This is a continuation of a previous post which can be found here.
“We live at a time which is the tail end of an era. We better wake up. We live in an unsustainable world. We either break down or we break through. Now, we need the power to break through. We think we are individuals, yes of course we are, but we are also members of a community.”
– Ervin Laszlo
These words were spoken by scientist, philosopher, musician, and humanitarian Dr Ervin Laszlo. A true modern day renaissance man. I was standing by the sound booth helping run sound at an event in Chicago for a nonprofit gala. The crowd of people in attendance, each of them amazing individuals in their own right, stood entranced by his words. I watched as he spoke of the global paradigm shift that was occurring on the planet right now. It was in that moment that I had to ask myself “how do I breakthrough?” Where does this power come from? Having spent the previous year learning and supporting the vision quest in Colombia, I had been wrestling with the idea of doing this myself. It was a decision not to be made lightly, and I had to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons. Yet, after hearing Ervin Laszlo speak I knew in that moment the answer to help me breakthrough was to do this.
Thoughts were racing through my mind. How do I prepare? How will these disparate pieces of self that I call “I” be able to unite under a single prayer of transformation? All of these questions that arise usually build up a wall of uncertainty. I knew this was part of my journey to overcome these emotions and over-thinking. And despite myself, I knew this was the answer. It would still be 6 months before I would find myself on an airplane heading for Colombia, returning once again to the hidden village far in the forests of Valle de Cauca.
In preparation I had to begin my prayer. I had so many intentions and expectations on what to expect. This is the type of experience that you can plan for all you want but in the midst of such a deep prayer and meditation anything could happen. The first step was to find supporters. I am fortunate in that I found two close friends from different sides of the US to join me in this prayer. I knew that they too were making a sacrifice to be there for me.
Next, I had to put together a series of prayer ties. I would have to make 405 in total, 101 for each direction (black, red, yellow, white) and 1 for the medicine that binds this modern tradition together. I wrote about the Eagle Condor prophecy in a previous post and so will not go deeply into the history of that at this time. The 405 ties would be connected creating a garland. Each tie would be filled with tobacco. I went to my altar and medicine bag. There I had a large roll of wild mapacho tobacco from Ecuador. A close medicine brother of mine had gifted this to me from his travels with shamans in Ecuador and Peru. It was special. And I had a lot of it. Mapacho is beautiful in this way. Unlike other tobaccos, it is pungent in smell and strong in flavor. One does not inhale mapacho like any other tobacco.
It took me nearly 3 days to create all of the ties. Each tie is a prayer, an intention, and when put together with the rest creates a beautiful garland uniting every aspect of self. I prayed for everyone in my family, calling each person by name and thanking them. I prayed for all of my friends that had played a role in this prayer that I was knitting. With so many different prayers, intentions, and energy being spent, I at one point thought of that one question that could somehow connect to each. What is that hidden key that is within me that can answer all of these problems and uncertainties that I had? What was the skeleton key to this mansion of self that would be able to open every door so the wind of divinity could blow through unimpeded? This was the question that I needed answered more than any other. These disparate selves, the varieties of consciousness that I struggled to balance, needed to be united somehow. In this way I could access a deeper purpose within me. When I was not in harmony with myself I felt at any given point I very well could breakdown. Still, I held strong to the belief that this vision quest was going to be the beginning of me breaking through. This was the role that I had accepted. It was how I was going to enter into the new paradigm. I was seeking the new paradigm with ancient technology.
After 3 days the prayer ties were complete. I wrapped them around a piece of cardboard to prevent them from being tangled. All I had left was the 7 prayer flags. Each flag signified many different things, but most importantly the 7 directions. As I gathered my mapacho to prepare for making these once I arrived in the village, I could feel the strength of Exu all around me. Being the orixa of the roads, it was through him that I would be able to open these doors and let the air of transformation blow. Having spent quite a lot of time developing a relationship to Exu (or sometimes known as Elegua), it was certain events that had occurred in Brazil a couple of years prior that put me on course for this current adventure. Though that is a story for another time.
The trip to Colombia was quite easy. The doors had already started to open as I traveled with ease to the village. This was my second time here. There were so many familiar faces, as well as many new ones. I was home. Home I realized was where I felt safe and comfortable surrounded by my spirit family. I had arrived with many prayers for my biological family on my mind (and within the prayer ties). Upon arriving I had even been contacted by a couple different family members who were struggling with their own problems. It further solidified the importance of these ways and what I was about to embark upon.
Once I was settled I went out onto the mountainside, passing over the newly built sundance that had been gifted by a Lakota chief the year prior. The energy was so strong in this village now. Sweat lodges and teepees stood before the maloka. Just beyond was the sundance and along the perimeter of the dance where the tree of life stood was the forested mountainside to which I was now wandering through in search of the right spot. Interestingly enough the spot I found was one that had stuck out to me the year prior. It was one of the first ones along the path, though the last one I came to in my search for a spot.
A memory came back to me of the year prior. As I went out to retrieve my spirit sister I was supporting from the mountainside upon completing the quest last year, I remember seeing a man here. His eyes were glowing with happiness that the quest was over. Each quester was glowing and seemingly had more energy than when they first went out. This memory came back to me and I knew this was the spot. I setup a tarp and mosquito net. Thankfully in this modern lineage we were allowed the luxury of tarps and a mosquito net, though not much else.
Though I was excited to see friends that I don’t see very often, I knew in the back of my mind that I was now going to be entering into that sacred space. I was going to be alone in nature with my prayer ties and nothing more, save for what I carried with me emotionally and mentally. The opening ceremony was to be the following evening, and I would be planted the afternoon after that. I still had time to sit with all of these thoughts.
I was surprisingly calm. It was the day of the opening ceremony. Having been a supporter the year prior I knew how much work was being done to keep the questers safe. At any given point someone was probably thinking about you, eating food and drinking water for you, singing songs for you. There were many people back home that were playing a small, yet vital, role in this magical drama.
My life had changed very drastically over the previous few months. I have been walking the path of the Tower, Mars, Peh, and was moving through the alchemical fire. Life as I had known it was changing very quickly. To be fair my life was already filled with magick, altered consciousness, astral travel, shamans, plant medicines, art and music. Yet at the heart of it all was a journey of healing. Why do these things at all? I have to ask myself this question every once in a while to keep me oriented on the path. It’s as if I forget sometimes and I lose sight of the road through the darkness. As I watched a group of women making the altar in the maloka, I remembered. In these moments I knew exactly why I was there. Though perhaps I didn’t (and couldn’t) anticipate the sacrifice required to be successful in this endeavour.
In my cabin I had setup a small altar and placed all of my important items onto it. I cleaned my spot knowing how good it would be to come home to a clean bunk. My bags were packed so that in the morning I wouldn’t have to worry if I forgot anything. I had checked and double-checked it. There was nothing more but to wait for the sun to set and the ceremony to begin.
There were about 60 or so people gathered in the maloka. The fire was burning strong with a team of 5 or more firekeepers tending to it. The questers were sitting in the center, a crescent moon shape with a path down the middle, while the perimeter was being protected by the supporters. Similar to other gatherings I’ve been in with the Eagle Condor family, the setup was different than a typical taita gathering. In this circle so many different lineages of medicine workers were present. It was here that all of these different ways met in the middle. It was a family of light that all supported each other. We were the rainbow tribe incarnate.
There is a long history of shamanism in Colombia. The taita, or shaman, holds a very specific type of energetic space. The Yage Ayahuasca is allowed to work while the participants sit in silence for many hours, interspersed by icaros and music from time to time. Once the medicine was being felt by everyone, the taita would begin the limpias. A limpia is an energetic cleaning. The taita is a forest doctor. He utilizes the plants in a way different than the more well known Shipibo-styled ceremonies from Peru and the upper Amazon. It is a beautiful way of working with the medicine. Rather than letting icaros guide the space throughout the night, the medicine was the leader.
I explain this to give a partial vision of what the ceremony looked like. In essence, the work of the Eagle Condor was different and incorporated all of the medicine paths, with everything meeting in the middle. It is such a beautiful work that honors and celebrates the traditional while also acknowledging the change that is occurring on this planet.
The first cup for me was not particularly strong. Though this is alright for a number of reasons. We aren’t gathering here to have a full on psychedelic experience. Rather, we are here to open the ritual of the vision quest. There were many other shamanic leaders and practitioners present, each showing their support for this ritual of the north Native Americans. Though gentle, it was just enough to sit with my prayers without being overtaken by visions. The visions would come in time, I was sure of that.
After what seemed like hours we drank another cup. Here is where the medicine really came up for everyone present. The energy was strong. Sitting as a quester I could really feel the prayer that was being made. Songs were sung in many different languages, each setting the vibe of what would be the quest over the next 5 days. I had such a beautiful experience throughout this round, which lasted for the remainder of the night.
In the morning, we prayed with the Chanupa. The tobacco was our promise to participate in this ritual. It is with the tobacco that we can pray to the divine, asking for help and guidance where help and guidance were needed most. It was only in the deep of night as the early morning colors of sunrise that I began to realize it was almost that time. I went over it all in my mind countless times. I was nervous and yet excited. As with any ritual act of magick I knew the transformations and visions that occur were not something that you can prepare for fully. There is an air of mystery to the whole ordeal. It is in those moments of uncertainty that the alchemical transmutation can occur unimpeded by the self. I recalled my mantra from a previous medicine ceremony, “I need to get out of the way so I can hear what spirit is trying to say.” This was absolutely true.
Once the opening ceremony was complete we went and ate breakfast. It was Monday morning. This was the last meal we would eat until Friday afternoon. I wanted to eat as much as I could but could barely bring myself to as my stomach was still sensitive from the previous night. I went to my cabin and picked up all of my things. I brought them to the maloka and prepared for the first sweat lodge. Once we entered the lodge, the main part of the ritual will have begun. We would be doing only two doors, rather than the normal four that is typical of a sweat lodge ceremony. Once we stepped out of the lodge our vow of silence began. We were also encouraged to not look anyone in the eye. I was feeling really good up until this moment when the reality of what was about to occur began to set in. It was really happening. I thought back to last year as a supporter. I remembered the words of Ervin Laszlo as I changed into the clothes I would wear for the next 4 days. This is how I am to breakthrough. This is how I can become who I’m supposed to become, stepping into this new paradigm through ancient ritual practices.
We all lined up with our questers behind us and we set out past the sun dance and into the forested mountainside. I wish I could say that everything was going smoothly for me, but instead it felt like everything that could go wrong was going wrong. The paths to our designated questing spots were serpentine, winding dangerously close to the edge. I wondered if anyone had actually fallen down this mountainside before. This is not the time to be thinking this, I thought. As my supporter and I wandered these paths I found myself over and over again reaching a dead end. Where is my spot, I thought. I could feel anger and uncertainty rising up in me. Of course, this would happen right now. We wandered around this mountain side for quite some time before I was eventually helped to find my spot on the far end opposite the entrance. Once there I took out my prayer ties only to find them tangled. We were meant to use this garland of prayer tobacco to designate our space. I was very sensitive from the night before and could feel emotions bubbling up to the surface. This is not supposed to be happening like this, I thought. And yet, of course, this is exactly how it was supposed to happen. Once cannot predict the intricacies of such a ritual wherein we allowed ourselves to be subject to nature and the raw elements. With some assistance from my supporter and the other helpers, we were able to untangle everything and, after some time, setup the space. In silence I acknowledged my supporter and the amount of help they had given and then went to setup my mosquito net and sleeping bag.
I was alone on the mountainside by myself.