San Pedro cactus ceremony



San Pedro cactus is a traditional ceremony known to many of the indigenous people.

We are driving off road a half hour from Cuenca to farm country, in a car not meant for off roading, until we arrive at a house set against green hills, dried fields of corn in the yard, and the neighbors cow mooing and wandering freely. The shaman is a woman trained at Zhurac Pamba, living in the countryside, in the house her grandfather built. She is young, maybe 40, and there is a very kind air to her face, with lots of lines from being outside all day in the intense Ecuadorean sun or perhaps from smiling a lot. There’s a huge pot of San Pedro cactus brewing as it has been for days.

I ate a couple rolls of bread as recommended, and sit near the fire. We state our purpose of the ceremony, I think it is similar to the concept of intention in meditation or western prayer. The shaman says she invited me because I seem just like a child, innocently exploring the world. I wasn’t sure but I thought that was a complement and not a reflection in my complete lack if maturity. The cup of cactus has a bitter smell and a green yellow tint with floaters in it. I drink it as fast as I can as recommended and follow it with tea and start to state at the fire. The flames seem unusually bright and mesmerizing. My stomach hurts a little but I don’t throw up. But the bucket is there and ready.

The second round of cactus and we listen to the the folkloric music, a San Juanito and they begin to dance around the fire in a circle. Tobacco leaves and cedar leaves go in the fire. Round three and I hear the heaving into the vomit bucket. It’s considered medicine cleansing the body and spirit. The shaman takes a swig from the bottle, leans over and blows it all over the faces.

There isn’t much to mark the passing of time, but I think I slept a while. When the sun rises the neighbors blast music maybe to help the corn grow or entertain the cows. We put back on the San Juanito music and I’m suddenly full of pride for my adopted country. The folkloric music that I find irritating in the city just seems unabashedly happy, without regard to musical theory, the same way the life in the country is simple, green, and full of hard work.

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