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I can’t help but feel like some 60’s cultist as I gather around the fire for my first ayahuasca ceremony. Secret emails instructed us where to meet and what to expect, encouraging all participants to dress in white for the sake of purity and innocent intentions. It is also made clear to us that this is an off-the-books gathering— ayahuasca remains a schedule 1 drug in the United States, and the shamans from Peru are taking considerable risk to perform this ritual as intended. We are in the mountains of western Massachusetts, and it’s also been made clear that no medical attention is close. We are on our own. All of us know the risks. All of us have prepared in our own way, through reflection or meditation or the setting of intention, and we have come together to partake in the wisdom of the jungle.
I am what Jimi Hendrix would call “experienced,” and I’ve been both opened and hardened by my experiences with hallucinogenics, but what is unfolding tonight is primal. I am far away from the controlled settings, meditation mats, and carefully selected music that have dictated my rather sanitized and textbook trips to this point. I could feel it descending around me the minute I came off the highway and began the climb into the mountains. Enveloped by a canopy of summer green branches and stretching flora, I could feel the air clearing and my city-self steadily growing less and less distinct. The hot breeze whispered of forest secrets, and I could feel the beckoning call of the deep South American jungle reaching up into these East Coast hills.
I seek commune with what the ayahuasca shaman call the grandmother.
From a scientific standpoint, ayahuasca is fascinating. It’s a binary compound. The DMT-containing alkaloids from the Psychotria viridis leaves are what create the actual trip. But these must be combined with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, which is a natural MAOI inhibitor and prevents the breakdown of DMT in the digestive system, allowing the chemical to enter the bloodstream unadulterated. The fact that ancient South American tribes discovered this binary synergy and created such a delivery system 800 years before the first antacid is genuinely incredible.
How did they know? How could they have possibly known?
The science is compelling, but I’m really here for answers to these questions. According to the ayahuasca tradition, there is a distinct and quite real non-human intelligence within the plants themselves. This consciousness is said to have directly communicated to cultivators and informed them of the best ways to deliver itself to the user. In other words, the plant “spoke” to them and made itself known. A self-intelligent organism inserting itself into the world consciousness to offer wisdom to the seeker? The implications of this are astounding.
This consciousness has been universally reported as distinctly feminine and one that acts as an older woman, past beauty and youth and child-rearing, and speaking from the wisdom of advanced years and holding open the doorway to past ancestors. A tribal elder, she is respected and revered and speaks with the brashness, directness, and sometimes harshness of a woman who no longer needs coquetry or subterfuge to get her point across.
My own experiences have been largely engineered by science. LSD has been the main vehicle for my travels, with ketamine
and DMT and salvia concentrates as analogs. I have dabbled in peyote and psilocybin mushrooms, but the majority of my contact with anything otherworldly has come straight down the line from Albert Hoffman screwing with the ergot fungus in a big way in 1938. I have experienced a distinctly “dirty” and “raw” feel from the naturals, as opposed to the synthetics and the “cleaner” white room sanitized feeling of chemicals seems to react better with my brain chemistry.
I wonder, at times, if I’ve become a drug snob.
No matter the vehicle, the overwhelming tone that has come across on all my experiments since the beginning is one of distinct femininity. Chemical or natural, it is a feminine hand that has guided my journeys and protected this traveler through some dizzying and harrowing trips. Any guidance or messages, even warnings and harsh truths, have been delivered to me through a filter of divine grace and love that feels like the warm hug of a mother.
I don’t bullfight like Hemingway and I don’t roll with the Hell’s Angels like Hunter S. Thompson, but this author has a pretty firm grip on his masculine identity. I was always a bit puzzled and pleasantly surprised to find Her affection and kindness waiting for me on the other side. Did I need a feminine complement to my natural polarity for me to get the most out of my experiences? Was I more in touch with my feminine nature than I thought? Or was the face of the divine not bearded and stern, but smooth and soft and eminently beautiful?
When my friend invited me to this secret ceremony to actually make contact with what was believed to be the source of the divine feminine itself, it was a no-brainer. It felt like all my experiments and study were leading up to this exact encounter, and so I found myself in the hills, sitting cross-legged around a fire in a huge teepee with an odd collection of would-be travelers, awaiting sacrament. Awaiting contact.
I am surrounded by the sounds of retching, some soft sobs, gasps of awe, and laughter at what can only be the most cosmic of jokes. Throughout the ebb and flow of sound, a constant backdrop of the Icaros—the scared songs of the shamans—are sung tirelessly over the course of some eight hours to guide us and protect us beyond the veil. No matter how far we go, we always have a grounding rally call to return us to the here and now.
But these things do not concern me. I am running. The wind of my ancient ancestors is at my back and the spear in my hand is worn with love and use. I am naked and leaping from pools of shadow, nose close to the ground, senses heightened to a superhuman level. I see green eyes in the trees, I smell the fresh urine of deer in the run by the river, and the hot spill of blood from a predator’s kill in the grass. The stars burn, atomic pinpricks through the sweltering dark. A scorpion moon guides my fleet steps through the jungle.
As I pass, the plants whisper to me, telling me in flashes that are both heard and intuited about their origins, their properties and uses, and their inherent consciousness. This jungle is teeming with life and then another life, beyond the common senses of the vulgar man. Here I am among a primordial secret history stretching back millions of years to the first hunched homunculus who came down from the trees to walk on two legs. I am in a library, a museum, a cathedral of primal knowledge that eclipses modern science and engineering so completely, I finally see Western civilization as a farce.
I have stepped into the wild and found that this is my truest nature. I shed my city-self like cheap clothes and return to the embrace of the wild, the untamed mother who birthed me and stretches like vines across the whole of the land, sea and sky. The entire planet, the whole of the Gaia organism, the vastness of her birth, the bountiful reaching of verdant, uncountable, incalculable life? This is the gift of the First Female. In Her bounty, all of life IS.
In the clearing, with a spotted jaguar at her heels, is a stooped old woman, supported by a gnarled and ancient walking stick. She is naked but for a tremendous fall of white hair that spills almost down to her knees. She is shriveled, tiny, but sturdy, solid, and demonstrably powerful. As I approach her, the jaguar bares its teeth and growls a warning from deep in the back of its throat. I bend to one knee in deference to this wizened jungle queen. She laughs, the boom of it shaking through the forest. She comes to me and leans down, placing her hand under my chin and lifting me to my feet.
“We do not require reverence,” she says in a voice like worn gravel. “Only recognition.”
She shimmers, wavering, and I see the roof of a teepee and the dancing shadows of the fire from our ceremony, and I know the veil is thinning. My time here is drawing to a close and I have so many questions. She seems to sense this thinning and beckons me to speak only what matters most.
“What is all of this? Why are we here?” I ask.
She laughs again, as if I asked her the most obvious of all possible questions. Certainly I didn’t need all her wisdom and sacred knowledge to know this? She graces me and gives me the answer, one I’ve taken back from every single spiritual slingshot I’ve taken since the first.
“Munay!” she says and claps her hands like a little girl, the years falling away in the light of her joy. “Love.”
The trees surrounding us begin to shake like storm-tossed sticks, phasing in and out of view. The jaguar vanishes and more and more of my “real” surroundings begin to peak through the veil. I sense my body, heavy like a stone, far more cumbersome and thick than this spirit warrior who leaps through the night. I hear the sounds of the Icaros, calling me back, summoning me back into the circle. I know I must go. She nods to me, meeting my urgency with an infinite patience drawn from the likes of tortoise and redwood.
“Why am I here?”
She touches my face then, her hand resting on my cheek, hot and dry like a fever. She smiles at me as if she’s known me all her life. She could have laughed as she did before—I sense that. I sense my question is small and ridiculous to her and that she is far beyond such ego-based queries. But like all grandmothers, she sees me only through the eyes of love and knows how even small things can seem so vitally important to the little ones. She knows play is the work of children.
“Qillqaq,” she says softly and I break apart.
She dissolves and I feel the lingering warmth of her hand and her voice echoing across the realms.
Through the top of the teepee, the first light of dawn breaks. Outside, the forest is waking and birdsong fills the morning. We are shaky and fatigued and distinctly altered. The eyes that find me across the fading fire are those of brothers and sisters now. Our time in this sacred circle has bonded us in a way that is truly unique to human experience. There is a sense of both completion and new beginnings, and a warm wave of true peace that I dare to wish may someday envelop the world.
There is a closing prayer and we all hug and linger, trying to squeeze the last of that heady wildness out of our night together before we return to traffic, in-laws, and asshole bosses. We will lose this—this magic—it is the cost of all ephemeral experiences. But in a nod to the romantic soul who said it’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all, we each know that what was given to us on this night can never be taken away.
On the drive home, a doe and two small fawns cross in front of me. She lingers in the middle of the mountain pass, watching me for what feels like a long time.
“I recognize you,” I tell her.
She twitches her ears and leaps back into the forest with her children in tow. I hit the highway, strangely and deliciously quiet in my mind for the first time in many years. For all my seeking, for all my experiments and contacts with these other realms, I feel like I finally, definitively know.
The answer to the ultimate question is always and forever the same: love. And my purpose is to tell you this love story, patiently and clearly, until it becomes well-worn and well-traveled and sung out to the four corners.
Until the story becomes your own.
Geoffrey Visgilio is an author, acupuncturist and teacher. Guided by the grace of the divine feminine, Geoffrey is an ambassador for distant realms. He strives to embody and cultivate the truths of peace, kindness, and understanding so that all may finally recognize the cosmic love that ripples across time and space. To learn more about Geoffrey, visit: geoffvisgilio.com or Instagram @geoffvisgilio.