Saturday, December 20th. On the last weekend before the Christmas holidays, many people in Mexico are celebrating the traditional posadas: Festivities still clinging to some religious overtones, which for the most part have devolved into an excuse to eat a lot, drink a lot, and watch the kiddies beat the crap out of a star-shaped piñata, so they can afterward wrestle for all the candy and fruit inside of it once it finally breaks.
My own family is also gathered in one of those parties, but I’m not with them. I’m standing instead on a small circle with other people I’ve just met today, just a stone-throw away from the ancient city of Teotihuacán, whose massive ruins are now being shrouded by the darkness; on the circle’s center there is a timid fire straining to illuminate the congregation, who is attentively listening to the voice of a short, elderly man, dressed in a white-cloth suit brightly adorned with colored patterns on the sleeves and the of bottom of his trousers. The words are an almost unintelligible mix of Spanish and indigenous dialect, spoken in a soft yet commanding tone. Standing next to him is his wife, his 18-year-old son, a teenage girl — the son’s girlfriend– and a cheerful boy who couldn’t be more than 7 years old, who is also the child of the elderly man.
The name of the man is Don Clemente, and he is a Marakame –a shaman or medicine man among his people, the Wixárika indians who are also known as Huicholes. His words, which were later translated by his oldest son –also with the same name– are a salutation to all of us who have gathered around the circle on this fateful evening.
We are gathered here to celebrate a Winter Solstice ceremony ministered by the Marakame, and I am about to have my very first practical introduction to the world of Entheogens –the chemical substances that let you connect with “the god within.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
How did I end up in this place? To answer that we need to go back to early October of last year, when I attended the Paradigm symposium in Minneapolis. It was there in 2012 that I first met Erika, a young Mexican woman now living in Minnesota who has now become a dear friend of mine. During one of our conversations, she told me how the last time she returned to Mexico to visit her family, a friend of hers took her to a similar ceremony. Erika excitedly told me that the whole experience had been incredibly positive and life-changing for her, and she asked me if I would be interested in getting in contact with the group who organized these events. I said yes.
Now, don’t think for a moment that this was a hasty response from my part! I had in fact been considering the possibility of trying psychedelics for quite a while. As a blogger for both The Daily Grail and Mysterious Universe, I’ve been exposed to all the new scientific research exploring the benefits of psychedelics in curing depression, trauma and even addiction to other substances, which were partially spurred by the trail-blazing DMT study conducted by Dr. Rick Strassman in the mid-90’s. I’ve listened to many recordings by the late Terence McKenna, the Bard of the modern psychoactive movement, who –after Timothy Leary was forgotten– kept promoting the mind-expanding possibilities of these ‘world-dissolving’ chemicals. I’ve also followed in the footsteps of Graham Hancock and become an advocate of every adult’s sovereign right to explore its own consciousness; even if that means ingesting substances which have been demonized by our current legal system –for all the wrong reasons.
With all that in mind I knew that sooner or later the time would come to walk the walk, instead of just talking the talk; otherwise I’d be nothing but a hypocrite.
Even before I became a Red Pill Junkie, I was already an admirer of the Huichol people –an indigenous group living in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco, Zacatecas and Durango– and their vibrant geometric patterns adorning their artworks and handcrafts; patterns made out of tiny plastic beads, which are inspired by the visions they have under the influence of jícuri (peyote), their sacred plant and pillar of all their spiritual practices.
Also let’s not forget that one of the reasons I chose my moniker, was because of the impact Carlos Casteñeda’s books had had in me. If you’ve read his material, then you know that at the beginning of his apprenticeship with Don Juan, the Yaqui brujo tested Carlos by making him consume peyote so he could get in contact with Mescalito –the spirit inhabiting within the cactus– and even though many critics have pointed out how unlike the Huichols, Yaquis have no real tradition of peyote use in their religion, the tiny desert cactus became in my eyes the plant equivalent of the ‘red pill’ nonetheless.
Because of all this, I came to the conclusion that a Huichol ceremony would be the perfect set for “popping my psychedelic cherry”. It would ensure that I and the people involved in it would treat the substance with the proper respect and caution. Instead of just consuming it for trivial recreation, I wanted to approach jícuri the same way as the ancient Mexicans: As a sacrament.
As for the location, what better place for getting in contact with the ancient spirits of Mesoamerican tradition than a small private park near Teotihuacán, “the place where men became gods”?
Through Erika I got in contact with Gonzalo, a nice young man that was part of the people organizing the ceremony, and who kindly answered all the questions I had with regards to what to expect of it and what I needed to bring. Gonzalo told me most of the group would travel together from Guanajuato, that the ritual would be held outdoors at a camping site and last all through the entire night. Since the last time I’d gone to a camping trip I was still in high-school, I asked Mike Clelland (who besides his owl and abduction research is a professional outdoorsman) for advice about the kind of sleeping bag and gear I should buy. At the same time I also consulted the Erowid webpage to learn more about the pharmacological characteristics of mescaline –the psychoactive alkaloid present in the peyote cactus– the type of hallucinogenic effects it triggered, how much time it takes for the psychedelic to take effect, and the recommended dosage for ‘psycho-noobs.’
Armed with all this information, a brand-new ‘mummy-style’ sleeping bag adequate for the freezing temperatures prognosticated by the weather report, and a ton of canned food in my (also new) camping bag –I was asked to “bring enough food to share” with all the attendees– the much-anticipated day finally came; I went to the bus station and bought a ticket to the pyramids of Teotihuacán, since Gonzalo had assured me the ceremony site was fairly close to the gate marked with the number 2 of that archeological site.
Once my bus arrived to the ancient ruins –Teotihuacán is just an hour away from the city– I realized we had stopped in gate #1, leaving me some 3-4 kilometers away from my calculated destination. Unfazed and feeling quite adventurous –this was after all a spiritual journey!– I decided not to take the offer of the insistent cabbies and hike my way up to the point of reunion, making what I’m pretty was quite the spectacle to all the cars passing next to me: A 6′-4″ sweating tourist, with a big-ass camping bag towering over his shoulders, stopping every once in a while to consult his cell phone and take pictures.
I didn’t care. I was elated and happy, and in case I had any doubt I was exactly where I was supposed to be, a little synchronicity manifested in the form of the podcast I was listening through my iPod: The podcast in question was an episode of Expanded Perspectives from last November in which Cam and Kyle interviewed Andrew Collins, that I had chosen from my extensive iTunes list for no particular reason; prior to the actual interview though, I was pleased in how the boys actually mentioned in their news section the city of Teotihuacán, the very archeological site I was just walking by on that sunny evening –pleased but not shocked, since by now I’ve grown accustomed to those little nudges from the Universe…
An hour or so later I finally found the place where I was supposed to meet Gonzalo and the group, at the end of a narrow street starting right in front of the pyramid of the Sun; as imposing as the view was, it felt somewhat diminished by all the restaurants, food stalls and souvenir stands cluttering both sides of the road –I was bothered by the sight not so much because of how it blemished the majesty of the ruins, but because I realized I could’ve just bought fresh food in the restaurants, instead of sweating my ass off with all the god-damned cans of tuna and spam! Oh well…
Once I entered the private location and made the proper inquiries with a man whom I assumed owned or was in charge of the place, I learned that the people I was supposed to meet hadn’t arrived yet. It was my own fault, for in fear of getting lost I had come much too early. The man asked me if I was part of the group who would “work with the jícuri” that night with the indian shaman; a phrase which at first struck me as rather peculiar, though later I came to the conclusion it was spot-on: What I was about to embark in WAS spiritual work, and not something to be taken lightly. Although I’m in no position to condemn any adult for doing whatever they want with their body, I’ve never been interested in the use of psychedelics for mere recreational reasons.
No, I hadn’t traveled dozens of miles just for shits and giggles: I had come to the city of gods for a rendezvous with the Transcendent.
The owner kindly offered me a place where I could store my things while I waited for the rest of the group, and my middle-aged back was all-too glad to lose the weight of the camping bag (Some adventurer!). For a moment I was tempted to head back to the archeological site and take a tour around the pyramids, but my tired legs and growing anxiousness quickly made me desist of that plan. I contented instead with finding a shade from the sun where I could collect my thoughts and call Gonzalo.
To my dismay, he wasn’t answering. I assumed his phone wasn’t able to pick a signal in the middle of the road, and made an effort to calm myself. Too nervous to even eat some of the snacks I carried in my bag, I silently kept on listening to my iPod while writing a few impressions in the small journal notebook I’d brought.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Finally, at around 3:50 pm the owner informed me that my group had just arrived. I hurried to the parking area and saw 2 white vans my soon-to-be-new friends had chartered, and a group of people exiting them; I noticed that some wore the traditional Huichol garments, though I could see that most of them weren’t of indigenous descent. One of those white-clad individuals, with a very tanned complexion and a face adorned with a warm smile, approached me and asked for my name; I shook his hand, happy to finally meet Gonzalo face to face.
Gonzalo quickly introduced me to Don Clemente, the Marakame, and his wife. I also earned that the other individuals wearing Huichol garments would act as officials or ‘acolytes’ in the service of Don Clemente during the ceremony. All of them were smiling and made me feel welcome and at ease, the previous anxiousness that had piled inside of me evaporating in an instant. We moved inside, close to the place where I’d been waiting, and quickly started to prepare for the ceremony ahead. A circular concrete slab which was probably 6-7 meters in diameter, with a hole in the center where a fire could be lit, was swept down with brooms and cleaned; meanwhile a few of the group members were busy installing some camping tents, and the rest of us chatted away to get acquainted with each other.
Some of the members brought a basket filled with hot tlacoyos for a quick supper, which were certainly far more appetizing than all the canned shit I’d brought. After we all finished eating, the real preparation for the ceremony began: Clemente, the 18-year-old son of the Marakame, explained to us that each attendee was to leave a coin inside a jícara (a gourd bowl) sticking it on its inside using a bit of soft wax, as a both an offering to the spirits as well as a manner to ‘cleanse’ our money and personal finances. The young man also instructed us to tie a colored ribbon around a white wax candle –the kind used inside Catholic churches, about 3″ in diameter and some 40cm in height– using a needle and a thread; it seemed the ribbon was meant to represent each attendant’s intention or petition for the ritual, and Clemente was emphatic that the ribbon was to be as tightly tied as possible without actually making a knot, otherwise it was considered ‘bad luck’.
We the attendees then proceeded to pick one of the colored ribbons already cut and set before us on a mat –obviously, I chose a red one– and took turns to tie them around the candle; not an easy feat, considering the waning light and the fact that all of us belong to the ‘disposable generation’ in which it’s easier to throw away a sock with a hole in it, than try and mend it like our grannies used to –if I’d known this gig involved ‘arts & crafts’ skills, I might had had serious second thoughts!
The ribbons around the candle were finished by 7:50 pm. After 8 we were asked to stand around the circle, where a timid fire was trying to gain strength. It was here where my account began, with the Marakame welcoming us to the ceremony in a mix of Spanish and native dialect, and his son translating for him. The young man explained that in that moment it was ‘the spirit’ who was speaking through his father, although I couldn’t really tell if the old man was actually in some sort of trance; his speech seemed natural enough, and it was too dark to discern if he showed other physical signs of an altered state of consciousness.
Another purifying ritual was about to take place: We were all given a small wooden stick which we would proceed to throw to the fire, as a way to symbolize a new beginning and the ‘burning’ of our misdeeds and defects. All this reminded me of the Spanish word ‘Limpia’ (cleansing) and how it is so heavily associated with indigenous ceremonies; even in our modern times, many people go to places like Mercado de Sonora to hire the services of brujos and curanderos, because they think their bad luck or poor health is the result of ‘bad vibes’ or a curse, and removing them requires a purification act of some sort.
I wasn’t there to judge, so I tried to remain open-minded and engaged in the particulars of this belief system, even if I didn’t share it myself. After all, my limited understanding of Chaos Magick has taught me that symbols and rituals are powerless by themselves, but they can become great tools of inner transformation if the practitioner infuses them with the proper amount of meaning and intent.
After we tossed the sticks into the fire, we each proceeded then to make another offering in the shape of a handful of corn grains, also thrown into the flames. I hardly need to explain to the reader how important maize is for the religious beliefs of indigenous people in Mesoamerica. The Maya, for example, believed that the gods had gone through several attempts to create Mankind using different materials, and after they realized their experiment was a failure they proceeded to destroy their creation; the last version of Humanity was created out of maize, and thus corn is much more than the base of the Mesoamerican diet –it’s the symbol of Life itself.
After the offering was completed we all tried to sit around the concrete slab as best we could. We were probably 20-30 people in total, and our chosen location proved to be far too small for all of us. And that wasn’t even the worse of it: Near to our camping site, some kind of outdoor concert was taking place, which was submitting our little ceremony to the most god-awful techno/reggaeton music you can imagine! We all tried not to pay attention to it, but as the night grew quieter the noise grew more unbearable and distracting.
I was soon to learn the ritual was full of rules and directives that were not to be broken. For instance, at one corner of the circular slab was a small lavatory, and after I felt the need to relieve myself I crossed the circle to use the toilet. Big mistake! I was gently reprimanded by one of the ‘acolytes’, who told me that crossing the ritual circle in straight lines was strictly prohibited; should I have the need to exit the circle I was to do so peripherally, and at no times I should walk in front or behind the Marakame. The reason for this, I was told, was in order to prevent the ‘energy lines’ around the participants not to get ‘tangled.’
Embarrassed, I apologized myself as best I could, hoping that my transgressions would be understood as mere ignorance instead of a lack of respect for the ritual. I decided that I would try not to leave my place in the circle for the remainder of the night.
A small copal burner was put close to the tenuous bonfire, expelling a strong and unctuous odor all around us. There was also a small metal pot, which I soon learned contained coffee, which was passed around among the attendees once it was ready. I was thankful for the hot beverage; the temperature was still bearable enough, but the night was growing colder by the minute.
A few of the attendees took the opportunity to take a little snooze, while I was trying to glimpse the Marakame and his family who were seating on my right side, across the other side of the circle. They all were in high spirits and cheerful, especially Michel, the shaman’s youngest son. Clemente and his young girlfriend were giggling and seemed to be very much in love. I was informed by one of my new companions that they were soon to get married. “THEY are the ones who see US as children,” one of my new friends told me during our previous conversation; given how they have been exposed to that ‘other’ reality all their lives –the one I was about to face for the first time– I could understand why.
I kept writing on my notes, and was later asked if I was an anthropologist by any chance; in a way I guess I undeliberately took the role of Castañeda when he was starting his apprenticeship with Don Juan. Some of the acolytes placed a few big wooden boards to the flames, which finally started to look like a decent bonfire. We were no longer surrounded by complete darkness, and could now discern the faces of everyone around the circle instead of their silhouettes. It was now 9:59 pm and I knew the ceremony would commence at any moment, but then we noticed that a couple of new attendees had just arrived to the camping site; this presented a problem, for we were all placed around the platform making sure there would not be any empty spaces in the circle. A girl next to me –the friend I’d been chatting with most of the evening– called the late arrivals and told them they could sit next to us, and we proceeded to make space for them as best we could.
My freedom of movement was now seriously compromised, in case I needed to have an emergency exit to the bathroom or something, but there was nothing I could do but hope for the best.
Clemente, the Marakame’s oldest son, started picking up the ‘veladoras’ (wax candles inside a glass) that each attendee was supposed to bring to the ceremony. The son took the candles from a portion of the group and gave them to his father, who proceeded to ‘bless’ them with a short invocation in Native dialect; once he finished the son retrieved the candles to their original owners, and then proceeded with another section of the group in a counter-clock fashion, until all the candles had been properly blessed.
After this was finished, the Marakame then walked around the circle accompanied by his wife, the eldest son and his girlfriend, and blessed the attendants using a bouquet of white flowers he was carrying, making sure he didn’t miss any participant. This process would in fact repeat itself several times throughout the whole night, once again emphasizing how the ritual was not in accordance with the simple “turn on/tune in/drop out” attitude of the Western psychedelic culture.
“Is there anyone who hasn’t tried the medicine yet?,” one of the acolytes asked as we were taking our seat around the circle. The ‘medicine’ being, of course, the jícuri cactus. A few hands were raised, including my own.
The acolyte then proceeded to ask if anyone was under a prescription of strong alopathic medication, which no doubt was the responsible thing to do in order to prevent some assistant from having an unexpected reaction. The question gave me pause, since I happen to suffer from an autoimmune condition called ankylosing spondylitis, for which I take some medication. Not knowing what to do, I was forced to err in the side of caution and raised my hand, explaining about my illness and the treatment I take. After a brief consulting between each other the acolytes concluded it was all right, making me feel (slightly) relieved.
The acolyte then reminded the attendees about the ritual of the wooden sticks, and how the whole Solstice ceremony was meant to ‘burn’ our past, and mark a new beginning for each and everyone of us. He also instructed us to ‘channel’ our energy in a positive way, as luminous beings that we are. As I was writing and trying to make sense of what those words actually meant, I noticed that my friend standing to my left was handing me something cold to the touch. I turned my gaze from my journal to see what it was in my hand: A slice of fresh peyote, glistening with the light of the flames, no doubt harvested during the annual pilgrimage the Huichol people make to Wirikuta, their sacred mountain.
The pieces were passed around the circle inside a small pot, with each attendee grabbing one, along with a plastic bag containing slices of fresh orange; without asking, I concluded the orange was meant to help with the bitterness of jícuri. I kept studying the translucent-green portion of cactus in my hand, the ‘green pill’ that was supposed to contain the grandfather ancestor, the spirit guide represented in the Huichol mythology with the image of a blue stag (“venado azul”).
Legend has it that a long time ago, when the land was without rain and the people were starving, a council of elders sent four young hunters in search of food. The men set off on their quest the next morning, carrying their arrows and their bow, and for many days they walked without luck until one evening, when out of a bush leapt a majestic stag; the sight of it caused the hunters to forget their tiredness, and ran in its pursuit. The stag looked at the men and felt pity for them; it let them rest for the night, and at the next morning it lured them to continue the chase.
Thus continued the pursuit of the deer for many weeks, until the hunting party reached the slopes of Wirikuta. It was then that the men saw the stag leap into the place where the spirit of the Earth resides; one of them threw an arrow, and it landed into a figure resembling a stag, yet formed with the bodies of the jícuri plant, which were glimmering like bluish emeralds under the evening sun. Confused, the men decided to cut down the plants and retrieve them to the elders, who handed them down among the people, ending their thirst and hunger. From them on, the Huichol nation makes every year the pilgrimage to Holy Wirikuta to give thanks for the gift of jícuri, which for them is the symbol of both the corn and the deer, and to ask for rain and counsel to their spirit guide.
I looked around and noticed that, without being havin been given any signal, everyone in the circle was already partaking of the jícuri. This was it: The time I’d been waiting for all these months –all these years, in fact. To my own surprise, at that moment of truth I didn’t experience any fears or second-thoughts; I was calm and uncommonly serene, contrary to my usual fearful disposition. I was ready.
I put the piece of cactus in my mouth, and bit it. The taste was astringent, but not as bitter as I had imagined; I swallowed the bite down, and continued in silence until I ate all of my portion.
I closed my eyes, expectantly. Now what?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
After we had all finished, one of the acolytes explained how the ritual will be conducted: In order to maintain the ‘flow of energy’ in the gathering, the group would take turns with the Marakame and his family who were to recite songs in their native dialect, and after they stopped singing we would continue either singing or playing the few musical instruments some of the attendees had brought. –various types of drums, mostly; a rainstick and some maracas.
It was at this moment that I started to notice some physical effects produced by the peyote ingestion: First I felt a slight stinging on my mouth, which I imagine was the result of the cactus’ juice coming into contact with the small fissures of my chapped lips. The sting was followed by a small migraine, which seemed to concentrate right above my eyes, on my sphenoid sinuses. Luckily, it eventually dissipated without becoming a full-on headache.
To tell the truth, I was glad of the symptoms because it meant something was about to happen… or so I assumed.
For the next round of jícuri, instead of fresh peyote we were handed down plastic cups containing what looked like a tablespoon-full of a white powder –Mescaline made out of pulverized, dry cacti. A plastic bottle of water was also passed down, and I filled my glass while trying to blend the powder at the bottom as best I could, using a fork I’d brought with all my gear.
I tentatively sipped the beverage: The same bitter taste, although a bit stronger; the same pungent yet some-what sweet odor I was now getting familiar with. “Cure yourselves!” my friend said excitedly to those of us who showed a bit of hesitation, to remind us of the beneficial properties of the ‘plant medicine’. I finished my glass in 4 or 5 swigs, but I ended up with a mouth full of small particles of dry cactus between my teeth. Suddenly I heard a wailing nearby; it was Michel, the Marakame’s youngest son, who after having eaten his piece of fresh jícuri like it was nothing, was now crying over the fact that he hadn’t been allowed to drink of the mescaline(!).
The fire had lost most of its potency, and only the lights of our veladoras kept the darkness at bay. I looked up to the sky: It was a clear night, with just a few short strokes of clouds veiling the stars, and Orion was on high in all its glory.
The shaman started to sing in his native dialect, full of high-pitched syllables uttered in a somewhat sad tone, and each phrase was responded in the same manner by his family, like some type of church hymn. After they finished they stood up and walked around the circle, with the Marakame leading them and blessing each of us with the flowers. Once this was concluded they returned to their seats and Clemente said it was now our time to sing.
The senior attendees, knowing the ‘drill’, began chanting songs in Spanish in praise of the Blue Stag, Mother Earth, Father Sky and Grandfather Fire; since I didn’t know the lyrics –and I suspected most of them were ‘adlib’ and a spur of the moment– I tried to join in as best I could, either clapping or at times rapping on the hardcover of my little journal book as a way to ‘keep the beat.’ It was obvious to me that this jícuri ceremony was a communal affair, involving the collective participation of everyone present.
Meanwhile the god-damned concert next to us kept going, drowning our tribalistic sounds with horrendous reggaeton lyrics. “What a sad fate for ‘the city where men became gods'”, I thought
The fire was fed more wood as the night grew colder and colder, and I started to grow a bit impatient; wasn’t I supposed to start seeing something —ANYTHING!— by now? Or maybe I was mistaken, and what I needed to do is try to feel something. Some deep sensation of Oneness with the Universe, perhaps?
I looked at my right hand as I kept rapping on my poor, beat-up black journal. I could perceive a very slight ‘trailing effect’ as the knuckles kept making contact with the faux leather of the book’s cardboard surface, but nothing terribly mind-blowing; I didn’t even feel any sort of nausea or physical discomfort –unlike a few of the attendees, who during the ritual stood up to find a place where they could vomit. This surprised me a bit, since I’d always associated such effects to only occur with the use of Ayahuasca, but later I was informed by my friends that ‘purging’ was also fairly common during jícuri rituals, and just like with the Amazonian vine it was considered an act of physical purification –although by the looks of the lavatory the next morning, I’m pretty sure ‘purifying’ was NOT the 1st thing that came to the mind of the poor bastard in charge of cleaning that mess…
After our songs ended and the drums grew quiet, the Marakame and his family recommenced their chantings; these cycles kept going on through the whole night, with each one ending the same way: the shaman standing up and passing in front of the attendees and blessing us, followed behind by his wife, Clemente and his girlfriend, who would also bless each and everyone of us. Then they would seat to signal our turn to sing and play the drums again, while a few others gathered close to the fire to dance; Michel, the Marakame’s youngest son, happily showed the congregation his dance skills –I even got to play one of the drums at one point, a very simple leather drum similar to the ones used by Siberian shamans, and pounded on it enthusiastically in what I felt was an appropriate tribalesque beat until my hand got tired. And so on, and so forth.
At other times the shaman would also use a wooden cane with an eagle feather on top to bless the 4 cardinal points, and everyone in the circle would get up –except the ones who had already gone to sleep, exhausted. Meanwhile more glasses with ‘medicine’ were still handed around, and I found that each new swig was more difficult to swallow than the previous one! It was as if the bitterness kept increasing in my mouth with each new drink, and I had to use all my will to force it down my throat, until I reached a point in which I felt I just couldn’t have anymore. I’ve had my fill, and I didn’t want to try my rookie’s luck.
Yet still, nothing.
Aside from the first piece of fresh peyote, In total I imbibed around 3 whole glasses of mescaline during the whole night, with each glass (I’ve been told) amounting to a whole cactus. And yet this wasn’t enough to open ‘the Doors of Perception’; not even a tiny crack. The few people I’ve discussed my experience with have given me all sorts of explanations for my ‘failure to launch’: Perhaps I didn’t drink enough, even though by my estimates I consumed way more of what the Erowid page recommended for a first experience –although that recommendation was probably made with a person of normal stature in mind, instead of a 6′-4″ middle-aged man weighing more than 240 pounds; perhaps the ‘spirits’ realized I wasn’t ready to be catapulted into hyperspace yet, so that’s why I wasn’t shown anything that could’ve frightened me out of my wits; perhaps it was the music’s concert which interfered with the ‘transmission’; perhaps this is simply not the path I should follow; perhaps, perhaps…
As for my own interpretation, nothing would satisfy my ego more than pretend I didn’t have any world-shattering insight from the Great Beyond, because I already know all the secrets of the Universe –but you and I already know that’s bullshit.
In fact what I was probably looking to experience was a feeling of ‘ego-death’, that point mentioned by psychonauts in with the ‘you’ you associate with in daily awareness dissolves, and the boundaries of your consciousness are stretched into infinity; and yet, in hindsight I now realize that to presume you could experience such a state on your very first dabbling of psychedelics is *also* an excess of ego. Ego, I believe, is the great paradoxical obstacle to overcome in the human spiritual journey –paradoxical, because the practitioner would never be able to reach a point in which it could say “I’m enlightened;” to be enlightened means there’s no more ‘I’; ‘wanting’ to be enlightened also means you’re still trapped by desires.
What about visual hallucinations? As I stated earlier I hadn’t come to the ritual in search of a psychedelic light show, and the reason for that it’s somewhat difficult to explain: You see, I’ve always been able to ‘observe’ weird visual imagery *without* the use of any substances. Sometimes that imagery can be triggered by gently pressing over my eyelids while inside a dark room –what some scientists call ‘entoptic phenomena’– and sometimes it happens spontaneously, during a brief moment of wakefulness amid the normal sleep cycles of night. Those images can vary from simple web-like, pulsating ‘light mandalas’, to incredibly complex geometric symbols which almost look like some alien writing ‘downloading’ into my mind, even though I’ve never been able to gather any knowledge from it –yes, I’m aware the term is quite popular in the New Age circles, but because the limitations of language I can’t think of a better word to describe it.
I’m quite convinced these ‘natural hallucinations’ are the result of some endogenous secretion of DMT inside my brain, and I very much concur with those who think such natural occurrences play a key part in many –if not all– mystical and visionary experiences, from precognitive dreams to what we know call alien abductions; whether that means my brain has already a natural tolerance to psychoactive substances –in which case I certainly did need to increase the dosage– or that I’m fact part of the small percentage of the ‘schizophrenia-prone’ individuals who should stay away from psychedelics –in which case I ran incredibly lucky that night– I simply don’t know at this point.
During the ritual I did try to close my eyes a couple of times, and pressed my eyelids with my right index and thumb. Sure enough, an interesting geometric pattern started to emerge, but after a few seconds I desisted; it felt as if I was forcing it instead of flowing naturally, the way I’d expected it to. Like being in bed with Salma Hayek, and still having to use your hand to achieve an erection.
It felt pointless.
So, you may ask, does that mean it was all a waste of time and that NOTHING absolutely transpired during the whole ceremony? My answer to that is “Yes and No.” I do have to report that 2 interesting things DID happen to me during the remainder of the night. One was a thought which, strangely enough, was provoked by the infernal concert nearby: For a moment it suddenly occur to me that, in a way, the reggaeton party was the perfect allegory of the modern world’s stridency and meaningless noise, always seeking to snatch our attention; on the other side was the Marakame and his little band of followers, outnumbered and technologically disadvantaged, struggling to make their voices heard while singing their songs to Mother Earth, as a call to restore balance between Man and Nature.
The modern world clearly had the upper hand; which made the Marakame’s group and their efforts all the more noble and meaningful.
It was also a reminder that, whether we like it or not, we’re all citizens of the XXIst century; whatever spiritual path we may attempt to pursue, it will have to be followed WITHIN the boundaries and constraints the modern world imposes upon us, and DESPITE its stridency. 2000 years ago, when the only sound was that of the drums we were playing, and the only light capable to pierce the veil of the night was that of the fire we were sitting around, then having a visionary experience through psychedelics would have surely been much more easy –but then again, where would be the great accomplishment in that? People living 2000 years ago would’ve also been blown away by the sight of the computer I’m typing this journal entry with…
We simply can’t turn back the arms of the clock and pretend we’re still living in that primordial state; the rising of the sun would also signal our return to our daily lives, full of our daily chores and our daily, meaningless preoccupations. But the sun hadn’t risen yet, and meanwhile we had work to do, and songs to be sung. And a hope that whatever pearl of wisdom it would be bestowed upon us by the great mystery below the stars, it would be enough to help us in our personal journey.
I think this is the one I received. As trivial and self-evident as it may seem, I guess it’ll have to do…
The other interesting thing happened around 4 or 5 in the morning after I’d given up on the ceremony and, feeling completely exhausted, decided to rest before sunrise while trying to keep myself warm inside my sleeping bag. As best as I could I lied down over my back, trying not to disturb the people around me, which granted me the opportunity to gaze upon the stars. Prior to this though, while I was still feeling desperate to experience something, I pleaded for some sort of sign; a sign that, I felt at the time, never truly materialized.
So, while I was lying inside my (semi)closed sleeping back, struggling to keep warm and dozing on and off while peering at the sky, at one point when I opened my eyes I ‘saw’ a curious sight: A dim point of bluish-white light, rising up in a spiral trajectory among the constellations, until it was indistinguishable from the rest of the stars pinned on the night’s canopy.
The sight of this ‘rising star’ didn’t make me feel elated or exhilarated, yet somehow I felt it was an answer to my previous plea. I kept looking at it thinking “that’s curious,” until I felt too tired to keep my eyes open.
No, it wasn’t the ‘Paul-on-the-way-to-Damascus’ mystical vision that I, the psycho-noob, had expected for my 1st entheogenic trip. Then again, my few ‘paranormal’ experiences haven’t been particularly dramatic, either. The closest thing I’ve ever got to a UFO sighting lasted only a few moments and it was very unassuming –not the ‘Spielberg-esque’ close encounter I’ve fantasized with all my life– and aside from that, my own personal encounters with the Fringe amount to brief lucid dreams and synchronicities.
Not a ginormous “LOOK AT ME!” billboard from the The Great Beyond, but small pamphlets scattered by the wind…
Could it be this is how it’s meant to be, though? Maybe there’s a reason why some are destined to have the dramatic encounters with the transcendent, while others only get little nudges pointing out to the right path from time to time –in fact, I believe ALL get to have those, but only a few of us pay attention to them– All I know is that at this point I don’t feel as if I have been called to be a protagonist, but only a bystander; perhaps a chronicler, even.
But getting back to this present chronicle, the coldness started to become quite unbearable, but at least it meant that dawn wasn’t far away. The sky gradually changed from inky dark to navy blue and from there to rosy peach, with a few orange streaks which looked both beautiful and downright surreal –whether this was a residual effect of the mescaline, I couldn’t tell; as I tried to sit down to assess the situation at the center of the circle, I noticed another peculiar change in the atmosphere: There was still music coming from the concert, but instead of the yucky reggaton that we’d been subjected to throughout the whole night, the sounds were now mostly drums and almost tribal-like. It was as if the impending rise of the Sun had somehow coaxed the people in the concert to be ‘in tune’ with our little band of archaic revivalists; for me in a way it was also a humbling reminder of not assuming a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude, thinking of us as the sole repositories of Truth in a shallow world. Deep down we’re all seeking the same answers, even if we’re taking different paths to get to them.
I looked to the center of the circle and saw Don Clemente, the Marakame, along with his family and his acolytes. They were all gazing at the East, chanting and beating the drums, all expectant and doing their best to welcome the coming of the Solstice. I got up and, to my surprise, realized I wasn’t suffering from my usual joint aches I always experience in my ankles when I wake up in the morning, as a result of my spondylitis. I would’ve assumed that the uncomfortable night I’d just spent outdoors under freezing temperatures would have exacerbated my symptoms, but aside from the cold I felt no physical discomfort whatsoever. I came close to the circle and re-joined the gathering as the rest of the asleep attendees began to wake up.
At 7:00 am the Sun finally listened to our pleas and started to illuminate the world, rising to the right of the pyramid named after it by modern archaeologists; a pyramid which has bore witness to the same magnificent spectacle for thousands of winters. The sight of it made me forget the cold, the lack of sleep, the hunger and my previous feelings of frustration; and I realized that I hadn’t really failed.
The privilege alone of witnessing that sunrise, at that moment felt as if it had been worth all the trouble of my trip and the hardship of the previous night. How silly it is to take such miracles for granted.
The ceremony was over. One by one Don Clemente embraced us all, thanking us for having joined him. It was a warm and honest expression of kinship, and I saw that many attendees were moved to tears. Following him little Michel was giving each of us a handful of corn grains, as a gift and talisman of good luck. I saved mine in a plastic bag –until I could find a better container– and then walked to a better vantage position to continue enjoying the new light, and the warmth that came with it.
There’s really nothing much that is left to tell: After the ritual was officially over a few attendees lied down or went inside their tents to have a rest. Some walked out of the camping site in search of a place to have breakfast; I myself joined a couple of guys to have a bite and exchange our personal impressions of what had transpired in night. These fellows were seasoned psychonauts, and after hearing what happened to me (or didn’t happen, rather) one of them suggested I should try Ayahuasca next time. I told him I’d think about it, but in truth at this moment it seems a foolhardy move –I’ve only started to dip my toes in the pool of Psychedelia; I’m not about to plunge into the Niagara falls of the Amazonian vine!
Well… not just yet, anyway.
As we returned to the site to start gathering our gear, I found Gonzalo and had a brief chat with him. I told him nothing had (apparently) happened with the jícuri, and yet I didn’t consider it a failure; for starters, the fact that I’d decided to come in the first place and force myself out of my comfort zone was already a huge achievement in my book. I told him that, even though I hadn’t received the experience I wanted, perhaps what I got fom the Solstice ceremony was the experience I needed; he agreed with my judgment.
Gonzalo then said the Marakame and his group were planning to travel to Mexico city, to pay their respects to Tonantzin (Mother Earth) on the temple constructed for her by the Christian faith 5 centuries ago, when she took the guise of the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe; it would be there, at her Basílica, that they would bring the flowers used during the ceremony as an offering. He invited me to hitchhike with them in order to save me the bus trip and I gladly accepted, since I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my new friends. As a token of appreciation, I took out all the food I had on my camping bag and asked Gonzalo to share it with the rest of the group —‘begging‘ would be in fact a more appropriate term, since I was desperate to get rid of all the excess weight!
We climbed on board the chartered vans they had arrived in, and after overcoming the traffic in the highway we drove to the mount of Tepeyac, where –the legend goes– Juan Diego had his encounters with ‘our Lady‘; I wonder if he might also have been prone of experiencing weird mandalas of light in the dead of night…
The vans parked near the entrance of the massive temple, which congregates millions of pilgrims each year from all corners of the Earth. I climbed out and said farewell to my nightly brothers and sisters, put my bag over my shoulders and walked in search of the subway station; just another pilgrim, swimming amid a human ocean, trying to find his way home.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The tale is over, and now I’m only left with trying to piece together my final conclusions. I finally dared to take the first steps into this unknown territory, and my apparent lack of results haven’t left me as disappointed as I’d imagined. I’m reminded that even Dennis McKenna wasn’t able to ‘take off’ the 1st time he tried Ayahuasca, with him being already an accomplished psychonaut (to learn more, read The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss).
At the same time, I now realize that in the Psychedelic field the real work begins after you return to your daily life, and success is measured by how much you manage to integrate the lessons you glimpse on ‘the other side’ to help you break free of negative routines.
The visions of Juan Diego or Paul would have been meaningless, if they hadn’t chose to ACT upon them –whether those actions were ultimately for the better or not, that’s a matter for a different discussion…
As for the obvious question, “would I do it again?” the answer remains a cautious “Yes.” I’m still in touch with Gonzalo who has kept inviting me to more ceremonies organized with the Marakame, and while I’m well aware of the privilege that being accepted into this private circle entails, my schedule hasn’t permitted me to re-join them.
Or is it perhaps that I’m shielding myself with trivial excuses? That my hesitance is borne out of the fact that deep down I know that sooner or later I’ll have to face those ‘Doors of Perception’ once gain, which they’re bound to break wide open and will not close until they reveal whatever it is they hide beyond their threshold?
I already know that future encounter is unavoidable, regardless of whether I commune again with thejícuri or not. We all have to face those doors, at least once in our lifetime; it’s simply part of being mortal.
My only hope is that, if I do get to find the trail of the Blue Stag, that it will too take pity on me and doesn’t run so fast so I can keep up.