The Year of Drinking Magic recounts a journalists' experiences working with the Amazon plant brew ayahuasca, and the journey of awakening that followed.
Mind & Body Psychedelics
||15 publishers interested
In late December 2013 and over New Year's Eve 2014, environmental journalist Guy Crittenden fulfilled a long-held dream to visit Peru and trek the Amazon rainforest and stay at a spiritual retreat center where he drank the shamanic visionary plant brew ayahuasca. The visions, teachings and personal breakthroughs the author experienced were transformative, exceeding anything he'd envisioned during years of research and preparation. The Peru trip kicked off what became a year of spiritual revelation and personal discovery for this curious traveler, initiating what he came to think of as "The Year of Drinking Magic."
The Year of Drinking Magic recounts in detail Crittenden's experiences in Peru and offers readers detailed accounts of each of his shamanic journeys while under the spell of the ancient medicine. The reader then follows the author home to Canada and his experiences drinking ayahuasca another nine times in discretely held ceremonies in Southern Ontario. We follow his personal growth and transformation as the "teacher plant" guides him in healing past and current relationships, childhood traumas, and in understanding reality from a shamanic perspective about which modern technocratic society is largely unaware.
As his personal spirit quest unfolds, the author experiences other entheogenic plants also, like huachuma (San Pedro cactus), Psilocybin mushrooms and edible cannabis. The plants guide him into interactions with an invisible realm that impacts his daily life, including regular visitations from a totemic spirit animal, lucid dreams and shamanic visions without any psychotropic plants, and strange experiences of synchronicity that defy rational explanation.
In time, Crittenden leaves his job and devotes himself full-time to following the path the shamanic plants have laid before him, a path of environmental activism, political resistance and mysticism.
In the end, The Year of Drinking Magic describes in moving and at times poetic detail the transformative potential of a deeply ancient plant consciousness desperately needed by a world whose species and indigenous people are disappearing at an alarming rate, threatening human life and all life on the planet.
Could it be that the overmind of Gaia herself is reaching out from the jungles of South America, calling for help?
CHAPTER 0 [PREFACE]
The author thanks his “teachers” — both living and dead — for their guidance and inspiration on his spiritual path. Reference is made to some specific books and a few sentences about their content. People referred to include comparative religions scholar and lecturer Alan Watts, spiritual and psychedelic guru Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), psychonaut and “scientist without portfolio” Terence McKenna, Cambridge biologist and morphogenic fields originator Rupert Sheldrake, punk rock bassist and ordained Zen priest Brad Warner, physicist Amit Gotswami (The Quantum Physicist), and others, including personal friends and colleagues.
CHAPTER 1 [INTRODUCTION]
This chapter recounts the circumstances in the author’s life that led to his life-changing trip to the Peruvian Amazon over New Year’s Eve 2013-2014 and creates the context for all that follows. The author briefly recounts his 25-year career as an environmental journalist, his growing concern about widespread ecological collapse, and his profound personal questions about mortality and the afterlife after the death of his stepfather. Hints are given about the profound impact of the 12 ayahuasca ceremonies that will be described in the chapters that follow, and the dramatic conclusions that will be summarized in the epilogue.
CHAPTER 2 [AMAZON JUNGLE TRIP]
In this chapter the author describes his trip to the Peruvian Amazon over New Year’s Eve 2014-2014. Some books that inspired the trip are mentioned, including Jeremy Narby’s The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. Terence McKenna’s ideas of time moving backwards as well as forward are cited in reference to the author feeling called by the plants as soon as he commits to the Peru trip. The author lands in Lima, Peru and spends time in the port city of Iquitos, then travels by boat trip to a jungle lodge in the riverside village of Libertad. The author recounts trekking in the Amazon jungle with a group of fellow Canadian travellers.
CHAPTER 3 [SPIRITUAL RETREAT CENTER AND CEREMONY ONE]
The author settles in to a four-day stay at the Nihue Rao Spiritual Center outside Iquitos, Peru. The property is described as well as preparations before ceremony. The author shares his intention for the evening of the first ayahuasca ceremony with assistant curanderos, and at nightfall the ceremony begins. The experiences of that night are described in detail, including the arrival of a heavy rainstorm and sounds of revellers in a nearby village celebrating New Year’s Eve. The author describes his intense visionary experiences as the shamanic realms open up to him with the plant medicine.
CHAPTER 4 [CEREMONY TWO]
The author spends the day following the first ceremony reflecting on his experience, walking and speaking with his fellow travellers. The guests have a full day off and then the second ayahuasca ceremony begins at nightfall the next day. The group is encouraged by the lead curandero Ricardo Amaringo to sit up and do the hard work. The author experiences healing of his relationship with his mother and the cosmic Mother. The author endures an “operation” on his golden spiritual heart and observes shamanic phlegm coughed up by the lead shaman. He then receives a profound lesson in humility and the way he manifests the colonial mentality. He receives his spirit animal.
CHAPTER 5 [CEREMONY THREE]
The next night the third ceremony takes place. For the third time the author experiences nausea but no vomiting or diarrhea. Lessons in humility are imparted, but gently, and ayahuasca reprograms the author’s neural pathways impacted from childhood trauma. Lessons in the universal mother follow, with the author made to feel the love of all mothers in the human and animal kingdom and their suffering with the inevitability of loss. The author experiences a William S. Burroughs-type hallucination in the washroom. The author endures his first near-death experience (NDE) with entities from the spirit realm. The author spends a few days in Iquitos recovering and then returns home.
CHAPTER 6 [LIFE AT HOME AND CEREMONY FOUR]
The author reviews his life at home and discovers certain addictive tendencies are gone and that he’s experienced profound healing. He decides to quit his job at the end of the year and thereby conclude a 25-year career in magazine journalism. The author begins keeping a “spiritual diary” to document a series of paranormal phenomena that befall him. The details of ceremony four are detailed. He experiences animal and vegetative forms that look as though rendered with CAD software, and a carnival-type vista with clown and animal forms. He has a profound encounter with an archetypal spirit realm creature that imparts lessons to him about Celtic shamanism. The evening concludes with the author reflecting on his inadequate response to the knowledge that his stepmother is dying.
CHAPTER 7 [CEREMONY FIVE]
After a day of relaxing and running errands, the author experiences his fifth ayahuasca ceremony. During the night the author learns about the gentle side of ayahuasca after accepting a moderate portion of the medicine. Some of the visions and teachings of the previous night repeat themselves. The author realizes he’s growing rapidly into a more mature relationship with ayahuasca. Gone is the initial giddiness of the experience, replaced with being able to ride the medicine with intention. The author communicates telepathically with his dying stepmother. The morning after ceremony he learns some surprising information.
CHAPTER 8 [CEREMONY SIX]
The author reflects on his experiences and delays further ceremonies by a few months, but eventually attends his sixth ceremony. The author recounts some amusing stories about interacting with an ayahuascero from Hawaii, lost medicine, and making Amazonian tea for other guests. Ceremony begins, with mimosa distillate taking the place of chacruna leaves as a source of DMT. Sacred geometry appears, then three-dimensional objects and rapidly morphing creatures, followed by carnival and dreamlike landscapes filled with nightmarish or beautiful elements, including laughing Mexican Day of the Dead skulls and light-filled energy beings. The author receives lessons in piloting his consciousness in the shamanic realms, and is reminded in profound ways of the Earth’s environmental predicament.
CHAPTER 9 [CEREMONY SEVEN]
The author spends the day after ceremony contemplating the beautiful hologram in which we live, Gaia’s eternal creation. During the seventh ceremony that night the author settles into an evening of magical visions and gentle lessons from ayahuasca. He’s taken further into guidance about his spiritual path and life’s overall purpose. He’s shown in drastic ways the plight of nature, and is missionized to do more. The evening is punctuated with many people in the ceremony having difficult nights and doing deep work. Eventually the author experiences a vision that involves a swirling sun that absorbs his consciousness and gives him a preview of non-duality. After looking at the Milky Way stars outside, the author sings a song that materialized after his stepfather died several years before.
CHAPTER 10 [CEREMONY EIGHT]
Things continue to shift for the author as he integrates the lessons and effects from his sixth and seventh ayahuasca ceremony. His world view crumbles as his assumptions reveal themselves as culturally-induced superstitions. The author gradually loses all sense of attachment to objects or outcomes. After devoting himself to service and making important life changes, in the fall of 2014 he’s called back to his eighth ayahuascas ceremony. The author receives stern guidance from the plant about who will and will not receive her teachings. He observes the lead facilitator shape-shifting and has a profound experience of communion with his ancestors and dark energies that have haunted his lineage for generations. He experiences reality from the viewpoint of a spider, and is given a tour of strange beings in other galaxies, which teem with life.
CHAPTER 11 [CEREMONY NINE]
The author’s interior world continues to be rearranged. He struggles to concentrate on his work and ends a relationship with a girlfriend. Compassion grows inside him — some sort of heart awakening is underway. More strange paranormal phenomena appear. The author begins to journey without medicine. The author attends his ninth ayahuasca ceremony and asks to connect again powerfully with the Divine. His request is answered with an exceptionally beautiful night of magic and shamanic journeying. He participates in some drumming with the group. He encounters the Divine as she morphs into the shapes of hundreds of different kinds of organic forms and beings. He experiences himself as an old man, seeing himself sitting in ceremony in the distant future.
CHAPTER 12 [CEREMONY TEN]
The tenth ceremony is held, before which the author has an portentous experience with a deck of prophecy cards. Incredible visuals follow the onset of the medicine, and lessons review the importance of the mother, as well as the warrior’s role in protecting her. The author hopes for a gentle and easy night but discovers ayahuasca will not let him off easily. He spends time in the shimmering molten realm of DMT, feeling gratitude for the love and beauty offered to him in this strange place. He experiences the feelings and anguish of previous lovers from their perspective, and is taught about God’s various hiding places. Ayahuasca teaches lessons on the grace and divinity that exists in the worlds of insects, snakes and other reptiles. The author is called telepathically to dance a warrior dance during which he’s shown he’s a medicine holder for the tribe, but that his writing is his medicine bundle and the tribe is all suffering beings.
CHAPTER 13 [CEREMONY ELEVEN]
As he integrates the lessons and puts them into action, the author reviews his life and growing up, and the family dysfunction he endured. He gains a cosmic perspective about how each person has been a teacher and helper with his soul’s journey and purification. The author is joined by his stepbrother for ceremony eleven which is profound for both of them. He endures a night with many peaks and valleys, including flights up to the most luminous divinity and down into the darkest areas of fear and anxiety. As the author begins to feel overconfident, the medicine threatens him with death and humbles him. When the facilitators sing the popular hymn Om Namah Shivaya the author finds himself in the direct presence of the Divine, bathed in a pink light, he face streaming with tears. Just when he thinks the evening is over, the author receives his most profound lesson on mothers. The following morning the author’s stepbrother gives an account of his experiences and leaves for home.
CHAPTER 14 [CEREMONY TWELVE]
As he thinks about the night before and the night ahead, the author contemplates the significance of the sacred number 12, as this will be his twelfth ayahuasca ceremony. The lead ayahuascera serves the author a special light-filled medicine, which leads to a night of crystalline visions filled with light as brilliant as the Sun. Ayahuasca reviews the world of elephants and their social order, and the sickness of modern humans and the system that rewards their being killed. The medicine reveals to the author a very foreboding prophecy about the future of human beings. Lessons are imparted about the Divine hiding from herself, why the Buddha laughs, and the illusion of death. The ceremony concludes and the following morning the author listens to the assistant facilitator’s interesting stories about breatharian tribes in Mexico and different spiritual practices of native people.
CHAPTER 15 [CONTINUING WORK WITH SHAMANIC PLANTS]
The author reflects back on his whirlwind year and the profound changes in his inner and outer life from the 12 ayahuasca ceremonies. He elaborates on what he’s put into action and some of the shamanic phenomena that continue to enliven his daily and nightly experience. He gets the spirit snake tattooed on his left arm. He briefly describes his work with other shamanic plants, including huachuma (San Pedro cactus) and psilocybin mushrooms. These experiments culminate with his smoking pure DMT with a skilled neo-shaman during which he experiences himself in a state of true non-duality. The author seeks a gentler way of maintaining his connection with the Divine source, and experiments with small amounts of edible cannabis. After consuming cannabis in a floatation tank he’s shown the Wheel of Dharma in a powerful vision that recapitulates the visions from his previous ayahuasca journeys. He understands the shamanic plants as “necroptics” that allow the author to experience self-induced near-death experiences.
CHAPTER 16 [EPILOGUE]
The author summarizes his learnings from working with the teacher plants and speculates about the role that shamanism may play in reminding mankind of its relationship with sacred nature, and the need to reinvent civilization in view of this ancient knowledge. The author discusses strategies for triggering shamanic visionary experience without the use of psychotropic plants for those reluctant to work with them, and the importance of creating a culture that is truly sustainable. He speculates about a future in which human beings could potentially last long enough to discover their true potential, including the capacity for love and joy, and muses on such things as the potential for eventual inter dimensional travel or the technologies to explore the galaxy. The author calls upon readers to participate in the exciting project of re-invigorating human life with sacred purpose.
Every year thousands of people in North America and Europe, Australia and elsewhere pack their bags and head to South America to experience ayahuasca and other shamanic visionary plants that have opened up a brisk business for hundreds of retreat centers on the new Gringo Trail. A tsunami of interest in psychedelic plants is swamping industrial societies in way that's reminiscent of marijuana and LSD in the 1970s. A counter-culture is emerging even as the world languishes in a state of fear over terrorism, economic inequality, perpetual war and ecological collapse. Curanderos (shamans) now travel to North America and Europe to serve these medicines, and ceremonies are held every weekend in and around every major city.
This phenomenon has created an explosion of interest in ayahuasca and other psychotropic plants. New websites and blogs appear every week in response. But outside of clinical literature and a few documentaries about ayahuasca's healing potential, few contemporary books exist to help travellers to South America or would-be ayahuasca drinkers prepare for what awaits them. Guides exist about what to wear and what to eat, but there are few detailed professionally-written accounts of the inner experience, that an ayahuasca journey might look and feel like.
The Year of Drinking Magic holds the potential to become a staple and widely-shared book that fills exactly that information void. While everyone's experience will be different, the detailed account will be useful for novices and experienced psychonauts alike. The Year of Drinking Magic offers an experiential account of how the teacher plants may bring the consciousness of an individual into the realm of shamanic journeying -- part of our human spiritual heritage dating back thousands of years.
In his Year of Drinking Magic, the author found the shamanic plants were not the gateway to novel experiences of sacred geometry, visions and profound teachings, but ultimately a direct pathway to interacting with a universal consciousness, a Gaian oversoul, a Brahma or Atman mind or what some people simply call God. And this universal consciousness has messages for humanity!
Guy Crittenden is a veteran journalist and magazine editor who enjoyed a 25-year career working on environmental business magazines during which time he won an unprecedented 14 Kenneth R. Wilson Awards for excellence in business journalism, including gold and silver prizes for best feature and best editorial. Over the years his freelance feature articles have appeared in mainstream media such as the Globe & Mail newspaper, Saturday Night magazine and other national publications. He has twice been a finalist at the National Magazine Awards. After a life-changing trip to the Peruvian Amazon in late 2013 he left his job to write freelance articles and books, focusing on environmental issues and spiritual themes such as Amazonian plant shamanism. He blogs regularly on the Pulse Tours website and has published articles on consciousness shift websites such as Reset.Me and Reality Sandwich. He has been interviewed about his ayahuasca journey for the Archaic Drum podcast and the Daniel Cleland Experience.
The author is a professional writer and public speaker with more than a quarter-century of experience publishing magazines, speaking at conferences and being interviewed on radio, television and (more recently) in podcasts.
To promote The Year of Drinking Magic, the author will hire a publicist to line up speaking engagements in all forms of media, especially radio book and spirituality programs, and will solicit interview opportunities on online media such as podcasts. (The author has been interviewed by the Archaic Drum podcast and twice appeared on the Jungle Jam Podcast, recently rebranded as the Dan Cleland Experience.)
The author will also promote the book via his existing online publishing relationships, including the Reality Sandwich website, Rest.Me and the Pulse Tours website where he maintains a regular blog, as well as his robust social media network.
The author was a speaker at the First Detroit Entheogenic Conference in 2015 and will promote his book at similar local and distant events focused on entheogenic plants and spirituality. He intends to record an audiobook version of the book for downloading, and would be interested in having the book translated and recorded in different languages for this purpose.
The author will invite peers in the psychedelic community to review the book and recommend it to their various audiences. The author himself has a robust and loyal Facebook following that will help with initial crowdfunding, sales and promotion of the book, and will share awareness of the book on some of the larger psychedelic and shamanic Facebook groups where he has cultivated a good profile already through sharing his published articles and blogs, including the groups "Ayahuasca" and "Shamanic Community."
Ayahuasca: An Executive's Enlightenment by Michael Sanders (Sage & Feather Press, 2015). This book recounts the trip where Guy Crittenden met Michael Sanders and a small group of travellers to trek the Peruvian Amazon and drink ayahuasca. The book offers a short and charming account of that trip and Sander's ayahuasca experiences. The Year of Drinking Magic is wider in its scope, covering off that trip in its first few chapters from a different perspective and then unfolding expansively into the author's many other shamanic journeys back in Canada, as well as his expanded understanding of plant shamanism as a path of personal transformation and access to the Divine.
A Shamanic Kundalini Awakening by Brendan Ring (Self-published, 2016). Celtic harp musician Brendan Ring recounts the story of his personal growth and transformation from growing up in Ireland and early exposure to the discipline of yoga, through the rise of kundalini in his own energy body, and his expansion into shamanic dream states from working with plant medicines like ayahuasca. The Year of Drinking Magic recounts a similar path, but with more emphasis on the contents of specific ayahuasca ceremonies and the visions and lessons therein.
Pulse of the Jungle: Ayahuasca, Adventures, and Social Enterprise in the Amazon, by Daniel Cleland (Lioncrest Publishing, 2016). Entrepreneur Dan Cleland recounts his experiences in the Amazon jungle that led him to create a tourism business -- Pulse Tours and the Ayahuasca Adventure Center. The book includes stories from clients about their transformative experiences. The Year of Drinking Magic recounts a story of personal growth and transformation, focused more on one person's experiences and intuitions about them, without the anthology of different travellers' reports.
Shedding the Layers: How Ayahuasca Saved More Than My Skin, by Mark Flaherty (2012)
Ayahuasca: The Visionary and Healing Powers of the Vine of the Soul, by Joan Parisi Wilcox (2003)
Ayahuasca: My Journey to Peru to Participate in an 8-Day Ayahuasca Retreat, by Tommy Bailey (2014)
The Shaman and Ayahuasca: Journeys to Sacred Realms, by Don Jose Campos and Charles Grob (2011)
The Ayahuasca Test Pilots Handbook: The Essential Guide to Ayahuasca Journeying, by Chris Kilham (2014)
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
This book is a message in a bottle to the next generation, placed gently by the midwife of dreams in the lamplit tide of a dying world. I yearn for a regenerated planet and a human civilization reinvented with new forms of consciousness…
…yet my heart tamps with doubt.
Earth herself won’t disappear — the spinning rock that incubated us will endure for billions more years before she’s swallowed by the Sun. By then we’ll have left on starships or will have evolved into something else. Maybe we’ll traverse space inter-dimensionally.
That is, if we make it through the current ecological crisis. We’re living in the Anthropocene: the Earth’s latest mass extinction event. The full impact of climate change has yet to be felt, yet as I write this already 50 per cent of all life that existed on this planet when I was born in 1960 has vanished.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. The situation spurred me to seek out the ancient wisdom of mankind — even of the Earth herself (Gaia) — in shamanic ceremony with teacher plants.
I’d spent 25 years as an environmental journalist, editing magazines on pollution control and municipal recycling. I knew all about the technocratic solutions to the consumer society’s impacts on natural systems. And it’s true that industrial ecology can stem many of the problems that threaten ecosystems and human wellbeing.
But none of it will be enough… The destruction of nature is baked in to our predatory style of capitalism and the neocon/neoliberal economics that has dismantled the welfare state in industrialized countries over the past 35 years and transfers each month the funds needed for sustainable development and green energy to instead finance perpetual wars — wars against sovereign states that are (unsurprisingly) always rich in oil, or against terrorist groups that usually have ties to Western intelligence agencies.
And so I felt called to drink ayahuasca — the vine of souls — and learn whether or not its lessons could help unlock the secrets I needed to understand both in terms of personal healing or spiritual insight, and in terms of solutions to our current global predicament.
But that isn’t the whole truth.
If I’m to be honest, my own aging and fear or wonderment about death was central in my decision to drink ayahuasca — the vine of the dead.
My stepfather had died the year before, and I was fed up with the shallow explanations of death in my own culture, which were really explaining away…
I wanted to know if ayahuasca might reveal, or at least offer clues, about what happens to us when we die.
Do we have souls? Are we immortal? Is reincarnation real? What is the afterlife like?
My experience with the vine was profound, vastly exceeding anything for which I could have hoped or been prepared.
Soon after my first-ever participation in an ayahuasca ceremony, I thought, “I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to understand what happened in just the first ten minutes of this experience.”
And this appears to be true.
I’ve consumed the shamanic brew many times since drinking it the first time on New Year’s Eve at the end of 2013 in the main maloka (ceremonial building) at the Nihue Rao Spiritual Center outside Iquitos, Peru. Though the visions and themes of the tryptamine space are more familiar to me now, ayahuasca’s revelations continue to challenge and overturn my assumptions about what consciousness is, and the fundamental nature of reality.
I now refer to the visionary plants as necroptics because, in the way they affect me, they trigger a near-death experience or NDE. Ayahuasca has become quite literally the vine of my soul. The vine of my death. And other shamanic plants now affect me this way, too.
Shortly before I departed on that fateful journey in 2013, my friend Aaron said, “There will be a Guy Crittenden who gets on the plane to Peru, and another Guy Crittenden who returns returns.” That statement was more prescient than either of us realized at the time.
The medicine healed and transformed me to an amazing extent, offering teachings I hadn’t thought possible from a plant. Most importantly it also opened up my “Third Eye” and I can now journey in the shamanic realms to varying degrees with or without medicine. The healing and transformation was so profound that I now refer to myself sometimes (jokingly) as Guy Crittenden 2.0.
In Peru I drank ayahuasca three times. A couple of months after I returned, I started experiencing a series of uncanny phenomena that further investigation revealed were shamanic in nature. These ranged from the appearance late at night of colours and complex geometric patterns, to shimmering white light reminiscent of the Aurora Borealis moving over my whole body, to the sudden appearance in my field of vision of fully-realized detailed landscapes.
The phenomena also included auditory hallucinations such as my being awoken in the wee hours by the sound of a wildcat tearing apart its prey in the bedroom hallway, and phrases offered to me from some apparent spirit realm in a language I don’t speak, which subsequent investigation revealed had specific and profound meaning.
I have also experienced the so-called “11:11 phenomenon” in a particularly intense way. Synchronicities show up in my life with uncanny frequency.
At about 7:30 pm I changed into a thick white cotton shirt and pants, both decorated with bright Shipibo designs. I’d picked up this ensemble in the Belen market in Iquitos specifically to wear in ceremony.
I returned to the maloca and lay on my mat, my back and shoulders leaning on some pillows piled up against the building’s curved inner wall.
As other participants trailed in and took up positions on their mats, I looked up at the enormous round inner vault of the maloca and the wagon wheel beam structures at the top that held it together. They looked distinctly like a giant spider web.
I was filled with apprehension. How to describe such a feeling…
It was like sitting in a roller coaster car as it climbs the steep initial hill… clickity clack, clickity clack …my heart beating in anticipation.
As night fell, just before 8:00 pm, and with little fanfare, the curanderos entered the building.
Ricardo Amaringo — the lead curandero — sat directly across from us, with another curandero on each side.
Amaringo is a fairly small mestizo man with tan skin and jet black hair; he dresses unassumingly in T-shirts and shorts. He’s the very opposite of a showman seeking any kind of attention. In another context he might be the guy who takes your keys at the airport parking lot, or who works the bar at the golf club. And yet this man is a master of inter-dimensional reality, as I was about to discover.
Trained in the Shipibo tradition, I was later told that Amaringo has been a curandero for more than 20 years and regularly practices dietas with different plants. In fact, he had just finished a long dieta with one plant from which he was still drowsy when he arrived back at the centre. (The next day he would apologize for this. As our group had arrived over New Year’s Eve, these shamans were called in, essentially, to work over the holidays.)
On Amaringo’s right sat Erjomenes (pronounced er-hom-eh-ness, though many defaulted to the Anglicized Geronimo) — an elderly man with high-cheekbone Inca features. Erjomenes fit my mental picture of the well-seasoned wise man and I was happy when he was assigned to sing me a personal icaro during each of the three ceremonies.
On Amaringo’s left sat Ersilia, Amaringo’s sister — a strong curandero in her own right. Ersilia is a very warm and kind person who smiled and spontaneously hugged me when we first met. She felt instantly familiar to me, like a favourite aunt if I was a member of some indigenous tribe. Ersilia also makes crafts in the Shipibo style such as brightly coloured bead bracelets, ornamental blankets, necklaces and other jewelry. She spent many hours on the property during the day displaying these wares, some of which I bought before my departure.
Rapha and Anna sat to the far right of the curanderos. They would drink a very small serving of la medicina so as to be with us in spirit but remain sober enough to help manage the practical aspects of the ceremony.
We were joined this evening by another guest — Geoffrey — a middle-aged seeker from Baltimore on a month-long retreat.
In time Amaringo started serving the ayahuasca tea to the participants, each of whom approached and sat down on a blanket directly in front of Amaringo’s mattress. The shaman poured the thick brew into a small clear glass from a ceramic jug, and wiped off the edge after each person drank in a way that reminded me of communion wine in church. Some participants paused or whispered a prayer while kneeling with their cup, before tossing back the liquid.
I was the last to drink. The ayahuasca liquid lived up to its reputation as a repulsive beverage. The taste reminded me vaguely of prune juice, perhaps with an admixture of burnt coffee. The flavour didn’t bother me as much as the sticky texture. I gagged reflexively when it hit my empty stomach.
Returning to my mattress, I reflected that there was no going back now; the psychedelic brew I’d read about for years was inside my body, and all I could do was await its effects.
Ah, such difference there is between an experience and a mere idea!
I lay on my mat, taking some comfort in the knowledge that this particular concoction was not adulterated with additives like the powerful hallucinogenic plant Toé. I’d asked about this early in the day. Toé is a plant suited only for very experienced shamans. Its visions can be nightmarish and can last for days, as I’d learned from corresponding with people who’d imbibed it unwittingly. (Some retreat centers add it to the ayahuasca brew to more or less guarantee that gringo tourists experience their much-sought “visions.”)
I had no watch, but started to estimate the minutes passing.
The shamans drank the medicine and everyone sat in silence. The electric lights remained on for about ten minutes. At some point Anna got up and turned them off from a switch near the main door. We remained quiet with just a candle for light for another ten minutes or so. Then this was extinguished and we all rested silently in the maloca.
In time the noisy generator shut down in the distance, and soft jungle sounds filled the night air. The fading light of evening silhouetted the dark jungle, visible through the large screen windows that ran the circumference of the building. Distant lightning occasionally lit up the space: we would have a large rain storm that night.
Music pulsed from a nearby village: it was New Year’s Eve and the sounds of revellers and their stereos were the only distraction in the otherwise pristine setting.
After what felt like 30 to 40 minutes I began to feel the effects of the medicine. Warmth spread from my stomach throughout my body and extremities. I sat up as a dizzying rush pervaded me.
Oh boy, I thought. Here we go.
* * *