This is the second time I drink San Pedro. My first experience was at home with a good friend. What stays with me most is the euphoric state of mind, warm colours and beautiful patterns: imagine the famous Huichol artworks moving around.
And obviously I remember the slimy goo we brewed ourselves from dried pieces of cactus. Very similar to snot and almost impossible to swallow… My impression of the cactus was very ‘earthly’. More than for example ayahuasca the journey was about the cycles of our earthly existence and their beauty. The message? To live our ordinary, daily life to the fullest.
Now I’m about to experience San Pedro in a traditional ceremonial context: with one of the many ‘families’ of the camino rojo. The ‘red way’ or ‘path of the heart’ originates in the 1990s and is based on indigenous shamanic traditions of North, Central and South America.
The legend goes that the Lakotas possess a sacred pipe that has been passed on from generation to generation. It wasn’t supposed to be used until the moment ‘the white people grow their hair and beards’. This would be the time to unite the different tribes of the Americas.
In the 1990s the one-time ‘pipe carrier’, Aurelio Diaz, travelled from North to South America. All tribes that accepted his message, gathered for the first time in a half moon celebration. Ever since the camino rojo has spread around the world. The tradition is an affiliate of the Native American Church and everyone who feels the calling can walk this path. Work with different plant medicines is combined with sweat lodge ceremonies. Additionally, the vision quest – spending several days fasting and alone in nature – is an important part of the tradition.
Tobacco juice, tea and icaros
The fire burns cosily when we enter the tipi around eleven in the evening. Around the fire place an altar is created in the shape of a crescent moon - corresponding with the current moon phase.
The night starts with prayers and sharing intentions. Then a cup of tobacco juice is passed around. To many shamans tobacco is a more important ‘medicine’ than psychedelic plants. Blowing the smoke is supposed to have a cleansing and healing effect. Tobacco is further used to affirm prayers and intentions.You scoop a bit of juice in the palm of your hands and sniff it separately through both nostrils. This is how you open yourself up for the real deal. Literally: everyone is snivelling and coughing.
Then we have a watery San Pedro tea. It’s much easier to drink than our slimy brew back then, but with an unmistaken bitter aftertaste. Later the ‘medicine’ is also served in gigantic energy balls, mixed with cacao: a surprisingly good combination!
Now the San Pedro really starts to kick in. However, I’m not swept away by it. All my attention is continuously occupied by the ceremony. There’s lots of singing, mainly shamanic icaros and Spanish medicine songs.
Healing and celebration
Halfway through the night the shaman – a western woman that passed multiple initiations – makes her way around the tipi to give everyone a personal cleansing session with her shacapa (bundle of leaves). It’s certainly not unpleasant, but doesn’t have a clear effect on me either.
I’m still fascinated by everything happening around me. Once in a while I notice characteristic San Pedro visuals in front of my eyes, everything has a warm glow and I feel happy and content. The ceremony ends at sunrise with an elaborate greeting of the water and many emotional prayers. Immediately afterwards we jump into the sweat lodge - a complete ritual in itself – ‘to be born again’ one more time.
The ceremony is very structured: taking a break and going outside isn’t an option. This allows for a safe and warm environment: everyone is continuously connected to the group process. Some participants are having a hard time, crying or vomiting, but no-one is losing their mind. Downside: there’s barely space for personal experience or interaction with San Pedro. Nevertheless the ceremony is beautiful. The atmosphere is good, everyone is open and full of love. As the night develops a number of people become quite emotional. The complex ritual, aimed at connection with ‘Great Spirit’ and the four elements is clearly powerful. Afterwards I feel completely in tune with myself and the world around me. The following week I’m still in a nice flow.