The Council of the Elders
I am currently doing a Noyarao dieta with Maestro PapaM. and a group of 13 people on the beach at Zorritos, in North Peru close to the border with Ecuador. We are literally a stone’s throw from the beach. I can hear the sounds of waves pounding all day – and all through the ceremonies. The place we are staying in is decidedly quirky – lots of structures built with large pieces of driftwood – an eco-resort as if it was designed by the art director of the Mad Max movies. A definite post-apocalyptic feel.
Apart from once in Mexico, its the first time I have drunk ayahuasca outside her home in the jungle. Its different. In fact, it took me the all the first ceremony to get used to it. There is an oil rig just on the horizon. I’m told they were five planned but mercifully there is only one. This confirms my feeling that there is nowhere in the world now free from the visible effects of Western industrial development – I think this could be good as it means there is no illusion of escape to a private paradise. We are in this shit together.
Last night was my second ceremony. Actually its the third of the dieta – I arrived one day late because of problems with fog delighting flights at Pucallpa en route to Lima. This is an increasing hazard as the rainy season sets in in the jungle. Here, however, it is desert, like all the coastal strip of Peru. What’s good is that we are close enough to the border with Ecuador for the ocean to be warm here, unlike nearly all the rest of the Peruvian Pacific coast. Mind you, its this cold sea that gives it such fertile abundance and supports the flowering of the wonderful Peruvian gastronomic tradition.
Anyway, back to the dieta. After the first phase of the ceremony had closed last night, around 1am, a group of people were gathered outside talking, I left them to walk up one of the driftwood structures here in the form of a staircase which leads to a circular platform, on which are placed a table and a number of round-backed cast iron chairs. As I approached the table in the half-dark, a bent piece of wood gave the impression of being the back to a huge throne. I sat down at the table and noticed a candle in front of me, protected by a cylindrical transparent plastic sheath to prevent it going out in the wind.
I tried to light the candle with my small lighter twice but gave up as my fingers were getting burnt. I was just about to abandon the project of getting the candle lit altogether when an internal voice told me to keep trying. It was part of my training in perseverance and discipline. On my third attempt, (just like the fairy tales),I managed to get the candle lit.
As I looked around the table and saw the three empty spaces, the idea of a Council of Elders suggested itself to me. The two seats that I had first thought of as a large throne but now could see were separate seats were occupied by my father and James Hillman, two important male figures in my life.
Typically, at this stage, I became distracted, thinking of my goddaughter in England and her parents. Again, the inner voice told me to concentrate. I began a conversation with my father, who passed away five years ago. I am fortunate to have had a father who is essentially a good man. He had his quirks, like all of us, and suffered from a lack of ability to express himself emotionally like nearly all men of his generation, but he was basically loyal, resolute, dutiful, trustworthy, stoical and decent – important and increasingly neglected values.
As I was speaking to him in appreciation of these qualities, and how he had transmitted them to me, I saw that they did not just originate from him but from his lineage – a long line of male ancestors rooted in the West Country of England, centered around a small village called Plympton St. Maurice in Devon.
I suspect that many of my fathers’ ancestors hailed from the old feudal yeoman class, who were both loyal servants and independent land owners, a form of incipient middle-class.
Moreover, I imagined these ancestors, based near the port of Plymouth, from which Francis Drake sailed to defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588, as strongly connected to the seafaring tradition, involved in the construction of the keels of a new fleet of English galleons by Elizabeth I using the mighty oak trees from the extensive English forests of that time, and more recently joining the royal Devon Yeomanry.
In dieting the Noyarao tree, also known as Palo Volador, (a huge, almost extinct and legendary tree of the Amazon, which merits a blog entry on its own account), I am delighted to feel this connection with the ancient English oak tree. The phrase “Heart of Oak” came strongly to mind, in relation to my father and his ancestors. I have just discovered this is the name of the official march of the English Royal Navy. Here are the first part of the lyrics:
“Come, cheer up, my lads, ’tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?
- Heart of oak are our ships, jolly tars are our men,
- We always are ready; steady, boys, steady!
- We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.”
When my father died and I went to see his body in the funeral parlor just before his cremation, hanging behind his coffin were the lines:
“When the oak is felled
the forest echoes with its fall.
But a hundred acorns are sown silently
by an unnoticed breeze.”
The other seat at the Council of Elders was occupied by James Hillman. Regular readers of this blog know my admiration for him and his work. See, for example, the account I wrote of his memorial service. I recently finished reading the first part of his biography, ‘The Life and Ideas of James Hillman: Volume 1. The Making of a Psychologist’ by Dick Russell. This is a thoroughly researched and extraordinary work, showing the interplay of Hillman’s life and the development of his thinking in a way that itself illustrates beautifully the idea embodied in Hillman’s most popular book ‘The Soul’s Code’ of the guiding daemon that shapes our lives.
Again, using Jung’s technique of Active Imagination, which I have to say works wonderfully well when combined with the later stages of an ayahuasca ceremony, I expressed my appreciation of James Hillman for his presence and body of work. He looked kindly at me.
I recalled an insight that I had in a ceremony many moons ago. That in my early life, I never had mentors but that later in life, I have been fortunate to be blessed by four – my friend, PapaM, my father, James Hillman, and………….Bob Dylan.
I have always thought that Dylan, in terms of his influence on peoples’ lives, must be one of the most significant figures of the twentieth and twenty first century, more so than all politicians with the possible exceptions of Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela. His early songs, especially, are like Icaros, with their power to evoke emotional response and maybe even healing.
He looked at me and cocked his hat in that characteristic way, he did both as a young man on the cover of Nashville Skyline, and also more recently when I saw him in concert at Finsbury Park in London just after his seventieth birthday.
All I could do was laugh.