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In the Shipibo culture, the Ayahuasca vine is known by the name “oni” or “nishi”. The word “oni” has a double use (as the word “Ayahuasca” itself) referring both to the concoction that is ingested in the Ayahuasca ceremony and to the vine itself. It is considered to be one of the most ancient sacred “master” or “teacher” plants. The ingestion of the beverage, or potion, prepared from it strictly within the context of a ritual ceremony, enables the shaman to receive the energies necessary to go into trance, diagnose and calm the patient (who may be experiencing strong emotional reactions), and heal any “dis-ease” of the soul at the same time as treating the physical body. In this way, for five thousand years or more, human beings have lived healthy lives in the Amazon rainforest in harmony with nature.

Preparation of the Ayahuasca plant for coccion together with the chacruna, in Yosi Ocha - Iquitos, Peru

Ayahuasca is the Quechuan name derived from two words: “aya, meaning a human corpse, and waskha, which translates as “soga” – literally rope, but commonly used as another word for vine. Thus Ayahuasca is known both as “the vine of the dead” or “the vine of the soul”. The distant ancestors of the indigenous Amazonian Indians had the privilege to discover how to harness its many benefits, so full of mysteries.

Ayahuasca is revered as the mother of all the plants, whose energy will guide you on a voyage of self-discovery, to meet spirits in other dimensions as well as the spirits of the plants in this one, and invigorate you with the powerful energies of the Sun, the Moon and other astronomical bodies.

For the Shipibos there is no question – the plants of the forest have their own life, they have feelings and can also suffer, for each of them has its own spirit and it is these spirits that may be clearly seen in the trances of Ayahuasca plant medicine.

These beings of nature will approach you and seek to harmonize with you. The boldest spiritual travelers amongst you will find a way to engage these spirits in conversation. Many shamans are accompanied on their journeys through other planes by their spirit wives, having united themselves through a mystical marriage with their spiritual loved-one. Through their uplifting and enjoyable interactions with these spirits, the shamans are able to bring you the benefits of a vast range of extraordinary knowledge.

Apart from healing both the physical and spiritual bodies with plant medicine, they can assure the successful attraction of your loved one and drive away bad spirits which can be the cause of much suffering. They can help you to separate from a partner who is bad for you for instance, or get rid of the effects of other people’s jealousy – which can be profoundly damaging spiritually. They can also teach you to carry out astonishing cures, or to travel at will out of the body and to continue learning divine truths.


The traditional method of preparing the Ayahuasca brew, as practiced by the Shipibo shamans, involves the mixture of two plants: the leaves of the shrub known as chacruna (Psychotria Viridis) with the pulverized Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi). This concoction is boiled for days, while the maestro instills in it good intentions of healing and spiritual awakening for future participants.

The chacruna endows the mixture with its visionary energy due to its content of Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a naturally occurring psychoactive compound manufactured in the pineal gland, or third eye. DMT is broken down rapidly by stomach enzymes under normal circumstances, making oral ingestion entirely ineffective; however, the ayahuasca vine contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) which retard the breakdown of DMT.

MAOIs are also the active component in many antidepressant drugs, which are incompatible and potentially extremely dangerous, and even lethal when combined with the use of Ayahuasca – in common with many other prescription drugs (see Preparation for a retreat / Medications and recreational drugs).

Extra additives may be included in the Ayahuasca brew, which may prolong the effects, intensify the spiritual powers of the “icaros”, the sacred songs sung by the shamans, provide additional purge or diarrhea, aid in performing more accurate diagnoses, intensify visions and improve vitality even more than the “basic” brew. There is no doubt, that in the hands of a highly competent and experienced shaman, certain additives in the appropriate quantities can give excellent results.

Preparation of the Ayahuasca brew at the Yosi Ocha retreat center in the Amazon rainforest, near Iquitos, Peru.

Unfortunately, there are a number of false shamans who use additives irresponsibly and even with bad intentions. Others use visionary additives excessively so that the participants have a memorable experience of their ceremony, regardless of the main goal which is healing, or even the fact that this experience could become a new trauma in itself since the patient can receive visions that are too difficult to integrate without the proper guidance of a ceremony.

Shamanic wisdom has commonly been an oral tradition and great emphasis is placed on closely guarded shamanic secrets. Nevertheless, like any great power, shamanic knowledge can be used with good or bad intentions, and once the forces of spiritual dimensions have been unleashed, the dangers of this power falling into the wrong hands – be they ill-intentioned or in-experienced – can be just as terrible as its healing and spiritually transformational capabilities are truly wonderful.

Therefore, we highly recommend you check the references of any center before booking a retreat that includes Ayahuasca ceremonies and avoid any session devoid of the sacred context of medicine. 


Ayahuasca plant medicine is an effective route to experience a direct awareness of the infinite power of good, to meet and communicate with any number of spirits of the Amazon rainforest and to glimpse the mysteries of the beyond. The ritual association of Ayahuasca with the leaves of chacruna plant radiates psycho-active, extra-sensory energy, which enables participants both to become aware of wonderful qualities of themselves and to appreciate, from a different dimension, the beauty of creation, the blessings of nature and the very essence of goodness. This in itself is a powerful source of healing, since it allows us to understand what is behind any traumatic event in our lives and observe it from a place of love and forgiveness.

Spiritual Growth – This is obviously a vast subject about which books are frequently written. Because of the experiential nature of Ayahuasca, many people find that things they have read and perhaps understood intellectually now become integrated on an emotional, loving level. Partake in enough ceremonies and you’ll be writing the books!

Life Purpose – It is always a good idea to approach each ceremony with questions you want to be answered and problems for which you need solutions, and to meditate on these as deeply as possible beforehand. “What is my life purpose?” is probably the most fundamental question you can ask. Ayahuasca plant medicine has radically transformed the lives of so many people for the better, often in unexpected ways.

Depression – Scientific studies have shown very convincingly that time and again, Ayahuasca has provided amazingly effective long-term cures for those suffering from chronic depression and helped people break out of the vicious circle of a negative mindset manifesting a dismal reality.

Addiction – Similar to drug or alcohol-related problems, Ayahuasca has repeatedly proved to be far more efficacious than any of the methods employed in the west. Deepak Chopra has argued very cogently (Overcoming Addictions, 1997) that addictive behaviour represents the search for transcendental experiences by a soul who has been cut off from his spiritual core – addictive behaviour represents the search for spirituality, but clearly, in the wrong place. Ayahuasca certainly reconnects you to your inner core and the experience of true inner joy.  After that, you will never want to return to the cycle of suffering and transient pleasure.

Positivity – If your motivation is to come and get high, you will probably be disappointed. Ayahuasca is a very powerful sacred medicine which connects you to spirit realms and must be approached with seriousness and reverence. And however healthy you are, practically everyone has some degree of toxicity to be purged, which while very necessary, is scarcely pleasurable. Individual experience varies, but most patients feel a tremendous sense of positivity by the end of the ceremony. The more ceremonies you do, the greater the positivity and the more enjoyable the entire experience. Ayahuasca is by no means, however, a recreational drug.

Physical Ailments – Extraordinary claims have been made for the effectiveness of Ayahuasca plant medicine in the treatment of almost everything from cancer to sclerosis, but other than those on depression and addiction, there have been few scientific studies. Sadly, in the late 1960s, DMT – the primary psychoactive compound in the Ayahuasca brew – became a restricted substance in the West, despite the fact that it is naturally produced by all animals and in humans seems to play an important role in the pineal gland, or third eye. Funding for further research has been withdrawn since then. Nevertheless, in the last decade, Ayahuasca has generated an increasingly growing interest in the international scientific community by observing its positive effects in the medium and long term in all types of patients. Today, several scientific centres around the world are researching its formidable properties and benefits.