Michael Harner’s Ayahuasca Experience

“Just a few minutes earlier I had been disappointed, sure that the ayahuasca was not going to have any effect on me. Now the Sound of rushing water flooded my brain. My jaw began to fell numb, and the numbness was moving up to my temples.
Overhead the faint lines became brighter, and gradually interlaced to form a canopy resembling a geometric mosaic of stained glass. The bright violent hues formed an ever-expanding roof above me. Within this celestial cavern, I heard the sound of water grow louder and I could see the dim figures engaged in shadowy movements. As my eyes seemed to adjust to the gloom, the moving scene resolved into something resembling a huge fun house, a supernatural carnival of demons. In the center, presiding over the activities, and looking directly at me, was a gigantic grinning crocodile head, from whose cavernous jaws gushed a torrential flood of water. Slowly the waters rose, and so did the canopy above them, until the scene metamorphosed into a simple duality of blue sky and sea below. All creatures had vanished.
Then, from my position near the surface of the water, I began to see two strange boats wafting back and forth, floating in the air towards me, coming closer and closer. They slowly combined to form a single vessel with a huge dragon headed prow, not unlike that of a Viking ship. Set amidships was a square sail. Gradually, as the boat gently floated back and forth above me, I heard a rythmic swishing sound and saw that it was a giant galley with several hundred oars moving back and forth in cadence with sound.
I became conscious, too, of the most beautiful singing I have ever heard in my life, high-pitched and ethereal, emanating from a myriad of voices on board the galley. As I looked more closely at the deck, I could make out large numbers of people with heads of blue jays and the bodies of humans, not unlike the bird-headed god of ancient egyptian tomb paintings. At the same time, some energy-essence began to float from my chest up into the boat. Although I believed myself to be an atheist, I was completely certain that I was dying and that the bird-headed people had come to take my soul away on the boat. While the soul-flow continued from my chest, I was aware that the extremities of my body were growing numb.
Starting with my arms and legs, my body slowly began to fell like it was turning into solid concrete. I could not move or speak. Gradually, as the numbness closed in on my chest, toward my heart, I tried to get my mouth to ask for help, to ask the indians for an antidote. Try as I might, however, I could not marshal my abilities sufficiently to make a word. Simultaneously, my abdomen seemed to be turning to stone, and I had to make a tremendous effort to keep my heart beating. I began to call my heart my friend, my dearest friend of all, to talk to it, to encourage it to beat with all the power remaining in my command.
I became aware of my brain. I felt-physically-that it had become compartmentalized into four separate and distinct levels. At the uppermost surface was the observer and commander, which was conscious of the condition of my body, and was responsible for the attempt to keep my heart going.. It perceived, but purely as a spectator, the visions emanating from what seemed to be the nether portions of my brains. Immediately below the topmost layer, I felt a numbed layer, which seemed to be put out of commission by the drug- it just wasn’t there. The next level down was the source of my visions, including the soul boat.
Now I was virtually certain I was going to die. As I tried to accept my fate, and even lower portion of my brain began to transmit more visions and information. I was “told” that this new material was being presented to me because I was dying and therefore “safe” to receive these revelations. These were the secrets reserved for the dying and the dead, I was informed. I could only very dimly perceive the givers of these thoughts: giant reptilian creatures reposing sluggishly at the lowermost depths of the back of my brain, where it met the top of the spinal column. I could only vaguely see them in what seemed to be gloomy, dark depths.
They then projected a visual scene in front of me. First the showed me the planet earth as it was eons ago, before there was any life on it. I saw an ocean, barren land. and a bright blue sky. Then black specks dropped from the sky by the hundred and landed in the front of me on the barren landscape. I could see that the “specks” were actually large, shiny, black creatures with stubby pterodactyl-like wings and huge whale-like bodies. Their heads not visible to me. They flopped down, utterly exhausted from their trip, resting for eons. they explained to me in a kind of thought language that they were fleeing from something out in space. they had come to the planet earth to escape their enemy.
The creatures then showed me how they had created life on the planet in order to hide within the multitudinous forms and thus disguise their presence. Before me, the magnificence of plant and animal creation and speciation-hundreds of millions of years of activity-took place on a scale and with a vividness impossible to describe. I learned that the dragon-like creatures were thus inside all forms of life. including man.* They were the true masters of humanity and the entire planet, they told me. WE humans were bit the receptacles and servants of these creatures. For this reason the could speak to me from within myself.
These revelations, welling up from the depths of the mind, alternated with visions of the floating galley, which had almost finished taking my soul on board, The boat with its blue jay headed deck crew was gradually drawing away, pulling my life force along as it headed toward a fjord but might, through processes unknown but felt and dreaded, be acquired or re-acquired by the dragon-like denizens of the depths.
I suddenly felt my distinctive humanness, the contrast between my species and the ancient reptilian ancestors. I began to struggle against returning to the ancient ones, who were beginning to feel increasingly alien and possibly evil. Each heartbeat was a major undertaking. I turned to human help.
With an unimaginative last effort, I barely managed to utter one word to the Indians: “Medicine!” I saw them rushing around to make an antidote, and I knew they could not prepare it in time. I needed a guardian who could defeat dragons, and I frantically tried to conjure up a powerful being to protect me against the alien reptilian creatures. One appeared before me; and at that moment the indians forced my mouth open and poured the antidote into me. Gradually, the dragons disappeared back into the lower depths; the soul boat and the fjord were no more. I relaxed with relief.
The antidote radically eased my condition, but it did not prevent me from having many additional visions of a more superficial nature. These were manageable and enjoyable. I made fabulous journeys at will through distant regions, even out into the Galaxy; created incredible architecture; and employed sardonically grinning demons to realize my fantasies. Often I found myself laughing aloud at the incongruities of my adventures.
Finally, I slept

Rays of sunlight were piercing the the holes in the palm-thatched roof when I awoke. I was still lying on the bamboo platform,  and I heard the normal, morning sounds all around me: the indians conversing, babies crying and roosters crowing. I was surprised to discover that I felt refreshed and peaceful. As I lay there looking up at the beautiful pattern of the roof, the memories of the previous night drifted across my mind. I momentarily stopped myself from remembering more in order to get my tape recorder from a duffle bag. As I dug into the bag, several indians greeted me, smiling. An old woman, Thomas’ wife , gave me a bowl of fish and plantain soup for breakfast. It tasted extraordinarily good. Then I went back to the platform, eager to put my night’s experiences on tape before I forgot anything.
The work of recall went easily except for one portion of the trance I could not remember, It remained blank, as though a tape had been erased. I struggled for hours to remember what happened in that part of the experience, and I virtually wrested it back into my consciousness. The recalcitrant material turned out to be the communication from the dragon-like creatures, including the revelation of their role in the evolution ot life on this planet and their innate domination of living matter, including man. I was highly excited at rediscovering this material, and could not help but feel that I was not supposed to be able to bring it back from the nether portions of the mind.
I even had a peculiar sense of fear for my safety, because I now possessed a secret that the creatures had indicated was only intended for the dying, I immediately decided to share this knowledge with others so that the “secret” would not reside in me alone, and my life would not be ins jeopardy. I put my outward motor on a dugout canoe and left for an american evangelist mission station nearby, I arrived about noon.
The souple at the mission, Bob and Millie, were a cut above the average evangelists sent from the United States: hospitable, humorous, and compassionate. I told them my story. When I described the reptile with water gushing out of his mouthm they exchanged glances, reached for their Bible, and read to me the following line from chapter 12 on the Book of Revelation”

And the serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood…

They explained to me that the word “serpent” was synonymous in the bible with the words “dragon: and “Satan.” I went on with my narrative. When I came to the part about dragon-like creatures fleeing an enemy somewhere beyond the earth and landing here to hide from their pursuers Bob and Millie became excited again and read me more  from the same passage in the Book of Revelation:

And there was a war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragons fought against his angels. And prevailed not; neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth and his angels with him.
I listened with surprise and wonder. the missionaries, in turn, seemed to be awed by the fact that and atheistic anthropologist, by taking the drink of the “witch doctors,” could apparently have revealed to him some of the same holy material in the Book of Revelation. When I had finished my account, I was relieved to have shared my new knowledge, but I was also exhausted. I fell asleep on the missionaries’ bed, leaving then to continue their discussion of the experience.
That evening, as I returned to the village in my canoe, my head began to throb in rhythm with the noise of the outward motor; I thought I was going mad; I had to stick my fingers in my ears to avoid the sensation. I slept well, but the next day I noticed a numbness or pressure in my head.
I was now eager to solicit a professional opinion from the most supernaturally knowledgeable of the indians, a blind shaman who had made many excursions in the spirit world with the aid of the ayahuasca drink. It seemed only proper that a blind shaman might be able to be my guide to the world of darkness.
I went ti his hut, taking my notebook with me, and described my visions to him segment by segment. At firstI told him only the highlights; thus, when I came to the dragon-like creatures, I skipped their arrival from space and only said, “There were these giant bat animals, something like great bats, longer than the length of this house, who said that they were the true masters of the world.” There is no word for dragon in Conibo, so “giant bat” was the closest I could come to describe what I had seen.
He stared up toward me with his sightless eyes, and said with a grin, “Oh, they’re always saying that. But they are only the Master of Outer Darkness.”
He waved his hand casually toward the sky. I felt a chill along the lower part of my spine, for I had not yet told him that I had seen them, in my trance, coming from outer space.
I was stunned. What I had experienced was already familiar to this barefoot, blind shaman. Known to him from his own explorations of the same hidden world into which I had ventured. From that moment on I decided to learn everything I could about shamanism.
And there was something more that encouraged me on my new quest. After I recounted my entire experience, he told me that he did not know of anyone who had encountered and learned so much on his first ayahuasca journey.
“You can surely be a master shaman,” he said.
(Pgs 3, 4, and 5, The Way of The Shaman, by Michael Harner.)

One Response to “Michael Harner’s Ayahuasca Experience”

  1. great picture of pablo amaringo. i actually got a chance to meet him in Puyalpa, Peru. Amazing person.

    nice account!


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