First Experience with Aya
I just got back today from my first aya experience. I won’t be mentioning specific people or locations involved to protect privacy.
Having just sold my house of 10 years to move full time into a native structure I build myself the platform of which is still under construction, I was clearly at a transitional place in my life. I heard from a friend about an opportunity to experience aya in a semi-traditional setting for what I felt was a reasonable cost, and decided the time was right. I had heard positive and mysterious things from many sources, and it seemed very harmonious with my values and place in life.
I was very busy with moving onto the farm, and life was very chaotic, so i didn’t have nearly as much time to prepare as I would have liked. I read the basic forms they sent, which just had the rules, a few suggestions about when to stop taking medication, which foods to avoid for five days prior, and to abstain from sex during the same time. There were a few videos online of some songs, but they didn’t really help me picture what the experience would be like. There was also a problem with the online discussion that had accidentally left me out. The trust network involved made me feel safe enough to try it, but even as I was traveling to the location for the retreat, I still felt very under-informed. The only literature I’d read was The Cosmic Serpent and How Aya. Works.
There were around 20 people total partipating, most of whom were recepients. We didn’t arrive until late afternoon, having been instructed to eat nothing after 2 pm. The location was a large house clearly used mainly for these kinds of things. Some participants paid extra for a bedroom, the rest of us found places to sleep on the floor. I knew three other people there personally. There were three couples, and roughly equal number of men and women.
The main ceremonial space was a large room very reminicient of both the living room in the house I just sold after a two year slog of a remodel that had me $50k in debt right before i got paid, and my Mom’s old house that had been in the family for 30 years that *she* had recently sold. This was to form a minor theme in my overall experience, and the timing of those two events was definitely syncrhonistic with the ritual.
We met all the facilitators during the brief time between arrival and the beginning of the first ceremony less than three hours later. Many of them knew each other from other spheres, a few were stranger and first timers. I think we had a pretty even split between people who had been before and newbies like me.
My previous enthiogenic experience was mainly with mushrooms and acid in a Burn context, with partners and friends, and during solo explorations. The clear divide between recreational use and spiritual questing had never really existed for me. The Burn scene certainly allows a smooth transition between and combination of those two. I had had some very intense trips, skipping over the line of ego death, both alone and with others. This was my first aya experience.
We filled out some forms, settled most of our bills, hung out very casually with the facilitators, who had set up the Mesa, the name for the ceremonial altar. There many icons on the Mesa, the central one being a Santo Diame Crufixo, to honor their work in getting some degree of legal protection for aya use in religious ceremonies. There were also Buddhist and Hindu icons like Kwon Yin and Shiva, along with an assortment of large crystals. Items that people wanted blessed, charged, or cleared could be placed on the sides of the altar. For the first night I put my hat band, though I made the mistake of putting it on the floor *next * to the Mesa instead of on it, causing it to be relocated at an unknown time to the fireplace behind the practitioners. This group draws their lineage from Peruvian Aya, and the main facilitator had studied there for six years under a Maestro in a family of practitioners. He had then come back to the states and realized he needed to help bring aya to the people there. I was less clear on the experience level of the others, though over time I came to realize their level of competence and stamina. The group also integrates practices from many other spiritual paths that they find complimentary. For instance, they invoke Buddhist lightwork to shield the space against external intrustion by stray or residence spirits, and do lightwork on participants during the end of the third night
We were arrayed in a c-shape around the Mesa, behind which sat the practitioners. We all had some type of mat big enough for us to lie down on, various pillows and cushions to be able to sit or lie down, blanked or sweaters to deal with changes in body temperature, a water bottle used mainly for washing the mouth out, headlamps for getting around in the dark, a toilet roll, and a washpan for spitting or vomiting, a common occurrence during these kinds of events. When I watched a video online where people could be heard moaning and horping, that’s when I had really started to understand what I might be in for.
We were told to stop drinking water a few hours before the ceremony, as it would dilute the effects and increase the likelihood of vomiting. We were warned not to trust aya farts, and that odds were good they would leave us with soiled underwear. We were told that the purging effect of the experience was often manifest in vomiting and diaharrea along with other emotional outbursts. Figuring out how to fit that many people in a configuration where everyone could lie down and the facilitators could easily get around to everyone was a challenge. I’m quite tall, and I was positioned in a corner angled inward partially blocking and exit path that highly modified people about to shit their pants would staggering through in near total darkness. It was sometime around this time that I realized the largest part of the experience would be in the dark. We were told to use the red setting of our lights, and try to use the tiniest amount possible to navigate the space so as not to disturb others. We weren’t to talk except to the practitioners when they were attending to us. Couples, at least for the first night, were separated. An overall theme as that each of us was empowered and required to work through our own stuff, with the support of everyone there, but we weren’t to become absorbed or involved with other people’s stuff, but stay focused on our own. The couples were separated to prevent their instinctive reaction to help their partner, which would interfere with the process.
The practitioners were forbidden to use the traditional tobacco, which is different from and stronger than American tobacco, in this house. They used (I think instead, maybe in addition) little bottles of Peruvian cologne that looked like small wine of soft-drink bottles. Before the ceremony, they made their way though the house and grounds make “SwoooooooSSH!”ing sounds and waving various objects to clear the space. This focused blowing was a major way of clearing space and spirits and was probably the most repeated and prominent spiritual act infusing all parts of the experience. One presenter told a story that when his lighter stopped working during a ceremony, his Maestro told him “there’s a spirit in your lighter.” He did the Swoosh, and it started working again.
Once we were all settled, we were reminded only to use the water for swishing and spitting and not to drink it until the ceremony was over. Each practitioner did a ritual cleansing with the cologne by repeatedly rubbing it onto their heads and the back of their necks, wetting their lips with it, then blowing it into their shirts. After that each one took a turn singing, I believe twice. I can’t remember if the palm-frond fan-shakers were used at this point or not, but they were used frequently throughout the ceremony. There were several types of songs that I will try to describe in more detail later. Most, called Icaros, were Peruvian in origin. Others mantas were Buddhist or Hindu. Once each was done singing, the aya was brought out. It’s a deep, muddy red color. The center practitioner, who was in charge for the evening, would do a blessing and clearing on each shot-glass full of liquid with the cologne “Swoosh!” Starting with themselves, they would fill the glass, hold it while focusing their intention with eyes closed, then say “Salud!” while they shot it. Everyone else would then respond with “Salud” more or less together. This progressed clockwise around the room until everyone, including all practitioners, had drunk. The amount would be varied based on body weight and previous discussions with the person. The glass was always handed *around* rather the over the Mesa. People further from it had to get up and kneel in front of it to drink.
I forgot to say “Salud” my first night, but everyone else said it anyway.
Once everyone had drunk, the lights were killed (I turned them off, I was by the swee-yatches) and we were plunged into almost total darkness. The practitioners began rounds of singing based on their reading of the situation and the inspiration of the aya. The effect took from 30 minutes to two hours to fully hit, varying substantially from person to person. I heard other people around me start to make moaning and other emotional sounds fairly early, but I wasn’t seeing much effect yet. There was a call for seconds for those not fully effected. The only thing I had noticed changing was a lessening of body pain that I generally associate with enthiogens, so I went up for seconds, which were much smaller that the first bit. Aya tastes like a super-strong and tangy licorice, with the whole love/hate relationship with the flavor. I like licorice, so though many other people rinsed their mouth out with water and spit into their buckets, I did not. I kept with the taste despite the vague feeling of nausea, wanting to get the full effect.
I had a few ideas in mind of setting an intention, but one practitioner suggested “Clean what needs to be cleaned, heal what needs to be healed, teach what needs to be learned,” so I chanted that in my head for almost two hours before I started to feel aya come on.
The Big Thing that’s supposed to make aya different than other enthiogens is that she’s supposed to be actively benevolent and intelligent, taking the best path balancing trust, compassion, and stern, lets-get-er-done directness. The general idea of the practice is that people have energies, spirits, or neurotic patterns that get locked into their awareness and/or are living in them and feeding on them at the expense of the host/true essence. These prevent the person from realizing their true, beautiful, unified, non-dual nature. Aya assists the person in clearing these energies/spirits/patterns, heals the damage they have done, and then teaches the person how to live a more harmonious life. Its repeatedly emphasized that the experience is almost never the same twice, even for the practitioners who do this multiple times per month. There are two frequent patterns. Some people have an immediate and powerful experience where aya goes straight in and starts cleaning house, and those people frequently vomit physically and lose their shit emotionally early in the process. Other people get a more subtle introduction, with trust being built gently until enough rapport has been established to start the deeper, harder stuff.
I fell into the second category. As the practitioners droned away in the dark, and I heard moaning, sighing, horping, and birthing sounds all around me, I experienced my first waves of effect, about 20 minutes after my second, smaller dose, and almost two hours from my first. Many other people had been modified much earlier. I remember spending a lot of time being hung up on the cost of the whole thing, and how disappointed and/or angry to feel if things didn’t happen. I had also, however, done a good job of suspending specific expectations, and being ready to drop new ones that came up. While I was definitely very out there, I didn’t experience the intense visuals many others reported. Even when stone-cold sober, I have a dim but constant progression of images before my eyelids. These become slightly more noticeable and reactive to the surroundings, but never the bright technicolor looney-tunes reported by many others. The first night it never got beyond about a 15% washed-out computer-screen level of brightness.
The singing of the icaros was the fundamental fabric of the experience. They are overlapped in rounds, with various numbers of practitioners participating at one time. Sometimes they are quiet, mother-like, and harmonious. Other times they are deliberately buzzing and discordant. This has the effect of building up the intensity, with a sensation of stirring up the spirits/shit/disfunction and then blowing it away, followed by come-down and soothing. This is repeated over and over at the direction of the aya to help people connect with and clear their shit. The sensation is visceral, as is the entire experience, with frequently belching, barfing, and animalistic noises going on all around. I never experienced a strong need to vomit, though my system did kick up a lot of gas that I cycled back in to prevent myself from hershey squirting. Although I was on the edge of the ceremony near the door, i was too modified to try to get to the restroom. I felt for my puke bucket periodically, but mainly for comfort and reference. Having heard that the intensity was higher when lying down, I had been sitting up for most of the experience so far, perched on my leather zafu, swaying back and forth to the music. I frequently had the urge to sing along, which normally would have been very easy due to the repeatetive nature of the icaros. However, I was *really* far gone, and it was also very important to me that anything I did add to the experience for others rather than detract, and to help support the practitioners rather than egoically distrupt or try to take over. At some point during a moment of more lucidity, I remember thinking how stupid I had been to think i wasn’t getting enough effect. The pulses came in waves, driven by the singing. I continued to sway to the music, checking i with my body periodically to make sure it was ok. Physical sensations were fairly abstract, and I knew that I felt less pain when modified. At a certain point, I got the internal suggestion (aya?) it was time to lie down, which we were told to do with our head facing the Mesa. This required me to turn around, which I navigated with clumsy grace. I had also been disturbed several times by people flashing lights to find their way to the toilet, so i pulled my hat over my eyes to block out the extra light.
At some point, I became aware of someone talking to me right above my head. It was a practitioner checking in on me. I was able to communicate that I was ok, and thank her for checking, see some delightful childish glee on her face that things were going well as a result of her efforts, and then went back into my space. I recall this happened several more times during the evening. I don’t recall these check ins having a structure the first night, and i was too internally focused to be aware if they were doing it with other people. Although the practioners generally stayed behind the Mesa to sing, handing off to each other and taking breaks as needed, they also would come out when they saw someone struggling and do additional songs and blessings on that person as needed. I recall being amazed at their stamina, then being even more amazed again later. They kept this shit up for 5-6 hours almost without a break while having drunk themselves.
One strong impression I had the first night was that i was getting a lot of special attention. Since I didn’t know what was going on anywhere else in the room, it felt like I was a maybe getting more than my fair share. Judging by what happened later, that may not actually have been the case, because the ceremony is designed to give *everyone* that impression, even if they’re not getting unusual amounts of help, while still providing the spiritual bandwidth to handle the occassional temporary spiritastrophy as someone worked through some hard shit. At the time it was amazing and mildly guilt-inducing, but something I took in stride as having been decided by the small number of people Adulting in the experience, who, Sweet Mother of Christ, wasn’t fucking me.
People around me were clearly having various levels of their own Holy Shit experiences. Although the intensity of the waves was working me over pretty well, I still wasn’t having anywhere near the level of distress that many other people were feeling. I’m a pretty experienced tripper, and was able to consistently check in with myself, ride the waves, not resist, squeeze when I needed, and collapse and rest, which also came in waves. I didn’t feel a huge amount of intelligence the first night, but I did feel like things were working lose inside me.
After several hours, the practiontioners announced that they would light the candles, and start making rounds doing individual blessings for each of us. Two of them went around the circle, asking us how it had been, how we were doing, and if we needed anything specific addressed. This interaction was more personal and playful, speaking to the invidiual They would then shift into Business Mode, do an icaro standing in front of us, a clearing with the cologne where they would suck out through their hands near our head, then blow though the hole with an exagerated “Swoosh!”ing sound several times. They would say a closing prayers, bow, exchanged mutual thanks, sometimes take as short break, which was a little more personal again, then move on. The third person running the show would then bring each person up to the Power Spot in front of the Mesa, where they would get to be the focus of the entire room. Sometimes this would involve longer discussions about issues or insights the person was having, with guidance from the leader. I didn’t have any specific requests or issues the first night. I was identified as someone who was just “going with the flow,” took my turn, then went back to my seat. It took several hours to work all the way around the room, so I alternated between splatting down into my bedding in tiredness and waxing waves of clearing, and watching the person to my right to see when it was my turn to receive a blessing. At some point near the end we were told it was ok to drink water now.
Once all that was done, there were closing prayers, thanks to everyone for participating, including the many ancestors, spirits, goddesses and gods, and the formal ceremony was ended. At that point normal conversation could resume. People who needed additional treatments could get some focus, and the rest of us got coconut water. I had never left my spot for the entire 5-6 hour experience. I was sober enough to stand and talk a bit with others about their experience. After a few minutes, nature poked me and I headed to the bathroom. I realized that this purging was a big part of the experience, so I went back into Ceremony Mode in my mind before dumping a huge, watery load over the course of 10-15 minutes.
There was snacking on rice, corn chips, and bone broth as we continued comparing notes. Eventually the exhaustion took over, and I carried all my sleeping gear back up the super creaky stairs to the space where, accidentally, the practitioners and I were sleeping, fire up my binaural beats on my bluetooth headset, and headed off to sleep: