Preparing for my first Ayahuasca ceremony

Well by now I was thoroughly excited and properly nervous for my first Ayahuasca ceremony in the Peruvian Amazon. We had been mulling over all day what this mysterious vine and plant/tree combination called Ayahuasca boiled down to a drink was going to be like.

This is real living, I thought…this feels right to me. You can’t be afraid of life or you’ll never do anything. I trust these people. I trust this plant. I trust my own instincts to know what to trust. Dive in.

This whole program was a little different than the traditional ceremonies, because first of all we’re all westerners, not native from the area, so they make that transition a bit easier for us. The main shaman is a westerner too…he just got the call spiritually and followed his heart to the Amazon.

He’s really young too…late 20s I think. He looks like some dude I’d meet at a bar (and probably hit on because he is kind of hot lol) but after talking to him for about five seconds your stereotypes about a young western shaman go completely out the winder. This guy is absolutely amazing. The things that come out of his mouth just completely blow my mind. Really they are coming through him from another place…the level of wisdom is almost unreal.

Anyway back to the ceremony.


The Morning Of…

The next morning in the dining hall, I met a brother/sister team who helped cook and clean. They were very nice (and willing to practice Spanish with me too!) After breakfast, we were taken on a jungle walk to make acquaintance with the plants we would be taking in later. 

At each tree, I felt so much wisdom and respect. I love nature. I wonder though, how a plant can actually teach you? An older Peruvian man walked with us. We soon learned that he was the elder shaman. He was quiet with a serious expression. A bit intimidating I must say. We continued on to help prepare the brew.

I was excited about our first ceremony. I literally knew nothing about Ayahuasca (which is strange because normally I love to research – but when I tried it felt like molasses.) All I knew it that it supports your spiritual growth and had been used for thousands of years by shamans in the Amazon. But after our first meeting, I was a little freaked. 

“So you’re saying we might vomit?” a guy in the group asked.

“Yes, most likely you will. Or poop, intensely. This is how the dark energy leaves your body. If you feel like you can’t move, just ask for help and someone will assist you to the bathroom.” The apprentices spoke about this like it was nothing.

Whoa. This might not be as fun as I thought it would be.

“So if we want to become and Ayahuasca apprentice, should we set a different intention?” I asked. One of the apprentices looked at me and smiled.

“Why don’t you try a ceremony before you decide if this is something you really want to pursue.” Fair enough, though I still felt like I wanted to.

A long day of nervous excitement  built. In our bungalow, we all hung out the looming hours before the ceremony. A lawyer in our group had been here before. She was scared shitless.

“I don’t even know why I’m back here. Why am I doing this again?” she pondered out loud. A creepy, nervous energy penetrated the group. The university professor and master martial artist said he felt ready. I agreed. But the lawyer’s nerves were effecting mine.


The Evening Of… 

7:00. Half an hour left. I was ready to go set up my spot in the ceremony house. As I walked in, I surveyed the scene.

Thin, cloth mats lined the back walls, as well as the middle of the floor. Chairs were set up along the front, including two cushy black ones (like fancy office furniture) heading the circle. In front of them lay a huge mesa (a cloth with an array of beautiful glittering crystals and stones.) It was magnificent.

I figured I’d prefer to have my own space, close to the bathroom, with a wall to lean my chiropractic-ridden back against. There was one spot in the back corner untouched. It was mine.

I organized my blanket, pillow, puke bucket, toilet paper and water cup in an easy configuration as recommended. They say you can get very confused in ceremony. I set up my own crystals and headlamp as well.

I hung back there in eerie suspense and nervous build-up of what was to come. I knew this plant was considered hallucinogenic, but I figured after my wildest teenage years there was nothing I hadn’t seen. But I had never done anything like this, in a sacred ceremony. I had a feeling it would be in it’s own category.


First Ayahuasca Ceremony Begins…

Finally 7:30 arrived and the process began. Both the Elder and Western shamans and blew what were called Icaros into the bottle of Ayahuasca. They are deep, whistled melodies that really brought it home that I was about to do an ancient, sacred ceremony.

After the initial Icaros, they began pouring for the individual cup. It took forever to get to me, as each person is brought the cup, says salud (to your health in Spanish,) drinks, and brings it back to the shamans for the next person. With about 30 people, I was anxiously awaiting. By the reactions of my peers, I had become a little scared of the taste.

Finally, my turn. An apprentice brings me my cup. I sniff it (wish I hadn’t.) I say a quick prayer, salud, then down it. It almost shocked my body. It took some serious deep breathing to not throw it up right away. But taste is a small price to pay if this medicine really does what they say it does.

We were ready. The kerosine lanterns were turned off, and we were left in the dark. The rhythmic rustling of the leaf-rattles began, as soon did the Icaros. Five or six voices sung eerie melodic chants in an unplanned harmony. Hearing the Peruvian voices in particular sounded familiar, like maybe I had heard them in another life. It was strange and intriguing.


And We’re In…

I started trying to imagine I was seeing things. Was that a color? A pattern? My old “acid-trip” belief system was the only reference I had, even though I’d been told countless times that this was not a drug. All of a sudden, like a ton of bricks slamming my entire body, I got really dizzy and blinked, and I was gone.

The world swiveled and swirled around me in various colors and shapes – but in a evil clown/scary funhouse kind of way. I was scared shitless. I felt like I was losing my mind. My body was pouring out hot/cold sweat, and I quickly remembered why I stopped doing acid. Thoughts of pure fear flew through my head.

Where the fuck am I? Who are these whackjob people? Is this a cult or something? Am I going to die here and now? What if all those people were right? Holy shit I am never, NEVER doing this shit again! I want my money back! I don’t even care about the money, I just want to get out of here! How do I get out? How do I make it stop? God help me please, HELP ME!

Then the vomiting began. It was horrible. It just kept going. Over and over. I would get a rest for about five minutes, then the nausea would churn it up again.

This is my body rejecting it! This IS a drug! How could I be so naive? Holy shit holy shit! I just want to be SANE!

After awhile I really had to use the bathroom, but the thought of getting up and trying to walk was a absolute HELL-no. I tried to talk to my body, to make it hold it until just a little later, when I wasn’t lost in the ethers of the Universe with no rope to pull me back. I bet this is how insane people feel. There was no way I could move at all.

Ins and ups, outs and downs. Scary, horrible things flying at me, through me. An indescribable fear that will never have words. Time was lost…I had no idea when this shit would be over. It felt like hours had already gone by (after maybe a half hour or so.) I doubted I would ever find my way back to Earth.

I quickly figured out that the more I tried to fight it, the harder it was on me. It was like scuba diving, you have no choice but to breathe calmly and not freak out, or you die. It felt that extreme in the moment. The more I relaxed and rolled with it, the easier it was.

There would be moments of relief, where I saw lighter things. I remembered I could call in people, like angels. The scary, hellish visions quickly turned to white light. Only for awhile, until they shifted back to hell. But I knew they were there…if I could just get my mind to remember to direct them.

 Except for the angels, I felt completely isolated. No one even knows I’m back here! I am all by myself! They don’t even know I’m lost!


Thank God for Shamans and Apprentices…

Out of nowhere Eluco popped into my mind, sitting at the front. I hadn’t realized before that he was one of the apprentices, the only Peruvian out of the bunch besides the elder. Somehow thinking of him made me feel a little better.

I could almost sense him near me, which was impossible since he’s all the way at the front of the room. But he seemed so calm and so strong, like he could handle anything. Even this shit.

After what seemed like a lifetime, either it all toned down or I got used to the maddening chaos, because I felt a bit of relief. Even a second’s worth is like air underwater. The icaros moved from the background to the forefront of my hearing. 

Listening to them also made me feel better…like I was real, alive. I breathed. Air flooded my lungs and my vision as I felt even more relief. Maybe the hours of puking had finally come to a close. I even managed to get myself to the bathroom (and boy am I glad I did!) It was scary in there, and I didn’t plan to go in again.

By the time everything actually winded down, I felt different. Not just the temporary relief from the deafening madness, but changed. Like my body chemistry or my cells or something. There was more “space” in my body if that makes any sense.

I felt lighter. Still totally freaked out by what I had to endure, but like something very deep just happened. I still wasn’t planning to drink tomorrow. I was too scared to even go back to the bungalow. Many of us slept (or tried to sleep) right there in the ceremony house.

I’ll tell you, by the end of the first night I had seen quite a bit of my stuff come up and out. Some of it was scary, some of it was sad. But the bliss I felt after it had left my body made it all completely worth it.

That stuff was simply not in me anymore. After all these years of working, meditating, doing inner work, therapy, etc etc, some of this stuff was just simply not present. Like it had never been there at all. And this was just the first day.



This is not a typical first ceremony. Further into my apprenticeship, I discovered that my initiation needed to be the way it was for several reasons, including the fact that I a) had a life purpose in the Medicine and they needed to see if I could hang, b) I had extra to purge since I historically “stuffed” as a coping mechanism, and c) the pace of this center was more boot camp style than the shamans I’d later be working with in the jungle, and that was a part of the learning process for me


~ Meghan Shannon Elder @wildspiritualride


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