I was last to drink the San Pedro from the cup.
“Remember what the Bible said, Creedence,” the voice of Sister Mary, my year 8 teacher, materialised in my mind, “those who are last shall be first.” She’d whispered the scripture to me as I snuck through the heavy back door of the school chapel late for church, again.
An awkward moment to be recalling the solemn riddle of a Catholic nun, ten years later, head back, eyes shut whilst skolling a pint of hallucinogenic cactus.
In the game of grotesqueness, consistency far outshone the taste. Drinking San Pedro is like ingesting the Andean raw vegan version of Nickelodeon sludge, if you can imagine such horror. Nevertheless, buen provecho!, some slight gagging, three icaros and forty-five minutes later; the magic mystery train began to pull out of the maloca come-hithering me to explore the world outside.
I surveyed the setting of our sublime ceremonial space in between the toes of Sacred Valley. “Just relax, treat it like a day at the beach,” our shaman had recommended the night before as a strategy for handling the effects of the medicine. I panned my gaze across the landscape, sizing-up a comfortable spot to spend the daylong ceremony, until it fixed on a single, monolithic boulder in the centre of the terraced gardens. My very own Uluru in Peru – familiar, capable and extremely layable. I walked over, pulled my weight onto its stone skin, crawled up its dorsum, settled onto its smooth surface. A comrade drinker barfed in the distance. First cab off-the-rank. I checked-in with my stomach to make sure it didn’t need to follow. The seas seemed calm enough so I laid down and took on my version of the psychedelic ‘at ease’: palms behind my head, knees bent, mind focused on my intention, eyes fixed on the firmament. Ready. Waiting for whatever the hell was going to come next.
The wind had picked up that morning turning the sky into an overcast freeway. A one-way procession of shape-shifting cumuluses, cirruses and stratuses rolled by making their eternal commute across the sky. Like most kids, I’d been obsessed with clouds when I was young and devoted a generous amount of time simply delighting in them. Unfortunately, I’d grown jaded by these nebulous masses of vapour suspended above us and, like most adults, now lived my days mostly unaware of them. The exceptions being: when on holiday, on a particularly impressive dusk or when falling in love (or participating in any other dopamine peaking activity). Now as I watched them dance before me, it made me sad to think that I hadn’t taken the time to do this in so long.
I guess I was beginning to feel the affects of the medicine as the sensation of existing had become spongier, looser and more cushiony than before. As I laid noticing these slight changes, I wiggled around and adjusted my posture just to test the calibre of my soberness. My mind, my thoughts, my consciousness it was all in check. No changes there.
It was though at this point, immediately after concluding that everything felt rather normal, when I heard a voice yell out at me. The strange thing was that this was not a human voice. It came from something other. An other that I couldn’t place in any which way in particular. A voice more ‘felt’ than ‘heard’. External yet at the same time internal. Not of the mind. More akin to one you might hear from the heart. Yet even though it existed within me, it seemed to belong somewhere omnipresent, ancient and eternal.
“Would you like to go to the theatre?” it asked again. Thundering this time (I guess in case I hadn’t heard it?), in its not-normal-felt-everywhere voice that reverberated through my interior like it was speaking direct into the microphone of my soul’s very own PA system. Upon this second hearing, I noticed that it indescribably belonged to a woman in the sense that I can’t tell you what about it made me know it was a woman’s voice at all. Inherently knowing I wouldn’t have to physically speak for her to hear, I thought,
‘Um… yeah, sure?’
A loud CRACK echoed through the valley and on cue a translucent veil covering the sky – that I hadn’t seen until then – slipped off its imperceptible rafters. Dropping away to reveal a stage that stretched from as far east to west as I could see. The clouds gathered themselves in a line, ready for their performance. It was time for a show. And, like any epic theatre production, ‘The Story Of Who The Clouds Really Are’ crescendoed before my eyes. A cumulonimbus kicked it all off, opening Scene One with a literal bang as it self-combusted into a snow lion with the eyes of someone that maybe I once knew. She prowled off stage right before somersaulting into a Pegasus ronde de jambe-ing a few times before it flew off blowing me a hooved kiss. What was once your everyday altocumulus transformed into an arabesque‘ing grizzly bear weaving his way through a family of pumas that had appeared out of the cirrocumulus. A rabbit, a llama, a turtle – they were all there. Playing percussion, naturally. A centaur on the strings, the serpent conducting. It was Noah’s fantastical ark does Cirque du Soleil in las alturas. Quite the spectacle. I smiled and laughed at the irony of a rabbit formerly known as any plain cloud now showing me how to do magic card tricks.
What? How could I have not noticed this before? The spirits of animals and mythical creatures exist in cloud formations? Clouds are celestial beings? What is this I’m seeing?
“Hey!” a pearly leopard doing the rumba called out to me, interrupting my thoughts, while shaking his whispy maracas to his left side, then right.
“You want to go to the theatre?” he asked me with his cheshire grin.
“Sure!” I replied more enthusiastically than before, as he wiggled his hips to his own cha-cha-cha and said,
“then open your eyes.”
P.S. If you’re interested in exploring San Pedro listen to James Swagger from Capricorn Radio’s very excellent interview with healer and author Ross Heaven here. It’s definitely worth taking the time for an in-depth look into the San Pedro ceremony, shamanism, cactus preparation and how this incredible plant can heal.
This post forms a part of The Sacred Plant Series: a collection of writing recounting my experiences receiving the ancient psychedelic plant medicines ayahuasca and San Pedro.
If you missed out on Episode 3, read it here.