The people of the Andes have been using local plants for thousands of years as medicines, and the use of local plans for medicine is still quite popular. For example, coca leaves (from which cocaine is derived artificially) is used naturally in teas, as chew, and in other medicinal ways.
Two other plants are the ayahuasca vine and San Pedro cactus. Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic, producing visions for those searching for insight. The San Pedro is sometimes called a psychotropic, like ayahuasca, but tends to produce “heightened sensation” rather than hallucinations. Another way of saying it, though pretty darn superficial and ignorant, is that ayahuasca enables seekers an intense 5-6 hour ride through dark visions (which I think is kind of like Jung’s Shadow) while San Pedro enables seekers through a gentler 12 hour ride through light visions. I have no doubt I’m misrepresenting these two ceremonies, but that’s how I understand them now.
Anyway, this last weekend I did the San Pedro ceremony. A new friend of mine had visited a shaman the week before to check her out, and after I heard what she had learned, decided it was one of those things I had to try on this journey. I did what research I could, learned what I could, and felt it was safe and had potential for learning insight. So on Sunday morning, the three of us left Cusco for the hour long taxi ride to Urubamba (just $2.50 each!) and made our way to the home of the shaman, a woman from Michigan, of all places, named Victoria. Her friend, Ezekial, a local man steeped in numerology and Andean spirituality, joined us.
It was a beautiful day – sunny, warm, sweet smelling in her front yard filled with flowers, fruit trees and other verdant and aromatic plants. We spread out a quilt in the grass, sat down, and she told us about the ceremony, the plant, what to expect and answered our questions. When I did my research I had learned that San Pedro is a form of mescaline, but she explained that she had cooked the mescaline out of the batch we would be drinking. She explained it like this. The San Pedro plant is an intense cleanser, that cleanses the liver, which in turn cleanses the blood, which in turn feeds the brain and all of our cells with purer energy and more oxygen. All four systems in our bodies – physical, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional – benefit from this cleansing. For those who know about such things, San Pedro works directly on the heart shakra. I asked what to expect and she replied, “don’t expect anything. Just see what you notice.” I did know that it would take about an hour or so for the San Pedro to “kick in” and that the ride would last about 12 hours.
Prior to coming to the ceremony, we three also fasted from a list Victoria gave us – no meat, fat, flour, caffeine, dairy, citrus or spicy foods. Oh, and no sex, which was the easiest to comply with here.
Once we had all of our questions answered, we each drank about 2 cups of a warm amber liquid that looked and tasted like gourd tea. I found it pleasant enough, but others found it bitter. No one hurled though, at least at the first cup.
Then we sat back and talked and waited. I have never taken any drug stronger than weed back in my youth, and one reason was that I never trusted that any supplier would care enough about me to give me something safe. But I decided to trust Victoria after hearing her story. It did help some knowing that her medicine had no mescaline in it, but still….I’m in the Peruvian Andes, around 10,000 feet, on the outskirts of a town named Urubamba, drinking a liquid that is supposed to elicit visions, brewed from a cactus with the name San Pedro. Plus, I’m in the Sacred Valley, full of ancient spiritual power, near the place known as the “navel of the world”. And I’m downing this tea like it was chamomile. So I drink and sit back…and wait.
After about an hour, I DID feel something. Colors were clearer, my vision was sharper, and I became fascinated with how the plants looked. Not hallucinations or visions, but just able to notice more of what was naturally around me. We also did a lot of talking, and I noticed that I was speaking faster than normal, or at least it seemed that way. I also noticed that I didn’t use complete sentences as much as I usually do. Then I noticed that I was vibrating a lot, yet when I held my hand out it was steady as ever. Victoria explained that because of the cleansing my body was able to move energy faster and with less effort and what I was feeling was that energy vibrating faster than usual. My friend, a nurse, took her pulse and saw that it was normal. It sort of felt like you do when you have too much caffeine, but when I have too much caffeine I can’t focus very well – I get all ADHD-ish. With the San Pedro, I was able to focus deeper and longer than normal.
This was all about the 2-3 hour mark, when we took another gulp of the San Pedro. I was feeling pretty good, yet wanted to see if a bit more would enhance what I was experiencing.
Sometime around the 4-5 hour mark, I (in reflection) shifted to another place that was very mellow, not feeling the need to speak but sometimes doing it. I felt my creativity come out, and we 5 talked about a WIDE range of topics – personal histories, numerology, Andes religion and history, how modern society separates humans from nature, the ability of the world to absorb pollution, the balance and integration of yin/yang (left/right brain, masculine/feminine, heart/mind), lunar calendar vs. GrecoRoman calendar, worshipping Pacha Mamma (mother earth), how a gringo like me can show respect to Pacha Mamma when I visit Machu Picchu next week (make a sacrifice of good wine and show proper reverence and intention for the visit), the disintegration of the family, how we Westerners misinterpret “poverty”.
(Quick aside on this last point: Ezekial, who is from both Peru and the US told a story of a friend of his who sent his daughter to a “poor” community to learn to appreciate what she had. The daughter came back with an entirely opposite view. She came back saying, “They have 3 dogs, I only have one. They have rabbits, goats and chickens, and I don’t have those at all. They live with their entire family all day, I only see you and Mom at night at dinner, sometimes. They have lots of cousins to play with and aunts, uncles and grandparents to talk to. My cousins live far away, and I hardly know them. They sing songs and tell stories around a fire every night. We watch TV or work on the computer and don’t talk. They use free plants to stay healthy and recover from sickness. We have to go to expensive hospitals. They laugh a lot, and we don’t.” I paraphrased this a bit, because I did NOT take my iPod recorder with me, but most of this is what Ezekial told me and it’s all in the spirit of what he was saying.)
After dark, we moved inside and Victoria and Ezekial lit a fire in the fireplace that blazed for the next 8 hours, making the room comfortably warm. As we all laid back on mattresses wrapped in locally made wool blankets, we got even mellower. However, we also laughed A LOT. Mostly it was because my other friend was just a funny guy. Ezekial, a self avowed left brainer, after a few hours, claimed that he had never laughed so much during a San Pedro ceremony, and that his liver hurt. Which I presume was a good thing.
Time seemed to float by and it was soon midnight, when Ezekial brought out cookies and cheese to break our fast, followed an hour later by a really delicious soup.
We eventually fell asleep around 2:30am, and woke up around 10am the next morning, with no effects other than a little soreness from sleeping on the floor.
So, what did I “get” from my San Pedro ceremony? I’m still thinking about it. I didn’t see visions of who Dave 3.0 could be. There was no epiphany. There were no hallucinations, or terrifying trips through the Dark side. It was really very pleasant. Throughout the evening, I got a lot of affirming feedback from the group that my opinion and perspective on and questions about all those topics (above) were, at least, shared by them. Victoria, as the shaman, says that she usually has to sing out mean spirits that attach themselves to her “clients”. However, late in the night she looked at Ezekial and announced that none of us three HAD any mean spirits attached to us. She claimed we were all healthy. When I asked why we didn’t have mean spirits when it seemed that all her other clients did, she just said that we three have lived pure lives and hadn’t created any weaknesses or ports for mean spirits to get into us, even though they are around us.
So I got THAT going for me. Which is nice.
At the very least, my San Pedro ceremony provided a beautifully relaxing 12 hours with really special people. I envision a time when just hanging around with friends for 12 hours talking, relaxing, laughing, reflecting, without trying to prove anything, project anything, gain anything, in a totally natural environment fed by natural foods, breathing pure air, drinking pure water from a mountain stream – when that kind of experience was normal and frequent. When did I last have that? When did I last hang around with friends or family where there was no alcohol, caffeine, high fructose syrup, TV, artificial light, noisy traffic, people not listening to each other, or busy schedules requiring an abrupt departure? I honestly can’t remember. Maybe when I was a Boy Scout and we were camping?
If nothing else, my San Pedro ceremony showed me that such an experience is something I want to create in my Dave 3.0 life. I don’t need San Pedro to do it, but my San Pedro ceremony showed me, or perhaps reminded me, that I have been going through life somewhat blind to what is surrounding me. And that whatever I HAVE been doing, as good and healthy as it was, isn’t the same as the scene I just described. I want more of that. I want to experience the kind of connection with my family and friends as I had this weekend with 4 other people I didn’t even know 10 days ago. So there’s another feature of Dave 3.0!
And that is what I learned from my San Pedro ceremony.