Ayahuasca: Meeting La Madre at SpiritQuest Sanctuary - Part One

Ayahuasca: Meeting La Madre at SpiritQuest Sanctuary - Part One Medicine Path


The morning after the first ceremony. My mind has been blown. It's difficult to process everything. I'm tired from the lack of sleep, yet still completely wired. I had no real way of knowing, as all experience is obviously subjective, but from what I'd read and heard over the years, I had a feeling things were going to get crazy. I really had no idea.

It's like I try to think or say something about it, right now, in this very moment, yet nothing comes out. I'm not even sure what to write. I feel like I don't have the vocabulary to try and articulate any of this. I'm sure the majority of our tribe feel the same way.

The visionary state, first and foremost...

Trying to decipher the meaning of it all. Impossible, yet paradoxically impossible not to try. What does it all mean? How can one even chronicle the ineffable? Alas, we still attempt it.

I should back track to some of the events leading up to ceremony, to paint a better picture of my time here so far...

I dangled my hand in the rushing water as the boat sped down the river. 

Large uprooted tree trunks lined the shore, their matted roots clearly visible; an indication of the turning tides throughout the seasons. Wooden huts with their thatched roofs were scattered along the riverbank. Vines dangled from the lush greenery towering above. We caressed the Rio Momon, snaking around the curves as we neared Spirit Quest Sanctuary. A bird of prey with it's white plumes hopped along the shoreline. 

Ascending the creaky staircase from the dock to the Sanctuary, we made our way up to the dining area, where we were fed a banquet of rice, fish, potato, vegetables and fruit; a basic regiment of the Ayahuasca diet. For two weeks I had subsisted on a similar meal plan.

No salt, sugar, spices, red meats, pork, chicken, dairy, fermented foods, saturated oils, no alcohol, no coffee, no drugs, no western pharmaceuticals, no sex and no masturbation: sounds like a fun time right?!

It's all to do with increasing one's sensitivity to the subtleties of the plant medicine, but more importantly to mitigate serious health risks due to certain chemicals found in these foods and their interactions with the Ayahuasca brew. 

After a brief meeting and introduction from the white wizard himself, Maestro Don Howard, we were shown the beautiful sanctuary grounds and assigned rooms for our stay. A Banisteriopsis Caapi vine entangled itself in amongst the railing, outside the central ceremonial maloca.

As I ran my hand over it, shivers made their way down my entire body; like a circuit board sparking to life, meeting electricity for the first time. The vine of the souls. Vine of the dead. La madre. The sacred Ayahuasca vine. A physical connection had been made.

Maestro Don Howard Lawler.
Photo: Reset.me

Over the course of the night and next day, we prepared our Ayahuasca concoction and partook in a Mapacho ceremony. 

Don Howard shared his wisdom and explained the process of composing the brew. We were each given a green plastic washing bucket, which we filled with three varieties of leaves: Chacruna, Oco Yage and Wambisa, all containing the main consciousness-shifting psychoactive alkaloid, dimethlytryptamine; commonly known as DMT. As we crushed these up into tiny pieces, ensuring an efficient extraction process, Don Howard stated, "We must be prepared to accept the darkness, with the light."

We passed around a cutting of a 30 - 40 year old Ayahuasca specimen; several vines wrapped tightly around each other, roughly the size of your average human thigh. The scent was rich, damp and earthy, not unlike the smell of the towering Redwood trees I love to meander in back at home in the Otways Rainforest. The enormity of what was about to unfold began to sink in more and more as we sat there, taking turns wielding a small mallet to crush and break apart the vine for the brew. 

(For those who aren't aware, DMT is not orally active on its own. The Ayahuasca vine contains harmala alkaloids, which function to inhibit an enzyme in the gut that breaks down the DMT. Inhibiting this enzyme, known as monoamine oxidase, allows the visionary molecule DMT to become orally active and absorbed into the system.) 

My room-mate Joe preparing the vine, overlooked by Don Carlos, Don Rober and Doña Eliana.
Photo: Lee Evans

The mapacho ceremony itself was introspective and calming, an expected outcome when utilizing a tobacco plant with a high nicotine content. Nicotiana Rustica, known as mapacho: a specific type of tobacco used in shamanic practice for ceremonial purposes. It's considered a sacred healing and teacher plant, as opposed to the chemical-laden tobacco with it's myriad of health risks, commonly used in the West.

As we witnessed our Ayahuasca brew boiling over a fire in a large cauldron, I observed the three bottles of mixture that had already been prepared. I suspected that the light brown, creamy-textured looking drink was going to be hard to stomach, and was to find out soon enough that my suspicions were correct.

The Ayahuasca brew, chakapa (bundle of dried leaves), shipibo artwork, mapacho cigarettes & chacruna leaves. Don Rober sits in the background.
Photo: Melanie Crandall

When the shamans finished their rituals and songs, we were each given a rolled mapacho cigarette. We smoked this, like one smokes a cigar, standing in the jungle, solidifying and stating our intentions for the Ayahuasca ceremony to come. 

"We can learn a lot from our past, but we don't have to be defined by it."

As I stood there amongst the chattering of insects and birds surrounding me, I felt calm and at peace. The scent of tobacco lingered on my fingers and shirt for the rest of the evening, as we all waited in anticipation for the first ceremony.


I arrived early and got comfortable in my seating arrangement; two single mattresses nestled in the curvature of a rocking chair, my purge bucket easily accessible between my feet. The ceremonial maloca is a beautifully crafted, circular, wooden hut-type structure, rising roughly to the height of a three story building. Palm fronds make up the thatched roofs, while the mesh that circles the hut screens out unwanted insects while keeping the building cool.

We're all positioned in two circles: the largest, around the perimeter of the maloca, and the smaller, just in front of the wooden structural pillars, a few paces in from the walls. Tapestries hang from the ceiling, my eyes locked onto the powerful central jaguar-anaconda piece.

Pre-ceremony stretching and calming of the nerves inside the maloca.

The powerful Jaguar-Anaconda central tapestry that stared down upon us in every ceremony.

Don Rober, our curandero (healer), spoke in Spanish and formally introduced himself and his family: Doña Eliana, also a notable curandera, and their son Don Carlos, an Ayahuasquero in training.

Don Rober is a 'banco' Ayahuasquero; someone who has mastered the highest level of the Ayahuasca shamanic practice. He began his apprenticeship at the age of 11 under his father and grandfather, both maestro curanderos, masters of the art.
Don Howard reiterated Don Rober's words... 

"This is a place for healing. We practice no brujeria (sorcery / black magic) here."

Don Rober came around to each of us and sealed us with an arcana: a song of protection to summon the healing spirits. He snapped his wrist back and forth, shaking his chakapa above our heads, while singing our individual icaros and blowing mapacho smoke over us.

The exterior of the maloca was also protected and sealed with a similar ritual by our maestros, before it was time for each of us to stand at the ceremonial alter to receive the sacred tea.

I was the second last to drink. 

Standing at the alter, I smiled at Don Howard, trying to conceal my nerves. My heart was thumping, I swore it was visible beating out of my chest. Howard eyed me off and smiled back, while Don Carlos poured the brown liquid from a plastic bottle into the ceramic ceremonial cup. The moment had arrived.

Now it's important to come well prepared to a ceremony. Nicely rested; physically and mentally, with your intentions set out. Don Howard had suggested that our intentions be like our 'mission statement' for life. I had solidified mine and repeated them constantly since the ceremony began. 

My intention is to still my mind, open my heart, and surrender to the experience.

I offer my sincerity to work with the medicine, my willingness to let go, and I give you my trust and faith completely.

I ask Mother Ayahuasca to please kindly and gently show me whatever it is that I need to see.

Although I had repeated this over and over in my head, as I stared into the bowl held delicately yet firmly between my palms, my mind went blank, and I gazed into the thick fluid, hoping that this part of the ritual forgotten would place no significance on my experience.

My hands were shaking. My heart was racing. My stomach gurgled. With the bowl to my lips, I tilted my head back and let the potent elixir take the form of my throat. Bitter, tangy, acidic, earthy. A bottle of old juice and dirt, left to ferment in an abandoned car in the middle of a hot desert for many months, might be a worthy comparison to my taste buds.

As I kneeled down to light my mapacho cigarette off the candles on the alter, I became aware of the traditional totems and talismans laid out before me.

Don Howard, Don Rober & Doña Eliana, all wearing their ceremonial clothing.
Photo: Choque Chinchay

Once everyone had consumed their amount, we sat patiently and quietly, respecting the noble silence. The candles on the alter were the only source of light in the room, and one by one, we witnessed them being blown out, before we were all plunged into the black of the night.

It wasn't long until the first purges were heard.

A gut-wrenching roar, coming from the other side of the hut. My heart was still thumping. The taste of tobacco did nothing to conceal the battery acid that tainted my throat. The effects were coming on. I discarded my half-smoked mapacho and continued my mantra.

"Breathe, relax, observe, let go. Breathe, relax, observe, let go."

My eyes were closed. In the darkness, colours began to swirl. A vibrational energy coursed throughout my body, and then all I can recall, is that I was there.

My entire field of vision, once black, was filled with the most unimaginable assortment of kaleidoscopic-esque, geometric patterns, flowing in and out of each other endlessly. Colours not usually accessible or visible to our normal state of consciousness; vibrant, other-worldly, inescapable. Like billions of geometrically shaped diamonds, scintillating, morphing, slowly and gently.

In the beginning, I remember the colours - yellow, gold, spectacular shades of blue. Very Egyptian like. Royal, regal, yet like nothing I had ever seen before. To truly describe this visionary realm in this altered state of consciousness, you would need to be a mastery of memory, an articulative genius. Everything was so real, just as real as me looking around right now as I write this, more real. I had detached from my physical body and reached a state of being that no longer included or recognized my material form.

In amongst these shifting patterns were the silhouettes of gigantic slithering snakes; their triangular heads pointed directly towards me, their focused gaze not once frightening. Thousands of eyes appeared, encasing me in a dome-like setting, staring down upon me.

These images merely represent a static glimpse of the rapidly ever-changing fractal nature of the experience.
Visionary Artwork: Alex Grey

I felt another presence. Like I wasn't the only one in this particular dimension. It was a deep intuitive knowing, similar to that innate feeling that manifests when you realize you're being followed, or when the hair stands tall on the nape of your neck when you find yourself in an eerie situation. I knew I wasn't alone.

Then, all of a sudden, they appeared.

I was acutely aware of beings of some sort surrounding me. At first I could only see them on the outskirts of my peripheral field of vision, wandering in and out, but in an instance, others became clearly visible. Some were sitting, some were standing, some were moving about; an older masculine presence seated beside me was the most prominent. They all took on the appearance of indigenous, tribal humanoid-like figures.

Obviously, I was completely dumbfounded. The shamans eloquently and succinctly called this realm of existence 'the spirit world', and in that moment, I now understood why. There was a sentience, a real intelligence emanating from these beings. I posed a series of questions to them.

"Who are you? What are you? Are you indigenous ancestors? Are you my ancestors? Are you here to protect and guide me throughout this ceremony? Or are you always here in this realm, watching over and looking out for me?" 

Part of me expected to physically hear an answer, and although they didn't answer me directly through sound, they alluded to me in some sort of telepathic means that I was indeed correct. Mind blown. Some of these 'spirits' drifted in and out of my visual field over time, but the elder male seated closely to my right side held a safe, supportive, comforting space for a considerable time.

The timeline of events from here-on in is quite scrambled, and I'm certain that more eludes me than I recall.

The curanderos led beautifully enchanting icaros. As the setting flowed from the powerful songs, to the ambience of the jungle, the vibe and intensity would change from rapidly morphing landscapes, to a slow, sensual and smooth experience. If it wasn't already clear, it became strikingly obvious that the Amazon truly comes alive at night. Thousands of insects, buzzing, whirring, chirping... Mysteriously creepy sounds I'd never heard before. 

The energetic field of the hut was electric. Having the entire essence of my being encased in such a highly charged arena was completely foreign. The intensity was indescribable, but I felt safe.

Don Rober and Doña Eliana made their way to each of us and delivered a personal icaro. They appeared in my visual sphere, even though my eyes were closed. I could feel their presence emanating strongly to my left and my right. The chanting started and the chakapa bounced rhythmically off my head. I felt ecstatic, perfectly enveloped in feelings of warm, tender love. A smile formed from ear to ear.

The fractal mandala visuals persisted throughout. An archaic, ancient shaman appeared with patched embroidery draped over it's body, wearing a kilt made of dried reads and grass. It extended it's hand and beckoned me forward with it's fingers, so close to me that I could almost feel the breeze on my face. It presented seeds in it's palm which I understood to be seeds of knowledge, and as I followed this entity the visions continued to shift and transform into unimaginable terrain. 

I was pierced through the throat with a large blade, wielded by another entity, and many times these conspicuous beings would try to engage with me, curiously inspecting this presence that had materialized in their world. 

Colour scheme and patterns that were similar to my own at times.
Visionary Artwork: Cobalt358

Throughout all of this, the central theme behind everything, was love.

Love for friends, love for family, love for myself... While Mother Ayahuasca had treated me kindly and gently, I was presented with memories that highlighted negative aspects of myself and the way I had poorly treated people. It was clear that I was being shown duality, contrast, polarity, the light within myself and the darkness within myself. 

In our material world as humans, one seemingly cannot exist without the other, but even so, there is always a choice of which to gravitate towards. As long as I acknowledged and owned my shadow side, the darkness within, and continued the work of understanding these aspects of myself, I could always choose to move towards and embody the better qualities of myself, the light and love within.

Inside some of the blissful moments, playful dancing entities tried to coax laughter out of me, which I tried to contain so as not to disturb anyone else. There were moments where tears of sorrow streamed down my cheeks, as I released emotional tension and looked back on how I had acted towards others.

I vomited several times, which seemed to accompany the purging of my mental and emotional hindrances. Nausea was present for the length of the ceremony, but even so, La Madre would wrap me tightly in her feminine embrace, caressing me with her endless tentacles of love.

I felt like a bee, rolling back and forth delightfully and delicately in an ocean of nurturing flower petals. It didn't matter what I had done in the past, as long as I chose the path of love and light from here on out, everything would be ok. 

The end of the ceremony was signified by the lighting of a single candle on the alter. The intensity had dropped and the visuals were fading. Upon opening the slits of my eyes, the room was filled with three dimensional grid-lines; horizontal and vertical threads intertwined with the external reality before me. I stretched out from sitting in my cocoon, focusing on the feeling of my individual muscles contracting and relaxing. I was human again.

I shake my head writing this. Unbelievable. These words don't come anywhere near close to describing what any of that experience was truly like. Intense, yet never once terrifying. 
Filled with the most beautiful, jaw-dropping, mind blowing visions, and an infinite amount of love, I couldn't have asked for a more profound first ceremony. 

Nine ceremonies in fifteen days. If this is only the beginning, I'm a little apprehensive of what's yet to come. Time will tell...

An artists representation of an Ayahuasca vision. I've experienced similar imagery in my own altered states.
Visionary Artwork: Andy Debernardi
Banner Artwork: Krystleyez