I have discussed the idea, widely held in the Upper Amazon, that human beings in general, and shamans in particular, have powerful urges to harm other humans, and that the difference between a healer and a sorcerer comes down to a matter of self-control. And on that there hangs a story.

A while ago, after having returned from my most recent trip to study with my maestro ayahuasquero don Roberto Acho, I was sitting in a training seminar, and I was angry with the facilitator, a man I greatly respect and admire. I was angry for foolish and childish reasons; I felt I was not being paid enough attention.

sorcerer-ayahuascaSuddenly, without any apparent intention on my part, a spider flew out of my mouth — a large, black, hairy spider, about three inches across. The spider flew from my mouth to the face of the seminar facilitator, where it grasped and clung to his cheek, eventually melting into his face. I was taken aback by this. Damn, I said; I didn’t realize I was that pissed off. And that would have been the end of it; except that, at the next day’s session, the distraught facilitator announced that he had been told that his wife’s breast cancer, thought to be in remission, had recurred.

Now, was there any connection between my spider and his wife’s illness? Of course not. The spider touched him, not his wife. And the recurrence must have taken place before the spider left my mouth; certainly sorcery cannot be temporally retroactive. Of course there was no connection.

And yet, what I carry away from this experience is still a sense of guilt. I did not cause the harm; I could not have caused the harm. But what happened was a loss of control — my momentary anger, my ego, my envidia, the worst part of me leaping from my mouth in the form of a spider, just like the spiders and scorpions that are projected, in the Upper Amazon, from the phlegm of a brujo, a sorcerer.

From this inconsequential incident, I have learned three things.

First, there really is no going back. Once you walk through the door into the realm of the spirits, you cannot return to any prior state of innocence. As I have said before, once you begin la dieta, once you drink ayahuasca, once you begin to form relations of confianza with the healing plants, the world becomes a more dangerous place. When you have begun to realize the porosity of reality; when the world has become magical, filled with wonders, filled with the spirits, filled with meaning; when you have begun to see what was there all along but was invisible to you — then you must accept that your childish anger is, right here and now, as it always was, an ugly spider leaping from your lips, capable of causing great harm.

I have written, here and here, that people in the Upper Amazon consider the darts and other pathogenic objects in a shaman’s phlegm to be autonomous, alive, spirits, sometimes with their own needs and desires, including a desire to kill. I now believe that is profoundly true. Our egos are as tricky and autonomous as magical darts. Our envidia, our foolish willingness to destroy relationships of confianza with others, seems to flair up at the slightest provocation. The popular image of the sorcerer in the Upper Amazon reflects this truth: the figure of the evil sorcerer represents all that is the antithesis of proper social behavior. Nobody has the courage to scold a sorcerer, people say, for he would put poison on you and you would die. If you make fun of him, he will kill you; if you are stingy with him, he will kill you; if you refuse to have sex with him, he will kill you. The sorcerer does not eat meat and does not smell any perfume. The sorcerer in fact epitomizes solitary retentiveness and lack of reciprocity — lonely, demanding, querulous, abusive, miserly, and vengeful. Just like my ego.

And that is why self-control is mandatory. Since that inconsequential incident, I have been tempted to try it again — just, you know, to see if it works, just to express my anger, just to be — somehow — powerful. And I cannot do it, ever again.


This article originally appeared here and was reposted with permission from the author.

Steve Beyer, PhD

Steve Beyer, PhD has an eclectic wisdom background. A long-term student of several curanderos (healers) in the Upper Amazon, he has studied deeply with ayahuasca and related shamanic plants. He has also trained in wilderness survival, and has a doctorate degree in religious studies. He is author of the book "Singing to The Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon".


  1. IMO, spitting phlegm/mucus is very important for simply breathing. If I ate cooked carbs or candy and stayed sedentary and my nose gets fat or clogged, I must extract mucus and send it away, even if i drink plenty of water. Swallowing mucus leads to tummy-aches and “false hunger” for repetative, entropic consumption/behavior patterns and drowning in lymph. Lymph needs mechanical skeletal ab/adduction to move out our sweat glands and MOUTH. This ideally means by one’s volition and will. Movement of oneself results in a vibration more able to resonate with a greater number of Other patterns, resulting in sympathetic relations. Swallowing flegm is like being full of potential and then being weighed down by prior-demonstrated unnecessary identity (which is meant to chelate toxins from the body). I suggest we make the hygenic need as relatable and accomodable as possible until we figure out that a small bandwidth of material in a harmonic proportion, relative to everything in existence, is beneficial for basic wellbeing, let alone phasing with catalytic botanical potentials and the power to heal or whatever.
    On another note, Spirulina is very suggestive as a plant to dieta with in some way. It grows 25% a day, in pH10.5 water with much eletrical potential, is possibly the most nutrient-dense natural edible-for-humans phenomenon (with 70% protein and with B vitamins and antioxidant pigments, etc), in a very digestible soft pourous form. Growing oneself is relatively easy. I tell myself it’s the middle of the rainbow for life planted in material existence while reaching into heaven.

  2. I like your sensitivity to “control” issues. The importance of energy management and your intent to communicate this crucial matter of attention. So easy to wonder w/ feelings into actions or thoughts that seem so accidental or unintentional. Power is seductive and what does it mean to be “grown-up” and in control? Who or what is in control?


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