Huachuma is the original name given to the various mescaline-containing columnar cacti native to the Andes and used traditionally in Peru for millennia for healing and divination.
The cactus thrives at around 3000 meters ( 10,000 feet ) above the sea level and flowers between October and March with beautiful flowers gifting the lucky observer with a gentle scent. Its flower opens for just one day and closing over the next two days. After this the flower gradually dries out and forms a cocoon with new life-seeking seeds. Then it is the turn of the grown cocoon to dry out while releasing the seeds to the will of the wind. Thus the new life is begun.
The most commonly used botanical names are Echinopsis Pachanoi (spineless) and Echinopsis Peruviana (spiteful) but these names, of course, are only a shadow of the real essence of the plant, which is spiritual, not verbal. To realize this, it takes more than knowing the plant’s name. An experience is like a cloud which floats beyond the horizon of botanical study.
My introduction to this ancient mystery which begun in 2005, was nothing less than a life-changing event; a fact that has slowly revealed itself over time. Back then, I was a spiritual seeker, who intuitively knew that plant-medicine shamanism held the key to a kind of knowledge that could not be found in books. This type of knowledge was experiential, not intellectual. I was not satisfied with reading about the experience; I wanted the experience. Led by a burning desire and a spiritual thirst that up until then had resulted mainly in disappointment, I was fortunate to find people in Peru who had practiced shamanism for many decades, and were dedicated healers.
This new acquaintance and introduction to an ancient path became a new starting point in my life. My urge was calmed. My thirst was satisfied and spiritual hunger fed. A path of self-discovery ahead was now opened to me with a friendly and welcoming gesture. I kept coming back to work with the same people for three and a half years before I made the decision to move to Peru, which I did in April 2009, after feeling the call to serve the sacred medicine. This of course did not come without a price. I had to make a large payment for the pass. It wasn’t in terms of the money but in terms of the fear of death which was my unwelcome friend from an early childhood. My near-death experience in Mexico while working with Huichol Indians and the sacred Peyote is described in detail in my book. Shortly after that, I moved to Peru. Landing in the Sacred Valley in the Andes, felt like coming home. I knew I wanted to build my new life here around this sacred medicine.
Shamanism was something I had been drawn to since my early childhood. But living under the Soviet regime, this prospect did not look hopeful. Already as a kid I felt sharply the pain of separation from the sense of life being a miracle. And ‘growing up’ seemed to threaten this further. I didn’t want to grow up believing that life is a process of collecting stuff and saving for retirement. This prospect seemed rather too bleak.
Fearing death as a child, and seeking self-fulfillment from an early age were significant factors in the formation of my spiritual quest. This quest led me eventually to shamanism in Peru, where sacred medicinal plants were not only legal, but embedded in the culture, reaching back as far as the dawn of history.
“San Pedro” is the post-colonial name given to the psychoactive Andean cactus known under different names. ‘Huachuma’ is the old Qechua name, which means: ‘vision’ or ’that which makes one drunk’. It is a visionary cactus with an amazing potential for healing. Seeing the world through its “eyes”, is like being born again, but this time consciously.
With the invasion of the Spaniards in the early 16th century, native shamanic traditions of Peru faced the very real threat of extinction. The brutal intolerance of the Catholic Church would only allow for obedience and conversion, and certainly not ‘paganism’ and ‘devil-worshipping’ practices, as they generally viewed them. How exactly some of these ancient traditions survived, nobody knows, but I have been entertaining the following thought as for potential possibility. There could have been a deal made. And this was simple – the natives could continue their use of their sacraments whilst worshiping Christian Saints. San Peter was an apostle who, according to the Christian theology, received the keys to Heaven from Jesus Christ. A visual representation of this biblical scenery can be found in the painting by Marco Zoppo from an early epoch of Renaissance (1468) which depicts the saint holding the Keys of Heaven.