful the ayahuasca is doing her work.
Finally, if all else fails, ask for help from a facilitator, if there is one. If need be, they will alert the shaman, who is equipped to help you through and to steer your experience in a more positive direction.
Ayahuasca is often commonly misspelled iowaska which is closer to the correct pronunciation.
You pronounce it aya-wass-ka