Shamanic Plant Medicine - Ayahuasca: The Vine of Souls

Shamanic Plant Medicine - Ayahuasca: The Vine of Souls

by Ross Heaven


View All Available Formats & Editions
Usually ships within 6 days

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781782792499
Publisher: Moon Books
Publication date: 01/07/2014
Pages: 138
Sales rank: 1,047,998
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Ross Heaven is a psychologist and healer and the director of The Four Gates Foundation, one of Europe's leading organisations for the preservation and teaching of indigenous wisdom. He lives in Newhaven, UK.

Read an Excerpt

Shamanic Plant Medicine - Ayahuasca: The Vine of Souls

By Ross Heaven

John Hunt Publishing Ltd.

Copyright © 2013 Ross Heaven
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78279-249-9


The Vine of Souls and the Amazonian Approach to Healing

My experience was nothing short of life-changing. I was led into a new world where darkness and fear is transformed into love and light. My ceremonies showed me far more than I thought possible and have given me a true understanding of what is necessary to return to my natural state. I purged years of physical pains, fears and cultural programming from my mind, body and spirit. I also received downloads of spiritual knowledge and instructions on how to remain connected to god/nature.

Shane, Australia

Ayahuasca – a simple Amazonian vine – has, in the past few decades, spread its tendrils from the remote forests where it grows to destinations worldwide and has come to be seen by some of those who have drunk it (a varied bunch including musicians, models, doctors, lawyers, nurses, actors, artists, tradespeople, businessmen and women, to mention just some of those who have attended my workshops with the plant) as a sort of panacea for our age; a 'living God' which can put us back in touch with our souls and lead to new understanding and the potential for a peaceful Earth.

The vine seems now to be everywhere – almost an 'overnight sensation' – known to Western shamans far removed from the Amazon rainforests, and to non-healers alike. Even the mainstream media is aware of it and, while it would normally fly into a moral outrage about the brew (as it does with all 'drugs', calling for them to be banned as soon as it is aware of them), it has until now at least taken a more restrained and considered view about ayahuasca, perhaps partly due to the positive words that have been spoken about it by celebrities and musicians including Sting, Tori Amos, Paul Simon and even the fresh-faced and wholesome Olivia Newton John.

Every leaf, every blade of grass, every nodding flower is reaching out, every insect calling to me, every star in the clear sky sending a direct beam of light to the top of my head. This sensation of connectedness is overwhelming. It's like floating in a buoyant limitless ocean of feeling that I can't really begin to describe unless I evoke the word love. Before this experience I would have used the word to separate what I love from everything I don't love – us not them, heroes from villains, friend from foe, everything in life separated and distinct like walled cities or hilltop fortresses jealously guarding their hoard of separateness. Now all is swamped in this tidal wave of energy which grounds the skies to the earth so that every article of matter in and around me is vibrant with significance. Everything around me seems in a state of grace and eternal.

Sting (in his autobiography, Broken Music)

It was one of the most influential journeys I have ever had being in ceremony with ayahuasca, the vine from the Amazon ... It's very much a journey that a real medicine woman [or]medicine man has to take you on, where you go inside. It's not a social thing and it's not something you should do on your own. It's an internal experience ... And yes, it does sometimes give me visions. But my intention when I am doing it is very different than recreational. I don't do it recreationally. I do it to go do inner work.

Tori Amos

[My album] 'Spirit Voices' is really based on events that happened to me on a trip into the Amazon. We went to see a shaman in a shack in a jungle ... first he sang. He sang for a long time, chanted ... these beautiful melodies ... and then they made up this brew called ayahuasca ... which we drank.

Paul Simon

I have realized the ritual of ayahuasca in Pucallpa and I have shared a few days with the Shipibo, whose members are wonderful people ... Peru is a charming land.

Olivia Newton John

Cut to February 2012 and the mega-celebrity, Jennifer Aniston, best known for playing perky girl-next-door Rachel in Friends, is tipping a bowl of ayahuasca to her lips in Universal's newest romantic comedy Wanderlust. In just a few years, the once secret 'shaman's brew' of the Amazon has snaked its way into the popular consciousness, including the entertainment industry, with cameos in the TV shows Weeds and Nip/Tuck and now the movie Wanderlust ...

This ancient ayahuasca healing modality has proven effective in cases where Western medicine failed. In Black Smoke, author Margaret DeWys describes how 'the spirit vine' cured her of terminal breast cancer ... and National Geographic adventurer Kira Salak wrote about how overcoming a 'devil' in an ayahuasca vision vanquished her life-long struggle with depression in what has become 'the most popular article the magazine has ever published, bringing in 20 times more reader response mail than any previous article.'

Jonathan Talat Phillips in The Huffington Post.

Ayahuasca has always been good at making its own mythology so we must be careful about over-claiming the undoubtedly remarkable qualities of this plant and portraying it as something miraculous.

Amazing cures and spiritual illumination are certainly possible from working seriously with it. However, although this normally requires more than one ceremony or one drink of the brew, but a rigorous healing process of which ayahuasca is one important part. (More on this in the section below).

An Introduction to the Vine

The word ayahuasca comes from two native Quechua words: aya meaning 'spirit', 'soul, or 'ancestor', and huasca meaning 'vine' or 'rope'. Hence it is known as the vine of souls'. It plays a central role in the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Amazon and, in 2008, was constitutionally recognised by the Peruvian government as a National Treasure.

Its ceremonial use dates back thousands of years. One of the earliest objects related to it is a specially-engraved cup, now a museum piece, which was found in the Amazon around 500 BC and shows that ayahuasca has been used as a sacrament for at least 2,500 years.

The brew is made from ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis), and it is said that a shaman can find plentiful sources of both by listening for the heartbeat that emanates from them.

The ayahuasca mixture is prepared by adding the vines and leaves to water and boiling it for several hours so that it reduces to a thick brown potion. This is the brew that is drunk. The shaman oversees the entire process, often blowing good intentions for healing and tobacco smoke into the mixture (a procedure known as soplada), singing magical chants called icaros to it and offering prayers to the ayahuasca spirits for a successful ceremony to follow.


Icaros, the sacred songs of the shaman, are integral to the ayahuasca experience and direct the ceremony and the visions which may arise. The shaman has songs for each person's needs, the vibrations of which summon healing energies with words that tell of nature's ability to heal.

For example, an icaro may call in the energy of a sacred stream to wash away illness or of brightly-coloured flowers with the power to attract good fortune. As the shaman sings you might even see these things in your visions (ayahuasca was once known by the scientific name telepathine because of its ability to work in this way, suggesting that it engenders a form of telepathy among its drinkers so that they share common thoughts, images or experiences during ceremony).

Icaros may also be used to call protective spirits, summon the essence of nature, and to provoke the mareacion or effects of the ayahuasca by making a plea to the spirit of the vine. In the words of one ayahuascero (Javier, quoted in my book, Plant Spirit Shamanism), icaros 'render the mind susceptible for visions; then the curtains can open for the start of the theatre'.

Icaros are not always songs per se but may also be magical chants or a melody that is whistled or whispered into the ayahuasca brew or into the energy field of a person who is to be healed during a ceremony. Rather than hymns (which are more common in the Brazilian Santo Daime tradition, a fusion of ayahuasca shamanism and Christianity), Amazonian icaros are better regarded as an energetic force charged with positive healing intent. The shaman stores this force inside his body and is able to transmit it to another person or to the brew itself so that this life-giving energy is also ingested when the mixture is drunk.

These songs are taught to the shaman by the spirit of the plants themselves; the longer his relationship with these plants, the more icaros he may learn and the more potent they will be. The power and knowledge of an ayahuascero is therefore sometimes measured in part by the number of icaros he possesses. Javier, for example, claims to know the spirit songs of some 1,500 'jungle doctors', including the icaro del tabaco (the song of tobacco – one of the most sacred of Amazonian plants), the icaro del ajo sacha (the song of the plant ajo sacha – see below) and the icaro del chiric sanango (also see below), among many others.

However, it is not always true that a library of songs automatically equals greater power since, with the rise of ayahuasca tourism in Peru, there are now a number of 'song and dance' shamans who know plenty of good tunes and are willing to sing them in ceremonies for visitors but who do not themselves have great healing gifts. They are, sadly, more like entertainers. On the other hand, there are also shamans like don Luis of Iquitos who know fewer plants but know them extremely well. His primary ally is chiric sanango, a plant he has dieted many times, the first for a period of 18 months in contrast to the usual shamanic plant diet of just 14 days. In Luis' view it is more important to know a few plants extremely well and to have them as well-established friends and allies because then they will act as your ambassador in the spirit world and lead you to the plants you need for a patient no matter what his illness.

There are precise and specific icaros for many different purposes – to cure snake bites, for example, or to clarify visions during ayahuasca ceremonies, to communicate with the spirit world, or even to win the love of a woman. Huarami icaros (from the Quechua word huarami which, loosely, means 'woman') are of this latter category. Others – icaros de las piedras – are taught to shamans by encantos (special healing stones which offer spiritual protection), while icaros del viento call upon the spirit of the wind and ayaruna icaros (from the Quechua words aya – 'spirit' or 'dead' – and runa – 'people' – are sung to invoke the 'spirit people' – the souls of dead shamans who live in the underwater world – so they may help during a healing or an ayahuasca ceremony.

Icaros can also be transmitted from a master shaman to his disciple but it is nature that is regarded as the greatest teacher and the most powerful songs are those learnt directly from plants themselves. To learn these songs the shaman must follow a special diet for many weeks as he treks deep into the rainforest to find the appropriate plants and places of power where the magical music of nature can be heard. The words of the chants he then learns are symbolic stories telling of the ability of nature to heal itself and heal us, since we are a part of nature too. What actually heals, however, is not the words or the tune but the healing vibration they carry and the insights that arise from this, which allow inner feelings to unblock so that bitterness and anger can change to ecstasy and love.

The Shamanic Diet

Ayahuasca is sometimes also called the purge (la purga) and has a reputation for causing vomiting. It is worth saying something about this here. Firstly, it is not 'compulsory' that you vomit! Many people do not.

In Peru, however, purging is regarded as beneficial because when people purge the spirit of ayahuasca is conducting a healing. What emerges from the body is often not physical matter at all but unhealthy energies that lead to illness.

During an ayahuasca session, for example, you might make a healing connection between a negative event from your past and a pattern of saladera (bad luck) you are experiencing now, followed by an urge to vomit. What comes up is the negative energy from that event so that new, positive energies can flow. This is a purification of the soul so your luck can change for the better and old attachments and limitations are released.

Adherence to a special diet as part of the ayahuasca process of healing will also reduce the likelihood of vomiting (as opposed to purging). The diet in fact is a key part of the experience and can be a journey of self-exploration and discovery in itself, bringing greater awareness our routines and habits which can limit us. As Barbara, one of my American participants, put it: 'Judging from people's comments, I think the diet was harder for me than everyone else. This led to the insight of how much of my life is centred around food.'

Shamanic diets also enhance the visionary experience. They involve purification, retreat, commitment and respect for our connection to everything around us. Through the exclusion of some foodstuffs and activities the diet enables us to purify and take in the spirit of ayahuasca and its healing. They are also key to the training of every shaman as he develops his relationship with new plant allies.

As part of the diet – whether undertaken by a shaman to meet a new plant spirit or administered to a patient to heal a particular illness – other (typically non-entheogenic) plants are usually taken, each of which has a specific healing function on a physical and a psycho-spiritual level.

The objective in taking them is not to cure a symptom of illness (which is the focus of Western medicine) but to find and release the underlying cause by taking in the spiritual power of the plant so that it is always with you and feeding you its strength. This is based on the notion that plants have a personality and intention of their own which is more wide-ranging than their purely physical properties. A plant like manzanilla (chamomile), for example, is known in the West as a relaxant and a stress-reliever and, of course, in Peru it provides this service too but its deeper spiritual personality is concerned with 'lightening the load' or 'smoothing the way'. Once its power is a part of us at the end of a successful diet it can therefore be called upon to relieve stress and make things easier for us not just on a bodily level but, through magic and intention, in all situations we come into contact with.

These are so many other examples of plants that are commonly dieted. Some (known as admixtures) may also be added to the ayahuasca brew to produce particular healing effects.

Jergon Sacha

Jergon is a 'signature plant', its spiritual essence (or ally) advertising its presence and healing intentions through its appearance. The look and colouration of its stem resembles a poisonous snake which is indigenous to the area in which it grows and a medicine made from the root of the plant is the only known antidote to a bite from this snake. The plant is therefore a lifesaver when a root poultice is applied to the bite and an infusion of the tuber in water is drunk. The wider spiritual intention of this plant, shamanically speaking, therefore, is to extract poisons (virotes: magical darts of negative energy, sometimes sent by rivals or black magicians) which have attached themselves to us as 'viral infections'. These then manifest in our energy bodies – and eventually our physical bodies – in various forms, such as cancers and other diseases. Jergon sacha removes these energy darts and cleanses the physical and spiritual body. For this reason it has also proven useful in clinical studies in the treatment of addictions, cancer, HIV and AIDS.


Nicotiana rustica, known in South America as mapacho, is a potent form of tobacco which is sometimes added to ayahuasca to clarify visions and provoke purging to rid the body of parasites and toxins. The recreational use of tobacco is rare among Amazonian Indians but in ceremonies where ayahuasca is taken it is common for shamans (and participants) to smoke huge cigars, some as long as 36 inches, to purify the ritual space and keep unwanted spirits out. The spirit of tobacco is seen by some shamans as a beautiful woman dressed in white, by others as a black smoke-like shape and by others as the plant itself but in gigantic multi-leaved form and in brilliant colours. Her attitude is motherly, healing and loving but she does demand absolute adherence to the diet and the consequences of breaking it can be severe. It is not therefore a plant to be trifled with since it is both a healer and a destroyer. It may be used by the shaman to cure addictions, pulmonary illnesses, breathing problems and cancers, for example (and in recent medical studies in the West is also showing promise as a treatment for some forms of cancer), but it can also aid spirit extraction work by suffocating, weakening or killing negative entities. The greater ('mother') spirit of the plant also contains other allies with specific functions, such as warriorship (endurance) and healing (cleansing and relaxation).


Excerpted from Shamanic Plant Medicine - Ayahuasca: The Vine of Souls by Ross Heaven. Copyright © 2013 Ross Heaven. Excerpted by permission of John Hunt Publishing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

About the Author viii

Introduction: Shamanic Plant Medicine

The first practical guide to working with teacher plants 1

Ayahuasca: The Vine of Souls

1 The Vine of Souls and the Amazonian Approach to Healing

An introduction to ayahuasca and shamanic healing 5

2 Healing with Ayahuasca

How ayahuasca heals as part of a therapeutic process that also includes the plant diet, floral baths, the icaros and energy work of the shaman, and other allies from the spirit world, including case studies of those healed by this process 26

3 Ayahuasca Origins and Visions

Myths and legends: where ayahuasca comes from and why it is here to help us - and a warning not to take the maps and cosmologies of others too literally or you may miss the healing it's giving you! 57

4 Issues, Concerns and Cautions with Ayahuasca

Things to be aware of when working with the vine of souls, including some of the facts and fallacies in Western views and judgements of the plant and those who drink it 79

5 Frequently Asked Questions

Anything I might have missed: questions raised by those who have an interest in ayahuasca 111

Endnotes 123

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews