“I was told by someone studying in Amazon that you strictly should not be doing any (Ayahuasca) ceremonies unless initiated by a chief and tribe from the amazon as you are allowing dark forces to come to roam freely and energetically. The ancestors of this medicine will not allow it and will havoc in the spirit realms to anyone not initiated. ”

I received this question or enquiry recently from someone who claimed to be interested in attending one of our ceremonies. I spent some time contemplating this enquiry because it felt more than a simple enquiry from a concerned participant. I sensed other indirect voices in the background. This had me reflect on why I haven’t chosen to travel to the Amazon to be trained and initiated into an indigenous medicine lineage, even though I have sat in ceremony with wonderful Amazonian padres. Instead, I have been trained and mentored over many years by a contemporary shaman who facilitated various learning interactions for me with other proficient contemporary facilitators and teachers from here and abroad.

In my many years of holding big spaces with this medicine, I am always hungry to expand my understanding of this path and learn from whoever I meet. However, I am very clear about my path as a contemporary shamanic guide, just as I am clear about the important role that our medicine community, Wake Circle, plays in creating greater access to this medicine work and bringing forth a New Earth.

When choosing a shamanic facilitator or organisation, especially for a first Ayahuasca experience or any other entheogenic plant medicine, the main intention is to find a practitioner who has the credibility, experience, and knowledge to properly hold space for this medicine. The priority is to ensure safety and expert guidance as we journey into our inner dimensions. It is important, however, to make the distinction between seeking an ethnic cultural psychedelic experience and seeking an entheogenic and healing shamanic experience, both of which are authentic in their own right.

Additionally, it is important to keep an open mind regarding what these medicines represent for us and to acknowledge the potential narratives and superstitions that may come attached to them.

There is often a fiery debate between practitioners of indigenous tribal lineages and the rising wave of contemporary shamanic practitioners. A student initiated in the Amazon may believe and assert that their path is the only credible way to hold ceremony space and that anyone else does not have the ancestral right to pour medicine, no matter how experienced, embodied or successful they may be in their practice. On the one hand, the practical side of the argument is completely understandable as it is important and sacred to protect this space; the indigenous path is certainly the most established and credible lineage of initiation to prepare one for this serving role. However, Ayahuasca ceremonies have been popularised in our global narrative mainly through the Shipibo, Yawanawa, and Huni Kuin tribes, but the sacrament Ayahuasca in its greater sense cannot be claimed as anyone’s exclusive domain.

It is important to clarify what ‘Ayahuasca’ actually means as a global term. While the name originally refers to the tea that contains the famous vine Banisteriopsis caapi, in a conference of the main South American plant medicine tribes and facilitators, it was universally understood and agreed upon that the term ‘Ayahuasca’ simply refers to the alchemical combination of an MAOI with DMT. This means that there are as many equally potent versions of Ayahuasca and ceremonies as there are plants containing these alkaloids. These plants exist all over the world, and there are even historically documented versions of a very powerful Ayahuasca analogue originating from North Africa and the Middle East from ancient times. These revelations break the historic mould that this tea we know of as Ayahuasca is only an Amazonian phenomenon. ‘Afriuasca,’ as we often call it, is one of the unique brews that we sometimes serve in our ceremonies, and it contains no plants from the Amazon. While each tribe or organisation may possess its own unique way of brewing and serving their medicine, the sacrament we know of as mother Ayahuasca in her spiritual essence cannot be said to solely belong to any single ancestry or lineage. Her name is now invoked in many languages of the world, along with many different versions of brews and ways of holding ceremony.

Another crucial consideration is that when we, as participants, enter this work for the first time, we are not just selecting a practitioner, but we are also opening ourselves to a cosmology and belief system of which the practitioner is a part. Ayahuasca is not only an ancient tool for healing but also fundamentally an entheogen that opens us to the experience of the unseen spirit world, and more significantly, to ecstatic and religious experience. For most first-time Ayahuasca drinkers, this is such a significant encounter that where we first drink is often where we will continue to drink, much like being initiated into a religion. During this initiatory experience, there is often an unconscious imprinting that can happen in the space, similar to the first experience of falling blindly in love.

This is undoubtedly a weighty responsibility that any practitioner must bear, and one that any new participant must be mindful of. The reality is that most indigenous tribal belief systems, no matter how ancient and powerful in their practices, and no matter how beautiful their ceremonial wear, ritual, and songs may be, still hold archaic and deeply ingrained narratives of pervasive dark forces, entities, and ideas of intrinsic evil that are used as threatening beliefs. These narratives are essentially designed to protect and maintain the loyalty and integrity of their traditions, lineages, and sacraments, which is not dissimilar to the fear tactics used by Abrahamic religious ideologies. As Western participants, we expose ourselves vulnerably to the power and suggestion of these spiritual narratives and superstitions, which can have a forceful, if not debilitating, effect on us. We each have the right to choose where we want to open our minds, hearts, and souls, and this is precisely what contemporary shamanic practices offer us: choice.

While the Amazonian tribes, with the greatest respect, are certainly one of the oldest recorded guardians of the central plants, brews and ceremonial practices that we have come to know, there have been many important evolutions and developments in the last century when it comes to the making and serving of Ayahuasca. There are now countless well-established and reputable Ayahuasca organisations, churches and practitioners spread out all over the world working with different cosmologies, belief systems and all levels of space holding skills who proficiently practise Ayahuasca ceremonies. Some of these organisations draw their belief paradigms from various other world spiritual traditions and religions. I have personally experienced the ceremonies of the global organisation called the Sante Diamè church from Brazil which holds beautiful Ayahuasca ceremonies under the auspices of a hybridised shamanic/Catholic practice. Whether this is one’s preference or not, what it offers us is access to the healing power of these medicines and the choice of a spiritual paradigm.

While there has been a global renaissance in the ancient practice of animism and a return to earth-centred spirituality, which these beautiful indigenous Amazonian tribes essentially embody, one cannot ignore the fundamental breakthroughs in our global collective consciousness brought about by practices such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, as well as enlightened science and psychology. These have birthed an expansive, empowering, and responsible worldview, particularly around the nature of being human, of dark and light, good and evil, and the role of religion and culture itself. This worldview encourages us to obliterate old superstitions that erode our power of self-determination. It calls for us to take full responsibility not only for our own lives or this world we have created but most importantly for the devils and angels we each have the capacity to be.

The true contemporary spiritual seeker is not looking for another ethnic cultural belief system to assimilate themselves into or another dogma to devote themselves to; they are seeking a direct line to their soul’s truth, to their own ancestors, to their primal connection with the earth and to the divine. There is a much bigger game at play here, and it is from this quest that a genuine collective vision of a New Earth is emerging. Contemporary shamanism has an essential role to play in this unfolding.

Depending on the perspective and narrative one chooses to take, it has been said that “dark forces” are already at play in the world, and every ecosystem, both of spirit and nature, has already been disrupted by the greed and disconnection of our mindlessly expanding civilization. It has been said that the ancestors and spirits of sacred plant medicines like Ayahuasca have consciously and deliberately spread themselves all over the world as a hope for humanity’s healing, awakening, and a return to harmony and oneness with nature. I have heard these sentiments and prophecies shared by Amazonian shamans themselves. The spirit of Madre Ayahuasca chooses where she wants to be, and she cannot and shall not be constrained or possessed.

It all comes down to this: each and every person has a sovereign right to choose which cosmology, belief system, and ritualistic mythology they open themselves to when they partake in these sacred medicines by selecting their facilitator and organisation. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each participant to choose wisely from referrals they can trust. Those who have read the works of Terence McKenna will know that there are just as many charlatans or ‘brujos’ in the Amazon forest as there are opportunists anywhere else. Likewise, just because a student has been initiated into the medicines in the jungle way after visiting the Amazon does not automatically mean they have the capacity to hold space for the maladies of the western soul, especially for our highly traumatised nervous systems in South Africa. This is why it is essential to assert that there is no longer a singular and prescribed Ayahuasca path to follow.

While I appreciate the reverence any practitioner has for their path, dogma in all its forms creates separation and conflict in our world; it is the shadow aspect of all spirituality. When we believe our path is the only proper way and attack or belittle others to defend the purity of our stance, we are no different from mainstream religions that have ravaged our history books. It is ironic that many plant medicine “shamans,” both from South America and locally, have a reputation for attacking each other through gossip, innuendo, deprecation, and sabotage. The threatening notion of displeased medicine ancestors wreaking havoc in the medicine spaces of those not appropriately “initiated” is no different to the jealous God of the Old Testament who smites down non-believers, it speaks to an immature spiritual paradigm. Contemporary spiritual practice involves the shrinking of our egos and opinions, not their enlargement. A wise and embodied practitioner of any lineage should be minding the integrity of their path while respecting and appreciating the practices of others.

There is no question that an Ayahuasca experience poses many potential dangers when it comes to exploitation, immaturity and opportunism. Entheogenic healing is an entirely new and wild frontier that has emerged and it is not one that shall be easily regulated by government bodies or plant medicine fundamentalists. For any newcomer entering this shamanic realm, it is imperative to conduct a thorough investigation into the credibility, reputation, and experience of any facilitator who is holding space for these medicines, regardless of their training background. There is certainly a universal checklist of what to look for in a facilitator who can create a high-vibrational spiritual environment, who is deeply embodied in their medicine practice, and who has the actual hands-on experience to guide participants successfully through their various inner healing challenges and obstacles. The integration resources provided by the facilitator or organisation can serve as a good indicator of the proficiency of their work.

At the end of the day, if someone feels called to sit with an initiated practitioner from the Amazon jungle or in the Peruvian mountains to have an “authentic” and indigenous cultural Ayahuasca experience, it can be a magnificent experience in its own right. However, many others, even those who have drunk medicine in the jungle, have found their authentic spiritual home with contemporary shamanic communities like Wake Circle, which focuses on holding safe, sacred, and deeply compassionate spaces that are free of dogma and cultural affiliation.

Anyone seeking to transform their lives and on a genuine and open-minded spiritual journey should be able to choose where they drink. That is, in my opinion, each person’s sovereign right.