Ayahuasca, diet and traditions: some cursory reflections on diversity

During the Eleventh International Congress of Ethnobiology: Local Livelihoods and Collective Biocultural Heritage (2008/Cusco, Peru) we put together an ayahuasca ceremony with a group of Kichwa shamans from Napo and a group of shamans from Colombia. It was a ceremony for academics and practitioners attending the conference – for them to get an insight into what ayahuasca is and how shamans work.

One of those present during an initial Q&A said: “I’ve just eaten, can I partake?”, to which a Colombian shaman answered: “Yes, no problem; you drink a cup, you vomit, then your stomach is empty and you’re ready for the dosis”.

In the other end of the spectrum I’ve come across a Shipibo shaman in Pucallpa who always put foreigners on a month long, strict cleansing diet before feeding them any medicine, since foreigners (and people living in cities) generally intake too much processed, chemicalised food and drink. Despite what the corporate media try to tell us, there is such a thing as cleaning out your system…

Everyone else I’ve encountered appear to fall somewhere in between these extremes; although another instituted practice is also worth considering (and there are surely other styles and approaches out there):

Today I met with someone who’d recently drunk with the UDV in the U.S. He asked me if I was into “the whole fasting thing” before drinking ayahuasca. A little surprised I answered, “Yes, from 2-3 o’clock in the afternoon I don’t eat anything..?!”, upon which he told about his experiences with the UDV, where a ceremony begins with a big collective meal. As a polite guest, of course, he did not point out that this was somewhat contradictory to most other practices he’d come across. The ceremony went well and that dreamer is now very relaxed about these matters.

The point is that there is no single way of drinking ayahuasca, including preparing for it and integrating afterwards. In the Napo Runa (Kichwa) tradition there is more of a focus on what you eat and drink and do after having received a “limpia” (which is something of a personalised, energetic cleansing that is a central/integral element of a healing ceremony). What they call “the diet” is a short post-ceremony thing, which is not at all like the Shipibo style dietary practices that many have heard about.

What the Kichwa diet looks like is always an individual question, depending on your condition and the treatment you have received. Generally it is 1 to 3 days and includes things like refraining from:

  • chili, garlic, salt (but what they mean is industrial, chemicalised salt, while natural, pure salt is OK, but since there is hardly any of it around and everyone in Napo stuffs themselves with iodised and fluoridated salt at every meal, “salt” is a no go), processed food (things that come in plastic bags and tins  – again, since such foods here tend to be heavily chemicalised, imported and of course from energetically unsound factories) and pork (due to its difficult to digest fats and because pork here means industrial, medicalised meat introduced by colonisers), alcohol, and having sex resulting in an orgasm. Think tantric for further reflection. Sometimes, especially during apprenticeships (i.e. drinking ayahuasca to learn to heal, rather than be healed), the diet can also include not touching anything very hot (fire) or very cold (ice or swimming in the river in the morning). There are other things and some of them are secret, so you will have to find out for yourself! 🙂

NB: There are some specific kinds of foods and medicines that can be outright dangerous, so inform yourself: Foods to Avoid with MAOIs / Foods and Meds to Avoid with MAOIs / What foods and drugs need to be avoided?

If you analyse most of these things that the Napo Runa include in their post-ceremony diet, then a significant number of them tend to be things and practices from “the outside”. From industrial society; invader practices that historically have brought misery, sorrow, disease, death and destruction resulting in an estimated 90-95% of the population being exterminated. However, it is worth noting that chili is a plant native to the Amazon and worshipped in other contexts, but its piercing powers will prick a hole in the balloon of positive energies accummulated during the limpia, while orgasm will see them slip away with that big sigh, or they may be swallowed up the partner(s), which is why sex and cult figures go well together.

If you are concerned about your diet before and after drinking ayahuasca, think real food generally and wild food if you have the chance or skills:

That is, think about developing microbial alliances – with the critters that actually do the digestion of your food for you and which form the interface with the environment in terms of your metabolism/nutritional energy exchange with the universe – get intimate with your local soil, plants and traditions, pay attention to your body’s responses to the environment, including seasonal/climatic changes and perhaps lunar cycles if you are sensitive to its gravitational pull.

After all, not everyone belongs to the Amazon and although you can import any kind of food from anywhere these days, re-establishing local relations and developing community where you live are practices more likely to contribute to your own and the planet’s healing.

In the immediate time surrounding the ceremony think clean, think bland. As the same Colombian shaman noted about the post-ceremony diet: “It is no so important, just eat good food, but of course not “…injected chicken…”, he said gesturing an injection into his arm with theatrical disgust in his face.

Other than that, learn from as many different traditions as possible and synthesise your own way. Respect diversity.

As a shaman noted: “Once you know what you are doing, you can eat and do anything.”

Escape the echo chambers, shed dogmas and open your mind – isn’t that what it’s all about? Live, learn, try, fail; fail better. Who knows what the future brings…

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