The First Step on the Path to Becoming a Shaman
My name is Roey Klein and I am the owner of an Ayahuasca Retreat Center in Ecuador, called Vikara. We lead several Ayahuasca Retreats throughout the year for people to come and heal, connect, learn, and grow. In addition to holding space for others to experience the magical transformative effects of Ayahuasca and San Pedro, I have also been on my own plant medicine journey for many years, and this was my first Vision Quest.
For those of you who haven’t heard about a Vision Quest, it is the way to form a deeper relationship with oneself, the Creator, and nature in the traditional Native American cultures. It also existed in many other cultures and religions, such as when Moses went up to the mountain or when Jesus went into the wilderness. More recently, many spiritual leaders have sought solitude and used fasting to get in touch with their inner selves and to find answers to the challenging questions that being a human poses.
The Vision Quest is a four-night and five day ceremony in the tradition of Itzachilatlan (Similar to the tradition of the Native American culture), where one goes into nature, remains in solitude, takes a vow of silence, and fasts during the whole time. You are allowed to take one blanket with you and some warm clothes, but that’s it. During the four days, you sit in contemplation and use the power of prayer to ask the Great Spirit to show you the vision for your life.
Here in Ecuador it has become an initiation training to become a medicine person (a person that can share the medicine of Sweat lodges and then later of Sanpedro or Ayahuasca), and it is one of the first steps on the path to becoming a Shaman. One has to commit to doing the vision quest in four consecutive years before one gets the blessings to run Temazcals, or sweat lodge ceremonies.
My purpose for my Vision Quest was to look at my life, gain confidence in who I was and what I was doing, and cultivate a better relationship with the Creator and nature. There are a few places in Ecuador that you can go to do this ceremony. I chose Churquepampa, a mountain about an hour south from Cuenca. It is the place where the family of Itzatchilatlan in Ecuador originated around 1995. The shaman, or Taita (the name given to a father or a person commanding respect) Alejo, was born on this mountain and protects the 500 hectares of land, where he performs healing and various other traditional ceremonies.
Far from the village, nestled in the midst of the Andean mountains, his humble 300 year-old farmhouse is resides. No electricity, with a few simple accommodations, fresh running water, just a few wild horses and some other farm animals. The old Taita greeted me with incense in the sacred fire that has been burning for the last 7 years non-stop. We had a small chat and he showed me where I could put my tent.
In the next couple of days before the actual ceremony began, I got to know the “Taita”- his wisdom and philosophy. “We are all family” he kept repeating… sounds pretty basic but once you start to feel it and live by it, then this mantra becomes a beautiful way of coexisting with everyone around you. We were sharing community meals with his son, workers and animals, which were full of humor, and also inspiring. Life can be so simple and enjoyable, and it was exactly what I was looking for. I needed to step out of my comfort zone to remember how to connect with life again. The thing is, we are living in such a complex environment, being bombarded every day with so much information, which makes our senses very numb and clouded. Out in nature, you start to clear that cloud, and all of a sudden you begin to awaken into yourself and elevate your consciousness.
The ceremony begins by drinking Sanpedro, a potent medicine that grows in the form of a cactus in the Andean mountains and typically dry lands. Taita Alejo prepares the medicine himself.
A cup and a half lasted for the entire night. There were other participants in the ceremony. There was another psychologist, 50 years old, who was also doing the Vision Quest, like me, and there were some people who came to drink Sanpedro and participate in the sweatlodge (Temazcal). His sons, Waira and Juan Alejo ( also a revered shaman) were also helping in the ceremony. We entered the sweat lodge where we got to drink more medicine if we wanted, and on the second round, we were offered 2 cups of water to represent duality. After these cups, we were not allowed to speak for the next four days. The next two rounds were pretty intense. People were praying and singing and the stones got very hot. During one of the songs I felt my entire skin burning and purifying, it was a sensation of fear and relief at the same time. The effect of the Sanpedro was getting stronger and I began to see differently. The energy was flowing between the people in the Temazcal, the stones and all around us…it truly felt like we were all family!
At the end of the ceremony we got to stay the first night by the fire because it was too late to go plant us by the tree. The next morning, Taita Alejo came and added some incense to the fire. It was time to “plant us”, that is the term they use for putting Questers next to a tree in nature.
During my time on the mountain, I learned how to be still and be ok with it. I could be focused and concentrate and shift my awareness inwardly. I learned how to speak with the great spirit and pay attention to my thoughts. And I remembered that we are all children of the Earth. During the last night, I was very cold and very tired, but I couldn’t sleep. That was the most challenging night. I kept praying that the night would end and I could feel the strong and warm rays of the sun, but it took forever. I felt this was a good challenge for me. Life isn’t going to be always super comfortable. We must stay in our center at all times. There are no negative challenges in life, only opportunities to learn and grow.
When we went down from the mountain, we first received water to drink and then a bowl of fruit. My throat was so dry that it was hard swallowing the food, but I was very grateful to be able to drink and eat again. We then entered into another temazcal and on the second round were given our tobacco and we could speak again. Both me and Eduardo spoke of gratitude and the experience each one had and the ceremony was finished.
If you are interested in learning more about Vision Quests, Ayahuasca or Sanpedro, or Ayahuasca Retreats on the coast of Ecuador, please contact me via email.