About a year ago, I encountered a man who supposedly had something I was looking for. I had been passively seeking out any shamanic practitioners using the meso-American toad venom here in Canada, for healing, therapeutic, as well as psychedelic ceremony. The little know bufo alvarius or Bufo Toad, known to spend years underground in the Sonoran desert around Hermosillo and the chaparral of northern Mexico. The infamous ‘Sapo’, poison or medicine depends on dosage. It is administered into the blood stream through small burns in the skin that are scratched away and smeared with the secretion of the bufo toad, which is collected from its glands. The effects of which are blood cleansing, oft hallucinatory, clairvoyant, and heat inducing. The flush of the saponin chemical is what takes hold of the body. However, this won’t be the space to pontificate about the biology of the toad, nor the chemical constituents of its venom and how it affects the nervous system, nor is it about the long held tradition of use by the Aztecan Indians for visionary and hunting magic, but it is about the kind of relationships we form with the psychopomp, who in other world cultures also fulfills the role of the shaman, the trickster, or the medicine man.
In this global culture, people who are interested in magic and psychoactive medicines/drugs are more and more interested in travel to far off countries and cocoons of the world; the Amazonian rainforest, the Mexican desert, the highlands of the Andes, or the Siberian arctic, and some choose to stay at home, for localized ritual settings, with imported ingredients and plants shipped from the source countries. In this instance, the latter option was more practical for me as I had only returned from Mexico that winter and was not ready to return yet. I found a man, who told me he had some of the dried venom, and made ceremonies in a small yoga studio in a city near where I lived. I decided to book a session with him, I sent the deposit, and he returned a mail with vague directions to the studio, a date was arranged, and I had reserved a spot, I was committed. No turning back now…
On the day of the ceremony, I spent the morning in the garden thinking about what lay ahead of me, this calmed my mind into the potential changes that the frog venom is known to induce in a persons behavior, I knew I could not control the situation once I received it, but meditating on it seemed to create a sense of grace about it all. I arrived at the place of the studio, but only to see several commercial buildings in a kind of generic outlay fringing a large parking lot in a highly urban setting. The name of the yoga studio was no where apparent on any of the business signs, so I ended up calling the man of the hour with further questioning. When I looked up from the call, he was on the other side of the glass in one of the shops ahead of me, itself the least decorated, with no signage, only an A5 printed paper advertising for a therapeutic treatments, and an impromptu office space. He unlocked the door and we shook hands awkwardly. His grip was shaky as he held a Tim Hortons cup in the other hand, obviously much too caffeineated for 8 in the morning. His beady stare seemed to be like insect eyes, which were red from either severe lack of sleep or misuse of opiates. He started to complain about a couple of other individuals that canceled last minute for the ceremony, and discouraged me from joining this one, asking if I would like to reschedule. He led me to the ‘studio’ which resembled a warehouse or factory with high industrial ceilings and concrete walls. The ambiance was not particularly inviting, I rolled out my yoga mat in the center of the room but he insisted I should recline against the wall. He turned on the radio, which was a chaotic strain of brazilian music that was too intense for the mood. Something felt off, in this place, in this man, in the whole fluidity of the ritual, it just did not carry the consciousness that I expected from the use of a sacred medicine.
He exited the room, but it felt like he exited the engagement of the ceremony completely, then another man arrived and met with the same nonchalant hospitality, and was ushered into the studio with me to await the beginning of the rite. The man came back and set out a cloth and set upon it with mysterious looking snuff pipes, and unlabeled mason jars, then turned the music down at request. He scrutinized me for having eaten a breakfast of oats and cacao some hours prior, as this was not rote for the ritual. Apparently fasting was the protocol, of which I was not told beforehand. We were both asked if we desired to continue with the ceremony, the irony was relevant to me, because I instantly asked myself the same question. I had come here because I had pre-meditated this moment for years, yet now I felt a strange air about this whole operation, and actually did not feel quite comfortable. I acquiesced to my better judgment, as did the other man beside me. The sapo man, whom I shall keep anonymous waved his hands and commenced an improvised ‘four doors ritual’ that if not for the cultural language setting, was simply a charlatan attempt at the sacred, made in haste and which such error and lack of reverence, that I instantly lost the sense of grace and humility of presence that could have been preserved pre-ritual, and instead experienced a kind of commodified and watered down version of any brand of known shamanic workings I knew about.
I changed my mind, how I let myself be burned and poisoned by someone as unconscious as this. His demeanor was not the type of a wise medicine worker, his attitude was aggressive and his pace was rushed, he lacked the virtues or vitality of someone who used psychedelic plants and animal substances for self betterment and spiritual growth. His physical representation was like that of someone who did not take care of themselves, or used too many drugs irresponsibly. Maybe I was overseeing the scene, but with matters of this nature, I needed to temper me ego that I could get this sapo in me and talk about it afterwards, and come back to my sense of well being, and the ever important set and setting, that now had everything to do with my decision. While he was burning the first stick to mark the first ‘gate’, I told him that I would actually prefer to wait for the venom until another day. His disappointment came out more like resentment, so he proceeded with the other man who was of a more ordinary civilized type, to burn the gates and smear the sapo into his arm. He asked me if I would prefer to use the hape snuff, so I went with it, I had not come this way for nothing, and I had used the brazilian tree snuff before with interesting experiences. I took the snuff pipe in one of my nostrils and he blew the grey calcined powder through me, then the other side of the nose. Then I received two drops of iboga root extract in each eye, an eyedrop tincture for hunting magic which made my eyes burn…
The burn was lovely mind you, and the snuff was not altogether unpleasant, I felt a lightness of my skull and a loftiness in my entire body as it tingled with electricity and high vibratory energy. If it were not for the industrial style roof, it felt like my body could float out of the room and with closed eyes, I had sensual feelings of being in lush jungle with high canopy, launching from the ground and soaring above it, but I just couldn’t seem to transcend the rift between the physical reality of the studio and the green jungle plantation that tried to present itself. I lay in serene personal silence for twenty or so minutes before being asked if I was alright. I was definitely feeling good. I just focused on my yogic breath, while the man beside me seemed to be enduring some deep discomfort, which eventually led an air of anxiety to the whole scene as the man with the sapo kept knocking on the door of the rest room to ask if he was still breathing. He came out later sweating profusely, and the two started talking about various other chemicals and psychotropic plants they had used, while I simply remained present in the room, and eventually observed the snuff pipes and the mason of hape powder, of which I purchased a couple grams.
This time I did not take the toad venom, the effects of which I had observed in documentarial style footage of the Mexican indigenous and sourced from shamanic plant books by Christian Ratsch, and Terence McKenna. Now was not my time, nor did I know when that time would come, but I learned a lesson from not taking the poison’, in that it is highly imperative to be centered and aware at all times, and think for yourself when it comes to matters of the heart, and the nervous system in this case. That the guru, shaman, psychopomp can also deceive and embody the shadow side of the archetype, the trickster or huckster, out to glean their own personal interests before providing a bridge for healing and transformational experience. It is the plant, or the animal substance that is doing the real great work, not the person, they are merely an agent that purveys these hard to forage antidotes for us to experience, and it serves us well to not back down on our higher intuition and even or lower ‘gut feeling’, when it involves the dynamic interplay of medicinal magic and egoic personalities. Trust the spirit, and the heart when it comes to these things and you will remain unharmed.