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The Shaman & Ayahuasca
by Don José Campos
Michael Wiese Productions, 2011
Review by Peter Clark
Shadowy mysteries of the jungle spirit undulate through these pages…
Ayahuasca is a seduction of expansive consciousness, healing magic, and an opening of boxes that keep one enclosed…
Don José Campos is an Ayahuascero – a shaman who works with the spirit, power, and energy of two plants. Ancient family recipes are passed down from generation to generation, mixing Banisteriopsis caapi – bark of the ayahuasca vine; and Psychotria viridis – selected leaves of chacruna. More broadly, Don José is a vegetalista, or curandero – a traditional healer who works with the enigmatic powers of the plants of the South American jungles. This book tells his story, some parts of the stories of the publisher and editor who came to meet him and experience Ayahuasca first hand, and finally, this book introduces the reader to the complex Ayahuasca spirit her self.
Reading this text is like sitting around a fire and listening to the stories and experiences of Don José and his friends. The book in fact came out of a series of interviews and recorded conversations, so the words come off the page in the way of the spoken. The manner is informal and accessible, but nonetheless conveys the depth of experience well – as much as is possible without actually partaking of Ayahuasca in the physical. Indeed, though the physical experience of Ayahuasca is intense and powerful, one can also meet and work with this commanding and assertive spirit in the non-physical realm. After deciding to read this book and posting the article written by publisher Michael Wiese telling of his encounters with Ayahuasca and Don José, the very next morning when I awoke, I looked out a window in my bedroom and saw a jungle – not the usual Vermont landscape. I blinked my eyes to check if I was dreaming – I was definitely awake. The jungle – large broad leaves – was right up against the window. I got out of bed. Still I saw the jungle – no Vermont forest scenes. I took one step towards the window – the jungle remained. With the next step, the Vermont landscape returned. I knew that Ayahuasca was aware of me, and my choices. As I write this, I feel the electric current flow through me that tells me the spirits agree too.
In this book, Don José tells of his life, his path of becoming a curandero. He writes about his teachers, and we meet some of them in the pages. A small swathe of jungle life and history unfolds through his stories. As a healer, Don José works with the spirits of the plants and animals of the jungle, and it is through the intervention of these spirits that those who come for help are healed. But it is not a free ride to health. Sacrifice is required – those who wish to be healed must be willing to commit to the process – careful attention to diet, complete abstention from sexual activities, and dedication to following whatever other guidance the spirits convey. In the healing process, one must be an active participant, and often, Ayahuasca spirit does not offer a smooth and easy path on which to walk.
There is clearly a physical aspect to meeting and working with Ayahuasca, starting with the way one prepares to take it and the recipe used in the creation of the brew. The biochemical reaction within one’s body is undeniably pervasive, though different people have extremely varied experiences. But the long term ramifications of following or not following healing directives given by the spirit(s) through the vegetalista illustrate the significance of understanding that there is more than a purely physical encounter underway. Don José makes it clear that this is a spiritual healing, a spiritual process:
It is important to understand that one is not ingesting a liquid, one is ingesting the spirit of the plant. One then acquires the mariri and one advances spiritually. With the plants, the process of spiritual advancement is accelerated. One enters the world of the spirit of plants, the world of the spirits of the animals. One enters the world of the spirit of the elements: Fire, Air, Earth and Water. Plants will accelerate one’s understanding of these things. Yes, the plants will take us to this level. (page 7)
Though this book is credited to Don José, it is much more a book written by Ayahuasca herself – channeled through Don José and an entourage of connected humans. One beautiful part of the telling of this story by Ayahuasca is an entire chapter of the visions and experiences of those who commune with the plant spirit. Here is an excerpt of one of Geraldine’s experiences:
I look further up through the maloca and see huge faces in the parting of the clouds. They look down on me and smile. There are men and women with fabulous jeweled headdresses. They have beautiful intelligent faces and they carry something like jagged spears. They are speaking to me, telling me they are the creator gods, Earth gods. And to punctuate their sentences, they fling out the jagged spears, THUNDERBOLTS! At the end of every sentence, POW! Over the cloud goes the thunderbolt, and we are all shaken in the maloca with the grandiose flashings and crashing. We cheer them on. More lightening! More thunder! We are all in this grand communion. We whistle, we sing, we raise our arms, and all the little birds sing too, and the chacapas of the wind, and the rain, and the thunder, in beautiful mutual adoration. Don José laughs, “Wow, Cool!” Artur plays his guitar and sings his wonderful songs, Alberto and Don José get out their instruments and play and whistle to the birds, and the birds whistle back. I feel I’m in heaven and close my eyes… (page 69)
A key part of the ceremony, the healing of Ayahuasca, is contained within the songs sung by the Ayahuascero. These songs are words and notes and melodies of the spirit herself. She sends her frequencies, her vibrations out through the vocal chords, lungs, and mouth of the shaman. These haunting, beautiful, almost indescribable songs are just as much the key that opens the door to healing and consciousness evolution as the psychotropic substance itself. These songs, these vocal expressions of the complex presence of Ayahuasca spirit, are called icaros. Don José writes:
My icaros do change over time. I want to explain what icaros means. Icaro, in the language of the vegetalistas means, “healing.” With the icaro I’m going to heal you. With the icaro I’m going to make you sane. As you take the plants, you acquire the mariri, which is an inner power that when matured, and combined with a song, is what makes the icaro effective. (page 21)
One of the many highlights of this book is a visit with Pablo Amaringo, world renowned artist of Ayahuasca visions. Included in the text are images of some of his paintings. And we are treated to some of his stories and history. Earlier in his life, he was a powerful vegetalista healer. Not all spirit workers are healers – some get seduced by the power of non-compassionate spirits. They focus only on increasing their own power – through both the people and the spirits they associate with. This is often done at the expense of others. In Pablo’s days as a vegetalista healer – an Ayahuascero, he came across some people who had illnesses that had been set into motion due to spiritual attacks. He helped these people, then received threats from those who had initiated the attacks. He was told that he must kill or be killed. The third option was to cease his healing practice. He made that choice, and instead found his artistic gift. Many might agree that he shape shifted his healing practice into a form not recognizable by the antagonists. He conveyed the message of the Ayahuasca spirit through his amazing paintings.
This book contains many more gems. It is a book about a culture and a spiritual practice, but mostly it is a delightful, thoroughly accessible, introduction to a most amazing spirit. The use of Ayahuasca is perhaps one way to get beyond the blocks and barriers that keep us from realizing our full human potential. There are other ways as well. The way of the jungle spirits, the way of Ayahuasca, is not for the faint of heart or the undisciplined. But it is way with a long history and set of traditions behind it. And these ways are experiencing a renaissance today. This book is a wonderful way to dip your toes in that expanding pool of consciousness, to taste a small sample of the Ayahuasca renaissance without flying to South America. You may be looking up airfares while you read it!
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About the Author
Peter Clark, MA, MS, ATH Assistant Editor of Shamanism, is a lifelong scientist and educator, has always held a fascination with the cosmos and the nature of reality. It is hard to say when his shamanic path began, but there are early roots of it deep in his pre-teen years. In the early 1990’s after a spiritual awakening, Peter began a devoted practice that includes yoga, meditation, systemic balancing and shamanic healing. His work integrates seamlessly the concepts found in quantum physics with the spiritual path of shamanic healing. Over the years, Peter has been involved in a number of advanced shamanic healing programs, and has been a practitioner since 2005. He is a graduate of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Three-Year Program in Advanced Initiations in Shamanism and Shamanic Healing. Peter's specialties include extraction healing, soul retrieval, channeling, land and house spirit communication, past life healing, and divination. He is on the faculty of the Foundation, teaching with Sarah Finlay in the Canadian Maritimes. Their website is www.shamansflame.com.