Updated: Nov 15
When we don’t understand something it's easy to fear/hate it and/or criticize it. Once we begin to understand it, that’s when we can see it's true value and learn to love and appreciate it. This is a story of my Tobacco initiation in Ecuador.
Plant Medicine, Our Wisest Teachers & Most Potent Healers
The native peoples of South America have a unique way of approaching cleansing the body and healing disease. They live close to nature and take the phrase ‘plant medicine’ to a whole other level.
In the western world if I were to mention “plant medicine” what first comes to mind?
Perhaps it’s something along the lines of teas derived from a concoction of sticks and leaves, weird stinky Chinese herbs, or if your in the know-how, extracts from fungus- that’s right, penicillin the original antibiotic.
But like I said before, down here in South America, the native people take the phrase ‘plant medicine’ to a whole other level…
From taking pure fermented tobacco juice and snorting it up through the nose or making it into a tea and drinking it, and then vomiting it up again… To dosing themselves with frog poison and, yes, vomiting once more, to the powerful and most common psychoactive hallucinogenic brews made of ayahuasca vine and chacruna leaves that keep you up half the night purging through both your ends, yes vomiting again, while having life changing visions, downloads, and epiphanies.
I’ve recently been indulging in a fair share of these rituals and have both experienced and witnessed epic healing transformations you only hear about in movies. These practices are far from hokey pokey pseudo effects, they are indeed potent healers.
This is the beginning of a 3 part story of my journey with the sacred plants of the Amazonian jungle which I connected with during a 10 day (back to back) Ayahuasca ceremony. Today we begin with Tobacco.
"Tsaank" - The Tobacco Plant
First lets get this one thing straight, tobacco here in the Amazon where I currently am (territory of the Shuar people) is not the same tobacco as up north in western society.
Cigarettes are a sorry excuse for tobacco, they are filled with petrochemicals and god knows what other toxins rolled up into a little white stick of death.
The tobacco in cigarettes has been treated with chemicals to remove any and all of its healing properties. The western world has abused and demonized the tobacco plant as a killer.
It is man that is the villain in this story, criminalizing this very sacred plant turning it into what we associate tobacco with today: those nasty pictures of mouth and lung cancer you see on cigarette packets.
REAL tobacco, prepared in this unique way, is a powerful healing spirit. The Shuar call it "Tsaank", prepare it in a sacred way and use it predominant during Ayahuasca ceremony.
Traditionally it’s used to target energy blocks in your system and open you up to deeper cleansing during ceremony. It’s also used to help you purge and enhance perception and awareness.
The Tobacco Spirit also helps you banish fear.
And let me tell you this... Tobacco is truly a powerful teacher of courage. I’ve been told stories of the Shuar using this plant with the children of the tribe as young as 5 years old! Dropping tobacco saturated water in their eyes to teach them to be strong and help them shed their fear of pain. Super intense, as I speak from experience, but more on this below…
How I connected with this healer recently is in 3 different ways, first by snorting the liquid up through my nostrils, second, by dropping the fermented tobacco leaf juice into my eyes, and lastly and most intimidatingly of all is drinking a dark tea made from the fermented tobacco leaves.
Neither of these experiences are what I would call pleasant, yet neither of these experiences are terrible. Sure they’re sometimes a bit painful and uncomfortable however they are invigorating, leaving you feeling at the centre of ease itself.
Traditionally in working with healer plants you experiencing pain and difficulties with the request to confront your fears. Its kind of like this unspoken contract between you and the plant.
By dedicating and devoting yourself to the medicine these healer plants have to offer, they teach you how to transcend these challenges in your life, in order to grow stronger, wiser, and healthier.
No pain, no gain.
First: The Nose
The first way I was introduced to tobacco was in ceremony, snorting it up the nose. In the Shuar tradition Ayahuasca ceremony is opened and closed with tobacco to help prepare you for the cleaning effects of Mother Ayahuasca, as well as even calm your nerves of anticipations.
First, you make a little cup with your hands and the liquid is poured in. Then, you silently thank the tobacco spirit and charge the medicine with your prayers and intentions.
The Shuar say that when you have tobacco in your hands the entire universe is listening to your prayers.
This liquid is considered sacred and you mustn’t waste a drop any on the ground. If it drops it must drip onto you or your belongings.
You put your head to your cupped hands, inhale quickly as you tilt your head backwards. You feel the liquid shoot through your nasal cavities and/or down your throat. Tobacco has natural disinfectant properties, it helps clear up the nasal passages, throat, and stomach. Since it also has a purgatory energy, some people cough, spit up phlegm, and even vomit.
I had a strong aversion to this method the first couple of times. The curandero would have to sit in front of me for 15 minutes playfully enticing me, “Tsaank…? Tsaank…? Tsaank,” as he giggled with a Cheshire Cat grin on his face.
The Shuar shamans explain this aversion to tobacco as having dark/negative energies or spirits attached to you and its actually these energies who are feeding off of you who don’t like it. At first I though “Pftt. Sure. I'm pretty sure its just gross, and I don't like it.”
But surely enough, after a few Tsaanks, the discomfort and disgust for it dissipated coincidentally as a chronic fungal sinus infection that I didn't even know I had cleared up!
After a few nights of Ayahuasca ceremony, along with the consecutive use of the tobacco in this way, I could tell something funky was going on in my nasal passages. Each night it got harder to breath through my nose. I could tell an infection was being cleared, mucus was pouring out through my nose combined with intense congestion to the point where I couldn’t even inhale anymore along with ringing in my ears. At one point I thought I was getting an ear infection or the flu. At first I thought this was a negative response to the tobacco and I was convinced that I needed to stop.
However, I reminded myself that most often when we detox, it gets worse before it gets better. On the 5th day, one final powerful inhalation up the nose followed by a large sneeze, and BAM! Everything was cleared, I took a deep inhale through my nose and couldn't believe it…
I’d never been able to take such a deep breathe in my entire life! I could actually FEEL the air move up my nose through my forehead and cheek nasal cavities and go into my lungs. I thought to myself, “Is this how people are meant to actually breath?!?!?”
Its funny how we often don’t recognize a symptom of discomfort if we have lived with it long enough. Passing it off as normal, until moments like this, when equilibrium is attained and you realize you were unknowingly suffering all along!
'Tsaank You' Tsaank.
Second: The Eyes
So this tobacco juice that you snort, can also be put into your eyes with an eye dropper as ‘sacred drops’. This was my first lesson of facing my fear of pain and transcending the experience into joy and pleasure.
During ceremony someone mentioned that they would like tobacco in the eyes. Others who were familiar with it instantly got all giddy and excited. I couldn't understand... “What? Tobacco in the eyes, are you crazy?!” But everyone insisted that its not that bad and actually feels good.
So, there I lay flat on my back, awaiting my turn as the curandero moves around the tipi with his bowl of dark tobacco saturated water and eye dropper. I feel my body vibrating with anticipation and fear. “What the hell am I getting myself into…”
All of a sudden its my turn. I close my eyes and feel the liquid being dropped in the inner corners of my eyes. I am asked to open my eyes. I take a deep breath and open.
The stinging pain that followed was unbearable, I quickly shut my eyes trying to make it all go away. Yet it keeps stinging and burning. I make the mistake of moving my eyes around behind closed lids. More stinging. More burning. I quickly learn that its best just to keep your eyes still and breath deeply.
I feel as if my eyes are bleeding. What feels like eternity passes by.. more burning. I know that its probably been more like 30 seconds…Still burning.
Just as I think the pain has subsided I try to open my eyes again, only to slam them shut again and endure more pain. My heart is racing in my chest, I grow worried, anxious and one of my deepest fears begins to surface as I think to myself, “And now… I’m blind.”
I hear my ego mind scolding me, “Real smart Aga, Now look what you’ve done, you’ve gone and blinded yourself!”
Then all of a sudden. Stillness, silence…. bliss. The stinging has stopped. There is no more pain just pure relaxation accompanied by the stillness of body, mind, and spirit. That condescending voice in my head seems to have vanished into thin air.
At that moment I can feel myself, my true higher self, resting peacefully in my body without the background noise of the chattering ego monkey mind. Peace, at last.
“Hmmm, so this is what everyone was raving about.”
In the following ceremonies to come I found myself being one of those crazy people asking for tobacco in the eyes, laying back giggling and awaiting my turn with such immense joy, as if I were a young girl about to receive her long awaited Sunday afternoon ice cream treat.
So the explanation behind this odd experience is that tobacco is used this way to actually cure eye diseases and sharpen visual perception, which it actually did. During ceremony, after these sacred drops, I’d have beautiful visions with my eyes wide open. Colours I’d never seen before appearing before my eyes, what seemed like wisps of fairies and angels were constantly flying about, and my night vision definitely improved.
Tobacco taken in eyes this way is also said to ‘burn away your inner anger.’
Which it definitely feels like as you lay there eyes wide shut moaning and groaning. But as soon as your anger turns to ashes you are left in this intense state of relaxation. Apparently it’s because the pain caused by Tsaank releases endorphins.
Third: Drinking The Tea
This is where I add the disclaimer. DO NOT DO THIS ON YOUR OWN. Make sure you are with a trusted Shaman who knows what he is doing. Don’t just fly to the Amazon and walk up to any local who claim they are a Shaman. Have discernment and be smart!
This ritual absolutely terrified me. I had seen a friend drink the tobacco tea and scream, shake, and convulse for hours. Another friend puking up black liquid for hours. Another friend telling me it felt like boulders and sand sitting in your stomach, ripping it apart.
I had also recently read about a young man who had recently died in Peru from this very practice, from drinking tobacco tea. I couldn’t justify putting myself through such agony, facing guaranteed pain, and possibly death?
Yet on the other hand these very same friends who had gone through these horrid experiences came out bright eyed and grateful for it. Highly recommending the experience and saying that they had benefited from it immensely. I had heard another friend healing their deadly parasites and staph infections by drinking tobacco juice.
Either way, the process was frightening and I knew I had to form my own opinion about it through personal experience. What convinced me to drink tobacco was one night in ceremony. I did the usual shot up the nose and for the first time it tasted utterly amazing. Like a tea of roses, fairy sparkles, and pure love. The taste was overwhelmingly pleasant.
I sat there puzzled at what I was experiencing and then I heard a distant voice in the back of my mind.. “See that wasn’t that bad, I can definitely drink it now.” And I thought to myself, “Yah, totally!… Wait.. WHAT!.. No, I take that back Noooo! I don't want to drink it…”
But knowing that these distant thoughts are not just regular thoughts when you are on the medicine, but divine guidance from your higher self and Mother Ayahuasca. Knowing I couldn't’ ignore what just happened, I began to try and make peace with my destined, yet dreaded, near future: drinking tobacco….
The day had come.
There I stand 7 in the morning with a bowl full of dark black tobacco saturated liquid. I look into this dark sultry liquid… it reminds me of a thick dark roast coffee.
My heart feels like its about to implode on itself. I can barely hold the bowl up to the rising sun like I’m told to. My hands shaking like a salt shaker. The curandero sings the tobacco prayers which I’m barley paying attention to, my anxious heart beat is much louder.
All I can think about is this fear and it's crippling sensations that are taking over my entire body. I feel like falling to the ground and weeping in defeat. I can feel a giant lump forming in my throat, you know, that lump you feel when you’re holding back a big sob. I feel tears swelling up in my eyes.
All of as sudden I hear him shout, “Marte, marte, marte!” - this means: "Drink! NOW! All of it in one go! GO Go GO!"
Before I know it I’m chugging down this warm spicy liquid and I can’t help but think of all the times I slammed back straight hard alcohol like Captain Morgan’s at high school parties. If I could do that, put my body through such turmoil of binge drinking, why am I so afraid of this?
The Shaman counts to a minute, when times up he tells me its okay to puke it up; That's the rule, hold it down for at least 1 minute than puke it up, yummy right?
My minute is up and I get the hiccups for a few seconds and out it comes. Easy peasy, 1, 2, 3. Next thing you know, I’m looking back up at him going, “Thats it?!?”
Oddly enough the elixir tasted quite nice, like roasted coffee actually. I could of had another litre in fact. I laugh as I am reminded of the message from the other night in ceremony, “See that wasn’t that bad, I can definitely drink it now.”
I feel empowered and confirm to myself, Yes I CAN!
So why would anyone want to drink tobacco? To help remove deeper energy blocks within your system, ones that are manifesting or can manifest in the form of disease in the body. It is also used to treat parasites, stomach ulcers, and many forms of infections.
The Teachings of Tsaank
This experience has definitely taught me the true meaning of courage. Its not that one day you graduate from feelings of fear and get a badge of COURAGE and these feelings magically disappear forever.
Being courageous is about fully feeling fear and moving forward anyway, despite it all!
Knowing that the road which lies ahead may be rough, but you are strong, willing and able. You are an alchemist and you can transcend any challenge into an opportunity for growth.
An interesting thing I learned about myself is that it’s not fear or pain that brings me feelings of despair, its actually the anticipation of it all. The mind is where the fear is. It plays out all these different scenarios of what this unknown experience could be, creating all this stress, and agitation.
Then when it comes to the event itself, the thing that you’ve been dreading and fearing this entire time, in this case drinking tobacco, when it finally comes knocking on your door, its not the Grim Reaper as you’ve been expecting, just a mean little girl guide peer pressuring you to buy her chocolate mint cookies.
Your mind will ALWAYS create an imaginary outcome that is far worse than reality, what will actually come to be.
So what is the remedy for the stress of anticipation. Well.. patience.
Anticipation = Anti + patience. To remedy this. Have patience :)
You know the common phrase, “Patience is a virtue.” A virtue most of us struggle to attain. Well, now I understand one it's significance: a patient mind is a calm and centred mind free of fear.
Thank you sacred tobacco spirit for helping me heal on such deep levels of my being: physically, emotionally, mentally, energetically, and spiritually. I feel stronger than ever before. I’ve gained much clarity and now move forward in life with a courageous heart, a peaceful mind, and a strong spirit.
And not to mention with crystal clear nasal passages. I will continue to breath fully and deeply from now on :)
Aho! Aga Postawska