Many of the guests that come through our doors often comment how lucky that they feel that they found us as they were somewhat overwhelmed and confused about how to choose an ayahuasca shaman or an ayahuasca retreat center. They usually say that they ran through each internet site saying “no, no, no, no,….yes!” upon finding our site. They often question aloud if there were things to look for when it comes to ayahuasca shamans and for the longest time I really could not provide a good answer as I felt like I too was just extremely lucky to find Gumercindo, Papi, Mami and the entire Galindo family. It has taken me about two years to articulate an answer to this, now I finally feel ready to provide some pointers for those who are feeling a bit lost regarding this question. Ironically it took me this amount of time to come up with some pretty simple pointers.
Of course in your search it is understandable that you will want to ask several questions prior to your visit and you will want to ask questions of the shaman and or shamanic team during your stay. This is kind of obvious, but I have heard that some shamans do not like nor permit many questions about the medicine and ceremonies. In my opinion, if there is any push-back from the shaman or the staff on this point ( i.e. asking questions) I would say it is a “no go” situation. The shaman, in my opinion, should be happy to explain about how they work, what their philosophy is, the process and once you are in the retreat explanations as to how the medicine works. In this work (Pura Medicina) there are no secrets. When it comes to healing and the divine, what is there to hide?
One of the most important points to pay attention to is how the shaman uses the medicine. Look for those who are focused on healing, cleaning and the divine i.e. “pura medicina”. Any talk of special powers or abilities beyond wanting to heal and clean the physical and energetic bodies would be a warning flag in my mind. Especially any mention of having the ability to exert power over others. This seems like a no brainer, but it is surprising how we become easily enamored with special powers or power in general. Our egos are sooo easily impressed and these spiritual powers/”the spiritual circus” that it causes us to forget our simple need for cleaning, healing and connection with the divine. Everything else is unimportant and frankly a distraction from the path of Truth.
Pay attention to what the ingredients are in the ayahuasca brew. Some of you may have already heard about the plant Toe. Toe is the spanish word for datura. Datura is an extremely powerful hallucinogen on its’ own, in fact it is quite difficult to manage (check out trip reports on www.erowid.com). It is also one of the most dangerous admixtures one can put into the ayahuasca brew. In fact there have been some comments in the local ayahuasca community that Toe has been the cause of some of the deaths associated with ayahausca in recent years. Why do some shamans add Toe to their brews? Some questionable shamans know that Gringos come to Peru and drink ayahausca to have these amazing visual experiences. These shamans also know that some people do not feel the effects of ayahuasca the during the first 1-3 ceremonies. Therefore, they add Toe to ensure that they have an experience that will meet their expectations. Unfortunately, as mentioned above it is quite dangerous and it can cause visions to be of a darker nature. Some of the safe admixtures would be: chacruna, wambisa, chalipanga, tobacco, sanango and various tree barks. (Note: this is a partial list and many plants have different names). At La Familia Medicina we use the following in our brew: ayahuasca, chacruna, sanango, tobacco, and various tree barks. Always be sure to ask if there is Toe in the brew.
What kind of icaros does the shaman sing? When practicing Pura Medicina there are 4 types of icaros: protection (often calling the divine), calling the mariacion (the effects of ayahuasca), calling the medicine, and healing. Nothing more. There is no need to go beyond these four as again with Pura Medicina one is focused on cleaning, healing and the divine. Nada mas as going in any other direction is not needed and can be a distraction or even a hinderance to the work that needs to be done.
Finally listen to your intuition. Pay attention to how you feel when you look at a website, hear a name and when you meet the shaman in person. If at any time you feel that things are “off”, bail regardless of money spent or deposits made. Our intuitions are much more powerful and effective than we give them credit. Our minds are much less powerful and effective of which we give too much credit.