This past July (2011) I was in Iquitos—the ayahuasca hub on the Amazon River in the far reaches of northeastern Peru—as a conference speaker and eager medicine journeyer. I had heard and read a few pieces of information here and there about the master plants— plants other than ayahuasca that more serious students and shamans-in-training diet with. Perhaps I was ready for more this summer because I received a whole new, and fascinating, level of education about the important, even essential, role these master plants play in the work.
The conference organizers had set aside three days for people to participate in ayahuasca ceremonies with the shamans they had invited to work with us. I chose to go with Ricardo, who has a nascent community about an hour and a half out of the city. I liked it there so much the first time that I returned for the second ceremony as well. On that visit we had some spare time in the late afternoon before the ceremony so I asked if it was okay to walk around and explore the perimeter.
As I approached the edge of the cleared area I saw someone ahead of me walk into the bush on a well-trod path, so I followed him at some distance. After a short hike I came out into a clearing the size of a football field with about thirty raised beds, each with identifying signs at the end of the row of plants. As you can see from the photo above, the garden was recently planted at that point.
I fell into conversation with the man I had followed and quickly learned that he was living there for an extended period of time working with Ricardo as one of these shamans-in-training and doing a year-long program of dieting with some of the master plants. To understand the way the master plants work it’s important to note that during these “dietas” as they say in Spanish, the person is also drinking ayahuasca frequently, sometimes several times a week throughout the dieting period. The master plant diets clearly work in conjunction with ayahuasca in an essential way.
This young man, whom I’ll refer to as Luc since I don’t know how he would feel about being identified, was quite happy to answer my questions in detail. Luc and I talked for about 15 minutes before returning to the main encampment. On the way back I asked him if he would mind sharing this information again for me to record and he agreed.
We met up again a little later and went back out to the master plant garden, where I asked him most of the same questions with a small digital recorder in hand. Below I’ve inserted the audio version of our little interview, about thirteen minutes long. Luc is French, with a strong accent when speaking English, and he spoke softly, so I’ve written out the transcript of our question and answer session and included it below as well. For ease of reading I’ve done some minor editing of grammar, though I deliberately left in most of Luc’s idiosyncratic English phrasing to give readers the flavor of his way of communicating this information.
Stephen: So this is the master plant garden.
Luc: Yeah, this is the master plant garden of the center of Ricardo, with shamans. He learns the medicines with the master plants. He learns about many master plants. We have here a garden with a few samples, the most used master plants because they are generally used for the process for general disease, and for general learning because you have many other plants, like hundreds of master plants, and more than three thousand healing plants in the Amazon. You have some of these in Europe too. For example, in North America you have sage? It’s a master plant, really good. They use it in spiritual ceremonies for cleaning the air, cleaning the body.
S: Yes, in the Native American Church they work with sage, cedar, tobacco, and other plants.
L: Yes, and in the normal church they use, what do you call it, incense. It’s not a plant but they use something to clean the air.
S: I wanted to ask you about some of things you were telling me earlier about how you develop a relationship with these master plants.
L: Yeah, you can learn from these plants. They have a personality. It’s something you learn when you diet with the plants. The diet is an energetic process to gain access to the energy of the plant. Every plant has energy, for example when you eat any plant, not for learning but to have the energy to live, you can access the energy and the knowledge. But for this you have to prepare your body and your mind, so you have to open the diet as they say. The diet is a process, so you don’t eat different kinds of food that have a lot of energy, like spices. You don’t eat meat because it’s brought inside. You don’t eat garlic, strong stuff, to not have strong energy, because all these smells are energies.
And then you start to diet with the plants. So we have here for example thirty plants. So, as everybody is different each plant is different. You have plants that are sensitive to your energy and will work with you. The shaman can see it when he drinks ayahuasca. He can see your energy.
S: Just to be clear, you told me earlier that the reason for not eating strong foods of the kind you just spoke about is because they overwhelm these sensitive plants? Can you just clarify that a little bit?
L: The energy of plants is sensitive. There are some strong plants to clean some strong stuff. For example garlic cleans the body really strong. If you diet, garlic cleans the energy of the master plants, so you don’t want to eat the garlic plant when you diet. Then when your body is clean you don’t have the energy of strong foods, strong smells. Then the sensitive energy of the plant can go inside you and not be blocked and can stay in you.
S: You told me some things about how they work with you. Can you elaborate on that?
L: Everything is energy, the energy of life. And the plants the same, they’re energy. When you open the diet her energy comes in you, like a fusion in your mind, and she teaches you. So, when you go into the forest, when you go to diet in a quiet place, you start to have dreams, and they become more and more strong, because the plants are cleaning your mind, every day cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. The process is one year to learn, but to clean we say sometimes fifteen days to three months. The dreams become more and more clear and then you see in the dreams that you’re not really strong. But with time you see better and you feel stronger in the dreams and then you can access the town. The plants have a town, like a city. It appears like this in your dreams. When you see the cities it’s your master plants. It’s a world. I can say that a master plant is like a God in his world. There are a lot of spirits living in his world.
I’m drinking Piñon Blanco now. It’s not really used much because it’s a plant that’s really pure and all of its world is pure energy. Plants are not only pure energy. You have some plants that are a bit dark in their energy. But this Piñon Blanco has the particularity to be pure, like only light when you go in vision.
S: You were speaking earlier about how that process works, how the plants communicate through dreams. Do you remember? One was how it shows you more about yourself, and also about the dark path and the light path and gives you that choice.
L: One of the things that’s really interesting when you start this process is that the plants teach you what is good and bad. This is the first thing they teach, and some plants teach you how to reach the good. That’s why some plants have a bit of a dark side, so you can say, no I don’t want that. And then you go to reach the light and learn. In your dreams we say that it’s a test. They test you to see what you will do. Then you remember, “Ah, in my dream I remember, I do this and I do this.”
S: If you are seduced by or choose these dark paths, it will still give you that, right? That’s what I hear anyway, that that’s what happens with these sorcerers and brujos, that they choose the dark path and they have some power with that.
L: Yeah, that’s what happens in the world, some choose good, some choose bad. It’s the same with the plants.
S: It surprises me that the plants will actually help you become a bad person.
L: Yeah, this is really strange to understand for a human being but this is the way how it works. I think God does the world this way so the plants are subject to the same rules, the same universal set of rules. If you want to reach the good with the plants, you can do it. It’s a choice. Most of the people choose the good, no?
S: What else do the diet plants teach you?
L: The plants teach you first to control your mind, to get strength in your mind, strength in your heart. They teach you to love, to speak, to communicate with your mind with spirits. They teach you how to cure with those energies. They give you energies and then they teach you how to sing. When you go into your dreams, when you spend about six months in the forest, you can hear the spirits singing. It comes to you because you’re learning so you learn the songs of the plants. This is for learning medicine.
S: They also teach you how to understand what ayahuasca is showing you?
L: It’s not like teaching like we have. But since we are really well connected, you have in your dreams, you can be seated, really, it happens to me. You are seated, you have the master plants, like a human being, and they say, okay, listen to what I’m teaching you. But it’s not like you have something you write on paper and then you learn it. No, it’s teaching you in your mind to integrate things so you don’t have to repeat the same dream time after time in your mind. It’s because the plant is with you and the energy comes in you and it’s going to affect your way of thinking, your way of seeing the world. And then with ayahuasca you see the world of your master plants. And the master plants show you a lot of visions, a lot of things you have never seen in your life. And then she starts to interact with what you have in your mind, in your past. Sometimes you have conflict. You say, “I used to see the world like this, not like that.” You have some really strong feelings. Sometimes you cry because something is really strong or you feel pain because of the awful things that happen in the world. You become more sensitive. You learn to be more open to others, to understand the world more. You can learn everything.
So the plants finish cleaning you, because we have a lot of energy inside us, like good and bad. The plants come in you and clean your bad energy. For example I had a motorcycle accident. It injured the back of the neck and spine area. It’s compressed you know. This is an energy. I learned it’s not just something that hurts you. No, it’s an energy, it’s a bad energy in you, in your body. The plants can heal you of this, they’re cleaning you, cleaning this energy day after day.
S: Why is one year necessary?
L: This is the normal process to become a shaman.
S: If your intention is not to become a shaman can you learn enough from shorter diets?
L: Yeah, we say to learn in three months is a good time. But for cleaning, fifteen days you have a good cleaning. Because what is important is the way the shamans manage the energy of the plants. As I told you, the plants have both sides, so it’s good to work with shamans. You diet, sometimes you go a bit in the dark, the shaman says, “Take care, I sing and manage the good energy, I put the dark away and I put the good in you.”
S: So it’s essential to start the diet under the care of a really good shaman?
L: Yeah. Yes of course.
S: To open and close the diet right? But in the meantime you can go back to your own country and do what they call a social diet?
L: Yeah, but you have so much temptation [laughs], with food. During this time it’s better not to be with other people much. For example, if you pass three months here, I don’t know, maybe it’s like double in your country, because you’re more sensitive to the plants.
S: I think we’d better go back before I get eaten alive [by the mosquitos]. Thank you very much.
L: You’re welcome.