We have discussed the idea, widely held in the Upper Amazon, that human beings in general, and shamans in particular, have powerful urges to harm other humans, and that the difference between a healer and a sorcerer comes down to a matter of self-control. And on that there hangs a story.

A while ago, after having returned from my most recent trip to study with my maestro ayahuasquero don Roberto Acho, I was sitting in a training seminar, and I was angry with the facilitator, a man I greatly respect and admire. I was angry for foolish and childish reasons; I felt I was not being paid enough attention.

Suddenly, without any apparent intention on my part, a spider flew out of my mouth — a large, black, hairy spider, about three inches across. The spider flew from my mouth to the face of the seminar facilitator, where it grasped and clung to his cheek, eventually melting into his face. I was taken aback by this. Damn, I said; I didn’t realize I was that pissed off. And that would have been the end of it; except that, at the next day’s session, the distraught facilitator announced that he had been told that his wife’s breast cancer, thought to be in remission, had recurred.

Now, was there any connection between my spider and his wife’s illness? Of course not. The spider touched him, not his wife. And the recurrence must have taken place before the spider left my mouth; certainly sorcery cannot be temporally retroactive. Of course there was no connection.

And yet, what I carry away from this experience is still a sense of guilt. I did not cause the harm; I could not have caused the harm. But what happened was a loss of control — my momentary anger, my ego, my envidia, the worst part of me leaping from my mouth in the form of a spider, just like the spiders and scorpions that are projected, in the Upper Amazon, from the phlegm of a brujo, a sorcerer.

From this inconsequential incident, I have learned three things.

First, there really is no going back. Once you walk through the door into the realm of the spirits, you cannot return to any prior state of innocence. As I have said before, once you begin la dieta, once you drink ayahuasca, once you begin to form relations of confianza with the healing plants, the world becomes a more dangerous place. When you have begun to realize the porosity of reality; when the world has become magical, filled with wonders, filled with the spirits, filled with meaning; when you have begun to see what was there all along but was invisible to you — then you must accept that your childish anger is, right here and now, as it always was, an ugly spider leaping from your lips, capable of causing great harm.

I have written, here and here, that people in the Upper Amazon consider the darts and other pathogenic objects in a shaman’s phlegm to be autonomous, alive, spirits, sometimes with their own needs and desires, including a desire to kill. I now believe that is profoundly true. Our egos are as tricky and autonomous as magical darts. Our envidia, our foolish willingness to destroy relationships of confianza with others, seems to flair up at the slightest provocation. The popular image of the sorcerer in the Upper Amazon reflects this truth: the figure of the evil sorcerer represents all that is the antithesis of proper social behavior. Nobody has the courage to scold a sorcerer, people say, for he would put poison on you and you would die. If you make fun of him, he will kill you; if you are stingy with him, he will kill you; if you refuse to have sex with him, he will kill you. The sorcerer does not eat meat and does not smell any perfume. The sorcerer in fact epitomizes solitary retentiveness and lack of reciprocity — lonely, demanding, querulous, abusive, miserly, and vengeful. Just like my ego.

And that is why self-control is mandatory. Since that inconsequential incident, I have been tempted to try it again — just, you know, to see if it works, just to express my anger, just to be — somehow — powerful. And I cannot do it, ever again.

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30 Responses to “How I Became a Sorcerer”

  1. jiri says:

    This is a wonderful, incredible blog! I look forward to every post. Thank you so much for your brilliant writing and insight. It’s awesome :)


  2. felipe says:

    Me too, I read it all the time.
    Thanks Steve for a really good work! Which no doubt requires so much of the difficult work, the inner one.
    So difficult to have self control! So difficult to distinguish, when your integrity requires to raise your voice, to defend the truth, your place, your people, and when you’re using excuses to express that inner violence, that need of attention…

  3. Geert says:

    Thanks for your words Steve.
    Being opened up to the spirit-world is dangerous, but it is also a great blessing.
    I do believe the pureness stays, like the dark is as pure as the light, death is pure as snow, it was always there and will always be, yet with the consciousness comes responsibility of what we forward in our (unseen) communication, letting the love and understanding seep in through your beautiful spirit, it will enhance your harmony, beautiful spirits will come to you.

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge, I find your words thought-provoking and inspirational.

    Many blessings


  4. Chuntaro's Corner says:

    I am just happy to be your friend!

    (and in your good side too,he,he)

  5. Fred Smith says:

    As I catch up with your old postings, I find incredible (but credible) transformations. You’re fortunate that the itsy-bitsy spider (well, maybe not so itsy-bitsy) did not return to haunt you (“This is the wheel of sharp weapons returning full circle upon you for wrongs you have done.”) Somehow, you were able to cut the cord of karma on this one. Learning lessons is the most difficult part of life. The temptation to experiment with power is nearly impossible to stop. I read this as a lesson. Thanks.

  6. muzuzuzus says:

    I am researching psychedelic healing. For me personally this means : resolving our alienation from natural surroundings. As in–western rationalism has indoctrination a mechanistic worldview, and if we are to care and respect nature then that respect needs being inspired and of course natures very plants surely will help in this healing process

    But what you say here–altough i am familiar with it, could put people off.
    For example–wouldn’t you say allowing ourselves to EXPRESS anger is a good thing. As long as it doesn’t become ingrained. That anger, like any emotion, is an energy. And if you hold it in that in itself can cause you harm. For are we supposed to hold grief in? No that can harm us. Or crying etc

    Psychedelic healing per se surely is the inspiration for blocked energies to flow. So the integration of this for me is NOT self-control as such but a letting flow so that the enrgy can breathe, flow out and then thats that.

    I also dont want to control my sense of humour………

  7. Steve Beyer says:

    Muzuzuzus, thank you for your thoughtful comment.

    I think your comment in fact raises two different issues. The first is whether people in the Upper Amazon view human nature — and the attendant need for constant self-control over urges to harm others — as I have described it.

    I think the answer to that is yes. That is how both mestizo and indigenous people seem to look at the world, and this also fits in with what I have elsewhere called the Amazonian tragic cosmovision, and the structuring of relationships with the natural world using a model of predation.

    The second issue is whether or not they are right. I agree with you completely that expressing anger can be — if done properly — a good thing: for example, “I get angry when you are always late to meetings. It means we can’t get started, and I feel like my time is being wasted.” But I am not at all sure that it is a good thing to express anger by yelling, shouting, cursing, hitting inanimate objects, or fantasizing revenge. All of those things seem to me to increase anger, or at least prolong it.

    And while acute anger can be useful — I have said, in reference to wilderness survival, that anger can save your life — I believe that chronic anger is both addictive and self-destructive.

    I believe that there is a growing body of empirical research that says the notion of “acting out” anger actually makes the anger worse, and that controlling anger, or putting it aside, is a more effective way of dealing with it.

    I am very interested in what you think about this.

  8. Anonymous says:

    great post

  9. Steve Beyer says:

    Thank you. I really appreciate a kind word. :-)

  10. Steve that was a very interesting article, i have come across a lot of the dark stuff in the Amazon and know three people who died, one my mentor and best friend, i felt the energies coming and tried to stop them. It didnt happen in time.
    I have to catch myself everytime i think something, and its hard as im a hundred miles an hour, but words and intent is so powerful and i have to try my best to be impeccable
    My work is cut out but nothing will stop me on trying to do the best i can do and self observation of ones actions is a necessity. As is truth and integrity and working for the greater good.
    I am with you on feeling anger but dont give it power and everythng has enegry so if you start throwing and bashing things its gonna come back at you.
    I got hep c through anger and it was a master teacher. I had things happen to me ( which i called in to teach me) that were terribly harsh and painful and internalised the feelings and didnt speak up. Anger grew and manifested in a liver disease and made me bring my attention to this. Now im fitter and healthier and happier than i could ever imagine possible. I let the rage go as i no longer needed it. And i learnt a valuble lesson
    You have a lovely energy Steve and im glad we met
    Thank you and Blessings

  11. thundershadow says:

    I have heard it said this way, if anger keeps some pple alive, it becomes their life force. Some are not willing to admit to notions similar to Louise L Hay’s work “You Can Heal Your Life”. Where ailments become present in the body to tell us something rather. Also to eliminate the parts where say, you heal but do not replace the same propensity of emotion from the healing, like the lady mentioning the liver disease, eventually if the life force “anger” was fueling becomes healed, another passionate life force must also be accepted, integrated. Because it is all life force, to give it all up without transmutating the energies is to say, “oh my, what do i do, without the sickness to overcome, now what is my path or purpose”, something has to take the place that was once reserved for your “pains”, that were a real teacher in the process of the healing.

  12. Nathan H says:

    Hi, Steve. We connected a few weeks ago on ayahuasca.com & on fb. This sorcery business is a concern of mine as ayahuasca spreads beyond the forest. Where I was in Ecuador, there is still a lively tradition of killing people on the basis of their being witches. The most recent killing was in 2004. In Europe and North America, we’ve had such a nice run of (a) not believing in witchcraft, and (b) not killing “witches”…. Is that all going to come back?

    • Ian says:

      Witchcraft is not bad, just because someone is a Pagan doesn’t men there bad. Just note that Pagans commune with the spirit world, too. Along with plants. I’m a Pagan and I work aside with Datura and other respectable plant teachers.

    • curenado says:

      What shall come back first?!? Where we skin people alive and dance around in their skins for the God who gets so cold? Or the temples where children are tortured for their tears that God loves for its offering? Maybe the one where we cut out stupid girls hearts for the mountain tio? Or the goddess of filth?
      It’s already happening. Not gay people being “WB Yeats” either.
      Yes, despite what people say and all the stars in their eyes, a percentage will descend rapidly – whether it is the evil in them finally loosed or the evil of the world infecting them who can say? There are already things happening that the “pagan”, if they saw it, would say “Now I understand why people would think some stuff needs burned.”
      We all knew it would happen too. From day one. Some of us tried to kid ourselves into thinking it would be “different” because we’re so pretty now……but I think of that as a coping way of saying “their blood lust can’t steal my stars!” and it can’t, but the beginnings of what the wise knew would happen have already began. Those fears weren’t “government mind control!” or “turning people into mush brained commies!” – real fears from old and not that long ago either, just long enough for people to forget.
      I doubt people will get the torch for being neurotic or gayness, but when you see the real deal you will say “who’s got a match?”
      It is only a matter of who gravitates to what and how many do. Keep the light you were given and seek to fulfill your own destiny. The rest is already “history”.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “Now, was there any connection between my spider and his wife’s illness? Of course not.” Big assumption
    ‘The spider touched him, not his wife.’ You assum this precludes affecting his wife, why?
    ‘And the recurrence must have taken place before the spider left my mouth; certainly sorcery cannot be temporally retroactive.’
    Please give evidenence of you views this is in no way or form a certainty. Is this just a dangorous blind assumption made to ease your guilt?

    ‘Of course there was no connection.’ Did you ask ‘maestro ayahuasquero don Roberto Acho’ about this incident? I would be interested to hear his reasction directy?

  14. Downwardsfromzero says:

    Fascinating article, Steve. I treat it as a cautionary tale.

    “Now, was there any connection between my spider and his wife’s illness? Of course not.” I get the feeling that the positive was implied through the use of the negative here (for the benefit of those unaccustomed to this form of thinking…)

    How fortunate it makes me feel to have found your website. I shall visit again.


  15. Wahid Azal says:

    Dear Steve,

    That was a great blog on a subject very close to home!

    All of these issues you articulate about sorcery in Amazonia are, mutatis mutandis, relevent to all magical cultures in one form or another. Where you say,

    “once you begin la dieta, once you drink ayahuasca, once you begin to form relations of confianza with the healing plants, the world becomes a more dangerous place”

    Can be applied to all bona fide initiatic paths the world over. It is interesting I came across this blog today because I just got finished saying the identically same thing to someone else in a different context, which I posted here:

    That said, the question is where and what is the fine line between righteous indignation and anger? Every great initiatic Tradition speaks of elminating anger for precisely the reasons you outlined yet we have innumerable examples of Masters and adepts engaging in situations of righteous indignation that end up in some way rectifying situations that could’ve gone bad or had in fact gone bad. Think of Buddhist monks protesting in Tibet against Chinese rule or the ones setting themselves alight during Vietnam. There is also a great metaphoric story in the Qur’an’s surah of the Cave about the Prophet Khidr and Moses in that vein. Kabbalistic lore in Judaism is also chock full of these sorts of stories.

    It’s an interesting question, all the same, and an even more interesting Reality we all live in as a result. My teacher once said to me, “Non-initiates are lucky in many ways. We initiates hold much bigger responsibilities to the world, nay to the whole of existence, on all levels than those who aren’t. Always remember that and you’ll be ok!”

    Ya NUR

  16. leever says:

    The comments above called to mind a little something happened to me on dieta about three years back. It was the fourth out of 5 ayahuasca ceremonies spread over 10 days at a remote Amazonia jungle camp. One of the characteristics of this particular form of dieta was that we were instructed to keep to ourselves for the most part, to process what we were experiencing over the days, individually in solitude. In this light, the individual I refer to here had been only peripherally known to me up until the day I found myself seated next to him in ceremony. It was a daytime ceremony. The most noticeable thing about him prior to that was his attire, which was a jury-rigged affair suggestive of a beekeepers outfit, and his demeanor which was… well, uptight. I had thought without even actually forming the thought, that the guy suffered from some kind of a bug phobia, and maybe an asocial sort of pathology as well. Neither I nor anyone else in the group was dressing in that way or complaining particularly with regard to bugs, and no one was using insect repellant either for, along with shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant and any other non-jungle chemical type smells, it was, like socializing, prohibited in the prescribed tenants of the dieta. And the fact also had come to light over the week that our shaman had chosen this particular section of jungle to make a camp specifically, because it was so remarkably bug friendly for humans.

    Now, please excuse me being so long winded, this is what happened: David was the guy’s name, and right from the gitgo he was having an awful time, squirming, gasping, writhing, cursing, slapping, groaning, scratching and continually deep sighing his way through ceremony. Sitting next to him, at first I felt sorry for him. But long about 3 hours into it, I started to get pissed, at the disturbance he was. And once that got ahold on me, it was very difficult to think of anything else. Basically, by the time it came to a head, I wanted to just jump up and stand over him and cuff him, right to left and left to right… , and scream, “You’re bringing this on yourself you idiot, you’re creating the whole thing, if it wasn’t for you and your fucking bug phobia, there wouldn’t be any bug problem anywhere near here… !”

    Well, can’t do that. But there I am getting myself all worked up, thinking I’m going to have to do something, to say something, to the point where I’m about to get up. But precisely and exactly at that very instant, my body is suddenly alarmed at the approach of, of, of… bugs. I feel them first, behind me, and I turn and then I see them, a gray blur of a ball, moving with good speed, and intent I might add, along outside the malloca. The malloca is open air, by the way, no screens or windows or anything, just a floor below and a peaked roof above, and posts and beams all around. Which is funny because the blur/ball of bugs goes halfway around the building for no reason whatsoever to get to the entrance, turns and comes in, and just as I knew it would, (just as I fuckin knew they would!), comes straight over to me. They are gnarly little black flies with strong exoskeletons and absolutely no fear. They fly up my nose in an instant, a bunch of them into each nostril like teams, buzzing and bumbling and bustleing and driving upwards like mad, with more muscle to their wingbeats than you could ever ever believe. Another ten or so went on into my mouth. When I pursed my lips to sputter the last two out that had not quite made it in, that had been caught between my lips, they beat their wings so hard they drove my lips apart. The other ones inside threw themselves hard against the sides of my mouth and teeth, and thumped their little bodies one against one another and buzzed with such a intensity, I could hear it loud inside my brain.

    I was freaked, as you can imagine.

    There’s a part of me wanted to jump up and cry out for help and slap at these little buggers and stagger around the room I suppose. But something in me knew. “No wait wait wait. Wait!” Relax, surrender, be calm. Calmate. From the moment I’d been about to jump up and start bitch slapping David, to sensing the flies, to having them swarm and invade me, I don’t believe I had moved an iota. And with an act of will I am immensely proud of to this day, I calmed myself entirely before I ever moved, and as soon as I did that, the flies quit their aggressive incessant buzzing, exited my body, and drifted off. Like, no big deal, or like they’d never been, it had never happened. But they were/had! And without a doubt I got my lesson about getting all irked by David’s problem loud and clear. And that’s it. What we bring with us to this work has a great deal to do with what the medicine has to work with.

  17. Steve Beyer says:

    Thank you for that absolutely wonderful story!

  18. leever says:

    I think the reason the flies went all the way around to the door was because they were my flies and that’s what I would have done.

  19. Pedro says:

    That’s is all about: …First, there really is no going back. Once you walk through the door into the realm of the spirits, you cannot return to any prior state of innocence….this is the same that the Wise King said in Eclesiastes … the more you know more increase the sentence…

    That the good god help us.
    Thank you for singing to plants

  20. Steve says:

    As an ordinary nobody whose heart was touched by Ayahuasca I appreciate your words.
    In the past 3 years I have found myself in the jungle or rather, I am looking to find myself through the jungle.

    Thanks for the Blog.

  21. PEDRO CAMPOS says:


  22. the little herb says:

    Self-control for me is nothing, if the unconsciousness parts of me have not been listened to and supported. You may do this again not because you want to or because you can’t but because you are possibly denying a part of yourself an opportunity to be heard and grow. Did you mention to your facilitator what happened? Taking responsibility to speak to what just happened with the person that was targeted. That is being accountable, given the person an opportunity to deal with it, and you an opportunity to look at the anger, at the child that wasnt paid enough attention. Thanks for speaking to this behaviour.

  23. mahalie says:

    I think it’s very important that we each do our best to work on our own issues, recognizing that any time we are triggered, fearful or craving (desiring) – it’s always about US and not the other person. It’s my observation the medicine is not forcing anyone (shamans included) to do their work – she’s healing what is in front of her, she is offering transmissions, where we meet her is up to us.

    We are always in ceremony. Every moment. Wherever you are, right at this second – you are receiving, synthesizing and transmuting energy. What are you projecting? What are you manifesting, truly?

    Thank you Steve, for creating this online forum and sharing your path, your lessons with us.

  24. Tina Fields says:

    This is a very powerful story, Steve, and i thank you for sharing it so openly. The takeaways you got are classic shamanic lessons, hard won, eh?

    But I must gently disagree with your interpretation of the event’s causality. You said (perhaps protesting too much),
    “Now, was there any connection between my spider and his wife’s illness? Of course not. The spider touched him, not his wife. And the recurrence must have taken place before the spider left my mouth; certainly sorcery cannot be temporally retroactive. Of course there was no connection.”

    My dissertation work was on this broad topic – “Volatile spirits: an ecopsychological perspective on experiences of paranormal assault in contemporary America.” The lit review showed that “misaddress” is quite common – meaning that an assault intended for one can easily hit a weaker or less protected family member instead. And as you note, anger and envy are two very common vectors for paranormal assault. As to the other part, in my own non-ordinary experiences, linear time seems to have no reality whatsoever; those realms seem to work instead on eternal or fixed time, where all that was (e.g., ancestors) and all that will be (possible futures) are also here, alive, and at least potentially accessible in the eternal now. So temporality actually moves in many directions, sometimes all at once.

    By saying these things, I don’t mean to claim that your sent anger did cause your trainer’s wife some harm, but to point out that based only on those two arguments, you really can’t know. So as you say at the end, self-control (and I’d add humility) in this practice is vital. I can see that you have ample amounts of both.


  25. C Green says:

    What about anger that is not childish, but comes from real trauma, from being the recipient of ‘poisonous darts’ sent by an evil sorcerer, or just old fashioned abuse, and so forth? What would be the appropriate way for a shaman to handle legitimate anger? How do shamans who work as healers (as opposed to sorcerers) effectively handle anger, rage ? You’ve said there’s a component of self control involved. Is there also an attempt to rid oneself of rage, or are the feelings compartmentalized somehow?

  26. BP says:

    p.s. I should have said a 10,000b elephant, because, apparently, a 1000b elephant would be quite small, and my elephant is not small.

  27. Max says:

    Hi Steve,

    I am reading your book Singing to the Plants and I am completely blown away by the amount of information you have provided. I wanted to thank you for that. It is truly a piece of work that is one of a kind. One thing that I am curious about is if the facilitator from this story actually saw or felt the spider, or was it only something that you saw? Im assuming it was part of the mariri that was given to you from don Roberto? Also, when you were nurturing this mariri and smoking mapacho, were you inhaling? I cant see that being very healthy. Just curious and would love to hear more!!

  28. BP says:

    ok, I’m going to be glib and answer my own question – anger is justifiable in the face of terrible injustice. It’s the effort for justice that needs to be honored, the anger is only the call to reclaim power that has been misappropriated by others (or given away). Don’t make the mistake of living in the anger and giving it life through you. Honoring anger is not the way, honoring justice and fighting for it is the way. To receive help, recognize that anger drains you of the very energy you will need in order to reclaim lost justice; anger perverts and distorts whatever energy you do give in a fight for justice. Anger at people is misplaced. People who commit injustices are in the grip of something dark and perverting. Anger at people can distract a person and get them to spend their energy attempting to beat up shadows (and that goes nowhere, since it’s impossible), when what’s needed is to direct energy at reclaiming justice. Anger can be legitimate, but living in it and working from it is an idiotic waste of energy reserved for fools who wear themselves out and get nowhere worth going in the process. That was me, and now it’s not.

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