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Cactus of Mystery

The Shamanic Powers of the Peruvian San Pedro Cactus

Published by Park Street Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

The history of San Pedro and its uses for healing, creativity, and conscious evolution

• Includes interviews with practicing San Pedro shamans on their rituals, cactus preparations, and teachings on how San Pedro heals the mind and body

• Contains accounts from people who have been healed by San Pedro

• Includes chapters by Eve Bruce, M.D., and David Luke, Ph.D., on San Pedro’s effects on psychic abilities and its similarities to and differences from ayahuasca

San Pedro, the legendary cactus of vision, has been used by the shamans of Peru for at least 3,500 years. Referring to St. Peter, who holds the keys to Heaven, its name is suggestive of the plant’s visionary power to open the gates between the visible and invisible worlds, allowing passage to an ecstatic realm where miraculous physical and spiritual healings occur, love and enthusiasm for life are rekindled, the future divined, and the soul’s purpose revealed.

Exploring the history and shamanic uses of the San Pedro cactus, Ross Heaven interviews practicing San Pedro shamans about ancient and modern rituals, preparation of the visionary brew, experiences with the healing spirit of San Pedro, and their teachings on how the cactus works on the mind, body, and illness. He investigates the conditions treated by San Pedro as well as how it can enhance creativity, providing case studies from those who have been healed by the cactus and accounts from those who have been artistically and musically inspired through its use. Psychedelic researchers Eve Bruce, M.D., David Luke, Ph.D., and journalist Morgan Maher contribute chapters delving into San Pedro’s effects on conscious evolution and psychic abilities as well as its similarities to and differences from ayahuasca. Exploring plant communication and the vital role of music in San Pedro ceremonies, Heaven explains how healing songs are communicated by the sacred plants to the shamans working with them, much in the same way that other gifts of San Pedro--from healing to inspiration to expanded consciousness--are passed to those who commune with this ancient plant teacher.


Chapter 8
San Pedro Healing
An Overview
Ross Heaven

San Pedro and Other Teachers

I cannot say that San Pedro alone is capable of enhancing our perceptions. Many of the observations are consistent with those that arise from ayahuasca. As Benny Shanon remarks in The Antipodes of the Mind:

Universally, Ayahuasca makes people reflect about their lives and leads them to what they feel is an enhanced psychological understanding of themselves. [It enables them to] gain deeper understanding. [Reality, too, is often] conceived as constituted by one, nonmaterial substance which is identified as Cosmic Consciousness. [This is accompanied by a sense of] a force that is the ground of all Being and that gives nourishment and sustenance to everything. Often this force is characterized as embodying love.

It is what I have described here as God.

What seems to distinguish San Pedro from ayahuasca, however, is its immediacy and presence. Many of my participants who have experienced both plants remarked that San Pedro does not take us “out of ourselves” as ayahuasca does. Rather, it is as if the plant possesses the body itself and compels us to see the world “through the eyes of San Pedro,” in one participant’s words.

In doing so it also removes us from our heads and the confusions of the rational and analytical mind so we are more in the moment and in our bodies as well as present in the landscape of which we are a part. What it reveals to us from this vantage point is the power and beauty of the world, the majesty of life, the soul-connections between us, and the knowledge that we are a part of God and a vibrant, living nature.

The Shaman’s View

I put these observations to La Gringa and asked her to comment. She said:

San Pedro achieves healings like these because it is a master teacher. It helps us grow, learn, and awaken, and it assists us in reaching higher states of consciousness. Through it we learn the truth of life and reality: that our health and our sense of purpose and balance are simply choices we make; that we have a destiny and are more powerful than we think. San Pedro also reconnects us to the Earth and helps us realize that there is no separation between us--you, me, the soil, the sky. We are one. It is one thing to read that, of course, but to actually experience it is the most beautiful gift we can receive.

And so San Pedro teaches us to live in harmony and that compassion and understanding are the qualities of all true human beings. Through this it shows us how to love, respect, and honor all things. It shows us, too, that we are children of light--precious and special--and to see that light within us. Each person’s experience of San Pedro is unique, as we are all unique, and drinking it is therefore a personal journey of healing and your discovery of yourself and the universe. But there is one thing that is always true: The day you meet San Pedro is one you will never forget. It will change your life forever. . . and always for the better.

But does San Pedro really change lives “forever” and, if so, is it “always” for the better?

Rick Strassman, in his studies of DMT (the active ingredient of ayahuasca) was eventually disillusioned at the potential for this “spirit molecule” to create lasting and positive changes. He writes:

As the years passed, I began feeling a peculiar anxiety about listening to volunteers’ accounts of their first high-dose DMT session. It was as if I didn’t want to hear them. These psychotherapeutic, near-death and mystical sessions repeatedly reminded me of their ineffectiveness in effecting any real change. I wanted to say, “That’s very interesting, but now what? To what purpose?”

His conclusion was “the deep and undeniable realization that DMT was not inherently therapeutic.”

We might, I suppose, expect a similar outcome with San Pedro: that those who have gone through a “life-changing experience” would, over time, settle back into the routines of the mundane world and make few if any real advances in their lives. This does not seem to be the case, however. Rather, as the accounts of my participants (most provided weeks or even years after their San Pedro experience) tended to show, the spiritual effects of San Pedro remain with them and almost compel them to take action so that they put their realizations to use.

Some of the participants I am still in touch with today, three years or more after their ceremonies. They have, relatively speaking (that is, relative to the changes that most of us make), often made extraordinary advances in their lives. They tell me that they have left unsatisfactory relationships, moved house or country, given up unfulfilling jobs, changed careers or returned to college, patched up their differences with parents and lovers, and much more; all of it, they insist, as a result of what San Pedro has shown them. Some have also returned with me to Peru so they can repeat their experience and “top up” on healing or renew their intent to become different people. They have come to regard San Pedro as their spiritual teacher.

Of those who drank with me back in 2008, in fact, five have relocated, five have given up their jobs and are now working or training as healers, two have written books on plant medicines and healing, and a further two have set up healing centers of their own. These are not insignificant developments, and all of them show a commitment to a new future that stems from their work with San Pedro.

On the face of this at least La Gringa may be correct when she says that San Pedro can change lives.

About The Author

Ross Heaven (1960-2018) was a psychologist and healer with extensive training in the shamanic, transpersonal, and psychospiritual traditions. The author of more than 10 books, including Plant Spirit Shamanism, Vodou Shaman, and Darkness Visible, he taught workshops on plant medicines and coordinated trips to Peru to work with indigenous shamans.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Park Street Press (November 16, 2012)
  • Length: 392 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594775130

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Raves and Reviews

“This is a simply splendid book! Ross Heaven has written and edited an insightful and information-filled volume including reports from several shamans who have worked for many years with San Pedro. We finally have a definitive book on this remarkable psychedelic plant. Thank you for opening so many doors, Ross Heaven.”

– James Fadiman, Ph.D., author of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide

“An amiable, intelligent, and passionate introduction to the sacred medicine of the Andes. Ross Heaven’s Cactus of Mystery is valuable not only as an orientation toward the ancient Huachuma tradition but also as an exploration of the experiences of healing and creativity common to all sacred medicine traditions.”

– Robert Tindall, author of The Jaguar that Roams the Mind and The Shamanic Odyssey

“This book brings to light the possibilities that await us as an evolved conscious species if we reach out and communicate with plant species in a true ‘communion.’”

– Rahasya Poe, Lotus Guide Magazine, April 2013

“In conclusion, due to the paucity of literary information on San Pedro, this is a particularly needed book for not only does it bring this cactus to a wider audience, raising awareness of its potentials for healing, it also manages to bring together diverse and interesting disciplinary takes on the plant. Heaven, whose own knowledge and experience is clearly a wealth in itself, has collated an admirable selection of texts that provides the reader with a thorough perspective.”

– Psychedelic Press UK, August 2013

“Ross details the rituals surrounding the traditional ceremonies involved – from the Mesa (or ‘control panel’) required to focus the ceremony, the songs sung to invoke particular energies of cardinal archetypes, to the diet required for the shaman to approach the spirit of the plant in an impeccable fashion – an absolute necessity for a successful healing session, and much more. Comes highly recommended.”

– Odyssey Magazine, October 2013

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