The Way of Wisdom

Don Alfredo by a giant Sacha-Chuchuhuasi jungle vine. Photo: F. Sammarco

 

“The idea of following a particular diet is seen as a sine qua non both for becoming a vegetalista – i.e. for acquiring wisdom and strength – and for restoring one’s health. Only by purifying oneself by following the diet is one able to contact the spirit world, learn from the plants, and regain physical health. All vegetalistas insist that following the diet is the way of wisdom. They all say that while they followed their diets their minds worked differently, they could observe and memorize more easily, even their bodies changed their smell, allowing them to study nature in a more direct way, and they had lucid dream, in which the process of learning continued. They all stressed that they did not become weak from this diet. Quite the opposite, although they lost weight, their bodies became stronger and were able to stand the difficult conditions of life in the forest and the diet prevented them from becoming ill. […]

The diet is seen as a natural way of restoring balance, because it helps to expel the pathogenic spirits or substance by allowing the person to be open to the action of beneficial plant and animal spirits. Several times during my field work I heard stories of people who told me that during the period they were following the diet, either in their dreams or in the visions elicited by by ayahuasca or other plant-teachers, an old man or woman coming to take away the illness in various ways, either symbolically, by sweeping their bodies with a broom, or by operating on them like a Western doctor. Such a dream would mean that curing was imminent.”

Luis Eduardo Luna (1986:160-161)

Shamanic Plant Medicine Training and Initiation:

Remocaspi (Aspidosperma excelsum) teacher tree. Photo: F. Sammarco

The Plant Diet or ‘Dieta’

“Dieting” with the plant teachers is basically how one becomes a shaman in the Amazon Rainforest. We are delighted to have found in our shamans a rare epigone of openness and availability on a topic – that of the shamanic plant teachers diet – which the vast majority of maestros is still a bit reticent to talk about and/or explain at the very core. Like in all initiations, and even in traditional martial arts, there are some aspects that have for long been kept secret and only now are becoming accessible to the most. The same happens in certain shamanic initiations and – more specifically – to Amazonian traditional shamanic initiations, like the plant diet essentially is.

In the Peruvian Amazon there are essentially two different types of plant diet (dieta) that one may engage with. The shamanic plant diet – specifically targeted to those who want to follow the path of the shaman and wish to either apprentice with a maestro or become maestros themselves (after a long period of training) – and the plant diet for healing from a specific health condition, which is similar in training, but different in purpose, and with less restrictions.

We offer the plant diet for shamanic apprenticeship in the Ayahuma Shamanic Centre and is worth remembering that – traditionally – the basic core of the apprenticeship lasts a minimum of three months (12 to 13 weeks). After having completed this “initiation” period, one may further extend the dieting periods in rows of minimum two weeks each. The importance of following the dieta – which implies the intake of a preparation made from different parts of plants, vines and trees – is of paramount importance in the Amazonian shamanic training, and is the mean by which one becomes a maestro, a shaman. There are no shamans worth their name that have not done the dieta. The longer the dieta, and the more plants one has dieted with, the more advanced, grounded and complete the training of a shaman is. Those maestros who have dieted with palos maestros (sacred teacher trees) are called paleros and are reputed to be stronger than just ayahuasqueros (those maestros specialized in working only – or mainly – with Ayahuasca, and who may have as well dieted only – or mainly – with Ayahuasca). One may also be a palero ayahuasquero. It is common belief in the Amazon that Ayahuasca may teach one on condition that it will be dieted with palos.

Conversely, those maestros who only dieted with Ayahuasca and tobacco are usually called ayahuasqueritos (i.e. “petty ayahuasqueros“), as Ayahuasca and Mapacho (black jungle tobacco) alone are not sufficient for one to develop and further his shamanic powers, understanding and knowledge. In the Amazon, there is a vast array of plants, vines and trees that are reputed to be “teachers” or “maestros”, if taken in the proper traditional way, that is, in the settings of the dieta.

There is a wide range of plantas maestras (plant teachers), lianas (vines) and palos maestros (teacher trees) to diet with. These – according to the special qualities that may have – may sometimes be referred to as “doctores” (doctors), for their capacity to heal and teach.

 

“You will find more [things to know] in woods than in books, trees and stones will teach you the things that no master will tell you”

St. Bernard of Chiaravalle

Guidelines

The following guidelines for the one year Amazonian shamanic plant diet were originally given to us by Shipibo Maestro Rosendo and are to be taken for educational and research purposes only. For logistic and technical reasons, we currently offer the shamanic plant diet training for up to a maximum of 13 weeks (3 months).

To those pilgrims who are determined to access in depth the shaman’s path, we offer a three months shamanic apprenticeship via the plant teachers dieta. Upon successful completion of the first 13 weeks of apprenticeship, one may reserve his/her own place for continuing the diet at another time, always from an absolute minimum of 2 weeks, up to a a maximum of 13 more weeks

As for our Ayahuasca and shamanic plant diet testers (pre-diet) retreats, we now offer a complimentary on-site Spanish-English interpreting service, available on a 24/7 basis (including at the time of the ceremonies with plant teachers at night). Strictly advance booking only.

All the info provided on this site on the schedule/timing of the diet with plant teachers in our centre may be subject to changes, according to the Maestro and/or Maestra one may be doing the plant diet with.

Guidelines for the one year shamanic plant dieta training

A one year shamanic dieta (with whatever plantas, palos or sogas one is dieting with) begins initially with a period of one week, followed by a fortnightly “buffer period” of suspension (necessary for one to rest and gradually become acquainted with the training). This buffer period is called descanso. After this initial week of diet, and the fortnightly interruption, one will continue to diet for cyclic periods of two weeks in a row, each time interrupted by a two weeks buffer zone. This pattern will be followed until the first six months of the diet.

Upon completion of these first six months of dieta, one will stop the intake of all plantas maestras (teacher plants), sogas (vines) and palos (teacher trees), and will begin to diet only with Ayahuasca, for the following six months, until the first year of dieta is completed. This second half of the year constitutes the practical, hands-on part of the training, when the dietero or dietera (the one – male or female – who is doing the plant teachers diet) will start to put into practice whatever he or she has learnt in the previous period.

During the first, initial six months the dietero – or dietera – will refrain from the intake of food containing salt, sugar, sweets, spices, chilli, oil, fats, stimulants, pork or red meat. The only thing one may eat will be rice, roasted plantains, some other vegetables and fish (and/or free-range chicken). All food should be unseasoned. No canned food is allowed. Once terminated the six-months period, one may – gradually, little by little – resume normal eating habits.

Celibacy must be strictly observed during the whole period of the yearly training, and – to this extent – for dietas of any length (from two weeks to two years!…). This includes abstaining from any form of sex, including auto-eroticism. Physical contact with other people not doing the dieta (including hugs, hands-shaking, etc) should also be avoided. These restrictions will be in place during the shamanic diet (the dieta to become a fully developed shaman’s apprentice, or a maestro, depending on length).

“Many are called, few are chosen…”

In the time frame of the yearly shamanic diet, and with no exceptions to this rule, one may not go to town for at least the first three – to six – months of his/her diet, depending on the shaman’s evaluation of your specific case. Strictly, for no reasons one may break his/her own prescribed diet before the assigned time and when this may eventually be a possibility it must be done only and exclusively in agreement with – and the permission of – the shaman.

The maestros maintain that failure to abide to these rules during the dieta – especially not observing celibacy – might have serious consequences on one’s physical, emotional, mental and energetic well being. This in turn could compromise the quality and good outcome of the shamanic initiation itself.

The shamanic initiation elsewhere in the Amazon

Tribal shamans of the Amazon basin have always put a dramatic emphasis on three key elements of any shamanic initiation: isolation, fasting and a strict celibacy. At times, fasting takes the place of keeping a special diet, only based on green plantains and fish, and with the prohibition of feeding on game. Among the Shuar (also known as Jivaros or Jibaros), for instance, the shaman’s apprentice must remain inactive and abstain from sexual relations for several months (usually a whole year). If he fails, he won’t be a good shaman…(See Harner, 1972).

The Tupinamba shaman undergoes a period of segregation and fasting, to access the spirit world (Polia, 1997: 83).

Among the Trumaí – an indigenous group of Brazil – the apprentice-shaman must submit to long wakes and fasting, scarification of the body and isolation. (Polia, 1997: 83). One became a shaman among the Mojo Indians of Bolivia, after an illness, then fasted and practiced sexual abstinence in order to ask questions to the spirits. The Piro shamans of Peru were used to undergo two months of seclusion, eating only plantains, abstaining from talking, and smoking relentlessly tobacco (Polia, 1997: 84).

Among the Ipurina’ Indians of Brazil, the shaman’s apprentice lived in hermitage and fasted until he was initiated by a Jaguar-Spirit (Polia, 1997: 85). The candidate shaman of the Omagua people fasted for six months before the initiation took place, smoked tobacco, ingested a powder made from the “Mimosa aracioides” plant, and a decoction made from the virola (Virola theiodora) bark (Polia, 1997: 85).

Among the Cashinawa people of Peru, the shaman must respect severe taboos, including the prohibition of eating game, sweet manioc and sweet potatoes. Amid the Manao Indians of Brazil, the young would-be-shaman underwent periods of isolation, fasting and celibacy: after one year he re-appeared in public, painted in black (Polia: Ibidem).

References

Luna, L.E., Vegetalismo. Shamanism among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon, Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion 27, Stockholm 1986

HARNER, M. J., The Jivaro: People of the sacred waterfalls, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles 1972 (in POLIA 1997: 88).

POLIA. M. Gli Indios dell’Amazzonia, Xenia, Milano 1997