The journalist, novelist and documentary filmmaker Alfonso Domingo (Madrid, 1959) tried ayahuasca for the first time in the late 1980s in the Amazon. He had a transformative experience, which was followed by a phase of proselytising, trying to convince others to try this marvellous mixture. Now his attitude is very different: the abuses and “spurious uses” that are being made of the sacred drink have made him adopt a much more discreet attitude, close to mutism, with regard to ayahuasca. In transit, he has published a book about his experiences in the Amazon, ‘La serpiente líquida’ (Punto de Vista Editores, 2018) and a documentary of the same name. In them, ayahuasca is not the protagonist, although it is a constant thread running through Domingo’s story, as if it were the snake of the title.
We chatted with Domingo about master plants, extractivist capitalism, the first steps of ayahuasca in Spain… and about Alfonso Graña, the Galician adventurer who was chieftain of the Shuar Indians in the 1930s and about whom we will talk soon.
‘The Liquid Serpent’ was first published in 2005 and re-released in 2018. Does the documentary come before or after? Tell us about the genesis of the project.
I started travelling to the Amazon in 1987. Since that year, I have travelled intermittently to various parts of the Amazon. I have not been able to go every year, nor have I travelled the entire basin, as it is an enormous basin, some 8 million kilometres long. At the beginning of the 21st century I travelled down the Amazon River from the time it becomes navigable until it flows into the sea. I used local means, especially by river, but also by motorbike, on foot or on horseback. The compilation of that journey is ‘The Liquid Serpent’, in the form of a book, which ends in Belem de Alto Parás, and a documentary, which ends in Manaus.
The book was published for the first time in 2005 by Alianza, and has been republished in 2018 by Punto de Línea, and although it is a world that is changing very fast, I think it is still relevant in many ways. The Amazon has essences that seem immutable.
Was it ayahuasca that brought you to the Amazon or the Amazon that unveiled ayahuasca to you?
I came to the Amazon first through books, like Alejo Carpentier’s ‘Los pasos perdidos’. I first came to the Orinoco basin, and later to Peru and the Amazon basin. In those books, yagé and ayahuasca already appeared, and it was even called “telepathine”. I had the jungle mythologised, possibly because of the adventure books. The world has two extreme landscapes, the jungle and the desert, which have common features, such as immensity or the power of nature over man.
How do you approach ayahuasca for the first time?
One of the characteristics of the jungle are the master plants. Ayahuasca appeared to me after a shooting in San Pedro, I proposed to record a healer who had never let himself be recorded until then. He asked me for the conch shell to find out the omens, and three times he said yes and had no choice but to do it. One of the people who attended that ceremony was Jacques Mabit, who later founded Takiwasi. In subsequent interviews, it was Mabit who told me that he had not felt much but told me about ayahuasca, and invited me to participate two days later. That was my first experience, with José Campos conducting the ceremony, an indigenous healer who was later accused of sexual abuse. That session was absolutely transcendental for me, as I recounted both in the book and in my novel ‘La madre de la voz en el oído’. The next day I flew to Madrid, and both on the flight and on arriving in Madrid I was still having visions. It was a wonderful gift that the plant gave me, those things that, if you use them well, serve you for a long time.
When did the next intake take place?
I brought a small bottle to Spain with the ayahuasca left over from the ceremony. We took it here with friends, but it had no effect, so I concluded that it had to do with the session, the environment and the handling of certain energies that completely escaped me. From that moment on, ayahuasca began to arrive in Spain, with Dacio Mingrome, who came from [Santo] Daime, and of the few people who started that group, I was one of the few who had already taken ayahuaca. The rite that Dacio brought with him was very similar to the Daime, and I was very impressed by it. I had taken the plant with the Peruvian rite, which is how the people of Hermanosis still do it today. I had taken precisely with the grandfather of Winston Tangoa [the first master of the Hermanosis members], who was one of the last authentic shamans I knew, together with Solon, from Iquitos. When I drank with Dacio in Spain in 1989 I realised that the effects of the plant were similar to those I perceived in the Amazon, so that it was no longer the territory but a series of coadjutant factors. That was the beginning of a journey to make Dacio see that the design of the Daime was not appropriate for that group, so he changed the ritual and ayahuasca was spreading everywhere. In fact, when I made the trip to prepare ‘The Liquid Snake’ I found ayahuasca everywhere.
Let’s go back to that first meeting with Jacques Mabit, had he already opened Takiwasi or did he receive this ‘mandate’ from the plant there?
No. He was in Lima and was looking for a place for Takiwasi. He had just received the revelation from ayahuasca that he was to work with addicts. People who are destined to work with the plant usually have an encounter with the guardian spirits in which they are ‘authorised’ to use the plant for certain purposes and according to certain rules. The following trips found him already in Tarapoto, starting to create Takiwasi, at first with very modest means, but then growing. I have been lucky enough to follow the process from its genesis, as well as the evolution of Jacques, who at the beginning was much less religious and now has a very Catholic streak.
Do you think, as Dennis McKenna says, that the plant kingdom has a plan for us and ayahuasca is its ambassador to mankind?
Obviously, this is a projection, because although one may have these certainties during the sessions and think that the plant world is sending a message to humanity, the truth is that this message is not getting through because the truth is that global warming and the destruction of the earth is happening at a rapid pace. Not only McKenna, but many botanists speak of the consciousness of forests. If we attribute to that intelligence an almost magical character, one may think that – indeed – it is sending a message. But, I insist, if it is true that it is sending a message, it is not getting through because we are getting worse and worse, reaching irreversible points. On the other hand, ayahuasca has become popular globally and there has been indiscriminate use and even abuse. We all have in mind cases such as Ayahuasca International or certain individuals who use ayahuasca for spurious purposes.
During this time I have undergone an evolution: I have realised that the shaman does not have to be a mystic or enlightened entity, but a person who manages energies, and can do so in one way or another. Ayahuasca also has this duality: it can give you clues about your life or your mission in life, but it can make your life impossible or reject you. I doubt that there is a plan of nature; we are in a kind of programmed collective suicide. We are heading for disaster. Maybe there is a reaction to the gaze of the abyss, but I have my doubts. I’d like to think McKenna is right, but I have my doubts.
How are you experiencing the ayahuasca explosion worldwide and the impact it is having on the native communities of the Amazon?
Bad. Among other things, I have collaborated with Carlos Suárez, who has several magnificent books on the use and abuse of ayahuasca. Suárez has contributed some HD images for the documentary to complement my own, and the two of us have reflected what is happening. When the ayahuasca dazzle happens in the Western world it is a ticking time bomb. In a way, this has been enhanced by those of us who have had these experiences. At a certain point, I remember saying “We have to keep quiet”, and we have to communicate things only to people who can make good use of them. This has been impossible, and now there has been an overexploitation that affects the liana in particular, and the shaman has begun to have excessive power, both economically and in terms of sexual abuse.
Now there are those who consider themselves shamans because they have taken two weekend courses with ayahuasca. This is total perversion. In Ecuador, I interviewed Don Sabino, a healer who had spent 15 years dieting in the jungle, without knowing a woman, in order to be able to practice his work as a doctor. A very counterproductive abuse is taking place, but it seems to be the fate of the times. This popularisation does good things for people’s consciousness, and, on the other hand, it causes problems for others, because there are no filters, that minimum five-day diet, the days after to integrate the experience… sometimes people come out of the ayahausca flipped. The latest was the vision of Will Smith, who was told by ayahuasca that his life was going to be hell. But ayahuasca doesn’t tell you that, it gives you clues so that you can make the best use of it. Of course, I don’t encourage anyone to have an experience with any group, at least that I know of, and of those I know, with many reservations, because they use other substances and enhancers that seem to me, to say the least, conflictive. In the end I take with a group of people who have known each other for many years, with a very secular rite, mystical if you like, but without much transcendence, because we have to take away the transcendence of all this. What is happening in the world is going towards commercial, chrematistic expansion and producing harmful effects. It seems that everything that white society touches ends up contaminated.
–‘Cuando a la ayahuasca se le llamó ‘telepatina”, Plantaforma, 22 de junio de 2020.
–«Para lograr un salto de conciencia vamos a necesitar millones de barriles de ayahuasca», Yorokobu, 3 de octubre de 2014.