The Precarious Nature of Ayahuasca
Jonathon Miller Weisberger, Guest
Editor’s Note: Jonathon is the author of Rainforest Medicine ~ Preserving Indigenous Science and Biological Diversity in the Upper Amazon (www.rainforestmedicine.net)
While Western audiences expound on the virtues of ayahuasca, little is spoken of its precarious nature. Potential for ayahuasca ceremonies going haywire is growing exponentially as grandmother medicine travels far and wide without the fundamental education that guides its traditional use. Cultures that have worked with ayahuasca for generations know all too well that adhering to traditional guidelines is a prerequisite. To guarantee that the auspicious nature of ayahuasca wins over the precarious, certain fundamental pillars must be understood. Here I share two golden time-tested realities related to entheogenic plant usage: 1) the map of the energy realms and the reality of the divine immortals as the unfailing guides, and 2) the energy clock and how this relates to which spirits one may be relating to. 3) Some cultural and traditional considerations.
Given the extensive nature of this discussion, here in this short article, I have decided to stay mainly on the topic of providing basic insights into the traditional foundational pillars and underlying guidelines that conduct the usage of entheogenic plant medicines towards an auspicious and felicitous denouement.
All across the South American continent Indigenous peoples, communities and various religious groups use the vine banisteriopsis caapi and its admixture plants as a sacrament. The traditions that govern its usage and related vocabulary are as broad as the region where it has been historically used, yet the foundational pillars remain constant. This being for communion with divine beings and for essentially evolving heaven on earth.
These entheogenic plants are considered as “gifts of the gods,” having assisted indigenous peoples and human communities in many of life’s countenances. In particular, I want to highlight the ability of plant spirit medicine, across traditional cultures, to grant clarity on how to remain aligned with the currents of a heavenly way of life. Being a co-contributor of evolving heaven on earth, this is not a philosophical idea, but rather a highly practical school of life. A spiritual and practical science of integrity, spiritual development and energy cultivation: sacred plant medicine traditions offer participants a jump start in the ability to adhere to a certain life disposition that permits them to open energy blockages and live with happiness and a greater sense of ease.
For it is not just today that life has been fraught with challenges and complexities. If we adhere to the wisdom of traditional torchbearers, divine immortal beings compassionately gifted sacred plant medicines to the first peoples so that they could recuperate and maintain humanity’s original unspoiled nature.
Despite this, the precarious nature of ayahuasca has not just appeared among westerners in its modern context, the drift starts long ago in its ancestral setting, in the Amazon, the use of sacred pant medicines has not all been kind, and any elder of the tradition will share too many accounts of ayahuasca being used to manipulate, enact mind control, force upon people demented realities, bring about trauma, damage others, and it has even been used for murder.
I expound upon this extensively in chapter two of my book Rainforest Medicine, Degradation of the Spiritual Science: Sorcery and Superstition. Western audiences are just beginning to understand the challenges of working with ayahuasca, and there are countless accounts of ceremonies gone haywire; participants leaving splintered, worse than when they entered.
In general terms, in order to guide its auspicious use, the fundamentals remain constant throughout all the cultures that traditionally use it. Allow me here to elucidate some of the lesser understood characteristics of Indigenous Science. I will also draw from millenary Taoist traditions to offer failsafe guidance for the correct and originally intended use of sacred plant medicines.
The celebrated Taoist teacher, Master Ni, in his book the Taoist Inner View of the Universe, shares a map of the universal energy spectrum. The chart illustrates that from the most subtle realms, [those transcendent of time and space], to the physical, gross and insensitive realms, [those bound by time and space]. From the subtle origin and the celestial realms only the divine immortals extend through all the vibrational realms without modifying themselves. They extend through those of the starry beings, of the mountain deities, of the numen and doctor spirits; through the realms of the primal energies and elemental powers, and even through the realms of nature spirits, the human realms and the lower realms of ghosts, demons and sorcery realms. Only the reality of the divine immortals, who are pure universal subtle law, pass through all the veils reaching through all the realms all the while remaining unchangeable.
It is for this reason that the divine immortals, the “always new ones,” the “always fresh ones,” the “heaven people,” – as they are known across different cultures – alone, are the unfailing guides of all time tested world heritage traditions, including the sacred plant spirit medicine traditions.
This unique quality of the divine immortals, remaining constant through a perpetual state of renewal, is unlike any of the realities in the realms bound by time and space, where any element will undergo modification when they enter either a higher or lower energetic realm. Deities can rise up to the immortal realms and descend to the realms of nature spirits. Nature spirits can rise to the realms of deities and sink to the realms of humans. Humans can rise to the realms of nature spirits and descend to the ghostly realms.
At the threshold of the realms, there are energetic barriers. In order to pass through the veil and open the blockages, learning to concentrate one’s energy, adhering to the principles of universal subtle law and using one’s cultivated virtuous nature will allow one to open one’s inner blockages in order to pierce through the veils to perceive the ultimate realities. Being sincere and learning to understand universal subtle law are requirements for making even the most minimal progress, let alone for accomplishing long lasting success.
The divine immortals, in their kindness and infinite grace, taught the first peoples a vastly diverse array of energy cultivation methods, so that people may evolve spiritually and recuperate the original and unspoiled nature enshrined within each human being. Sacred plant medicine is one example among many of these time-tested world heritage traditions. The sole purpose of the traditional drinking of ayahuasca and yagé is for the participant to discover proof of the existence of the divine immortals by meeting them, and to follow a heavenly way.
Being genuinely happy, loving and kind, embodying compassion and moderation, developing common sense and discernment, living simply, being selfless and service oriented, learning to heal and being able to orient people in their life path, are all merely side effects of following a celestial way of life.
Now that the energy map is clear, allow me to elucidate some related insights into the daily energy clock in reference to sacred plant medicine ceremony. It is important to understand that ayahuasca is fundamentally a medical tradition; not necessarily an enlightenment tradition. Notions of this carry forth in that ayahuasca is commonly referred to nowadays in western settings as “medicine.”
In a traditional ayahuasca ceremony the *maestro” (graduated drinker) directs the powers of spirits and it is the spirits who perform the healing. The patients, if at all, rarely drink. Ayahuasca does have healing properties in its ability to purge toxins and old stuck thoughts. However, in a successful ceremony, it is the spirits who accomplish the healing.
To learn this sacred art, old time ayahuasqueros would drink ayahuasca only after vigorous dietas (energy concentration practices) in order to prove the veracity of their discipline. After many dietas spanning extended periods of time, they gain wisdom and they learn to become selfless and they, from the divinities, learn the advanced arts of healing. Note: For further insights read Chapter 4 of Rainforest Medicine: Elements of the Experience, La Dieta: For Purification and Spiritual Mastery, page 118.
The question each person engaging in plant spirit medicine ceremony can ask is: In your ceremony, what spirits are you relating to? The subtle divine immortals are for the most part unconcerned with humanity’s variable nature. For this reason, maestro ayahuasqueros use the elemental powers and nature spirits to heal.
These spirits are closer by, in the energy map, in the sense that they are bound by time, space, and thus consequently ~ duality. For this reason, they can be capricious, and inherent in their nature is the ability to do good as well as harm. To use and direct them only for the good is a holy art. A highly successful one at that, as once mastered, no illness stands a chance and many types of miraculous cures can be brought about.
This ability is achieved after rigorous dietas that first enable the healer to achieve communion with divine immortals, also referred to as heaven people. There are rare cases where individuals have become masters of this sacred art after only one ceremony, for the most part though, it takes an extended period of time, suffering and discipline.
Only after communion with the heaven people is attained the individual associates with elemental energies. Before that they are avoided at all cost, for if one first meets the elementals and nature spirits, it becomes much more difficult and laborious to meet the divine immortals. The maestro whose authority stems from the heaven people, can keep the elementals in check; for the sole purpose of healing.
Now let’s look at the hourly energetic clock and how it impacts ayahuasca’s precarious nature. From sunset to midnight is when the elemental energies become apparent, and from midnight to sunrise is when the celestial energies become apparent. Ayahuasca ceremonies traditionally occur from sunset to midnight, for the purpose of using the elemental powers to heal. This has been transferred to modern day settings, and people seem to think that just drinking the ayahuasca in and of itself and reciting healing songs or listening to recordings is sufficient for auspicious results, without the rigorous prior disciplining or knowledge of the realms.
Plant medicine ceremonies, intended to introduce students to the celestial spirits, remain quiet until midnight or even up until the wee hours of dawn. Participants drink strong brew throughout the night, all the while remaining quiet and observant, and avoid altogether the elemental powers that are always nearby.Then, at the wee hours of dawn, the ceremony begins. The invocations, chanting and healings occur when the heaven people descend and enter the ceremonial lodge.
When there is too much noise too early in the night, when icaros (healing songs, intended on invoking elemental energies) are sung by people who haven’t undergone the disciplining to consecrate their relationship with divine immortals, or when the entirety of the icaro is not obtained and only unleashed are fragments of their purpose rather than the complete circle. In some cases this can cause poisonous snakes and all types of insects to emerge on the surrounding landscape. These types of disparities cause room for ayahuasca’s precarious nature to unfold.
Further risk factors include attitudes within the individual serving the medicine, including character flaws such as lack of humility and not being selfless. These can be expressed as, for example, wanting to feel important, being too opinionated, lacking patience to understand the entire scenario, being quick to cast judgment, holding onto judgments, projecting one’s character flaws onto others, seeing other people’s faults rather than one’s own, over committing and then not being able to keep one’s word, not being responsible for one’s actions, desiring other people’s possessions, harboring dubious thoughts, feeling jealousy, being greedy, trying to control what might be taking place, having and acting upon sensual feelings for others in the ceremony, needing to be liked, longing to be loved, etc, etc…. In order to continually use sacred plant medicine in an auspicious way, being upright, following an integral way of life and being absolute in one’s sincerity in staying on the path is the first step.
Some risk factors can be very subtle, such as drinking ayahuasca too soon after the passing of a family member. Being impulsive or reactionary when one should remain quiet. Saying something at the wrong time. Shining a flashlight into someone’s face or accidentally bumping into them, moving into their auric field to help without being asked to help, or interrupting other meditators concentration. Acting sympathetic to someone’s suffering while holding a hidden agenda, divulging one’s visions rather than expressing them through service, accepting things from others or from spirits in an out of context fashion. believing one’s thoughts to be true and not being sincere, all the while thinking one is being truthful thus forgetting to remember that to the spirits, one’s thoughts are louder than thunder!
All these are waverings from the celestial way that is unattached and ever present to serve in an absolute and selfless manner, invite susceptibility to manipulation by the spirits. Deviation from the path most often happens outside of one’s awareness. It happens with a swift instant. This is why the torchbearers of the tradition always tell new students, “When the spirits call your name, do not go.” A whole lot can be unpacked from this adage of the elders!
Then there is the issue of contraindicated medications and foods, aged cheese and alcoholic beverages, too much mixing of different types of drugs and entheogens, brews not well prepared, space not well set, and bodies not ready for the experience. All these contribute to ayahuascas’ precarious nature to make itself known.
There is also an entirely different theme of discussion as well, that related to certain cultural prohibitions, such as: eating food prepared by a menstruating or pregnant woman after coming down from the ayahuasca or yagé experience, drinking within several days of having had a wet dream or having ejacualted sperm, men drinking from the same cup as the facilitator or tying up hammocks if his wife is pregnant, holding judgment towards the facilitator, looking for something wrong outside oneself, and not surrendering to the experience, as these are believed to bid for the healing energies to snap.
The spirits that do harm are abundant and close at hand and infiltrate ceremonies due to the facilitator’s lack of rectitude and ability to create a safe container to protect the participants. Trickster spirits abound, and are sly beyond measure, but not to the natural surveillance of those with experience and whose virtues are intact.
A good facilitator protects the ceremonial space and supports the intention of encountering the celestial spirits. They can create a celestial shield where no harm can enter and participants can experience the glory of heaven. They have studied how this is done; they know the trail to the “house of the immortals.”
In the context of modern day usage, no matter how well intentioned, it is much easier to unintentionally permit these spirits to tamper with your and other people’s minds than one might assume. They are a thousand times more savvy than the strong willed may admit. In one quick instant you’re worshiping the god of thoughts, and you’re not even aware that that’s what’s happening.
And the questions arise: are thoughts even meant to be taken seriously? Are your thoughts even yours? Before you can say the word cheese, you have participated in adding to planetary chaos. You have left the golden path of the constructive cycle and entered the controlling or destructive cycles.
We can now see why it is so important to be sincere and to follow the guidelines so as to avoid the unnecessary pitfalls that at any given time can present themselves. In this way we avoid stimulating the precarious nature of what is otherwise is originally intended to be a catalyst for all that is good! As the old drunken master said, with his crown slanted to the side, glistening necklaces draped across his sweat splotched tunic, “…having to work so hard chopping wood, hauling water, pounding yagé. Withstanding long days of fasting, no food, nor water, hours cooking yagé by the hot fire, in the heat of the sun, just to harm, I think not! “
While this is an utter simplification of a vastly far reaching conversation. Important to remember is that the essence of a successful ceremony is when afterwards, there is no integration needed. All the participants have been fully integrated by the ceremony’s closure. Of course this may not be the case in rare examples of graduation ceremonies where months of integration may be needed.
For overall ceremonial life, this is the purpose: to experience the unity of all things and recognize that separation is an illusion and to use this energy to rectify critical imbalances, and return to the essence of a decent life. It is evident and many will agree that feeling this, one’s greatest joy then becomes to cultivate the pure positive energy that is available in the here and now everywhere everyday. Embracing unity clears the way for universal integration. It allows for harmony among all our relations. The door opens to many kinds of pure energies, allowing for communication with the spiritual realms. Allowing for spiritual resources to swiftly appear on the scene! Allowing for the holy medicine of spiritual immortality to grow firmly within each person who chooses to cultivate themselves spiritually. And for this, plant medicine is not even needed! This can be done by anyone anywhere, it is the spiritual inheritance of all humanity.
About the Author
Jonathon Miller Weisberger is the author or Rainforest Medicine: Preserving Indigenous Science and Biodiversity in the Upper Amazon, and the proprietor of Ocean Forest EcoLodge in Costa Rica where he hosts sacred ceremonial gatherings with elder plant masters of the Secoya tribe of the upper Amazon basin. Jonathon is an active rainforest and marine turtle conservationist and founder of 4BioDiversity.org.
Please visit RainforestMedicine.Net for information on upcoming ayahuasca retreats in the most pristine and sacred part of Costa Rica. Follow Jonathon at Instagram, here.