(You can find Power and Plant Spirit Shamanism: Part I here.)
Before we go deeper, it should be mentioned that tens of thousands of people drink Ayahuasca in South America and all over the world every year in safe and supportive environments and receive deep and profound healing. This two part article endeavours to share some of the potential pitfalls that may be encountered while searching for self empowerment and illumination on the plant medicine path.
The fact remains that if you are seeking someone truly powerful to help you heal something that western medicine claims is incurable, then the masters you seek are indeed in the jungle. The only problem is that you have may have to wade through a hundred imposters before you find one.
Ayahuasca Without Integrity.
A major factor in how there can be so many people serving medicine in the Amazon who are not in full integrity is the simple fact that these countries are poor. We think we know poor. In Australia poor means you can have everything you need from the supermarket every week, but you can only afford the generic brand. In Peru, poor means no opportunity for your children and their children to ever have a life better than barely surviving, if they’re lucky enough to survive at all.
In this context the man with the newly found fat wad of cash experiences a rush of power that he is culturally unprepared for. If we think power corrupts in the west, try giving a whole lot of power to someone who has never had the opportunity to wield any at all. You see, the tourists, they just keep coming… and the guy who used to be a cleaner at an Ayahuasca retreat centre has realized that he can put Ayahuasca vine and Chakruna leaves in a pot too, and all of a sudden he’s got tourists giving him $100 bills, hand over fist.
So now we’re talking about the vulnerability of the participant combined with the practitioner being motivated by profit instead of a genuine desire to help people. And who knows what training they’ve had, if any.
Imitation of Power.
When you know what to look for, you can start to see the difference between imitation of power and actual power. The easiest identifier is when someone is clearly enjoying their position of power and authority. It indicates ego has not yet outgrown being in service to self above others.
A trickier one is someone with a truly good heart who is still ruled by their ego, but genuinely wants to do good. Don’t underestimate how dangerous this category can be. When someone is seeking healing from things such as child sexual assault trauma or mental illness involving psychosis, it is extremely important that the person finds a practitioner who is at the highest level of experience and integrity. Put a person like this with a ‘shaman’ whose heart wants to do good, but their ego has deluded them into thinking they are more experienced than they are, and the Ayahuasca can change from truly having the potential to finally help them, to inadvertently doing harm that perhaps only a truly gifted healer could undo.
Some obvious signs that a person has not yet trained their ego into the service of all are reactiveness instead of response, vanity and other unhealthy perceptions around ranking and hierarchy, strong and or obvious craving or aversion, and control issues.
From ‘Overnight’ Shamans to Fallen Masters.
Without training it’s easy to become tempted to abuse power, especially when there are beautiful young women placing themselves in such vulnerability, quite literally at the shaman’s feet. It takes discipline and preparation for even these most tangible forms of power to not corrupt a person. Many a well trained and fully recognised shaman has slipped from the path of integrity for such reasons, so a person with little or no training is particularly susceptible to the temptation to abuse their power. Keep in mind that these overnight ‘shamans’ are also ingesting what is arguably the most powerful hallucinogen known to man right alongside their guests, with perhaps only slightly more control than their guests.
In reality the ‘overnight’ shaman is fairly easy to spot. It’s the experienced practitioner that may not have been disciplined enough to wait until they were truly ready, or thought they were ready before they truly were who are the ones to watch out for. Age is no indicator. Their claims of experience and training have little value as well.
The guy who was the cleaner at the Ayahusca lodge might be 86, but that doesn’t mean he really started studying with his grandfather when he was a child.
The hardest to spot are the well known, even famous, shamans with a well established reputation, that have fallen out of integrity in later years.
The most reliable way to discern is based on the recommendation of an experienced person who you know and trust that has actually sat ceremony with the person, fairly recently.
Good Guys Aren’t The Only Ones Who Gain Skills.
With experience, even those who are not acting in true and humble service to the good of all do acquire skills and power over time. This even includes some healing abilities. But this is essentially increasing power without increasing the moral strength to responsibly direct that power in ways that help lift others up instead of elevating the self above others more and more.
People can truly believe they are righteous, and at the same time be controlled by their own ego, or worse. Within these traditions there are beliefs around parasitic entity attachment and malevolent spirit manipulation, if not, all out spirit possession. I can’t say whether entity possession is real or not, but what I can say is that I have seen things that make me understand why people would describe it in such terms.
The Amazon is also a world where attack sorcery or brujeria are commonplace. Some westerners undergoing formal shamanic training start off with a strong moral compass and desire to do good, but take on a ‘when in rome’ type attitude towards retaliation and revenge, extending to local beliefs and practices around attack sorcery. A common jungle attitude is ‘I’m here to do good and I’m here to heal, but if someone hurts my family, I will make them pay’.
To some this may be justified aggression, but even so, it’s a slippery slope and one of the many ways someone can slip off the path to becoming a true master, and end up (knowingly or not) becoming a brujo or dark shaman. To use an example from Christian mythology: remember that if the devils wants there to be hate in your heart, he’s probably rubbing his hands together and laughing when you, as a ‘good Christian’, begin to hate the devil.
Slipping From The Path of True Mastery.
In many cases slipping from the path comes down to an inability to do the real work of Ayahuasca, which at its core is about facing the self. Seeing all aspects of ourselves and learning to become comfortable with who we have been and who we really are.
When the apprentice hits a point where they are unable or unwilling to face something that is too challenging within themselves, they may fall out with a teacher of integrity and continue to study with others of less integrity or on their own. This can also occur with a practicing shaman continuing his training with the teacher plants themselves.
It is only the people who are willing to do their own internal work of learning to face their shadow, bringing the healing light of awareness and acceptance to the darkest corners of themselves, that make it to true mastery. And they do exist and can be found, if you are careful.
Ayahuasca on the Macro Level.
When I went to the jungle I thought that everyone drinking Ayahuasca was getting packets of the same bit torrent. As I spoke to other westerners about their insights they seemed to fit with my insights and a larger mosaic seemed to be emerging: a blueprint for how we could be living on this planet in a better way than the systemic suicide we’re living in today.
I expected when I arrived in the amazon after years of receiving these downloads that the shamans in the jungle would already have the full picture. It turns out most of them are too busy scrambling for gringo dollars and fighting with each other to try to imagine how we can get to a harmonious & sustainable state of peace on this planet. It doesn’t even seem like they are trying to understand how to find peace and co-operation amongst themselves.
Local Intentions for Working With The Medicine.
The truth is that one village is barely in contact with another village up river about the oil company that’s about to pollute the water that feeds all their families. Their focus is very much about looking after family and village matters. When it comes to their intentions for working with Ayahuasca, if it’s not learning how to attack some person in retaliation for an earlier attack on their own family, it’s more simply and innocently – and perhaps more commonly: ‘how do I make friends with the spirit of this or that plant so I can be protected from attack sorcery and become a better healer’. This is the real day to day activity of the jungle shaman. It is precisely because they keep their focus directed towards learning from the plants and don’t get too distracted by the goings on of the wider world that they are able to reach such truly powerful levels as healers.
How Western Intentions Differ.
The type of people that pack their bags to seek healing and insight in the jungles of South America clearly have some level of dissatisfaction with the answers they’re getting at home. Having grown up in a much more globally connected culture, our concerns have come to become more global too.
Those who are seeking power past the direct need for personal healing, and are doing it for the good of all, tend to gravitate towards a Gaian / Home Tree type myth that the consciousness of Ayahuasca is in fact an interface or representative of the spirit of the entire biosphere, sent to help bring humanity back into alignment with nature before we cause our own extinction. They may have been told this myth by others, but it’s more likely that fragments of the idea came to them through their own visionary experiences.
Perhaps a better way to perceive Ayahuasca is as a search engine, for all the knowledge of all beings, in all dimensions, in all existence, past, present and future. What westerners who are inclined to turn to nature for answers tend to concern themselves with, after their own immediate need for healing, is the wellbeing of the entire biosphere and everything in it. So it makes sense that this is what we end up turning our minds to when let loose on 5D information superhighway of Ayahuasca.
We’ve chosen to play a particular story thread in this sandbox video game / university for souls called physical reality, and that mission is: Earthtopia. Helping humanity move in the direction of evolution instead of extinction, toward a fair, sustainable peaceful existence on planet Earth.
Is Ayahuasca Here To Save Us?
Does Ayahuasca have the potential to save humanity from causing catastrophic environmental, economic and social collapse or even our own extinction? I believe it’s capable of it. Can it help guide us into finding a better way to live on this planet together? I feel like that’s possible.
Ultimately, I have come to believe that a better question is: Is this what we want to use it for?
Jonathan Davis is a writer and filmmaker with a strong personal interest in encouraging the responsible and sustainable use of plant medicines and entheogens for healing and personal growth.
An Abridged version of this story is also published at theplanthunter.com.au .