Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sapo and Italo

My son Italo is on all fours behind me. He's throwing up into a plastic bucket and has been for 5 or so minutes. He came in to my office a little while ago and asked me for some sapo, the Matses Indian medicine called frog sweat. I gave him four in the leg--it's administered subcutaneously after burning the epidermis with the flaming end of a jungle vine called tamishi--because he doesn't want visible scars, even small ones. Like all things from the jungle, and particluarly jungle medicines, it's harsh medicine.
Before he asked I'd started breakfast for Marco. So here is Italo puking pretty violently and feeling he's about to explode with the medicine while I'm cooking breakfast at the same time I'm watching him. Something sort of ridiculous in that, though it's something that could easily happen in the jungle since medicines are taken when needed, not when there is necessarily a lull in life.
It's a good medicine, the most bioactive substance found on the planet thus far and its use by the Matses, and my bringing it out to the Western world 25 years ago, has sparked a new avenue of pharmaceutical research into peptides from amphibian skins.
It will clean Italo out, and I don't just mean puking or pooping, I mean clean him out in every artery and clean out anything hidden in the kidneys or liver or pancreas, even fix his heart if it's suffering a little arrythmia--though the way he works out and how well he eats and the fact that he doesn't smoke or drink doesn't give him a lot to clean up. Still, it will make him stronger, make his vision clearer for a few days, make his hearing sharper, make him have extra oomph when he needs it for a few days: Just make him all around sharper.
Watching guests of mine in the jungle as they suffer the very very intense 15 acute minutes of medicinal action, I sometimes feel badly for them. Watching Italo go through it, or Marco last week, I almost want to die. I know it will help them, I know how good a medicine it is, but at the same time to see them so utterly utterly helpless and knowing that inside they're praying to their god to stop the feeling of their body being blown apart, of their heart beating like it will burst, of being so hot they think their brain will melt, well, that's the part that's difficult for me.
They probably feel the same when I ask them to administer it to me. It's just a harsh medicine.
The 15 minutes have now passed and Italo has gone to his room to rest and recuperate for a little while. In half-an-hour he'll feel brand new. I just heard Marco's dish being put into the kitchen sink. You feed all your children. You just feed them different things sometimes.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Long Time, Sorry for the Silence

Well, it's been a long time, more than two weeks, and I haven't visited with you. I'm sorry. I got stuck in a lot of work and while I had a lot to share I was just too darned tired. I still am, but what the heck.
Right after my last post sometime in mid-August, Chepa returned from Indiana and her boyfriend with my Madeleina and her Sierra and Alexa. I was in cat heaven, dancing for so much joy I burned meals, overbought foot to the point my fridge was too full and generally had a fantastic few early days with them.
But then, having painted the fence and cleaned the chicken coop, it was time to buy birds: Birds we bought: 6 ducks and 15 chickens. Two ducks and two chickens disappeared in the first four nights, so we needed to refence the coop. And add two feet to the top. But at the same time, I had a cover story for the FW Weekly due, a news feature for the Weekly due, my column due at Skunk magazine and I'd invited 50 people to a weekend at my house for jungle medicines and free food, 24 of whom promised to show.
Which meant I started looking at my house like they would, which meant I had to tear the house down and rebuild it into an acceptable manse or suffer the emotional crisis of not measuring up. Well, I scrubbed, cleaned, mowed, raked, went over the garage with a fine tooth comb. I enlisted Madeleina and Italo, couldn't budge Marco and had a week-long battle with him that was furious and not pretty over his refusal to help, even with his own dishes (settled amicably, somehow, after I gave up trying. He simply hates being told what to do and will only work when he initiates the process, unless he's being paid. I love him but it's frustrating in a family where people are not being paid to work).
Did not get to rebuild my house but did get it looking reasonable and then filled the fridge with an additional $400 in food that no one was going to eat because the jungle medicines need to be taken on empty stomachs. Then the guests arrived and we had a great time--two of them finished the chicken coup fence heightening for me, thank you a million times--and then I led ceremony. What the heck am I doing leading ceremony? I mean, I had the most experience but really, I'm such a rotten, flawed human being I should never lead a parade to the garbage dump, much less a sort of holy evening when people put their hearts/souls and physical bodies in my command. Nonetheless I did it and most people survived and thrived, by sheer luck.
But it was also the time to get Madeleina, recently returned from 10 weeks in Indiana with Chepa's amor, ready for school. And to get Italo off to college again for the soccer season. He's captain of the team this year and while he's away his girl, pregnant Sarah, is going to live at Chepa's. She's rented a room there and made a nice nest with furniture I could never afford. Very nice, but leaves a hole in this house and means Italo won't even be visiting on weekends much. Hmmm....that's not a hole, that's a freaking void.
And it also means that feeding the birds, dogs, cats, goats, ducks and chickens falls to me, even though I'm only the guy who accepted them being here, rather than the inspiration.
So I've been sort of crazy, trying to catch up with my life and have not been here. And if I had 3 hours I'd write 50 pages on the fantastic laughter and love and sadness--due to the deaths of friends--in the last couple of weeks.
But I won't cause I don't have the time. I've just come from the Fort Worth Zoo, which I'm going to use as the opener for a cover story for a business magazine that is due this Wednesday. I thought the contract read Sept 12, and just today discovered it read Sept 2. Yikes! That is cutting it damned short. Worse, it's about loving work, loving what you do, and the advantages of working from fun rather than desperation. Oy, Vey! Ha! Like I even know what fun is anymore now that I'm racked between this and that space! And I have a cover story of 6,000 words due on friday for someone else! Can you imagine? Even I, with an ability to bs endlessly am sort of at a loss of how I'm to come up with 10,000 words that make sense in the next 6 days.
So that's it. That's why I have not written. I apologize again. There were about 20 great stories I would have loved to tell but they're history now. I'll try to be more on the ball as we move forward.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ayahuasca Dosages

A friend recently asked me what the typical ayahuasca dose would be, and whether it was determined in part by a person's weight: a petite old woman, for instance, versus a hulking athlete. My answer below:

Depends on the curandero and the medicine. Julio's medicine was generally given in maximum 6 gulp doses--about 3 ounces, I think. He'd give less for someone who had no experience, but size was not important.
At Sachamama, Francisco gives about 2 gulps--he either adds something to the medicine or simply cooks it down so much that two gulps is effective.
At other places, sometimes I've been given 4 or 5 ounces and then a second cup after an hour or so, making it an 8-10 ounce event.
In truth, once someone is very attuned to it, they don't need to drink the medicine to have a full experience. I've had them just on smelling it while cooking (vapors) and some of my most amazing experiences occurred on nights when the spirits said they had something to teach me--before the experience--and in an effort to avoid learning I took just three or four drops. In those cases the spirits just laughed when I did and said they were going to teach me regardless of my being afraid.
So dose can range from vapors to half a pint, depending on the medicine and the person taking it.

PS: In cases like Italo's cleansing of me: He probably should not have done it as he didn't "see" what he was taking from me, despite being able to do it. In cases where you can see what's coming off or out of someone, Bertha Grove, a great medicine woman from the Southern Ute tribe, explained that all things, all energy, has a life and will of its own, and that removing an illness from someone and tossing it on the ground, or worse, taking it into yourself, would result in you or someone else winding up with that illness. That would apply to whatever was taken. Because you are dealing with spirit here, and everything has spirit. She recommended that whatever was removed, and she was speaking primarily of removing illnesses or other negative things from people, be wrapped up in a sort of invisible gauze and put on some far away planet where no other living things would ever encounter it.
In my own case, I've been taught to put those things in a place where the doctors, spirits who work with negative energy, can transform that negative energy into positive energy.
However a person does it, it's important to remember that in cleansing someone, to be sure that what is removed from them does not wind up in you, or worse, simply on the ground, where it will affix to the next passerby.
In the extreme, a person can have a full blown experience just by being in contact with someone else who has taken it. My son Italo, called into service to "clean" me one time a couple of years ago after I returned from Peru feeling very heavy with spirit, used a chacapa (leaf rattle) and Florida water to do the psychic cleansing. Unfortunately, I wasn't thinking straight and didn't tell him how to eliminate whatever he cleaned from me. Two days later, while leaving the house to run an errand with Chepa and the kids he doubled over, began to vomit--an ayahuasca vomit, not a normal vomit--then said he was going to need some help as he'd begin an ayahuasca experience. Chepa and I moved him to a calm area in the very back yard and sang to him for the full two hour experience until he came back to his normal senses.
So dose matters more in the early stages of one's relationship with the medicine--or more properly, one's relationship to the vibrant spirit of the medicine--and less once that connection with a person and that vibrant spirit has been established.
The key thing to remember is that the ayahuasca experience has little to do with chemistry and everything to do with the shift of a person's spirit which allows them to communicate with other spirits not normally visible or apparent to humans. The chemicals in the medicine allow that shift to happen, but once that shift has been made, the chemicals are of less and less use as the door, once opened, never closes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Hey, You Mutts, I Love You All...

Hey, you mutts! Yeah, you! I love you all but want a little response. Yes, this is the needy Peter G. I write, you read, you respond. You can laugh, cry, yell, scream, punch me in the arm--HA!That's reserved for people who come on my trips--but you have to occasionally respond. Hannie? Where are you. Paul DB? Lost in Argentina? Dr. G? Cat got your tongue? Bill G? Out on the river?
Let's do this New York style: Yo! What's up? I'm working here and I'm in a freaking vacuum! Nobody there? You're all out dancing and forgot to invite Mr. G? What the heck?
Get with it, willya? Won't killya to make the effort to jump into the mix, eh?
That said, have yourselves a great freakin night...

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Most of you remember biology in the old days, I'll bet. That was when you were in 7th, 8th or 9th grade and one day the biology teacher came in and started handing out frogs, then explained that if you put a little knife like thing at the top of their neck, right beneath their head, you could kill them. And you were supposed to. After that began dissection. It was always good for a laugh when one of the class tough guys feinted at the sight of the blood spurting.
How many frogs did we aggregately kill? Tens of millions? Why? For the joy of seeing a football player fall on the ground, unconscious? Or just to keep someone's brother in law, who bred frogs, in business.
I am not sure which but I do know that the lesson had little to do with learning and a lot to do with our getting our collective rocks off, legally. Like pulling the wings off Japanese beetles just to see them suffer, or the legs off mosquitos just to watch them waddle around, without enough legs to support them. But the frogs, that was a state supported action, so that was okay. HAH!
In my high school, we had Brother X as our biology teacher. He had a couple of Master's in science and was going for a Phd in biology and he was one smart son of a bitch. He was also a son of a bitch who loved coming up behind you and jamming your kidneys with a hard bound book or a closed fist, just to watch you drop. "You're an experiment, boy. Now get up and let's see if you fall as fast if you know it's coming..." He was that sort of guy.
Well, for one experiment we had to dissect an animal at home. I picked an aligator, since I'd always wanted one, and my experiment was going to show that the books had it right, that alligators had a two-sectioned brain and a four (???) sectioned heart, something that people didn't have.
So I bought my alligator and had him as a pet for a couple of weeks, then went to Brother X and got some formaldehyde and a couple of syringes to apply it. On the way home from school, on the public bus, the formaldehyde opened and we had to stop for an hour or so because people were getting sick. I still made it home with nearly a gallon.
Thing was, I had no idea how to apply it. So I just took my pet alligator and put him in a pot, then poured a gallon of formaldehyde over him and thought he'd get stiff. He didn't. In fact, he fought. Fought like hell to get out of that pot. Fought so hard I had to find a lid, then put a brick, then two bricks, then a cinderblock on it to keep him from jumping/pushing his way out to save himself.
I finally couldn't take the dying and went across the street and got Jamie McGurran, younger brother of my friend Dan, and called him in to witness what I was doing. He came, witnessed, and said I was committing a sin and would go to hell for drowning an alligator in formaldehyde. I protested that it had been given to me by a Brother, a man of the cloth, a near freaking priest.
Jamie was unmoved but loved the slow death at my expense.
And when the little animal, probably 1/2 pound and 15 inches long, died, we took him out and tried to cut him open to prove my scientific points. But his skin was hard, his bones harder, so we finaly took a 1" chisel and a 3 pound sledge and smashed him open, ruining all internal organs beyond recognition.
I still wrote my report based on the smashed tissue I had, and I passed the assignment.
But I smashed a dying alligator to death to satisfy a Phd student. And I was given a passing grade.
I've never liked that. And I've never needlessly hurt an animal again. I've hurt some. I've killed some. I am not your average saint. But I've never done it without a lot of thought and imagining the repercussions.
And this year, my Madeleina is entering the 7th grade and she might be asked to kill a frog for the fun of her teacher's insanity. I'm gonna tell her not to do it unless she wants to.
I'm not a fan of killing anything unless you're gonna eat it. And if you kill it to eat it it always makes you sick.
Anyway, Saturday afternoon and that's what this boy is thinking about after he bought a new chainsaw to cut overgrown--but lively--trees, a new grill to cook roast dead animal flesh, and nearly ran over a turtle on the highway.
Confusing world to say the least.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vaklempt! Manly Work Continues Apace!

Oy Vey! Yard work is so hard I ought to be rich so I could hire professionals to do it.
Like the fence got finished but then the goats got out. Somehow. And then the police came to tell me my goats were eating my neighbors' flowers. And so we got them but the neighbors, people we've never even seen since they live on another street, were slightly pissed off. Appears the goats ate about 10 pots worth of flowers before they were stopped. So I have to replace them. Right. Probably weeds and I'm supposed to supply rare African plants....
Then the goats got out the next day and this time they ate someone's garden. YIKES!!! I've had gardens. For a nice one, say a quarter acre, which this one was, it takes two to three hours daily for 5 months. And my stupid goats ate everything. Everything!!! So now I'm responsible for a garden worth $1,500. Oh, my. Now you know why this Irish kid is using a Yiddish word like Vaklempt! Beside myself. Upside down myself. Why didn't the garden owner stop them mid-feast? I'll tell you why...because he had nothing growing there at all, and if there was proof that he had a stinking sun-dried garden I wouldn't have been responsible for a grand and a half. But I am.
So I locked the goats up--since the guy wouldn't take them in lieu of payment--in the interior back yard, the one where we just painted the fence, and today bought new fencing that I'm about to put up. I feel like a cowboy, where's my horse??????
And Today I spent two hours in 105 degree temperatures dragging tree limbs knocked down by lightning across the yard. Put them in a corner according to size: Good firewood; medium firewood; kindling. I'll cut it later this week. But that was hot, hard work.
Then I decided to cut the back lawn, just half an acre, with the regular electric mower. More manly work, particularly since every 60 feet required a 100 yard walk with the bag of cuttings as it hasn't been cut since I left for Peru in June.
So I'm here, ready to work, being manly, complaining like a not-very-manly-man. The kids tell me helping is beneath them and ask when dinner (lime chicken; basmati rice, string beans with red pepper and garlic plus fresh papaya juice and ice cold cantaloupe) will be ready.
When I finish the fence, finish the lawn or finish the jim beam, whichever comes first!
That's the way I'm feeling. Hope you're all feeling just as juicy and wild.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ayahuasca Tourism: Ground Zero

Ayahuasca Tourism: Ground Zero

By Peter Gorman

I am ground zero on Ayahuasca Tourism. That’s the type of tour that people take to the Peruvian or Ecuadorian or Brazilian Amazon during which they drink the legendary visionary medicine ayahuasca. It’s often the primary reason for people going to the Amazon, particularly the Iquitos, Peru area, where more than two dozen camps exist exclusively for the purpose of serving the medicine.
Ayahuasca tourism is a dirty word in a lot of circles. It carries the negative implication of Westerners going into the Amazon to steal a vital and traditional medicine from the curanderos and shaman who work with it. And indeed, a lot of curanderos—who are generally the doctors on the rivers on which they live—have been lured away from taking care of their community for lengths of time by the opportunity of serving tourists for relatively big bucks. On the other hand, those who run the camps defend their work by noting that 15 years ago interest in the medicine was waning on the rivers and few curanderos even had apprentices. With the boom in ayahuasca tourism, that has changed dramatically. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say there are an awful lot of people serving ayahuasca who shouldn’t be, just because of the need for curanderos and the price people are willing to pay for it. Beyond that, many curanderos now do have very legitimate apprentices, the result of locals seeing the respect shown the curanderos by outsiders.
So it’s a mixed equation as to whether ayahuasca tourism is good or bad for the people in the Amazon. Either way, the phenomenon exists and has been growing for several years.
It had to start somewhere, and that was with me.
In 1986, after two trips to the Peruvian Amazon, during each of which I had the opportunity to travel deep into the jungle and drink ayahuasca, I wrote an account of my experiences that was published in High Times magazine as a cover story. Other pieces had been written about ayahuasca—early Amazon explorers had discussed it, Marlene Dobkin de Rios had written books about it, and Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs had written The Yaje Letters, for example—prior to my story, but most of that material was either scientific in nature or obscure. And in the pre-internet days, discovering something obscure meant hours and hours at a library; even then it’s doubtful that most town libraries would have carried material on a subject as little known as a jungle medicine.
But a story in High Times magazine, with the cover line, Ayahuasca—Mindbending Drug of the Amazon, as awful as it was, got peoples’ attention. And it was, I later discovered, the first cover story in a national magazine on the topic.
As a result of that story, the two big Amazon tour companies operating out of Iquitos at the time began to get requests from their clients to provide this experience to their guests. One of them even sent someone down to talk with one of the curandero’s I’d written about—Julio, who became my great friend and teacher—and asked him if he would come to the Iquitos area once a week and hold an ayahuasca ceremony for tourists. Julio, quite old and a river person who was shy around outsiders, said no. But Julio’s young apprentice, Salis Navarro, said he would do it. And he did. And that was the beginning of ayahuasca tourism. The medicine had always been available to people like me who found ourselves deep in the jungle, but from that point on tour companies found it necessary to offer the medicine as part of their package.

What's Up Here

Morning, everybody. Back two weeks now and things coming together. The manly work continues apace, the fence is gorgeous, the bridges repaired, the big lawn mowed, the fences done, the house reasonably spotless, and on and on. It's quiet because Chepa is still away with Madeleina, Sierra and Alexa, but that should change in about a week, and we're all looking forward to having the house full and full of laughter and joy again. About time!
Been thinking about former clients recently. I've been getting a lot of mail from people who were on the recent trip, but even more I've probably heard from 25 people who have been on trips as long as 10 years ago. That one always surprises me but makes me feel as if the trip and the medicine and the Amazon had a profound effect on them and that's what I'm hoping for when I do them. I sometimes sit back and think it really is a life changing event. I know it is for me; it's trying to share that and have others see it as I do that's the trick. And when they do, when someone writes to tell me they had an ayahuasca dream or a jungle dream three, four years after their time with me, that's very very rewarding. This week alone, for instance, a couple of former clients wrote to ask for nu-nu and sapo, the Matses' medicines--the former a snuff, the latter frog-sweat. Then one showed up at my doorstep just Saturday night, needing a good dose of sapo to keep her clear. She did puke all over the living room and kitchen, but that was nothing. Medicines from the jungle are always earthy. And it was great to see her.
And I'm thinking of having a weekend for former clients on August 21-22-23, so if any of you reading are former clients who feel a bit upended or need some more magic in your blood, or are simply in the neighborhood--which means you can fly in from England, for instance--well, let me know and I'll set the meeting in stone.
And then I did a radio show the other day. Two hours and I hope I didn't put everybody to sleep. If you want to check it out, here's the link:
My computer doesn't have sound anymore so I can't promise it will work, and if you read this blog occasionally you've already heard it all.
Marco just came in and wrestled with me. I started breakfast for him in return for the exercise and while at it did all of last night's dishes. Now out to the lawn for raking before it gets too hot to move here in bucolic Joshua.
Oh, and former clients Andrew and Petra just had a baby girl. Congrats, guys!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Ayahuasca Healing

I recently spoke at the 5th Conference on Shamanism in Peru. The conference topic had something to do with healing and so I decided for once to actually tackle the topic rather than just ranting on whatever I wanted to rant on.
I thought it might be important, because while many many thousands of people have now had the opportunity to drink ayahuasca in Peru and elsewhere, few have had the chance to drink it in its traditional river setting, and so probably have not had the chance to see how locals utilize the medicine for healing, or the variety of ways that healing is accomplished.
These notes are being made subsequent to that talk.
Ayahuasca Healing
There are several types of healing done with ayahuasca, the medicinal and visionary vine of the Amazon. To understand them you need to understand that in much of Peru and particularly in the Amazon, illness is thought of as a disturbance on another level of reality that creates symptoms on this level. Fix that disturbance and the symptom will disappear. Accessing that other level of reality to identify that disturbance is the job of the ayahuasquero or curandero.
Now for most riverinos, river people, even those who currently live in Iquitos or other cities and towns, ayahuasca is not a medicine to take regularly. They may, like my mother-and-father-in-law, attend ayahuasca ceremonies most Tuesdays and Fridays--the traditional nights for ayahuasca--but they didn't necessarily drink. In fact, I don't think my folks-in-law drank the medicine more than a handful of times in their lives. That's something we Westerners have dreamed up. Traditionally you go to the ayahusaquero or curandero and tell him or her your problem. Several other people might as well, and then the curandero drinks and goes to seek the answers to the various problems.
At it's simplest, this story explains that type of curing. I was with my teacher and friend Julio some years ago. With us on the hut floor was a man who swore that someone had given him the evil eye because of envidio, envy. He felt cursed and wanted Julio to drink ayahuasca and go see who was doing it to him. Julio asked specifics and the man explained that every time he sold his chickens and made some money he fell and hurt his leg or ankle--sometimes breaking it--so that he couldn't work for weeks. Julio said he'd take a look. Shortly afterward he drank the ayahuasca he'd made and began singing his songs and shaking his shacapa, leaf rattle.
Two hours later he came out of his trance and told the man he had good news and bad news. The good news, he said, was that no one was giving the man the evil eye. The bad news, he said, was that he saw that every time the man sold his chickens and had money in his pocket he went to drink at a place that had two rickety steps, got drunk, and then fell when leaving. "Ahhh so," Julio said in his river Spanish. "You have two choices: Either stop getting drunk the minute you have money from selling your chickens or fix the steps so that you won't fall."
Perfect. That's genuine ayahuasca healing. As simple as that.
A second type of healing with ayahuasca involves both the client and the ayahuasquero drinking, with an eye toward seeing the same visions. A good example of that happened nearly 20 years ago, with my friend the curandero Juan Tangoa. Airport Juan as he's called, because his home is just outside the Iquitos airport, had a client who was distraught beyond words. He was a middle-aged man and he was certain his wife was cheating on him and that she was going to leave him. There were several other people at that ceremony, all locals beside myself, but when it came time to drink Juan offered the medicine only to me, the man and himself. "Let's go see your wife," he said, then blew out the kerosene lamps and began to chant.
To my surprise, there was a point in the experience where I found myself looking down on the Plaza 28, one of the primary plazas in Iquitos, a plaza that at that time was surrounded by more than a dozen Chinese restaurants, several pool halls and a couple of government buildings. When I looked at the Plaza I found myself zeroing in on a woman walking with a man. I couldn't see them clearly, and even if I could they had their backs to me as they strolled. There was some urgency about the woman but that's all I could note.
When the session ended, Juan asked the man if he'd seen anything. "Yes! Yes! I knew it! I saw my wife walking with a man on the Plaza Vente-Ocho! I knew she was cheating!"
Juan smiled. "Are you sure? Go back into your dream and look more closely."
The man closed his eyes. In a few minutes he opened them. "Oh my god! She's cheating with a priest! He's a priest! I can't believe it!"
Juan nearly laughed out loud. "You are not seeing things right. Go back into your dream and this time listen to what they are saying."
The man did as told. In a few moments his demeanor changed and he began to breathe heavily, then choke up, and finally tears began running down his face. He opened his eyes.
"That's right," said Juan. "Your wife is leaving you. But she's not cheating and she's not leaving you for another man."
"I know. I saw. I heard," said the man.
"She talks with the priest because you get drunk and beat her and she has to leave you for her safety and the safety of your children. But she still loves you and that's what's making it difficult. If you don't want her to leave, you have to stop drinking and certainly stop beating her. If you don't, she will go."
Again, a simple but perfect ayahuasca healing. The illness--in this case the pain of losing his wife--caused by the disturbance on some level with the man that caused him to drink and be a bully and a beater. If he could fix that, the symptom--his wife leaving--would fix itself.
Which doesn't mean the man was capable. I don't know if he managed to change or not. I never saw him again. But the medicine, the ayahuasca, had shown the way if he wanted to fix things.
Another type of healing requires the ayahuasquero or curandero to find a physical medicine for a patient. Some years ago I was contacted by a woman who wanted to come on a jungle jaunt with me. She was dying, she said. She'd gone through a couple of bouts of cancer and done all the possible treatments to no avail. The cancer was ravaging her and only had a couple of weeks to live and wanted to die in the jungle. I told her not to come. She insisted. I insisted back. She eventually talked me into it. She showed up in Iquitos, a beautiful woman who was very weak, with her boyfriend, a very nice fellow. She asked me to have her cured. I told her Julio was a marvelous healer but that I wasn't going to promise anything like a cure. I did tell her that we should try to work toward giving her one more Christmas with her daughter--whom she spoke of constantly--that that would be something to realistically aim for.
I took them to see Julio and explained that the woman was dying of cancer and asked if he could help. He said no, because ayahuasca was hot and cancer was cold. "You don't cure cancer with ayahuasca," he said. (Note: Others disagree and many people say they've been cured or put into remission by ayahuasca use.) Nonetheless, he agreed to drink with her and try to find something that might help.
All of us drank that night. The woman, if I remember right, had a difficult physical time, with a lot of uncontrollable shitting on herself. Her boyfriend vomited violently for a long time. When the session was over, the woman--who'd been looked after and changed several times by one of Julio's daughters--hated me. She demanded to know how I could have given her something so vile. I tried to remind her that she was the one who insisted. She didn't calm down.
Julio simply said he'd think on things.
In the morning, Julio called to his son Jairo--now a curandero in his own right--and told him to collect some plants from the jungle. When he had, Julio spent several hours cooking them down from about 10 gallons to maybe two liters. "Tell your friend she has to drink this three times a day," he instructed. "Just a little." He indicated about an ounce or so with his fingers. "Drink it until it's finished. And then she'll be fine. But if she wants to keep the cancer away she has to stop holding on to things. To anger. She has to learn to let go or the cancer will come back."
"Is this really going to heal her?" I asked.
"I think it will help."
In fairness, the woman also saw a doctor in Iquitos who is notable for curing incurable conditions. But she took Julio seriously and drank the medicine as instructed.
A week later, still hating me, she left Peru.
I thought she'd probably die and was happy she had not died on my watch.
Six months or so later she wrote an email to tell me she still hated me and the trip, but that she was driving around Italy on a motorscooter. Six months after that she wrote from somewhere else. That went on for years. I have not heard from her in some time and hope she's still alive somewhere, having a ball. If she's passed on, well, I'm glad she got a few extra Christmases with her girl.
That type of healing, where a curandero accesses a spiritual world where medicine concoctions are available is fairly common. Curanderos will explain it as having helping spirits who guide them to the plants they'll need to effect a cure. I've no doubt that's true, but most curanderos already have a wealth of natural medicine knowledge at their fingertips.
While the woman didn't like pooping uncontrollably, and her boyfriend had a difficult time with the vomiting, both are integral to ayahuasca healing. So much so that ayahuasca is also called 'la purga.' Nearly everyone who drinks it vomits or excrete ferociously not long afterward. While it might not be ladylike or gentlemanly, it's a great healing tool of the medicine. For locals and Westerners alike, there is great healing in the elimination: On the one hand, for locals the purge has the physical benefit of eliminating bacteria and parasites from their stomachs, conditions that are common in a place where fish is often sun-dried (and then gets wet when it starts to rain, then gets dried again and so forth) or where game is often eaten nearly crude in an effort to save firewood.
On the other hand, the purge goes beyond physical, way beyond. It's also a purge of the bile of our lives, the useless weight we carry around from pain we've suffered, from wrongs committed against us or which we've committed against others. It's a chance to eliminate garbage we don't really need, an often don't know we're carring like rocks on our spirit. The plainest example I can use is the memory most of us have, though have long buried, of when our mothers stopped breast feeding us. How traumatic that must have been for most of us. One moment there is that tenderness; the next we're not permitted it. Or the time you cheated on your girlfriend/boyfriend or wife. Or stole the fish out of your neighbors net. These are things we carry around with us like weights on our soul, but not things we necessarily need. And the medicine allows us to eliminate them. She might make us see what we've done a thousand times in slow motion before it's eliminated--which means it's sometimes an emotional wreaking ball--but still, it's an opportunity to cleanse parts of ourselves that we probably otherwise wouldn't.
Another type of healing done with ayahuasca is psychic surgery. A good curandero, like any doctor, has a number of tools at his disposal. And sometimes he or she simply have to operate. They might see--with ayahuasca vision--that a client has holes in their spirit where their energy is seeping out that need closing; they might see that a person has a physical ailment that has reached the stage where physical intervention--or psychic intervention through doctoring on a mirror self of the client--simply has to be done. The first time I heard of this I didn't believe you could effect physical change by operating on some spiritual level. I was at Julio's, maybe in 1985 or '86. There were several men there. One of them told me that Julio had recently operated on his stomach. I asked to see the scar. The man lifted his shirt and pointed to the spot where he said Julio operated but there was no scar. "Julio's a very good doctor," the man said. "The scars heal very quickly."
The story I later found out was that the man had some sort of tumor. Julio saw it after drinking ayahuasca and realized the man was in danger of death. So he accessed the spirit of the man and cut the tumor out of that body image, which left the physical tumor lifeless, and so it simply disappeared. In other words, he accessed the life force of the tumor, eliminated that, leaving no life force in the actual tumor.
I still didn't believe in that sort of healing until I saw my friend Victor, the great San Pedro healer, perform such a surgery on a client years later. It was a small ceremony performed for a husband and wife. The intent was that the wife be healed of a major problem--she was actually just trying to stay ahead of a crippling disease that was already in remission--but that night Victor chose to work primarily on the husband. And he chose to allow me to see the work.
What I saw was Victor approach the man and tell him to lie down. Then he pulled a rock from one of his pockets and knelt next to the man. In moments the rock had turned into a scalpel and he began cutting the man open. Blood flowed onto the cement of the driveway where they were. Victor began removing and cleaning out the man's organs one by one, then replacing them. He opened the man's face as well, did some work I couldn't really see, then sealed him back up. He looked at his patient. Satisfied, the scalpel was turned back into a stone that he pocketed.
In this reality, the stone was a stone, of course, and no one was cut anywhere. But on some other level, the man's energy had been worked on in the form of his body being cut and cleaned. I was amazed to have witnessed it.
The next day the man said he'd had a condition for his whole life which was now gone. I didn't ask what it was. But months and years later, he confirmed that the condition had never returned.
It wouldn't be fair to discuss the types of healing done by curanderos and the medicines without discussing a healing of my own. This type of healing is a sort of direct-action healing, where the medicine takes it into her own hands to heal someone.
Some years ago, when I first began taking people out to the jungle to visit Julio, my clients all seemed to be getting fantastic healing. Some physical, some emotional, some spiritual. At the time my marriage was breaking up and I was a wreck. One day after a great trip, I was in my bar in Iquitos, bartending, when a customer asked how the trip had gone. I told him great, then sort of blurted out that all my clients were getting healed but that I was the one who really needed the healing.
The medicine listened and the next time I drank, perhaps a few weeks later, as I began to fall into the ayahuasca dream, there was a great rushing, like wind through tall grass, all around me and suddenly I was surrounded by what seemed to be hundreds of little creatures. I couldn't see them, but knew they were there. "We heard you," one of them said. "It's your turn."
"My turn? For what?"
"To get healed. We heard you. It's your turn."
I was immediately terrified and asked what they were going to do. "We'll have to cut you open and take out your heart. Then we're going to have to cut some of the bad part out. You'll die but then we'll put you back together."
More terrified, I tried to explain that I didn't need that but they insisted and began to work. They just started cutting me open like I'd seen Victor cut the man open. I resisted as much as possible and they let me know I was making things harder than they needed to be. I didn't care. I wasn't ready to let little creatures from another reality kill me and then bring be back, different but better.
All evening I struggled, and when the ceremony was over I was joyeus that I wasn't dead. Unfortunately, they made it clear they'd have to come back and finish the work.
I've told this story in full form in other work, so I'll keep it short here. The gist of it was that over the course of the next three years or so, every time I drank ayahuasca the doctors would appear with the rush of wind through grass and work on me. I would resist. They'd be disappointed in me. But there were some breakthroughs: at some point early on I asked what I could do to make my estranged wife love me again. I was told there was nothing I could do. She simply would or wouldn't. During another session I asked what I could do to make her and our baby happy. They told me that was a better question than the first, but only if I didn't think that making her happy would lead to loving me again. I did, of course.
That question came up a hundred times during those years, and almost always during a break from the doctors tearing me to pieces and trying to get rid of the bad spots in my heart. During one session it was made clear to me that the reason I couldn't make Chepa and Madeleina, my estranged wife and daughter, happy was because I kept doing things I thought would make them happy, rather than things that would actually make them happy. I asked how I could do that? I was told the only way to do it was to be them and see what they needed to make them happy. I had no idea how to do that. "How on earth can I be them? I'm me."
"Then you'll never have an answer to your question."
And then one very extraordinary night, not long after the doctors had finished their work--which they said could have been much better if I'd have simply let them work rather than constantly being in fear and resisting them--a different spirit asked if I'd finally like to know the answer to the question I'd asked so often. I said I would. He had me follow him and what happened next--also written elsewhere--was one of the most terrifying nights of my life, a night when I was attacked from the regular reality in my ayahuasca reality. Crazy at it sounds, I knew that if I didn't fend off the attack my physical body would suffer. It was an hours-long battle, with Julio urging me to stay strong, to sing, to win.
I eventually did, sending the negative energy I'd been attacked with back to those I thought delivered it. And when the battle was over, one by one my sisters, my brother, parents, my wife and kids all appeared and congratulated me. More than that, they gave me a kind of love I'd never felt before. Maybe it was just because I was too tired to refuse it--as I sometimes do--but this love was overwhelming and without a hint of self-serving in it. It was unconditional.
And in that moment, I was everyone, I was pure spirit, or as close to it as I've ever been. I forgot being me and my spirit simply soared. And in that same moment I became Chepa and Madeleina and knew, instantly knew, what they needed to make them happy. Their spirits needed the same absolutely unconditional love. I was overwhelmed.
Now translating a moment of unconditional love into action on this level of reality is not easy. It took years of work to get over being angry with Chepa, and then years more to forgive her. But ayahuasca is an amazing healer. And the doctors really did some good work with me. Now, though I occasionally lapse, I can hand out that unconditional love without expecting anything in return. My job is simply to love them whether they notice it or not.
And that work has brought me to a place where I can freely love Chepa's two new babies from another man as well. I love them joyfully, and still know that one day when they move away I'll never see them again. That will be sad but it doesn't matter. What matters is that when they are with me they feel love and more love with no strings.
That is ayahuasca healing.
And those are a few of the different types of healing that can occur with that medicine.