Held at Spirit Quest, Iquitos, Peru
January 2, 2001
Conducted and redacted by Victoria Alexander Translator: Howard Lawler
Victoria can be reached at [email protected]
VA: Hermana Mari, how do you prepare for an ayahuasca ceremony?
HM: I call the spirits to bring the medicine and to help the brothers and sisters here on earth.
VA: Do you know what each participant is experiencing during an ayahuasca ceremony?
HM: Yes. I can communicate with all the elements: The water, the earth, and the air in the heavens and all the aspects of the body that the healing can be applied to. In the case of each person present in the ceremony we sing an icaro [a power song] that is special for their needs. So in some cases don Romulo and I sing an icaro for more than one person because it may appropriate for more than one person. But in many cases, we sing different icaros for each person.
VA: During the second ayahuasca ceremony, one participant, Tom, appeared to be having grave difficulty. What happened to him?
HM: Tom was very out of his body. He had transcended his body. He left his body. Don Romulo and I called for power so that Tom would not hurt himself – or his body would not hurt itself – while he was in that state. He was re-uniting with a lot of his friends back home through soul flight. What he was experiencing is called soul flight. He hadn’t lost his consciousness. To the contrary, he was quite conscious. He just wasn’t conscious within the confines of his body. You can fly into the stars, into the moon.
VA: So Tom’s situation wasn’t a crisis. You did not perceive Tom as being in any kind of trouble.
HM: No. It was just a state one can arrive at with this, and everyone should. It’s more frightening to the inexperienced observer than it is to the person experiencing it, or to a person who doesn’t know where they are.
VA: Is there a qualitative difference whether you know or don’t know you are having an out-of-body experience?
H. LAWLER: Yes. There is a qualitative difference and these are aspects of the universal shamanic experience. The soul flight is a fundamental component of the shamanic experience, however attained. This is one way that facilitates this profoundly. There are other ways. One can attain this same state through trance rhythm, such as drumming. But it takes more concentration and it usually takes longer. Sometimes it’s an easier path than this. Ayahuasca is initially not an easy path for many. But it can help one achieve access to shamanic realms sooner than later if you are well prepared and properly guided.
VA: Last night’s ceremony was quite different than the previous two. It seemed to be directed towards healing the participants.
HM: It was pure healing. It was pure medicine. It was intended to be calmer last night. To bring everyone together into a calmer mode so that you could see the power of ayahuasca and the power of the plants of the forest. The purpose was to see that they are pure medicine. If you had the same kind of visions like the previous night it would have distracted you from this purpose. Heavy visions would have distracted everyone from the true focus of the ceremony. Ayahuasca is not all about visions. There are powerful dimensions to it.
VA: What about the dosage given to each participant. I asked for a small amount more.
HM: And what happened to you? What was the effect of taking more ayahuasca?
VA: It was difficult for the visions to come on. It was more physically painful.
HM: The direction of the ceremony last night was for pure healing and understanding.
VA: Is the experience dosage independent?
HM: Yes, yes. However, we vary the dosage from person to person. Some more, some less, to bring a person into the right level of the experience. Because what is the right level is not the same for everybody. It varies.
VA: Does the intensity of five-hour ceremonies exhaust you?
HM: All kinds of doctors come into my body. Many times during the ceremony spirits come into my body until its over. But we don’t surrender (to weariness).
H. LAWLER: Hermana Mari and don Romulo are mediums while in the ceremony. When they take flight they still have knowledge of what’s happening in their body. But they are not there. And when they are not there the invited spirits – the spirit doctors – which could be the spirit of a plant or is often the spirit of a deceased shaman – come into their bodies. With some shamans it’s an animal. It could be animal, plant, human, or ethereal spirit that has never had a corporeal body. They have allied with these spirits in the spirit world and call them with the icaros. Each icaro has a purpose in terms of what spirit ally is summoned and what is the intent of the curandero. The curanderos, by their very name and nature, are pure healers. They evoke these spiritual powers principally for the purpose of healing and divination. Whereas, brujos may use malevolent powers summoned in the same way but for different purposes harmful to others. There are different spirits for different purposes. Some are not beneficial or benevolent.
VA: How do you distinguish the difference in spirits?
HM: The spirits I want to work with – the good spirits – come to me just in the forefront. I do not consent to the arrival of bad spirits. I can tell the difference. For me, I invoke the protection of Christ. During the ceremony when I’m working I see The Shining Cross. This is for everyone’s protection: La Cruz Luminosa.
VA: How did you begin your work? Who did you study with?
HM: Jesus is my teacher. Jesus is all powerful. I was born with this mentality. At the time I was eight years old I began my work. I began to hear prayers and I began looking for people who were ill in order to heal them by prayer. You can feel when enemies or friends come. You feel palpitations in your muscles. If you get that, it means an enemy is coming. An enemy is coming to you and you mentally begin to pray. And this prayer weakens the enemy. I use prayer and the sign of the cross.
VA: Do you ever advise someone not to take ayahuasca?
HM: We embrace everyone who comes and we give them the medicine and send them out on the path of their choice. We don’t have any separatism or judgment regarding whatever path one comes to.
VA: Do you ever take ayahuasca outside of the ceremony environment? Do you ever use it for your own purpose?
HM: No. I always take ayahuasca in the context of my work.
H. LAWLER: Hermana Mari works with another shaman when she’s not working with us in SpiritQuest. Don Romulo lives a rather long distance away – nearly four hours away by boat and he’s not in Iquitos often – so when we are not working here Hermana Mari maintains her neighborhood healing practice. She works with another shaman who is also a good curandero and a man of high integrity. However we usually work with don Romulo and Hermana Mari in SpiritQuest.
VA: Hermana Mari, tell me about your neighborhood practice.
HM: It is my main practice. Working with SpiritQuest is the exception to my practice. SpiritQuest is the only work I do with people outside my culture. Tuesday and Friday nights are ceremonial nights for me. If there are people who are gravely ill, I will work any day. Whatever day is needed for the healing I’ll work, but my scheduled healing ceremonies for the local people are Tuesday and Friday nights.
VA: And each ceremony, as I have experienced, is 4 to 5 hours long.
HM: Sometimes the ceremony lasts even longer if there is a lot of people. Sometimes there might be 15 or 20 people.
H. LAWLER: This characteristic is the key, defining characteristic of a true shaman – to do community service. If there is not a service component then it’s deviating from the bedrock tradition of the role of the shaman in society and in the community. The role of the shaman is to do what they do. This is why they are here with us at SpiritQuest because they are truly traditional and uncorrupted shamans.
VA: Do you have any apprentices? Are you training others?
HM: Yes. I’m training Howard, a young woman named Mera, and another man who lives in the village I grew up in.
H. LAWLER: Hermana Mari was born in Lamas in the department of San Martin. She spent her youth in a very remote, rural village in the higher jungle. The jungle begins to break at a little higher elevation as you enter the Peruvian Sierra.
HM: My ancestors were curanderos. My grandfather and my grandmother worked with stones. Their medium was enchanted stones. My father was a camalongero. He didn’t use ayahuasca.
H. LAWLER: Camalonga is a very interesting element in shamanic practice. It is one of the very few things not grown or native here. It’s used widely by Amazonian shamans and its one of the elements in the ointment that smells like salad dressing. It consists of white onion, garlic and the seed of the camalonga – soaked in aguardiente. The aguardiente extracts the essence of these plants. The camalonga has a visionary quality as well. Shamans who are specialists in the use of camalonga are called camalongeros.
VA: Are Hermana Mari’s shamanic gifts hereditary?
H. LAWLER: There are really two categories of shaman. There are natural shamans and there are made shamans. Made shamans are people who decide to pursue the path who may not have a particular gift for it but want to learn it like any other skill or knowledge. The natural shamans are the ones who are gifted people and they usually come through a lineage. Both Hermana Mari and don Romulo are in a lineage of shamanic healers. Some of their ancestors used different techniques and mediums in their healing work though.
VA: What is your neighborhood practice like? Do people come to you primarily for healing or divination?
HM: Primarily, people come to me for healing. Often people come to me seeking healing from a witching spell that has been cast.
H. LAWLER: This is very, very common.
VA: How do you know you’ve had a witching spell?
H. LAWLER: Well, your life starts falling apart. Disruptive, sometimes catastrophic events occur. Things start happening to you that are not explainable rationally. Then the suspicion arises that its brujeria. Of course, a medical doctor can do nothing for that. There are numerous conditions in the Amazonian culture which are unique compared to the western world. It is convenient and sometimes reassuring to simply assign it to ‘superstitious nonsense’ but there is more at work here.
VA: What have you learned from ayahuasca?
HM: My spirit continues to grow stronger but as I get older my knowledge wanes. But my knowledge is being carried on by those I teach. It makes me very happy that you have come with love and affection to experience Doctor Ayahuasca. Welcome to the center of the medicine in Iquitos.
VA: Is it necessary to drink a full cup of ayahuasca each time?
HM: Once you have experienced ayahuasca you have it in your body. Those who drink it often need to drink less to experience the same effect.
H. LAWLER: For example, I drank less than a half cup last night and relative to most of the accounts of last night’s experiences, I had a little stronger experience than those who drank more than a cup. I went into things I needed to go into. It was a lesson night for me. Through shamanic discipline and practice, one learns the pathways to access these visionary realms of truth and transformation.
VA: Not everyone attending the ceremonies drinks ayahuasca.
HM: Everyone present enters the dimension of Alpha and Omega. All those present are opening portals whether they drink ayahuasca or not. You are opening these fields.
VA: Have you ever seen extraterrestrial beings?
HM: These we call ovnis. The ones we call Martians are very, very small and very powerful. They generate much energy. When we work we see them coming to the earth. They have many colors and they radiate much energy. They know a lot.
VA: Do you see these beings in normal reality?
HM: This is outside ayahuasca. We travel to all kinds of places. We go to the deep forest and under the ground. I visit all the shamanic worlds: the upper world, middle world, and lower world. In dreams I fly. There I experience the Virgin Mary.
VA: There are many tales in Peru of UFOs.
HM: The name of this being is Iman de la Tierra. It doesn’t speak. It communicates through it’s mind and it’s eyes by telepathy. This being comes through the air when I am seeking a spell of witchcraft. Sometimes I have to call them and they are far away. In the waters live the sirens and the Yacurunas. The sirens are beautiful women with golden hair and white skin. They have very long hair. From the waist up they are human, from the waist down they are fish. They have breasts and have guitars that they play. Their icaros are very sad.
VA: Why, in your culture, are these people represented as being white, with blond hair?
HM: Yes, but also work with spirit healers that are Indian. There is a beautiful city at the bottom of the ocean.
H. LAWLER: Remember, you are getting very culture-bound feedback here. Hermana Mari’s response is not biased by knowledge of those things.
VA: Have you ever heard of Atlantis?
VA: It is believed to be a mythical city underwater.
HM: In the sea it’s the same as here. The tabaqueros [shamans who specialize in tobacco] can go into the water here and come out in the United States and other places.
VA: Tell me about the Sachamama.
HM: The Sachamama is real. It’s the size of a lupuna tree. It lives in the ground and on her back grows trees. She lies still and quiet for long periods of time. Even trees will grow on her back. The Sachamana feeds by charming animals that come near her. She draws them near by the power of her enchantment. It catches them and eats them. And where the Sachamama is you will find the bones of animals she has eaten and regurgitated. It’s the size of a giant lupuna tree. There are times, over a great period of time, when the Sachamama will become active, animate, and move. The spirit of the Sachamama is a king doctor. It comes and manifests in human form as a king in elaborate clothing. Also it manifests as a woman, as a queen. She is dressed like a bride. There are human manifestations of the Sachamama.
VA: Where do we find Sachamama?
H. LAWLER: It could be anywhere in the forest. The word “jungle” is rarely used here. The two words that are used are “la selva,” which is the more general word for all kinds of rainforest; “el monte” is the word generally reserved for wild unflooded ‘terra firme’ rainforest.
HM: Also, “chullachaki” is the king of the mountain and a very good doctor to take out witchcraft. He’s a very small elf that has one big foot and one small foot. This is how they are recognized. There is a chullachaki tree that is used as an aphrodisiac for men, as well as treatment for arthritis, rheumatism and intestinal infections. It’s also effective for treating AIDS. Men who have potency problems can elevate this by drinking a brew made from the chullachaki tree. Here in the forest we have all kinds of medicines for men and for women. The thing I see the most is daño [witchcraft].
VA: Do you have to be part of this culture to be attacked by witchcraft?
H. LAWLER: Contrary to wishful thinking, it’s not something that doesn’t exist if you don’t believe in it. There are people who are willfully conjuring negative things to direct towards people in the U.S. as well. It’s also possible for a person – through sheer animosity and intensity toward another person – to produce the same harmful effect as one who practices black witchcraft or ‘brujeria’.
VA: How come O.J. Simpson still walks the earth.
H. LAWLER: We don’t know what is still in store for O.J.
VA : Can you tell if someone has been a victim of witchcraft?
HM: Oh yes. In some cases it’s a point of pain or a physical thing like that is embedded in the victim. Whether psychic or physical, in the Amazon these are called ‘virotes’ or magical darts. It sets up a slow deterioration causing pain and can be life-threatening. The person is usually not able to relieve it by themselves.
H. LAWLER: Hermana Mari is a curandero who only works pure ‘curanderiso’ (healing). However, probably the majority of people practicing shamanism will work both sides. It’s very hard to find pure curanderos who are not tempted to work on the dark side for a price. You have to understand, within the culture, the practice of shamanism is more often than not a mercenary profession. For a majority of people (who practice it), they make their living this way. The true purely benevolent shaman dedicated to selflessly serving the people is very hard to find.
VA: I certainly understand the practical application of shamanism. Of all the shamans in this area, what percentage of shamans practice some form of witchcraft?
HM: Many, many. But shamans also have defenses against the brujos.
H. LAWLER: Hermana Mari does not consider what she does magic. It’s not witchcraft. Its pure forest medicine…”medicina de la selva.” Here, only ‘brujeria is considered witchcraft. There’s curanderismo and brujeria. White and Black. Light and Dark. In most cases there seems to be a firm clear line between good and evil defined mainly by whether it brings harm or ill to others or heals and brings good to others. Though all this seems like superstition to the western mind, there are psychic and spiritual aspects which, with enough experience here, are difficult to deny.
VA: Hermana Mari, do you believe in karma?
HM: Everything that brujos do comes back to them in the end. But they are not looking that far ahead. They are looking for the quick, short, immediate gain and that’s why they do what they do. They gain great power very quickly. One can come under study with a brujo and learn to do amazing things very quickly. But, at a great price. To become a curandero is very slow and very demanding. There’s no price to pay down the road. Down the road is glory and blessing.
VA: What happens when you die?
HM: The flesh is nothing. It doesn’t matter. What matters is our spirit. Our spirit never dies. When we die, we will come back in spirit and continue the work we are doing now. We call this “forgotten spirits” – the spirits of shamans who lived before and come back through us.
VA: What will happen when you die?
HM: I will incorporate into another body. I may come back into Howard’s body and work after I’m gone. I am preparing Howard for this.
VA: Who works in your body now?
HM: I knew a shaman who died but now comes and works through me. He was a Rosicrucian.
VA: Hermana Mari, thank you for setting aside time to talk with me and answer my questions. It has been an honor and privilege attending your ceremonies.