“Flectere si nequeo superos, acheronta movebo.”
“If I cannot move heaven, I will raise hell.” – Virgil’s Aeneid
The swim was great. It was also much needed. As soon as I jumped in the water I felt so much tension leave my body. I had been nothing but a bundle of nerves for at least the last week. Anger, sadness, apprehension, excitement… I had been working the whole range of emotions a human could possibly emote.It needed release. When I’d had enough I got out and got changed, and decided to find Matt to have a wee chat.
A bit about Matt. He is the senior apprentice in the Blue Morpho (hereafter referred to as BM for the sake of convenience) team. A wiry young American in his mid 30’s, he possesses an intense gaze that seems piercing. I was told that he was good to speak to, so speak to him I did. I managed to track him down and have a private chit chat with him about some concerns I had. His comment earlier about the martial arts training left me wondering. My whole life, I have dealt with anger issues. It’s a bit of an inherited disease, this anger. Some families gamble. Some are winos. Some dabble in drugs. My family’s main vice has always been anger. My father was brought up in a very harsh and strict environment where failure was met with physical punishment. Love was never expressed, except through discipline. You could say our whole extended family bear the scars of anger upon them. I was no different. I told Matt that I was concerned about this, and that one of the main things that I wanted to achieve from this trip was to conquer that horrid raging beast. More or less, he told me to trust in the medicine and in the healing process, but he also advised me to have a talk to Malcolm.
Malcolm Rossiter is a very interesting man indeed. Australian to boot, but I won’t hold that against him. Actually, seeing him for the first time was a breath of fresh air for me, as I heard him swear like a true Aussie would. Just as I was initially concerned about the possibility of being overrun by hippies, I was also rather worried that I was going to be stuck with a whole bunch of puritans who might just ostracise me whenever I belted out my beloved F words. So when I heard him casually swearing away whilst snorting tobacco snuff up his nose, I have to say it bloody well put me at ease. Malcolm would be considered, I suppose, the senior BM staff present. Second only to the legendary Maestro Don Alberto himself, the head Shaman. Malcolm is not only in charge of keeping everyone safe and informed, but he is also tasked with a large part of the healing too. You could say that Don Alberto’s medicine and knowledge is the main source of spiritual healing energy, but Malcolm’s comes a very close second, especially when you add in the fact that he is the main communicator to all the English speaking people (of which most of us were) as well as the driving organisational force behind the tour.
So I tracked Malcolm down and basically told him what I told Matt. He flashed his great Aussie grin and basically told me “No worries mate. We’ll be there to help. Trust in the medicine.” He also gave me a few good pieces of advice on how to deal with the Ayahuasca when it hit. Relieved, I walked back to my room to prepare for the evening ahead.
Ayahuasca is a powerful purgative. One of its Spanish names is “La purga” which literally means “the purge”. This means that all eating stops right after lunch. Even then, with nothing in your system, you’d be surprised with what your body comes up with. With this in mind, earlier on during the day we were given an orientation around the whole property, and our tour ended with the maloca. The maloca is a very large circular room that is designed with the sole intent of shamanic ritual. During orientation we were shown the space and told to choose our spaces. The room was full of mattresses. Each mattress was equipped with a bucket to vomit in, toilet paper, and a steel cup with which to rinse our mouths with water. On the outer edges of the room were more mattresses, with a few rocking chairs as well. I chose the centre right wall of the floor. Something in me told me that I needed to have a wall to prop myself up with. We were instructed that we were to stay in these positions once we chose them, unless there was a good reason why we had to move. I was happy with my spot.
Just before 6:30 pm, doors creaked open and slammed shut, and the wooden floorboards sang, as 40 seekers left their rooms to start walking to the maloca. The maloca itself was situated approximately 150 metres away down a long walkway cut through the jungle greenery. The entire resort was built on stilts in order to withstand the rainy season floods. We filed down that walkway; some people laughing and talking away, some… anxiously quiet. I was in the latter group. I walked in silence all the way down there. I had with me in my bag my torch (with a red filter on, so as not to affect others’ eyesight during ceremony), my cellphone (redundant. Ain’t no signal in the jungle. It was there to help me keep the time), my bottle of water, and a handkerchief that held all my personal talismans that I consider important to me. I made sure first to arrange all my things in order so that I could find them in the dark before I plonked myself down on my mattress, propped my back up against the wall, and watched as the ceremony began.
Just as the sun began to dip below the jungle horizon, the insect orchestra started to get a little bit louder. Malcolm stood up and greeted us all, and congratulated us on being there. He told us of the male spirit within Ayahuasca; Papa’tua, who would be looking after us. Shortly after, Don Alberto himself walked in along with his son. His entrance was met with a round of applause. People seemed in high spirits. As for myself, I seemed to have worked myself into a state of calm resignation. I was strangely calm at that point, almost to the point of resignation. Don Alberto brought with him a pitcher of Ayahuasca from the last BM ceremony. It is a tradition in BM ritual that a bit is saved from the last ceremony. This is then brought forward to the next ceremony in an unbroken chain. More on that later.
They sat on a raised platform about a foot and a half off the ground in the front centre of the Maloca. In between them was the mesa, the central seat of spiritual energy. On it were crystals and all sorts of objects central to shamanic belief. On the left side of the room sat Malcolm and his lovely wife Loretta. On the right, Don Alberto, his son (whose name eludes me… Aliseis??) and Matt. Don Alberto began the ceremony by opening the pitcher of Aya and whistling an Icaro into it. The Icaros are a form of communication with the spirits. Each Icaro is different and is passed down through medicine lineage and family ties. There are hundreds of Icaros, if not thousands, and each one is designed to call on different healing energies, and to ask of the spirits to perform certain healing tasks. It comes from the quechua term, Ikaray, which means “to blow smoke in order to heal”. Remember the mapacho? There’s your smoke. The Icaros can be sung, whistled, or hummed. It makes no difference. The key factor is the energetic rhythm and the intention behind the song. Icaros are always accompanied by the chacapa, which are basically dried broad leaves that are tied together and shaken, which produce a soft rattling sound. You’d be surprised at how hypnotising the sound of the chacapa is.
After Don Alberto had whistled the Icaro, the Aya was then separated into two. One for Malcolm and one for Don Alberto. Matt and the rest of the helpers went around the room calling up people one by one. As I had spoken to Malcolm earlier, I was asked to go over to his side to receive my cup when my turn eventually came. As each person received their cup, they would first sit in front of the shaman, and the shaman would whistle his intentions through Icaro, into the cup. We were all given what was called “starter doses” on that first night, regardless of experience level. Finally, everyone had received their cup. The moment of truth was here.
The whole time this ceremony was taking place, I had been doing a lot of deep breathing exercises, and had been mentally coaxing myself to just accept the medicine with ease, for it is certainly a foul tasting drink. Far more importantly than finding it palatable, however, I was focused on not fighting the medicine. Through my research, I had found that people who fight the experience tend to have a hard time. I was dead set on making sure that everything went smoothly.
On the command, we all raised our glasses, and drank the bitter brew. Even as I write this, I am physically grimacing and the saliva production in my mouth is increasing from the traumatic memory of the horridness of its taste. Immediately after imbibing the foul brew, the whole room erupted in hoicking and spitting and throat clearing, as if we were all simultaneously forced to eat our own kak. I immediately grabbed the steel cup and rinsed my mouth aggressively; spitting up the remains in my puke bucket.The only way I could describe the taste is if you were to take a vat of battery acid, some mud and twigs and possibly some dead snails and lizards, throw them into a cauldron, stew it for a few hours, add some more dead creatures to it… then and only then, you might come close to the taste of Ayahuasca. After the initial nausea from the taste subsided, everyone settled down into their positions as the lights were completely turned off. In those few minutes of preparation for what lay ahead, everyone was silent; save for the sound of the frogs, insects and birds outside.
Slowly, the sound of the rustling chacapa began. Don Alberto began his spirit songs, and I relaxed further and further into the folds of my mattress. For some reason at that point, my body began to automatically deep breathe, without any conscious effort on my part. My internal monologue was oddly repetitive, without any conscious control. I kept on saying to Aya, “I am here. I surrender to you. Show me what I need to see.” This seemed to be a loop that went on for some time. I settled even deeper into a more relaxed state. Ten minutes passed by. Nothing. Fifteen minutes. Still nothing. Then, around the twenty minute mark, I began to see faint flickering blue and purple light dancing in the centre of my vision.
It started off so gently; mesmerising in its fluidity and grace. A few more minutes passed. I began to see slight lines forming through the colours. It gradually intensified. I felt my body getting warmer. Malcolm started singing his icaros as well. Around this point, my eyes started to twitch from the intensity of the light that I was seeing. I actually had to put my fingers over my eyes to calm everything down. By now the colours and lines were dancing all over my field of vision. I felt like my eyeballs were going to jump out of their sockets.
Don Alberto suddenly switched gears with his singing. It was incredible. I could actually feel a physical surge in my body as he brought on the new icaros. The shapes that I was seeing became more complex and purposeful. They didn’t seem as random anymore. I started to see swirling geometric patterns that would change just as abruptly as they came to life. I couldn’t tell if the singing actually got louder or it just felt that way, but at that point everything seemed to switch to HD mode with THX on turbo. I started to make out the shape of humanoid entities flickering before me. They seemed curious; apprehensive even, as they began to make out just who and what I was. I gave them an uneasy smile. A smile of someone who perhaps had just met aliens for the first time.
My mind kept repeating the same mantra. “I surrender to you. Show me your wisdom.” You see, some part of me was convinced that if I played the game of possum with them, they would be kind to me. Famous last words. The beings became more animated, and almost within a blink of an eye, took on an entirely different energy. They began to stand over me. Their faces started to change from that of curiosity to malice. It was at this point I began to feel deeply afraid. “What the fuck have you gotten yourself into, Dan…”. The mantra kept repeating itself in my head. I kept trying to tell them, more and more desperately by the second, that I was surrendering to them. No, they didn’t need to hurt me. Why waste energy punishing an already willing captive, after all? The energy shifted drastically all of a sudden. The background turned red. The beings seemed more and more malevolent with each passing second. Aggression and hostility seemed to be the main theme here.
I tried focusing on their faces, as if peering into their eyes would somehow placate them. All it did was freak me out further. The faces kept morphing. Although their faces were for the most part rather unsettling, sometimes they would morph into truly scary visages. “Demons, Dan. You’ve brought demons upon yourself. Fuck.” By now the scene resembled what I could only describe as some manic space disco. Have you ever watched the cartoon Samurai Jack? These beings seemed like Aku’s minions. Plentiful and scary. The red light seemed to pulsate around me. Eventually, all the beings were snarling and vicious and threatening. Physically, I could start to feel the bile rising. Before I knew it, I lurched up like a whale breaching the surface, clutched my bucket, and slammed back down into the water. The vomit felt like it was curdling within me. With my head in the bucket, I was completely disoriented. I stared down and instead of looking at the bottom of the bucket, I was looking at an ever-swirling underworld chasm of red and black spirals. I was gone. Wait… was I even holding a bucket? My fingers tapped the side of the plastic. Yes I was. Well, why the fuck couldn’t I see it? I purged again. The nausea began to settle a bit. I miraculously managed to grope for my tissue and wipe the vomit off my beard. Mental note to self: Shave before the next time you come for Aya.
As I lay back down, the demons came back again. This time, they stood over me and taunted me mercilessly. At that point my brave facade started to crack. Up until then I had been fairly courageous in how I had presented myself to them. I don’t fear you. It’s okay. I accept your dominion over me. It felt vaguely S&M. To be strong is to be able to submit. Except they weren’t letting me off that lightly. Again and again, their vicious faces gnashed in front of mine. Within seconds, I was back up again with another load of vomit. I felt like I was hurtling down into the insides of the bucket as I frantically tried to cling on for dear life.
“That’s it Dan. You’re done. You’re dying. No I’m not! I’m afraid you are… Fuck off, Dan! You and I are the same!” As if the lines of reality weren’t blurred enough already, I began to doubt my own existence. Was I alive? Was I dead? Had I even existed at all? Who is the Dan that says he’s alive? And who is that other Dan that says he’s not? It was all so confusing. All of a sudden, the demons began to fade away. The red background stayed, but in the demons’ place came a very industrial scene. Black pipes began to form diagonally across my vision. They met in the centre, where began to form this pulsing, oozing blob. I stared perplexed. “What the fuck is this?! What does it mean?” No sooner had I asked that, that the blob started to move. All of a sudden I could see a conveyor belt start to rotate within it. Slowly at first, it began to spit out familiar images. I was absolutely mystified. I could see images of cars. Money. Alcohol. Women. Watches. Drugs. The high life. More women. It was like every image was meant to represent excess. That word just suddenly popped into my head and wouldn’t leave. Excess. Excess. Excess. I tried looking away and I couldn’t. I was absolutely transfixed, and the conveyor belt knew it. It started to speed up. More images appeared. I started to see scenes of my past experiences of excess spew out of that dastardly fucking blob. IT KNEW MY PAST. Vivid memories of all the crazy shit that I had done before started to spit out faster and faster. The more I looked at it, the more I felt ill. The more I tried to look away, the more pain I felt. I have no idea what my physical body was doing at the time, but it couldn’t possibly have been happy. Finally I could take no more. I lurched upwards and reached for the bowl. The last vestiges of vomit left in me gushed out in a horrendous stream. I paused for a while, and then vomited some more. Only this time there was nothing left. I retched and retched for what seemed like eternity. It was horrific. I was so weak, but yet it kept demanding more of me. I retched until I found myself slumped back in my mattress.
Having lost all track of time, and having no idea what was happening outside my vision, my body finally relaxed. I started to slowly regain consciousness of what was happening outside my own crazy demonic world. My breathing was laboured. I can remember sucking for air, exhausted after my marathon purge. As my senses came to and the hellish visions started to fade, I began to notice something else.
All of a sudden, the whole maloca seemed lit up by light and energy. I looked across the room and the one word that came to mind was “busy”. The whole fucking room was busy as hell. I could see shapes flitting all over the room attending to all the people there. “Naaah, this is fucked.” I opened my eyes, closed my eyes, opened my eyes, and closed them again. The vision didn’t change one bit. I saw beings of light moving all over the room tending to everyone as if the maloca had become some kind of bizarre spiritual hospital ward. I could see links between the nurses and the patients that appeared as IV lines, but only, those weren’t IV lines… and those sure as hell weren”t nurses. “They’re fucking spirits, Dan!” I said to myself. “No they’re not! You’re fucked up!” Hold on… which me was the real me again? I had completely lost track at this point. My mind wandered, trying to make sense of it all. At least the evil feeling had passed. I was incredibly grateful for that. Instead of all that evil, I was now trapped in a world of confusion. I kept seeing shapes move across the room.
At this point, I started to become more aware of my physical body, and my physical body was telling me that I needed to shit. Badly. My hand shot out and grasped in the dark for where I thought my torch was. Couldn’t find it. Must have knocked it during my vomiting convulsions. Panic gripped me. I started scratching the floor searching frantically for it. Time is a funny thing while under the influence of Aya. You honestly have no idea how long it truly is. It could be split seconds that you’re experiencing something. It could be minutes. It could be hours. Fuck you Einstein, and your theory of fucking relativity. There’s no girl I’m kissing on a park bench here… only demons and confusion. Eventually my fingers felt the familiar lanyard of my torch, and I got on my knees, painfully mindful of not disturbing those around me. Hell, I’d done enough with all my vomiting. At first I cupped my hands over the light so as not to upset other’s vision. Under Aya your eyes become painfully acute to light. I waved my cupped hands around in a feeble attempt to attract attention. I have no idea how long this went on for. My bowels decided to speed up the process though, and all of a sudden I felt another surge of panic rise up. “Okay, Dan. You gotta call for help, like NOW.” Something I absolutely hate to do. So I mustered up all my strength and energy. I told myself that I had to do it. To not do it would be disastrous, for me and everyone else around me. “…help…” came the pathetic muffled cry. “FUCK! Come on! Louder, Dan!” Finally, after much mental coaxing, I was able to let out a normal sounding cry for help. One of the Peruvian helpers came rushing over and plucked me off my mattress.
Standing straight was a challenge. As soon as I stood up, it felt as if the ground beneath me was slipping away. The helper knew what to do though. Thankfully he was quite a burly fellow. He managed to shoulder me all the way to the toilet. The toilets were located directly behind the wall that I was located at. “You’re not that stupid after all, Dan.” came the thought. The toilets only had a curtain for privacy, which actually made a hell of a lot of sense given the state that I was in. We had been previously warned of the dangerous world of the “toilet vortex”, a maddening world in which some people take hours to escape from. To have locked doors in the way would only mean trouble. As I removed my pants and sat on the toilet, I instantly felt this inky blackness gushing out of my body. It was horrid, but at the same time, a relief. I groaned in a mixture of agony and ecstasy. The feeling was far deeper than just the physical satisfaction of taking a big shit. It actually felt like things that should not have been there were finally taking their cue to leave after 31 years. I sat there, blinking stupidly in the afterglow of my bowel movement, and began to realise that I was not alone in the toilet. There were weird cloud shaped creatures in there with me. Completely benign and harmless, these creatures just hopped around minding their own business. I tried to touch the closest one but my fingers just went right through it. Yet again, I lost track of time, and was only brought back to the moment by the voice of the helper outside my toilet. “Amigo, ju okey?” He asked. I grunted, struggled to my feet, cleaned myself up, and slumped into his embrace. He led me to the basin to clean my hands, and gently guided me back to my mattress. I felt such an overwhelming, overpowering sense of love and gratitude for this man. I hugged him and said “gracias” I don’t know how many times.
Finally back to my mattress, with all my “business” done, I eased back into it, and felt the aya envelop me once again.
It was much kinder this time, almost as if a handshake had occurred between us, as if saying “We know who you are now… sit back and enjoy.” All of a sudden I began to see alien worlds. Completely inexplicable landscapes formed before my eyes. My rational brain, now much less afflicted by the strength of la mareacion (the visions) began to try to make sense of it all. Except I couldn’t. There was no way to. I saw pulsing globules of light move through space and time. Lands formed before my eyes that kept on morphing between solid and liquid. I saw the most impossible things.
Gentle creatures that were almost cow-like in their docile nature flitted across plains of amorphous material. What could be thought of as clouds were constantly morphing geometric patterns that slowly made their way across the sky. It was a bizarre and wonderful world indeed. Instantly I thought to myself that these could quite possibly be the real worlds that exist beyond our human level of comprehension; alien lands so far away from earth, where the rules of what we know to be physics need not even try to apply. It was possible… in that brief glimpse of madness and wonder. At that point serpents began to dance in front of me. Serpents, in Ayahuasca are a very common theme. They tend to be bringers of wisdom and knowledge. Alas,they didn’t stay for too long, but I was grateful they revealed themselves to me.
Throughout the experience my rational mind kept racing to find answers. My Aya mind kept repeating this to me: There is no point. Let it be… let it be. I have no idea how long I was in that time space for, but gradually, the mareacion began to fade, and I felt so physically exhausted. I could hear people around me moving and coughing and talking, but I felt so numb and weak.
Despite my weakness, I felt extraordinarily elated. There was a sense of lightness inside me that I hadn’t felt in a long time. The ceremony was still going on, so I decided to get up and move to the empty rocking chair that was by my feet. I got in and rocked away, feeling the bliss and joy flow through me. After a while I caught myself smiling absent-mindedly. “Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve smiled for no reason…” Malcolm was moving around the room. When he came near my spot, he looked at me and gave a long laugh. “You’re rocking it Dan! You’ve done good work tonight.” Work. What a strange concept that was. But I suppose there’s no better way to put it, really. After all, it IS work when you face down demons and come to realisations of self. That word, used in the Shamanistic context has always made me scratch my head a bit.
Eventually, as the ceremony ended, I found my way back to my mattress, and drifted to sleep right there in the maloca. I had had a huge night. It was time to rest.