The Tenth Ceremony…….
I am lying on my thin mat in the dark under a mosquito net in my monk-cell like wooden room. It is two hours before the tenth ceremony of my 30 day dieta at 9pm and I am taking refuge from the mosquitoes – this is their ‘happy hour’.
In my mind, I am calculating the dates of the next five ceremonies, which happen every other night, until I reach 15, when I plan to make the return trip upriver to Pucallpa. I’m missing my son, his partner, their beautiful Belgian Shepherd dog Lenka, and my friends in Pucallpa, as well as all the people I am in touch with via the internet.
Suddenly the unbidden thought occurs to me: “I could go back in five days after the twelfth ceremony. After all, it’s not as if there are a rigid, set number of days for this dieta – it can be from ten days to one year.”
This idea becomes enormously attractive. The dieta is going well but I have not felt in strong contact with the palo that I am dieting. (Palo is a generic word in the tradition I am working in that is used to describe a tree or plant that is taken into the body during a dieta). As often, I have hugely overblown expectations that, because this is a shamanic dieta, I will be seeing brightly colored energy patterns in the form of Shipibo designs. So far, this has not really happened, though once I did see an animal like a small raccoon crawling all over my Maestro, which I assumed was one of his guardianes or familiars from the spirit world.
I work out all sorts of reasons connected with work, being able to do the yoga class I had recently discovered, being able to be in contact with friends and family, and even concerning finances why it seems a really good idea to end the dieta after twelve ceremonies. It all makes perfect sense. Fortunately, I have the presence of mind to think that I must ask Madre Ayahuasca about this decision in the ceremony that night.
About thirty minutes before the ceremony is due to begin, I get up from my mat and go to the porch of my Maestro’s house where he is talking with an older Shipibo man who often also attends ceremonies. Shortly after, they are joined by my Maestro’s elder brother (who is 82), together with his older brother’s son and daughter, who have all arrived to take part in the ceremony.
My Maestro asks me to put up the large mosquito net that the ceremonies are conducted under. This is the first time I have done this unaided. I know that I should not tie the eight strings of the mosquito net to the beams of the house in my normal way – unfortunately, I never went to the Boy Scouts as a child so have only learned to tie one crude knot. The trouble with this knot is that under the weight of the net pulling it, it becomes impossible the following morning to untie the knot, which then has to be cut free.
I have seen that my Maestro has a way of tying knots that can be gently pulled apart the following day as if by magic. I regret that I have never asked him to show me this knot, but manage to secure the net by winding the strings many times around the beams and assorted long nails of the house’s structure. I pray this will be good enough and thankfully the net stays in place all night.
Once we are all under the net, it is down to business. My Maestro softly whistles an icaro into the white plastic medicine bottle. I have previously mixed three different batches of different medicine into this bottle, one of which had been given to me by a young Australian woman who was here for two ceremonies towards the beginning of my dieta. The particular medicine that she had was made by the most renowned of the four elder brothers of my Maestro.
I am handed a beautiful wooden cup, shaped like a small chalice, from which to drink the medicine. The five Shipibos gulp the medicine down straight from the bottle. As always, I find it hard to welcome the medicine into my body. I cough, rinse my mouth with water, spit, and blow my nose four times. I think of my friend who is the only person I know that drinks the medicine as if it were a fine cognac, slowly sipping it and savoring the flavor. No wonder she has such a strong and intimate connection with Madre Ayahuasca.
The medicine comes on strongly and quickly. I feel pleased to have an empty stomach to receive her and glad that I had a good, long shit shortly before the ceremony, which makes me think that, hopefully, I will not need to be rushing out to the bathroom in the early stages of the ceremony.
As the mareación (the word used here to describe the effects of the medicine) is building, loud mainly Peruvian pop music starts to play nearby. Actually I quite like the softer, gentler songs but it’s mixed in with American hip-hop, which seems wildly incongruous. After about twenty minutes (I think, but by now normal time is no longer counting) the music stops as suddenly as it began.
There is then a long wait before the first icaro is sung. I’m expecting my Maestro to start singing his traditional opening icaro, but he waits patiently, smokes a mapacho, and then waits more. Maybe, my increasingly scrambled brain thinks, he’s waiting for the energy from the music to dissipate. (Later, I learned he was waiting to see if anyone else might start to sing).
By now, the mareación is full on in its early stages. I have been attending to these early stages with as much care as I can muster, and many of my previous ceremonies in this dieta have been focused on what happens in this early phase. I realized a number of months back that the images I typically experience here are fast-moving, bizarre and relatively meaningless. It’s my subconscious representing itself as a constantly shifting, cartoon, superficial, plastic kind of Disney World – as I first thought.
Later, the more interesting idea came to me that this material is not purely personal, as I had first assumed – influenced by nearly all the figures in psychology I had studied (with a few brave exceptions like Jung and Hillman), who seek to locate our psyches solely in an inner realm and do not see their connection with the larger world-soul.
I had begun to see that this material that I experience at the start of the mareación, whilst clearly personal at one level, is also intertwined with and reflects deep processes of social conditioning. Just before my dieta, I had found the following quote by Terence McKenna which expresses this succinctly and beautifully:
“You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
In an early ceremony in this dieta, I had become conscious that I need not be at the mercy of these images – that is a purely passive recipient of them. I could stop them by opening my eyes and focusing on the present moment and, with effort, I could also stop them with my eyes shut.
For several months now, and especially in the opening ceremonies of this dieta, I have been undergoing will training with Madre Ayahuasca. She’s good at psychic boot-camp. She showed me how to create my own imaginative images by first visualizing and focusing solely on a huge, ancient oak tree with spreading branches on the outskirts of a village in Southern England, where I used to live. Is this what Jung and Corbin were getting at by active imagination, I wondered? And in my third ceremony of this dieta, I experienced being completely concentrated in my will which I visualized as a shark. Hence its name, ‘Fin’.
Back to the present. There is now an an increasingly slippery, chaotic feel to my mareación. It’s never quite clear to me how I pass out of this phase – I’m sure its helped by the icaros that are now being sung, but pass out of it I do. It’s in the following stage that I usually experience the most valuable teaching and learning.
I went into the ceremony with the intention of connecting more strongly to the palo I am dieting. I am holding a small piece of this palo that a friend had given me. Suddenly, I am in the presence of the spirit of the palo, what the Shipibo call its ‘dueño’, which translated literally means ‘owner’.
This presence is vast, formidable, completely implacable. He tells me – and the presence is undoubtedly masculine – that if I want to experience his world, I have to agree not to write about it. Immediately, my heart agrees, though later my mind has its reservations. He does not even want me to mention his name. Nothing. No publicity, which he is not remotely interested in – he almost despises it.
After I agree to his terms, I am allowed to visit his world.
Later, I think that for me at least, and possibly others, entry to his world comes at an appropriate price. “Cobra caro”, as is said in Spanish – “the price is high“. He was asking me for an offering, and also making it clear that his world is not to be entered lightly and certainly not to be used as blog-fodder. I am being asked to sacrifice the part of my ego that likes to tell its adventures, (if they are indeed its adventures, which I doubt, though the ego usually comes along for the ride), and that has to be a good thing.
It may seem paradoxical that I am writing this now but I understood that it is the specific details and content of his world that are not to be revealed. Writing about the process of arriving there is just about acceptable.
Gracias a la Madre Ayahuasca. Gracias a todos los Palos Curanderos.