Ayahuasca - Journey and Rebirth

Mis à jour : mai 6

“Like the phoenix who needs to pass through destructive fire in order to be reborn, I needed to be ON FIRE in order to feel free and to have part of myself fall to ashes like in a pagan sacrifice. And this desire within me to steal from a bird in order to discover infinity. I preferred intensity rather than longevity. My love life as well as my art became ritually sacrificed on the altar of eternal fire....”

Letter to Marina, Niki de Saint Phalle

If I had the courage and the urge to participate in Ayahuasca rituals, it’s because everything was going wrong and I have an insatiable curiosity. As it also turns out, I hate of the chemical, pharmaceutical products that we swallow continuously to ease any little pain. I am among those who think that these products are more damaging than anything else and that they make our immune defenses as lazy as ourselves. Thus, healing the heart and soul in a natural, traditional and ancestral way seemed like the best option to me.

At the time, I was doing an internship at a Peruvian "haute couture" house. We were putting together the brand’s 15th anniversary collection and we decided to set off to discover the native peoples of Peru in order to represent through our creations this land rich in history and magic. For our clothes, we needed inlays of pearls and for that we called upon some Shipibos artisans. It was my first encounter with indigenous artisans, and what an encounter!

The Shipibos are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Peruvian Amazon. Situated along the Ucayali River in the tropical Amazon forest, this tribe had more or less maintained her identity and today they continue to practice their traditions and shamanic beliefs, such as the Ayahuasca ceremonies. The aim of these rituals is to return to the origin of all things, where the individual sees the creation of the universe, the cosmos, and “the universal set of things”. Everything that exists is a whole, in order to be in equilibrium with oneself and the universe and to be in good health, everything should be in harmony. This representation of a harmonious world is also found in their craftsmanship.

The Shipibos draw geometric shapes, looking like snakeskin patterns, on natural cotton fabric or cotton fabric colored by the bark of mahogany, giving the fabric an ochre color. These patterns are painted using bamboo sticks and crushed berries, which become blue, brown or black once their juice is exposed to air. Some people say that the Shipibos drawings are a type of musical score, that each representation is music, a distinctive healing chant called icaro. The shaman transforms his visions into sounds that the female artists translate into geometric patterns on fabric or ceramics.

Herlinda Agustin is one of the people who gave life to this legend. According to her, a specific design represents a specific song, and vice-versa. She explains that some drawings can sing, at a spiritual level, caused by the ingestion of Ayahuasca. Legend say that two Shipido women painting and singing together on a large ceramic, each working individually on their own side, can produce a perfectly symmetrical design.

What mainly characterises the Shipido culture, is the relationship that the Man has with plants. There is several hundred medicinal plants within the community. I was once even told, that some ethnic groups think each plant is unique, that out of ten roses each has a different power as well as a global power characterising the strain of the plant. And as each individual is different in this same way, we cannot heal two people with the same rose. It’s therefore essential to find one that vibrates with the same tones as the ill person.

With my colleague, we went to met a family from this community, who were living on the outskirts of Lima. Of course, the designer didn't accompany us, as we’re talking about one of the most dangerous locations in the city. As a precaution, we enlisted the services of a chauffeur/bodyguard in order to have some protection. As a foreign women, I had the highest likelihood of being attacked. After a very long drive from the city, we arrived in the slum and it was a shock... As a young French woman from a middle-class family, who lived in a small, quiet seaside town, I had never been confronted by this reality before.

The houses were made of sheet metal and pieces of wood, they were makeshift, wonky constructions, men were lying on the floor, drunk, others drinking hard until they would end up joining their friends.

The area is so dangerous that there is an armed police officer every 10 metres.

We had an appointment with the family that the designer had met in Mancora. The wife was waiting for us at the entrance of the camp. She showed us the Shipiba school, where the local children were learning to read, write, count and also weave like their ancestors and according to their traditions. The community came from the Amazon forest to settle in Lima 20 years ago, when their habitat had been destroyed by logging and ecological terrorism. Unfortunately, nowadays, the political focus is on cleaning up this slum, which would expel them once again. After having lost the beauty of the jungle, which was so important in their eyes, for the insecure outskirts of Lima, they must now find another solution once again.

The mother of the family then invited us into her family home. She, her husband, and their five children lived in a single small room of about ten meters squared, with a simple mattress in the middle, a sink and a fire on the floor for cooking. No shower, no toilet, nothing but a single mezzanine room with makeshift beds on the top and bottom floors.

A puff from the Big Bad Wolf would easily cause the house to collapse.

It upset me to see the family living in these conditions, especially since we were asking to haggle with them about the price of the work they would be supplying for us. I’ll let you imagine the feeling that would overwhelm you, if we asked you to negotiate the art of people who have absolutely nothing, on behalf of people who have everything and more. But rest assured, we did not follow instruction, we even increased their prices.

In our luxury car driven by a private driver, the journey back was completely silent.

Even though I have always been a big defender of injustice, from that day on, I dedicated myself to equality for all and respect for ancestral indigenous crafts.

Several weeks later, they came to visit us in our studio. We could no longer go to visit them, as after our somewhat noticed arrival, they feared for our safety. The father of the family showed us some paintings he had done with the hope of them being displayed in a museum in Lima. These paintings, were vibrant retransmissions of visions caused by taking ayahuasca. He explained the rituals to us, then my colleague and I looked at each other, in unison we asked him if he could recommend us a shaman. My colleague wanted to know the rituals of his ancestors, whereas I was searching for my limits, for something that could help me to escape myself and go beyond this societal model that I no longer supported. I wanted to see life in a different way and bingo, this was it!

Ayahuasca is not a harmless potion. It’s a strong mix of lianas and other ancestral plants, which has been consumed since the dawn of time by shamans of indigenous Amazonian tribes and is used to trigger states of divinatory trance. It involves taking pure DMT* for a minimum of three hours..

The word Ayahuasca comes from the Quechua word “aya” which means ancestor, soul, or deceased and “huasca” which means vine, cord.

This drink contains the energy of ancient spirits. It’s the link that unites us to them and helps us to find harmony with nature and our loved ones by taking us on an interior journey.

The first meeting with the healer was only a discussion. We already knew that we had contacted a qualified person, but this meeting made us feel even more reassured. Needless to say, at the start, he would not speak to me. He told me, that for me it would be very expensive, because I was only a white woman who wanted to try it, just like how we want to try the latest fashionable drug. For my colleague, it would almost be free, just a matter of paying for the ingredients, because he is Peruvian. But as soon as I explained to him that he was wrong, and I showed him that I was sincere, and told him that I respected his traditions and that I really needed help, he accepted.

This medicine-man then explained to us restrictions that we would have to follow during the week in order to be present at the session: no sex, meat, dairy products, salt, tobacco or other drugs until the ceremony. No eating or drinking after 1pm on the day itself.

We diligently followed the instructions and the D day arrived..

After a long day at work, we left to see our guide, powerful intermediary between humanity and the spirits of nature. Needless to say, it is recommended to have the experience in the jungle rather than in the capital, but it is another experience that we have been given to live. He lived in a sort of garage in an area of Lima, which wasn't exactly well reputed. After having knocked on the door in a funny rythme, in order to highlight the secret adventure effect of the experience, it opened. The first time, there was nothing but a table in the middle of the room. This time it was unrecognisable, there were six mattresses on the floor, with blankets and a pillow on each one of them, a feint smell of incense and fresh plants filled the room with their smells.

We each chose our mattress and sat down cross-legged as the shaman finished preparing the concoction.

Other people arrived, then, the medicine-man came to us one by one, to blow tobacco on our heads and on the back of the neck in order to purify us and to expel evil spirits. He then “blew/spat” agua de florida on our faces and sang icaros.

Since then I can't get this one out of my head :

" Abrete corazon y recuerda como el espiritu cura,

el amor sana, el arbol florece y la vida perdura " *

We drank the brew, the colour of which wasn’t exactly appealing and the taste fit perfectly with its appearance. After each of us received our own icaros, chants which serve to guide us on the path of our healing, we lay down on our mattresses in the dark waiting for the visions to arrive. During this time, we had to think about things that we would like the plant to deal with.

It’s really quite complicated for me to explain what it feels like after taking ayahuasca because it is beyond what you can imagine. From then on, every person I’ve met who went through this experience, says the same thing to me; It's about sensations that you can’t describe by words in our vocabulary, because they are completely beyond our reality.

After around thirty minutes, my vision began to change. I have never felt so light and happy, it was as if the universe had filled me with love until I was about to explode. Things no longer had the same magnitude. Everything seemed so beautiful and so important. I remember a moment where we heard music coming in from the street. I don’t know if this was really worth anything, but both me and my colleague had the same reaction; it was the most beautiful melody that we had ever heard!

Slowly, I saw myself being divided into three different people, the me lying there - another Aurélie sat down and eagerly watching my journey going swimmingly, and the third microscopic version of me preparing to go on a journey in my own body like an episode of “The magic school bus” or “Once upon a Time... Life”. At the same time that I was feeling the plant spread inside of me, I accompanied it and showed it the parts of my body which were damaged by stories from my short life. Each time my mini-me reached a part of my body filled with negative energy from the past, I had a spasm and felt as if the energy was escaping my body from that exact place.

Each time this step occurred, people, who I had immediately considered to be “great minds”, were leaning over me in the middle of an endless black expanse, sparkling with brightly coloured lines. Was I still inside my body or was I at the centre of the universe? In any case, it really was a wonderful place, reminding me these paintings that we had been taught about several weeks before. I thought about constellations, a type of map of the universe and time where stories and places mix. The great minds were in full debate, asking if they should help me and show me the right path or not. I witnessed my own judgement, we had a discussion and yet no words were spoken.

During three hours of visions, my double took care of me, by reassuring me about that this situation would not last forever, that it would help me to feel better, that I shouldn’t be scared, because everything would go well, and that it would bring confidence to my life. It was that very evening, that I realised the significance of the verb “to see”.

From then on, I have understood the power of nature, of mutual support, and I have a completely different outlook on life. Nothing had the same taste and even the most insignificant things showed their great importance to me. I no longer ate meat, in fact I hate that word, I always say that I would never eat an animal. I have understood what I want to do with my life, and how I should live it. I have succeeded in forgiveness, telling myself “it's the past” and saying “thank you” because it brought me to this special point. I have understood that you have to let life run without trying to direct it, that it was enough to go with the flow, that I should fight for the things I believe in. I have understood the place that I have on earth and in time. And it’s thanks to that magical night that, some months later, Uekani was created.

Aurélie Sonnet

This English translation has been possible thanks to the PerMondo project: Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations. A project managed by Mondo Agit. Translator: Katherine Scott

* DMT: dimethyltryptamine is a powerful psychotic substance.

* Open your heart and remember how the spirit heals, love heals, trees bloom and life endures.