Robert Tindall: What I read on the internet is that this young man was probably given a brew containing toé, which is a member of the datura family. It’s a very potent hallucinogen.
Oh my god, I won’t touch it. You can go away and never come back. The European analogues are mandrake, henbane, deadly nightshade – all those plants in the medieval witches' brew. It’s very powerful stuff.
It used to be that it took about at least 20 years to really apprentice as a shaman, and now there are people claiming they are shamans within two or three years. There’s no quality control – there’s no knowledge of lineage – so Westerners go online, see “Amazonian retreats” and It doesn’t even occur to them to enquire who the shaman is, what his lineage is, whether he has recommendations… it doesn’t even occur to them. It seems to be a Disneyland mentality.
We do extensive interviews with people before we take them to the Amazon [for ayahuasca retreats]; we go over their medical history, we’re with them working with them on their healing. We take them there to work on their healing within the vegetalista [shamans who use plants to make their cures]. If ayahuasca would be good for them in their healing process, they’ll drink ayahuasca – but if it’s not, they won’t. We follow up when we get back, because you have to.
Everyone will sit in a circle. They’ll make prayers at the beginning, people will drink, they’ll sit back and everyone will start to sing and people will start having visions at some point. If everything’s going well, the shaman will direct the ceremony so everyone has good healings and visions in the ceremony. Then the shaman and the assistant will take everybody out, and everybody goes to bed and has sweet dreams.
On the surface, it may not look that different. It really takes time to discern what’s the real deal and what’s not. If we just watch the way someone walks into the room and talks about the medicine – or the way they introduce themselves to you – you know pretty quick whether they’re the real deal or not.
How many times? So many times that I lost count long ago. I view it now as an adaptogen – it helps you adapt to the constantly changing conditions of evolution. It keeps you on your toes. I grew up on the streets in California and I had some very serious addiction issues and a lot of anger with my family, and ayahuasca has helped me tremendously in overcoming that. I’m a different man after using it for ten years as a plant ally.
Yeah, my mum needed to leave me in an orphanage when I was nine. My creaky middle-class existence just shattered and I got dropped into the criminal class. By the time I was 15 I was drinking so hard that I was waking up in prison, not remembering how I got there. I was out to kill myself with alcohol. I had no family. I had no reason to live. But I had a blessed experience with psychedelic mushrooms here in California, which broke my addiction to alcohol pretty well when I was 16 and it saved my life.
I discovered ayahuasca, I guess, in my late thirties, and I had done many years of Zen Buddhist training at that point. The psychedelics had actually led me to Buddhism. I entered a Zen temple when I was 19 and trained there as a monk with utmost sincerity. I was prepared. I had done years of meditation. I had done some quite sincere therapy as well, and so my soul was on the brink of communing with the wisdom of this plant.
I think what people generally experience is that it’s kind of like going into a waking dream, and what happens is you pass through a kind of threshold where you may be having unusual dreams, you may be hearing something, you may be seeing geometrical patterns. You might hear a song that catches you. You just don’t know how it could happen. And then you find yourself in a deeper visionary state after that, and what you find there is just like how you don’t know what you’re going to dream tonight when you go to sleep – it’s the same thing with ayahuasca.
Transformation into other animals, other plants and other beings is a fairly common experience with ayahuasca. What I needed to break through my ego shell at that point was a powerful influx of energy, and, my god, did that jaguar bring it. Ayahuasca seems to like boas and jaguars. Some people may experience actually becoming a jaguar and going off into the jungle and checking it out. People actually scout – they go out and discover things in the jungle they didn’t know about.
There are some things that this medicine is far better at working with than Western technological medicine, and we could really stand to benefit from a good relationship with it. But as long as we keep treating it as the next exciting drug to experience, we’re headed in the direction of what happened with LSD. We’re only starting to recuperate from the draconian crackdown on the use of LSD, which is also an amazing therapeutic agent, so what’s going on is deeply concerning, and I’m not surprised at all to hear what’s happened with this young man.
By Graham Hancock