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The age of responsibility Posted January 6, 2021

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(This article was first published in the December 2020 issue of Sacred Hoop Magazine)

To say that we are living in complicated times is an understatement. The period we are going through, filled with chaos and uncertainty, presents us with many challenges. In facing this great unknown, emotions such as fear, anger and despair can easily overwhelm us. Today I would like to share with you a perspective that was delivered to me during my shamanic work in Peru with visionary plants, such as Ayahuasca, San Pedro cactus, and other powerful traditional medicines. I have been working with these medicines for over a decade now, and they have often guided me on my path with benevolence and wisdom. Of course, the purpose of this article is not to present here an absolute truth, to create polemics, or to give lessons, as I know the subject is sensitive. But simply to share an experience, an approach to things that has personally helped me better accept the events we are going through, and to take a more active and positive role in them. It’s up to everyone to see if this message resonates or not.

I have always been an empathic person, very sensitive to my environment. And I must admit that the direction our world seems to be taking has often caused me some torment. Animal abuse, massive deforestation, terrorism, growing violence in the media and on social networks… Dismayed by this situation, I have sometimes told myself that we were running to our doom.

It is true that experiences with teacher plants such as Ayahuasca can exacerbate this sense of urgency, making us painfully aware of the extent of the damage we have caused. It is common to see testimonies from people who have worked with this medicine, and who have received messages about ecology, the need to protect our Mother Earth, and to take a more respectful approach to the world on which we depend. The Amazon is a particularly relevant setting for this exploration, given all the outrages it suffers – and which seem to be getting worse every year, both toward the fauna, flora, and indigenous peoples.

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Reconnecting to our totem animals

In shamanism, the concept of totem animals is central to many traditions. Indeed, shamans regularly commune with animal spirits: when they want to harness their power or strength, when they seek advice or vision, or when they call upon their medicine.

Today, totem animals are much better known to the general public, and everyone is able to make their own connection with the animal world. One can thus receive a visit from an animal spirit, whether it is during a shamanic ceremony, a vision quest, a deep meditation, or even a dream. And sometimes these spirits will simply come and invite themselves into our daily lives. There are many tools, and many ways to explore this: among others, the “Sprit Animal” oracle deck can be used to connect with animal spirits and ask them for advice and guidance.

We can, however, make a distinction between an animal spirit that will come to help us at a specific time in our lives, and our own totem animals (I use the plural, as it is not uncommon to have more than one). Indeed, an animal may appear to us from time to time to inspire and guide us according to our needs: the Horse may come to give us momentum, the Lion to give us strength, or the Bear to give us care. This does not necessarily mean that these are our totem animals, which represent various facets of ourselves.

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Shamanism is now a subject that generates a lot of interest among those who wish to approach life from a more authentic angle. Actually, there is not just one shamanism, but a multitude of traditions, scattered all over the world. There are, however, some common points in these different approaches: in addition to various techniques for connecting to altered states of consciousness, the celebration of Mother Nature is a recurring element in all shamanic rituals. The importance of plant and animal energies is a central point, and it is common to make shamanic journeys to identify our power animals and plants. Once we have met them, we can build a relationship with them, tap into their energies, and learn more about ourselves.

Today I’m excited to announce my “Spirit Animal” oracle deck is available in a beautiful physical edition, published by Beyond Words Publishing. This deck was born as a result of deep shamanic experiences in Peru, working with teacher plants like Ayahuasca. With these experiences, it is common to have powerful visions. During one of these ceremonies, I was shown how the animal world was made up of an incredible diversity of energies and talents, developed and refined over thousands of years. I was also shown that we can tap into these infinite resources, and draw inspiration from them on a daily basis. Since that experience, animals have become an inexhaustible source of teachings for me.

We humans are a multidisciplinary species. We are in a way the “Jack-of-all-trades” of the Earth. Animals, on the other hand, are specialists in their field, having developed to the extreme capacities and savoir faire to ensure their survival.

In shamanism, it is possible to connect to the Spirit of an animal species, its very essence, in order to ask for its help and take advantage of its talents. The cave paintings on the walls of prehistoric caves are probably the oldest illustration of this: it is assumed that the depiction of animals and hunting scenes were a means of invoking the spirit of the game, and perhaps even communing with it on a level that we have long forgotten.

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In the Amazon tradition, when an apprentice follows the path of the curandero (“healer”), he follows diets that allow him to connect with the spirits of the plants. In this moment of deep communion and meditation, in total isolation, he can then receive icaros, healing songs taught directly to him by the plants he is dieting.

Today I would like to share with you a personal icaro, which I received during my shamanic practice. This icaro is a prayer to the spirit of Tobacco (or Mapacho), a very powerful and central teacher plant in Amazonian shamanism.

Tobacco is a grounding, calming, cleansing and protecting plant. It is used in many ways: either in sopladas (tobacco smoke is blown on the person being treated), as a purgative decoction, or as a snuff powder (called Rapé – pronounced Ha-pey). Rapé combines Mapacho with different plants or tree ashes, and many recipes exist depending on the tribes and the people who prepare it. It is a very powerful medicine that calms the mind and opens the heart.

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Desperately seeking shaman… Posted February 19, 2020

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More and more people are becoming interested in shamanism, especially the Amazonian tradition, involving the use of visionary plants such as Ayahuasca. Indeed, this medicine has seen an incredible boom in recent years. Ayahuasca-related tourism has developed at a pace that seems almost out of control, and retreat centers are sprouting up like mushrooms in South America. In the Iquitos region alone, in the Amazon basin, there may currently be up to 70 centers offering this kind of service.

This popularity does not seem to be limited to the South American continent alone, as this medicine is now available all over the world, including in many countries where its use is still considered illegal. Especially in trendy circles, where having an Ayahuasca ceremony now seems to be a must: for example, we can see more and more references to Ayahuasca in Hollywood productions and US series. In 2016, an article in the New Yorker estimated that around a hundred ceremonies were performed every night in Manhattan alone.

This means that more and more people now have an opinion on the matter, regardless of the nature of their experience, the context, or the people with whom they did it. Yet the subject is complex, very complex indeed. First of all because it involves all the subtleties of a medicine we do not understand very well, and which holds many mysteries. But also because it brings out all the themes related to being human, in the broadest sense.

When browsing Internet discussion groups, social networks, or some specialized blogs, one question comes up regularly in conversations: what is a “good” or “real” shaman? After all, this is a legitimate question. For those who want to experience this medicine, it is normal to look for a reliable practitioner. Especially since its effects are powerful, people want to limit the risks and stay safe. And yet, the answer to this question is far from being simple.

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Léa and I Posted January 25, 2020

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As a follow-up to my last article about our relationship to illness, I recently came across a very interesting documentary on Netflix. Entitled “Lea and I”, it tells the story of two very close friends who decide to travel to South America in search of a cure. Indeed, the central character of the documentary is Léa Moret, a nice young woman of Belgian origin living in the United States, who suffers from cystic fibrosis.

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Death as a counselor Posted January 14, 2020

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For many years, Diego Palma was an emblematic figure of the Sacred Valley, in the region of Cuzco, Peru. He allowed countless people to benefit from Ayahuasca, a plant used by shamans to cure both physical and spiritual ailments. Over time, his activity has grown to unexpected proportions, and the small town of Pisac has become a Mecca for anyone who wants to experience this powerful and mysterious medicine.

I met Diego during a retreat in the Amazon jungle in 2009. It is an honor for me to begin this blog with an article dedicated to the man I consider a friend, a mentor, and even a brother. Diego died last October at the age of 52 from bone marrow cancer. His death was a real earthquake for all those who knew him, and who appreciated his kindness, wisdom and spiritual elevation.

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