Astyages's Weblog

April 22, 2011

Herbal T for 2

The old shaman finally sat down underneath a vine-strewn tree…

Hmmm, that story about the African
chief reminds me of the time I was sailing up Orinoco… on an
expedition looking for medicinal herbs and native remedies for
Harrods’ health-food department. It was impossible even to say what
country we were in when we stopped at a small village that was
located in a large clearing in the Amazon rainforest. I’d heard the
shaman there knew of some particularly potent vines and ferns; if I
was lucky, perhaps I’d be able to undergo the healing ritual and
write it up for National Geographic as a bonus.

After paying the shaman in tobacco,
hatchets and knives, I persuaded him to take me into the jungle to
find some of his famous ingredients, although he was very reluctant
to go at first… He said something about the ‘spirit of the vines’
wouldn’t like a stranger who didn’t understand the sacred nature of
the vines and the ritual desecrating the sacred part of the forest
where they were found’, or something… I finally placated him by
making lots of credulous ‘respectful’ noises and, after the gift of a
dozen extra hatchets, he finally agreed to take me.

After trudging all day through swamp
and jungle we finally came to a huge vine-strewn tree, under which
the shaman lit a small fire to boil water for the billy. Good, I
thought, I could really use a nice cuppa ‘Rosie-Lea’ right now, but
instead of putting a couple of tea-bags into the billy, he cut a
tendril from the vine which grew all over the tree and after chopping
it up on a nearby stone, as one would chop parsley, he threw this
‘tea’ into the billy. Then he started to chant over it in a querulous
voice, shaking his magic rattle over it as he uttered the

After the brew had boiled for several
minutes, he took it off the heat, and after breathing onto the brew
for a minute or so, presumably to cool it, he handed it to me.
Wordlessly,  I took it and drank it; the taste was bitter but not
unpleasant… what happened next I can scarce credit myself, for as
the shaman smoked his big cigar, I saw vines coming out of him and
wrapping themselves around the tree in a manner I can only describe
as ‘lovingly’… then I realized that the vine and the shaman were
somehow the same creature… Perhaps in my drug induced state, I was
seeing something metaphorical as if it were actually real… I don’t
really know; yet somehow I understood that this old shaman, who had
made his very existence through the power of these vines to cure
people of their ailments, had somehow become part of the vine and it
had become his spirit; ecstatically, I experienced an epiphany;
somehow the whole universe revolved around this understanding that he
and the vine were one…

Then, all of sudden I was hit by
another sudden realization… I was suffering from one of the
well-known and unfortunate side-effects of the medicinal vines; I
needed to empty my bowels… URGENTLY! I ran off into the forest and spent the
next half-hour or so there; but I’ll spare you the gory details of
what happened as soon as I found sufficient cover for my western

Suffice it to say that I was both
relieved and considerably lighter when I returned to the old shaman,
who was still attached by innumerable vines to the tree. I felt both
enlightened and yet somehow tricked at the same time by this old
magician, as the shaman asked me, “Are you feeling better now? Is
your ailment cured? And how do you feel now about the Spirit of the

In fact I did feel much better; but
this old guy had just given me the shits… quite literally! I could
not help looking him right in the eye as I said, “I’m fine, thanks
very much, but with fronds like you, who needs enemas!”


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