Meeting San Pedro
One week ago my girlfriend and I travelled to take part in a 3 day shamanic San Pedro ceremony - San Pedro, Spanish for St. Peter, is a mescaline based (psychedelic) plant medicine, used ceremonially for thousands of years in Central American cultures by Shamans, for the purpose of healing and "communing with spirit". When you mention psychedelics, people's eyes either light up in interest or narrow in concern. There seems to be a mixed attitude towards (even natural) substances that affect the mind and our perception, although acceptance is growing as we see cannabis legalised in more counties/states and mounting studies proving the therapeutic value and safety of psychedelics.
While shamanism is a term applied to similar traditions across the globe, my experience finds its origins in Peru and was guided by "Dr. Rubén Orellana, who held the title of Chief Archaeologist at Machu Picchu for twenty-two years and acted as the Director of the Institute of Inka Research. As a Shaman or Curandero, Rubén is considered the ‘maestro’ of San Pedro and has an unblemished record, brewing from the early 70s when he acted as one of the first Peruvian Curanderos to work with Western Psychonauts, including his friend Terence McKenna."
The role of the Shaman is to offer a bridge between the physical world and the spirit world, or as Ruben described it, to assist us in navigating the space between being awake and dreaming. I believe that part of the west's fear of these medicines and practices stems from the lack of guidance and understanding that is available in other cultures and passed down through tradition. This inevitably leads to a fear of the unknown which is compounded by the (needless) demonisation and prohibition of psychedelics by the powers that be, who's motivation for doing so can only be seen as malevolent once we investigate them for ourself.
Before going any further I would like to state clearly that trying plant medicines is a completely individual choice, obviously not compulsory for personal/spiritual development and should only be pursued if we have genuine guidance to do so. They are simply not for everyone! Shamanic culture practices responsible use of these powerful medicines - using them to "get f*cked up" is irresponsible and can be dangerous if you don't know what you're doing. Also, please respect the laws of whichever country you are in ;)
My personal reasons for attending this San Pedro ceremony were healing and expansion of my consciousness/perception, both things I have had profound experience of from working with Psilocybe truffles (available legally in the Netherlands). This was the first time I've tried plant medicine in a ceromonial setting while being guided by a Shaman - Ruben took us on a 3 day journey which he described as "reconnecting". For me, the first evening of working with San Pedro was very reflective and my inward attention brought to light, areas that I know need work and healing - this is very characteristic of plant medicines, making them a good tool for personal/spiritual development (but again to reiterate, not the only effectve tool).
We spent the second day working with the medicine from late morning into the afternoon. The medicine was always given within a circle, comprised of everyone in attendance and led by Ruben with the help of Michele Lukis (Shamanic practitioner, Reiki Master, Transpersonal Counsellor and spiritual healer based in London). The traditional techniques used by Ruben are intended to heighten the senses and relax the mind - whether it be the sweet, yet spicy aroma of Florida Water or the hypnotic sound of a shaker and Ruben's singing/whistling. After taking the medicine for the second time we went out into the beautiful gardens to "reconnect and talk to nature".
While I was yet to experience the strong visuals or euphoria I get from truffles, I found this to be very blissful and relaxing. My mind was much quieter than the previous evening and I completely lost myself to the moment, enjoying the flowers, lemon trees and stunning views. When it was time to have lunch my taste buds literally exploded during what was my third meal from the kitchen, manned by seasoned Chef Leandro D'Andrea (also scout, shamanic practitioner, men’s group facilitator and wilderness guide). All food across the 3 days was vegan (some vegetarian) and intended to compliment the medicine, not to mention delicious too! I'm not sure whether it was the San Pedro, Leandro's cooking or a combination of the two but I will never forget the abundance of flavours and freshness of that lunch, made all the more special by enjoying it with my new family of fellow attendees.
The final day was mostly one of relaxation, presumably to allow us time to integrate/process our experiences so far, although we had returned to the circle to share and discuss as a group after each session with the medicine. The weather on the first 2 days had started mild then turned hot and sunny, but the third day was misty and grey, signalling the incoming thunderstorm as we awaited the closing ceremony, this time at night. That evening Michele led a drumming circle in which everyone either played a drum or used a shaker, while we individually "journeyed" using our imagination - part of the intention that Ruben had outlined for the 3 days was connecting with our inner child and the drumming circle was certainly when I felt this the most. I was indeed navigating that sacred space between being awake and dreaming, something that comes so naturally to children but seems to elude us in adulthood.
Thunder and lightening provided a dramatic stage for the closing ceremony that night. We had spread out across the large recreation room that our tight circle of chairs had been contained in, using pillows and blankets to create nests for ourselves. Ruben distributed the medicine and the put the lights out, the smell of Florida Water and periodic singing/chanting more vibrant than ever. I quickly fell asleep and woke up no more than an hour later, then began a clearing exercise as instructed. This was a very personal experience and I feel no need to share every detail, but I will say that through all the work we had done up to this point, my focus was connecting with the energy of love and understanding - something that I often strive for when working with truffles.
Combined with my own visualisations and guided by my intention, San Pedro shared with me the energy I sought; a combination of feelings, visual geometry (for the first time of the 3 days) and realisations that at one point made me sit up in the darkness, in reverence for what I was receiving. When Ruben finally closed the ceremony it was sometime between 1 - 2 am. We gathered around the dining table while Leandro heated up some soup. Everyone was laughing and discussing the night, clearly excited and still feeling the effect of the medicine which I found so overwhelming that I was struggling to talk! How do you articulate the energy of love and understanding? You don't... You feel it. The soup seemed to bring me back down to earth and after some conversation and saying our goodbyes, we retired to our room to get some sleep before heading back to London in morning.
It was a truly wonderful experience and I have promised Ruben and Michele that I will be joining them in the Peruvian Jungle on a Pilgrimage very soon, meeting San Pedro confirmed that. Check out this free episode of "Psychedelica", a series from a platform called Gaia to learn more about the history and science of psychedelics: