An Ayahuasca Ceremony is an opportunity to receive treatment for the spirit as well as take part in your own healing. Ceremony participants usually arrive in the early evening as ceremonies are always held at night. It is important to arrive before the ceremony begins, out of respect for the curandero. After some introductions if necessary and perhaps some small talk, the maestro, or healer, will prepare for the ceremony, which usually involves organizing the implements used in the ceremony, saying prayers, using mapacho to cleans the space and implements, and possibly burning incense or using agua florida. Once the space and items are ready, the ceremony begins.
Each participant is called up to take a cup of ayahuasca. At this point there is no talking, other than the curandero calling each participant or speaking to them about intention, dosage, or giving recommendations. After each participant has received a cup of ayahuasca, the curandero then drinks a cup as well. At this point, the lights are extinguished and after a brief time of silence to allow the medicine to begin working, the curandero starts to sing. These songs, called icaros, are a very important part of ayahuasca ceremonies, as they are the method by which curanderos communicate with the spirits, asking them for help in healing the patients and directing them to perform various actions or treatments. Each icaro has a specific purpose and they play an intricate role in the healing process. Curanderos sing to open every ceremony, inviting spirits to be present in the ceremony in order to perform healings. The curandero sings throughout the ceremony as the patients navigate their own experiences. The curanderos also use the icaros to raise and lower the intensity of the experience.
The beginning of a ceremony can be an unsettling time, often accompanied by physical purging, as the consciousness of each participant moves from one dimension to another, or expands into another awareness. It is not necessary to vomit, but it is also viewed as something positive, as it is seen as a cleansing act, helping to create an environment more suited to the healing process.
Eventually, the curandero will begin doing healings for the patients. There are many different styles of healings done in the ceremonies, but the most common involves singing an icaro specific to that patient and his/her affliction. Sometimes, people have pain bothering them right at that moment and the curandero will address that, using the hands to pull negative energy from a part of the body or blowing on the patient using smoke or liquid. The breath and the hands, along with mapachos and agua florida, are the tools of the curandero.
Mapachos are cigarettes used during ceremonies to soplay a patient with smoke. This process uses the breath, strengthened with tobacco smoke, to cleanse the spirit of the patient. It is also used to cleanse the space, the drinking cup, or the brew itself. Curanderos always use mapacho, as the spirit of mapacho is a very powerful healer and helps to maintain communication with the other plant spirits.
Every ceremony goes with the flow of the energy of the group, guided by the direction of the spirits and reactions to whatever may happen within each participant’s personal experience. The ceremony ends with an icaro to close the healing circle. The curandero makes sure that the patients are protected so that they can leave the ceremony without any spiritual vulnerability. Once the ceremony has ended, the lights are lit and a brief discussion takes place before people leave to go to sleep.