These five letters, originally written as status updates for my facebook community (here and here) describe a series of sessions with Ayahuasca, the “Vine of Souls” that I participated in in Brazil in January and February 2013. They are written in real time and reflect the changing dynamics of these unusual experiences over a period of two weeks. Something very strange happened in sessions four and five, something sinister that I could not have anticipated from my previous work with Ayahuasca and looking back through the whole sequence of letters now I am struck by how it took me, and others, by surprise and how we at first sought to intellectualize it and even explain it away.
Letter 1, Friday 25 January 2013
Santha and I are in Brazil after a long flight cramped up in the back of a British Airways 747. The seats seem to have been designed like the medieval torture called “Little Ease” where it is impossible to find comfort in any position. I’m due to have my right hip replaced in April and spent the 12-hour journey in something approaching excruciating pain. What a relief to arrive into the Brazilian summer and be able to stretch my legs!
Now we’re at the retreat where I had the extraordinary experiences in October 2011 that I describe in my article Giving up the Green Bitch: Reflections on Cannabis, Ayahuasca and the Mystery of Plant Teachers – see here: http://www.grahamhancock.com/forum/HancockG3.php. In the coming weeks, together with a group of a dozen other people and our facilitator (who resists being called a shaman despite his enormous depth of experience), we will participate in a series of Ayahuasca sessions. As well as drinking the sacred Amazonian brew, and learning the lessons it has to teach me this time around, I will be presenting several talks to the group on various aspects of my work. The other presenter here is the renowned ethnopharmacologist Dennis McKenna, brother of the late, great Terence McKenna. I first got to know Dennis well during a lecture tour that we did together in Australia last year and am looking forward to renewing the acquaintance and to the further deep connection that shared journeys with Ayahuasca always bring. If you haven’t read it yet I urge you to get hold of a copy of Dennis’s new book, The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss, about his life with his remarkable brother Terence, see here: http://www.grahamhancock.com/grapevine/McKennaD1/McKennaD1.php.
So yesterday, Friday 24 January, we rested, relaxed and recovered from the long flights we’d all made to get here (the other participants come from as far afield as the Middle East, Australia, and the US). Today, Saturday 25 January, the work begins with the first all-night Ayahuasca session. I have some trepidation – as Dennis puts it anyone who approaches deep work with Ayahuasca without at least some trepidation doesn’t really know the brew. But I have made a sincere effort since October 2011 to implement the changes in my life and outlook that Mother Ayahuasca required of me. I’m hoping to be handled gently this time and to experience beautiful visions, healing, inspiration and love.
Above all love.
That, I know from long experience, is the essence of the intelligence behind the vine.
I’ll report back tomorrow.
Letter 2, Saturday 26 January 2013
So, Santha and I are in Brazil for a series of sessions with Ayahuasca, the sacred visionary brew of the Amazon. “Ayahuasca” means “the Vine of the Dead” or “the Vine of Souls.” It is given this name for a number of very good reasons. One is that it can allow the experience of contact with those who have passed on. I make no claims here as to the reality status of that experience, although I do have an opinion. Another is that aspects of it are so similar to some of the well-known features of the near-death experience, notably a life-review, that some feel it may provide us with a dress-rehearsal for death itself and for whatever we may encounter when we pass beyond the veil. Again, while I have my own opinion I make no specific claims here as to the “reality” of such experiences. I give some further thoughts on this in my article Giving up the Green Bitch, linked in Letter 1.
Last night’s session was very mild, and for many in the group it was not visionary at all. This is sometimes the case with Ayahuasca; one should not go into a session with expectations of seamlessly convincing and overwhelming visions. Often the brew will give you these, but not always, and not reliably. Last night, however, there was an additional factor of uncertainty and this was that the maestros had provided a new batch of the brew that they believed to be very strong and which was indeed thicker and more syrupy than the brew we normally drink here in Brazil. It reminded me in its consistency of the very concentrated brew, sometimes with bits of plant matter floating in it, usually offered by Peruvian shamans (where, accordingly, rather small cups – about 25 mililiters — are the norm). At our Brazilian retreat on the other hand it is the practise to offer a less concentrated brew but in larger doses and in past visits here I have frequently drunk cups of 100 or 150 and sometimes even 200 mililiters.
Because last night’s brew was new, and was said to be strong, our facilitator proposed cups of just 25 mililiters or less for each of us and we would then discover its strength, or otherwise, for ourselves. If it was not as strong as expected we could always drink a “booster” cup after an hour and a half or so.
The effect was not strong and after 90 minutes almost the entire group queued up for a booster, again of 25 mililiters. Still in my case this had no – or almost no – effect and I began to contemplate a third cup. This is not an exact science and it is never good to be too eager with Ayahuasca. In other words you can go for a booster after experiencing no effect with the first cup only to discover that it was merely slow kicking in and that suddenly, with the booster, you have had more than you want. So I waited a while but when it was clear I was still not entering the Ayahuasca realm I did go for a third cup. So three cups, each of 25 mililiters, making 75 mililiters in total.
There was no purging – i.e. (apologies for being graphic) neither I nor anyone else in the group vomited last night. This is most unusual although I have found as the years go by that I do purge far less than I used to when I started out. But within half an hour of drinking my third small cup I did gradually begin to enter visionary space. These visions were mild, and a little “flat” or two-dimensional by comparison with other fully-immersive visions I have experienced in the past. The visions were of intricate geometrical and cursive patterns presented as though on separate individual cards, but when I studied each card the patterns proved to be in movement and resolved into the forms of entities, rather scary in appearance, and I felt somewhat menaced. Go to Google Images, search “Codex Borgia” and/or “Codex Nuttal” and you may get some inkling of the atmosphere, if not the exact details, of these images. I felt myself to be in the presence of intelligence and I tried to focus on that intelligence, rather than be repelled by the menacing images and in due course moved on to the next stage of the journey in which I was filled by powerful feelings of empathy and compassion for my fellow human beings.
These feelings began with reflections on the other members of our group who I had begun to get to know, and whose stories I had heard, over the past two days. Often in my daily life I become absorbed selfishly in my own immediate worries and concerns, certain problems and issues that are confronting me which seem to loom large, and matters that are causing me emotional or spiritual pain. I am incredibly privileged and live a blessed life yet still I find reasons to feel victimised or hard done by and sorry for myself! In an instant last night I was shown how ridiculous and self-indulgent and uncalled-for such feelings are as I reflected on what I knew of the difficulties and challenges, and real worries and pain that members of our group, in their own ways are confronting bravely and without complaint in their own lives. I thought of some cases in particular, the strength, the dignity, the good will, the cheerfulness in adversity, of certain individuals, and I felt myself brimming over with compassion and love and admiration for them. And it came home to me in a real and immediate way that each one of us here on earth, not only the members of the immediate group surrounding me in the Ayahuasca session, but every one of the billions of my fellow humans going through this incarnation in this time are bright and luminous individual flames of light – each with his or her own special gifts and creativity and imagination, each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses – and every one of us faces challenges and difficulties, and ordeals and pain and is confronted daily by defining choices, some small, some momentous, that write the pages of the stories of our lives.
And the only right response is gratitude, gratitude, gratitude to the universe for working the high magic that has made it possible for us to travel the path of human experience, and to learn and grow and develop in the process, and to practise love.
Letter 3, Wednesday 30 January 2013
This is the third of my series of letters about the Ayahuasca sessions I’m presently participating in here in Brazil. Ayahuasca is a visionary brew that marries leaves containing dimethyltryptamine (DMT) with a monamine oxidase inhibitor contained in the Ayahuasca vine itself; these two primary ingredients are cooked together in water to produce a foul-tasting but highly psychoactive beverage that has been drunk for at least three millennia by the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest who value it as a portal to the spirit world. In the past decade it has begun to acquire a global reputation and has been described as “twenty years of psychotherapy in one night.”
So our second session took place on the night of Monday 28 January into the small hours of Tuesday 29 January. This time I drank 80 mililitres of the brew in a single cup – as against three doses of 25 mililitres each on the previous session. With too small a dose of Ayahuasca it is perfectly possible to have no experience at all; with too large a dose it is possible to have an experience that is completely overwhelming – perhaps far more so that you would like. It is not an exact science and it is complicated further by differences in one’s own body chemistry from day to day that can result in widely varying effects.
I’m here together with a group of more than a dozen people and, as in previous retreats for serious work with Ayahuasca that I’ve participated in over the last ten years it is noticeable how close and trusting of one another we have become. The Ayahuasca experience has a very special way of doing this – of opening the heart and breaking down barriers so that you feel intense empathy and a deep connection with others at a level that is near to impossible in the often angry, often competitive, frequently loveless hustle and bustle and grind of daily life. It is a great privilege to be able to know this empathy and connection and reminds me that all of life could be like this should we consciously set out and be willing to do the work make it so. It is not oil, or water, or mineral deposits, or food, or land, or any other economic resource that is truly scarce or precious or “running out” in this bountiful Earth of ours. What we are short of as a global species, what we seem reluctant to manifest, what we are failing to express and act out, is simply love, and in a way this should be the easiest problem in the world for us to solve – for it is within the capacity and the power of each and every one of us to give love if we choose to do so.
It is SUCH a good feeling just to lay down the barriers of suspicion and fear and self interest and trust others completely and know that the trust is shared and that the love you put out is the love you get back.
So, we all gathered round and raised our cups, mine containing 80 mililitres of Ayahuasca, and thanked the spirits and the ancestors for giving us this blessing, and drank. I then went to the bathroom and washed the acrid taste of the brew from my mouth before sitting down on my mattress with my back propped against the wall of our large ceremonial room surrounded by the rest of our group. Our facilitator turned off the lights, and put on a CD of the sounds of nature – the ocean, rainfall, birdcalls – and through the open windows came a soft, cooling breeze. Stillness descended like a blessing and for the next half hour or so we all simply sat there staring into the darkness, thinking our thoughts. It is best to sit up at first – some prefer to sit up the whole night – as it allows swifter and more efficient digestion of the brew than can be achieved lying down. Nausea and vomiting commonly accompany the consumption of Ayahuasca but it is a really good idea not to purge for at least an hour to allow full absorption of the medicine from the gut into the bloodstream. Vomit before the hour is up and you will likely need to drink some more brew.
Mercifully as I have become more experienced with Ayahuasca during the past ten years I find that I vomit less and less, and usually not at all – although I do still suffer episodes of nausea.
After 45 minutes I felt I was ready to lie down and stretched out on my mattress. Music is a constant accompaniment of our sessions here – the facilitator sensing intuitively the needs and mood and individual journeys of the members of the group and adjusting the playlist and his own instrumentals and vocals accordingly. He practices within the Peruvian, Shipibo tradition (though these ceremonies are taking place in Brazil) and at the point where I lay down he had begun to sing a series of Icaros (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icaro), traditional songs that provide an excellent waveguide into the profound meditative state that Ayahuasca can bring, or, equally Ariadne’s threads that can help to lead us out of labyrinths we might prefer not to find ourselves in.
These days I rarely go into an Ayahuasca session without some fear and this has much to do with a terrifying session on pure (smoked) DMT that I had in the United States in 2011 (described here: http://www.grahamhancock.com/forum/HancockG3.php). The Ayahuasca experience is not the same as the DMT experience, even though DMT is the primary active ingredient of Ayahuasca, but sometimes a strong Ayahuasca journey will plunge me squarely back into what I think of as DMT space. I feel vulnerable there, sometimes unprotected by the kindly, healing spirit of the vine, and my fear derives from this sense of raw exposure to elemental intelligences.
I suppose an hour had passed when I first became definitely aware of the effects of the brew in the form of intense visuals, seen best (even in the darkness) with my eyes closed. They took shape at first, as they often do, as swirling patterns of deep, richly-saturated colours, but almost from the first moment they had the slightly menacing undertones of my 2011 DMT trip. How can I describe them? Patches of colour all joined to one another, here purple, here ochre, here a strange, deep brownish-red, here a luminescent green, here blue – each patch about the size of a human hand and shaped into oblique, rhomboidal geometric forms, and all joined together in a meaningful swirling dance. This was not simply the entertaining pattern flow of a kaleidoscope. The patterns radiated intelligence, sentience, intent, and I felt my fear rise up another notch and at the same time I exercised my will and said to myself “I will not be afraid; I will journey into this without hesitation and see where it leads me.” As soon as I had made that decision I felt my fear subside and I journeyed deeper and then, emerging from the patterns, and shaped out of them, appeared the beautiful, glittering, sinuous form of a serpent seeming to radiate compassion and concern for me and I sensed the presence of the great spirit, mother goddess of our planet, who I think of as Mother Ayahuasca, and I felt her healing energy. She worked on me for some time, swirling around my body, fixing parts of me that were broken, right down to the deepest level of my DNA and of my psyche.
At this point it was all extremely gentle. I saw faces I did not recognize. A great bird, a raptor of some kind, took wing amidst a nimbus of supernal light. The serpent became a jaguar. And still I was not afraid and I began to think – well, this is going to be fine. My 80 mililitre cup was just right, just enough to enter healing visionary space but not so much that the visions would overwhelm me and swallow me up. And as is often the case with Ayahuasca the visions came and went in waves – sometimes quite intense, sometimes falling away almost to nothingness.
I drifted into thoughts about my relationship with my wife Santha, how I am so blessed to have her in my life, how she is in fact a goddess who manifests in human form and how incredibly privileged I am that she permits me to go through this incarnation with her and learn from her how to be a better human being. And I realized how so much of our life together has been very selfishly about ME, about my work, my creativity, my concerns, and it was brought home to me with the force of a revelation that the next stage of our partnership has to be about HER and that my role now is to be of service to her and help her in every way possible to express and manifest her own wonderful creative gifts and to fulfill herself.
I spent some time in the presence of our children – Santha and I have six children between us, all young adults now, and they are a tremendous blessing to us and the light and joy of our lives. And I thought about how wonderful and full of love they all are, and what good people they are, and I reflected on the struggles and challenges they face, and the elegant, generous spirit in which they are all maturing and developing and travelling their own journeys.
Next came thoughts about the state of the world. I found myself dwelling on the terrible, inhuman way the state of Israel behaves towards the Palestinians and on that hideous wall that Israel has built, and about its constant aggressive seizure – in the name of God no less!! – of more and more land on which Palestinian families and communities have traditionally lived. The more power we have – and Israel has immense power – the more it is our responsibility to love and I realized that the great task facing Israel now, even though its people themselves feel threatened and fearful and unloved, is to desist forthwith all acts motivated by hatred and fear and to act instead with love and generosity towards all neighbouring peoples, to dismantle that abominable wall, to stop aggressively expanding settlements, and to carry the entire region forward into a new era based on trust and the mutual benefit of all. It will be difficult, incredibly difficult, and every attack on Israel by those communities that Israel has monstrously abused for so long will be used as an excuse and a justification for more acts of hate and cruelty by Israel itself, but the vicious cycle must be broken and as the most powerful player on the regional stage it falls to Israel to change the destructive, hateful, violent pattern that has been in place for so long. At first acts of love will be rejected, thrown back in Israel’s face, even punished, but love is giving, love is persistence, love it kind and if Israel adopts a policy based on love, and shows as much kindness and compassion towards non-Israelis – and concern for their needs and interests — as it presently shows toward its own people, then little by little the injuries of the past will heal and a way will be found to bring peace and security to all humans, regardless of their creed, colour, ethnic origin or nationality, whose fate it is to live in that tortured region today.
It would be a good thing, I couldn’t help thinking, if every military leader, every religious fanatic, every president, every prime minister, every dictator presently exercising power in the world were to be required to undergo ten sessions of Ayahuasca before being allowed to make a single other decision.
By this point in my journey my head seemed completely clear. I thought the visions had stopped. I gave thanks that nothing too terrifying had happened to me and I got up and walked around for a while. As I was walking, however, a new wave of visions descended on me like a storm and I retreated once again to my mattress where the next phase of my night’s journey began.
I was immediately in the presence of the entity I saw when I last smoked DMT in 2011 and who I think of as “the Trickster” or “the Magician” or “the Sorcerer” and whose aura, quite unlike that of Mother Ayahuasca, is entirely male. I do not know who this entity is or where he comes from. It is perfectly possible that he is simply one of the many transformations of Mother Ayhuasca herself – and indeed the healing female spirit that many of us experience through the brew is construed as male by a number of traditional cultures in the Amazon rainforest.
So there was the Trickster, and he was dancing, dancing, his face long and thin, severe and yet sensual, with steep, angled planes as though drawn by Aubrey Beardsley. And he wore a cloak of many colours made up of a patchwork of those same richly saturated rhomboidal forms I had seen earlier in the session. He made elaborate, skillful, elegant arm movements as though he held silver threads in each hand and was stretching these threads out and showing them to me, and it came to me that his dance was the dance of creation and that with each gesture and movement he was bringing reality into being – fabricating, generating and manifesting reality – and that in his dance some kind of immense cosmogenic power was at work.
My feelings of fear were very strong now, quite overwhelming and I wanted to flee, to run away from this scene, to open my eyes wide and stop the visions, but again I exercised my will, placed myself under control and stayed put and let this magnificent, terrifying, cosmogenic dance unfold before me. I could not banish the fear entirely but I began to realize that perhaps there is nothing to be afraid of here and then just as this became clear to me I was overtaken by a giant wave of nausea and had to shuffle round on my mattress and bring up my bucket to my face (we all have buckets) in case I would vomit.
In the event I didn’t vomit and after a few moments the nausea began to subside, and then Santha, who was beside me, suggested that we go out into the middle of the floor and dance. Sensing the change in mood our facilitator began to play rhythmic, vital, energizing music and other couples and individuals joined us in the clear area of wooden floor at the centre of the room and I felt no pain whatsoever in my severely osteo-arthritic hip on which I am due to undergo surgery in April, and we danced and danced and were overtaken by joy and the celebration of the magnificent and generous and precious, precious gift of life.
Letter 4, Monday 4 February 2013
NB I make no claim as to the reality-status of the entities and realms encountered in Ayahuasca visions and described in the account that follows. It is possible that they are real but only accessible to our senses in altered states of consciousness; but it is equally possible that they are projections with no fundamental reality whatsoever. There are many other possibilities, ranging from archetypes to the imaginal, that are also worthy of consideration. All I can say for sure is that they are experienced as real and I claim nothing more than that.
I’m still in Brazil, still working with Ayahuasca. See earlier letters in this series (above) for my accounts of sessions one and two.
Our third session took place on the night of Wednesday 30 January 2013 into the small hours of Thursday 31 January. I drank the same dose, 80 mililitres, that had taken me on a complex and thought-provoking journey during the second session but this time the effects were very different. Perhaps it was the music, which often sounded to me like panes of glass being broken with a hammer, or sometimes like a pneumatic drill breaking up a road, but I was for a long while completely unable to drift into a visionary state. I felt distressed and unhappy, with a slight admixture of relief that at least I would not have to confront the entity I call the trickster that night.
This absence of visions, which I experienced as a gulf, a void, seemed to go on for a very long while, but gradually an odd state of mind began to overtake me. I had glimpses of a whole other life that I was living somewhere else, where I was me and yet had a different biography from the one that defines me in this life. I knew different people, did different things and was living out that parallel life completely oblivious to this one. So it was an odd thing, lying in the darkness in our ceremonial space here in Brazil, under the influence of Ayahuasca but not very much – if at all – carried away by visions, to experience these strange episodes of cross-over, of intersection, in which I became aware of both lives simultaneously with each life seeming like a dream – ephemeral, fleeting and yet haunting – that I was experiencing in the other.
I stood, visited the bathroom and came back to my mattress. I could not shake the feeling of being haunted, then dizziness swept over me and suddenly, precipitously, as though falling off a cliff I tumbled into the realm of vision.
It was as though I were within a gigantic serpent. Its body, which had engulfed me, was transparent allowing me to see through the patterns of its skin into the room beyond. At the same time the feelings of unhappiness and distress that had set in very early in the session remained with me and I found that I was unable to surrender to the experience as I knew I should and unable to master my fear. I was haunted by that dream world that was my other life, suspecting that in some way something, some entity, some intelligence was seeking to possess me and not liking or welcoming that feeling at all.
I continued to wrestle with it. I would not surrender to it and at the same time it would not leave me alone.
Eventually I went down to the kitchen and dining area where in the winter months there is often a fire for participants to gather round in the late stages of a session. Tonight, in the Brazilian summer, there was no fire, but other members of our group were already there and I fell into a conversation with them that helped to distract me from my haunted state and draw me out, little by little, into a sense of normality with myself.
Our fourth session took place on the night of Saturday 2 February into the small hours of Sunday 3 February. I drank 90 mililitres of a different batch of the brew. The effects were immediately powerful, but quite pleasant. Not at all threatening. I felt strongly the presence of Mother Ayahuasca, Mother Goddess of our planet, guardian of the great forests and of the wise and ancient trees, spirit of the oceans in her manifestation as Yemanja, the blue angel, whose special day in Brazil is 2 February.
Time passed. The brew worked its way through me and I tottered out to the bathroom, sat myself on the throne (sorry to be graphic but it is not for nothing that Ayahuasca is also called “the Purge” in the Amazon) and lost track of time there. It was absurd in a way. There I was sitting on the toilet doing this very mundane and earthy thing and at the same time I could feel the presence of Mother Ayahuasca, of this deeply compassionate, unutterably beautiful goddess who became present to me in her serpent form and seemed to wrap me up in her coils and just loved me, loved me, for the longest while. I was very strongly given the message that I am too hard on myself, that I do not appreciate myself enough, that, yes, I have made errors in my life, yes, I have caused pain to others – as we all do – but that I am, nonetheless, fundamentally a good person and that perhaps the time has come for me to stop beating myself up about my mistakes and even to celebrate myself.
So I was surrounded by this lovely warm energetic glow and I took it with me when I returned to the ceremonial space. My intention was simply to lie quietly back on my mattress and resume my discourse with Mother Ayahuasca, and if possible to experience even more of that healing love that she had bestowed on me. Instead, however, I gradually became aware of the malevolent attention of someone… or something.
After my encounter with the Mother I still felt full of confidence, protected by a great and powerful Goddess, able to handle whatever was thrown at me, but at this precise moment I came under an intense and focused psychic attack and matters grew very strange. I was still in the ceremonial room in Brazil but at the same time I was not – as though everything had been shifted half a step to the side into some parallel dimension that had always been there, overlapping with ours, but had hitherto remained unseen. So at one and the same moment I was in my body, on my mattress in the ceremonial space, and at the same time out of my body in this other simulacrum of the room half a step to the side on another plane of reality.
The entity that was attacking me stood very close to me. It had human form, in fact it looked like one of the other members of our group, but it was immediately obvious that it was not a physical being.
Was it the trickster again?
Sparks of light flashed from its eyes and there was sorcery in its hands and its gestures, and the confidence I had felt just moments before that I would be able to handle this malevolent force, that I might somehow meet it on equal terms and defend against it, was blown away like mist. I realized I was completely powerless and incompetent in its presence, utterly overmastered by it, out of my league. If this were a spiritual dojo I would be the novice wearing the white belt and this thing, whatever it was, would be the ninth dan black belt here to wipe the floor with me.
I tried projecting love at it. It wouldn’t work. The sense of threat and danger continued to mount. I tried to invoke Mother Ayahuasca in her manifestation as the Blue Angel. This did no good at all. I tried to raise a barrier of light. Failure again. Finally my out-of-body self just curled up into a ball while I was pummeled and beaten and humbled on that etheric plane.
I endured the continuing psychic attack for some while, but then when I could bear it no longer I decided the only course open to me was to leave the room, so I staggered out – the Ayahuasca was very strong and I was a little unsteady on my feet – went downstairs, across the dining area and out through the porch into the lush tropical gardens that surround this property.
Immediately the atmosphere changed again, the psychic attack ceased and I was in the domain of Mother Ayahuasca. I walked amongst the trees and bushes, touching each one, and entered into some kind of intense communion. Scintillating light and patterns, alive with energy, filled with sentience, sparkling with magic, emanated from every leaf, every branch and I was, for the longest time, completely surrounded by and immersed in enchantment and beauty.
Later as I began to process the experience and talked with others in the group it became clear that everyone had experienced a powerful, unusual, truly extraordinary night.
And I thought, well working with Ayahuasca is sometimes very strange, and it can be terrifying, and one faces challenges not often met in everyday life, but what an incredible blessing it is and what an incredible opportunity it is to learn and grow and develop and fortify oneself against the dangers of this and other realms. And I thought about the entity I had encountered, the trickster in one of his many disguises, and my lost bout in that spiritual dojo and I suddenly realized that I had not lost at all, I had gained an important lesson, and I no longer felt afraid.
Letter 5, Tuesday 12 February 2013
Warning before you begin reading. In what follows I am reporting experiences and also interactions with others. I give my interpretations of those experiences and interactions, but I make absolutely no claim that my interpretations are correct.
Very strange and disturbing events around our fifth Ayahuasca session here in Brazil which took place on the night of Monday 4 February into the small hours of Tuesday 5 February.
I mentioned in my previous letter on this subject that during the fourth session something happened to me that I experienced as an intense and focused psychic attack. To provide context I cite extracts from that account here:
“I was still in the ceremonial room in Brazil but at the same time I was not – as though everything had been shifted half a step to the side into some parallel dimension that had always been there, overlapping with ours, but had hitherto remained unseen. So at one and the same moment I was in my body, on my mattress in the ceremonial space, and at the same time out of my body in this other simulacrum of the room half a step to the side on another plane of reality.
“The entity that was attacking me stood very close to me. It had human form, in fact it looked like one of the other members of our group, but it was immediately obvious that it was not a physical being… Sparks of light flashed from its eyes and there was sorcery in its hands and its gestures, and the confidence that I had felt just moments before that I would be able to handle this malevolent force, that I might somehow meet it on equal terms and defend against it, was blown away like mist. I realized I was completely powerless and incompetent in its presence, utterly overmastered by it, out of my league. If this were a spiritual dojo I would be the novice wearing the white belt and this thing, whatever it was, would be the ninth dan black belt here to wipe the floor with me.
“I tried projecting love at it. It wouldn’t work. The sense of threat and danger continued to mount. I tried to invoke Mother Ayahuasca in her manifestation as the Blue Angel. This did no good at all. I tried to raise a barrier of light. Failure again. Finally my out-of-body self just curled up into a ball while I was pummeled and beaten and humbled on that etheric plane.
“I endured the continuing psychic attack for some while, but then when I could bear it no longer I decided the only course open to me was to leave the room, so I staggered out – the Ayahuasca was very strong and I was a little unsteady on my feet – went downstairs, across the dining area and out through the porch into the lush tropical gardens that surround this property…”
So that was the fourth session. Now just before the start of the fifth session something even stranger and utterly unexpected happened. Having already stated our individual intentions for the evening we began to queue up to receive our cups of the brew from our facilitator.
Often during this moment members of the group embrace and wish one another a good and safe journey; that is quite normal. But this evening I heard a sudden cry of shock and one of the women in our group – I must respect privacy and will not name her – protested that another member of the group, a man (again, no names) had approached her making a series of bizarre and threatening hand gestures and at the same time projected his breath forcefully into her face. For those of us familiar with Amazonian shamanic traditions it was immediately obvious that this was a very serious act, for it is by blowing with the mouth that the brujos – sorcerers – of the Amazon project the magic pathogenic darts known as virotes at their enemies in order to do them harm. Virotes may also be projected through a sorcerer’s arms and out of openings in his hands.
“Did you do that to anyone else?” asked the woman who had been the victim of this sinister assault.
The man admitted that he had not.
“Then why did you do it to me?” she asked.
“I was blessing you,” he said.
“I don’t even let my husband blow in my face like that,” she objected, “and I certainly didn’t ask for your blessing! What were you trying to do to me?”
“Pah!” he replied, turning his back, “you wouldn’t understand.”
It seemed that what had been just a few days before a peaceful, trusting, cooperative group had suddenly been exposed to some malign energy or intent. And for me the strangest thing of all – the very strangest thing – was that the man who had blown into the woman’s face, who had so aggressively stepped into her space and infringed her sovereignty, was the very same man I had been attacked by the night before in my visions.
Except then I had convinced myself that it could not be him (“it had human form, in fact it looked like one of the other members of our group, but it was immediately obvious that it was not a physical being”).
Now, I was not so sure.
After such a disruption of the flow it would probably have been wise if no one had drunk the brew that night but, having come so far, we all did, including the woman who had been assaulted – although she asked our facilitator to clear the negative energy that she felt had been projected at her first.
I took my largest dose yet in this series of sessions, 100 mililitres, composed myself for whatever lay ahead and instantly regretted drinking so much. In the event, however, I was hyper-alert, jangled and so afraid that whenever an intense visionary state threatened to creep up on me I resisted it, actively and consciously fought against it, and willed it away. The plain truth was that I did not wish to become vulnerable again to that malevolent force that had overmastered me and psychically bullied and terrified me during the previous session and since it could not get at me in the physical realm, but only in the visionary or astral realm, my instinct was not allow myself to go there.
And I found myself wondering – what are we dealing with here? Is it in fact what it appears to be? Is this individual who tonight so blatantly transgressed the sovereignty of another member of the group in physical space, somehow manifesting a spirit body and using it to transgress also on the astral plane? Or is it as I originally suspected some powerful etheric entity that is not him at all but simply disguising itself as him? Or could it be a bit of both? Could he be a weak, perhaps psychopathic, individual who has made some sort of Faustian bargain with a dark and hungry supernatural force and is serving as a more or less willing lightning rod to channel it to others around him? Or might it be none of the above?
Here, before going further, I feel compelled to repeat that I make no claim as to the reality of the entities and realms encountered in Ayahuasca visions. It is possible that they are real but only accessible to our senses in altered states of consciousness; but it is equally possible that they have no fundamental reality whatsoever. There are many other possibilities, ranging from archetypes to projections to the imaginal, that are also worthy of consideration. All I can say for sure is that they are experienced as real and I claim nothing more than that.
About two hours into the session we all heard a crashing sound somewhere below. Along with our facilitator and a couple of others I hurried down the stairs and we found another member of our group, a strong young man in his early thirties collapsed on the floor. He said he did not understand what had happened to him. Something dark had attacked him, swarmed over him, overpowered him, and he had felt certain he was going to die unless he got out of the ceremonial space. On the way down the stairs he had become faint and fallen. “I looked death in the face,” he kept on saying, “I looked death in the face.”
Our facilitator went to work on him. There are certain techniques – the use of a rattle, a thumb placed firmly on the center of the brow, the chanting of the special songs called icaros – which are helpful in clearing away negative psychic energies and, after about half an hour, the young man was able to stand and walk around. “I looked death in the face,” he repeated – but this time with a smile – “and I survived.”
Later in conversation our facilitator told us that when he had begun to work on the young man he himself had been seized by a feeling of absolute terror – a powerful and overwhelming dread that he was only able to master with great difficulty and by drawing on everything he has learned in more than forty years of working with the brew.
Later still, another member of our group, a trained psychotherapist who is also enormously experienced with the sacred use of psychedelics, came down from the ceremonial space to join us in the kitchen, took a seat and said calmly and reflectively: “What the hell was THAT?” He then reported that he too had been terrorized in the visionary realm by some dark entity that he too associated with the individual who had blown in the woman’s face at the beginning of the ceremony. “I tried very hard to rationalize what was happening,” he said. “I tried to convince myself that what I was experiencing was just my own shadow side taking illusory form, that this was something I was projecting, but in the end I became certain it was a real force, something utterly alien and deeply, deeply evil and completely external to myself. I tried every technique I know to keep it at bay but nothing worked.”
The following day I talked to the individual who had blown in the woman’s face. “I’m a basement shaman,” he said. He sounded quite proud of himself. “I make DMT and smoke it a lot at home, exploring visionary worlds and I go around Ayahuasca groups doing this work. Sometimes people don’t like it but I just withdraw within myself so they can’t get to me.” He told me he hoped I appreciated how much courage it took for him to talk to me openly like this about the disruption his behavior had caused. I told him that my advice was that he should cultivate humility and not imagine that he has any “work” to do with anyone else; only with himself. After speaking to me he spoke to the woman whose sovereignty he had transgressed the night before and apologized to her, again repeating that he hoped she appreciated what tremendous courage it took for him to come out in the open like this. She found herself unable to accept his apology. “You’re trying to make it all about you,” she told him, “with all this crap about your courage. That’s not a genuine apology at all.”
Two days later, mercifully, the man left. Indeed most of the group have now gone. Just seven of us remain for the final two sessions, the first of which took place on the night of 10 February into the small hours of 11 February. It was a blissful, open-hearted night with a great feeling of love, security, solidarity and trust. I am not going to describe it further here except to say that the same member of our group who had asked “What the hell was THAT?” after the fifth session had a new insight during the night. He experienced a direct, personal encounter with the loving entity whom we call Mother Ayahuasca (who is perhaps a goddess, though she does not wish to be worshipped) and he asked her the same question: “What the hell was THAT thing that attacked us during the fifth ceremony? Why did we have to go through that?”
“You needed to see it,” she replied. “Now you know what I have to deal with all the time. It’s the evil that is loose in the world, twisting and destroying the human spirit and I need your help to fight it, the help of good people everywhere, the help of the power of love.”
I realize how strange all this must sound to those (undoubtedly the vast majority who read this) who have not drunk Ayahuasca and perhaps do not wish to. All I can say, as my good friend Dennis McKenna puts it, is that Ayahuasca is the ultimate skeptic’s challenge. It is not an intellectual argument. It is not a matter of empirical, scientifically verifiable proofs. It is quite simply an experience. Once you’ve had a deep and powerful encounter with the brew you can make of it what you will, but until you have had such an encounter it is better to withhold judgment.
I hope with these personal accounts that I have added some quantum of useful data to the body of available information about the Ayahuasca enigma. I have not held back and have shared with you both the dark and the light sides of the realm of experience into which this mysterious, ancient and sacred Amazonian brew can plunge us. It is as though a doorway is opened into a parallel universe in which – as in the universe we inhabit in our daily lives – there is both good and evil, but in which – both there and here – we as conscious human creatures are gifted with the power of choice. Sometimes we must face evil, sometimes it may do us harm, but we do not have to join forces with it, we do not have to make compromises with it, we do not have to bow down to it and we do not have to serve its purposes. Evil cannot always be defeated but it can always – always! – be resisted.
So the Ayahuasca experience is by no means all sweetness and light and if you go into a session with that naïve expectation you may well, at some time or other, find yourself unpleasantly surprised. Ayahuasca is extremely serious business and this is one amongst many reasons why I would not advise anyone to partake of it without skilled and well-intentioned shamanic guidance – though such guidance, these days, is available from a small but growing number of good-willed and completely un-egotistical Western shamans as well as from Amazonian shamans. Indeed the fact that a self-styled “shaman” hails from the Amazon is no guarantee whatsoever of the quality of care and service he will provide; in this, as in all adventurous journeys where hazards can be expected you should do your research carefully, consult others and rely on word of mouth before committing yourself to a particular path.
With these necessary cautions expressed, however, I conclude by affirming that the Ayahuasca experience is, above all else, about love and that there is openness of heart in it and a tremendous sweeping away of the blockages and mechanisms of denial that prevent us from getting to grips with and resolving fundamental issues in our lives. Truly, it is not for nothing that a very strong Ayahuasca session has been described as twenty years of psychotherapy in one night! In this regard I have already set before readers here the radical change in my own life initiated by a series of Ayahuasca experiences I had during October 2011 – see my article Giving up the Green Bitch: Reflections on Ayahuasca, Cannabis and the Mystery of Plant Teachers, which is now permanently posted on the Articles page of my website – http://www.grahamhancock.com/forum/HancockG3.php
And above and beyond all that, as I’ve tried to show, the great virtue and promise of Ayahuasca is that it raises profound questions about the nature of reality itself. There are, as yet, no definite answers to those questions – perhaps there never will be – but to confront the experiences that give rise to them, while sometimes terrifying and often chastening, is, I believe, ultimately of the greatest value.