REALITY SANDWICH IS PSYCHEDELIC CULTURE

The Ayahuasca Sessions: A Talk with Alan Shoemaker

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The following interview is from The Ayahuasca Sessions: Conversations with Amazonian Curanderos and
Western Shamans (Icaro Publishing, 2010).

Alan Shoemaker is the founder of the
Amazonian Shaman Conference held in Iquitos, Peru each year. He was called to
South America and studied with various curanderos over the years, receiving
visions and knowledge from the spirits. Alan is also a businessman and runs a
tour company that specializes in ayahuasca tourism. Here he talks about
the spiritual tourist boom, his founding of Soga del Alma — an ayahuasca
church, and the global ayahuasca community.

 

The seventh annual Shamanism Conference will be held July 16-22, 2011 in Iquitos, Peru.

 

RR: Alan I
see from you bio on the conference site that you're from Kentucky?

AS: Yeah. Appalachia. I divorced my
sister when I was 17, left the kids and moved to LA (both laugh)… I went to
the University of Kentucky and after that I moved to Seattle. I was always into
mountaineering and I became a rep
for various mountaineering companies. I handled the Pacific North West so that was fine. The problem I had was that
all the gear I sold was the high-tech
stuff, the stuff people used to climb K2 and Everest. So you don't sell that
into your normal mountaineering store because the normal person isn't going to
buy it. So y'know, my  commission
wasn't very high. But I got to know all the specialists who were climbing K2
and Everest, I designed jumpsuits for them, too. I did that for a long time and
then I became the distributor for a line of Italian hiking, climbing boots. And
so I spent a lot of time in Italy.

 

So it's a
bit of a shift from mainstream business and adventure sports, rep work,
sales work to ayahuasca and ayahuasca tourism?

Yeah, but my major in university
was theatre and criminology. I was going to be a lawyer. I won a scholarship to
law school, after an interview I won a scholarship…and I had everything right
there on a platter and I realized I didn't want to be a lawyer. So I started
doing the mountaineering stuff but my partner overextended and basically we
went bankrupt. So I couldn't get all my pre-season orders and ship my stores so
it put me out of business.

 

It's
funny how the universe works, isn't it?

And my friend, Thomas, came over
with a bottle of red wine and I was in the kitchen when he asked me, so what
are you going to do now? And I turned around to him and said I'm going to the
Amazon. And he looked at me and said what?

 

So some
deep subconscious connection was coming through.

Yes, but it wasn't coming from
me.

 

So you'd
never read about or been into shamanism or the Amazon before that?

No. Not shamanism or anything. So
I sat down and said, Jesus. And he asked me what are you going to do? You're
going to the Amazon? And I said I guess so. What for he asked? I haven't a
clue. So I started packing up and I had 22 different sponsors… Timex watches,
Titec boots, all these companies… and the reason I got the sponsorship is
because I used to me a mountaineering rep. I knew I could get their product and
bring it down here to get them photographed for some publicity of the product
in use in the jungle. It cost them only to give me that backpack or that watch or
those boots. So it was a win-win situation. I had Federal Express coming in
every day — it was like Manna from Heaven. I even had American Spirit tobacco.
They sent me a big case of cigarettes to give to the curanderos.

 

So you'd
never really consciously chose to come to the Amazon. When that impulse came
into your conscious mind, how did you process that?

A lot of things happened to me as
a child, strange incidents, and seeing spirits was one. So when things like this
happen I pay attention to them. So in any event it was a good time to take a
holiday. I had no idea I was going to come down here and never go back. Once I
got… especially to Iquitos. I thought I'd retire because I had another
product that I'd invented that I put in almost every mountaineering shop in
America… but eventually the company shut down.

 

So how
did you first come to the Amazon and Iquitos?

Well, I came down by land from
Mexico and Central America. The first shaman I saw was in the mountains of
Panama.

 

And why
then were you drawn to shamans? Previously you said you were only drawn to the
Amazon itself.

On the way to the airport I
stopped at a magazine store just to get something to read on the plane. And
there was a rack there and on the rack, my eyes were drawn right to it, was a
magazine called Shaman's Drum. So I said I'll take that. And there was
an article in that by Peter Gorman, who is now one of my best friends. And it
was about shamans and ayahuasca use. So that was my reason [for visiting my
first shaman] but I still didn't really know my reason, but I kept coming down because I knew I was supposed to look.

I stayed a long time in Quito, Ecuador.
And by that time I was looking for shamans. I had met my first one in the
mountains of Panama who was healing alcoholics in one session by drinking one
bottle of this plant medicine he made, which was a secret formula… And when I
got to Quito I was in a rainstorm, underneath the awning and there was a gringo
beside me and I asked him what he was doing here… He was looking for gold…
I said I'm looking for a shaman and he said I don't know why I carry this
around but I happen to have a business card for a shaman and you can
have it, I don't know why I didn't throw it away. Maybe I'm supposed to give it
to you. And it's for a Doctor Valentin Humphris, from Austria. This man had
come here about 20 years ago and was a neurologist and psychiatrist. He learned
shamanism here in the jungles and did San Pedro and ayahuasca. Also uniao de
gato and chuchuwasi and other medicinal plants and modern medicine.

So I went to
see this man and started drinking and going to ceremonies with him, and
drinking ayahuasca and doing San Pedro, primarily San Pedro. And I worked with
him for about four or five months but every time I looked at a map I kept
seeing Iquitos, Iquitos — but to get down here… I couldn't afford to fly, so
the only thing I could do was go back up to Co­lombia and go over the mountains
to Puerto Asis, Colombia, buy a dugout canoe and a 44 horsepower motor and
that's what we did. We went down the Putumayo River. Before I went down I went
to the embassy in Bogota to tell them where I was going. And they said, Alan,
if you go down there and something happens, I can't help you. This is all
Narco-traffic country. I'm not telling you not to go, it's a real adventure,
but it's real dangerous.

 

And what
year was this?

This was right before Bill
Clinton went into office — 1992. It was 2500kms down the Putumayo River in
the dugout canoe… I had a little medicine bag with penicillin and asprin and
things like that, and every village I would pass through I would walk around
and see if anybody needed anything. I had anti-parasitical medicines and the
information that a gringo with medicines got around and was already ahead of me
when I reached the next village.

So finally I reached a village on the
Peruvian side of the river. And there was an 18 year old Peruvian, maybe 5'2 with
the sleeves on his shirt pulled down past his elbows, and he had an Uzi. I was
already in the village checking people out.

I had my friend Robert with me and his
girlfriend from Quito and they were still on the canoe. And someone came to get
me and said they had my partners down there in the canoe. So I went down there
and this guy had my two friends at machine gun point, saying that if I don't go
talk to the people in the village there could be a problem. But I was already
doing that so I just batted the gun away like you do at a child, saying don't
point that at me. Saying c'mon who else is sick?

There was a man there who had been cut
through his cheek with a machete and the local clinical technician had sown him
up and it was a bad job and it was really infected. So I gave him the rest of
the medicines. I didn't open it up and do it for him I told him what to do and
some other people. And the last woman I saw was maybe 90 years old. She was
laying on a slab in her hut. She was so skinny you could see the worms moving
in her stomach. They said do you have something for her and I didn't
specifically have anything but I did have information from Valentin's
teachings. So I took out five mapacho cigarettes and I said yeah here's what
you do. Take these cigarettes and half a glass of water. Put them in the water
and set it out in the sun for three or four hours until the water turns black.
Filter it off and have her drink the tobacco juice. And that will kill the
parasites. It may have killed her too…!

 

You were way gone by then?

I was way out of there…
(laughs)

 

Do you think that in some way you were karmically pre-empting your
own work with indigenous shamans and learning indigenous ways going on your
journey down the Amazon, healing? With Western medicines, too, maybe
balancing out the Western healing before you got into shamanism?

Yeah. And still even to this day,
y'know; I know when it's time to take an antibiotic.  Ayahuasca will not kill all the parasites you pick up down
here. I have two children as well and there's constant parasites everywhere —
it's the perfect environment.

 

From your
POV then, Western medicine obviously has its place as well as indigenous plant
medicines?

Absolutely, absolutely.

 

So what
did you learn in your first experiences with curanderos like Dr. Valentin?

Valentin is the most spiritual curandero
I've ever met. He sees all through his house that he has every diet to man
represented there, as well as a lot of flowers and candles. So the way he runs
a ceremony, it especially has a lot of Hare Krishna items, which is a beautiful
religion — I don't mind that at all. He begins by praying at about 6:00
o'clock. You get to his house at about 8:00 in the morning and you're told not
to eat anything. He gives you tea all day. And at 6:00 o'clock he begins
praying for three or four hours, blowing his mapacho smoke to the north
east south west, clearing the area.

And at around 11:00 o'clock he gives
you a glass with about two shots of tobacco juice, pure mapacho tobacco.
And I always say give it to me, open the door and get out of the way. This is
to clean the stomach. So he laughs and hands me the glass and I drink it and it
goes right into my stomach. It takes about half an hour for your stomach to get
reset. And then he gives you San Pedro. He does the same thing with ayahuasca.
San Pedro lasts all night.

So in the morning when you get up, when
the ceremony's over, we go outside, still under the influence slightly, the
sun's just coming up, and we do tobacco through our nose, laying down. Tobacco
juice. You tilt your head back and drop some into the sinus cavity. It pulls
all the excess phlegm from your sinus cavity which you drink on down into your
stomach with the tobacco juice. And a warm glass of 16 ounces of this herbal
tea, to provoke vomiting also. So you're cleaning your stomach out, and you do
that three of four times till you're finished. And your voice is like you've
never heard it because your sinuses are completely clean, its like a bell.

And then when you're finished with that
you take all your clothes off, you wash yourself with water and you're sprayed
with an alcohol based flower extract like agua florida, or anything you want to
make yourself. And then with stinging nettles, which we freshly cut, small
stinging nettles, you're lashed all over your body. We have pores all ready to
get rid of a lot of the toxins that build up in our outer layer, but in between
those pores there are no holes, so you get a lot of toxins that build up there.

These stinging nettles puncture like a
million, ten million times so you're releasing, purge, purge, purge, getting
the toxins out of your body. And when you're finished with that there's a huge
vat of herbs that have been steeping all night. You stand there are take this
stuff and pour it over your head as wash yourself. You don't use toothpaste,
soap, anything synthetic for 24 hours. He was out in the country and he'd
finish about noon and we'd get back into Quito off the bus and walk through
Amazonas street, thats all the outdoor cafes, on Sunday, and you are glowing so
much you can feel it. You can feel it, you're so clean. And you see everyone
who's drinking at the cafe outside under the umbrella stop and look and watch
you.

 

What were
your experiences on the inside? I know on the outside that energy is there, but
from someone who had spiritual experiences as a child and then nothing, until
you went to the Amazon, what were some of your interior thought processes, and
how did you inte­grate them?

Initially you have such beauty
that you see, and there's no problem in accepting that. But then sometimes you
see things that can be quite ugly and frightening. The first time I took
ayahuasca was on the Putumayo river with a Siona curandero. He was completely different to Valentin — he was
indigenous, and when I first met him he had already drunk when I asked to see
the curandero. And they said he's drunk, are you sure you want to see
him and I said yeah, of course, I don't mind if he's drunk. And he said I'll do
a ceremony for you this evening, but buy me another bottle of Aguardiente,
which is moonshine made from sugarcane. He said come back to my house around
6:00 o'clock and we'll go out in the jungle and drink. I'll start cooking now.

So I came back and he said sit down and
have dinner. But, I said, aren't you supposed to diet all day before you do
this? You're hungry aren't you, he said? Yeah. Then sit down and eat. So I had
a big bowl of chicken soup with chicken meat in it. He said do you want some
more and I said I can have some more? Sure. I'd been dieting all day. So we go
into the jungle and there's a lot of the Sionas tribe there drinking with us.
And they're obviously under the influence because they're going off to purge.
But I don't feel anything. And the curand­ero is in a hammock and he
lifts up his mosquitero — his mosquito net — and he says, come here.
You have a block. Drink another cup. So I have another cup. I sit down another half
an hour and I still don't feel a thing. But this man beside me asks me a
question and I started to clear my throat and when I did this volcano exploded
in my stomach with such force that I threw both hands on my mouth to keep the
vomit from coming out in the middle of the ceremony.

And I ran out into the jungle with the
vomit coming through my fingertips like a squirt bottle. And I got out there
and I projectile vomited maybe six times. It was incredible, and when I
finished I was lying on my knees and I saw all this light around me. I thought
the people who had followed me into the wood had flashlights. It was that
bright. And I stood up and in the smaller bushes around me to the taller bushes
these trees, about 25 foot tall, in the semi­circle of my vision, within these
plants were spirits. And they all had on these robes and a checkered pattern of
lime green, cream and white, and armbands and headbands. And the two thirty-feet-tall ones were like 25 or 30 year old spirits, or representations of them.
Absolutely beautiful.

And I thought, whatever, this
ayahuasca's incredible. I'm hallucinating. My mind has even put nehru collars
on these things. Then they all put their arms out to me and started singing
their name over and over again. I had tears of absolute bliss and joy running
down my face. Because this, I knew, was not something that was projected by my
mind. These things were glowing from the inside out. It's not like taking LSD
and seeing a shape of a head on that tree over there. I stood there for about
15 minutes and listened to them sing to me. And I said, I'll never forget this,
then went back into the ceremony.

And in complete blackness a jaguar
would come, and pure vivid colors, screaming, and I'm looking right down its
throat. That frightened me. But I realized I can't turn this off so I began to
change my attitude. So the next time a big anaconda came or a jaguar came again
I would just go, wow, you are really incredible, beautiful.

 

So you
embraced it.

Yeah. And from then on I've done
the same.

 

Well
you've obviously done a lot of work, 13 years or more of shamanistic practice
since that first experience?

When I got here to Iquitos I
started looking for a teacher. I drank with various curanderos up river
and down river, and I finally found a man — Don Juan [Tanga Paime]. And I
worked with him for a couple of years. He has really beautiful icaros and
I loved those, but I was still missing Valentin because I liked the sacredness,
the outward things like the altar he sets up. It was more tangible. And so I
would go back and forth to see Valentin in the mountains. I always traveled by
water and land as I couldn't afford to fly. Two years of going back and forth
and working with Juan and Valentin. And I was seeing things like spirits
walking through walls who would come up to me and ask me things and tell me
things about sick people that are ready to be healed.

And I can't completely accept that because I have a little bit of a
[Western] education and I'm under the influence of a hallucinogenic, a psychotropic.

And I know the mythology around this is
that there are spirits in the plants which teach you songs, they teach you to
heal. There are spirits — but still. It's difficult.

 

So still,
after all this time, you find it difficult?

No, not now. I had an amazing
event happen. I was waiting for a bus in Chiclayo and I had a few hours. So I
took a three wheeled motorcar to Lambayeque which is nearby. And I went to the
museum there just to pass some time. And the first floor, second floor is just  layouts of Chan Chan and various other
old cities, and pottery shards and things I didn't have much interest in. At
the top of the stairs at the third floor, right there is a big plate glass cube
and in this cube is a mannequin, and on the mannequin it has this robe with a checkered pattern and it has a little
nehru collar. It's original Inca clothing that has been dicovered.

I've never
studied South American history or art or anything. So I didn't see this in a
book somewhere and project this into those trees and bushes when I drank the
ayahuasca. I knew then that the mythology, a lot of it you have to weed
through, but that part of it, the spirits in the plants and the trees, that is
real. And so then I started paying more attention to the things that started
coming to me, spirits that came to me and things like that.

 

So how
much do you think that your experiences, coming from the West and a business
background, how much of that can you see in the indigenous communities and the
modern business of shamanism that is taking off?

Well that's grown in leaps and
bounds over the years because it's grown a lot more popular with Western people. And I think that's a good thing.
But [the indigenous curanderos] are still practicing with their
community, they now have compounds out in the jungle. They've learned they can
charge the tourists that are coming down here and that they'll pay for it. The
[curanderos] have extended families and when they do have the compounds
in the jungle they're hiring several people to run and maintain them, and they
too have families that need to be supported. It's another job, another economy
that's been built up around us. But I don't see any abuse of it, or anyone
taking advantage of it.

A Peruvian can go out here to a curandero
in a village and pay like five or ten sols. It doesn't mean that a tourist
can come down here and pay five or ten sols. They need that money the tourist
has — $10, $20, $40, $50, whatever they can afford. You'll see that they may
give you an initial price — but it should be can this gringo afford that? If
you say no, I can't pay that, then they should lower the price. They should meet
whatever price is fair. One of the rules about being a curandero is that
you can never turn anyone away. Generally they need to bring something when
they don't have any money. Whether it's a drawing they have done or a chicken
they've raised or whatever it is, they need to give something. 'Green' is
another type of energy and they know how to use that, too!

 

And do
you think there's a growing need with the people from the West for spiritual
awareness or fulfillment that they're not getting at home?

There's no kind of teachings that
we have in high school, or even in the churches that are helping people
decipher, discover or divine their soul. And the heart. What happens to that?
That's not being taught at school. So people have been getting sick from that,
too. And a lot of people are realizing that and so that's why they've come to
the shamans to be healed. Whether they go to the North American indigenous or
they find some Rainbow Tribe people or however they move towards it. And that's
becoming not just this special subset of people, like the New Age crowd. It's
going now into the general mill of humankind.

Once on the cover of National
Geographic Magazine [Feb, 2006 NG Adventure] there was a story about
shamanism down here. That was the best selling story of NGM in their history.
And that magazine's going out normally to very conservative people. So now's
the time for these curanderos to take an ad out in Time or USA Today and say
come on down for some healing, or soul work, whatever bothers you spiritually,
psychologically, physically. So when people come here — 30% of the people
who come to Iquitos come here for shamanistic reasons. [The others, apparently,
are either jungle tourists or missionaries out to convert the
indigenous locals.]

 

What's that in numbers?

It's
thousands of people.

 

And has that
increased in the last couple of years?

Over the last five years. It's
been growing and I've watched it. And there's a problem because a lot of people
that come here say they're being guided to their healer. I don't need to use
this tour group, they say, because I'm going to do it on my own, it'll be
cheaper that way. And so they get to the airport and there's always all these
motorcar touts saying what do you need? I'm looking for a shaman. And they say,
oh yeah, my uncle is a shaman, let's go. And they take them somewhere and take
their money and give them some stupid ayahuasca with a lot of toé in it, or
nothing, or they get sick and vomit, and they sit around and shake some leaves
at them and smoke mapachos and
they have no idea.

 

It's completely
unregulated then, dodgy operators everywhere?

Yeah. But if all the guidebooks
had information in them that there was a union, and they had help to find a curandero,
then you could ask to see if he was a card carrying member of this union. Then
you'd be assured that you've got someone who is approved. And little by little
everyone will become a member, who's a valid curandero. The idea is to
get valid curanderos together, say a board of five people who are
confirmed they are curanderos. So anyone who wants to become a curandero
then goes before this board and is interviewed. And the board will either
validate them or tell them they need to diet or whatever needs to get done to pass the
test. And then they would also be a card-carrying curandero, and they
would belong to this union.

 

And at what stage of implementation is this plan at?

I've talked to some of the curanderos
locally about it and they all think it's a good idea, of course. And the
police like the idea, too. One year at the conference the head of the anti-drug
police force — I invited her to the conference to see what we were doing. I'd
prefer to invite them [rather than] have them looking into us and thinking we're coming here
to do drugs. She was here for three nights and after she left she said, Alan, I
need to talk to you. I came here to write a bad report, she said, about what's
going on and this conference, because I was told that's what I needed to do.
But after being here and listening to the scientists talk, and the  curanderos talk, and the way everything
was run, and the respect you have for curandismo and the traditional
medicines, my report's going to be an excellent one. So we got full  approval.

 

So if the
union takes off in Iquitos do you think it might spread through South America?
How many curanderos do you think are operating through South America currently?

In the thousands. And only about
20% are probably worthy of the name.

 

In
Iquitos it's a large tourist drawcard, it's not just for treating indigenous
communities
 anymore, it's
chasing the gringo dollar?

Absolutely. And that's fine.

 

Could you explain a bit about the ayahuasca church you
founded?

Soga del Alma was founded about
five years ago. Soga del Alma means the "Vine of the Soul" which is one
of the common definitions you have for ayahuasca, "vine of the soul" or "vine
of the dead." Actually, many people don't know this, there's "ayahuasca" which
is "vine of the soul" and then there's "ayar" which is a Quechua word meaning
"vine of the dead." Ayahuasca is "vine of the soul." Regardless, it's a
lovelier sounding name.

I noted that their are people all
around the world drinking ayahuasca in a very spiritual way. I've not seen it
done any other way, not on the streets, certainly. Setting up their own altars,
playing their own recorded music, whatever's good for the setting. Praying to
whatever gods they like to pray to. But also doing it at the risk of knowing
that at any moment the police could burst their door down.

 

Is
[ayahuasca] illegal in Peru, in South America?

No. But it is in the United
States and in various other countries, France also. The [authorities] don't
really know what [ayahuasca] is, it's in a grey area. But at least if you
belong to a church that's formed, legally formed, which this one here is, Soga
de Alma… On the website you can click on the banner and join the church by
filling in your name and address, etc. And you are more than welcome to do so.

 

And is a
person then only legally recognized in Peru, or does it then lend immunity that
is yet to be tested outside Peru?

It's yet
to be legally tested. But a church is a church.

 

What do
you think of the 2006 Supreme Court case in America which granted ayahuasca
freedom of religion due process for the Church de Vegetal (Unaio de Vegetal —
also known as the UDV)?

There has not been one case
against ayahuasca, whether it was the Santo Daime, or the UDV or individuals,
that any government around the world has won.

 

So there's
strength in numbers if you do formally come into the fold of a church. So how
many members do you have in Soga del Alma?

There's probably 500 or 600
people from all over the world.

 

And what
formalization, what procedures are part of the church?

Santo Daime and the UDV have two
distinct types of ceremonies. Santo Daime uses a lot of candles and white
uniforms, and they also smoke marijuana, which they also call the light of
Maria, the Virgin Mary. They pass that around. I've participated in a ceremony
of theirs in Amsterdam and I thought it was very lovely, very spiritual.

 

The Santo
Daime ceremony is very Catholic based isn't it, very Christian with its
iconography, etc?

I'd say very Christian based but
I'd say that curandismo here in the jungle is Catholic based. Because it came
from the indigenous people and the rubber tappers learned it when they had to
go tap the rubber out in the jungle. They learned from the healers because
there were no doctors around so they were taught how to take ayahuasca, how to
make it and use it. They learned about a lot of medicinal plants. But because
of that, they already had their Catholic background. So they integrated their
Catholic background with the indigenous philosophy and that's where all that
comes from.

Soga del Alma is based on the tradition
of curanderos here in Peru for the
last 150 years. The ceremonies are done at night, in the dark, with a healer
leading the ceremony. You are going to purge from both ends. The curanderos sing
icaros, which are songs taught to the various curanderos that are handed
down to other curanderos but which initiate from the spirits in the
plants. And learning the other medicinal plants. So it's sacred and recognizing
that there's something bigger than us. And when you pass from this body you are
here just for a vacation. We use this physical body so we can taste food, have
sex, enjoy the senses. And then you move back into the spirit world.

And for me that's why the diet for
being a curandero is no sugar, no salt, no oil, no sex. My idea on that
is the more sugar and salt and oil you have in your system… those things are
not natural to your system. So you want to bring the spirits to you. And the
more of that you have in your system the more it's likely to keep the spirits
away. If you keep this stuff out of your system it attracts [the spirits]. You
build up your sexual chakra by not having sex. And the thing you're going to
miss when you leave the physical form is eating foods, of course, but also
having sex. So that is like a magnet to bring spirits closer to you. And when
the spirits come close they have information for you.

 

What's your connection with the "Ayahuasca Forums" on
ayahuasca.com's website?

I'm not a founder, I was a member
from about a year after they formed. That was set up by Andy in Ireland and
it's just picked up members over the years from around the world.

 

Do you
think it's become a focal point for the global ayahuasca community?

It has. There's more information
there than you'll find anywhere else in the entire world. Everything's logged
and you can look at the history and do searches. It's an incredible library of
information, a wealth of information.

 

What do
you think of the global phenomenon that's happening as more people get
interested in ayahuasca?

It's interesting because that
Secoya curandero I drank with that first morning after I saw all the
spirits in the plants… I told him what had happened, and he said, Alan, this
now is the end of a 500 year-old cycle. And it's the time for the new 500 years
to begin. And part of the vision of the new 500 years is that the new healers,
the new curandero shamans, will be the gringo. Which is really
unfortunate, because it was the gringo who came in with the Spanish
Conquistadores and wrought absolute havoc.

 

Is this
the legend of the "Eagle and the Condor" re-uniting or balancing out the North
and South Americas?

Ah… I don't know much about
that legend, I've heard it many times but I don't know… But my curandero said
that the new healer will be a gringo. For example, his own two children refused
to learn the ways of the father. There was a medical outpost in town set up by
missionaries, they come with clothes, and he's not making anything. The locals
come but they don't give him anything. He doesn't get anything from it. So they
have no interest. But now the interest is back again because the gringos are
coming around.

The gringos come in and they treat the
father like a healer, like a true spiritual priest, more or less, which can be
a bit of a mistake. But they give him so much respect, and the family as well
as give him 'green' for the energy exchange. And [the children] see their
father or grandfather actually making money, and be able to buy clothes and
schoolbooks from his work being a healer.

 

It
becomes viable again.

Yeah. So now it's come around
full circle again. And the children want to learn. And the missionaries now
have also learned their mistake. They used to go to villages and say you can't
go to your curandero anymore, it's all brujeria. But they've
learned and now they work together. They have a little clinic but they bring
the healers in too, because they know about the plants and they have learned
they are a wealth of information, so that's been integrated.

 

Tell us about the "Amazonian
Shaman Conference" — why did you instigate this event?

Initially it was because I was on
ayahuasca.com and seeing all these people… They had all picked these names to
stay anonymous and there were no faces with these names and I thought everyone
would like to meet. And often people would write to me and say can you tell me
someone in Boston or Seattle or New York or Europe that I can meet, because
I've just come across these plants and I made it for myself and I'd love to be
able to share this with people… But I of course can't give any names out to
people of where to go. It's unfortunate but it's too dangerous. I mean, who's
asking me these questions?

So I just one day said we're having a
conference here in Iquitos, and I'd done it in September prior to the July conference
the first year, and I asked people to please come on down. I kept the prices as
low as I could and everyone said Alan, conferences all around the world charge
a whole lot more money, but I said, it's Peru, things are cheaper down here,
people are going to pay a lot of money on their air fares, I just want to get
the people here primarily. And it worked.

 

I guess
in a way you're still performing a role as a healer, bringing people together
to learn the knowledge, and then they're going back to their parts of the world
and spreading the knowledge.

That, and I look back at my
education with experience in singing and in theatre, with criminology, speaking
and with acting… If a curandero can't manage those things in the
ceremony then you're not going to be able to hold people's attention. So all those things that I
was trained to do, I studied to do and had a real talent to do I'm able to use
now in full form.

For more information click here.  Anyone interested in joining the Soga del Alma ayahuasca church please email Alan Shoemaker on:  [email protected]

 

Photo by Vance Gellert, courtesy of Creative Commons license

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