The Following is an interview which was kindly agreed to with Don Lucio, the Ayahuasca Shaman at Selva Madre Retreat Centre, Iquitos, Peru, in May 2017. Translation thanks to Ronald Rincopa.
In this interview, I asked Don Lucio to tell me a little bit about himself, his family and how he came to set up Selva Madre. I asked him to discuss his childhood, his beliefs, how he became a Shaman including his own personal experiences of Ayahuasca and the tools he uses as a Shaman. I asked him how to do we know a good retreat centre from a bad one, what we should be looking for when it comes to the ingredients of the Ayahuasca Brew itself, how many ceremonies should we be taking… and finally any advice he has for anybody taking the Ayahuasca Journey!
About Don Lucio, his Family & home;
When you first meet Don Lucio you will notice an air of calm and serenity around him. His hypnotic tones of slow rolling Latino Spanish, mixed with apologetic smiles over broken English, will captivate you and will sooth you into a smiling attentive slumber. You will always see Don Lucio wearing ironic comical t-shirts as well as a Cheshire smile across his face like a Peruvian Buddha who knows something you don’t! It is clear a happy lifestyle keeps you young, as he has a very youthful appearance at 55 years of age.
Don Lucio, also known as Don Luis, set up and established the Ayahuasca retreat centre ‘Selva Madre’, in Padre Coche, outside Iquitos, in Peru. Here lies a sleepy island village only reachable by boat, where he lives only a short motor taxi or 20minute walk away on an expansive grassy site surrounded by low rolling jungle with his family, consisting of his wife, 1 son and 2 daughters. All of whom are married and live together on site in Selva Madre.
Each of his family members play an important role in the everyday running of the centre, from washing and cleaning and crafts making, to being part of the ceremonies themselves.
The site includes their own family accommodation. This comprises of a small two story wooden house of basic means which include sleeping quarters and which is attached to another larger ground floor wooden communal room where they gather for meals. The old retreat centre was based only up from the family home, near the river, but recently this has been dismantled and returned to nature, and across in another field is the newly built retreat centre and temple.
Like his father, who married a woman from the Shipibo Tribe, Don Lucio married a woman from another tribe called the Cocama Tribe, who were very well known for their artistry and craft in pottery as well as making excellent fighters.
Don Lucio was born into the Agwaruna Tribe, the same tribe as his father. The Agwaruna Tribe, one of the many tribes of the Amazon, were well known for their bravery in battle on rough terrain due to their location and for their use of Ayahuasca.
He has 2 Brothers and 1 Sister and all his brothers are Ayahuasca Shamans. Each of them trained by Don Lucio himself. He is currently training his son, Luis Junior, to be an Ayahuasca Shaman as well as his Son in Law Anderson, both who take part in the ceremonies there.
It was Don Lucio’s Grandfather who trained him to be an Ayahuasca Shaman. He was a huge influence in his life and a huge part of Don Lucio’s childhood life was spent training with his grandfather. He trained for 12 years until 16 years, and unfortunately then his grandfather died so he had to continue to train himself.
When asked about his childhood and training to be a Shaman he says;
‘You need the company of a master to guide and protect you for 8 years as we are in a big world and we don’t know or understand, we can make mistakes and this is the reason that you need a master to teach you the discipline. The main strong discipline is not to get annoyed and avoid frustration’.
After his grandfather died he sought to continue his training with friends of his grandfather who were also Ayahuasca Shamans. However, Don Lucio still had to do many ceremonies with some other masters to practise shamanism, and to learn about the experience in this way of life to deepen his knowledge and understanding.
Work experience & Development of Selva Madre;
Later in life, when a little older and a more experienced Ayahuasca Shaman, he was asked to work for different local retreat centres, as a Shaman. Although he gained great understanding in the running of an Ayahuasca Centre, carrying out ceremonies with foreign visitors, from his experience in these places he felt that very often the traditional methods of Ayahuasca use and brewing were not always adhered to, which caused him to question how he felt these retreat centres should be ran, and with that he set up his own retreat centre, Selva Madra.
While working at other retreat centres he tells me that he ‘…would be told to ‘add in’ other plant medicines to the Ayahuasca brew’, so that the recipients would get the ‘fanfare’ of visuals they came to Peru expecting from the medicine. As you will see from my previous post, when using the traditional methods of Ayahuasca not everyone has the same effect, and quite often some people have no obvious effect from the medicine at all.
Don Lucio says ‘…just because there is no obvious effect, does not mean that the medicine is not working on a different level’. Because the Western world come to Peru expecting to have profound visual effects, and due to lack of information on the reality of what to expect from a ceremony, Don Lucio feels that this scenario is very prevalent. He tells me it makes him sad that this is what many retreat centres do. He says he understands the subtleties of the medicine and knows that it’s still working even when there are ‘no obvious effects felt’ and he feels it is important to not ‘mess around’ with the sacred brew but to educate people on what to really expect from taking Ayahuasca, including how it is always working even when you think it is not.
With this in mind, he was not happy to comply with the requests of these retreat centres to ‘falsify the outcomes of people’s experiences’ and so he decided to go out on his own and set up his own retreat centre where he could honour the traditional methods, hoping he could pass this on to others and teach them the importance of using only the traditional brew.
I asked Don Lucio to tell me a little about his Education and Religion as well as his First Ayahuasca experience, how he felt the first time he took the medicine, and how his family felt with him becoming a Shaman, a very devoted path of life to undertake;
I guess when I think of indigenous tribes I imagine quite a basic and jungle like upbringing, which is ignorance on my part. However, it surprised me to learn that Don Lucio had a formal education in Primary, and also in Secondary school. He said he was very studious, and liked school a lot. With this I was also curious to know what his religious upbringing was, as in Peru there is quite a strong Christian presence there, especially due to the arrival of the missionaries as early as the late 1500’s, so you will see many churches and missionary signs there.
When he was a child he tells me, his religion was formally ‘Tupac’, former God of his ancestors. Also, the Gods of the Sun, Earth, Fire, and ground as well as being Catholic. However, now he is mostly Catholic and part of the Christian church (Santa Rita de Casa) while also maintaining his traditional connections with Pachamama, and the spirit of nature… I felt this was quite interesting that he could be a follower of the Catholic religion whilst maintaining the old traditional connections and beliefs in the spirits of nature… and his answer was God is everything!
With regards to his first Ayahuasca experience he tells me the first time he took Ayahuasca was when he ‘was 8 years old, and it was just a little bit’. He said of his experience ‘The First time there was nothing beautiful! It was very strong, very scary and sometimes I didn’t want to continue’. Later after more experience in the ceremonies he says ‘I almost leave so I didn’t have to do ayahuasca anymore. I didn’t want to purge anymore. The diahorrea, the diet with no salt, no sugar, no sex, was very complicated and difficult until one moment I let control of this in my life.’
He continues to say that ‘Even when we think we have the answer we need to see the answer’. He tells me that one day when he finally surrendered to everything he felt he understood that ‘nature was the answer to everything that exists and that God was closer to him’. He opened his eyes, and suddenly he didn’t feel as heavy any more, it changed his life, and he tells me that so far, he is still changing!
He tells me that it was many years before he enjoyed Ayahuasca. It took him about 8 years before he enjoyed it and still to this day he does not like the flavour! It’s nice to know that even an Ayahuasca Shaman is human with regards to the unique taste of the medicine!
He continues ‘There are times I do not look forward to taking Ayahuasca. Every life is the same and the Shaman is a way or a path of dedication like what we choose to have with a family or a home, like start of a relationship. It’s the same feeling like a discipline is driving you. To find more things’.
He tells me ‘I remember that I wanted to stop taking ayahuasca forever… I left for one year and stopped. I tried to leave forever because I only to want to have an ordinary life. Always with discipline, always busy, I didn’t have time to do other things. Then suddenly one time something made me stay! I didn’t know what I wanted’ to be a Shaman or to have ordinary life ‘but after I realised that this is part of the life I need to live to get maturity, once I start to understand that I need life direction, so then I understand shamanism is a direction, a path to spirituality, so that’s why I came back again’.
In that year when he stopped he tells me ‘it was like my life was lost, in the freedom was good alcohol, dance, sex, eat salt or sugar or meat, do things I liked, but nothing of that helped my direction’, so essentially, he got it out of his system in the year he took a break and has never looked back since. Sometimes we need to go the wrong road to know what the right road is.
Becoming a Shaman seems to be such a devoted way of life so I was curious to know how did people react when he became a Shaman.
He says ‘They used to have a little bit of fear because some shaman died from helping other people. One of the ceremonies where there is other power, it can crush and kill the shaman. But now they see how I am and they are no longer afraid for me!’
I was curious to know how he feels now about drinking Ayahuasca and it effects, and so he continues to tell me that ‘Every ceremony is different and never repeats. Every ceremony has a different message, frequency, many time our brain is too big this connection and our brain cannot control this.’
He tells me that now his ‘Dose size is very little, just to get into trance and get a connection’. That helps him to understand and have perception with all the people who are around him. He can also use Icaros to connect, and says that he too needs some direction and so the Icaros guide him like they do others.
I ask Don Lucio what are the characteristics that make a good shaman?
He tells me ‘To have a good spirit, to be happy, to have willpower, and to have a spiritual life. Shamanism is a mystery like a priest or minister it’s a vocation and a lot of this needs discipline. The name of all of this is discipline, no meat, no get upset much, don’t be greedy!’ this we both laughed at as we know how easily said this is and how difficult it can be; however, he maintains that even he gets frustrated and annoyed, but it’s the intention to return to a peaceful state that’s important.
When initially researching retreat centres for Ayahuasca, the one thing I noticed was that it seems to be a slightly saturated market in Iquitos more especially. With this in mind it can be difficult to know what makes for a good retreat centre and how do you really know a good shaman from a bad shaman for those coming from other countries– what do we look for:
Don Lucio says ‘This is very important question! Normally the shaman doesn’t have any title or diplomas, or education. It has to transcending from a tribe or from their culture. His picture should show whether he is native. If he is from a native tribe then he came from a different generation. If he is not a native person, you need to know who is the native that trained him because each shaman has a transcending experience and he will be very well known. The local people will speak good about him and they will have a good reputation’.
He continues ‘If you are going to use a non-native shaman you need to see who has trained him. You will see that he has a good master which has trained him, then he should be a good shaman! It is important to ask!’. He tells me that ‘Many people think because they drink more than 20 times they can make a good shaman, but they have no shaman themselves and are not trained, and so they are not a good shaman!’. He also mentions that the ‘Icaros is passed on from person to person and you need guidance, this person if they had no master and no tribe, it means they are teaching their own ideology and using their own ego. Just because they drink 10 times doesn’t mean that they are safe to guide you’.
I explained that from my own research, some people seem to have the face of a local on their website, however from accounts I have read it seems that sometimes when they arrive to the retreat centre there are no locals there. So, I asked him how do you know who is a real shaman and who is not?
He comments on this by saying ‘Yes, some people put some local persons face online and they may not be a shaman. It’s important this question, because there are many people that try to do for only money. Any people can do only for money.’
‘There are local persons who have only a little bit of money who will do a photo online for the centre or retreat and local people who don’t know who any better and who is this person, they put local people online to say they are a local healer but when you get to the retreat that person is not there! This kind of people are just to do money, because shamanism is not a machine to do money. It is to give all that we can give, your time, power, love, respect, all that you have, to share with the people and to continue to do more things, to grow and love and it is a project for humanity. Like education to continue generation to generation – this is the real shaman, they are not greedy it is just a service. One must ask before if this local face will be at the retreat centre, and who will carry out the ceremony’.
While researching the various Ayahuasca Centres and about the brew itself (Check out my previous post here) I discovered that there seemed to be some variations to how the brew was made, and as Don Lucio mentioned at the beginning of this interview he had been asked to amend the traditional brew, so I asked him, in his opinion, what we should look out for when taking the brew?
‘Ayahuasca is Ayahuasca and Chacruna. This is important. Ayahuasca could be made or prepared in different ways. I realise people who do business they just take care of themselves so they let that people can relax and do other medicine, it will be just a drug, but the ayahuasca we can only mix with Chacruna. There are many mix, Wambisa is another mix but this brings blurred eyes like intoxication a rush in your body, but is very very strong, so some people prefer to use Wambisa to sell somebody who wants to have the effect of being high. There is another called Toi, which harmful to eyes and provides lots of opticals. We saw many people who use Toi and they don’t see anymore! But Chacruna don’t produce that, it just helps you to open your neuro-transmition, our visionary system, like we have our pineal gland to open this properly.
The Chacruna and Ayahuasca is two powers. The Chacruna opens and Ayahuasca sends throughout the cells to have the connection. Aya, some people get cold because the blood is running through our brain and some people feel hot that reaction causes the Aya to go to every part of the body. Chacruna opens and Aya connects.
For the Shaman, the Ayahuasca Ceremony is about much more than consuming the brew and on their table, you will see many tools which they use in each ceremony. Here I have asked him to explain these;
‘Tobacco is used to protect the shaman so he doesn’t receive the vibration of the patient who is working with’.
‘Timolina helps to control the breathing’.
‘Flowering water helps to connect’.
‘Cologne has an aromatic that allows connection to a lower frequency, to help keep calm and stable’.
‘Camalonga – this is powerful protection for the shaman and he uses that when somebody has pain’
‘Shakapa is the rhythm tool for the Icaros, it is made from leaves of the jungle bundles together and when it is shaken like a tambourine, it helps the connection for the frequency of the sounds, it’s an instrument for connection to sound’.
‘The Icaros are a song and whistling melody used through the ceremony. The reason for the whistling and singing Icaros is to help open the door to the spirit world’. He explains that ‘sometimes we have a call or sound that we use to bring a pet, so the Icaros allows us to call energies. It’s a language to connect to the spirit. It’s not a language but it’s a connection of a vibration. We all have different vibrations on where we want to go, past life etc. For example, I can do an Icaros to visit my grandfather from many years ago. I can call on Icaros to go back to many many generations ago, by using Icaros to go back to when life was beginning. It helps to open the door and come back again’. Each family/ tribe has their own Icaros. Each have different sounds.
‘Clothing and Robes are significant to our ancestors, so we can be like our ancestor. Shamans used to wear long dress and hats because they were masters, doctors from the village. It is the symbol of the colours of nature and respect’.
Having my own virtual baggage and life stories which I felt needed to be addressed with doing an Ayahuasca Retreat, the one thing I found difficult to perceive before heading off on my trip was how many ceremonies did I need to book in for. I was trying to budget, and figure out return flights, and timescales… and I just felt confused not knowing how much time and money I needed to take into account for…… I was curious to know how many ceremonies they felt were needed for serious vs not serious problems?
His answer was concise ‘The shaman is like a doctor who needs to see you and how your body is to make a diagnostic, how your body is. Don’t tell information but the Shaman know your life because his mind is open and he can perceive more beyond your life and the moment. He can advise you on the length of time needed only during when you meet. Then you will know if you need more ceremonies to heal different things. It depends on how the person sees. Also there is people who don’t need more than 4. Its individual.’
Having since been to a good number of ceremonies I could see clearly that there were many people there to heal from an array of life caused dis-ease. Some seemed to have received all they came for after one ceremony, and others like myself, needed several ceremonies… not entirely sure we finished all that we came to achieve but certainly not leaving empty handed having certainly made some progress. Therefore, the number of ceremonies is certainly individual however I would highly recommend some moreover than none.
Finally, I felt it was important to ask Don Lucio if there was anything that he felt he wanted the world to know… whether about the misconceptions about Ayahuasca general life advice;
‘Yes, with Ayahuasca its complicated about the information available, the internet says many things and lots of wrong information make people afraid. Also, these bad people who look only to make money give bad experience to some people and this is not how Ayahuasca is. Because one thing is the experience and the other thing is the information people read from the internet. Many time with the words you cannot get an understanding. Ayahuasca is healing experience and because with just words this is not how people understand so we can just recommend it like a medicine from a doctor. The patient has to take it or not take it. Through recommendation only.’
In regards to finding a life path or happiness he adds that ‘Shamanism or devoted life is also important for people in today’s fast life. Life is busy and frustrated and angry. We must connect with nature and take time to devote our life with intention. As it helps is to find direction in our life. Then come the faith, the love, the happiness and understanding in our life that come from serenity so it gives you calm and peace, that’s the way how we can get more easy the happiness…. And don’t get frustrated!’ He Laughs!
Then repeats….. and ‘Don’t get frustrated!’
Written by Deborah Kelly – Little Boho Hobo, 2017