14 May 2011 Catalystmagazine.

Ayahuasca is changing how
we see our world. Over the past
two or three decades, its use
has spread beyond the confines
of the jungle and has come to
the attention of Western culture.
In the past five years, legacy
media outlets from the New York
Times to Time magazine have run
articles on ayahuasca. Last
October Delta Airlines’ in-flight
Sky magazine included a piece
on ayahuasca tourism. Then, this
January, FoxNews.com ran an
article sympathetic to ayahuasca
practice and use. Something
fundamental is going on.
All artwork by
Pablo Amaringo
See page 18 for information
on Pablo and his art.
Americans on ayahuasca
The earth speaks to us through the Amazonian tradition.
bain.ayahuasca_1105.gb.qxp:Farver_BROTM 4/28/11 5:47 AM Page 1
Ayahuasca, the shamans say,
has a message for us.
A casual description of the
ayahuasca experience sometimes
sounds like a thumbnail sketch of
hell. Yet this Amazonian psychedelic
medicinal tea has shown countless
people how to conquer their fears
and embrace love and life, coming
away changed, happier, and more at
ease with their lives.
Amazonian tribes have been in -
gesting the brew ritually for millennia.
In recent decades, Shamanic retreats
catering to thousands of spiritual
tourists seeking the aya huasca ex -
perience have sprung up through out
the Amazon basin and into Central
America. Clearly, the world is begin-
ning to pay attention.
Ayahuasca’s heritage is one of
healing. In the Amazon it is known
as la purga (the purge) for its ability
to swiftly clear the gastrointestinal
tract and remove any parasites
dwelling there. It’s also used to treat
many other illnesses and human
The curanderos or ayahuasqueros,
who guide people on these journeys,
are often the principal source of med -
ical assistance in Amazonian villages
far from any city or hospital. They
also function as psychologists, dis-
pute mediators and spiritual guides
for their communities.
Ayahuasca is not an easy, instant-
gratification karma cleanser. It is not
a commodity; it’s a rite of passage.
The visionary artist Alex Grey has
described the experience as “a very
humbling taste of Buddhahood
mixed with swimming in the swill of
my own vomit!”
One woman’s voyage
Ayahuasca is idiosyncratic, and
everyone who takes it will experience
it in a different way. Salt Lake-based
psychic Margaret Ruth agreed to talk
with me about her recent journey to
an ayahuasca retreat in the jungle
around Iquitos, Peru—her first expe-
rience with the tea. “It was a vision
quest,” she says. “It was wanting a
broader experience with the uni-
verse, and a way to heighten my
own senses and my own awareness.”
Margaret Ruth says she was taken
to a place she had not expected, but
it was profound. “I was given an
enormous amount of information
about the nature of mother energy.
Being able to touch that—the spirit
of creation, touching how deeply
that spirit loves everything—was
amazing. I was aware of all this love
radiating from the earth toward us—
I mean, you can think about it and
feel it emotionally, but to ‘get it’ at
the first and second chakra level was
very calming. I came out of the experi-
ence much calmer and more secure.
Not all of her experience was love
and light. “But the Earth mother said
to me to look again—because from
the point of view of the big picture,
she always wins. It was a sure, calm-
ing energy, and this definite idea
that wars and aggression and pollu-
tion can come through into reality,
but that in the end they will never
Margaret Ruth describes her expe-
rience as full-body, not just visual.” It
was multidimensional. I had an
energetic experience, and my brain
assigned images to that experience
—for instance, on the night of the
last ceremony I was feeling nauseous
and coughing a lot, having trouble
getting to where I could vomit prop-
erly. The shaman said to me, ‘let the
wizard next to you help you.’ I
looked up and saw a warrior chief-
Ayahuasca has been described by various sources
as “10 years of therapy in a single night,” and there
are thousands of written accounts—on the Internet
and published in books—that describe the tea’s
psychological healing effects.
The ayahuasca tea is brewed
from two primary components: the
crushed bark of the ayahuasca vine
(Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves
of a different plant, traditionally
chacruna (Psychotria viridis). The
chacruna leaves provide dimethyl-
tryptamine (DMT), a naturally-occur-
ring psychedelic found in many
plants and animals, which is also
created in small quantities in the
pineal gland of the human brain.
DMT is a very strong hallucinogenic,
but it is usually broken down by the
digestive tract before sufficient
quantities of it can be absorbed by
the body to create a psychedelic
trance state. The ayahuasca vine
component of the tea provides a
monoamine oxidase inhibitor
(MAOI), which inhibits metabolic
enzymes and allows the DMT in the
tea to enter the bloodstream and
become active in the brain. The
experience is intense. Even though
our brains both make DMT and uti-
lize it metabolically in very small
amounts, in larger doses it is one of
the strongest psychedelic sub-
stances known to humanity. It has
been theorized that the vivid near-
death or out-of-body experiences
undergone spontaneously by some
people are the result of a DMT
release cascade occurring naturally
in the brain.
Continued on next page...
bain.ayahuasca_1105.gb.qxp:Farver_BROTM 4/28/11 5:48 AM Page 2
tain with a raven’s head standing
next to me, who was ready to help
me let go and release the old, icky
energy inside. That energy felt like
snakes inside me, and that was why
I was coughing so much. The songs
that the shaman was singing created
a ‘puking’ energy that helped me to
vomit! The shaman was very clearly
crafting the energy of the situation.”
The last two nights of Margaret
Ruth’s retreat were intense, and she
says she won the “puke award” for
the number of times she vomited.
Vomiting is integral to the spiritual
healing potential of ayahuasca.
Purging is a physiological result of
metabolizing the tea, but it’s not a
side effect to be endured—it’s
embraced as part of the experience,
expected, and planned for. Bring
your own bucket!
“A clean understanding”
It can be difficult to understand
how what might look like ritualized
group bulimia can help people heal
their spiritual and emotional
wounds, but it makes sense within
the context of the experience. If you
talk to someone who has taken part
in ayahuasca healing ceremonies,
you may sometimes hear them refer
to vomiting up psychic parasites,
“entities,” that had been living
inside them and feeding off their
life force. A Salt Lake City musician
who chooses to remain anonymous
also talked with me about her expe-
rience with the tea, and how it
seemed to her that she was literally
puking up her problems.
The visions were coming on
strong and she began to feel nause-
ated. “It’s not the straightforward
sick feeling you get from food poi-
soning. It was coming from the tips
of my fingers and toes and the roots
of my hair. Everything felt electric,
like I was being shocked all over.”
Through the visions she saw her
mother, with whom she had been at
odds for many years. “I felt how
much I cared for her and how much
her rejection hurt me. Sud denly her
whole history presented itself in front
of me, and I could see how she got to
be who she was, and how the behav-
ior between us had evolved over the
years to become this negative feed-
back loop that had its own life.”
That journey also gave her a clean
understanding of how she could
begin to fix things—by dropping her
end of that behavioral loop, and
through simple efforts such as
telling her mother she loved her
(even—and especially—when she
16 May 2011 Catalystmagazine.net Continued:
bain.ayahuasca_1105.gb.qxp:Farver_BROTM 4/28/11 5:49 AM Page 3
felt no such thing), letting herself be
vulnerable, reaching out to her
without grasping at her, and teach-
ing herself to react differently to her.
“I had known logically what the
problems were, but I’d never been
able to get out from behind the
pain. I never had any experience of
compassion—it was mostly just
anger and betrayal. But in ceremo-
ny I felt empathy and love for both
Mom and myself in a way I’d never
experienced before. As this aware-
ness settled itself in my mind, the
sickness in my body reached a
crescendo and I vomited —and I
mean projectile-style, whole-body-
spasm vomiting; there was nothing
subtle or quiet about it!—I vomited
my whole sickness into the bucket,
and the weight of the problem went
with it.
“The relief you always feel after
you’ve puked up something that’s
making you sick—that bodily feel-
ing of relief—got integrated into my
experience of the situation. I can’t
exaggerate this—it really feels as if
Elvis is leaving the building.”
Metaphorical healing
Psychedelic, trance-state visions
are compelling, and people are
often confused or scared by them.
The information that you get
through an ayahuasca ceremony
walks the line between real and
imaginary, but does not lose power
through being allegorical. Are peo-
ple literally puking up demons? And
does it matter, if the resultant heal-
ing is real?
Thirty years ago, Salt Lake City
acupuncturist and O.M.D. Natalie
Clausen attended her first ayahuas-
ca ceremony and met a shaman
from Peru named Augustine, with
whom she later studied. In the
intervening years, she has been to
Peru many times, attended nearly
100 ayahuasca ceremonies, and led
several groups to Peru for retreats.
“Ayahuasca is metaphorical,” she
says. “I have done enough and got-
ten enough very clear and specific
information through the ceremonies
that has not lived itself out. Ayahuas -
ca gives you information, but each
person has the freedom to do what
they want with that information.
Ayahuasca in its native cultures
was always about survival, Clausen
says. “In the Amazon, the hunters in
the tribe would have an ayahuasca
ritual before the hunt, to help them
work better together as a team. The
shamans would use it to heal peo-
ple. We take it now to help us
expand our consciousness.”
Ayahuasca breaks down barriers,
whether they are external—to co -
operation between the individuals
of a group—or internal, such as the
ego’s resistance to the overwhelming
abundance of information made
available by the universe. It shakes
things up and offers a different per-
“Ayahuasca gives you the gift of
uncovering a part of yourself that
needed work,” Clausen says. “It’s
your own psyche that takes you
where you need to go. I have seen
many people run away because
they don’t want to deal with their
fears and the lack of control.
Ayahuasca is different for different
people, but it always has a way of
showing us what we are most afraid
of. Then we have a choice, whether
we choose to go back where we
were, or to move on. It’s a mistake
to take it on a literal level—it is a
survival tool for consciousness.”
The science
behind the substance
Antidepressant drugs that block
certain actions in the brain, allowing
the accumulation of “feel good”
neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopa -
mine, norepinephrine) are called
monoamine oxidase inhibitors
(MAOIs). Anyone who is prescribed
a drug from this family is aware of
specific (and potentially lethal) food
and drug interactions.
Ayahuasca also contains MAOIs.
Anyone serious about partaking of
this plant is advised to apply the
same cautions here. Responsible
online sites (AYAHUASCA.COM,
EROWID.COM) offer details regarding
food, drug and herbal interactions.
The personal preparation for an
The ayahuasca tea
does not “cure” your
physical ailments in
the mechanical sense.
What it does do,
however, is to give
you a far deeper
understanding of what
is going on in your
body, and a familiarity
with your illness that
isn’t available to you
any other way.
Continued on next page...
Amana Orange
Amish Paste
Ananas Noir
Anna Russian
Arkansas Traveler
Aunt Ruby’s
German Green
Azoychka Russian
Banana Legs
Black Cherry
Black From Tula
Black Krim
Black Prince
Black Seaman
Box Car Willie
Brandywine, Black,
Red, and Yellow
Bull’s Heart
Bush Beefsteak
Caspian Pink
Chianti Rose
Cherokee Green
Cherokee Purple
Costoluto Genovese
Crimson Carmello
Currant, Gold Rush
Dr Wyches
Early Girl
Fantastic, and
Super Fantastic
First Light
Fourth of July
Garden Peach
German Johnson Pink
Goliath’s Bush
Goliath’s Early
Gold Medal
Great White
Green Grape
Green Zebra
Isis Candy
Italian Tree
Japanese Black Trifle
Jaune Flammee
Jet Star
Kellogg’s Breakfast
Legend (Parthenocarpic)
Lillian’s Yellow
Mariana’s Peace
Mexican Midget
Mortgage Lifter
Mr. Stripy
Old German
Omar’s Lebanese
Oregon Spring
Pruden’s Purple
Principe Borghese
Red Grape
Red Pear
San Marzano
Siletz (Parthenocarpic)
Silvery Fir Tree
Speckled Roman
Sun Gold
Sun Sugar
Super Snow White
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Wins All
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Yellow Pear
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ayahuasca healing ceremony can be
casual or painstaking, depending on
one’s intentions. Some participants
spend days or weeks following a spe-
cial diet that excludes fermented
foods, stimulants and intoxicants.
This cleansing also prepares the
body to effectively metabolize the
MAO inhibitors, DMT and other
alkaloids in the tea.
A different approach
to depression?
Ayahuasca has been described by
various sources as “10 years of thera-
py in a single night.” Thou sands of
written accounts—on the Internet
and in books—describe the tea’s psy-
chological healing effects. Outside
the context of traditional shamanis-
tic healing, ayahuasca has been
adopted as a sacrament by at least
two formally recognized syncretic
churches, the Santo Daime and the
União do Vegetal (UDV). In 2008, the
Supreme Court of the United States
upheld a lower court’s deci-
sion, and the UDV won the
right to use ayahuasca
(“Hoasca tea”) in their cere-
monies at their U.S.
churches. “A wide array of
religious groups, including
Mormons, Catholic bish-
ops, Jews, Seventh-day
Adventists, Hindus and
Sikhs, filed briefs in favor of
the UDV and the religious
freedom law,” according to
a November 2005 Religion
News Service article pub-
lished in the Salt Lake
Dr. Charles Grob, a psy-
chiatric researcher at UCLA, con-
ducted an in-depth study of UDV
members that not only was the tea
not hurting them physically, but
that the members also universally
credited the tea-taking ceremonies
with helping them conquer depres-
sion, addiction and anxiety.
By studying the chemical action
of the ayahuasca brew on the brain,
Grob discovered that the tea worked
in a different way from traditional
antidepressants, enhancing the
body’s ability to utilize the neuro-
transmitter serotonin instead of
simply stimulating it to produce
more. This sensitization appears to
be, as he says, a “more sophisticated”
way of approaching the chemical
root of psychological issues. Under
traditional SSRI antidepressant
therapy, the brain may actually
compensate for artificially high
serotonin levels by reducing its sen-
sitivity—so ayahuasca sidesteps this
issue altogether.
A path to
overcoming addiction?
Overcoming addiction is one of the
most promising therapeutic benefits
of the ceremonial use of ayahuasca.
A Salt Lake businessman who
requested anonymity agreed to talk
with me about his experiences using
ayahuasca as an aid to break his
addiction to cocaine.
“The first time I went to do
ayahuasca, I was actually on cocaine
when I arrived at the ceremony. I had
heard that ayahuasca helped with
addiction, but I didn’t understand it
at all. I went in and it was so awful.
Only after I’d taken the tea and start-
ed the ceremony did I realize how
dangerous it was. It’s a testament to
how resilient my body and my brain
are that I even survived.
He describes his visions as melt-
ing celluloid—like when a strip of
film gets caught in the projector
and melts away. “Every image that
came to me, one frame after anoth-
er, all melted away in front of the
hot lamp. I could literally see how
damaging the cocaine was, and how
it was affecting my brain in the
same way —that melting celluloid
was my brain!
“As the ceremony went on, I real-
ized that the spirits around me were
forcing me to talk, to tell someone
what was going on with me. We
weren’t supposed to talk at all during
the ceremony, but I understood that
if I did not tell someone about my
problem with cocaine, I wasn’t
going to make it through the night.”
He found a friend in the ceremony
and told her, confessing that he
needed help.
“I’d like to say that this was the
last time I ever used coke, but it
wasn’t.” The ceremony was the start
of a healing process that took
another four years to complete. He
has been clear of cocaine for four
years and is going on another
ayahuasca retreat soon. “This time
my focus is clearly on physical
alignment and meditation. I want to
deepen my spiritual practice. I also
really like the feeling that I get from
ayahuasca once I’m done. There’s
this intensity, this kind of sparkle
and clarity, which everyone at the
retreat will have by the end of their
time there. Everybody’s eyes are so
clear and focused—exactly the
opposite of what you see when
you’ve been out partying with peo-
ple who are just numbing out with
alcohol or coke.”
A cure for
physical ailments?
Others credit ayahuasca with cur-
ing them of serious physical ailments
including cancer. It does not do so in
a mechanical sense. What it does,
instead, is give a far deeper under-
standing of what is going on in the
body, and a familiarity with illness
that is not commonly available.
To understand how this could be
possible, it might be helpful to look
more closely at the nature of illness.
The body is a constantly evolving
waveform moving through material
space; a symphony played by 50 tril-
lion cells over the course of a life-
time. For the body to work proper-
ly—that is, for one to be healthy—all
those cells need to be reading from
the same sheet music.
At its foundation, illness is a
thread of disharmony within the
symphony, a group (or several
groups) of cells that are not working
cooperatively toward the benefit of
the body as a whole. Those wayward
cells—that is, the sickness—might
be multiplying irrationally, following
a separate agenda from that of the
body as in cancer; they might be
under attack by viruses or bacteria,
or they might have been poisoned
by harmful chemicals entering their
Dr. Donald M. Topping, professor
emeritus of the University of
Hawaii, lived with cancer for 15
years. He fought the tumors without
the aid of chemotherapy, living a full
and largely pain-free life with the
aid of naturopathic healing and
ayahuasca. He described himself as
a “friend” of both ayahuasca and
cancer—one of the most important
insights that he gained was to
understand his illness as a function
of his body, and to put aside his fear
of it. Dr. Topping describes the mes-
sage he received from ayahuasca:
“Take this energy that I’m giving
you, and run with it. Latch on to
one of the animals [in the ayahuas-
ca vision] and go for a ride. There is
nothing preventing you from soar-
ing to new heights of consciousness
and life.”
When I read Dr. Topping’s descrip -
tion of his experiences getting to
know his illness, it struck home for
me because I have also received
physical healing through ayahuasca,
ablo Amaringo’s intricate
depictions of the labyrin -
thine dimensions of the
ayahuasca trance state have blessed
us with a conceptual map of that
strange land—and they have been
integral to the blossoming of ayahuas -
ca consciousness far beyond the
Amazon basin. Collected now as
Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo
Amaringo, 48 of his last works are
available in full-color plates with
accompanying explanations of the
Amazonian mythology they reference.
At age 17, Amar ingo nearly died.
While recovering under the care of
a local healer, he taught himself to
paint and draw, eventually becoming
a world-renowned visionary artist.
Encouraged in his
work by ethno -
Dennis McKenna
and anthropolo-
gist Luis Eduardo
Luna, Amaringo
began to paint his
visions in earnest
in the mid 1980s
and continued
until his death in
2009. His works
are lushly
intense, often
painted in bright
colors against a
dark background
(as one sees in
an ayahuasca ceremony, most
often taken at night) and include
diverse imagery. Jaguars, angels,
cities, cosmic rainbows and space-
ships all jostle for room on the can-
vases, and each is accompanied by
a written narrative to help the viewer
find a path through the hallucination.
His work reaches beyond the
ayahuasca experience to touch
upon the universality of the human
state. It’s all here: love, hate, fear,
wonder, joy, and confusion.
Loneliness and terror rub elbows
with power and wisdom. The tea
shows us a mirror of ourselves, and
Amaringo has painted this reflection
—Alice Bain
Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo, by
Howard Charing, Peter Cloudsley and
Pablo Amaringo. Publ. April 2010. Inner
Traditions/Bear & Co. $40, hardcover.
FEATURE 18 May 2011 Catalystmagazine.net
bain.ayahuasca_1105.gb.qxp:Farver_BROTM 4/28/11 5:50 AM Page 5
and the centerpoint of my experience
was exactly the same—I learned
how to love my disease, and to
make friends with it. For me it was
an intractable case of viral neuralgia
that affected my cranial nerves and
left me crippled with pain for many
years. The ayahuasca showed me a
vision of a giant blue demon that
literally was my illness. My immedi-
ate reaction was that my heart just
melted open with love for him. I
didn’t think, I just loved. Initially it
didn’t seem to make any logical
sense to love something that’s put
you through so much pain, but I
understood then that most of my
pain came directly out of my fear of
the illness—and that the only cure
for fear is love.
Composer and Bard College
music professor Margaret De Wys’s
memoir (Black Smoke: A Woman’s
Journey of Healing, Wild Love, and
Transforma tion in the Amazon:
2009) documents her successful
recovery from cancer as she adopted
an ayahuasca lifestyle. She
describes it this way: “The roots of
disease (spiritual, emotional, physi-
cal) are fear, repression, the calcifi-
cation of love and the life force
within a person.” Fear cripples your
ability to live. It makes your thoughts
sluggish, it makes you reactive, and
it drains your creativity.
Freedom from fear
Mark Felder, a photographer from
Wisconsin, first sought out ayahuasca
for spiritual expansion, but what he
got from his first retreat was an
unexpected freedom from fear.
“My metabolism is such that I
have a tendency to get started
late—so the tea didn’t really affect
me until after the shaman was done
with the ceremony and we had all
gone back to our huts,” he told me
in a phone conversation. “I only had
slight effects during the ceremony,
but it really began to kick in once I
was alone!
“Being in the jungle adds to the
intensity of the experience. At least
three times I thought I was dying,
but I would do it again in a heart-
beat. It was pitch black where I was
in my hut, but I was seeing things
that were brightly illuminated in
front of me, things that terrified me.
For instance, at one point I saw a
lion—it was leaping and charging at
me, and it was huge! It was more
real than real, and I just wasn’t
expecting that. So just as this thing
was about to pounce on me, I real-
ized that this was a fear of mine,
that it wasn’t real, and that it could-
n’t harm me. I understood that it
was hollow and that all fears are
hollow and have no substance. The
lion suddenly stopped about a foot
from my face, and the front part of
it just broke away and dissolved,
poofed apart like a dandelion head.
I was stunned. I had no idea, and I
didn’t really know what this was
about, and I needed to understand
how to stop it.
“Just as I’m relaxing after the lion,
I’m confronted again by a different
fear from a different direction—
another hollow fear that broke apart
just like the first one when I faced it
down. This went on and on all
night, fears coming at me one after
the other, so intense and so real.
If you are interested in learning more about ayahuasca
healing, here are some resource links to get you started:
“The Scientific Investigation of Ayahuasca: A Review of Past and Curent Research,” by
Charles Grob, Dennis McKenna & JC Callaway.
Continued on page 21
Simply Zen
Earth and Sky
Vast Emptiness
Three Faces of Spirit
Boulder Mountain Zendo
Retreat Schedule
www.bouldermountainzendo.org º 230 South 500 West, Suite 155, Salt Lake City, UT º 801.532.4975
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