The term "Aya" in Quechua means "Spirit" or "Dead" and "Huasca" means liana, vine, rope. Literally translated it would mean "Rope of the Dead" or "The Vine of Death". It is a thick, woody vine which can grow massively around trees 10 to 15 mts. in height. Its stem has a tendency to coil onto itself sprouting secondary stalks and creating thereby a sort of braided rope which sometimes can have 10 -15 cm. in diameter. Its bark is smooth with a greenish brown color and its flowers bloom in pink, lilac or white.
The main active biochemical substance in Ayahuasca is a known alkaloid:harmine. This substance received its name from a Middle Eastern plant called harmaline (Peganum Harmala). The Ayahuasca vine has an alkaloid concentration of 0.1 - 0.6% of the dry product. 62-96% of this concentration is made up of harmine. It also contains tetrahidroharmine in a 1-29% concentration with the remaining alkaloids being harmaline, harmol, harmala as well as other similar nuclei betacarbolines.
Harmaline and its alkaloid family are brain monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAO) allowing the accumulation of norepinephrine and acting therefore as antidepressives. In their pure chemical state they can produce a sense of euphoria and well-being. During rituals, nonetheless, the Ayahuasca is never used in its pure form. It is always mixed with other plants which contain different tryptame alkaloids.The other main ingredient brewed with the Ayahuasca to prepare the indigenous beverage is a psychoactive plant called "Chacruna" (Psychotria viridis) After 28 years of research by Dr. Jorge González Ramírez, today the ingested brew consists of 32 plants which benefit the entire brain, body and mind system.
Abstracts from an interview published in
THE MAGAZINE OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
YEAR I Nº 6 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 1997 SPAIN
FEATURE ARTICLE ON TRADITIONAL PERUVIAN MEDICINE
Dr. Jorge González Ph.D.
Amazonian Shaman and President of the Universidad Nacional de San Martín
(Editor of the Magazine). We seldom have the opportunity to travel to a faraway country such as Peru, nor to deviate from the known tourist destinations. And we rarely have the possibility to interview a real Shaman, who, besides, happens to be the President of the University in the Peruvian region of San Martín, because the combination of academic knowledge and pure Shamanic Amazonian tradition can only be found in individuals endowed with a great logical mind and a very wide sense of awareness. This is exactly the case of Jorge González Ph.D., and we interviewed him at his residence near the Peruvian jungle. There, among his patients who go see him in search of a cure for their ills, he extended us a warm welcome. The fact is that Dr. González does not only cure the body but also heals the soul. It is obviously not in vain that the years spent living among the Amazonian tribes have given him the key to open the conscious mind by means of a sacred plant called the Ayahuasca, This climbing vine, in the same manner as it encircles gigantic trees in an embrace of fraternal love, also –if we allow it- wants to hug us, human beings, in an ever escalating trip towards the highest levels of our psyche in order to reveal the hidden treasures locked in our enigmatic mind. This liana is the analogic materialization of that other similarly shaped vine, DNA, wherein lies the secret of creation. Are you willing to come with us in our first trip within our innermost soul...?
By: Cesar I. De la Mota
Can you give us some background on your beginnings and your interest in healing? Also, can you precisely define this term which in the West has acquired an increasingly derogatory and disdainful connotation?.
Similarly to what happens in Europe, here in Peru and, as a matter of fact all over South America, the term healer also has a derogatory connotation. As far as I am concerned, I carry the healing practice in my blood because both my parents were also Shamans. My mother died when she was 93 years old, and in an Ayahuasca ceremony I was able to see precisely when and how she was going to die, which was in my arms while I was singing to her an Icaro -which is a Shamanic chant. Ever since my childhood, therefore, I have been surrounded by this knowledge. After graduating from the Universities of Trujillo and Lima, and obtaining my PhD, I traveled to the jungle (Iquitos). I was purposely searching for the world of healing. Upon arrival I went looking for healers and found two, a man and a woman, who became my first teachers. Later on, after staying with them for quite a while, and in order to increase my knowledge, I lived with a series of tribes such as the Witotos who inhabit the banks of the Putumayo river, the Boras along the Napo river, the Cocamas near the Amazon river, the Shipibos from the Ucayali river, the Aguarunas from Santa María de Nieva, the Chancas, and many other tribes. I lived among these tribes because I have always been convinced that knowledge must be learned and “apprehended”, meaning you have to grasp it and cling to it with all your might or else you stay on the surface and you cannot dive and delve into the depths of Shamanic knowledge which encompasses empirical medical knowledge. I got rid of all the preconceived ideas I had acquired as a University professor and a PhD graduate because I studied at the same time medicinal plants and the behavior of healers and witch doctors.
Nonetheless it is only the Shaman who practices this knowledge, not the common tribesman. Is it only the gifted among the group who can have access to the Shamanic knowledge?
Within tribes, Shamans have a certain status. They usually are “curacas” that is the tribe elders, the patriarchs; but that doesn’t prevent them from being always surrounded by young apprentices whom the Shaman needs to train and educate so that they may succeed him. This is of the utmost importance because otherwise the entire body of knowledge of the tribe –medical as well as general knowledge- would be lost. It could be seen as a story, but the fact is it is not a story at all, it is a reality which I have put to the test in front of all the experts in all of the traditional medical congresses that I have attended, where I not only defend this knowledge theoretically but where I make them partake of its benefits. Of course, ultimately they are the ones who must convince themselves and who must start thinking that the obsession scientists sometimes have with their titles and diplomas is, in fact, pure vanity. They need to experiment. That is why I had to go live among the tribes where the knowledge of our natural resources is alive and where there is a logically balanced existence between nature and human society, between nature and man. You see, the natives do not merely think of the tree in an abstract manner, they think of the tree in its relationship to man, that is: the tree and man, the river and man, the fish and man.
What is the difference between witch doctor and healer?
A healer is a person who uses plants -and not only plants but also animals, the power of the sun, the earth and all the natural resources, even his own body- in order to help others attain peace and tranquility and to alleviate their pain and sorrow. The healer is an individual who manipulates the positive strengths of his mind and body. The witch doctor, on the other hand, is the opposite. It is the individual who uses and abuses negative energy -even its negative power- in order to earn a living and he meddles with sickness, pain, agony and death. So, on the positive, very positive side, we have the healer; and on the other side, which is the negative side, we have the witch doctor. Therefore, the Shaman can be defined as the healing witch doctor, since he must also be a witch doctor in order to control peoples’ negative forces which cause illness and disease in his patients, and also in order to protect and defend his own self. So you see, the Shaman is an ambiguous character, an ambidextrous personality; he is at the same time positive and negative, capable of manipulating these two extreme poles, but at the same time possessing a fundamentally essential trait which is that he is, above all, a healer instead of a witch doctor.
Letf: Dr. Gonzalez lecturing at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California (June 1, 1996).
Right: Healing the famous witch doctor Santos Vera from the Northern region.
Is the Ayahuasca the basis of Shamanic culture?
Here we must make a distinction between the different Peruvian regions. In each natural region of the country there is a magic plant. For instance, along the coast we have the apuntia cactus, commmonly known as "San Pedro", which also possesses hallucinogenic properties.
Is it as powerful as the Ayahuasca?
No, absolutely not. Comparatively, I would say it is ten times less potent than the Ayahuasca. Also in the Peruvian coastal region we have the entire Inca culture, whose common denominator with the Andean cultures is the coca plant. But, unfortunately, we all know that this plant has been misused and has corrupted a large spectrum of society, although Amazonian Shamans continue using it as a source of energy and we prepare an invigorating beverage from the juice of its leaves. In the jungle, we also have this magic plant called the Ayahuasca. Each region of the country, therefore, has its own sacred plant. Notwithstanding the fact that our native flora and fauna abound in princes and princesses, the Ayahuasca for us is the queen of the lot. I must add here that another name for us Shamans should be environmentalists.
Can you give us more information on the Ayahuasca vine? What is its real origin and its effect on the mind?
The Ayahuasca is a liana, a climbing vine containing an active chemical substance called harmine which, when mixed with the active substances in other plants, combines in such an absolutely incredible way so as to achieve a purification and even an awakening of the conscious mind. Ten to fifteen minutes after drinking this beverage, the patient who undergoes this purge has an experience –guided by a master- which cannot be distinctively expressed in words, it is more of a musical experience, because it deals with tuning in, with harmonizing our patients’ vibrations with our own positive vibrations and penetrating their inner world. And here is the crux of the matter. We guide the patient so as to obtain an evocation, an introspection of his or her life. And in this process we have some incredible cases, such as mine, for instance, in which I was even able to remember my life inside my mother’s womb. This enables many people to remember traumatic events which happened in their infancy; positive or negative events which made an imprint on their lives. The subconscious awareness of these stored life experiences begins to surface bringing with it happiness or suffering. These events condition and sometimes even define our life. Drinking the Ayahuasca beverage enables us to open and clear up our minds. When we are in an altered state of consciousness, we can vividly remember with sound and color those knots in our consciousness, which really happened at a certain point in our lives but which were later sent to the realm of the unconscious where they remained hidden or filed as the source of our great ills, happiness or sadness. This allows the person drinking Ayahuasca to make an in-depth, though sometimes disorganized analysis -which later on becomes logical- of his or her past life, of what it should have been, of what it now is and what it should not be. We help people by allowing them to project towards their future and by teaching them what they should do to attain it. The world of Shamanism is a world of formidable goals, of positive objectives and of an enormous reinforcement of our most intimate and social values. It gives us the necessary sensitivity to "perceive" life. For instance, I suffer tremendously when a tree is felled. We are hypersensitive and profound environmentalists.
When you initiate people, do you know the state of each one of your disciples through the Ayahuasca, or does it surface automatically with the chanting of the Icaros?
We know precisely, just as precisely as when you take a person’s pulse on the wrist or on the neck. We know exactly how we are reaching each patient and how we can “guide” him/her if he/she has encountered many problems. We also know if the ceremony is being performed for people who have suffered a lot, as it happened here in the city of Tarapoto when we had the guerrillas. At the time, our patients had suffered tremendously because of the guerrillas, and our ceremonies reflected a profound feeling of pain due to the abuses and violations people had been subjected to. We helped patients delve deeply into those feelings in order to confront them again more intensely, thereby strengthening their ability to face any other type of pain.
Dr. Gonzalez lecturing at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California (June 1, 1996).
Is it as powerful as the Ayahuasca?
We need to drink it. I believe Shamans must always drink the Ayahuasca when leading a ceremony, even though we can conduct it without drinking it. I have been able to prove that it is better to drink it because it further increases our hypersensitivity and it allows us to more clearly perceive the state the person is in, so as to be able to diagnose the disorder and prescribe a remedy, whether it is a health, a family or a work related problem.
And also a spiritual problem?
Yes, of course.
Are you able to detect a spiritual block that does not allow a soul to evolve?
Yes, whenever we perceive that a patient is very "negativelly charged", we cure him/her not only from the physical point of view -through vomiting- but also from the spiritual point of view so that he/she can feel deep sorrow for the negative actions committed, can forgive him/her self and can willingly attain redemption.
It is vitally important. It is not a matter of repenting from something or redeeming oneself in front of somebody, it is an internal matter with our own conscience which we cannot cheat. Maybe we do not tell others about our deeds, but it is essential that we redeem ourselves, that we kneel and sincerely repent so as not to repeat the same mistakes.
Is there always redemption for every sin, no matter how horrible?
Yes, there is. I have given the Ayahuasca to a former guerrilla chief from Peru who lives right here in San Martín, and after the ceremony something happened –something terrible on the one hand and wonderful on the other- because when he relived his past life and he saw the extreme suffering he had inflicted on all his victims, as well as the way in which he had done it, he could not stop crying for four long hours. Afterwards, he repented and he told me: "Do you know why I have cried?" "Yes" -I answered- "I have seen a lot of blood in your hands". "My victims have forgiven me" - he said - "I feel great peace inside and outside of me"
Can one redeem years of extortion in just a few hours of crying?
That, nobody knows for sure. What is important is to suggest –by our guidance- how to redeem yourself by provoking a change in your life.
What type of diseases do Shamans treat? To be more specific, do you believe that there is a solution for cancer and other terminal illnesses?
Here you have to be modest. It worries and even enrages me when people say the Cat’s Claw that we, Shamans, have been using for years, can cure cancer or AIDS. This is totally false and uncompassionate. It is wrong to traffic with people’s credibility and worse even, with their pain. We know that the Cat’s Claw has incredible anti-inflammatory properties and that it very efficiently reduces inflammation in all organs of the body. For the treatment of cancer in its primary stages, we have been able to prove that there are certain tree resins which can cure that type of cancer, like cervical cancer (cancer of the uterus), making it disappear in two weeks without the administration of drugs to the patient, but it must be a primary cancer. Some physicians have asked us to demonstrate how we do it. We administer directly on the affected area daily compresses of Sangre de Drago and the sap of Copaíba.
What other types of cancer could be cured?
All those which are not in their terminal stage. We must clarify, nonetheless, that it is not a matter of recovering someone’s health, but of allowing people to have a dignified existence and even a dignified death. What could be better for a cancer patient than to be aware of it, so that this individual can regain health, take the prescribed drugs, learn to cure his/her ills and lead a normal life! When faced with disease, we must change the psychological mindset for dealing with it so that at the appropriate time we can attain a natural, dignified death.
Are diseases in general, and more specifically terminal illnesses, sometimes the result of unresolved psychological or emotional problems, or could they be influenced by genetic causes?
We believe that we are born with a predetermined genetic load which can enable us to face certain viruses, for instance, but also it could make us prone to alcoholism. We therefore think that people already arrive on this earth with a certain genetic load, but we also must be aware of the fact that we are raised within a society which moulds us through its culture, making us eat, sit and act in a certain way; all according to each culture’s different patterns of behavior. Also, Shamans know that people exist within a given social environment wherein the lack of definition of a specific "role" can create problems. This is one of the reasons why in Amazonian tribes we do not find homosexuals, because peoples’ roles are well defined since infancy. These characteristics allow people to forge a psychological being, impervious to certain trends and prone to others. As an example, alcoholism has decimated practically the entire Witoto tribe from the Putumayo river along the border between Peru and Colombia.
What is the origin of that addiction?
In order to understand the origin of that addiction we must go back to the beginning of the century, with the economic boom created by the exploitation of the Jebe, the Shiringa, in other words: rubber. The indians from those tribes were mistreated, they were forced to work by being whipped and if they did not produce the 50 kilos of latex that they were required to produce, they were punished, their backs were broken from the whippings, chili peppers and salt were thrown on their wounds and they were even killed. There were many massacres of natives who revolted against this exploitation by so-called "civilized", people, who not only enslaved them but who also taught them to drink alcohol. People who have fallen into these kinds of problems start having problems with their own descendants. Sometimes they even have children born with physical of psychological deformities.
What other diseases can be cured in a fast and efficient manner by the plants found in the Amazon jungle?
We have treated all kinds of diseases without any problem whatsoever. I mentioned to you earlier that going beyond the traditional rigidity of empirical medical knowledge we started using a combination of different plants; by mixing these plants we were able to obtain polyvalent medicines which enable us to cure stomach problems as well as liver, kidney and lung problems. Here I would like to add that indian tribes have absolutely no idea what AIDS is, even though they have been affected by cancer and by different types of tumors, as well as bronchial and pulmonary diseases, digestive and intestinal disorders, snake bites and many other trauma induced diseases. Some of the healers people do not trust because they do not have Spanish traits tell us, for instance, that there are two bones in a certain part of the body where anatomy tells us there is only one, but their answer is that the other one is "invisible". That is their knowledge, and the truth is that they do their research on their own dead whom they very much revere. There are many tribes where corpses are mummified, first by eviscerating them, then stuffing the insides with plants, then putting the corpse inside a kettle, closing the lid and sealing it with mud. I have seen many mummies in perfect state of conservation. In the Shamanic world the knowledge we possess allows us not only to regain lost health or the lost joy of living, but also enables us to preserve tissues, nerves and bones.
Coming back to the subject of plants, and to your own personal experience when you mentioned that it is necessary to oxygenate certain healing processes with plants, and that Shamans explain this phenomenon by saying that the spirit of plants descends upon the individual. Does the spirit of plants really descend upon individuals or is this simply a way of explaining something that is scientifically irrational?
Personally I have certain doubts because I am a University professor, I was the President of the Universidad Nacional de San Martín, and therefore reason always "pulls" me a bit. But in the end the spirit is merely energy so there is no collision here but fusion.
Is this a Shamanic practice?
Indeed it is. It is a Shamanic practice that I relate to Chinese acupuncture and we now always advise our patients to bring ísulas for these diseases (the bite of these ants stimulates the centers that we want to activate, that is the practice of "Amazonian acupuncture".
Curing the Shipibo elder and healer Benito Arévalo
Is it really efficient?
Of course it is. What worries us is that the ísula dies. It cures at the cost of its own life. It bites and part of its abdomen stays in the sting and the animal dies, exactly as it happens with bees. We also cure with bees.
Where do you receive your knowledge from? Is it true that plants themselves reveal their knowledge and teach you how to treat diseases?
Yes, it is. I regret that one of my masters is no longer with us. One time he was hospitalized for an operation. At night he escaped and went to his house, he drank Ayahuasca and in his vision he started studying his disease and he was told to use a certain plant from his garden that he had never used before. He told me that the plant started to talk to him and to tell him how he should prepare it, and in what exact quantities so that the beverage would last for the entire curing process. He lived twenty more years with the tumor that he had lodged in the base of his kidney. The Ayahuasca is a living plant and its spirit comes to us in different ways, in different shapes and we can talk to it. It even tells us how old it is. For instance I know precisely that this Ayahuasca that I have here is 100 years old. I found it in the Sisa valley, behind the mountains four years ago.
Is the age of the Ayahausca important?
Yes, the older the better.
Is there a special ritual to cut it? Do you have to obtain permission from its spirit? Where did the Shamans get their knowledge about the properties of the Ayahuasca and other plants?
Yes, indeed. The origin of that knowledge is lost in the darkness of time. And what should interest us is how the Shamans discovered the secret for preparing these beverages amongst the thousands of plants found in the jungle. As far as the rite to cut the Ayahuasca, first we go where the medicinal plants are, then we chant songs to the Ayahuasca, we "Icarize" it. And then we cover it with tobacco smoke. With our song we ask it to allow us to "lower" it, cut it and transform it into medicine to cure our brothers. From that moment onwards, if the plant agrees to have a "conversation" with us and to communicate, then we give the first blow with the machete. Since the plant is a climbing vine which coils around trees that reach 40 to 50 meters in height, if we do not ask its permission what we get is only the piece which we have just cut. Or else we have to climb on top of that 40 to 50 meter tree –and, in the middle of the jungle, that is a job that can take several people, several days because the stem is entangled with numerous trunks and branches from other trees. But, strange as it seems, when we ask the Ayahuasca permission to cut it and we beg the plant to let us transform it into medicine, as soon as we pull on it this entire enormous vine comes falling down with all its might -forcing us to run- and forms a huge coiled heap much like a gigantic boa. Then we must cut it in pieces in order to put it inside the bags and to transport it with great respect. And even when we cook the medicines, we still need to encourage the plant , by blowing smoke on it and singing. .
And now for the last question, from the point of view of a Shaman, what do the masters think of the situation in the world today?
We see this whole awakening of society when confronted with this new consciousness of our planet and we feel the sprouting of certain actions geared towards solving the world’s problems, not only here in Peru but also in other parts of the world. Through seminars and congresses, people are awakening and are starting to feel aware of the need to protect nature. But what worries us deeply is that increasingly we see new sawmills in our Amazon, in the jungles of Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. These are indiscriminately felling all species of trees, which concerns us tremendously, particularly when we see that among these are extinct species that are not only good for timber but also for their medicinal properties. Because of this deforestation, it is increasingly difficult for us healers to obtain medicinal plants and when we also witness the depredation of animals and the drying up of our rivers, we are even more deeply saddened. When I came to this region 17 years ago, the waters from that river that you saw called Shilcayo were crystalline. I use to bathe in it. And today it is a river totally polluted with its waters so foul that not even the ducks can bathe in it. That is why we are saddened when we witness how the rivers are dried up, how the fish die, and also how we have to breathe this polluted air, all of which prompted me to move away from the city. An now, as a closing thought and to answer one of the questions you asked me earlier, I constantly ask myself who are the real "savages", those who wear ties, speak many languages and live within the technological community, or those who live within the tribe and who, showing absolute logic, exist in perfect community with nature? (Think and you will find the answer).