ayahuasca experience

slowone at hush.ai slowone at hush.ai
Sun Jun 25 15:11:11 EDT 2006

Here's a first ayahuasca experience of an anthropologist living 
with Shuar indians in the Amazon:

Without standing on ceremony, Wajiri, Mukuimp, Piniantza and I each 
drink about half a coffee-cupful of _natem_, then rinse out our 
mouths with hot water. ... For a minute or two I struggle against 
violent nausea, for the decoction is horribly bitter. The 
bitterness is said to be a sign of its strength ...

We settle ourselves comfortably beneath the projecting roof of the 
house, overlooking the Kapawi [river] from which a lazy mist is 
rising, just enough to blur the leafiness of the opposite bank, 
bathed in the light of the full moon.  Mukuimp and Piniantza begin 
to play their respective instruments, not exactly keeping together, 
it seems to me, but with quite similar effects. The initial rather 
irritating impression of a colony of frantic hornets  circling 
round and round inside a bottle to the accompaniment of a cheap 
fiddle eventually gives way to a more subtle harmony. Hanging on 
the music, time seems to be dilating in rhythm with some immense 
organism, as if the entire forest is peacefully breathing on a 
continuous bass note. Meanwhile my shuddering body gradually takes 
off on the wings of the drug in motionless yet ever-widening 
spirals. Independant of my limbs, which have become heavy and 
cumbersome, I open up to the world and pour myself into it. I am 
both the source and the receptacle of a thousand sensations at once 
piercing yet indistinct, my only memory of my physical identity 
expressed in an involuntary clenching of my jaws. On the crest of 
this extravagant magma, my spirit floats with total lucidity.

When Mukuimp invites me to sing, it is with no inhibitions at all 
and a comic gravity that I launch into a few couplets from Jacques 
Brel, followed by one or two blues that come to mind. The narcotics 
produce a miracle! My performance is greeted with appreciative 
comments and deemed to consist of true _natem_ songs. But soon my 
intoxication takes a new turn. Against the serene glow of the night 
phosphorescent circles begin to whirl, then merge and separate, 
forming constantly changing kaleidoscopic designs. One after 
another all the symmetrical patterns invented by nature pass before 
me in a subtle continuum: lozenges first red, then yellow, then 
indigo, delicate traceries, crystalline prisms, iridescent, the 
eyes of butterfly wings, feline pelt markings, reticular carapaces. 
Animal forms of unrecognized species display their metamorphoses 
and transformations before my eyes: the water-marked skin of the 
anaconda merges into tortoise-shell scales that elongate into the 
stripes of an armadillo, then reshape into the crest of an iguana 
against the intense blue of the wings of a _Morpho_ butterfly, then 
stretch into black stripes which immediately fragment into a 
constellation of haloes standing out against the silky fur of some 
large cat. Curiously enough, these unanchored visions do not 
obscure the still landscape that frames them. It is rather as 
though I were looking at them through the lens of a microscope 
operating as a window of variable dimensions set in the middle of 
my usual and unchanged field of vision.

  ... Mukuimp and Piniantza invite me for a bathe. I glide along to 
the Kapawi like a ghost in the moonlight, conscious of the infinite 
softness of the mud into which my bare feet are sinking. Light 
wisps of mist float on the surface of the river. The water is 
deliciously cool after the warmth of the night, but I do not feel 
as though I am passing from one element into another, for the 
water's immaterial fluidity is so much like the air. A whispering 
seems to rise from the Kapawi, now loud, now barely audible, now 
modulated, now indistinct. Gravely Mukuimp bids me, 'Listen to the 
fishes singing, and learn.' It is really the only lesson that the 
evening has taught me.

Philippe Descola, The Spears of Twilight: Life and Death in The 
Amazon Jungle

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