How to tell if you have a good facilitator for ceremony (originally posted 2017)
When you are new to the medicine and looking for the right person to drink with... Take your time and choose wisely. This is a very important decision that will greatly impact the outcome of your ceremony.
Traditional apprenticeship usually lasts 1-3 solid years (the whole time spent in apprenticeship, not just how many years ago they started drinking - that whole 1-3 years is often spent in dieta for the whole time or at least most of it). In some cases people spread the apprenticeship out longer over many years and do it in little bits. 1-3 years of not working or making money and living in the jungle hardly eating food is hard - healers need this hard training to make them strong and so they have enough time to develop the right relationship with their spirit allies. A lot of people take short cuts and either skip the training all together or try to substitute shorter training like just 2-3 months of work instead of 2-3 years.... There is no substitute for the work, and the lack of work will show itself in the ceremony.
So far we are lucky in the USA that the government is not prosecuting Ayahuasca medicine even though it is illegal. This could change at any time though. Right now only 2 churches (UDV and SD) have gone to court and have set a precedent to protect religious freedom within those churches. These rights have not been extended to other churches or individuals yet, and this precedent could be turned around quickly if the wrong person went to jail. By having high standards for the providers we support we give ourselves a better chance of protected religious and medical freedom.
It is really up to the seeker to make the most informed decisions about who to drink with. I know many people do not have easy access to medicine providers and it is tempting to settle for the first person you find... But if you really care about the quality and safety of your own ceremony and the future legality of this medicine please take the time to look into your medicine providers. Take the time to make sure they are fully qualified and also ethical and thoughtful about how they provide the medicine.
For those new to the medicine who want to know good questions to ask potential ceremony leaders, here are some good questions to help you learn more:
How long was your apprenticeship and how long have you been working with the medicine? (Usually apprenticeship is 1-3 years of formal apprenticeship and most providers will work with the medicine for a few years before apprenticing - often there is at least 1 full year of dieting if not more. Most qualified providers have sat in a few hundred traditional ceremonies before offering medicine on their own.)
What is your ceremony format? (Do they sing icaros? If they do not that should be a red flag in most cases - at the least they should have learned how, even if they found another method that they now prefer. Do they play recorded music - this is a big red flag. Do they allow socializing - this is a red flag. Ceremonies are usually very focused especially in a group setting.)
What is the group size? (This may be more about personal comfort.... If there is more then 8 people the facilitator should at least have an assistant. If there is more then 15 people there should be multiple shamans facilitating together. Some people dont like group sizes over 6-8, and some dont like it over 20.... Some people sit in groups of 40+. This might be a question of personal preference and comfort, but make sure they have more healers and assistants present if it is a larger group.)
What is the cost? (In USA $100-200 is a common price. If it is much more then that and especially if they have a large group and a high price - you might ask why, as this could be a red flag.... Larger groups should be more affordable, and if it is much over a $200 or so price tag you should probably be either in a super nice and comfortable setting that you want to pay extra for, or you should be getting a small group private ceremony, or at the very least they should be a super experienced healer who can provide a deeper ceremony then a newbie. A fake church in WA was trying to charge $2000 for a single ceremony, and this is a good example of someone taking advantage of the medicine.)
Location? (Location should be private and secure and comfortable. Does not need to be fancy, but more then anything should be somewhere private, safe and not distracting. There should be somewhere to sleep after the ceremony.)
What is in the brew and why? (Usually this is Ayahuasca and chacruna and sometimes other plants.... Sometimes it may just be Ayahuasca but most people add either chacruna or chaliponga. If they add a different MAOI or DMT containing plant besides Ayahuasca, chacruna or chaliponga then they are not using traditional plants and you should ask them why. Sometimes people add other plants to the brew - you may want to know what these plants are, why they are added, and if they are safe. Many of the admixture plants are safe, but some like tobacco or toe' can be dangerous if not used correctly or for the wrong person.... If the brew doesnt have the Ayahuasca vine itself it is not Ayahuasca, but something else.)
Other questions might include: What are your philosophies on healing with plant medicines? How do you support integration of the ceremonies? Do you recommend any diet or preparation? What types of successes have you had with healing? How has the medicine changed your life? How did you decide to pursue this medicine work? How do you protect the ceremony space? ect....
At all times the healer should be open and honest about their answers to these questions. If they do not answer openly and honestly that can be another red flag. If they put in the time and work necessary these questions should be easy for them to answer.
After seeing some people I know dont have enough experience to host ceremonies marketing their ceremonies all over I thought this information could be helpful to some people... BTW - after 5 years with Ayahuasca, and 10 years with plant medicines and hundreds of traditional Ayahuasca ceremonies (plus thousands of other plant ceremonies) - I still do not offer Ayahuasca ceremonies even though people ask me to. I know good people to sit with, and I also know that it takes a lot of specific training to do this work right, and if you dont take the time to do it right, you shouldnt be pouring for others yet. Simple as that.
If you are new to the medicine and trying to research who to work with, I hope this information is helpful for you.