Ayahuasca Part II: Randy, The Serpent, and The Underworld

The recounting of my Ayahuasca journey would be incomplete without full coverage of my main man Randy. I needed a ride to the ceremony, so I asked the Curandero and he connected me with Randy. Initially, we’d all be riding together, but the Curandero and his partner (also a Curandera) ended up riding separately, so that left me and Randy to figure things out on our own. In total, we communicated through 18 emails, 5 phone calls, and 6 text messages over the course of the three days leading up to the event. As a retired software engineer, he’s the first to admit that he isn’t “the best at people,” but he’s very thorough with his communications, specifying routes of travel, time of travel, and one or two alternatives. He even clarified if I’d be using Siri or Google Maps on my phone to navigate after he picked me up from the train station (he had a phobia of driving in the city, so I needed to make my way to the suburbs to meet him).

When he picked me up, he said, “I was lucky enough to grab a free parking spot right over there. It was free for 3 or 4 hours, so I went to the coffee shop to answer some emails. It’s a really nice coffee shop. They have free WiFi and the coffee is pretty good.” It went on like that for a while.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting him to look like after our extensive electronic communication, but it was different than what I got. He was a tall man in his seventies (best guess), slightly hunched from years of being too tall and sitting in front of a computer. He wore a plaid button down short-sleeve shirt tucked into khaki cargo shorts held up by a belt. Long, spindly legs reached from the shorts to the top of his white socks that filled his large white running sneakers. He wore glasses, and his phone and glasses case were clipped to his belt. He was a kind, gentle human, and based on his appearance, he would’ve been the last person I picked out of a lineup to go on a psychedelic ‘trip’ (he kept using that word and correcting it to ‘journey’).

We stopped at Costco so he could fill up his gas tank, then we stopped at LA Fitness so he could check out the facility and brush his teeth, then we stopped at a few other shops for groceries and some other random shit. Finally, we were on our way to the property in Wauconda, IL where our trip – or journey – was to take place.

The property was motherfuckin’ gorgeous. It was tucked back away from the road and surrounded by tall, beautiful trees. There was a rolling meadow that lead down to a large pond, and everything was a vivid green even before the hallucinogens. You could hear occasional cars drive by on the road and there was construction on the adjacent property, but when the sun started to set, Mother Nature was the only one making noise. Daytime cicadas gave way to nighttime crickets and frogs. Coyotes and owls punctured the continuous hum of the amphibians and bugs every once in a while, and the leaves rustled in response. Mother. Fuckin’. Gorgeous.

The ceremony would be taking place on a covered patio, which was fine by me because I got like 7 mosquito bites in the first five minutes after I got out of the car. We removed most of the furniture from the room, then when the Curanderos got there, we removed the rest and set up the alter and our respective mats, pillows, and blankets. Also, we each got our own “purge bucket” in case we couldn’t make it to the one bathroom to vomit. Mine was a porcelain dog dish, and I was concerned that it wouldn’t be large enough.

We moved pretty quickly through setup, and all sat down to begin the ceremony after some of us meditated for a bit. First, the Curandero gave a summative, “Here’s what to expect out of tonight” talk. Then we had a brief water prayer circle where we presented each other with the life-nourishing water that we’d later all be expelling violently from our bodies.

Then we had a round of “Rapé,” a powdered tobacco similar to snuff, but mixed with tree ash. The Spirit of Tobacco was described as a grandfather spirit – social, calming, and providing focus. It was poured into two small piles on the Curandero’s hand, then scooped up in a small, wooden pipe. Then you helped guide the pipe to your nostril, and it was blown forcefully up your nose on both sides. It burned, made your mouth water, and if you let it hit the back of your throat (or heaven forbid swallowed any) it made you gag.

Then we all went up one by one to the alter to receive “the medicine.” The Ayahuasca root is mashed and boiled along with Chacruna, and the end result is a thick, dark brown tea of sorts. Based on my experience with mushrooms, I figured it would taste awful, but I was delightfully surprised by its sweetness and palatability. After we sat back down, a condor and eagle feather – symbolizing the spirits of the North and the South – were passed around, we summoned one or both of the spirits and shared our intentions for the evening.

I can’t recall each of my intentions, but I can say with certainty that I had the longest list. As the Rapé took hold, my nervousness turned to excitement. As evening darkness settled in around us, we fell silent. The Shaman eventually started chanting lightly, and I could feel the edges of a drug state creeping up on me. I went prone and closed my eyes just in time to catch a flood of images rushing past my eyelids. They came too fast for me to make heads or tails of them. I opened my eyes and was surprised that my vision wasn’t really affected with my eyes open. There were still little hints of hallucinogen here and there, but compared to the technicolor world inside my head, the outside world was muted.

I closed my eyes again and found myself in a rainforest. I saw a large serpent descending from a tree in front of me. She (I intuitively knew it was a female) lowered herself until we were staring at one another eye-to-eye. “Hey there, Snake.” I said. She said nothing, but she then phased through my face and slithered down into my torso. I had vivid images of her writhing around in there continuously, and they were accompanied by my stomach feeling unsettled. I was never scared, though. Somehow this all seemed very natural.

My eyes shot open as a very clear and present need to expel my stomach’s contents from both ends took hold. I made my way to the bathroom and locked myself in, grateful for its presence and for the moments of quiet that punctuated my purging. Per the “what to expect” conversation, we were to have a second round of medicine, and while I sat on the toilet I thought, “Well there’s no way I’m doing that!”

When I got back to my mat, the Curandero said, “Alright, we will now open up the circle to the second round of medicine.” So of course I did it. This time, the Rapé was administered via a large, hollowed out bone that allowed for much more of it to be given much faster. I gulped down the second helping of tea and got back to my mat just in time to take advantage of my dog dish. After expelling a plethora of dark, brown matter from my person, I laid back down.

This time I had visions of my skin being charred from head to toe. Then I started to see demonic faces – some with horns, some without skin, some with red, glowing eyes, some made of lava. I saw one of them run his hand along the entirety of an animal (it was either a warthog or a possum, couldn’t tell) and with the passing of his hand, all of the living tissue was stripped from the bone. Again, none of this scared me – it just was. Finally, I was surrounded with these creatures in their world – a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with burnt, crumbling buildings and swirls of ash. Honestly, I felt very at home.

Then vomiting. Much more vomiting. As I started to come to, I realized that the two Curanderos had stopped their rhythmic chanting and drum beats, and the circle was coming to a close for the night. The two feathers were being passed around again so we could share the gift of our voices. I was still hunched over my bowl when I heard Randy say, “I’ll wait for Brother Sean to feel a little better before I pass him the feathers.”

“No… Skip me…” I muttered as saliva dripped from my lips.

But he didn’t. He waited. Then he said, “Hold the feathers – they have healing powers.”

“Ugh.” I said. But I took the feathers, and thought, “I’ll be damned. I feel better.” I explained my violent transition from one world to another and the serpent and probably a host of other things that I just can’t recall right now.

“You were in the underworld,” the Curandero said in a calm, “well duh” kind of way.

I remember thinking, “I wasn’t just in the underworld – I was a fucking king there.” and I had a vision of me with a gold crown on a delapidated throne, then I passed the fuck out. 

The Shadow Dragon

I had never seen – no less purchased – LSD before, so when the young man handed me the small strip of paper I asked, “About how many doses would you say this is?”

“About eleven,” he estimated. Normally they’re cut into small, individual tabs of paper, but this was one long piece that I would have to cut myself. I was preparing for a visit from a high school friend, and a colorful trip to Golden Gate Park with him the next day. I couldn’t very well embark on the trip without trying the stuff first, though – I had to make sure it was good and suss out what the effects were before a more public excursion.

I sat in my dorm room, cut off a small piece of paper, and stuck it in my mouth per my instructions. I waited about 45 minutes and thought, “Well I’m not feeling anything. Must not be that good. I’ll cut off another piece.” I did this another four or five times before I started to feel something. Turns out, the onset time is longer than I originally anticipated, and I probably could’ve stopped at one.

I stayed in the safety of my room for a while, then reasoned that I better eat something – I hadn’t eaten all day. I got up the courage to walk down the long flight of stairs to the cafeteria. Halfway down the stairs I stopped and stared at the trees, that were now clearly waving hello to me. I thought it’d be rude to ignore them, so I waved back saying, “Hello, trees,” then I continued down the stairs.

I stood in line, scanned my card, and collected my tray of roast beef and mashed potatoes with gravy. I sat in a table by myself, and was certain that every conversation happening around me was now about me. Not only that, but the small cafeteria I entered was now a giant and expanding food hall. As for my classmates, they were all now dinosaurs a la the 90’s television show Dinosaurs.

I hunched over in my seat trying to focus on my food and ignore the gossipy reptiles around me, but when my roast beef moved as I cut into it, I decided to give up on eating. I pushed my plate of living tissue away from me, and made my exit avoiding eye contact so as not to upset any T-rexes on my way out.

Back in the safety of my room, I turned to Guitar Hero for solace. I played better than I had ever played in my life up to that point or since. It was like I was one with my fake guitar. After a while I couldn’t handle the pace, and I was satisfied with my performance, so I turned out all the lights and got into my loft bed. I tried pulling the covers over my head, but my eyes were glued open.

I pulled the covers off, and was confronted by the Shadow Dragon. His beaming eyes looked right at me, and his long whiskers and body shifted around ceaselessly as if blown by a light breeze. He spoke to me in a deep, rolling voice that sounded like thunder. We talked for a while about life, then he was slain in the instant my roommate threw open the door and drenched the walls he called home with the light from the hallway.

“What have you done?!” I yelled at him.

“Uh… What are you talking about?” he asked, looking around the room. I explained everything to him about the dragon, and he said, “Hold on a second.” He ran out of the room, and returned a few moments later with four other people from our floor. They sat me in the middle of the room and quizzed me about the goings on in my day. I told them about the trees, the dinosaurs, how I killed it at Guitar Hero, and finally about the Shadow Dragon.

Eventually, I stopped mid-sentence, and sat there silently for a second. “I’m sorry, but I feel like I’m on stage and it’s freaking me out.” They all courteously excused themselves and I returned to the waking darkness of the room by myself, hoping for an opportunity to say my goodbyes to the Shadow Dragon who had guided me through a tumultuous time in my night.

Alas, I fell asleep after an hour or so, and I never saw or spoke to him again. If you’re out there reading this, Shadow Dragon, thank you, and farewell.