Updated: May 17, 2021
Javier has more than 25 years of experience as an ayahuasquero.
Javier Zavala, our ayahuasquero in the Deep Journey Retreat, talks to us to understand a little bit more about his first contact with Ayahuasca and how he decided to become a shaman. This is the first part of the extensive interview we had with him. (Interview and photography: Mauricio Gil)
What was your first approach to medicine and master plants?
The first experiences I had when I was a kid were together with my grandmother, who used to work with tobacco and coca leaves. Everytime, when I got sick back then, she used plants to heal me. She was using the natural medicine from the Peruvian mountains. But, actually, my grandmother learned everything from her mother: she was a partera (a midwife) and helped people heal with plants. I can say that the elderly women from my family were the roots of what I do now.
So did you always have contact with medicine plants?
Not really, just from time to time, because my parents were not into them. Nevertheless, when I started to study Psychology, I began to travel a lot, especially to Ayacucho, where my grandmother and her mother were born. There I had contact with communities that still practice healing rituals through Master Plants, and my interest and attention of the indigenous cosmovision grew from there.
It was in Ayacucho where you had your first contact with Ayahuasca?
No, it was in Puerto Maldonado (Peruvian south rainforest), thanks to my sister. She is an anthropologist and in that time she was working with communities that used Ayahuasca. She asked me to go there to be part of a ritual, just as a spectator. I was 20 years old at the time and had many preconceived and misinformation about the plant. Even though it scared me a little, without taking the Ayahuasca, I felt something unique when I heard the Icaros (ritual chants use by the ayahuasqueros). It was like they were invited me to follow them. Then, from that moment on, I decided to drink Ayahuasca in the following ceremonies.
When you started to actively being part of Ayahuasca ceremonies, did you feel an instant connection with its teachings?
It was not until the third time that the portal opened. The first two times were merely physical purification. In that third time and afterwards it was when I reconnected with my grandmother: I saw her in a vision urging me to learn about the knowledge of the master plants to heal myself and others. Then, when I was 23 years old and after finishing University, I moved to Tarapoto to work in a center that was using Ayahuasca to rehabilitate drug abusers.
Was that a breaking point in your relationship with Ayahuasca?
Definitely, because it's in Tarapoto where I met the ayahuasquero Guillermo Jarama, who took me into a more profound journey with the plant to work in my inner being. During the rituals, I started to see and understand my unresolved fears and attachments, my resentments to people and other negatives programs. I knew and understood that Ayahuasca was taking care of me and purifying my spirit. It was teaching me to release. At one point, I felt Ayahuasca voice itself: in order to help others you have to heal your body and your energy, and then I will teach you.
So, in other words, you felt Ayahuasca called you to become an ayahuasquero.
Yes, and it wasn’t an easy path. I started with the diets on the mountain and every six months I looked out for elderly ayahuasqueros as masters, for them to guided me and have insights if this was really the direction that I must take in my life. It was on these diets where I became more intuitive and Ayahuasca was teaching me how to work with her and with other Master Plants. Nevertheless, one of the bigger issues to defeat was my fear to be responsible of other people and guide them on rituals. It is not an aspect to take lightly. It took me six years of preparation, diets and healing to decide to be an ayahuasquero, and to started to guide small groups people.
How will you define your approach to the work you do with the Ayahuasca?
It is true that each ayahuasquero has his own way to work with the plant. Despite working with people struggling with substance addictions for 8 years and focus on helping them to overcome their anguish, now I put my energy to help people to find their own way in life, to clarify their horizons as a individuals and to heal emotional problems.