Ayahuasca Shamanism

What is shamanism and how is it relevant in the 21st Century? How does ayahuasca fit in with all this, and why is it booming as a business – and as a spiritual movement? Rak Razam, author of Aya: Awakenings, a Shamanic Odyssey, examines the archetype of the shaman and the great plant medicine of ayahuasca – the “Vine of Souls”. But what was the business of spirituality doing to all these backpacking tourists that dared to journey into the mysteries of creation? And what did it say about the growing Western need for an authentic reconnection to the planet?

Hello and welcome. Part of what I'm talking about here today is this idea of a Shamanic Resurgence or a cultural movement that is happening all around the world with people reclaiming their connection to the Divine through plant sacraments, through consciousness expansion, and on the ground tribal community nodal points for the planetary growth of consciousness.
In 2006, as part of my own spiritual development and freelance career I was lucky enough to go to Peru and experience what's happening there with the–I call it the “spiritual backpacking circuit of the soul”, or the gringo trail of the soul. And it resulted in a book called Aya Awakenings: A Shamanic Odyssey, in which I wrote: 

“The vine had spread her tendrils across the world and a genuine archaic revival was underway. My bags were packed, South America beckoned, and the ancient mysteries of the rainforest awaited. I wanted in on it.”

And it really was like that. It was really an exciting time for me to go there and to know that in a generational sense, that was happening in South America is still percolating to this day. The book (which later became the documentary film Aya: Awakenings), documents a lot of these things I'm about to talk about: the “Global Shamanic Resurgence” and the appropriation of indigenous knowledge and how we can with respect and integrity, take on board indigenous knowledge and elder wisdom regarding plant sacraments, and make that work for us in all the niches of the Western world.
So just to bring some introductory topics into this, what I was looking at in the book is the archetype of the shaman in the 21st century and how it's relevant. And of course, then how does ayahuasca fit in with all this as a business, as well as a spiritual movement?

1. The Global Shamanic Resurgence

The classic definition of the shaman is from anthropologist Mircea Eliade in his book Shamanism, who said: “the shaman is the practitioner of the techniques of ecstasy.” Traditionally the shaman was the “traveler between worlds,” a village doctor, priest, psychopomp and other modalities all blended into one in a very indigenous tribal setting. It's really taken the specialization of modern culture to bring all the subspecialties together that the shaman sort of rolled together in one job.
The word “shaman” itself is actually a Western coinage and it's interesting because it has gained a lot of traction in the few generations or so since it was coined, but indigenous cultures themselves had their own words for what they do. With modern Peruvian shamanism, thousands of indigenous healers populate every village, town and city throughout South and Central America with many subspecialties to the craft for those populations, big enough to support it. Just as there are many types healers in the West, like a GP or a neurosurgeon or pediatrician, it's very much the same in the Peruvian healing system.

Many healers work with plants in general, they might be termed vegetalistas. In sub- specialities there are tobaqueros who work with tobacco itself as a sacrament and a healing modality. People who work with stones and the magic in the stones are encatos. Some tribes like the Q’eros, would just work with direct energetics. There's lots of different variations, but what I was also really noticing – I was seeing the cultural drift of a generation of Western seekers coming to South America to learn about ayahuasca and to learn about medicinal healing and indigenous wisdom.
And I started to realize that it was almost like a new subsection was really developing of Western healers coming together. But as I say: in the 21st century the business of shamanism was increasingly replacing millennia of tradition with a fast-track approach, targeted to the “spiritual backpacking circuit.” And ayahuasca was leading the way.
But why were these dynamics happening now on the planet? Why, as we come to these cusps of cultural maturation and of cycles within cycles, is it sort of tying in at the same time to a lot of indigenous mythologies and their idea of cyclic time?

2. What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is a jungle medicine that has been around for millennia, and throughout South America is known by many names, one of which is “the vine of souls.” Every culture has its own take on it, but they really appreciate the fact that in their environment, the abundance of the jungle gives them everything. It gives them food. It gives them clothing, gives them medicine, it gives them a connection to spirit. And ayahuasca itself in their cosmology – the indigenous have a very animist cosmology that sees the connection between all living things and spirits in the medicines and the spirits in the sacred plants that help them and they share knowledge with them and provide healing for them.

I was curious about ayahuasca, the most sacred of their jungle medicines. In the mid-1950s William Burroughs travelled to Peru to the jungle city of Iquitos, which I went to. At that time, it was just the most underground of underground experiences to find ayahuasca. His book became one of the first Western books when he wrote to back to Allan Ginsburg in what became The Yage Letters. 50 years later ayahuasca is now a booming international business, attracting tens of thousands of people to South America. And it's also exporting itself globally around the world at this time. So why is this happening and why is it happening now?
There’s this idea throughout the last 500-600 years of “his-story” of the old world and new world of, the bi-cameral consciousness of this idea that they've split, that one half of the world has been really raping and pillaging and plundering, and taking the resources of what they called the new world, which was the old world originally. So, there’s been this splitting of global consciousness and at the same time we're going through a very sort of neo-con designed, top-down hierarchical decision to globalize our world. We're also going through an organic networking where the world is weaving itself together culturally, with the aid of the plant medicines and with the old world and new world coming together.

The next photos show some examples of how ayahuasca culture is part of all this.

The two people who are hammering up the ayahuasca bark, they're actually members of Santo Daime, an ayahuasca religion, which is a syncretic jungle religion. That's one of the pathways that's becoming apparent as the plant sacraments go out into the world. They're using all the modalities and isms to travel those vectors of transmission. So, they're using religion, they using the consumerism of the backpacking circuit. They’re turning on as many people as they can, because I think there is a message coming from the plants and they don’t care what vector they travel down.
The plants just want to connect with the people. So, the interesting thing about the timing of this is that there's a supply and demand issue. Indigenous shamans, or as they call themselves in Peru, curanderos and curanderas, which is from the Spanish to heal, were dwindling in number because the practice of becoming a shaman takes decades and it takes the utmost integrity and impeccability of consciousness.

3. Westerners and Ayahuasca

So as Peru itself was going through its wave of globalization and all the Western isms coming in, the children of the last few generations weren't wanting to take up the art of shamanism. They didn't want to be healers in their villages. They just wanted to earn a lot of money and get comfortable. At the same time that was happening with indigenous Peruvians, the Westerners came in to fill the gap, and there's no coincidence. These things are part of a natural set and setting and a closed-circuit dynamic of what the earth is. The bicameral break in consciousness is starting to heal.
So, this is a picture of a very famous curandero called Don Francisco Montes Shuna. He founded the first Western lodge for ayahuasca that I know of in Peru, the Sachamama Ethnobotanocal Gardens outside of Iquitos. He’s actually the cousin of the Pablo Amaringo, who is a famous ex-ayahuasquero and painter who grounded the ayahuasca visions. You can see one of Francisco’s paintings behind him there. He talked with me in the book, The Ayahuasca Sessions: Interviews with Indigenous Curanderos and Western Shamans, where I interviewed over two dozen shamans and ayahuasca seekers to get a cross-cultural synthesis of what's going on, on the ground.

Francisco told me that he thinks that indigenous people and shamanism in general are losing a bit in the exchange with the West. He said, “the Westerners are getting healing and understanding, and the [shamans] are getting paid for that, but it's also making the art of curanderismo more money driven. Many curanderos aren’t interested in healing their fellow people anymore. They just want to work with tourists because that brings the money in.” He also went on to say: “I am pleased though, to share this knowledge of the plants with Western students, and it is good that these people will transmit that knowledge even further to faraway places.”

So, there's not that resistance on the ground from the curanderos, because they're making an enormous amount of money. You know, the average session in Peru is still maybe a hundred dollars American for one night session, or $1,600 for a week or a two- week session. And it's just the new boom times in Peru, they've gone through successive waves of the rubber boom years, and now it's the ayahuasca boom years. The same dynamic is happening with globalization where Western money goes in, takes up the resource and the money is largely going outside the communities.
As well as Don Francisco, I talked to talked to Guillermo Aravelo, who was the maestro Shaman who starred in Jan Kounen, the French filmmaker’s movie Blueberry, which was known as Renegade in the States. And he said very similar things. He said that from his Shipibo practice, he sees youth gravitating towards the religious experience ayahuasca embodies, but the dieta is often too hard for them. So, they ayahuasca numbers reduce, and there will be fewer traditional shamans.

Yet they were really open to Westerners coming in and learning the ways. The problem is there's no way to learn the ways from a Western perspective in the indigenous sense, because it takes decades. It has immersion in the jungle, in the cultural milieu where they're in. There are so many subtle variations that the West is losing. And the West is fast tracking the process. But my interest and what my intuition was is that it is all a divine unfolding of timing. And as these cultural vectors sort of clash together, we're seeing a new cultural explosion of modern shamanism in a global sense, you know, this global shamanic resurgence, it's drawing upon indigenous knowledge, but it's really retrofitting it for what we need on the ground in the 21st century.

4. The Global Shamanic Resurgence

This is a photo of Don Juan Tangoa Paime, who was a really, really powerful maestro shaman and he was setting up at the time in 2006, a school for shamans and Westerners, and also to offset for indigenous people to have some scholarships for indigenous people. It was a really interesting, eclectic cross-section of Americans. They're all Americans at the time on the left is Carlos Tanner, who was Don Juan’s apprentice and some other people who are really drawn to the whole idea of healing and of ayahuasca and of shamanism itself.

So, Julia, who was the tall woman in that photo, she told me that “what we're doing here creates a space for more mystical experiences that reconnect you to the earth. And that's good because there's also this global situation of social injustice and economic disparity that needs to be addressed by human beings for whole and healthy. And that's why this work has to go forward.”

Ayahuasca is called the “medicine” for a reason: because it does heal. It heals on a physical level that they’ve actually tested. Dennis McKenna, the brother of Terence McKenna, worked as a scientist in this field involved with Hoasca Project and checking what ayahuasca does in studies in the early 1990s with the UDV: another ayahuasca church. They found that ayahuasca as a medicine not only cleanses and has a purgative effect on the body, but it actually re-links up and defrags the neural pathways of the brain and helps reconnect on that level. So, it has a synergistic and a healthy effect on the brain and it really is a medicine.
So, when Julia says that she feels that we need “whole human beings to go forward and do work in the world,” it's really a key statement. There really is something in that. It's not just a vicarious experience – it can be approached without the right intent, but ultimately working with ayahuasca, there's a spirit synergy going on, and there is a healing on the mind, body, and spirit levels that makes people whole and healthy. And that's really important to have empowered people walking on the world at this time.

Carlos agreed. He said “the spirit, or the awareness of the spirit of ayahuasca needs to get down to the spiritually sick places, like the United States. And if we do this, we can change the world for the better.” Now there does come a little bit of ayahuasca idealism and romanticism and I've been guilty of it. Carlos can be guilty of that too, but there's a hope, sometimes to actually feel the potentials of what ayahuasca is doing, or even just to connect with indigenous tribes without the medicine, to feel this connection to other tribes, into the larger reason we're here on the earth. This is a very empowering thing spiritually.

Carlos went on to say that there are brujos: in other words, a sorcerer, in South America. Sometimes that's used negatively to describe brujeria or, the active use of the magical powers of ayahuasca or the spiritual connection with an ego-based negative way. Every curandero I encountered said that, “yeah, there is brujeria. There is a psychic ecology, whether it's competing desires – and you’ve got to be very careful that you approach the spirit world with the right intent, with a clear consciousness and an open spirit. But in South America, especially it's competitive, and there's a lot of curanderos and people that don't want the medicine to get out to the masses.” They want to sit on their nest egg and control it. And there's also the business angle and the money angle, which makes it very competitive.
As Carlos went on to say: “The reality is that the Western world is here and we're in the Amazon rainforest and one of the last places where indigenous cultures live in the same way they always have. And Western culture is bringing its own ideas here as well. And ayahuasca and curanderismo is fading away in its indigenous sense.” He also went on to say, “it's up to people like you and me to bring this fruit of ayahuasca out to these other places in the world, places with Westernization has come full circle. And when people want to have the perspective of indigenous culture in them again, and want to feel this connection to the earth again.”
And I think that's very true, you know, amongst all the business of shamanism and spirituality underlying it is this deep-seated need to reconnect to the earth. And apparently the word “religion” is Latin for “to reconnect”, versus the dogma of established monotheism sort of original religions that have become very hierarchical and calcified. Religion really means to reconnect to something larger than ourselves, to, you know, the planetary matrix.

5. Ayahuasca Reaches Out to the World

But embedded within this dynamic in South America, what I came across with this new wave of ayahuasca tourism was something deeper. And the whole thrust of ayahuasca coming back into the Western consciousness has to work through the vectors of transmission, which means working with the isms of capitalism, working with like, how am I going to connect to these closed off Westerners? You know, it's taken generations for ayahuasca to come out of the jungle closet if you will, and connect with people, but it still has to travel down pathways. So, the religious pathways, the consumerist pathways, the tourist pathways are all valid as long ayahuasca connects.
So, what I found on the ground was that “indigenous shamanism had quickly become the most profitable business in town. Numerous jungle lodges and retreats had sprung up across South America to cater to the influx of rich tourists. This also spilled over onto the internet with hundreds of websites, chat rooms, forums”; the knowledge of ayahuasca exploded, especially in the last few years. So, it's now a very accessible modality for people to experience, but there are dangers. And as I say, here “ayahuasca tourism is no simple thrill-seeking tour activity to tick off your checklist with bungee jumping and the ruins of Macchu Picchu. It has the potential to literally blow the roof off your reality grid and send you smearing through hyperspace, where, like all travelers, you'll be accosted by natives wanting your attention and a bit of “baksheesh”. And that's true too.

There are total inter-dimensional worlds that open up on ayahuasca, after it heals the body and you have a whole circuit of energy that's healed, there is the ability and it doesn't happen all the time–it's not like the Western drugs, or as they say in the Matrix “pop the red pill and escape the Matrix”.

Ayahuasca is a medicine and there's a spirit in it. And it works according to who you are and what you need, but there really is this ability to connect to higher dimensional spaces, to go astral traveling, to have a visionary experience and to become galactic citizens, really.
These are some pictures of some curanderos I drank with an interviewed in their indigenous garb. And the funny thing is all throughout South America ayahuasca is stored in plastic water bottles, refuse from the West. There really is this delicate sort of blending of cultures. I really would recommend reading the book because it's hard to really digest down some of the mind-blowing experiences I did have in South America with trained curanderos. This is Javier Aravelo, who is a respected curandero. He did some amazing things with light bodies and third eye, and singing his icaros.

6. Vegetalistas, Tobaqueros, Ayahuasqueros

It's also important to remember that a lot of the healing work that the curanderos do in dealing with the plants they work with as medicines. The vegetalista knows what the properties of plants are and how that helps heal people, but they also work in the spirit world where the plants give them access to an icaro, or a shaman’s song. It's something that is a vibrational wavelength. It's almost like a 1-800 number to the divine. They call it a vibrational medicine. So, the icaro is a song with melodies and in it there's a driving of consciousness to keep it in a trance state as the vibrational imprint comes through.
There are some other well-known shamans around Iquitos and there's a bit of juggling between them at the lodges. One guy named Walter was a Shipibo shaman for hire and he had a croaky assed-Tom Wait's type voice. Walter worked for Scott Peterson, who was a Western shamanic practitioner in his temple maloca about an hour outside of Iquitos. There's all these nuances and emotional subtleties through the experience and the sound itself is the most primal trigger for a lot of these shifts in consciousness and changes. And in the end, Walter turned out to be very powerful curandero.
You have to go back to the primal source, to the jungle: the great green mother where it all began to really reap the benefits of this medicine, to be immersed in that vibrational network of the plants around you in the jungle and the deep medicine that is there. And many Westerners are. The tourist thing is spreading, as I say in the book, “it felt like a whacked-out reality TV show, a generational snapshot of a new psychedelic wave just before it breaks. Bright-eyed Westerners about to die and be reborn in the humid jungles of Peru, drinking the hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca. But what I was really interested in what was the business of spirituality was doing to all these backpacking ayahuasca tourists who dared to journey into the mysteries of creation? And what does it say about the growing Western need for an authentic reconnection to the planet?”

7. The Business of Spirituality

Most of the seekers and thrillseekers I met on the gringo trail in 2006 were good people. They were really relying on the support mechanisms of the tourist industry to hold their hand into this mystical experience. And as the tourism has grown, the money thing has really skewed the energetics behind it, it's really changing it. And it's amazing that the whole spiritual backpacking circuit in South America even exists for us to go to. So, even though this was their first time through to the other side, I really realized a lot of these people having these experiences will then still progress on as seekers to find their spiritual path. 

“They really were like kids courting the mystery of ayahuasca, full of youthful exuberance, and the ones who remained on the path would soon learn the duties and responsibilities and find their healing.”

So many people I spoke to had this idea that they wanted help to reconnect to the divine, to find some source of direct religious gnosis, some direct knowing that worked for them. This is a quote from Len from Chicago, who studied who Don Juan Tangoa Paime. He said: “This is virtual sickness has permeated our society and culture and not just in Western nations, but the developed world over. And I feel that sickness as a lack or an emptiness in people.”

8. A Generation of Shamanauts in the West

So ayahuasca and plant medicine culture is developing all across the world. It's not just Western, of course there's other plants sacraments and the good old psilocybin magic mushrooms, salvia divinorum, grandfather cactus San Pedro, to name just a few. There's really a resurgence in awareness of entheogenic plants and plant sacraments the world over, but often what is lacking is the outer guidance to integrate them.
On a deeper level, I've started to synthesize what's really happening in my book [Aya: Awakenings] and what's happening with all these thousands of Westerners coming to be shamanized. It felt like there was a need to rebalance. You know, there is this larger populous looking for spiritual healing and seekers would go over to South America to be healed. As many of the people told me they then returned to their communities and continued to work with ayahuasca at home.
So, in the modern world, we have terminology and understanding of networks, of the way things come together, and that’s essentially what this proto-Western ayahuasca network did: it has seeded ayahuasca back into the West. They have seeded the future healing of their tribes because in the West for the last 500 years, if not even longer, we have lost our shamans. We have lost the healers because the West basically actively exterminated indigenous cultures or colonized them and eradicated their religions. 

The West in its growth spurt in the last 500 years distanced itself from the planet and the plants that reconnect the Gaian matrix. So, there's an enormous boom, you know, as the ayahuasca movement is cresting globally, and it's increasing every year as it gets out there and knowledge of it gets it out there.

I had this sort of intuition that if there's six billion people on the planet then you need like, 60 million shamans because on average there might be, say 100 people in a village and there'll be one shaman per 100 or so people. There's a little village called San Francisco, outside Pucallpa, down-river a few days from Iquitos. And they had about 12 shamans in a village of a thousand people – but they are a Shipisbo heartland. The idea is we need some type of nodal point distribution of healed people to be the healers for their communities. I think that's where it's going.
And I feel this in my own community here in Australia and the entheogenic community, this bootstrapping of people that would have the skill base that they've gotten from going to South America or from learning it locally, and they're doing the best they can to become the healers for their communities. And it's really needed in Western culture. So, there's no mistake why this is all happening in the moment, that scaling network of six billion people. We need something like 60 million healers across the earth right now to, to facilitate the healing of their communities.
Carlos Tanner echoed this idea when he said: “Healers are like the white blood cells of the planet, and they're much needed now.” And the white blood cells are the ones who help fend off infection but they also nurture and heal. And we are one level of that organism. There's something very dynamic going on here on planet earth, and we're all involved in it. Which brings us around to why is this all happening at the moment? What is going on in the planet and how does this integrate into the indigenous perspective with their mythologies and how does this integrate into our modern scientific understanding of what is happening on the planet?

9. The Planetary Perspective

In the 1979 book Gaia, written by James Lovelock, he posited that the living and non-living parts of the planet could be viewed as a complex interacting system, a bio-organism, or a complex entity involving the whole biosphere. That book was actually quite seminal when it came out and the ideas were integrated not just by the New Age community or the hippies, but really by a lot of different practitioners and scientists. It was as recent as ten years before, in1969 that the moon landing happened, and we started to see the earth from outer space, that we actually had a collective snapshot of our planet and developed a modern concept of it.
James Lovelock was very instrumental in bringing the idea that the earth really is basically alive and it's conscious, and we are actually like micro-organisms on the skin of Gaia. And building on that idea in the last few decades there's been other commentators adding different wrinkles to it. Both Bear Owsley and Terence McKenna had this idea of planetary exo-pheromones: that the entheogenic plants are like secretions from the planet that modulate human activity, and some of the other primates that take them, but mainly the humans cause we're like the cutting-edge custodians of consciousness. So, these psychedelic secretions from the planet enable interspecies communication and the exchange of information.
One of the things I experienced on ayahuasca was this primal connection to the web of life. And there's no negative spaces within that. I felt an immense grace and an immense totality to be part of that. And then to realize your role in that, like every act is sacred. Every step is sacred. We’ve just lost connection to the sacred. You know, it's only been in the last few years that 50% of people on the earth now live in cities. And that's been a very slow drift over the centuries, which naturally involves this distance from the plants and the planet itself.

10. Every Generation Gets Wired

Albert Hofmann, the chemist who “discovered” LSD in 1943, said he had a strange presentiment. Something told him to go back to his research from 1939 and check out the LSD molecule again. It was quite strange but something out of the ordinary flickered across from the ether and made acid come in because acid was needed as a neurochemical regulator of the species. Some of the effects of the acid revolution worked as a creativity tool, but it also flowed into the ecology movement, into the social justice movement, into the computer revolution, into things which transformed our society that happened in the Sixties. A generation later ecstasy opened the heart in the eighties. So, you can see this progression, it's almost like a chakra activation is building culturally over generations through the drugs that shape us.

And now ayahuasca and the other plant sacraments are connecting us to our soul and back to the planet, going full circle from the labs back to the jungle. And I just think it's very strategic and very interesting. You can do the research yourself, but the more you look into the structure of what's happening, why it's happening, you just see this pathway that becomes quite obvious. And in the last few generations we have a more mature, spiritual relationship with the plants. It's almost as if we're ready for them now, you know, after a few generations of doing the lab chemicals, which have their place as well, we are really ready for the deep ecology of the entheogenic experience once more.

11. Hyperspace or Bust

To do a brief recap of the science here: we have been disconnected throughout the history of Western culture for the last couple of thousand years as the empire of the mind conquered the exterior world and extinguished the interior one and atrophied our spiritual connection. Science, which inherited the priesthood’s responsibility for defining the universe and our relationship in it, has been drifting for over a hundred years now into reciprocal dynamic relationship and a cosmology not unlike the indigenous beliefs across the globe.

To draw upon quantum physics and shamanism – there is a lot in common and one of the famous modern science authors on quantum physics, Michio Kaku who wrote the book Hyperspace, said that: “I often think we are like the carp swimming contentedly in a pond. We live out our lives in our own pond, confident that the universe consists of only the familiar and the visible. We smugly refuse to admit that parallel universes or dimensions can exist next to ours, just beyond our grasp.” But the more science gets out there with it’s Super Hadron Colliders and Hubble telescopes and the like, the more it's discovering the interconnectedness of the universe, which is really what the indigenous perspective has said all along.

The indigenous science of curanderismo is often anchored in artworks that show the web of life. You'll hear the cry of the bird, you'll hear the rustle, the wind in the trees, you'll feel the intimate, energetic connection to the web of life all around. And it's all one it's all connected. And that's what modern science is saying now and that's what the indigenous perspective has been saying.

Curanderismo though, uses their vegetal technology to alter their perception in a way that allows them to see these forces and to go on and interact with them.
Anthropologist, Jeremy Narby has also done a lot of work with ayahuasca. He talked to shamans to find out how they know what they know. He said that his research indicates that shamans access an intelligence, which they say is natures, and which gives them information that has correspondences with molecular biology. His theory goes on to posit there is an active intelligence within the DNA and that on ayahuasca you actually see more of the UV spectrum. It opens up our ability to see more – we see one 10th of the UV spectrum and the spirit world and the things which are embedded in the cosmic ecology are always there, but we have the filters on.
And another thing to remember is that ayahuasca and San Pedro, our oldest sacraments are vegetal tools, but they're not the thing which does the job itself. They are tools to connect to your ability within yourself to access connection to the higher realms.

12. Validated, Virtual and Vegetal Realities

Writer Roy Ascott said some very interesting things about the idea of three different spaces: verifiable reality, virtual reality, and vegetal reality. I think it's really important that we have a vocabulary to describe these things in different mediums of mainstream culture. Vegetal reality is dependent on psychoactive plant technology. It’s entheogenic and spiritual. Validated reality is the mainstream baseline world. Virtual reality of course, is what we've created in nature's own image with that technology. But virtual reality has been coming the last 20 years or so, and what’s now taking the world by storm is the original: vegetal reality is now the new virtual reality.
One of the little riffs I have in the book Aya: Awakenings is that: “you could call ayahuasca the Google of the vegetal internet, and there's nothing to do but bask in the Gaian code, or to update the old Tim Leary mantra, log on, tune in and vege out on the plant broadband.” It just does open up all these worlds that are accessible there.
So, by the end of my travels in the book,

“I was really understanding that the Peruvian Cosmovision was different from ours, where we see the surface of things and the exteriors and quantify them and think we comprehend what's going on. The Peruvians and the shamanic approach see the connection under the skin of things and the way it threads together. And that changes the way they think and speak and their relationship to the cosmos itself.”

And once you learn from ayahuasca about the spirit world, once you change the way you see, what you see changes to you, its relationship to you, which quantum physics would call the Heisenberg effect. The receiver or the viewer is altering or changing the dynamics of the thing being seen.

In the Shipibo culture, which is sort of the Heartland of ayahuasca in Peru, they believe that the ayahuasca world is the natural world. To use a quantum physics term, physicist David Bohm described this idea of the “Implicate” and the “Explicate” world, that the implicate is sort of like heaven or the imagination or the Platonian archetype realm where everything originates from. And they believed that the ayahuasca world that they go over to in the medicine is the real world. And this world is a reflection of that, which is identical to what Bohm was saying about the implicate-explicate realities.
“So, collectively I think what we're all learning as a generation in the West, is that the world is a whole lot bigger than what we were ever told. And once you've expanded that to merge with the universal intelligence, it gets harder and harder to squeeze back into the same old box of rational, Caucasian materialism.”
As thrillseekers become seekers of the mystery and sacralize what they're doing–and that’s what going on the journey really invokes within you–it becomes a sacred journey. And to come back to the cyclic nature of time, why is it all happening now? “Well culture, like nature, goes in waves and as the tide of history builds and spends the modern day ayahuasca seekers are just the latest wave to brave the shores of consciousness.
You can look back to the recent history of the romantic poets like Byron, Shelly and Keats, whose indulgences in a laudanum made for some florid 19th century poetry. Thomas DeQuincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater, etc. Literature is a labyrinth that has the secrets of the last few hundred years where we didn't have a direct connection to the plants and the planet. But there were dabblers here and there that kept the flame alive, just enough to bridge the gap for when it was time for it to come back again.

13. The Sekhmet Hypothesis

And most recently in the 20th century there's been a whole counter-cultural surge with beatniks, hippies, ravers, and so forth, which brings me around to the whole idea of what's going on in cyclic time. The planet is a bio-organism that works in the cyclic nature of time and in the cosmic ecology that ayahuasca connects to very potently as well. After a while you realize that we're all like Russian dolls within Russian dolls working then set frameworks and networks that are all potentiating with each other. And in the cosmic ecology there's a circuit of energy being created that the plant medicine cultures feed into.
So, one of the intriguing theories put forth was by a Scottish philosopher called Ian Spence in 2012 magazine back in the 1990s. Spence was looking at this idea of solar cycles peaking, as NASA and science tells us, basically every 11.1 years. It's been fluctuating a bit here and there, but Spence’s theory in a springboard to tie into these earlier ideas of what's going on with plant medicines and psychedelics across the generations and why some things become widespread.
Spence says that in 1955, there were the beatniks; in 1966 there were the hippies; in 1977 the punks and in 1988 the ravers; in 1999 the anti-globalization activists; etc. It's obviously a Western centric idea. It's obviously a very compartmentalized download you're getting here. I'd encourage you to talk to me more about it, but there's quite a quadrant analysis of his theory, where he says that basically the human being is in relation to the cosmic cycle and feeds off the energy and feeds energy back. And it flips every 22 years so the cosmic hippie pulse is counterpointed with the activist punk energy in the world. Uniting the inner and outer, hippie and punk, is what anchors the unified spiritual warrior.

This energetic relationship the earth and sun feeds into the Gurdjeffian theory of reciprocal maintenance: that as we dance on the earth, or we do conscious suffering or labor, our whole bio-energetics feed back into the cosmic ecology, we are harvested and that energy is fed to the moon. The moon feeds the sun, the sun feeds the galactic sun and a synaptic pathway is created in the universal circuit where energy just keeps feeding around and around. I really like this idea and where counterculture has been in the Sixties were coming full circle to what I like to call the Ultraculture.

14. The Womb of the Great Mother

Of course, what's happening in the larger cosmic ecology has been shorthanded to the 2012 phenomenon, which we all know is a Western number. But in the cosmic circuit, as described earlier, the Mayan culture, the Hopi culture, you know, you name an indigenous culture, they all have understanding of cyclic time. And of the fact that stuff happens in waves and phases. So, what's happening astronomically as we get into what Westland culture calls 2012, which in the Mayan calendar is – 5 zeros. It's the time we are aligning with the galactic sun, like the moon, the sun galactic sun in the center of the galaxy in a full 26,000-year orbit. But this circuit of energy is being created and they call it Hunab Ku”: the womb of the great mother, they have a very poetic relationship with it.

So, we’re going through this tide of history and of this synergy towards a moment of potential transformation, and I think the ayahuasca movement is building to this, the entheogenic movement is building to this, and previous cultural cycles have synergized with this template too. Now, this ties into many indigenous cultures’ prophecies. In Peru the Q’eros have this idea of the Eagle and the Condor, which are both totems for the bicameral hemispheres of the brain, or the heart and the mind, or the old world and the new. They say that the eagle is the totem of North America and the condor of South America. Now they've held this legend 500 years and they believe that the eagles of the north cannot be free without the condors of the south. And their prophecies predict that now when the eagle and the condor fly together, the earth will awaken.

“It's funny how similar the prophecies of the Q’eros, which were a very special subtribe in the Andes mountains of South America, are to the Hopi, the Maya, all the Meso American tribes. The Q’eros prophecy says a time of great change is upon the world, which they call “Pachakuti” – a time in which the world will be turned right side up and harmony and order will be restored. And how uncanny that the Inca legends foretold not just the return of the white God Quetzqalcoatl 500 years ago, which signaled the end of the classic Indian civilization. But their legends foretold that 500 years from the time of their conquering that the great, great descendants on the Spanish conquerors, th bearers of the eagle will be the foremost amongst those now coming.” And that's exactly what's happening with the spiritual backpacking circuit and the interest in plant sacraments and indigenous knowledge.

15. The Pilgrimage of Plant Medicines

This is a quote from Kevin Furnas, who was a Western curandero. He said: “On an individual level, that's why we've all been drawn here. Our energy bodies are awakening to a deeper understanding of the true nature of reality. This is the first time in recorded history that we're moving towards cosmic awareness as a species. And it starts with individuals like you and me from every type of background treading the shaman's path. The time of prophecies is upon us. These are the times, indeed, when all the binaries converge: north and south, eagle and condor, old world and new, heaven and earth, past and future, and we are all a part of it. Part of the universal awakening.”
The last Incan-Qechua term I wanted to refer to today is Mooji, which is the whole idea of a seed, but they had this metaphoric sense that there's a spiritual seed within each person.

And the Q’eros realize that this seed can be awakened within us all. They actually have a transmission ritual ceremony called hatan karpay, or the “great initiation and transmission”, which activates the seed within people. But what I saw in Peru happening many, many times with ayahuasca, with smokable 5-MeO-DMT, with this circuit of people coming through is that everyone was being activated by these plant sacraments. And once activated that were on, and they're going back into the communities and seeding that activated awareness. And this is how we all wake up.

So, to sum up, what I think is happening is this cosmic convergence of players all gathering round, and I had this romantic intuition that there's a potential for a planetary icaro, a planetary song to be sung. The icaros are actually where the medicine really transmits into the healing. And when this generation drinking ayahuasca that is coming online reaches critical mass, we have the potential to sing the songs the plants teach us, to sing the vibrational medicine, to be activated, entheogenic whole people.

But in this world cycle there's very strategic events happening all over the world. There's eclipses and festivals and gatherings, where we are all going to be focusing on the same point, the same time, the same point of consciousness. And I really hope that this ability to sing through the divine and to connect to these higher realms eventuates. That there's a real definite potential that there can be a dramatic shift. That we can all be the medicine people we need.

The role of the shaman is dangerous and difficult, but it is actually vital to the integration of the West to come back into what the Q'eros call ayni or balance with the earth in the cosmic circuit and the Gaian matrix. If so I think there can be a blossoming and a rediscovery of what we really are and what our place in the cosmos really is.
Or as Ron Wheelock, the Gringo Shaman in Iquitos said: “I see ayahuasca as all vines. The vine it starts growing on something, and it just starts trying to take over everything. And ayahuasca is also a vine. And through us, through every ayahuascquero, we're like another limb on the vine. And she's trying to embrace the world.”

Key takeaways

  • There's a global resurgence in shamanic practices, with people reclaiming connections to the Divine through plant sacraments and consciousness expansion.
  • Ayahuasca, known as the "Vine of Souls," is a sacred jungle medicine experiencing a booming business and spiritual movement, connecting people to spirit and healing.
  • Westerners are filling the gap left by declining indigenous shamans in Peru, leading to a blend of traditional practices and fast-tracked approaches.
  • Ayahuasca tourism has grown rapidly, with jungle lodges and retreats catering to rich tourists, but it's not a simple thrill-seeking activity and carries risks.
  • The growth of the ayahuasca movement is facilitating the emergence of healers globally, addressing the need for spiritual healing in Western culture.
  • James Lovelock's concept of Gaia Theory revolutionized our understanding of Earth as a living, conscious organism, influencing diverse communities beyond just the New Age or hippie movements.
  • The discovery and rediscovery of psychedelic substances like LSD, ecstasy, and ayahuasca across generations have not only catalyzed creativity but also fostered social and ecological movements, leading to a more mature spiritual relationship with plants.
  • Vegetal reality, facilitated by psychoactive plant technology like ayahuasca, provides an entheogenic and spiritual experience, contrasting with validated and virtual realities created by mainstream culture and technology.
  • Indigenous prophecies, such as the Eagle and Condor prophecy, align with the idea of a planetary awakening, coinciding with astronomical alignments like the 2012 phenomenon and the galactic alignment.
  • The role of shamans becomes crucial in integrating Western society with the Gaian matrix and fostering balance with the Earth, potentially leading to a rediscovery of humanity's place in the cosmos and a blossoming of interconnectedness.