Written by Alex K. Gearin (PhD, Anthropology).

During 2012 to 2014, I had the great fortune of attending ayahuasca ceremonies and spending much time with ayahuasca drinkers in Australia for my PhD research on ayahuasca healing. Many of the people I researched were new to ayahuasca, and many had long-term experience with the sacred medicine.

“I’ll call those who have drunk more than 200 times ‘Old Souls’ of the ayahuasca path, despite the fact that one of them was young, in her late 20s”

Among a cohort of 138 people I interviewed or surveyed, the average amount of times a person had drunk ayahuasca was 16 times. Yet, there were about a dozen people scattered across the continent who told me they have drunk ayahuasca more than 100 times. Three of them claimed to have drunk the powerful brew more than 200 times, which is the equivalent of drinking every Friday and Saturday night for 2 years.

I’ll call those who have drunk more than 200 times ‘Old Souls’ of the ayahuasca path, despite the fact that one of them was young, in her late 20s. Ayahuasca use in Australia began in the late 1990s and started to become quite popular among alternative healing circles since about the year 2010. Each of the 3 Old Souls of the ayahuasca path I introduce below has been drinking ayahuasca with the original crew of people that started the movement here.

Drinking ayahuasca in Australia all began, as the legend goes, when the American psychedelic luminary Terence Mckenna flew from Hawaii to speak at an event entitled “Beyond The Brain”, held in the beautiful subtropical beach town of Byron Bay. He brought with him a cutting of the ayahuasca vine, the first to touch Australian soil, and the rest, as they say, is a time-wave of history.

Ayahuasca Australia

An “Integration” circle during an ayahuasca retreat in Australia. Photo: Anonymous

Ayahuasca is still illegal in Australia, so all the Old Souls below have been given fake names.

1. Anna

Anna first heard about ayahuasca from a friend who suggested that it might help her “access deep states of healing” and help her develop her art. She drank ayahuasca regularly in Australia between 2007 to 2012. She also has spent 9 months across multiple trips in the Peruvian jungle undertaking ayahuasca dietas or apprenticeships. She describes herself as a solitary person who spends a lot of time in nature. She was in her late 20s at the time of the interview and was working as a healer and an artist.

“The plant also can reach rooted causes of a problem that may be causing a more serious issue”

Me: “How is Ayahuasca different to other healing modalities”?

Anna: “I have approached many other health modalities, such as Western Medicine, Acupuncture, Osteopathy, Reiki, Crystals, NLP, massage, to name a few, and they all play some role in providing health and well-being and assessing different areas of being. I think the key importance in using ayahuasca is the ritual, where time and space is given for the expression of our subconscious, which is generally not a space that is catered for in the Western world.

Ayahuasca allows you to be the conscious participant in your own healing story. The plant can access things stored deep in physical, emotional, spiritual and subconscious bodies and in very short periods of time bring them straight into your awareness. These things may have been blocked for years.

The plant also can reach rooted causes of a problem that may be causing a more serious issue, such as drug or alcohol abuse, depression, mental illness, physical illness. Most modalities will treat areas around the symptoms, ayahuasca addresses the behavior, direct memories and emotions and heightens the senses so you can relive these feelings or things and come to peace within yourself.

I should also say that through the more in-depth practice with this plant and the traditional understanding and study within the jungle, I have witnessed frankly miraculous healing take place upon physically and mentally ill patients. I believe a language exists within our genetic coding in which plants can access us and their therapeutic qualities can be obtained upon our being.”

Me: “What is the role of the ayahuasca purge, of vomiting during an ayahuasca ceremony?”

Anna: “I have vomited, cried, burped, hiccuped, had a runny nose, eyes watering, been to the toilet, laughed as forms of purging. The most intense has been when vomiting profusely while the mind is bombarded you with images. It is a state that takes over all your being and senses and makes you feel unable to do anything but let it out. You are extremely uncomfortable in your skin, often feeling like you cannot breath and you are being subjected to some form of torture. Though, it feels extremely cathartic once it has been released, and then you become relaxed, at peace. The more subtle states such as a runny nose or watery eyes comes when the body and mind is releasing something out of what we are consciously being shown in our visions.”

2. Graham

Graham first drank ayahuasca in the year 2000. He was introduced to ayahuasca by a friend he meet in the psychedelic “doof” or outdoor festival scene in Australia. Graham explained to me that ayahuasca, “slowly and steadily” over his life, has had a “profound effect” on him, in which he has become “generally more open to transpersonal realms and ongoing delight in the world”. He was in his mid 30s and working as a carer for people with disabilities at the time of the interview.

“I think, essentially, psycho-bio-spiritual growth is the result, and its integration could be understood as healing”

Me: “Are there many people in your family or work life who you do not feel comfortable talking about ayahuasca with?”

Graham: “I do have a reluctance to share tales of drinking ayahuasca in general, and that was not always the case. For me, it is now more important to remain grounded in the world. I attempt, and I say attempt intentionally, to let the practice of drinking inform my behaviour and then let that “do the talking”, so to speak. I prefer to try to be a better, nicer, kinder, more open person in the world and build healthier relationships with the world at large, than spend my time pontificating. Of course that is me and not everyone who enters discussion is pontificating. I do sometimes discuss in detail my tales with others who are so inclined and that bares many fruits too”.

Me: “Ayahuasca is often described as a medicine. Do you find ayahuasca healing?”

Graham: “I think, essentially, psycho-bio-spiritual growth is the result, and its integration could be understood as healing”.

Me: “Why would you drink ayahuasca instead of approaching other healing modalities, such as your GP, or Reiki? What are the key differences?”.

Graham: “I think the question assumes a separation on the part of the practitioner, one which may not be justified. I do not view the ayahuasca as a form of panacea, although it is remarkable and I do try to not exaggerate. For me, drinking ayahuasca is simply a part of my overall commitment to growth . Separating it out from other modes of healing seems a little trite. I utilze many forms of healing dependent on how I view my need and that as expressed by others. I probably wouldn’t drink to fix a broken leg for instance.”

Me: “Could you describe some of your more important ayahuasca experiences, visions, journeys?”.

Graham: “Continual confrontation with death and my personal mortality has been an ongoing thread which has been very difficult but seems to be the crux of my deepest healings. It is my sense, for myself, that any spiritual practice or spiritual event or spiritual investigation I engage in needs to help make an account of mortality in some way or it is probably pointless and maybe even moribund. Of course, this is only for me and no doubt others have different perspectives which are as valid and important to their work.

I think one of the most remarkable and joyous ways drinking has changed my life, or perhaps more correctly, contributed to my life is in the expression of magical practice and occult priestcraft. The medicine practice appears to have worked as a catalyst to this endeavour in my life and brought me much pleasure and joy.”

3. Jane

Jane has been drinking ayahuasca since 2007. She decided to drink ayahuasca for the first time after witnessing her partner return from a weekend ayahuasca retreat, “there was a noticeable change in him”, she explained. Her ayahuasca experiences and intentions for drinking ayahuasca have changed over time. She explained that in the beginning, she was healing fear and issues related to sexual abuse trauma. She exclaimed that, in general, “the healing I received from ayahuasca has been enormous”. At the time of the interview she was in her mid 50s and was working as an art therapist.

“Ayahuasca teaches me to take responsibility for myself and to not project my insecurities onto others”

Me: “Ayahuasca is often called a medicine. Has ayahuasca healed anything for you?”

Jane: “Previous to drinking ayahuasca, I was often depressed and angry. It has brought many benefits to my life. There is much more intimacy in my life now. My partner and I are much happier now”.

Me: “How does ayahuasca compare to other healing modalities?”

Jane: “I have been down the track of psychotherapy, rebirthing and many other modalities. Ayahuasca takes me into parts of myself that I have never been to before. I found the strength in myself to confront very painful experiences. As I said, over time I have become much more intimate with friends and family as a result. Ayahuasca teaches me to take responsibility for myself and to not project my insecurities onto others”.

Me: “Have you drunk ayahuasca for reasons other than healing?”

Jane: “No, I think the respect needed for ritual is crucial. I have attended a couple of very casual ceremonies and felt quite fearful without the protection of ritual. I have drunk with Don Jose [a Peruvian shaman]. I am very interested in the traditional Ayahuasca tradition and have much respect for it. Ayahuasca is my path of continual transformation.”

  • Manuel

    This is ridiculous. There are many teachers and regular people out there who have drank thousands and thousands of times, but obviously the number of times doesn’t mean anything per se. It’s all about LEARNING from the right diets and teachers. How about bringing here the voice of teachers with 30, 40 and more years of experience who are holders of such a rich, enciclopedic, oral body of millenary wisdom. Murallas, curanderos, ayahuasqueros, taitas, … Master shipibos, quéchuas, mestizos, cofán, shuar… And their students! Please stop making things up and LEARN from the elders. You need to honor and understand the ayahuasca body of wisdom FIRST, then speak. The fact that the huge ayahuasca tradition is not written doesn’t mean it does not exist. There is an ancient tradition with generations of amazing teachers. Respect! Westerners only respect written traditions, like Tibetan buddhism. This whole website and concept by Westerners talking to other Westerners about a rich ancient tradition needs to take a deep breath and reflect. So much arrogance and ego!

    • Oh, for heaven’s sakes get off your high horse. No one is dis-respecting the elders here. The only “arrogance and ego” on this site is in what you have just written. Look into the mirror!

      • Bethany Brandon

        Easy, Joanie! Manuel makes a valid point — don’t mistake his passion for arrogance. Note that a letter from the Indigenous Tribes to the II World Ayahuasca Conference this year actually expressed their feeling of being “left out”, then went on to outline a way of ensuring that in Brazil, at least, the traditions are respected and the tribes are consulted going forward. But Manuel, you already know the character of THIS website, and while it’s not the deep knowledge you reference, there is still a place for it — for “westerners talking to westerners”. Consider it just another form of “integration” for those who have had the experience. Anyway, there’s no putting the lid back on Pandora’s box; things are going to continue to change; that’s already accepted, as you can tell from this excerpt from the Traditionalist Centres’ letter to the same conference: “We call on all users of Ayahuasca, especially those who live outside Amazonia, to raise awareness of the need and importance of ethical, environmental and social responsibility in the production and distribution of Ayahuasca, IN THE FACE OF INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION and the economic pressures involved in the process.” *sigh* Here we go!

        • Thanks for this, Bethany; but Manuel’s “passion” does come through as arrogant, in light of this site’s context. I think there’s room for other discourses that implicitly do respect the lineages, elders and traditions while yet holding space for as you say “westerners talking to westerners”. I, too, thought the article was pretty lightweight, given the countless times that even western ayahuasceros and ceremony participants have drunk the medicine, let alone indigenous, Amazonian shamans. But I appreciate the efforts of this site’s scholarly editors, to ethically widen the conversation to those not necessarily in the academic loop. And I concede that my first response ought to have included what I’m saying here, so as not to offend.

          • Henrique

            “We call on all users of Ayahuasca, especially those who live outside
            Amazonia, to raise awareness of the need and importance of ethical,
            environmental and social responsibility in the production and
            distribution of Ayahuasca, IN THE FACE OF INTERNATIONAL EXPANSION and
            the economic pressures involved in the process.”

            Yes,
            because at this point they have no other choice. Ayahuasca was stolen
            and used for years and years without their permission before it reached
            any international ground outside South America. They’ve seen disrespect a
            lot more than you can possibly know with all your reading. Here in
            Brasil I’ve heard of stories you can’t even imagine.
            Faced to all
            this disrespect and the classical western posture of “things are going
            to continue to change; that’s already accepted” (quoting you). I’ve
            recently been with the Jaminawa in Acre-Brasil and the old pajé said
            they didn’t accept anything. And this is a classical western thinking,
            according to him. Westerners fuck things up and then they have this
            mentality of “WELP NOW THE LEAST WE CAN DO IS ULTIMATELY APPROPRIATE
            THEIR CULTURE AND DO IT “”””RIGHT””””, ACCORDING TO OUR PARAMETERS OF
            COURSE”.
            So, in face of these and many other things about many
            ethnicities which WERE NOT represented at that event in Acre this year, I
            tell you, this is the only choice they have now that everything went
            this way, because they know if they don’t include themselves on these
            western circles they are soon going to be ripped out of their position
            of true caretakers (the Campa, Nukini, Jaminawa, Maxineru, Kulina,
            Cucama – just a few of the ethnicities I’ve had contact with disagree
            with nearly everything that event stood for)
            And the effects are very
            much real to them and their spirituality. It already happened when
            indigenous from Acre and Amazonia Brasileira couldn’t get the vine cause
            the Santo Daime church was using all of it, destroying nearby
            territorries for mass production while indigenous had lots of problems
            for getting the brew, even legally – but hey, westerners were getting it
            that’s what matters).
            I agree with Manuel. This is the vision we who
            live in South America have. We value our elders in ways you simply
            didn’t grow up to understand. And yes, written ayahuasca tradition goes
            against every Amazonian way of teaching, it is not natural for the
            dietas and the way spirituality is taught in the Amazon, and that is why
            it is not valued by some of us.
            For years now I see the necessity
            you people outside of Amazon have to understand this, but you keep
            trying to colonize traditional thoughts, you only don’t realize it cause
            now colonization is different, hidden.
            This is, yes, a website for westerners to talk to westerners, understand that and get out of the high horse yourself Joanie. The indigenous people had to understand westerners, but westerners, though always showing deep appreciation for their cultures and wisdom, grasp to swallow simple Ameridian concepts and values. And remember that the gathering about ayahuasca which happened this year does not represent nearly half of the ethnicities which have ayahuasca as a tradition.

          • Henrique, I hear your anguish. I sure don’t want to be “part of the problem rather than the solution” – no matter what, that seems to get harder with everything that’s happened and happening in the world. But I myself no longer take part in the ceremonies, having been disenchanted by their very commonness now, and I haven’t been ignorant of the injustices of ongoing colonization and appropriation. I do feel guilt for my position of privilege as a white, (lower) middle-class westerner. And yes, I see clearly now that interviewing people like me for this article, instead of those with the history, knowledge and expertise on the subject is, relatively speaking, “ridiculous” as Manuel states. Still, I hold that this website’s intention is not to be disrespectful; that there’s room in the diaspora for many voices to be heard “in good faith”. But I apologize to you both for my knee-jerk, offensive initial response.

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  • nhr215

    Oh fascinating, a 4 question “interview” with 3 random aussies who’ve drunk ayahuasca a bunch of times. If this is the kind of content that Chacruna is going to be offering, why even bother have a website?

    I find it hard to believe that you cannot get better submissions. How about some anthropological articles? Or interviews with people living in the Amazon and dedicating there life to ayahuasca or of 20-year veterans of Santo Daime community as opposed to some random gringos drinking recreationally.

    Very strange choice of article for this website.