If you’re feeling the call to sit in your first ayahuasca ceremony, then it’s absolutely crucial you know who the shaman is who will be holding the ceremonial space and pouring you your first cup of medicine.
With the astounding increase in global consumption of ayahuasca, it’s no surprise that ayahuasca ceremonies are turning into big business with the average ceremonies costing anywhere from $150 to $400 per night.
Unfortunately, with the rapid spike in demand for this Amazonian brew, there’s way too many people out there now claiming to be shamans. It’s hard to believe but people can even go down to Peru now and become a “certified” Shaman in a weekend! What a joke….and a very unfortunate one at that!
Learning how to navigate the intense energies of the plant realms and hold space for other people’s journey’s is a massive responsibility, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
I hear countless stories all the time about people having incredibly traumatic experiences with ayahuasca because the shaman wasn’t holding clear space with integrity. These shamans simply give ayahuasca a bad name and it makes my heart twinge to hear these stories, especially because I truly believe this medicine has the power to support the most transformation healings – that I myself have experienced and witnessed in others countless of times.
After assisting and sitting in many ceremonies, you come to learn that you can witness quite the full range of challenging situations arise, and the shaman and their assistants holding the space need to know how to deal with these situations when they arise in a loving and effective manner.
I have so many people tell me they want to head down to Peru to have an “authentic” ayahuasca experience. I never get a good feeling when someone says that to me, like an innocent white bunny rabbit unknowingly walking into a field of puma jaguars. Some parts of Peru have become somewhat akin to the ayahuasca ghetto and there are way too many “shamans” looking to exploit inexperienced starry-eyed people there because it’s all too easy for them to make themselves look “authentic”.
But it’s just like all industries: not all life coaches are amazing, not all reiki practitioners know how to channel energy, and not all professionals are competently doing a good job! It’s a major reminder to do your due diligence before sitting in a ceremony with a Shaman.
There are some risks to sitting in Ayahuasca ceremonies, although the benefits far outweigh the risks, it’s imperative you sit with a shaman who you wholeheartedly trust.
I trust my teachers, the shamans I’ve been sitting with for a long time with my life. I have a very deep connection with them and know without a shadow of a doubt that no matter what transpires in the ceremony, they will navigate it with grace, experience and integrity.
First and foremost, only sit with a shaman who comes very highly recommended from personal friends whom you also trust.
I recommend vetting your shaman. Why not right? Wouldn’t you want to know the credentials and qualifications of a doctor about to do surgery on you? If someone is not willing to take 15 minutes of their time to answer your questions before you commit to sitting with them in a ceremony, this is a major red flag. Shamans are also people too, they should be down to earth and personable enough to have a heartfelt conversation with you and answer any and all of the questions that are coming ups or you. If they are only Spanish or Cechua speaking then they usually have a translator/assistant you can talk with who will answer your questions for you.
Here’s a list of 15 questions to ask your shaman before sitting in their ceremony:
These first 5 questions are the best place to start and absolutely shouldn’t be skipped. This will give you some pretty big indications and insight into who it is you’re about to sit with.
- How long have you been drinking ayahuasca?
- How long have you been pouring ayahuasca for other people and holding ceremonies?
- Who are your teachers?
- What lineage (or lineages) are you working with?
- Where have you trained?
- What’s your educational background? (This isn’t a crucial question but could definitely provide some further insight into who this person is.)
Questions 7 through 11 are also absolutely imperative to ask. Some of the biggest risks that arise for people in ceremonies is because some “jungle” medicine making practices are to throw other plant additives into ayahuasca brews. Some of the tribes who do this in the Amazon don’t think it’s a big deal, but some of these plants pose a major risk in terms of interacting with various medications someone might be on that wouldn’t otherwise be a problem with just the traditional ayahuasca brew of leaf and vine.
- Where do you get your medicine?
- How long have you been working with these specific people who make your medicine?
- Are their batches of medicine consistent?
- Are you personally testing each new batch before you pour it?
- **Is there only leaf and vine in the medicine or other added plant mixtures?**
Questions 12 through 17 are questions more related to the ceremony itself and will give you good clues as to how they conduct their ceremonies. These are good points to know because it will indicate the “strength of their container”. If they just let people do whatever they want, then that’s what we call a “loose container”. Having solid guidelines that include no talking for example helps keep the channel open and the energetic field nice and clear for you to be supported in your deep dive into the plant realms and for you to feel safe to do your inner work.
It can be a red flag if they hold ceremonies with more than 35-40 people (some shamans hold space for more than 80 people in one ceremony, but I don’t recommend sitting in groups that large) and also a red flag if they have no assistants helping. Not receiving the help you need in a ceremony can be traumatic in and of itself so making sure there’s plenty of help is a surefire way you can feel more safe and supported going into your first ceremony.
- How many people sit in your ceremonies?
- What’s the general flow and structure of your ceremonies?
- Do you start your ceremony with orientation for new people drinking the medicine?
- What are some of the guidelines you give people in orientation before starting ceremonies? (For example: no touching, no talking, being aware of audible noises mindlessly coming out of your mouth, guidelines around asking for help, where the bathrooms are, protocols around purging and if you take care of emptying your own bucket or if someone else does that for you…)
- How many trained assistants do you have helping you during the ceremony?
- How do you help support people to integrate their experiences with the medicine? Is there integration circle the following morning?
The last three questions are related to how pre-ceremonial preparation.
- How do you recommend I prepare for the ceremony?
- Do you have specific dietary recommendations?
- Who do you recommend does not sit in ayahuasca circles (also a red flag if they say everyone can sit, since research shows there are specific health conditions like mental health issues and extreme heart conditions that make it unsafe to drink medicine.)
**Important Note!** If you are taking any medications at all, make sure to ask the shaman if there are any contra-indications that might be potentially dangerous that you need to know about. I also have access to a medical doctor who specializes in mitigating the risks of drinking ayahuasca on various medications and who can tell you if you should not mix your specific medications with ayahuasca.
Please consult with a medical doctor if you are taking anti-depressants. It is not safe to mix ayahuasca with anti-depressant medications.
When you ask all of these questions, use your intuition and gut feelings around the integrity of the shamans character. Do you feel like you can trust this person? Have they come highly recommended by someone you know and trust?
Also keep in mind that for your first ceremony, you don’t have to fully dive in. You can ask to start with a smaller dose, like a quarter or half cup so you can slowly get your feet wet and ease into the experience, as you establish your own personal connection with these spirits of these sacred plants.
I’ve sat with a lot of different shamans, and I feel so lucky to be aligned with a select group of them that hold this work with so much integrity, wisdom and compassion and a very deep well of experience to draw upon. (Contact me if you’re looking to join an Ayahuasca retreat hold by experienced shamans.)
If you’d like a second opinion on the shaman you’re considering sitting with, contact me to book a session and we can go over the questions they answered. I’m also happy to hop on the phone with you and the shaman you’re vetting to see if it’s a good fit.
May all your ayahuasca ceremonies open up doorways of healing and transformation for you in your life. May all of your journeys be held by people who truly care about this work, holding you in loving grace.
Live Free, Laura D