I dedicated a series of posts to my work with Shamans and Ayahuasca, but there were other influential plant medicines utilized during my stay in the jungle: Huachuma or San Pedro, and Vilca. There was also a light and entertaining Bobinzana ceremony that was filled with laughter and song.
In the Peruvian Amazon an alcohol tincture of bobinzana stems and leaves is taken in shamanic ceremonies to open and heal the heart, to increase empathy, to strengthen one’s connection with nature, and provide spiritual grounding. Bobinzana also produces lucid and colorful visionary dreams.
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When the day arrived to drink Huachuma I set an intention to embrace my time in nature and with the indigenous tribe that would be hosting us that afternoon. By this point of the trip I have to admit I had my fill of field trips and purchasing crafts. I would have loved a simple tour of the Sanctuary property to learn about native animals and vegetation. But as with everything else on this journey I trusted that there was a well thought out purpose for our itinerary.
Huachuma is a fast-growing columnar cactus, Echinopsis pachanoi, which is distinctive from its close relative the Peruvian torch cactus, E. peruvianus. It is native to the Andes of Peru and Ecuador, but it is cultivated all over Peru and other places in South America.
The Huachuma caused me to feel unwell, so I distanced myself from the increasing excitement and activity of the group. I wasn’t in the mood to engage with children of the tribe either, but I did enjoy watching my peers become kids again. Some of the men took turns pitching boys into the air or to one another. Alex and a few of the little girls created a game of tossing orange rinds at a nearby tree.
After the primal play ended I noticed an intoxicated, and somewhat irritated tribe member off to the side. I was compelled to lift his spirits, so I darted off to rummage through my backpack for a peace offering: a plastic whistle on a woven cord I thought he might enjoy. He was too inebriated to blow air into it properly, but the gift had him grinning and impatiently motioning for someone to take our photo.
We left the tribe and returned to our boats later than planned. The sun was setting as our three captains discussed a missing flood light. The strong current of the river already brings floating tree limbs and debris to the surface, so you can imagine the stress of navigating Amazon tributaries at dusk. Even with our spotlight we bumped up against debris causing my anxiety to rise a bit. I was already a bit on edge, anticipating that evening’s Vilca ceremony (more on that below).
I didn’t think much of my time with Huachuma initially. In fact I thought the whole experience was a bust. But after remembering the masculine energy of this cactus, and how those who drink the brew are less inhibited, I can recall a curious event that took place while visiting the tribe.
When I walked off a bit to take in the jungle I was being observed by some of the men in my group, but they didn’t catch my attention until I made my way back to the community hut. As we all made eye contact they took turns expressing admiration for my strong posture, how I carry myself, how pleasurable it is to watch me walk/move, one even wondered aloud what I might look like dancing. They were all innocent and genuine compliments – nothing spoken in a creepy tone or vulgar manner – but I was still taken aback as I’m not used to men looking into my eyes with such sincerity and speaking so freely about me and my body.
I was frozen for a moment then went into comedy mode and jokingly fanned my face with my hand. In a Southern belle accent I said “oh, my word,” thanked them, then quickly found reason to escape into the hut. Had that exchange seriously just happened or was the Huachuma playing some kind of trick on me? After some integration time, I came to the conclusion that…
Where Ayahuasca put me on a path toward self-forgiveness, embracing my shadow self, and letting go of all that does not serve, Huachuma acted as a projector – revealing to me how others (in this case men) see me versus how I see myself.
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My evening with Vilca was similar to my first Ayahuasca ceremony in that it turned out to be more of a practice run. At least things started off smoothly. I had set an intention of accepting my own death, including the death of chronic pain and anxiety. And if I’d be granted the opportunity to envision my birth that I this time be created from pure love.
Vilca is an ancient visionary snuff prepared from the seeds from the Vilca tree (Anadenanthera colubrina) of South America.
Vilca (which means ‘sacred’ in Quechua) was regarded as the supreme visionary bridge between life and death in ancient times. It was used by many cultures in South America dating back to before 2,500 BC. It was partaken within huachuma mesada ceremonies in the Chavin temple as part of the supreme initiation there, and later by the Moche, Wari, Nazca, and Inca in largely ‘inner sanctum’ ceremonies administered only to the shaman priest elite.
Vilca is, in its classic moment, an extraordinarily transformative experience of reunion and counsel with the ancestors to realize one’s life mission and purpose. The masterful blending of Huachuma and Vilca is the most advanced ancient sacred plant technology, producing a whole greater than the parts exceeding even Ayahuasca in spiritual profundity. It was the catalyst for the great pulse of consciousness at Chavin which became the cradle of Andean civilization over 3,500 years ago.
When it was our turn to move toward the alter, my roommate Misty and I stood on each side of don Howard. I volunteered to inhale the sacred medicine first (the powder was kept in a small box and held next to a human finger-bone inhaler said to be thousands of years old). We were forewarned how much Vilca would burn our sinuses when inhaled correctly, and that we shouldn’t delay in filling both nostrils no matter how uncomfortable. This is because the effects are known to come on within minutes, and we had to quickly and quietly head to our dark rooms and get right to bed.
Some time after tucking myself in I can make out hazy, geometric figures (fractals). I soon realize that I’m not as willing to accept my own death as I thought, due to the imagined possibility I may not wake up. My mind raced and the pulse of my galloping heart reverberated through me. It could have been the Huachuma still in my system or the increased anxiety from the boat ride home, or maybe I was simply freaked out that I hadn’t taken this as seriously as I should have. I worried that my own fear, and inability to let go of everything I’ve been conditioned to believe makes up this person known as Jasmine, was about to ruin this incredibly rare and privileged opportunity to heal.
As Vilca begins to work you get a sense that your body is shutting down, as if your life force is being drained from you. I wanted to trust the process so I eventually quieted down enough to feel the slowing of my heart and breath. Unfortunately, the amount of noise coming from a neighboring bedroom was enough to pull me out of this state (I still love you, Jack!).
I probably could have returned to the maloca to make another attempt, but my nose and throat were in no rush to feel and taste the grit of Vilca again. So once I heard Misty move around in her bed, I asked if she would like to join me for the scheduled late-night dinner. There were a few people already in the dining maloca discussing their visions. I ate hardy, in celebration of a cheated death I suppose. It was an amazing night and the perfect end to all of our hard work with plant medicines.
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I continue to have such gratitude for everyone I met on this trip. I not only made friends for life, by working with these sacred plants I’ve also made friends with death.
Here’s a beautiful video I found from Chris, who also attended SpiritQuest Sanctuary a month prior in 2015. To follow his journey with plant medicines, check out MedicinePath.net.