Plant Spirit Shamanism: The ayahuasca experience

Ayahuasca is the jungle medicine of the Upper Amazon. It is made from Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi) and the leaves of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis).

Both are collected from the rainforest in a sacred way and it is said that a shaman can find plentiful sources by listening for the ‘heartbeat’ that emanates from them. The mixture is prepared by scraping and cleaning the specially-chosen vines and adding the Chacruna leaves. It is then brewed with water and reduced for several hours, attended by the shaman who sings his sacred songs (icaros) and blows his intention for healing (soplada) into the brew. When drunk in the correct ritual context, this mixture becomes a powerful ally that can help us step into the visionary world.

The ceremonial use of Ayahuasca in this way is as ancient as history itself. One of the oldest objects related to it is a specially-engraved stone cup, which was found in the Amazon around 500 BC, and proves that ayahuasca was used as a Holy sacrament from before the birth of Christ – at least 2,500 years ago.

The word Ayahuasca comes from two Quechua words: aya meaning spirit or ancestor, and huasca meaning vine or rope – hence it is known as the ‘vine of souls’. It plays a central role in the spiritual and cultural traditions of the indigenous peoples of the Upper Amazon.

Integral to Ayahuasca ceremonies are the chants and songs of the shaman. These are known as icaros, and they direct the ceremonial and visionary experience.

The shaman has specific songs for each person’s needs, the vibrations of which summon healing energies, and the words of which are symbolic, telling of the ability of Nature to heal. For example, an icaro may tell of the power of a sacred stream to wash away illness or uncertainty, or of brightly-coloured flowers to attract hummingbirds whose wings fan healing energies.

You might see such things in your visions. What provides the healing, however, is the understanding Ayahuasca brings of what is happening in your life, allowing inner feelings to unblock so that sadness, anger, and other negative energies are transmuted into ecstasy and love.

Sacred floral and clay baths to restore balance and harmony to the soul are known of and practiced in many shamanic cultures (though it is an art we have lost in the West) and are integral to the Ayahuasca experience.

By cleansing, ‘flourishing’, and bringing a new sense of balance, the spirit and body are able to heal themselves. These baths call in the powers of our allies in Nature and prepare the ground for our healing.

They are prepared by Master Shamans, using specially-chosen plants and flowers which create particular energetic and spiritual effects, to which is added cooling river waters. The mixture is then poured over the body (you don’t need to take off your clothes) as a blessing or even a baptism of sorts.

The ‘Shaman’s Diet’ is a journey of self-exploration and discovery, bringing greater self-awareness and knowledge of the plants. It also enhances the Ayahuasca experience. Through the ritual exclusion of some foodstuffs and activities and work with a particular teacher plant (or plants), the diet enables you to ‘take in’ the spirit or essence of that ‘jungle doctor’ and initiate into its powers.

Ajo Sacha, for example, is a plant which tunes you in to the reality of the rainforest, sharpening the senses and making you more ‘plant-like’. Because of this, it is harder for the animals of the forest to detect you and, consequently, it has been used as an aid to hunting for thousands of years. In the West, of course, with our ‘fast food lifestyles’, hunting is less important but, interestingly, Ajo Sacha is able to accommodate for this and to transform its powers. What makes it really useful for Westerners is its ability to help us stalk our ‘inner issues’. It is still the plant of the hunter; but its hunting grounds have changed.

As well as its abilities in hunting, this is an important planta maestra (‘Master’ or ‘Teacher Plant’) in the initiation of Amazonian shamans. It brings inner strength, acuity of mind, and the ability to overcome saladera (an inexplicable run of ‘bad luck’), rid yourself of spells and evil magic, and enhance your powers of healing, as well as heightening your ‘stalking’ skills, as mentioned above.

Pinon Colorado is a defence against evil sorcerers. ‘Evil sorcerers’ are around us everywhere. Every time we get on the tube and sit next to someone who is radiating hostility because they’ve had a bad day, or argue with our wives, or have to confront our bosses, we expose ourselves to negative vibrations and bad energy. This has a real and physical effect, such as that sick feeling in our stomachs when someone verbally attacks us, and this energy can stay in our systems. Pinon Colorado is a defence against emanations like these, as well as more deliberate attacks by rivals, competitors, and black magicians in all walks of life.

Bellaco Caspi is for the extraction of virote (evil magical darts). While Pinon Colorado is a defence against bad energy, Bellaco Caspi helps us remove this energy from our systems when we have already been exposed to it. Shamans see such energy (especially when it is sent with deliberate intent) as magical darts called virote. These stick to our energy bodies and can cause physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual harm unless they are removed. Pinon Colorado loosens these darts so our bodies can return to normal and our health is restored.

Diets are not invented by shamans, but are given to them by plant spirits themselves. They involve a state of purification, retreat, commitment, and respect for our connection with everything around us.

For more information on the Ayahuasca experience, shamanic diets, floral baths, and other ritual procedures, see Plant Spirit Shamanism: Traditional Techniques for Healing the Soul, by Ross Heaven. Published by Inner Traditions, 2007.

Ross also runs also leads sacred Plant Spirit Shamanism journeys to the shamans and healers of the Amazon Rainforest in Peru, and plant medicine workshops in France. For details of these, visit