Ceremony 5 – San Pedro
Intention: Show me how to be of service to cosmic order/the tao
For my fifth ceremony, I would be drinking San Pedro instead of Ayahuasca. For those not familiar with San Pedro, it’s a South American cactus that’s skin contains the psychoactive compound mescaline. Like Ayahuasca, San Pedro has an extensive history of ceremonial usage among South American tribe, and is similar to the more well known Peyote cactus which shares the same primary psychoactive compound.
San Pedro’s traditional name is Huachuma, the name “San Pedro” came from the conquistadors, and of course means “Saint Peter”. It was given this name because it was observed that by consuming it, one could open the gates of heaven.
Typically the onset of San Pedro is quite long, sometimes taking up to 2 hours to feel the effects. The duration of the experience is generally reported to be around 10 hours, a bit longer than a typical LSD experience.
The active compound in San Pedro, Mescaline, was the catalyst behind the psychonaut classic “The Doors of Perception” by Aldous Huxley. Mescaline was observed by Huxley to have the potential to produce mystical and religious experiences of the variety described by both oriental and occidental wisdom traditions.
This would be my first time consuming San Pedro or it’s active component mescaline, and I was very excited for it as it had been a strong interest of mine for years. I had heard it had the ability to illuminate the “thing-ness” of things by both Huxley and Thomas Ray, and the essential qualities of the elements of existence has always been a pre-occupation of mine, the character that things hold. Being able to take a perceptual microscope to the character of all things appealed to me greatly.
It is worth noting that San Pedro is also traditionally regarded as a plant teacher, much like ayahuasca and to a somewhat lesser extent psilocybin mushrooms. They have been experienced to hold spirits that have spoken to different people in the same way, with the same teachings. San Pedro, like ayahuasca, is not at all regarded as a drug or a way to have a good time. They are always referred to as spirit medicine or plant teachers.
During the San Pedro ceremonies, they play music on the stereo throughout the day, mostly new agey stuff. It’s much more casual than Ayahuasca ceremonies where the only sound you hear is the Icaros (and intermittent hurling) and you must stay seated in the maloca for the duration of the experience. San Pedro is done in the morning because of the long duration, and you are much more capable of moving around on it than Ayahuasca, so they allow people free reign of the grounds. You can swim, listen to music, etc…
I had a clear intention for this ceremony, it was “Show me how to be a servant of the cosmic order/greater good/god/whateverthefuckyouknow”. I felt so satisfied and fulfilled by my prior ayahuasca experience, which felt like a full blown mystical experience, it seemed there was nothing left to ask for than instructions on how to extend these experiences to others. Additionally, I felt that it was clear that my purpose in life was to be a healer of some sort, and any deviation from that path in my life has always led to a permeating feeling of apathy.
I wanted to be of service, I felt I had received all I needed for the time being.
I wanted to be of service, I felt I had received all I needed for the time being.
The skin of the cactus was dried and powdered, and we were given water to mix the powder in.
The taste of this stuff is god awful, and what’s worse is the powder does not dissolve well in the water, it creates a sludgy sandy texture that is hard to get down the throat regardless of the taste. Luckily, I was shown how you could mix the powder with just a bit of water and then make little balls out of it, then you could swallow them without having to taste it. It took a long time to make 30 or so little balls and swallow them with water, but it was worth it to avoid that flavor.
Within about 30 minutes I began to feel the familiar surge of peculiar energy coursing through my body that I feel at the beginning of an experience with psilocybin mushrooms. It is a very common thing for me to be the first one to feel the effects of a psychedelic, as my metabolism is lightning fast. We took the San Pedro at about 9 am, and by 10, I could feel the effects starting to assault my body rapidly. Around this time they began playing music. It was new agey operatic stuff that I found really corny at first, but after a while became almost painfully beautiful.
I was in the main living space with about 5 other people, and as the San Pedro really started taking hold, they all started looking like paintings. They all looked like gods and goddesses, timeless archetypes of pure beauty. The colors of their hair and eyes were piercingly vibrant. It took all of my energy not to shout “DO YOU PEOPLE REALIZE HOW GORGEOUS YOU ARE!?!?!”.
Soon after it began really kicking in, I had to take a piss, as I consumed a ton of water with the San Pedro. When in the bathroom, the whole “thing-ness” of things phenomenon started to become very apparent to me. A better way of describing this experience I think, would be to say that you experience every thing, every damn thing, as having a spirit. I looked around and everything – my legs, the toilet seat, the wood grain, the roll of toilet paper, etc… had a powerfully distinct presence and spirit to it, everything was teeming with energy. Visually it was dissimilar from something like LSD in that there was no warping or alterations occurring to any of my environment, but rather an extreme sharpening of contrast, vibrancy and character happening to the familiar forms of reality.
When I walked out of the stall outside, it was borderline sensory overload. I was aware of everything around me, thousands of insects, blades of grass, trees, etc…, all having their own unique spirit and feeling.
This kind of power in your environment can cause you to feel incredibly vulnerable and weak, or at least did in my case. So much energy pouring into your consciousness, made my shell feel so thin. This concerned me, I felt so vulnerable, like my skin could effortlessly be pierced by anything that wanted to. Such sensitivity I have never felt before.
I went back inside and collapsed onto an air-filled bean bag chair thingy, and let all the energy take over me. I remembered a common phrase my therapist used to say “your biggest desire is your greatest fear”. This corresponded with my experience perfectly, as to be that effected by your environment held so much potential for pleasure, and such a feeling of connection, but at the same time, such a vulnerability and susceptibility.
It was the inverse of my derealized state that I had been in for years. I could feel everything so strongly, it pierced through me.
Vulnerability, being so incredibly open, is our greatest desire and greatest fear, much like the concept of “forever”. Both of these can yield the highest heights of pleasure or completely bite you in the ass and destroy you.
I realized I was in a safe space in that chair, and started to relaxed into the vulnerability, I let the energy do whatever it was going to do to me. I experienced incredible pleasure from this, to be comfortable in such vulnerability was ecstasy. I sat in the chair letting the operatic music overtake me, and I laughed in ecstasy. One of my buddies joked around this time “Did they give Casey San Pedro or Heroin?”, which was of course hilarious to me at the time.
Soon after, they put on Dark Side of the Moon, and I decided to go outside and lay on the grass. I abided in this feeling of vulnerability, and let the music become me. When “The Great Gig in the Sky” came on, I experienced what I remember thinking was the peak moment of physical pleasure in my life thus far. When this song was playing, it felt like I was being fucked by the universe, in the best way possible. It was very much an experience of being completely and entirely absorbed into the song, and becoming it. That song had always sort of sounded like some sort of crazy cosmic orgasms to me, in the past. It was definitely a sensation I had never felt anything close to before, it very much felt like cosmic sexuality, doesn’t get much more new-agey than this folks….
When this song died down, the trip began to change character.
I got up from my place on the grass and started walking around. I talked to a few people and the consensus was “I don’t know how I feel”, a very common theme with high-dose psychedelics. It was clear everyone was very effected and trying to not let things get out of hand, I could see the worry in many people’s eyes.
Around this time is when the confusion and disorientated feelings started setting in, I realized my rational mind was going to be taking backseat soon and I would need to let it go, never the easiest feat for me to pull off. My ability to think conventionally started to deteriorate, and I had to accept that the character of the trip was complete confusion at this point and there was nothing I could do to change it. I went across the pond to where most people were staying, and it was clear everyone felt overwhelmed but were trying to hold things under control. There were a lot of jerky movements and I could feel some paranoia in the air. It seemed to me that people were insecure about letting on how disoriented and effected by the medicine they were and tried to cover it up with small talk.
I went to the house where they serve food and there were just a couple people there. A buddy of mine started talking to me about this book he was looking at that had really crazy psychedelic artwork, and it turned out to be the one book I had brought to the center, out of 100+ possible choices, which was sorta crazy.
At that time, I perceived him as talking 500x faster than any human being ever should, I kept saying “sorry man but words, words are opening up worlds for me right now, too much to process”. He would say “oh that’s cool, that’s cool man. Sorry I’m just really high”.
I was happy to then see the owner, at that time. He asked me “how are you feeling”, I told him “a lot of confusion”. He smiled and said “that’s alright, there’s probably something to learn there”.
I couldn’t handle the social environment anymore, it felt to me like everyone was trying to put on masks and cover up their vulnerability, and it felt really draining to feel all that repressed energy around me. Of course, as I was tripping pretty hard at this point, this all could have entirely been a reflection of my state of consciousness at the time.
I decided to go to the maloca where we have our ayahuasca ceremonies, and spend some time working on my demons, my issues with interpersonal dynamics, social environments, ego games, etc…
As I was walking back towards the maloca, they started to play Jack Johnson. For those who don’t know, I abhor Jack Johnson, and there is little that could trigger me into a darker place than his music (may seem strange I know…). For me he is associated as a symbol of the mentality of covering up all difficulties and pretending they aren’t there, sweeping them under the rug, not acknowledging and responsibly dealing with your own and other people’s suffering. In short, superficial, masks, chickening out, hiding from problems, etc…
I’m well aware this is entirely my own bias and there are innumerable ways to perceive his music and associations to draw from it, but, that’s my association. I was actually thankful for the opportunity to work with that side of my personality though, and knew I was entering the dark and difficult side of the trip.
When I got to the maloca, my body temperature started sky rocketing. I was sweating profusely and it felt like I was in a desert, it came upon me quickly out of nowhere. Extremely sharp stabbing pains started shooting through my body, like daggers of sand. It felt clear that something needed to come out of my body.
I sat down in the maloca in lotus position and placed a puke bucket in front of me, hoping I could release something. I remembered my intention and meditated on it, “show me how to be a servant of the cosmic order”. I waited and waited for something to come, sitting in agony sweating and having sharp pains through my body. I did my best to sit in thankfulness throughout, knowing this would yield some answers to my intention in time.
Sure enough it did, I realized where my unique talents lied and how I could be of service. Because of how fast I tend to move through experiences, I experience the poles of existence and moving back and forth between them much more frequently than most – as anyone who has been reading these ceremonies has probably noticed. Because I move from heaven and hell so frequently and quickly, I am given lots of opportunities to cultivate an understanding of the dynamics and recognize the common patterns that tend to be present in the swings of the existential pendulum. As well as a chance to cultivate the ability to remain grounded throughout these inevitable swings, to see the humor in everything, and most of all recognize that all things always change, even in the pits of hell.
I saw this being my gift as a potential healer, to fully and experientially understand the pain of those who are going through hell because I have experienced it so many times, and because of the repetition been given the opportunity to see through the illusion. As I have said many times, suffering is my greatest teacher.
The more you do anything, the better you are at it. I have become my strongest and most grounded in hellish states because of being able to easily see it’s transient nature. It has given me the gift of having no fear left in me.
I am not scared of or averse to those who are in hellish states, as many people who have not seen those states themselves might be. I understand why they act as they do and I can see that it will not last, that it is all an illusion that in time they will see through, everyone functions at different speeds and intervals. Time is arbitrary, the ultimate trickster.
I felt something akin to that scene in “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” where The Grinch decides to ditch his curmudgeonly ways to save Christmas. “And his heart grew the size of 10 grinches!”.
I felt so much compassion grow inside of me for those in pain, I felt my life’s purpose to help those who have lost their way, who are hopeless, as I have felt so many times (and likely will again, who ever knows). The sharp pains still shot through my body, but I realized this was exactly what I asked for. I wanted to understand experientially the intense pain of others, so that I could work to see through it, see the humor in all things. That is how I could serve the cosmic order.
There was an old French man, who started making his rounds to the maloca and back as well. He was wrapped in a sheet and naked underneath it, he was clearly dealing with purging some very painful things and feeling very alone and hopeless.
I was so happy to be with him in this time, he clearly needed some reassurance that he was not the only one going through agonizing feelings. I talked with him about some issues with his mother, I showed him how I was feeling agony as well but that it would all soon pass and we would both feel the fruits of coming out of a bad trip, the contrast of returning to a more stable and easily navigated state of consciousness.
I felt incredibly fulfilled, there was nowhere in the world I would rather be at that moment than helping him purge his demons, I felt a feeling of purpose to my life like I hadn’t in a very long time.
He would make his rounds and come back to the maloca periodically, he was in a state of panic, he was missing the key ingredient to remaining grounded in hellish experiences – trust in the order of the universe, something I had been reassured of in my prior ayahuasca session. I trusted what was happening, and was thankful for the opportunity. Regardless of whether or not these feelings of trust and faith have any validity in terms of being warranted, they can act as remedies that assuage anxiety and panic that would otherwise amplify the pain.
After I puked out the majority of my pain, I made my way back to the main house. Throughout this whole experience, I would periodically hear someone scream in terror, sometimes disoriented to the point they had forgotten where they were. This created a lot of tension amongst the group, understandably. It didn’t concern me after my puking sessions though, I had purged my fear and trusted the medicine, and was ready to be of service for those in need.
I looked at the clock, it was 6 pm. I had been purging my demons in the maloca for around 5 hours. Time had absolutely no meaning on San Pedro, it did not progress conventionally by any means, it was utterly arbitrary.
In the following 7 hours, everyone came together in the maloca to help eachother through their difficulties. Primarily, the youth came to the aid of the elderly, who were having the most difficult time of it by far. I saw some very intense demons come out of these old folks, stuff that had probably been accumulating for many years if not decades, so it’s hold became that much stronger. They were helpless to the onslaught of negative energy being pulled out of their system by San Pedro.
One of the old men had it the hardest by a long shot, he growled and screamed as this energy came pouring out of him. It ended up looking much like an exorcism. He kept saying “I have never felt this way in my life”.
He was still there behind the pain, a poor victim to his own demons and fears. His body was overheating so I would periodically pour cold water over him, and help him to the bathroom.
I spent the following 6 hours or so helping three of the old men through their painful journeys, the fact that I had gone through my own hell earlier that day was of immense help for me understanding what they were going through, and knowing what to say to help them through it. Without experiential knowledge, it is very hard to be of real service, speculation can only go so far towards understanding.
I made my rounds and prepared tea for everyone, making sure everyone was taken care of. There was nowhere I would rather be in those moments, I felt entirely fulfilled, complete. I would rather be preparing tea for these old tortured souls than on any beach, on any cruise, in any club, or whatever we seem to be told that we desire. This was real satisfaction, giving love to those who felt they had nothing left, overwhelmed by the horrors of their own psyche.