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This is a significant ontological question and it was the fundamental reason I came here to work with Ayahuasca. I did not expect to have such a direct personal encounter with a vibrant and powerful elemental Being. With that amazing audience and my first dramatic vision of Fear, I got much more than I was prepared for, but that, of course, is a good thing as it gave me a set of full-power experiences to analyze after the fact. In this, I felt very fortunate, as not all first time participants receive this kind of visioning.

There are many in the community of Ayahuasca who claim that my ontological question of “What is real” is not even appropriate to ask. That is, there is no “Real” to determine. I respect that view, but we are human beings – curious creatures who would very much like to know what we are doing here on this planet. It seems we are here without anyone to explain it to us and we seem to have no explicit purpose other than ones we devise for ourselves. Our great religious texts are, I believe, an attempt to impose an order, an explanation on our existence to keep us from being so very lost in non-resolvable wonder.

I do not believe we can ever avoid asking that question, especially once we become personally immersed in the Other dimensions of Ayahuasca or the other powerful plant medicines. The power and alien nature of this other realm is so palpable and informative that it cries out for us to analyze it – to determine its existence or non-existence. For me, that meant analyzing my own visions.

Was this manifestation of Mother Ayahuasca an actual REAL entity, separate from myself, existing independently and capable of interacting with me as another separate human being would? Or, could this have been a creative product of my own mind/brain? Could she have been a projection of symbols from my deep unconscious, arranged in this vibrant showpiece to communicate with me in the way dreams often do? A case can be made either way, and many reading my account would claim the latter. However, and this is a crucial point, they did not experience it themselves.

One thing such an experience does is to eradicate default certainty. When a person goes through this kind of visioning, he or she comes out the other side with a sense of true wonder and an opening of the mind to many different possibilities. Several writers on Ayahuasca have mentioned that one may go into the work with the tea as an atheist, but will emerge unable to remain one. This does not certify the orthodox views of established religions at all; it simply opens one up to the vast and alien wonder of the universes next door.

As for my own evaluation of Madre Ayahuasca, while not being entirely certain of her status as REAL, I strongly and naturally leaned toward that view. One of the strongest arguments in this regard is the astonishing detail and the complete novelty and surprise of this vision and the others. A common expression after an Ayahuasca vision is the realization that one’s mind could not possibly have created such an intricate and complex set, characters, visual design, story, and emotional context, and presented it as an internally manufactured program instantly and in full. Nor could it create a character like Mother Ayahuasca who could and did interact with me in ways I could not possibly have foreseen!

When she showed me the coin, it was a complete surprise and a non sequitur. Besides the surprise of the coin itself, I also had no thought or clue of the symbolic meaning of it until the very moment she pressed it onto my heart. That was a very complex idea, one that did not originate in my mind, to the extent I can determine it as a functioning human being. These kinds of dynamic interplays bear all the hallmarks of authentic interactions between separate and distinct people or intelligent entities.


That said, there is an important point that must be made here. There is no way that I can or should impose my observations and interpretations in this regard on any other person. To do so would be tantamount to creating a faith based belief system. “I saw this, and therefore others should accept that what I report that I saw is real.”

Shamanism is fundamentally about direct, personal experience, and the interpretations we make concerning the things we see directly and personally, remain a personal judgment for each one who seeks such experiences. That implies that there can never be a structure of belief imposed on shamanism. It simply doesn’t work that way. This essential freedom to experience and self-interpret is also why shamanism is feared by those who would control others. I believe that justifiable fear is the reason for the initial establishment of our orthodox power-centralized religions.



For myself, I may never completely determine if what I saw was truly “real”. This is acceptable to me now, as I realize how deep and strange this other dimension is. I can, however, take my basic assumption of Mother Ayahuasca’s reality and that of the gift she gave me, on into my life in the same manner that other shamans take the information from their vision experiences into their lives and communities. We can use that information, and also assess it over time. This, too, is an important ontological test of the visions.


One thing I can say for certain is that these visions, and especially this third vision of the Spirit of the Vine and her gift to me – this vision represents what I could accurately call my very first authentic “religious experience.” For a man who has been immersed in and who has seriously studied and written about religion for over 50 years, that is truly saying something.


David P. Crews
Austin, Texas

September and October, 2006



Believe nothing on the faith of 'traditions' –

even though they have been held in honor

for many generations and in diverse places.

Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it.

Do not believe in the 'faith' of the prophets of the past.

Do not believe what you yourself have 'imagined',

persuading yourself that a ghost or a 'god' inspires you.

Believe nothing on the sole authority of your elders or priests.

After careful examination, believe what you yourself have tested

and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.

~ Gautama The Buddha  ~  5th century B.C. (Kalama Sutta) (italics mine)





In 2006, when I was in Peru at the SpiritQuest lodge, don Howard talked with me about how Ayahuasca works with us in terms of visions, healing, and influence in our lives. He said something curious that when I first heard it, I wondered if it was true. He told me that the visions we receive may be powerful, fearful, wonderful, or they may not come at all. “They are important,” he said, “but the real work that Ayahuasca will do with you will occur later. About three months after you get home – that is when you should look for the real effects of the medicine to manifest in your life.”

I’m writing this post-script in 2012, some five years after my Ayahuasca experiences. It may be informative and of interest to follow up my narration with a report on if and how that observation by Howard came true for me and how the Ayahuasca experiences have affected my life since then.

I have not yet had the opportunity to return to the Amazon to work with Ayahuasca again. Though I will return as soon as I can, I’ve been too busy with the new life I gained after I came home. Allow me to give you a little personal background to set your understanding of the scale of the change that happened to me.

In 2006, I had just emerged from divorce and long-standing financial difficulties and had built up enough vacation time at my company to take the trip to Peru.

Prior to my journey, I had worked in my profession as a television director for 33 years. I only worked at four companies during all that time, with the latest stint at one of the largest cable TV companies. That job had lasted 24 years straight at the time of my trip. I enjoyed my job, but I was not making much salary for such a long career, and I was really just marking time – not truly progressing or growing. I had the same boss all those years, and we were doing much the same kind of work. I was basically stuck.

I had contemplated going out on my own as a post-production business, editing and doing animation and graphics and making original music, but it always seemed so risky and costly that I never made any real motions to do so. The company paycheck wasn’t much, but it was there. I had good benefits. I was OK, I thought . . . but I was stuck.

What I did not realize was what a psychological and spiritual toll that stance had taken on me. To echo Casteneda’s Don Juan, I had not truly followed a path with heart, only one that seemed to be so, and any path other than one of heart is a curse.

When I first returned home from Peru in early October, I was so filled with the love, excitement, and richness of my experiences with Ayahuasca that I felt compelled to write this account and to present some of it to my family and friends. I wanted, even needed, to communicate what I’d been through. Then, something happened at my job.

In mid-December, all the stasis of my 24-year job came suddenly unglued. I was transferred from Production to the Media Sales Department and my new boss was the Sales Manager, someone who did not understand my creative and rather introverted job. Also, this person wanted her choice of people and found me to be too old, too expensive, and just someone she did not choose or understand. Knowing of my chronic back problems, they changed my job description to force me to have to carry heavy equipment – something I physically could not do. That led to “temporary disability” for six months, and then I’d be terminated with nothing else to show for it. Bang. Just like that.



This is not an uncommon story in these times, of course, and I felt fortunate that I had not been simply terminated at once. However, this was at first a devastating thing to me, as I had been so stable and “protected” for so many years – decades even!

Then, it occurred to me. I remembered what don Howard had told me.


continued . . .



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