September 19, 2017

The hummingbird shamans of Peru: Excerpt from "Agony and Ecstasy in the Amazon"

Abanti blew the tobacco with fast furious puffs. The snuff entered my nostrils as a sequence of chartreuse explosions that expanded in chain reaction and spread backwards and upwards, illuminating my brain as if from the inside. I gasped at the roaring wildfire that penetrated my sinuses and seared the trigeminal nerves throughout my face. It was more than pain: it was suffering. He was punishing me, there was no doubt, but the pain he inflicted, though intentional, was not cruel or gratuitous. It was an initiation, a right of passage: he was teaching me a lesson.  


"It was more than pain. It was suffering."

The first dose was done and Abanti was already scraping up another. There was no question of refusal. As he rang the bone against the shell, it occurred to me that he was summoning someone, or something. The jets of powdery tobacco entered me once again.  A bright green cloud of excruciating vapor expanded inside my mind’s eye and then turned in on itself, swirling both outward and inward into iridescent fractals that filled me with their luminescence while folding both us within an evolving pattern. There was no way to look at it, since it was everywhere: a million unblinking eyes, a peacock’s fanning tail, a rainbow of undulating woven patterns, the shimmering plumage of a hummingbird. 


"As he rang the bone against the shell, it occurred to me that he was summoning someone, or something"

"A bright green cloud of excruciating vapor expanded inside my mind's eye and then turned in on itself, swirling both outward and inward into iridescent fractals" 
(art: Titia van Beugen)
The two of us were in some secret and enveloping holy place: a cave, a sacred grove. What he was transmitting to me through that bone tube was no longer a physical substance, it was knowledge, a living power: a sacrament. Some part of Abanti was entering me. Not Abanti exactly, but rather a silent twin, a shamanic dopplegänger that had been transmitted to him by some other master. It was both part of him and yet also more than him. It was ancient and eternal, but needed a human host. It could confer practical insights and mystical powers, but was also capricious and probably had its own agenda. This invasive alien force was melding with my spirit through a portal opened up by tobacco. The sensation was both euphoric and frightening.


"A capricious hummingbird seemed to be playing hide and seek with me"
(art: Clancy Cavnar)

I don’t know how many doses he gave me. At some point I whimpered, “Intaga,” and Abanti stopped. Tears streamed down my face. My breath came in sobs. My hands trembled, my face went slack and numb. Thick, dark mucus began to flow out of swollen sinuses onto my lips, neck and chest.  

An eerie buzzing sound surrounded me, sometimes near, sometimes far, sometimes in front or behind, on one side or the other. I could never locate it, much less identify its source. A capricious hummingbird seemed to be playing hide-and-seek with me. There was something unbearable about that sound, not so much menacing as utterly incomprehensible and disorienting. I was confused, with no sense of space or time, and the euphoria had drained out of me and in its place came the nausea, rising like a sickening tide that rolled and spun me to that dizzy, unsettling hum. There are times when one can hold firm and fight off ayahuasca nausea through force of will. This was not one of those times.

“Jiromanka,” I called out: ‘The pot.’


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Read the full article at Medium.


Read another excerpt from "Agony and Ecstasy" on this blog.







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