Working With The Healing San Pedro Cactus: Opening Like A Flower

First, a little history from

Like many other of the entheogenic substances used in the aboriginal religions of the Americas, the use of the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus is ancient and its use has been a continuous tradition in Peru for over 3,000 years. The earliest depiction of the cactus is a carving which shows a mythological being holding the San Pedro. It belongs to the Chavín culture (c. 1400-400 BC) and was found in an old temple at Chavín de Huantar in the northern highlands of Peru, and dates about 1300 BC. A particularly surprising discovery was made by a Peruvian archaeologist named Rosa Fung in a pile of ancient refuse at the Chavín site of Las Aldas near Casma; namely what seem to be remnants of cigars made from the cactus. Artistic renderings of it also appear on later Chavín artefacts such as textiles and pottery (ranging from about 700-500 BC). The San Pedro is also a decorative motif of later Peruvian ceramic traditions, such as the Salinar style (c. 400-200 BC), the Nasca urns (c. 100 BC-AD 700). It has also been proposed that a recurrent snail motif in Moche art represents a mescaline-soaked snail which has partaken of the San Pedro. If this is the case then the snail may be added to the list of animals having psychoactive properties.

BioPark has some information on how the plant drives the ceremony:

The medicine prepared from the cactus is called 'El Remedio' (the remedy) in contemporary Perú. The typical local preparation techniques include soaking slices of the cactus in cold water or boiling it for several hours.  These are actually crude methods and the ancient techniques of preparation have been largely lost in the transition to "San Pedro" practice where the objective is usually to heighten suggestibility in the client rather than truly open the "visto".

There are many secrets in preparing the medicine properly for it is not just one medicine.  In the mystical world of the archaic Huachuma Mesa, the apprentice learns the secrets of preparing the medicine properly in one of two ways, from a human maestro, or from the plant itself.  The plant teaches a step at a time to those who have proven themselves worthy, and it is considered disrespectful to reveal these secrets by word of mouth.

In the shamanic sense, the supremely conscious spirit of the plant guides and instructs those who have undertaken an apprenticeship of humility and sincerity and who is willing to submit to a series of shamanic tests and challenges of courage and integrity.  The Grandfather Huachuma is a wise and intelligent teacher who does not treat lightly those with frivolous or bad intentions. explains the goal of the shamanic ceremony:

“The plant first produces drowsiness or a dreamy state and a feeling of lethargy, a slight dizziness, then a great ‘vision’, a clearing of all the faculties. It produces a light numbness in the body and afterward a tranquility. And then comes detachment, a type of visual force, inclusive of all the senses including the sixth sense, the telepathic sense of transmitting oneself across time and matter … like a kind of removal of one’s thought to a distant dimension.”

Huachuma is the catalyst that activates all the complex forces at work in a curanderismo healing ceremony, especially the visionary and divinatory powers of the shaman, who can make himself the owner of another’s identity. Ecstatic magical flight is characteristic of the Huachuma experience. “One is transported across time, matter, and distance in a rapid and safe fashion…”

The goal of the maestro curandero is to make his patient “bloom” during the ceremony, to make his subconscious “open like a flower,” even like the night-blooming Huachuma itself.

Image from "Forest & Kim Starr"