An Interview With Shaman Alberto Villoldo
In Healing the Luminous Body: The Way of the Shaman, Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D., a psychologist, medical anthropologist and renowned shamanic healer, shares a captivating story of the first time he entered the Amazon rain forest as he embarked on his own shamanic journey.
With his first and second step, he could hear the symphonic song of numerous creatures. With his third step, there was silence. The jungle knew he did not belong.
It took fifteen years of study with Amazon and Andean shamans for Dr. Villoldo to be able to walk into the rain forest and be recognized as someone who belonged in the garden.
The Way of the Shaman
Now, Dr. Villoldo is teaching people how to grow new bodies that resist disease, heal quickly and age differently through modern-day shamanic rituals.
In addition the wisdom he has shared with Gaia in the past, he recently agreed to an exclusive interview. Read the interview with Dr. Villoldo below.
Q and A with Alberto Villoldo, PhD
I am inspired by the simple solutions you share for an array of complex problems. I watched One Spirit Medicine, Part One and One Spirit Medicine, Part Two, and I plan to cleanse my liver, simplify my diet, practice bearable fasting and take live probiotics in an effort to cleanse my body and clarify my mind.
In the meantime, I am hoping you can enlighten us about your role as a shaman and I want to start with understanding Shamanism.
How do you describe a shaman?
Shamans are mediators between the visible and invisible world. With the dawn of modern science, we stopped attending to the invisible world. In fact, the visible world was whatever we could look at under the microscope and we forgot about the spiritual world. This is one of the causes of today’s great disconnection that humanity is living. We are not only destroying nature but destroying our own nature in the process. Therefore, we’re becoming disenfranchised from Spirit and ignoring our role as offspring of one mother–Mother Earth.
Shamans were and are individuals that can help you come back to your own essential nature. They can help you to see how the ancient models that you follow, and the beliefs that you have about the nature of reality, create your health, create disease. Shamanic healers help create extraordinary health for willing humans so that their lifespan equals their health span and good health can last a lifetime.
How did you become a shaman?
I’m a medical anthropologist by training and I always had a sense of superiority like all Westerners about these primitive societies until one day I discovered that we were the primitive ones. In the process, I recognized my calling from Spirit.
How did you recognize your calling?
I believe that we all have a calling from Spirit and if we respond to it then we start walking the medicine way–the way of the shaman, which is the way of stewardship of earth, of bringing beauty and healing to others and being of service to all beings, including the plants, the animals and all humans. It is a calling that we all have.
Have you ever felt conflicted between the ancient knowledge of shamanism and modern ways of thinking?
You know, I never really did. I knew enough science to be able to understand what the shamans are doing. Today, neuroscience in particular, corroborates these ancient wisdom teachings that shamans have discovered over millennia.
In the first half of One Spirit Medicine, you highlight that there are 14,000 diseases and conditions recognized by Western medicine. There is only one in shamanism: “disconnection from nature” and Spirit. Can you share some of your wisdom on re-connecting with nature?
We have to start with our inner nature. Our inner nature is our gut flora. Nine-tenths of the cells in our body do not belong to us. Ninety percent of “us” are not us. We have 100 trillion cells and 90 trillion belong to over 10,000 species of bugs–bacteria that live inside of us that process all of the foods we eat. They turn broccoli–something that is not “us”–into us. This is where we begin to get in-touch with our inner nature. It’s not through meditation but by having a really healthy gut flora.
Most of us that have taken antibiotics have wiped out our guts, so we have lost our gut instinct. We cannot tell the people that want to help us from those who want to hurt us. We keep falling in-love with all the wrong people. When we’re not connected to our inner nature, it’s very difficult to connect to our outer nature.
You can meditate on a mountain top or a beach and if your gut flora is out of balance, you’re going to be worrying about what else you should be doing because the bacteria in your gut are so out of balance and their poop (because they too eat and then poop) is causing mood swings and anxiety so you cannot be fully present on your meditation retreat.
It is liberating to know that we can improve the world by working on our health.
We can start with ourselves, with the nature that lives within us. Ninety trillion other creatures–that is who we are. If you look at who you and I are from the perspective of bacteria, they’ve been around for two billion years and from their perspective, they created us so that they could travel and see the world. We’re wiping them out with antibiotics, pesticides, sugar and carbs. In turn, they are casting us out of the garden.
You are refreshingly honest about death during the second half of One Spirit Medicine. You describe it as, “a mystery of awe and terror because it’s a great journey to the unknown.” Additionally, you say that if we die consciously, we can visit other realms of light. However, Western medicine is known for medicating and operating on the human body in an effort to deny the inevitability of death. Can you offer further wisdom on dying “differently” that people can integrate into their daily lives now and with future loss?
Everybody is trying to come up with their own immortality project. For the shaman, immortality is a possibility, not a given. If you can acquire enough consciousness and enough personal power, which is acquired through service to others, you can take your consciousness and power into the great beyond. You don’t have to be returned back to molecules of energy to be reorganized into something else again.
The metaphor that I like to use is, if you take a drop of water and you drop it into a glass of water, where is that drop? We know it is in there but it is no longer in drop form. This is what happens to your energy body.
You want to maintain your identity so that when you return back to the great pool of consciousness, someone is there to witness it. That’s you. That consciousness requires deep discipleship and dedication to your spiritual practice as your top priority. Then, you do your work, take your kids to school, do your chores and do whatever else you need to do. Your prime agenda for dying differently is your spiritual practice.
You describe the luminous body as, “the subtle essence of who we are,” in addition to addressing steps to heal our physical bodies. As more and more humans access the Internet and rely on digital devices to stay connected and perform their jobs, there is a growing awareness of high-energy blue lights and their harmful effects on the eyes. Can you address how exposure to artificial light, in addition to other artificial materials does or does not interfere with our luminous body?
To start, for your computers, you have to download a program called F.lux, that dims the light of your computer in the evening. It takes the blue out and gives you the orange and red hues. For millions of years, we told stories around the fire–red, orange and yellow light–that stimulates and stabilizes melatonin production in your brain. The constant exposure to blue light from various devices interferes with your ability to fall asleep and achieve a restful night’s sleep. You want the blue light in the morning. It wakes you up and stops your body from producing melatonin.
In general, we have to be careful. Right now, consciousness is at a fork in the road. One direction is digital, silicon-based. We, all of us, are uploading ourselves to The Cloud and pulling the plug on the human because we are messy. You have to feed us. We poop. That’s one path.
On the other path, at this time when there is so much ecological devastation happening, we have the opportunity to quantum leap into an entirely different human that ages, heals and dies differently. This is the privilege that we, being incarnated today, have. We can become that human. This is the path I’m signing-up to take! This path will protect us from harmful elements.
I love that you describe humans as, “light trapped into form.” Our earthly bodies are primarily composed of water. Should we be equally vigilant about the water we consume and how do we protect our bodies from toxins such as trace pharmaceuticals, lead and chlorine found in drinking water?
I don’t know if you remember being a kid and playing with mercury. Less than a century ago, if you cut yourself, your mother would douse you with Mercurochrome. Well, eventually, they took it off the market because it was mercury and could poison you!
We have been exposed to so many toxins and the body stores toxins in fat cells because they are the most stable molecules. The brain is eighty-percent fat.
Now, when I was a medical anthropologist in the jungle, I got a grant from a Swiss pharmaceutical company to help them to create the next blockbuster drug for curing primarily Western diseases–cancer, Alzheimer’s, hypertension. For months, I went through villages that had never seen a white person. In fact, the kids would run up to me and rub my skin to see if the white “dirt” would rub off. I came back empty-handed because these native villagers had no heart disease, no dementia, no cancer. Of course, they also weren’t exposed to chemicals such as lead, chlorine and fluoride in the water or pesticides in their food.
Today, the first step that we all need to take is to detox. Detox the brain so we can create psychosomatic health. Otherwise, we’ll continue to create disease. Once you detox the brain, you can access states of consciousness that can help you become that new human that is being born on the planet right now.
Do you ever get the sense that you were meant for something significant in this life? In fact, you are! We came to earth now to heal an apocalyptic world together. When you heal yourself from the inside, you create the optimal environment for dreaming the world into being.
For more information about the shaman’s way of healing or to begin your own shamanic journey with Dr. Alberto Villoldo, please visit his website.
Crocodiles and Plant Medicine: Lessons of the Modern Shaman
Crocodile came to me recently in ceremony. At first I was startled by his appearance, feeling I have already embraced every shadow aspect of myself he represents. Since his visit, however, I have spent time welcoming him and examining the teachings he now brings.
Crocodile/Snake holds our basal self, our deepest fears and lesser-evolved leanings which are held in the reptilian brain. In sacred ceremony and spiritual initiations, it is snake or crocodile who confronts you to face and embrace that which you fear most. His personal challenge to me: “You’re not a true shaman. You don’t work in the rain forest, you don’t ingest plant medicines, and you’re falsely holding your craft, thereby misleading those you serve.”
On more than one occasion I have been questioned and warned against calling myself a shaman. I haven’t studied in the jungle, I don’t have any hint of bronzed pigment in my Irish skin, and I don’t have a Maestro or don teaching me the ways. My path is unique in devoted past-life reclamation, shamanic journey, and an early proclamation at five-years-old that I would be a shaman. I was born ready and haven’t looked back. However, the thorny challenges still arise.
Enter the internal struggle of spirit and shadow. It’s brought me to a place of deep self-inquiry and an eventual and potent reclamation. It’s also offered me a new perspective on the path of the modern shaman.
What is a Shaman?
When asked, “What is a shaman?” my easiest answer is “someone who works in the invisible spaces to bring peace and healing to those whom they are in service.”
“Shamans are intermediaries or messengers between the human world and the spirit worlds. Shamans are said to treat ailments/illness by mending the soul. Alleviating traumas affecting the soul/spirit restores the physical body of the individual to balance and wholeness. The shaman also enters supernatural realms or dimensions to obtain solutions to problems afflicting the community. Shamans may visit other worlds/dimensions to bring guidance to misguided souls and to ameliorate illnesses of the human soul caused by foreign elements. The shaman operates primarily within the spiritual world, which in turn affects the human world. The restoration of balance results in the elimination of the ailment.”
In Cave and Cosmos, Michael Harner suggests it is simply “one who knows.”
Core and Indigenous Shamanism
The big divide in the shamanic communities lies between those who work in the rain forest with the lineage of indigenous wisdom in their blood; and so-called Plastic Shamans who have no connection to the cultures and traditions they represent.
As shamanism has gained prevalence in the modern era, “core shamanism” has become the accepted term for those who use the methods of the shaman but have not been raised in the traditional cultures. The Foundation for Shamanic Studies has reintroduced the shamanic journey for self-healing, while the Psychonauts have lead a revolution through chemically assisted self-inquiry. Both are valid paths that differ greatly from a jungle education. While the efficacy of the practice is all that should matter, there still lies a division.
Another crucial distinction for indigenous shamans is their relationships with the plants. Dietas are ceremonial ingestions of plant medicines that teach the shaman how to walk between and within the astral worlds. Any number of teacher plants are used, from tobacco to ayahuasca. These ceremonies are performed with great reverence and honor and remain within sacred guidelines as sincere spiritual endeavors to deepen the path of the seeker. The illusion of this world fades away and great insights are gained, revealing the true nature of one’s own soul.
Freakin’ awesome when done in this sacred space, right?
I, however, am a different kind of shaman. I traverse the dimensions without the use of hallucinogens. Drums, deep meditation, and the psychic connection with spirits and plant allies, for me, have been enough. And Croc challenged me on this also: “Is your plant abstinence genuinely enough to gain such an alliance with the spirit realms?”
In the modern world, our relationship to the plants is vastly different than that of the indigenous shaman. We don’t commune with them personally, nor do we seek to hone their wisdom. As a result, contemporary seekers often misuse the medicines. In my younger days, I experimented with mushrooms recreationally. I found them an expansive and uplifting dalliance that only affirmed my path as a seer and healer. Yet I took them with no noble intent.
Recently, I found myself called to work more closely with the plants in ceremonial space and felt conflicted. My ego holds my hallucinogenic refrain as a badge of honor — a way of ensuring the purity of the messages received. And yet I found myself deeply appreciating the plant spirits again, in great awe and gratitude for the teachings they shared.
And what they shared was this: I’ve connected more than sufficiently with the plant spirits. I learn and walk beside them every day to offer blessings to my community. I need not ingest them, for they have been my allies all along!
In a recent Aubrey Marcus podcast, Astral Snakes and Binaural Beats (episode 59), Cory Allen shared his most recent devotion is not in using the plant medicines, but rather simply being in the astral plane without any enhancements. Under the influence of the medicine, “The consciousness of the plant is with you in that space and colors your vision of that space. If you get there without it, you are completely you and you are on your own.” Boom, validation! And Croc began to smile.
What I realized was, it all comes back to me not having any allies, any perceptions, any filters on my experience in these worlds. The mark of the shaman is not who they are when they’re on the medicines or how they handle these energies inside of them. It is who they are in the absence of any aids at all!