East of Heart

Ritual experience

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“No, this San Pedro preparation was very mellow, you don’t have to worry”
“But I’m not worried. I came especially in search of the powerful visions that are brought on by this sacred plant…”

The curandero’s (traditional healer) helper looked at me perplexed and apologetic. Though we’d supposedly consumed San Pedro during the Huachuma ceremony, its hallucinogenic properties would not be part of it. Maybe my mistake was to not realize that the ceremony itself could carry transformational powers, psychedelically channeled or not. Now it was three in the morning and everyone was just supposed to go to bed. I still held hope that the cactus extract might unfurl during the night but I woke up tired, dreamless and disappointed.

Perhaps I would have better stomached the absence of notable effects had the ceremony not also involved so many distractions. The priest healer kept having to use his flashlight to check my name and I’m pretty sure that he invoked The Great Saddam amongst the high minds and leaders he called to guide us. At one point, after I’d gone outside to nose-drip tobacco concentrate through a conch shell to stir the cactus’ effect, I came back to the ritual room to find him adding some long personal wishes to the open portal with the Gods: for help finding a buyer for his two plots of land, speedy political process under the newly-elected mayor for the opening of his therapy centre, and guidance for each of his children; the architect, the psychologist, the artist, the high-school student and the one working retail at Real Plaza. We’d also started an hour late because he’d had unplanned errands to run and then came back to find his extended family celebrating a birthday in the courtyard with beer and blaring cumbia.

I sound unfairly critical now but until I realized that nothing else was going to happen, I was excited and felt privileged to participate. The curandero’s powers and wisdom had come highly recommended by someone with extensive connections to Peruvian plant-based traditional medicine and its leaders. At least this benign and highly folkloric experience of the so-called magical religious world of Peru gives me a framework from which to participate in future rituals.

I’m in Cajamarca and tomorrow I head to the selva (jungle): Chachapoyas then Tarapoto. This trip to see friends and discover a little more of the country follows six months of living in Tofino again (I never got used to being back in Toronto). Below are some photos from my extended stay in the beach town of Huanchaco recovering from a clumsy back sprain. Stretch before you surf. Seek actively but stay patient.

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7 Comments

  1. Mercedes wrote:

    My long life wanted destination… me das envidia ;) Tu sigue viajando, que en Julio de 2015 tienes un evento ineludible en Asturias (mi boda!).
    Un abrazo fuerte, Mercedes

  2. Dorit wrote:

    Fascinant ce coup d’oeuil dans des cultures autres que la notre ….tellement de facon de gerer sa vie avec des croyances transmises a travers le temps.

  3. Don’t know why but reminded me of a movie “Crystal fairy” and actually made wanna have that experience myself

  4. marcela wrote:

    Pues no todas son así. Pero sí, hay ceremonias que te enseñan mucho sin el imperative beverage

  5. Falco wrote:

    Doesn’t surprise me that it reminded you of Crystal Fairy, we’re talking about similar plants. Peruvian San Pedro (Echinopsis peruviana) is a little different than the common varietal that grows throughout western Pacific South America (Echinopsis pachanoi).

  6. Falco wrote:

    ¡Espero que no! Esta tenía más que ver con el ego del shaman que con la planta o los participantes.

  7. Falco wrote:

    ¡Acabo de ver tu comentario, que buena noticia, felicidades! Trataré de organizarme, que Europa en general me está llamando de vuelta también. Un abrazo muy fuerte Mercedes.