Spirits, Shamans, and Ayahuasca

by  Gerret Apelt

For those of you who are new to Tree Spirits and Shamanism, this article is intended as a short introduction.

Most of us in enjoy a walk through the forest, and most of us think that the trees we see on our way are pretty. We also recognize their importance in maintaining the earth’s ecosystems, and in providing us with oxygen to breathe. But almost none of us believe that trees could be sentient, feeling beings with unique personalities and the ability to feel emotions such as joy and fear.

When looking from the perspective of Amazonian shamanism, we see a different picture. To this day many people in South America (especially in the non-urbanized regions) believe that there’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to trees. In fact, what we see with your eyes is the least of it. Trunk, branches and leaves are just a small part of what a tree actually is. What we don’t usually see is the tree’s spirit, which lives in another dimension entirely, but is in touch with our world through its physical body.

Some tree species have even made it their mission to engage with, to teach and to heal their human visitors. These are the Medicinal Trees of the Amazon.

So what makes them medicinal? The locals know of the Medicinal Trees’ healing properties from physical application, for example by drinking the tea of their bark when they’re sick, or creating a paste to put on their skin. Over hundreds or thousands of years, these recipes have been collected. By now the Amazonians know very well the properties of each tree, and which particular ailment it can help them with.

What makes these trees truly medicinal though are the teaching, healing spirits that reside within them. Whether you’re walking alone in the forest, or attend a ceremony conducted by a shaman, the tree spirits may choose to communicate with you, as they have with the locals and their ancestors.

Over time, each medicinal tree species has come to be associated with a specific Head Medicine Spirit; a relatable avatar that represents the tree. None of these spirits are quite alike, and like humans they all posses unique powers and personalities. For example, the Capirona tree’s head medicine spirit often presents itself as a caucasian man, while the Shiwawaku tree appears in the form of purple energy.

But who would actually believe in such things, in these dying left-overs of dark and superstitious times that fortunately have given way to science and reason long ago?

Most people don’t. For most of us, urban culture and a lifetime spent in the concrete indoors have clouded our inborn ability to connect with nature. This learned sense of separation from and blindness to nature spirits often shifts, fades, or even “explodes” when we drink the plant medicine Ayahuasca in a shamanic ceremony under the guidance of a master shaman.

Ayahuasca is a medicine plant. It wants to teach us: about nature, ourselves, the universe. It also wants to heal us: from trauma, fear, and emotional or physical ailments. Despite all we humans do to hurt the planet and its forests, the Medicinal Trees and the Ayahuasca vine actually like us! And they work together in this: while Ayahuasca opens your heart, mind, and soul, it is the trees spirits that act as your teachers once you are open to sense and communicate with them.

The trees’ teaching is facilitated by a shaman, who prepares the Ayahuasca brew and acts as your guide and protector in the Ayahuasca ceremony. The teaching itself happens in a space that is beyond mind and thought. As such, how and what Ayahuasca and the trees teach is impossible to describe verbally. To be known, it has to be experienced. And yet, it is usually when positive changes come about in our lives as we put the teaching into action, that our friends and family become aware of the helping hand we’ve received from the trees.

The pages on GreenMorpho.org describe these trees to you, and we’ve tried to capture their beauty with photography. To get an idea of the tree’s spiritual nature, you’ll find one or two “spirit stories” on each tree-page. These are anonymous, subjective stories reported by visitors to the rain-forest, from both regular reality, and from withing the medicine world experienced through Ayahuasca.