Many of the most ancient Shipibo rituals have fallen into disuse due to the loss of knowledge following the disappearance of the “Merayas”, a title that denotes no ordinary shaman. Merayas are those who have reached the very peak of shamanic achievement; they can travel, fully aware, in each of the four worlds known to the Shipibo culture and they have achieved the ability to harmonize fully their auras with the beings of nature, and see these supernatural creatures who live in the interior of the forest and the great aquatic and cosmic realms. The Merayas practiced special rituals since time immemorial – or for at least 5,000 years, according to the best historical estimates.
Heberto’s grandfather, Don Guillermo Ramirez (or Yosi Ocha, to give him his Shipibo name), is widely believed to have been the last of the Merayas. The historical record describes Yosi Ocha as a prolific writer and defender of the Shipibo-Conibo culture. Upon his death, Don Guillermo entrusted his grandson Heberto with a precious gift – his handwritten records meticulously describing hidden treasures of the Shipibo-Conibo tradition carefully guarded through countless generations. This startling gift came along with the enormous responsibility of preserving this ancestral tradition in its pure original essence.
It is thanks to Don Guillermo’s writings and training that his grandson Heberto, has been able to establish The Peruvian Institute for Shamanism and Natural Medicine and revive some exceptional shamanic practices and ancient Shipibo rituals. To our knowledge, Yosi Ocha is the only center that has been able to preserve and still practices today a great variety of traditional rituals following the authentic Meraya tradition.
RITUAL OF SPIRITUAL PURIFICATION
In the old days, traditional shamans practiced these Shipibo rituals frequently to clean the spiritual body and help it to flourish. There are two main types of spiritual purification rituals: normal and special ones. For the normal ritual, the curandero uses a wide variety of colognes of different medicinal plants and palos maestros (teacher trees).
The special ritual requires the use of Agua de Florida (a cologne made with a combination of flowers), mapacho cigarettes, the essence of the Ayahuasca vine, the toé plant, chacruna leaves, candles, and sacred stones known as “charms”. In the special ritual, both the shaman and the participants drink small amounts of Agua de Florida and smoke mapacho cigarettes, thus promoting a state of trance. Smoking and the intake of plant medicines are, of course, optional at all times, but they greatly facilitate the therapeutic value of the ceremonies, specifically, the mapacho, which has been used medicinally for millennia in this area of the Amazon and does not present known risks for health.
The shaman then invokes the spirit of different palos maestros and other aromatic medicinal, or teacher plants to heal, cleanse and purify the spirits of those taking part. Participants in a ritual of special spiritual purification sometimes experience visions and may hear spirit voices. Powerful emotions are often felt, ranging from joy to rage, great peace to anguish. These rituals may be undertaken for many different reasons: calming the emotional state of the recently bereaved, or of those deceived in love, among others. Spiritual purification rituals performed at Yosi Ocha, both normal and special, complement and reinforce the healing and cleansing treatment delivered by the principal medicines – Ayahuasca and San Pedro.
RITUAL OF REMOCASPI
Remocaspi is the teacher tree (palo maestro) which, in the Shipibo culture, is known as the medicine tree. Its bark is used to cure various illnesses, such as hepatitis and skin cancer, amongst others. Apprentice shamans learn from this tree, drinking the pure juice of its bark as part of a strict diet to receive its healing powers. The spirit of this tree is quite demanding; ‘dieteros’ receive its medicinal, or healing, energy through a special ritual before which it is necessary to leave a mapacho cigarette or some tobacco at the foot of the tree as an offering.
As an interesting aside, ‘remo’ means oar, the Remocaspi tree is so named because its timber lends itself particularly well to the manufacture of oars, or rowing paddles, essential propulsion for the traditional canoes which – until recently – were the only form of vital river transport.
However, in a typical reflection of the Amazonian insight into plant properties, the wood of the Remocaspi contains a rare chemical compound that is released in the water from the oars and actually repels the aquatic version of woodworm which would otherwise make quick work of the wooden canoes. Another example that helps us to better understand the wisdom of indigenous Amazonian peoples.
RITUAL OF SPECIAL POSSESSION BY THE SPIRIT OF A TEACHER TREE
The Shipibo Ritual of Special Possession by the spirit of teacher tree (or palo maestro) may only be carried out by a highly adept shaman: tabaquero, toecero (shaman specialized in the use of toé), palero (specialist in any of the palos maestros – Chullachaki Caspi, Remocaspi, Tamamuri, Lupuna, and many others), or by Merayas in general. One must have a strong enough body and robust energy to be able to withstand the state of possession during the entire time of the ritual.
Through prayer and incantation, and the ingestion of mapacho by the shaman, the spirit of the teacher tree is entreated to enter and take possession of the body of the shaman. Each patient can then communicate directly with the spirit of the tree, receiving its health-giving energies and its protection, as well as answers to his or her questions.
This ritual is an unforgettably powerful experience. In our center, it is conducted by Maestro Heberto, who may be assisted by his late grandfather, Maestro Guillermo, or Yosi Ocha, who interprets the responses of the palo maestro’s spirit, speaking through Heberto in the Shipibo language. Questions and answers are therefore recorded so that Heberto can translate the replies once he comes out of trance. Whilst there may be other, equally adept shamans working deep in the Amazon rainforest, we are not aware of any other centers able to offer the Special Possession Ritual.
RITUAL OF CHULLACHAKI CASPI & THE ARCANAS
The Chullachaki Caspi is a very important teacher tree, which is recognized as the custodian, or gatekeeper of the jungle. The Chullachaki Caspi ritual is carried out both to seek the protective energies provided by the spirit of the tree, and also to ask permission to enter – and stay overnight – in the jungle. Whenever one intends to enter a virgin rainforest area, it is vital to ask Chullachaki Caspi for permission and explain one’s intentions. This teacher tree has the power to manifest its spirit in human shapes, a resource it has used for millennia to scare explorers with evil purposes and make them lose their way into the jungle. Many local legends describe the mythical forest creature – Chullachaki – that lived in the rainforest long before humans and guards the land, trees and animals.
Shamans diet the bark of this tree to receive its medicine, its protective energies, and arcanas. In shamanic terms, ‘arcana’ means spiritual defense or protection, and is considered to be an actual spirit being.
Generally, in the course of an Ayahuasca ceremony, the shaman will confer on each participant a spiritual protector, or arcana, which may appear in the form of animals, plants, or objects. Thus a shaman might provide an eagle to one participant and an anaconda to another, to protect them from all evil spirits. The criteria by which the medicine chooses one or another arcana is not known, the choice of arcana is dictated by the spirits, and channeled by the shaman. During this ceremony, the shaman will create an energy field around the patient and many arcanas will gather and walk around him in a circle; but only one will cross the line and approach the patient, thus becoming his arcana. The energy of Chullachaki Caspi reinforces the strength of the arcana, and for this reason, it is important for retreat participants and shamans alike to undertake Chullachaki Caspi rituals frequently.
SHIPIBO FIRE RITUAL
The fire ritual is one of the most ancient of the Shipibo-Conibo culture, and also one of the very many rituals which is almost extinct, as knowledge of the traditional procedures has all but died out. This ritual was practiced particularly by the Merayas to receive the energy of fire so that the spiritual body of the Meraya would be ‘lit up’ – or enlightened – both by burning the negative energies of the physical body and by purifying the spiritual body.
The fire ritual would be carried out before attempting a major shamanic feat, such as a competition with other Merayas, shapeshifting into animals (a jaguar, perhaps, or a bat) or some other object – such as a stone, or a piece of wood – or demonstrating to one’s fellow Merayas one’s capacity to become invisible. It was also appropriate, for example, to assist a patient on the verge of death, or to help a dietero who had broken his diet to get back on track.
In Yosi Ocha, the fire ritual is used to expunge everything negative from each participant, who is asked to write down all the negative aspects of his/her life and personality on a piece of paper which is thrown into the fire, with intention, to destroy the negative.
SACHAMAMA RITUAL – OFFERING TO MOTHER EARTH
The ritual of Sachamama is carried out in the trance state induced traditionally by drinking an infusion of the mapacho (jungle tobacco), or a preparation of huachuma (San Pedro). The ritual of Sachamama was, generally, only practiced by the Merayas, very rarely by ordinary shamans. This is one of the most ancient Shipibo rituals, but it has fallen into disuse due to the disappearance of the Merayas and it is one of many vital rituals that our center seeks to preserve and revive.
The ritual of Sachamama is celebrated around the Tamamuri tree, a very special palo maestro (teacher tree), whose loving energy is generally felt even by the most skeptical participants. Typically, two very special vines are entwined around the Tamamuri: quite different in appearance, and a rarity in the plant kingdom, they are the male and the female Sachaboa. The female Sachaboa is considered – quite literally – as a ‘stairway to heaven’, or a connection between the physical earth and higher spiritual planes, because of its remarkable resemblance to a stairway, or rope ladder. The Tamamuri tree represents the gateway or portal to Sachamama, whilst the male and female Sachaboa vines together represent Sachamama – the mother of the earth – herself.
As a prelude to the ritual proper, mapacho smoke is blown around the Tamamuri and the vines, and tribute of a mapacho tobacco is dropped by each participant at the foot of the tree. Additionally, any kind of personal item, or article of clothing, can be left by the tree, and collected at the end of the ritual having absorbed some of the loving energy. As far as we know, Yosi Ocha is the only shamanic center where this very special ritual – amongst others – is still practiced thanks to the written records bequeathed by Don Guillermo to his grandson, our founder Maestro Heberto.
YACUMAMA RITUAL – OFFERING TO MOTHER WATER
These age-old Shipibo rituals are performed to give payment to Yacumama, or Mother Water, to receive her energies which promote a long and healthy life. Formerly they were often carried out by the Merayas in recognition of the services of water creatures, such as the ‘yacuruna’, the black crocodile, the river, the ‘pink’ dolphins, the electric eels, and the mermaids.
It is the shaman’s job to establish contact and trust with the ‘yacuruna’ both to harness their power to heal the sick and to ensure the safe return of their victims. In the same way, all of these creatures of the water have the powers to heal physically and to protect spiritually – to function as arcanas – once tamed and ‘broken’ by the Merayas, rather as a horse must be ‘broken’ before it can have a mutually beneficial relationship with mankind.
Also, payment to Mother Water was traditionally performed before embarking on a lengthy diet – be it a program of healing or of shamanic apprenticeship – to help ensure the successful outcome of the diet. This ritual takes place around either the Leche Caspi or the Yacu Caspi tree, both palos maestros that represent the gateway to Mother Water, around which is entwined the Yacu Boa, an exceptionally long vine that represents Mother Water herself. The ritual is most effective – a trance state is achieved either by ingesting the jungle tobacco mapacho or huachuma (San Pedro). In addition to the payment of a mapacho cigarette, each participant may deposit a personal item or article of clothing at the foot of the tree for the duration of the ceremony to absorb the healing and life-giving energy of Yacumama.
TRADITIONAL SHIPIBO HUITO TATTOOS
Huito (Genipa Americana) is a medicinal teacher plant –its fruit, when ripe, is particularly efficacious as a cure for asthma and other bronchial problems, colds, and also sexual impotence. When green, or unripe, the juice of the fruit is almost black and is used as a dye in Shipibo rituals for painting traditional designs on cloth and wooden sculptures – and also on the face or body. It is also effective as a hair dye.
At Yosi Ocha, we use huito juice to create huito tattoos, which are depictions of the arcana or spiritual protector that has been conferred on each participant generally during his or her first or second Ayahuasca ceremony – although the arcana, which is channeled but not chosen by the shaman, may also present itself during ceremonies of San Pedro.
The tattoos symbolize and reinforce the transmission of the arcana’s energy to the recipient; when finished, the shaman ‘icaro’s’ a mapacho cigarette and blows smoke over the area of the body where the tattoo has been painted. To icaro is to bless, in shamanic terms, invoking the spirits – of mapacho, in this case – with the very specific intention regarding both the individual concerned and the particular objective of the ritual. The tattoo may be painted wherever on the body the guest chooses. The huito dye is not permanent, but fades to a most attractive sepia-like brown and generally disappears after a week or so.