Everyone who knows their paracetamol from their plant medicine was full of anticipation when word hit the street that Lesley La Gringa was flying in from Peru with her precious cargo of San Pedro cactus, or Wachuma. San Pedro is used throughout the Andes as a medicine to cure all ailments; physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. It contains the hallucinogen Mescaline, eye-opening experiences of which are documented by Carlos Castaneda in his cult classic The Teachings of Don Juan and in Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception.
By ingesting this sacred plant medicine, you invite its spirit to guide you on a journey of healing. Not only can the chemical compounds of this cactus shed light on your life path, spiritual questions, fears and relationships, but Lesley has known it to cure cancer, alopecia and paralysis, saying that it “reconnects us to ourselves and also to Mother Earth. The plant is a master teacher. It helps us to heal, to grow, to learn and awaken, and assists us in reaching higher states of truth and consciousness.”
Feeling the fear
I have heard about the benefi ts of plant medicine for a good few years, with many swearing by lessons learnt on San Pedro, so when I heard that plant medicine guru Lesley was holding a ceremony in Essex, I instantly signed up. Needless to say, I was nervous. A San Pedro session can be a turbulent ride of facing your demons and coming to terms with the gnarly truth of your past. What it teaches you, confirms Lesley, is that essentially no experience is ‘bad’, just as long as you learn from it. San Pedro shows you what you needed to learn from any given experience so you can heal and move forward. Equally, San Pedro can guide you to a profound understanding of your interconnected relationship with the Universe.
When I tell Lesley I’m hesitant, she reassures me that whatever you experience with San Pedro is absolutely perfect for that time and you will never be faced with more than you can handle. That said, the main ingredient that you need to bring to the table is a good dose of trust in the spirit of San Pedro. My fears are slightly allayed, especially as the ceremony is being hosted by esteemed shamanic practitioner Skie Hummingbird, who is also assisting. I’m in very capable hands.
Before the San Pedro ceremony, we are told to follow a diet of no spices, fatty food, citrus, meat or alcohol, and we must fast on the morning before (although water and herbal tea are allowed) There is a possibility of vomiting while on San Pedro, which is considered to be a healthy purging of outdated, stuck emotions and fears.
When I first meet Lesley, I am blown away by her humility. Rather than acknowledging her role as the international queen of plant medicine that she is, Lesley describes herself as “San Pedro’s humble assistant”. With a shock of long blonde hair and sparkling sky-blue eyes, Lesley is originally from South Africa. She now lives in Peru where she grows, nurtures and brews her own cacti while also running a travel business, hostel and boutique hotel. She juggles these ventures with travelling the world administering San Pedro medicine to all who are open to receiving it.
The journey begins
At 10am, after tea and loo breaks, the 17 participants gather in a marquee in the garden. There is an altar at one end of the marquee upon which we are invited to place something that is close to our hearts. We then sit in a large circle with blankets, cushions and water in preparation for our journey.
Although there are two 12-year-old girls drinking with us (San Pedro is suitable for most children), the group is a friendly mix of men and women aged between 20 and 60. Some have ducked out of hectic careers in the city for a day of healing, while others are housewives, artists and alternative therapists. Many have drunk plant medicine before, both San Pedro and its fi ercer cousin Ayahuasca, but I’m certainly not alone in being a first-timer.
Lesley doles out our doses of bright green dehydrated cactus powder, which we have to mix well in a glass of water using a fork before downing it. It tastes foul, but you’re given a boiled sweet to take the vile edge off.
Once we have all drunk, a talking stick is passed around the group. This is our opportunity to introduce ourselves and vocalise our intention for the healing we would like to receive. Once we’ve gone around all 17 people, the San Pedro is starting to kick in. We each fi nd a comfortable place to start our journey. Some lie back in the marquee, while others fi nd a space in the sunny garden or in the house. Lesley and Skie are on hand to keep a close eye on us as San Pedro launches us each into our own psychedelic Universe.
My first impression is nausea; a sickly, unsettled feeling. Nevertheless, I close my eyes, pull my sleeping bag around me and wait for the journey to begin. Beautiful but strange visuals pour across my eyelids, interspersed with some unpleasant reminders of my past. I slip in and out of consciousness, a number of journeys seeming to happen simultaneously; one into my past, forcing me to look at things I’d rather forget, one into a beautiful kaleidoscope of other worldly visuals and one acutely sensitive to my immediate environment.
Some individuals are crying, screaming, keening, thrashing about and retching as they wrestle with their demons. Lesley and Skie rush to assist anyone who appears to be struggling. Others are happily drifting off into their own journeys without any trauma or distress. One woman hugs a tree, another man meditates on the grass, while another sings and practises yoga.
I spend about four hours in the marquee fl oating in nauseous visuals before I get up. Although I can walk, it’s not easy to keep my balance. I make myself a cup of tea and chat to Lesley and Skie before moving into the garden to lie in the Sun. I am fully conscious of my actions, but everything has a strange, otherworldly feel to it.
The day passes quickly and, before I know it, a campfi re has been lit and a hearty stew is simmering on the stove. The last thing I feel like doing is eating. My stomach still feels a little unsettled, but I haven’t eaten all day so I manage a couple of spoonfuls. I chat to the others as they slowly come to. They are glowing with happiness (including those who had seemed to struggle with some pretty feisty demons earlier) and there is a sense that a great healing has taken place for most. The 12-year-old girls are quite blasé about their experiences, saying that it was no big deal (quickly adding that they wanted to drink again). The thought of leaving Skie’s safe haven while I’m still tingling with the sensation of San Pedro doesn’t fill me with joy, but I have to catch the last train to the bright lights, big city of London at 11pm – a scary prospect!
I enjoyed my journey with San Pedro, but more than this, I learnt that I simply appreciate being me as I am, openhearted and feeling my way through life’s incredible lessons in my own way. I have huge respect for what this sacred medicine can do for people. There are many paths to liberation and San Pedro is a legitimate and very beautiful one.
Find out more about San Pedro plant medicine Visit Lesley La Gringa in Peru for a San Pedro journey. You can stay at her hostel, www.casadelagringa.com, or at her boutique hotel, www.andeanwingshotel.com, both in Cusco, Peru. Find out about Lesley’s tour company at www.anotherplanetperu.net For further shamanic workshops in the UK, visitwww.shamanicskie.co.uk