Based on a presentation by Ross Heaven to the Freedomseekers Shamanic Conference, Glastonbury, England, 2008

Archaeology shows that human beings have worked with plants for thousands of years, as medicines – foods, of course - and as consciousness-changing agents. Even today 75% of our planet’s people rely on medicines derived from plants – so do the other 25% actually but they just don’t know it because most of our pills and prescriptions - although packaged and artificially made - are still produced from extracts of plants.

Every plant we eat, bathe in, smell, or touch has a consciousness of its own – and changes our consciousness too, no matter how subtly. So we shouldn’t get hung up on just the psychedelic or entheogenic plants as a route to new understanding.

Terence McKenna, the great consciousness-explorer wrote, in fact, that all of “nature is alive and talking to us” – a message he hammered home by adding “this is not a metaphor”. If we simply open ourselves to nature, that is, we are on the road to self-discovery and healing – whether or not we work with those plants which we in the West call ‘hallucinogenic’.

HALLUCINOGENS
Some plants, though, have come to greater prominence because of their entheogenic status.

The word entheogen was coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists including Gordon Wasson and Richard Evans Schultes. The word ‘hallucinogen’ sounded too much like ‘hallucination’ to them - as if the visions these plants revealed had no real ‘reality’ and could therefore be dismissed as the wild imaginings of an intoxicated mind.

As Terence McKenna says, however, there are also “true hallucinations”: visions which reveal profoundly useful information which can be applied to the world.

As an example, one of these ‘true hallucinations’ may well have led to the discovery of the structure of DNA and its famous double helix.

Francis Crick wrote that he was struggling to understand how DNA worked one day, and entered what he called a dreaming state while he had this on his mind; a state of dreaming possibly aided by a plant…

He dreamed of snakes writhing together and winding themselves like the serpents of the caduceus. It was “a not insignificant thought”, as he rather humbly puts it – and from that true hallucination we now know how DNA looks.

We’ll come back to DNA a little later.

Schultes and the others wanted to differentiate teacher plants and visionary allies from hallucinogenics so they were respected for the gifts they offer, so they arrived at the word entheogen instead.

“In a strict sense”, they said, “only those vision-producing drugs that can be shown to have figured in shamanic or religious rites would be designated entheogens”.

The key word is probably “rites” because there is always a ritual or ceremony that goes with the use of visionary plants – sometimes one that goes on for days before the plant is even taken. On our trips to the Amazon, for example, we prepare ourselves for three days before we take our first drink of ayahuasca and even then, the ingestion of the plants is within a strict ceremonial setting. Shamanic work with teacher plants is not just “drug-taking”.

The literal meaning of the word entheogen is "that which causes God to be within an individual". They reveal the divine within us through their ability to expand consciousness and reconnect us to All-That-Is.

A massive expansion in consciousness may, indeed, have resulted from the work of our ancestors with teacher plants – and we may all have entheogens to thank for our ability to think and reason as we do – even if we have never taken one ourselves. 40,000 years ago, for example, there was an unexplained but huge growth in the size of the brain – mainly in the parts responsible for abstract thought, reasoning, and what we might call “visioning” or “seeing the future”. It was a growth so big and so fast that it changed the structure of our skulls and gave us the rounded foreheads we have today compared with our ancestors.

No-one knows why this happened – but an expansion in consciousness would do it because we would need new grey matter to store the information downloaded from the universe via teacher plants.

McKenna suggests this: that our hunter-gather ancestors came across special mushrooms during their foraging and, eating them, were transported to the gods, bringing back Promethean gifts that changed the nature of our world and gave birth to civilisation – if you can call what we have today “civilisation”.

After that these mushrooms became sacred teachers used by shamans and medicine men to heal and enlighten their tribes, and by ordinary people to discover what was extraordinary within and around them.

THE MOON MAN
There is a similar but slightly different story from the Peruvian Amazon regarding ayahuasca, the vine of souls. It says that thousands of years ago, people lived in harmony with nature and were able to climb a rope to other worlds where they talked with the spirits of ancestors, animals, and plants. Everything was wonderful and we were at peace - until the Moon Man cut the rope and our connection to nature was lost.

Why would the Moon Man do such a thing?

In the Amazon, the moon is a masculine symbol and associated with rationality, analysis, and logic; the antithesis to intuition, connection, and blending – so what this story really says is that the growth of the rational mind erodes our connection to the real world – the spirit world which exists beyond forms. By using only our rational minds, we are cast adrift and lost.

To heal their people and bring them back to balance, the shamans visited the gods on their behalf and were given a new rope – the ayahuasca vine – by which to climb back to the spirit world, so all was well again.

AYAHUASCA
Mind-altering plants have their fashions like everything else and for Westerners ayahuasca seems to be the plant of the moment, so I’m going to devote some time to exploring this with you. But I also want to give you my prediction for the next teacher plant that will be the most important to our planet.

The ayahuasca brew is actually a blend of two plants. The ayahuasca vine – banisteriopsis caapi – and Psychotria viridis – the leaves of the chacruna plant. Mixed together, they form a potent visionary brew which is also called ayahuasca. The word is a compound of two from the Quechua language: aya meaning “spirit or dead person” and huasca meaning “vine” – hence “the vine of souls”.

The two plants are taken from the Rainforest in a sacred way and carefully measured together in a cauldron after the vines have been mashed. Water is added and the mixture is slowly boiled for up to 12 hours (sometimes more – I have drunk a 72-hour brew made by a student of Pablo Amaringo), watched over by a shaman who constantly talks to the plants and may also sing sacred songs to them, called icaros. Other plants are sometimes added to the mixture – like toe for spirit-flight, or mucura for balance and vision – but a simple brew would be ayahuasca and chacruna.

No-one quite knows how these two plants came to be added together. In the jungle they usually don’t grow near each other and they look dissimilar so it is not as if their appearance might have suggested combining them.

Some shamans say that long ago, in fact, the ayahuasca vine was prepared and drunk by itself (as the Achuar people still do) but the visions it produced led them to believe that it was pining for its soul mate – the chacruna.

The ayahuasca spirit told the shamans to go out into the jungle and find this soul mate. “Turn two corners”, it said, and they would find the plant to add.

The story makes no sense, of course, because there are no ‘corners’ in the jungle! But, then, ‘making sense’ is not necessarily a route to understanding anything because it delivers us into the hands of the Moon Man again and his fixation on logic.

Instead, the shaman’s explanation is best regarded as a metaphor for a more fundamental truth: that the spirits of the plants make their wishes clear and that shamans must act on what they are told. This is the true route to knowledge in the jungle and in life more widely. Listen to the spirits.

Interestingly, both the vine and the chacruna leaves are more or less inert and have limited effect by themselves in changing consciousness. When added together, though, a potent brew is produced. This in itself reveals an understanding of pharmacology by shamans which modern science is only just catching up with.

Basically, one of the plants in the ayahuasca mix activates the most ancient visionary centres in our brains: our routes to the unconscious, to the God within us, and to our connection to everything. It is from this that we may draw supernatural powers.

The problem is that there are mechanisms in our bodies which work to inhibit these effects.

The other plant in the brew, however, prevents these mechanisms from kicking in. The result of combining them, then, is to inhibit our body’s ‘veto-response’ so we are free to explore the universal mind.

The experience is also entirely natural and organic since it works with the visionary centres of our own brains. It can last for 4 hours or more as we spin into the universe and meet with the gods of healing.

The shamanic chemists of the rainforest have been mixing ayahuasca like this for literally thousands of years – and yet it was only about 50 years ago that science discovered how ayahuasca works: as I explained it – one plant an inhibitor, one a bringer of visions. If you ask the shamans how they knew, thousands of years ago, what our scientists are only just starting to understand, they will tell you: “Simple. The plants told us”.

This is the basis for most plant spirit medicine, in fact, not just work with ayahuasca: You trust the plants; you respect them; then you ask, listen and pay close attention, and the plants, aware of your needs, are delighted to give up their secrets.

Respect is an important part of plant spirit work as well and with ayahuasca, for example, there are many rituals which must be observed in its preparation. One of these is to blow your prayers and wishes into the brew before you drink it, so that the ayahuasca knows you. This process is called soplada and alerts the spirits to your needs so they can work for you during the ceremony.

[Slide] This is Mandy, one of the participants on our Magical Earth Adventure, doing exactly that on the morning when we made the first brew together. It’s daybreak in this photo and you can already see how light it is – the jungle is not always the dark impenetrable forest you see in films and documentaries!

The ayahuasca is cooking in a large pot over a wood fire and Mandy is using the smoke from a mapacho – a special cigarette made from pure jungle tobacco – to carry her prayers into the brew. The smoke also feeds the spirits and, as it is absorbed, the ayahuasca will come to understand her soul and the nature of the healing that Mandy especially requires.

Behind her is a sweatlodge, which is used in our purification rituals prior to ayahuasca ceremonies. I’ll talk more about this later.

The people around her are shamans and note that they are just wearing jeans and t-shirts like everyone else. Some people – notably journalists for some reason – seem to have the quaint notion that all shamans dress in loincloths and swing through the trees with blow-guns.

In fact - out of costume and out of the ritual or healing context – most shamans are just like you and me. It is only in ceremony that things change and they become Men of Power, in Castaneda’s words.

[Slide] The Shipibo are considered masters of ayahuasca and the patterns on their tunics – like this one here – suggest waveforms, ladders, serpents, and vines. You might also see some similarity to DNA…

In this picture, one of our Shipibo shamans is overseeing participants in Peru as they break up the ayahuasca vines prior to their brewing. You can see Mark and a few others here, breaking the vines into shreds so they can be boiled more easily.

This picture was taken at about 5am as well. Ayahuasca preparation is an all-day event and one of the reasons, incidentally, why this teacher plant is never likely to become a recreational drug: it’s just too much hard work for our instant-gratification society!

Happily for us, most of this work is done by our shamans, who never seem to sleep or stop working! Some of these shamans are in their 70s but have the vitality of young men, so something in the ayahuasca must obviously work!

The patterns on the shaman’s tunic also denote the energy grid that underlies all material things, and the complex relationships between the people of the community and the spirits around them.

The same designs often appear to participants during their ayahuasca visions as well, and become a sort of pathway or map to truth as they follow them and receive their deeper meaning.

AYAHUASCA CEREMONIES
Ayahuasca ceremonies always take place in darkness and, in the Amazon, in a simple, open-sided hut, which is the shaman’s temple for dreaming.

With the shaman’s permission it is possible to leave the temple and wander in the jungle to take in the sights, not just of the rainforest, but of the spiritual world opened up by ayahuasca. On our last journey to the Amazon, for example, many participants reported that they were able to see the spirits around them and the energies of the plants and jungle, as well as their own interior world, and many have amazing stories to tell.

In fact, the inner and outer worlds become so blended that what you see is in some ways what you are. This is another way in which ayahuasca reveals the truth.

The ceremonial space is always protected by the shamans through the use of perfumes and floral waters like agua florida (‘water for flourishing’) as well as tobacco smoke so no unwanted spirits can enter.

During the ceremony itself it is also normal for shamans to perform healings on participants using bundles of leaves called chacapa to ‘iron out’ the energy body. They also sing songs called icaros to direct the journey and bring well-being. Sometimes other methods are used too, such as massage or spiritual work.

[Slide] This is what ayahuasca looks like before it is drunk. The cup is made from a jungle seed. A lot of shamans call ayahuasca “chocolate” and you can see why – although the taste is not quite as pleasant as chocolate! It is rather bitter and ‘earthy’, in fact – like some Chinese medicines - although some shamans are better than others at giving it a sweet and more palatable taste. This is usually down to the shaman’s intention and his attention to the brewing process.

This is quite a large dose, incidentally, and not one I would recommend to a first-timer.

The effects take about 30 minutes to come on – though sometimes they are immediate – and usually begin with a feeling of warmth in the stomach, which spreads throughout the body. Then there is a feeling of skin elasticity, as if the atoms of the body are merging with those of the air. After that the visionary effects begin, but I’ll talk more about those in a moment.

PREPARATION
Before the ceremonies, however, it is necessary to purify the body and soul so we are more open to the ayahuasca spirit. This is accomplished through rituals including sweatlodges and jungle-style saunas where the participant is wrapped in blankets and stands over a steaming cauldron containing cleansing herbs and a little ayahuasca so that the participant and the spirit of the plants can meet each other before the ayahuasca is drunk.

Some of you have experienced sweatlodges before, no doubt, but in the jungle they are slightly different. We take two sweats. The first is led by the shamans and is an appeal to the jungle spirits and the soul of the plants, as well as a spiritual cleansing. Inside the lodge, the shaman burns plants such as pinon colorado – a defence against ‘evil sorcerers’ and a means for extracting virote – magical darts or poisonous blasts of energy – they may have infected us with.

Evil sorcerers are around us everywhere, by the way! Every time we sit down next to someone radiating negative energy we fall under their spell, and their vibrations can come to infect us so we feel grubby or angry as well - because their energies are now part of ours. Plants like pinon colorado bring us back to purity and remove these energies so we are ‘ourselves’ again and open to the healing of ayahuasca.

The second sweatlodge is led by me and is probably more familiar to Westerners. We use plants too and our prayers are to the widest community of spirits to bless us on our journeys ahead.

A special practice called the plant diet is also followed as a ritual preparation for ayahuasca. This restricts certain foods as well as behaviours such as sex. Participants eat fresh, healthy food, but it is mostly bland, and spices, oils, meats, salt, and so on are prohibited. These are all foods which do not react well with ayahuasca and which – like salt and lemons – will cut through magic if eaten.

The effect of the diet, like the sweatlodges and other practices, is to help us leave the outside world behind and let go of attachments – to routines, habits, addictions and dependences – so we become in a sense more plant-like ourselves and more pure in body and spirit.

Healing plants are also added to the diet - such as ajo sacha and chiric sanango. Ajo is the hunter’s plant and is taken to make the tribesman invisible to his prey so he blends in with the forest. It is the plant of stalking but, for our purposes, it also has an interesting psychological effect: of helping us to stalk our ‘inner issues’ so that emotional pains and negative energies can be released or dealt with during the ayahuasca ceremony. Chiric sanango is a plant often prescribed to warm up the body. Hence it may be given to arthritis sufferers or those in professions like fishing, where cold damp conditions are usual. But it also has a psychological effect: that of warming up a cold heart or cooling down a heart too enflamed by jealousy or rage. It is a rebalancer of energies, and opens us to love. Some shamans say it also provides the “boiling energy” necessary to see the spirits and meet our allies.

The jungle centre where we stay has so far catalogued about 1,500 plants that grow at the camp, as well as their uses, so ajo and chiric sanango are far from the only ones which might be added to a diet. All of them work together with ayahuasca, so it really depends on what you wish to accomplish, the nature of the questions you bring, or the healing you require.

[Slide] This image shows another aspect of plant ritual – soplada – a healing performed by the shaman where tobacco smoke carries prayers and intentions to release blockages from a participant’s energy system.

In this picture we are waiting to take floral baths by the river and Ben, who is being healed, was feeling a little unwell, so the shaman performed a healing for him. Within minutes he was dancing his way to the river!

Floral and other baths like these are also a part of ritual preparations. They rid the body of toxins by using special flowers and herbs.

[Slide] This image shows the “invisible people”! and illustrates one form of bathing – the clay bath or bano de barro – where participants are coated in clay from healing pools where the brightest animals in the jungle come to drink. Many of these animals are natural enemies but at the pools they drink together in peace. Not only are the minerals in the clay good for the skin, therefore, but the spiritual intention of the clay itself is to heal rifts and bring peace and co-operation into the participant’s life.

Other baths are also taken, where beautiful perfumes and flowers are poured over the participant. In this picture of Mike and Mark, the flowers of rosa sisa are used: marigolds. These are used for protection against envidia and the evil eye. Envidia is envy – a sort of jealous rage directed against a person by someone who is envious of what they have and wants to take it from them or see them suffer.

Marigolds are often planted near the doorways of houses in Peru to catch the negative energies of those who pass by. The flowers are said to turn black when vibrations like these are caught, but return to their bright colour once the energies are discharged to the earth.

ICAROS
Icaros – the shaman’s songs – are sung throughout most of the activities I’ve mentioned so far, and during ayahuasca ceremonies themselves. These songs are not invented by the shamans but are gifts from the forest and the plants. Michael Harner would probably call them ‘power songs’. They tell of nature’s ability to heal, and they evoke the powers of certain plants or places of strong spirit and intention.

The shaman, during his training and initiation, may spend months or years by himself in the jungle, dieting the plants to get to know them, drinking ayahuasca, and seeing no-one except the spirits. One of our shamans, Javier, for example, once undertook a diet alone by himself in the jungle for two solid years. Only three people have successfully completed this diet. But it’s by no means the longest. Other shamans we work with spent ten or even twenty years alone in the jungle dieting the plants.

By ingesting these plants and drinking ayahuasca, the shaman becomes familiar with them and learns what they can cure physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually – the four separate bodies that shamans say we have.

During his diet, he may be gifted an icaro - a song of power from his plant allies. This is like an audio snapshot of his feeling of healing, wisdom, or strength at that time and carries with it all that is happening within and without him at that moment.

It may refer to a nearby waterfall that has a soothing sound, for example, or the powerful call of a particular bird, or to a star shines on him and the mood this invokes in him of confidence and peace. It is these feelings and events – as well as the essence of the plants he is dieting - that the song captures. Using it as a carrier, the shaman is able to transfer these energies and qualities to other people when he sings this icaro in ceremony. So it becomes a gift of power for them too.

THE EFFECTS OF AYAHUASCA
I said earlier that I would talk about the effects of ayahuasca, but in fact it is difficult to say too much because the experience is quite personal and it’s hard to put enlightenment or healing into words. The experience of expanded consciousness is way beyond words.

Comments from a few participants on last year’s Magical Earth trip show the problem. This is from a businesswoman in the UK:

“People ask, ‘How was the trip?’ - and what do you answer? No words can do it justice. There are too many experiences to mention and none would give light on my true feelings… The stillness I feel and the lack of rush is incredible. What we experienced was something so special and life just keeps getting better.”

This is Annette, a riding school owner in the US:

“An experience that changed my life. It is hard to describe something so magical but I have no doubt that I will draw from this for the rest of my life”.

There are some things that can be said, however, and some things the experience of individuals may share in common. In fact, one of the early scientific names for ayahuasca was telepathine because it has the power sometimes to allow a group of people to share a common vision. Hence, you will read in some books of whole tribes drinking ayahuasca together when a decision had to be made that affected them all, such as moving camp or how best to face an enemy. From the visions they received, they were able to reach an informed conclusion.

It is also important to be clear, though, that when I use the word “vision” I do not just mean images. Sometimes the visionary information is given in words, sounds, emotions, or memories rather than pictures. Normally this information is also accompanied by a sense of the numinous: a closeness to God or to the divine energies of the universe, along with feelings of awe and well-being. A vision might therefore be more akin to a massive upload of understanding or information, and it is this, not the pictures, which is most significant.

Images are common, however, and they may also have a symbolic meaning, revealing new information about who we are, how we see the world and our place in it, or about the nature of our illness or dis-ease.

Visions of snakes and vines are also common, accompanied by a sense of fundamental wisdom revealed through their presence, and a feeling of affinity with them and all things: a sort of knowledge of God - or of being God.

The consistency of this snake imagery led one scientist – Jeremy Narby – to coin the term ‘Cosmic Serpent’ to describe the frequency of such images, and the feelings they evoke. Narby draws an analogy between the appearance of the vine (which is snake-like itself), the snake imagery that emerges, and the structure of DNA, just as Francis Crick saw it. He concludes that ayahuasca enables us to commune with the consciousness of DNA itself.

DNA is the fundamental building block of life, so what Narby is really saying is that, through ayahuasca, we can come to understand the nature of reality and the purpose of everything on Earth – including ourselves.

He also suggests that it is DNA - or the energy it contains – is what shamans are in contact with when they perform their healings. On some level, they and ayahuasca ‘restructure’ or repattern our DNA, leading us from ill-health to well-being.

It’s a bold claim, but I have seen many healings like this in the last 10 years, including cures for long-term physical problems, and it’s clear that something is going on – something that science has no explanation for.

Other sensations that typically arise for participants are a sense of being a part of – not apart from – nature, and the knowledge that all things are alive and we are all one. This, in itself, can be empowering.

[Slides] This image by the ayahuasca shaman and artist, Pablo Amaringo, gives an idea of this. We see a patient bathing in floral waters while three shamans sit next to him with ayahuasca. Around him the whole jungle comes to life as serpent-like figures wrap themselves around him and the trees.

This is another Amaringo, showing images of the angels of the plants and animals, along with UFOs and other celestial and planetary life arriving in the jungle to bring knowledge of other worlds.

Quite a few UFOs or otherworldly visitors have been seen in the jungles, by the way, and many shamans say that all human beings come from the stars. This is interesting again, because modern science is also starting to suggest that life on Earth was carried here from the stars in the frozen waters of comets. Apparently, the shamans knew this thousands of years ago, and without the help of scientific equipment or multi-million pound laboratories – because the plants told them!

In this picture, the participants sit at the bottom and in the centre there is a golden temple of healing, where they will be taken by ayahuasca so their lives will “flourish” and grow better. It shows the gods of the waters, the protectors of the village, and the cities in the sky. Perhaps it represents some deep memory of what I just said: that life is born – or reborn – from the sky and water.

The underwater world, in Western symbolism at least, is also a metaphor for the unconscious, so perhaps another message here is that there are powers within us that we can use to heal ourselves, and that ayahuasca is an aid to unlocking them.

These places – the healing temples, cities underwater or in the skies – are all ones that participants may also see or be taken to during ayahuasca ceremonies. The presence of angels, gods, and spirit-helpers and the knowledge that “nature is alive and talking to us” are also common experiences.

AYAHUASCA HEALING
The healing available from ayahuasca tends to take 5 forms – often all at once: what we might call mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and, finally, “miraculous” – something we have no real words for.

Mentally, it can bring feelings of well-being through our new understanding that we are not separate from creation but a part of it all and that the world is not fearful but founded on love.

A lack of love and a feeling of isolation are often the most fundamental problems for anyone facing illness, and the ones I see most often in the clients who visit me, not matter how their ill-health manifests. By drinking ayahuasca, we see beyond the illusions of fear and the mind can come back to peace.

If we include depression and addiction as ‘mental problems’ as well, then there is a lot of science to suggest that ayahuasca is profoundly able to cure these modern diseases – including at least one study which shows a 70% success rate in curing drug and alcohol addictions.

Emotionally, ayahuasca enables us to revisit – in a safe and contained way – the old hurts, wounds, and attachments we are still carrying with us and which can lead to recurring problems in our lives or to the onset of physical disease. In the Amazon this is known as saladera: a run of bad luck which arises from emotional causes.

Energy which has been around for a long time tends to congeal and become matter. Thus, for example, if you were told to shut up often enough times or with sufficient force when you were a child, you may find yourself blocked in your throat and this energy blockage can become physical, leading to problems not only of expression, but to throat cancers and other ailments. By releasing this energy, balance is restored and the physical problem also clears up.

That might sound remarkable, but let me tell you about one serious physical disease – a brain tumour – that I have also seen ayahuasca heal… This was back in 1998 when, on a jungle trip, a very brave young woman joined us who was in a wheelchair and partly paralysed as a result of her tumour. She had not been given long to live by her doctors and chemotherapy had added to her problems.

She took part in ayahuasca ceremonies and, on the first night, the shaman’s visions told him he could help her. That shaman had only intended to be with the group for one ceremony but after his visions he stayed for another four days and worked on his patient tirelessly.

By the end of the week she was out of her wheelchair and able to walk with sticks. She felt and looked much better. Even her hair was growing back. When she returned to England her doctors confirmed that her tumour had shrunk in size.

Sadly, she is no longer with us, but from a position of being given just a few weeks to live and to be wheelchair-bound, she lived for a further five years in defiance of her doctors, and enjoyed more independence and a much better quality of life.

Spiritually, a number of people report that during ayahuasca sessions they have ‘met with God’. They don’t mean this idly either. The encounter – whatever form it takes for them and however their God appears – leads to real life changes. People realise that they are not alone in the universe, that there is a higher power, and there is intention and purpose to everything. As a consequence, they clean up their acts, make new choices, and decide to follow better paths. Some have resigned from unfulfilling jobs and found freedom, some have left unhappy relationships, some have turned away from a life of crime and the exploitation of others and decided to work for good instead.

Whatever they see or feel as a result of their communion, it manifests as a sense that there is more to life than the one they are living and they understand that we were not sent here to be unhappy or trap ourselves in the trivial, but to play, adventure, and explore. And so they move on; they reclaim their souls and begin to live again.

The miraculous is harder to explain. It is as if ayahuasca has the power in itself to change the nature of physical reality. Two examples:

The first was a participant on our Amazon trip last year who wanted to set up a charity to help people in the developing nations and who was selling his flat to fund it. He needed £4,000 fairly immediately, which he hadn’t got. So he set his intention for it to flow effortlessly to him during one of our ayahuasca ceremonies.

I think he’d hoped that the vine would help him sell his flat quicker but, in fact, when we left the jungle he emailed his solicitor and found that it hadn’t sold. She did, however, mention that a few days earlier – the night of our ceremony, in fact – she’d discovered a mysterious amount of money in his account that neither of them knew was there. It was exactly £4,000; precisely the amount he needed.

The second example is from another participant on the same trip and I’ll let her tell it in her own words. She writes:

“I had beautiful sessions with ayahuasca and always felt nurtured and held. One vision that came through strongly involved my eldest daughter. She was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries when she was 15. Her ambition was always to be a mum but the problem with this condition is fertility: she may find it impossible to conceive.

“I asked ayahuasca if she would become a mum and had the clearest vision, like watching a film, of me and her boyfriend in a delivery room and her giving birth to my grandchild. I came from that vision crying with joy.

“On my return to England two weeks later I got a call from my daughter. She was in shock because she’d just found out she was pregnant - even though she was on the pill and apparently had fertility issues. Ayahuasca was too powerful for those small problems!

“My grandchild is due on the 7th of July – I had the vision before my daughter even knew about the pregnancy!”

I might add that these are far from the only supernatural or miraculous events I have seen during the time I have worked with ayahuasca.

How can a plant do this? Well, who knows what we or the universe are capable of when we free our minds from self-limitations and allow it to empower us? Nothing is impossible to God, after all!

Some of you may be inspired to try ayahuasca for yourself after hearing about it today and, if so, that is possible. We run frequent Amazon trips. Email me (ross@thefourgates.com) and I’ll be happy to send you details.

SAN PEDRO
I said earlier that teacher plants are subject to fashion and that each seems to have its time. Perhaps its spirit is called by the needs of the present moment.

For me, San Pedro will be next plant we hear more of. San Pedro is the sacred cactus of Peru, and one of the most ancient, legendary, and magical of teachers, even though it has been largely overlooked so far by the West. Its name refers to Saint Peter, who holds the keys to Heaven, and speaks of its ability to ‘open the gates’ for us into a world where we can heal, discover our divinity, and find our purpose on Earth.

Its use as a sacrament and in healing rituals is as old as history itself. The earliest archaeology so far is a stone carving at a sacred site in the Andes, which is almost 3,500 years old. Textiles from the same period how the cactus with jaguars and hummingbirds, two of its guardian spirits, and with stylised spirals representing the visionary experience it produces.

This experience can last for 12 hours or more once the juice of the cactus is drunk – in contrast to the four hours or so more typical with ayahuasca - and can catapult you into a world of magic with no limitations.

Some of the reasons that a cactus ceremony might be held are to cure illness, to know the future through the divinatory qualities of the plant, to overcome sorcery or saladera, to rekindle love and enthusiasm for life; and to experience the world as divine. According to La Gringa, an Andean healer we work with on our journeys to Peru:

“The plant is a master teacher. It helps us to heal, to grow, to learn and awaken, and assists us in reaching higher states of consciousness. I have been very blessed to have experienced many miracles: people being cured of all sorts of illnesses, just by drinking this sacred plant.

“We use it to reconnect to the Earth and to realize that there is no separation between you, me, the Earth, and the Sky. We are all one. It’s one thing to hear that, but to actually experience this oneness is the most beautiful gift we can receive.

“San Pedro teaches us to live in balance and harmony; it teaches us compassion and understanding; and it shows us how to love, respect, and honour all things. It shows us, too, that we are Children of Light - precious and special – and to see that light within us.

“The day you meet San Pedro is one you will never forget - a day filled with love, which can change your life forever… and always for the better”.

That is certainly my experience of the plant which, for me, is even more profound than ayahuasca in its healing abilities, though I also sense that an encounter with ayahuasca is probably necessary before San Pedro reveals the full extent of its power. In this way the two plants are complementary – one male and one female - and their impact accumulates.

One of our participants who had also taken ayahuasca last year wrote of her experience with San Pedro that:

“If everyone experienced it the world would be a very different place. It has become better for me already.

“I had the most powerful, profound experience of my life. I have intellectually understood about us coming from, and one day returning to, energy; I had even glimpsed this in the past, but on this occasion I became energy.

“I completely dissolved and breathed with the sky. I became the Breath of Life; infinite and eternal Love.

“I now dedicate my life to walking with honour and integrity in every action I take, and to accepting life’s path rather than trying to dictate it”.

What is interesting is that the experience lingers. Drinking a teacher plant like ayahuasca or San Pedro is not like taking a ‘drug’ to get high or escape from reality; it is the taking in of spirit and a whole other consciousness so it can inform our daily lives. The outcome, as you see, can be life-changing. That is why teacher plants will always be central among the shaman’s allies and a vital part of his education and initiation into the truths of the world.

Of course there will always be governments, lawyers, and others who want to take away our freedoms and make such plants illegal.

It may strike you as strange that a plant can become a criminal, but it’s possible in the minds of our governments. Making a plant illegal is like a politician (with all that symbolises) telling us that God (with all that symbolises) made a mistake, to quote the comedian Bill Hicks.

The real intent of politicians and their lapdog lawyers, of course, is to control minds and make people afraid of the natural world, so we remain compliant to the governments which claim to keep us safe.

The ways of the political world have never been of that much interest to shamans, however, because the laws they respond to are natural and universal, not man-made. Shamans seek freedom from compliance and find it in truth not legal arguments, so all the laws in the world will not prevent their continued work with these plants. For my part, I recommend them to you in your own search for freedom and truth.

For more information on plant spirit shamanism or to join our Amazon ayahuasca adventures, contact Ross Heaven at ross@thefourgates.com for a free information pack or visit www.thefourgates.com

Tags: san pedro, ayahuasca, shamanism, plant spirit shamanism, healing, ross heaven, the amazon, peru, the andes, herbs, herbalism

Author's Bio: 

Ross Heaven is a therapist, workshop leader, and the author of several books on shamanism and healing, including the best-selling Plant Spirit Shamanism, Plant Spirit Wisdom, The Sin Eater’s Last Confessions, The Way of The Lover, and Love’s Simple Truths. He also runs plant spirit shamanism, ayahuasca, and San Pedro journeys to work with the shamans and healers of the Amazon and Andes of Peru. His website is www.thefourgates.com where you can read about his workshops or join these Sacred Journeys. Or email ross@thefourgates.com for a free information pack about these journeys.