“How was Peyote different from the other plants?”
Someone asked me this a few weeks after I drank the brew in Utah. And I wasn’t sure how to answer.
I had thought about it - the Peyote ceremony I saw through… But wasn’t sure how to articulate it. And now someone was asking me to describe it.
It was light. Barely noticeable. But absolutely there, in my space.
I remember having to breathe deep Pranayama (yoga) breaths, otherwise my anxiety about drinking plants was going to make me vomit. But only for the first hour. I made it through the other nine hours of the ceremony (Sunset to Sunrise) without feeling the urge to physically purge.
It tasted kinder than ayahuasca. Far kinder. Bot not as gentle a taste as San Pedro (which when I took it had been made by a master brewer who had honed his recipe for years). I think it was even more compassionate in taste than Sanango. Though, admittedly, its hard for me disassociate the burning Sanango has when it trampolines out of your stomach milliseconds after you swallow it.
The plan had been to serve each person in the tipi (about 20) with the same amount of Peyote tea - which had been cooking slowly over a few days and had condensed down. Similar to how we brew aya in the Amazon.
“I’m going to take half of that measuring cup,” I’d said to Malcolm, when he showed us the measuring cup.
Gentle Eagle looked at me with a slight grimace when he heard me say that. But a little goes a long way with, I wanted to say.
“Shit,” I wanted to say, “a little stays with me for months. Years, even.”
Each medicine I’d taken with a shaman had stayed with me. Months could go by, and I will taste it… Out of the blue. Nothing in my mouth. Just a jolt of a memory uninvited. No segue to it. Just, BAM!
That’s how the plants work. Long lasting. But each different.
Ayahuasca: Perspective-changing. This is mostly a long-working plant for me. I get a few insights in ceremony… Some addressing of thoughts that need aggressive sorting. But it also works long after I’ve drunk it. I will taste it and have conversations with it months after. Aya has never been aggressive with me visually. Or really even physically. It knows the best way to get my attention is a constant discomfort and clear thoughts. The steady nausea keeps me focused. And the undistracted thoughts where I play out scenarios and conversations pulls me back from any directional extremes. What aya has taught me each time I’ve drunk it - and some ceremonies were I didn’t drink it - is that my instincts are good. And I should put more trust in myself. Not be as guarded. Though it understands that I was born and have always been this way. It often takes about 30 minutes of icaros before it starts to unfold in me.
Tree Plants: These were a medley of medicinal plants I drank an hour before each ceremony on my first aya tour. They tasted like Robitussin cough medicine - which I didn’t mind. They were crisp. I could feel them running through my body is sense of coolness. Like they were cleaning things up, clearing away some impediments… So that when I drank the ayahuasca, it could glade through and reach some deeper areas.
San Pedro: It tasted of slightly fermented apple juice to me. A slightly thicker, gelatinous version of apple juice. It took a long time to kick in… Mostly because it was so gentle that it took a while for me to realize it was working. There was a cleaned-up sharpness to things as I looked around. And thoughts were automatic, flowing from my mind down onto the pages of a journal I had with me through each day-long ceremony. Not clear. But automatic. I just wrote. I didn’t pay attention to what the words said. Not at the time. But when I look back on them now - though they are a bit jumbled in their connection - they seem logical. And they are a nice pep talk for myself when I read them.
Tobacco Water: Alongside the San Pedro, there were a few where we snorted spicy brown water up our nose that had been created from the soaking of Peruvian cigars (mapacho) in water for a few hours. A small amount was squeezed into my cupped hands from the soaked cigar… And then I’d stick my nose down in to the water, quickly pulling it up my nostrils and tossing my head back to keep it from flowing out. It burned a little as it trickled down my throat and invaded my ocular senses. The eyes stung a little. But then an explosion would happen at the top of my head. I could feel heat bursting through my crown chakra, and thoughts pouring out in a trail to the sky. Floating upwards. Being forgotten by me.
Cannabis: In a shamanic ceremony, this was a playful medicine. But having done cannabis outside of the trio of ceremonies I did, I find it to be a steady and encouraging medicine. But I did it with a shaman, Hamilton, who is a playful spirit. The ceremonies were a space to relax and laugh.
Sanango: The hardest of the medicines… Because of the strict dieta, the restrictions afterwards for months (I am able to finally have bacon again!) the side effects from the medicine during the retreat… I never thought I’d do it more than once. I’ve done it twice. Two retreats. And I never intend to do it again, because I know this time it’s working deeper on me. The taste isn’t offensive, bit it does burn the back of your throat slightly - if you keep it down. And when I was able to keep it down (only twice), I would experience numbing sensations in half my body the next morning. And the second retreat I went to, I had continuous aches in the muscles of the lower half of my body. And with both the sensations and the aches, it was my body being worked on directly by the medicine. It was shutting down and scrubbing areas inside. Nerves. Chakras. Energy hidden in the strands of muscles. Beyond the retreat, it takes me months to gather introspection on what the medicine is doing. Only now can I look back on the first Sanango retreat from two years ago and point to instances over the first year and a half afterwards on where the medicine had impacted me. I know the medicine is working now, since I took it in April. But ask me what exactly I think it’s doing - and I don’t really know. I have an idea. But nothing concrete. Yet.
Peyote: I could feel the energy of others around me. I could feel what they were pushing out of them. Even those that weren’t doing it physically or verbally. I couldn’t find my own thoughts in the medicine. I could feel the plant working - with its cloud around me. I still don’t know - over two months later - what I learned from Peyote. I’m also still figuring out the meaning of the snake from the Vision Quest portion. But it’s like the other medicines… It unfolds over time and long after I’ve left the ceremony.`I’m not sure how I managed to stay awake the whole night on Peyote. I never once felt sleepy. The opposite - I felt energized. Taking in every inch of action happening in the space.
The nausea that people experience - and the vomiting - on Peyote is referred to as “getting well” by the Native American medicine people. Whatever is running through your mind as you get sick, you’re supposed to share it verbally. As you share it, you feel better.
Vomiting, or really any kind of purging, is a very good thing in a plant medicine ceremony. And not doing it - but instead flowing with the thoughts you have and the space of the ceremony - can be just as good. Sometimes better, not being distracted with reaching for a bucket or running for a toilet.
Will I do these plants again?
Some, yes. Some, no.
And there are still some plants in which to experience getting well.