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The Shaman: Your Guide Through the Ayahuasca Journey

While history provides a rich definition of a shaman, during an ayahuasca ceremony, the shaman transcends their title. They become a facilitator, protector, and bridge, guiding participants on a profound exploration of the unseen realms.

This article, based on my experience working with sacred plants for years, delves into the multifaceted role of a shaman in these ceremonies.

Guiding the Journey

The shaman acts as a wise shepherd, navigating participants through the ceremony's stages. Their role ensures everyone feels safe and prepared for the potential emotional and visionary experiences that may unfold. This guidance involves setting intentions together, explaining rituals, and providing support throughout the ceremony.

Protecting the Sacred Space

Shamans are the guardians of the sacred space. They create a safe and positive environment for exploration and transformation. This might involve:

  • Energetic Cleansing: Techniques like smoke cleansing or prayer can be used to clear negativity and create a harmonious space.

  • Establishing Energetic Boundaries: Shamans may set energetic boundaries to protect the participants and the ceremony itself from outside influences.

  • Calling upon Spirit Guides: Shamans may call upon spirit guides for assistance, offering protection and guidance during the journey.

  • Intervention: If necessary, the shaman will intervene to ensure everyone's well-being, both physically and emotionally.

Communicating with the Spirit World

Shamans are seen as skilled communicators with the spirit world, animals, and the forces of nature. They may receive messages during the ceremony through visions, intuition, or even physical sensations. These messages are then interpreted and relayed to participants in a way that fosters understanding and personal growth.

Preparing for the Journey: Weeks Before Ceremony

The shaman's role extends far beyond the ceremony itself. Weeks, sometimes months, of preparation are crucial for a safe and meaningful ayahuasca experience. Here's a breakdown of the shaman's key functions in this preparatory phase:

  • Purification (Dieta): The journey often begins with a "dieta," a period of dietary restrictions. This may involve avoiding red meat, processed foods, stimulants, and certain medications to optimize the body's response to ayahuasca. Additionally, specific herbs or cleansing rituals might be used to prepare the body for the plant's effects.

  • Dietary Guidance: Shamans will often recommend a specific diet tailored to individual needs. These diets can last for weeks and ensure a clear and receptive state for the ceremony.

  • Master Plant Diets: Based on their knowledge of various "master plants" with specific healing properties, the shaman might recommend additional plants to be taken before the ceremony. These plants can help address specific needs or enhance the ayahuasca experience.

  • Kambo Cleanse (Optional): Important to note that Kambo is a powerful traditional medicine with potential risks. It's sometimes used as a "frog medicine cleanse" but its use should be carefully considered and only under the guidance of a qualified professional.

The Shaman's Toolkit: Shaping the Experience

The shaman doesn't just guide preparation; they also have a toolkit to shape the experience during the ceremony itself. Some of these tools include:

  • Rapé (pronounced Rapeh): This snuff, made from tobacco and other Amazonian plants, can be used in various ways. It can help "break through" plateaus in the experience, intensify visions, or even aid purging.

  • Sananga: Eye drops prepared from specific plants, sananga is used to cleanse and revitalize the eyes. It's believed to enhance visual clarity during the ayahuasca journey. However, it's important to be aware of the potential discomfort associated with Sananga use.

  • Plant Brews: Specific brews may be prepared to address emotional states during the ceremony. For instance, some brews might be calming to help participants navigate fear or anxiety.

  • Incense: The shaman may use various incense such as copal, white sage, or palo santo to cleanse the space, enhance focus, or shift the energetic atmosphere. Certain incenses are used to guide the experience towards introspection and then gently bring participants back to a grounded state. I would say taking you to darkness and bring you back to light.

  • Some ceremonies might additionally incorporate rum infused with plants or agua de florida for cleansing purposes.

Icaros: The Songs of Healing

A crucial element in the shaman's toolkit is music. Medicine songs, often referred to as Icaros, are powerful tools used throughout the ceremony. These songs, sung by the shaman, are more than just music; they are energetic transmissions.

Icaros can:

  • Set the intention for the ceremony.

  • Navigate the journey by offering support through challenging experiences.

  • Promote healing, both emotional and physical.

  • Facilitate integration after the ceremony, helping participants bring their insights back into daily life.


Diet plays a critical role in preparing for the ayahuasca ceremony. It cleanses the body and creates a receptive state for the medicine. Medicine Music and Icaros are also essential elements, as they shape the experience and guide participants on their journeys. The preparation of the ayahuasca brew itself is a separate process. Here, the focus is on purity and maintaining a neutral intention during the cooking process, allowing the plant's inherent energies to shine through.

Ayahuasca ceremonies are profound journeys, and the shaman plays a pivotal role in ensuring a safe and transformative experience. It's important to remember that ayahuasca use can be illegal in certain regions. If you're considering an ayahuasca ceremony, thorough research and guidance from a qualified and experienced shaman are essential. For those seeking a retreat experience in a reputable setting, consider researching centers located in countries with established traditions of safe and legal ayahuasca use.

By Ritshi Zenati

Speaker & Life Coach at Holistika Center.

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