Guidelines for an Ayahuasca Ceremony
For hundreds of years, ayahuasca has been consumed within the context of traditional ceremony.
Follows is a general guide to what usually happens in an ayahuasca ceremony and other useful related information. Information about the diet is on a different page here:
Traditionally, ayahuasca ceremonies take place in either the shaman’s own house or a ceremonial maloca. A ‘maloca’ is a large circular structure in which ceremonies are held for anywhere from 10 – 40 people. It is often octagonal or decagonal in shape, with a high sloping thatched roof that reaches its highest point in the center.
Ayahuasca takes you within and shows you many things about yourself, your life, and the world. If you focus on your intention and purpose for the ceremony, the medicine responds. Ayahuasca is sentient and pays attention to what you need. Sometimes the medicine has something different to show you than what you had originally intended to work on.
Most ceremonies start between 7 pm and 9 pm, but some Curanderos prefer to start even later. A ceremony will typically last about 4 or 5 hours, and sometimes much longer. It’s good form to arrive at least thirty minutes before the ceremony begins. This will give you time to find your place in the room and enter a state of relaxation before you begin your inner journey.
I strongly advise against engaging in too much social chatter for at least an hour before the ceremony begins. Use this time to relax, center yourself and focus on your intention. You may find it helpful to meditate or practice meditative breathing exercises. Practices such as Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qi gong can also be very useful. Use whatever works best for you or simply just sit in silence.
Once everybody is in their place and the Curandero or facilitator is ready to begin, each person in the room will take turns to sit in front of the altar and drink the medicine. The Curandero drinking last will often blow mapacho smoke over the cup and may also put his intention or prayer into the cup. You should focus on your intention when drinking.
Try to surrender to whatever experience Ayahuasca gives you. The medicine always knows best what you need. Approach the medicine in a humble way, let down your ego defenses, and walk away from your fears because they will block your entry into the world of Ayahuasca. It is important to be open to whatever is going to happen.
You may be a bit compromised with your motor skills while you are in the Ayahuasca ceremony, but not so much that you cannot do basic things. Getting to the bathroom without any help might be a little challenging. The lack of motor skills isn’t so bad that you can’t do what you need to do. It just means you may need a little help. The effects on your motor skills will only last for 2-4 hours, so don’t worry, everything will go back to normal. Ayahuasca does not affect your ability to breathe or anything else that is a normal bodily function. Just walking!
Some Curanderos will start chanting their icaros almost immediately after turning off the lights. Others will wait until they begin to feel the effects of the ayahuasca, which can be anything from around twenty to forty-five minutes after drinking. Some Curanderos will sing their icaros throughout the entire ceremony without stopping while others may take breaks from singing and sit in silence for long or short periods.
Icaros are sacred songs or chants that are given to the Curanderos, by their teachers, or directly from the plant spirit. Each icaro has a particular purpose. Some icaros call in different spirits for healing or protection, while others intensify, or even reduce the ayahuasca visions. It’s quite normal to experience enhanced effects of ayahuasca, powerful healing, sensations in the physical body as the shamans sing.
The Curandero will close the ceremony when he feels it is safe to do so, and when his presence in the room is no longer necessary. This is typically four or five hours after the ceremony starts. Often, the Curandero will close the ceremony with some form of thanksgiving prayer, or he/she may just light a candle.
After the ceremony has closed you may still be feeling the effects of the ayahuasca. If this is the case just stay where you are and don’t go back to your room until you are mostly ‘sober’ again. If the ceremony takes place in a maloca, you can usually choose to sleep on your mattress, or you can go back to your bed in whatever accommodation is provided.
It is also important to remain in silence after the ceremony is over, or at least do not start a conversation inside the maloka. Other people may still be in their journey and hearing the voices of others can be extremely distracting. Save conversation until either the next day or a location away from the maloka.
The following guidelines apply to most ceremonies:
It’s important not to talk to other people during the ceremony. Not only does it distract from your process but it will interfere with the process of others. However, it is fine to call out to a facilitator if you need help for any reason.
Sometimes other participants sound like they need help. They could be moaning, groaning, crying, or sounding distressed. However, it is not your job to help others even if they are a friend or partner. Again, it can interfere with both your and their process. If a person needs help then you need to trust that they will call out and ask for it. Well experienced facilitators will always know when it might be necessary to step in and help somebody.
It is important not to leave the ceremony space until the ceremony has been closed. Of course, you can go to the bathroom when you need to which is often located just outside the maloka, but always come back to your place when you’re finished.
Occasionally in ceremonies, you may feel the need to be outside, closer to nature. When going outside, it’s safer not to go wandering far from the Maloka and better not to go back to your accommodation. During the ceremony, the Curandero and the facilitators are responsible for your well-being and therefore they need to know where you are at all times.
When the Ceremony is over, we share a hearty meal of good food and we all enjoy some music and laughter. Everyone is usually light-hearted, excited by their journey, and feeling relieved and fulfilled.