Power & Plant Spirit Shamanism
| May 20, 2014
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic brew of various plant infusions, employed by the native people of Amazonian Peru for divinatory and healing purposes. People who have consumed Ayahuasca report having spiritual revelations regarding their purpose on earth, the true nature of the universe as well as deep insight into how to be the best person they possibly can. It is often reported that individuals feel they gain access to higher spiritual dimensions and make contact with various spiritual or extra dimensional beings who act as guides or healers.
The ingestion of Ayahuasca can also cause significant, but temporary, emotional and psychological distress. For this reason, and various others, some shamans and experienced users of Ayahuasca advise against consuming it when not in the presence of at least one well-trained shaman. Furthermore, there are fraudsters in some parts of South America who masquerade as real shamans, enticing tourists to drink Ayahuasca in their presence.
This essay by Jonathan Davis is an exploration of the practices of Ayahuasca tourism in South America. The opinions expressed in it are Jonathans only, not that of The Planthunter. We are in no way encouraging the consumption of Ayahuasca, purely sharing a story of people, plants and power. Georgina
Welcome To The Jungle
After about five years of experience with Ayahuasca, I finally felt the time was right for me to make the pilgrimage to its cultural home, the Amazon Rainforest, where I spent nearly five months observing the power dynamics of Ayahuasca shamanism in the Peruvian jungle. When considering the acquisition of power, whether it be a shaman attempting to gain extra-ordinary abilities or even a CEO engaged in a hostile takeover, the core question remains the same: Are they in service of the self or for the good of all?
The Wounded Healer
There are a number of reasons for drinking Ayahuasca. The vast majority of people see it as an entheogen and use it to seek healing or growth, be it physical, emotional, psychological or spiritual. They are looking for insight and spiritual evolution. Naturally, there are those who want to try Ayahuasca for entertainment, somehow mistaking it for another recreational drug. But, not long after they encounter the power and intensity of the brew, they tend to either shift towards treating it with deep respect, or they turn away from it as quickly as possible, to avoid facing themselves.
Those who stay, whether they know it or not, have begun the process of seeking power: power over addictions; the power of self control; shifting from a position of physical weakness and illness to a position of power and strength; release from anxiety and the influence of past trauma to a more empowered sense of self.
These are the people who know, without question, that they will be back to drink the brew again someday. It is these seekers who end up engaging with the search for shamanic power in a more active way. While people in the former group may define themselves as having ‘worked with Ayahuasca’ in the past tense, while the latter are more likely to say: ‘I am an Ayahuasca drinker.’
The Cult of Ayahuasca
There are certainly parallels to religion here – most notably sacramental communion. There is a clear defining difference, however, between religion and shamanism. Religion is a process where people are first expected to have faith and are promised that later, after death, the personal experience of the divine will provide proof that their faith was worthwhile. Shamanism, on the other hand, suggests that we first have a personal experience of the divine, then allow whatever kind of faith to emerge from that experience.
In this way, shamanism has the potential to be far more egalitarian and less hierarchical than religion. When the primary source of doctrine comes from one’s own personal experience while directly communing with nature, then there is less need for middlemen and no need for scripture dictating what people should and shouldn’t believe.
This isn’t to say that there is no hierarchy or gatekeepers in shamanism. The fact is that Ayahuasca requires an experienced facilitator to care for and guide people, due to the deep levels of vulnerability the medicine can bring about.
In his book ‘Signing To The Plants’, Steve Beyer suggests that well before the relentless waves of tourists seeking Ayahuasca began crashing into South America, there were in fact many Ayahuasca shamans in the Amazon who didn’t allow their patients to drink the jungle medicine at all, reserving its secrets only for themselves.
The question as to why they might have restricted access to the secrets of the master plants, as always, comes down to whether they were in service of the self above others or in service to the good of all. Perhaps it’s just that their ego enjoyed being the exclusive keeper of that knowledge. Alternatively they may have been completely humble and feared this power falling into the hands of those who were inclined toward their own self-interests at the expense of others.
Imitation of Power
When you know what to look for, you can start to see the difference between imitation of power and actual power. The easiest identifier is when someone is clearly enjoying their position of power and authority. It indicates that their ego has not yet outgrown being in service to self above others.
A trickier one is someone with a truly good heart who is still ruled by their ego, but genuinely wants to do good. Don’t underestimate how dangerous this category can be. When someone is seeking healing from things such as child sexual assault or mental illness involving psychosis, it is extremely important that the person finds a practitioner who is at the highest level of experience and integrity. Put a person like this with a ‘shaman’ whose heart wants to do good, but their ego has deluded them into thinking they are more experienced than they are, and the Ayahuasca can change from truly having the potential to finally help them, to inadvertently doing harm that perhaps only a truly gifted healer could undo.
Some obvious signs that a person has not yet trained their ego into the service of others are reactiveness instead of response, vanity and other unhealthy perceptions around ranking and hierarchy, strong and or obvious craving or aversion, and control issues.
The Amazon is also a world where attack, sorcery or brujeria are commonplace. Some westerners undergoing formal shamanic training start off with a strong moral compass and desire to do good, but take on a ‘when in Rome’ attitude towards retaliation and revenge, extending to local beliefs and practices around attack. A common jungle attitude is ‘I’m here to do good and I’m here to heal, but if someone hurts my family, I will make them pay’.
To some this may be justified aggression, but even so, it’s a slippery slope and one of the many ways someone can slip off the path to becoming a true master, and end up (knowingly or not) becoming a brujo or dark shaman.
Slipping From The Path of True Mastery
In many cases slipping from the path comes down to an inability to do the real work of Ayahuasca, which at its core is about facing the self: seeing all aspects of ourselves and learning to become comfortable with who we have been, and who we really are. When the apprentice hits a point where they are unable or unwilling to face something that is too challenging within himself, they may fall out with a teacher of integrity and continue to study with others of less integrity or on their own. This can also occur with a practicing shaman continuing his training with the teacher – the plants themselves.
It is only the people who are willing to do their own internal work of learning to face their shadow, bringing the healing light of awareness and acceptance to the darkest corners of themselves, who make it to true mastery. They do exist and can be found, if you are careful.
Ayahuasca on Local Level
When I went to the jungle I thought that everyone drinking Ayahuasca was getting packets of the same bit torrent. As I spoke to other westerners about their insights they seemed to fit with my insights and a larger mosaic seemed to be emerging. A blueprint for how we could be living on this planet in a better way than we’re living in today.
I expected the shamans in the jungle would already have the full picture. It turns out most of them are too busy scrambling for gringo dollars and fighting with each other to try to imagine how we can get to a harmonious & sustainable state of peace on this planet.
Western Ideas of Ayahuasca
The type of people who pack their bags to seek healing and insight in the jungles of South America clearly have some level of dissatisfaction with the answers they’re getting at home. Having grown up in a more globally connected culture, our concerns have become more global too.
Those who are seeking power past the direct need for personal healing, and are doing it for the good of all, tend to gravitate towards a Gaian/home tree type myth that the consciousness of Ayahuasca is in fact an interface or representation of the spirit of the entire biosphere, sent to help bring humanity back into alignment with nature before we cause our own extinction. They may have been told this myth by others, but it’s more likely that fragments of the idea came to them through their own visionary experiences.
Ayahuasca: A Multidimensional Google?
Perhaps a better way to perceive Ayahuasca is as a search engine, for all the knowledge of all beings, in all dimensions, in all existence, past, present and future. What westerners who are inclined to turn to nature for answers tend to concern themselves with, after their own immediate need for healing, is the wellbeing of the entire biosphere and everything in it. It makes sense then that this is what we end up turning our minds to when let loose on 5D information superhighway of Ayahuasca.
I feel as though Ayahuasca can guide humanity towards finding a better way to live on earth together, however, my experiences have made me wonder whether that’s what we really want to use it for.
Tens of thousands of people drink Ayahuasca in South America and all over the world every year in safe and supportive environments and receive deep and profound healing. This article has endeavoured to share some of the potential pitfalls that may be encountered while searching for self empowerment and illumination on the plant medicine path.
This article is an abridged version of a longer story published here.
The slider image was sourced from here