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Monday, 22 March 2010

Surviving a Traditional Ayahuasca Ceremony - Page 2

Written by Katie O'Hara
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Staring at the dark outline of the thatched roof against the night sky, my eyes begin to glaze over.  Lightning flashes—illuminating the faces of the three men on the floor next to me.  The chanting of the shaman begins to blend with the sounds of the insects and nocturnal beasts prowling outside the shack, deep in the Amazon jungle.  My body feels cool and tingly.  I melt into the wall.  My eyelids feel like they are shutting from the bottom up.  Another dramatic bolt of lightning rips across the starlit sky, sending me back to my present circumstances.


Malo dumped some of the clear liquid into his hands and spread it on his body, face and neck, like an aftershave.  The liquid had a strong menthol odor.  After filling the room with thick tobacco smoke, Malo whistled a sweet melody into the ayahuasca bottle for about five minutes.  He said a prayer for all of us in the room, individually connecting with everyone.  He smoked again and blew smoke into the bottle of ayahuasca, closed it, and rolled it between his hands.  While the liquid marinated in smoke, he chanted and rhythmically shook the branch.  Finally, he filled a metal cup, blew more smoke onto it, and handed it to me—an oozing dark brown liquid, billowing with thick smoke.

Ayahuasca” is a Quechan word that means “the rope that links the world of the dead with the world of the living.”  It also is known as “Santo Daime” which means “to give sanity.”  I believe the name would be better suited if it translated as “to take sanity.”  The drink is a mixture of the liana vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and other plants.  The vine contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors that activate the hallucinogenic effect when boiled with other plants that contain DMT.

In other parts of the world ayahausca is illegal, but if traditionally prepared by a shaman, it can still be legally used in many parts of South America, where it is considered sacred and healing.  The drink is used in religious ceremonies, cleansings, and therapeutic workshops.  It induces visions, revelations, and deepened sensory perceptions.

Prepared to intensify my awareness, I took a breath, glanced at the shaman and gulped down the cup of, quite possibly, the vilest drink I have ever tasted.  I resisted the urge to gag on the acrid sludge sliding down my throat.  I did not, however, resist from making an awful face, inducing laughter from the shaman.

Now I lay on the floor, helpless against the mass of surrounding cockroaches and spiders.  My limbs are heavy.  I try to wiggle my toes but the signal my brain sends to my feet is blocked somewhere along the way.  I feel as if I am not a part of my own body until it reminds me that it is still attached my brain by filling my mouth with water.  I sit up and realize I will have to throw up with the man in the “bathroom,” which is just a toilet and sink behind a wall.

Standing up is not an easy task.  I wobble toward what was once a white hammock—now vibrating harder and harder, until it transforms into a flock of white gulls and seems to take off in front of me in a confusion of beating vibrations. Seeing that I am stuck, Jhonny appears and helps me to the bathroom where I repeatedly dispose of the pungent liquid into the overused toilet.  The foul taste is my mouth has returned, and is not significantly different than the flavor of the initial drink even though it is now mixed with bile and stomach acids (that’s how bad the stuff tastes).  With frantically shaking hands, I rinse my mouth and sweat-drenched face.


(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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