How To Choose a Safe Ayahuasca Ceremony
Before we review the steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of having a safe Ayahuasca ceremony, we should understand that until very recently, Ayahuasca (caapi banisteriopsis) was used exclusively by Amazonian communities. The plant never left the jungle. It was administered by a Ayahuasca shaman (taita) who earned the trust of his or her community by dedicating his or her entire life to healing with Ayahuasca. The healer inherited this position in the community from his or her elders who would pass along their knowledge through a rigorous training process. The secrets of how to find, harvest, prepare, and heal with the medicine were passed down over the course of years and even decades, and the younger apprentice would not administer the plant in ceremony until the elder shaman declared him ready to heal their people.
These groups revered the plant for its ability to heal the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies, and for its capacity to reconnect the drinker and the community as a whole to the divine. It was, and still is in many cases, the primary tool for ensuring lasting community health, harmony in familial relations, understanding of man´s role as part of his surrounding natural environment, and an elevating, positive spiritual practice.
Today, many non-Amazonian people from around the globe are searching for Ayahuasca as an alternative healing therapy, but unfortunately, they do not encounter the type of dedicated healer or pure medicine that can provide that healing. It is even possible for people to encounter healers and forms of the medicines which are dangerous and unhealthy. As Ayahuasca has slowly been brought out of the jungle, and Ayahuasca tourism has increased, charlatan shamans functioning as cold-hearted businessmen have started luring tourists into jungle camps and urban warehouses and apartments in order to make money or otherwise exploit inexperienced, curious drinkers.
Non-native people also, unfortunately, seek Ayahuasca to hallucinate. Seeking visions for the sake of visions is a disrespectful approach to a plant and ancestral tradition that deserves reverence. If, however, you seek Ayahuasca with genuine intentions of furthering self-exploration, gaining self-knowledge, and receiving the healing that you need, please read the following suggestions and implement them as you search for the right ceremony or retreat center.
SIGNS THAT SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG:
- You are solicited on the street, through an online advertisement, or by someone who does not know you. People who sell sacred plant ceremonies anonymously are to be avoided.
- The healer´s name is not revealed by the person or group bringing you to ceremony. You want to know whose hands you are putting your life in.
- The healer´s lineage is not mentioned, or the person bringing you to ceremony does not know the lineage of the healer. All respectable and dedicated traditional healers honor their predecessors and make it known who they were trained by. They do this to give the drinker more confidence and to show their own humility (perhaps the most important personality trait of any Ayahuasca healer in my opinion). If it´s not mentioned, ask.
- You are not asked about your recent medical history. Ayahuasca can present serious health risks if taken too recently after certain surgeries, or if taken in conjunction with pharmaceuticals (SSRIs, heart medications, etc), drugs, or certain foods.
- No one asks you about your intentions or reasons for using the plant. The group facilitators and healer should concern themselves with your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, as well as the chain of events that has led you to the Ayahuasca ceremony. A responsible healer will adjust the dosage, and even the amount of power that he puts behind the cup of medicine and his prayers depending on your state of health and being.
- The brew contains other plants (such as toé) or the healer and facilitators can´t or don´t confirm that the brew is pure. Under all circumstances, the brew should only contain the Ayahuasca vine (caapi banisteriopsis), and either chagropanga (diplopterys cabrerana) or chacruna (psychotria viridis), the DMT containing leaves.
- The Ayahuasca was purchased, wasn´t brewed by the healer administering the plant, or the source of the Ayahuasca isn´t revealed. The safest way to experience Ayahuasca is by receiving the medicine directly from the healer who found, harvested, and prepared the medicine.
- Other substances or drugs are allowed in ceremony. Traditional ceremonies include the use of tobacco for prayer and healing, but no other substances or drugs are allowed in traditional Ayahuasca ceremonies. The unique exception here could be the Santo Daime tradition, but I can´t speak to that.
- The ceremonial space is not well kept or cared for as a temple of healing should be. Dirt is one thing; everything being covered in ancient cobwebs is another.
- The healer himself does not seem healthy or look presentable. Respectable and recommendable healers will always wash themselves, dress appropriately, and in general, exude a sense of well-being and health in order to honor the spirit of the medicine, the spirits of the territory, his or her ancestors, and to give confidence to the drinkers.
- There is sexual behavior during ceremonies. Participants should not be touching each other, kissing, etc., during ceremony. In many traditions, men and women sit apart from each other.
- Ayahuasca is sold at the ceremony or the house of the healer. Ayahuasca should never be sold, much less to people who haven´t undergone the life-long training process required to safely administer Ayahuasca. As a side note, Ayahuasca should never be taken without the supervision of a trained healer.
SOMETHING´S NOT QUITE RIGHT:
- Nobody asks about your diet. The food you eat for a week or so before an Ayahuasca ceremony can determine how your experience goes. This should be a concern of the people who are facilitating the ceremony and the healer.
- The healer has excessive physical contact with members of the opposite sex, or he or she has lots of physical contact with participants in general. Energies are exchanged through contact, and dedicated healers will prepare themselves for days in order to be as energetically ready to heal others as possible when the medicine is administered. Excessive hugging, holding, or touching is a sign of irresponsibility or worse.
- There is no mention of women´s menstrual cycles. In some Amazonian traditions, women on their cycles do not participate in ceremonies. In others, they can participate, but the healer will have a special prayer with the medicine in order to work with that person. No matter the situation, if you are a woman, you should be asked about your cycle.
- Purged materials are not cleaned up or taken outside of the ceremonial space. If someone purges (vomits), those materials contain unhealthy energies for that individual and potentially for others. Purging should take place outside of the maloka (ceremony hut or temple), or it should be cleaned up and brought outside of the space as soon as possible.
- The healer has multiple sexual partners, or his relationship with his or her partner is unhealthy. Ayahuasca is a delicate plant medicine that absorbs the energies around it and responsible healers are sexually responsible and treat their partner with respect. Harmony surrounds and emanates from this person, never more so than in his or her most intimate relationships.
- People are allowed to leave the ceremony and wander around under the affects of the medicine. The healer should be concerned with the safety of all participants, and it should be understood that drinkers do not leave his or her supervision during the ceremony.
- The ceremony is not conducted in a traditional language of the Amazon, but in English or Spanish or another non-Amazonian language. Healers who have been trained in the appropriate way and for the appropriate length of time should have songs (icaros, conjuros) for the medicine in the Amazonian tongue from where their training took place. The healer may use another language to communicate with participants when necessary.
- The healer lives a lavish, luxurious lifestyle. Living as a part of nature, and working closely with the earth, are prerequisites to being able heal with Ayahuasca. Excessive material possessions are indicative of a potential problem. Healers don´t heal to make money, they heal to heal.
- Visit the ceremony site and the house of the healer before the day of the ceremony and see who he or she is, how his or her house feels to you, and how he or she relates to people and the environment. The healer should be approachable and at least somewhat interested in who you are, although in some cultures talkativeness should not be equated with caring.
- Do not pay an outrageous amount of money to drink medicine. Some ceremonies are done on donation basis, while others have a fixed price, but a single ceremony should never break the bank. If you are choosing a ayahuasca retreat center, the price should reflect the number of ceremonies, and the quality of accommodations, food, and other services provided.
- Look the healer and his or her community members in the eyes and see how you feel. Trust your intuition. If it does not feel right, if something feels off or sketchy, get out of there.
- Be patient. An Ayahuasca ceremony can be a sacred, life-changing, and transformational experience when it is performed by the right person, with the right intentions, and with the right medicine. It can also have severe negative consequences when any of those components are off. Take your time finding the right healer and the right place where you feel comfortable, safe, and ready to explore the deepest elements of yourself.
We wish you the best of luck finding a safe and loving environment in which to experience the ´´vine of the soul´´.
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin (We are all one family),
The Eagle Condor Alliance Family