Note. This text is in Australian English.
Chapter 28 – Ayahuasca Ceremony
At six o’clock that night the group gathered at the jetty. Everyone was quiet and focussed inward, already prepared for the night. We carried jackets for the cool air and towels to lie on the sand. Mallku and Nicki arrived with Sanchez, a local shaman, and introduced him to us. Silently, we boarded the open boat to cross the wide river through the night air. A soft breeze touched my cheek as we motored through the silky black water. The slivered moon shimmered and created a silvery pathway. This night was potent with magic. Mystery enveloped us.
On the other side of the river we silently disembarked. The sandy beach was a welcome change to the dense green jungle of the past two days. Cool soft sand ran between my toes, a reminder of home and welcome contrast to the hot, humid days.
Mallku and Sanchez placed their bags down beside each other. Sanchez gently prepared his mesa and placed his tools of trade upon his brightly woven mesa cloth. He carefully positioned the ceramic jar of ayahuasca beside two small pottery drinking vessels and signalled Mallku he was ready to start. Mallku lit long sticks and flames burst into a fiery light. He planted them firmly into the ground around the circle.
“Welcome,” said Mallku. “I invite you to take your places in the circle. Please place your towels on the ground and make yourself comfortable.”
I felt around for my spot and decided to sit in the east; the position of the eagle, my totem ally. Then calmly and with full trust, I sat and waited. I was also excited and very curious. This was my first real shamanic ceremony.
“Once we start the ceremony and drink the sacred medicine you can lie down.” Nicki said.
Then Mallku added, “When the medicine takes hold and you need to vomit or eliminate, please crawl out of the circle and when you’ve finished, return to the circle and keep the circle strong.”
With fascination, I watched as they began the ceremony. Mallku lit his bowl of sacred Peruvian wood and copal resin until his fire flickered strongly. Then he blew the fire out and thick pungent smoke spiralled upwards filling the space around him. He picked up a large feathered tool, an instrument to direct the cleansing smoke across our bodies. It was made from four giant black condor feathers, the sacred bird of Peru, woven together with leather bits.
I watched his actions in awe, the beauty of this moment touching my heart. Constriction welled up in my chest and a tear fell from one eye. I felt deeply honoured to be finally here to participate in my first shamanic ceremony. I was without fear and fully present with my entire being heightened, ready to journey into the void and the unknown.
Mallku walked around the circle and smudged us individually with his sacred smoke to cleanse our auric fields. He stood in front of me and brushed the smoke into my body. Whooap, whooap the giant bird’s wing feathers struck through the air. This unique sound infused my memory forever. I cupped my hands and gathered the smoke and inhaled deeply. I breathed it into my lungs and consciously cleansed my inner self. Mallku then smudged around my body continuing to cleanse my field. I am ready for this ceremony of sacred ayahuasca medicine, the Vine of the Dead.
When everyone was cleansed Sanchez began.
He picked up the ayahuasca jar full of juice and lifted it up to the heavens. He spoke in his native language. Mallku solemnly looked around at us and translated his words.
“Sanchez is offering the jug of juice to the spirits of all directions. He has asked them to bless this sacred medicine and to bring good visions to the group this night.”
Then Sanchez poured a small amount of the juice into a pottery cup and handed it to Mallku, who drank the juice down in one go. Nicki was next and then the rest of the circle.
When he came to me I got onto my knees to receive him. As he poured the pottery cup and handed it to me I felt a kick of energy travel right through my body. I took the cup from him and drank one mouthful. It was bitter, strong, pungent and smelly. Well I am here now, so here goes! I held my breath and threw the rest of the pungent liquid down my throat and gave the empty cup back to him.
I sat down and watched while the rest of the group took their portion of sacred medicine. When they finished their rounds Mallku picked up a flute and started to play. Wonderful sounds floated through the moonlit night. He created a sound-scape on which to journey, including whistles, bells, a rain stick and then a conch shell as the night progressed.
I lay down flat, covered myself and waited for whatever would transpire. I thought about why I was here. My intention for this ceremony was to break through my lack of visioning facility and remove the fears that blocked me.
A brief time passed. I waited, expecting something, but with no reference point as to what that might be. I heard a noise over on the other side of the circle and realised that the someone had started to vomit. That’s quick! I thought. It was soon to be followed by several others, and the throwing up sounds became a disturbing and constant sound in the moonlight.
An haunting breeze swept the rancid smell across to me and I started to think I wasn’t going to throw up. It felt like an hour had passed and still nothing had happened for me. Then I felt a wave of energy creep upwards inside my body from my feet. On its upward journey, a paralysis took hold of my muscles. I thought, well if you don’t get up and vomit soon, you won’t be able to move. So do it now!
Instantly I rolled over onto all fours, crawled out of the circle and threw up. Just like that, almost on command by my own will. Amazed with myself I crawled back to my place in the circle. I looked around and could just see the others as shadows in the night. I lay back and allowed the medicine to take my physical body into stasis, until the next time my stomach contracted in spasms. I rolled over, crawled out of the circle and rapidly threw up, more violently this time. My body lurched and contracted and a bitter taste stung my mouth.
I crawled back, exhausted from this attack and collapsed down. I gave in to the medicine. Now my inner fight began. Flashes of light illuminated my inner screen. Immediately I tried to hold onto the image but it quickly left. The images were beautiful. Each image showed me a sacred geometric shape. They were held within space, the void. I recognised the complex makeup of the advanced geometric shapes. I couldn’t hold onto the images long enough to remember them in detail. I fought hard, determined to win my inner battle. I knew I had tried too hard. I was desperate to break through to have clear vision.
“Allow,” I said to myself, and breathed deeply. “I release the fear of seeing from my consciousness,” I muttered.
Again and again like a mantra, I repeated these phrases, to release and encourage my block to dissolve. Exhausted, I relaxed, floating until the next series of images appeared. When I tried too hard to hold them, they disappeared. Once more I spoke the mantra of release inside my head. Sometimes I achieved success and enabled the images to stay for a few seconds and then not at all.
Suddenly without warning, my stomach gripped again. I just managed to crawl out of the circle before I vomited hard and deep. There was nothing left inside to cleanse. I was down to stomach bile. It left an unpleasant bitter taste in my mouth. This time as I lay down, out of the dark a figure crawled stealthily to my side. Mallku, in the form of his puma spirit ally, had come to my aid. He paused beside me.
“Are you okay?” He whispered. “Do you need any help?” I shook my head and collapsed back onto my towel.
I was thankful that it was my last spate of vomiting. I relaxed and gradually my stomach settled. I floated and drifted, sometimes seeing, then not. My battle to break through continued until slowly I began to feel my body return as the sensation of paralysis dissolved and I realised the medicine had finished its magic.
Everyone was quiet and pensive as we packed up our belongings. The journey back across the river was a welcome respite to our eventful evening. We returned to the eco-lodge for a hot drink, some water and a very welcome comfy bed.
I marvelled at how Mallku and the jungle shaman hadn’t needed to vomit. I was later told that when this medicine is taken a couple of times in succession, you become so cleansed that the vomiting no longer occurs. But then I was not sure I wanted to face another round of this medicine too soon.
Next morning, with a queasy stomach, I timidly placed food into my mouth. With our bags packed ready to leave, we gathered upstairs for our circle. We shared our experiences in the ceremony and our relationship with the sacred medicine.
“Your bags have been put into the boat,” Mallku said. “When we finish here, please go directly to the jetty and board the boat. We are on a morning flight to Cusco. You have a free afternoon there, but please rest because the altitude is very high and we have much work to do the following day.”
“I have arranged for us to eat together tonight,” Nicki said. “I am told that Catherine has her birthday today, so tonight we celebrate.”
We boarded the boat and travelled back along the Madre de Dios river. My mind wandered capturing last night’s images. I wondered why I had been shown sacred geometry in my journey with the medicine. In hindsight, it was the beginning and introduction to sacred wisdom, an initiation of soul and the geometries of the soul and the mysteries of the cosmos. More would be revealed over the coming days.