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Healing and Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon

 An Interview with Margaret de Wys

By Randy Peyser


While attending a Mayan ritual in Guatemala, a Shuar shaman named Carlos walked up to music composer and professor, Margaret de Wys, and said, “I see black smoke coming out of your breast. I can cure you.” Margaret hadn’t told him, or anyone, about her recent diagnosis of breast cancer. But secretly, she hoped that  having been invited to this gathering of indigenous people from all over the world might lead her to a healer who could help.

In Black Smoke: Healing and Ayahuasca Shamanism in the Amazon, Margaret follows Carlos into the heart of the jungle where she is introduced to the potent visionary plants, experiences harrowing initiations and ritual purifications, and witnesses miraculous healings — including the complete disappearance of her own cancer. Rivaling such classics as The Teachings of Don Juan and Mutant Message Down Under, reading Black Smoke is definitely a journey about indigenous mystical wisdom worth taking. Visit

Randy Peyser: What was it like to receive the breast cancer diagnosis? 

Margaret de Wys: I was in crisis mode. I felt like I was running to save my life and I didn’t know where to turn. The hospital felt like a graveyard. The pronunciation that you have a medical condition changes your life. You can feel like your life is over.

Randy: How exactly did you meet this shaman?

Margaret: I was one of a handful of white people who had been invited to a Mayan ceremony in Guatemala. Indigenous people from all over were coming to this ceremony. I went because I thought somebody might heal me. I was also curious to participate in the ritual, and I was honored that I’d been invited. A shaman chose me; he came up to me and said, “I can see inside your body. You are like a looking glass. I see your veins and your organs. I see smoke in your breast. If you come to Ecuador, to the jungle, I will cure you.” I hadn’t told him or anyone about my condition.

Randy: When I had breast cancer, chemo was very scary to me. But many of the experiences you had in the jungle seemed as equally scary to me as chemo.

Margaret: Many of my experiences were scary. Getting buried in the earth was very scary. Getting buried was one of a series of experiences to change my outer perception of what life and the world were all about. My entire body was buried. I couldn’t get out or even move a finger. I felt like lead or concrete had been poured over me. Only my nostrils were exposed. I was in darkness and all my senses were shut down. I couldn’t hear, feel, or see.

That isolation put me in an intense state of concentration. It was like going into the deepest part of one’s subconscious. After many hours, there was a sense of coming to. I felt like something was draining out of my body. It was like a huge vacuum cleaner was pulling on me. It was the biggest purification you could ever imagine.

The Aboriginal and Native American people talk about how the earth can take energies, or spirits, into the body that are not supposed to be there, absorb them very easily, and transmute them into neutral material. I had this feeling that all the tension, anxiety and ugliness that had been locked in my cells and bones was being siphoned quickly into the earth. It was a purging, a stripping away. When I was finally being taken out of the earth, I remember that I was pulling the earth back onto me. I didn’t want to be removed. I felt an affinity toward it. I came out feeling like a newborn.

Randy: Black Smoke shows us how much more magical life is than we understand it to be. For example, after you experienced your own healing, you became an apprentice to Carlos. In one story, you were watching him work on a woman who had hip pain. Suddenly, you saw a 2-year-old girl fly out of the woman’s body, and the woman was healed of her pain. After that session, you discovered that this woman had lost a child.

Margaret: I can not tell you who or what that energy was, except that I wasn’t the only person who saw it.

Randy: You share many other-worldly experiences, such as the one where a black panther enters your body. Later on, you learn that Carlos is the black panther, and he is following your experience with you. Another time, a warrior enters your body and you find yourself whisked away into another space and time where you are asked to heal a being in that other dimension. You perform the healing, and then you are brought back to your body in present time.

These are powerful examples of transcending time and space. We don’t know how to address these kinds of experiences in our present-day culture.

Margaret: Our society says in consensual reality that these experiences are absolutely impossible. But when you visit traditional cultures, the possibilities are different than what we have here. In the non-dimensional world, there is no time constraint, so anything can happen in any period of time.

Randy: Eventually, you brought Carlos to the United States and to Canada to perform healings. He had never heard of Elvis or 911 or had contact with civilization. As a result, his knowledge was completely unadulterated.

Margaret: Great elders have their knowledge in their heads. They have encyclopedic memory. They don’t refer to an herbal book when they want to heal someone; it’s tucked into their brain. When that per-son dies and they don’t pass that information on, it’s lost.

I realized our culture could benefit from this information and I didn’t want it to be lost.

Randy: Carlos’ mother stated she would pass her knowledge on to you when she died. What does that mean?

Margaret: Usually there is a lineage from one healer or master to another. Carlos’ father passed information on to him. Most of the information the shamans have doesn’t come from the earth; it comes from spiritual beings who hand down the information to them. The wisdom enters you when the person dies.

Randy: Can you talk about the use of ayahuasca?

Margaret: The Quechua call it ayahuasca, but Carlos hates that word because what others do with it is not what he is doing. “Natem” is the word Carlos uses to describe this sacred medicine. Every person makes their own concoction and puts their own kind of spiritual energy from themselves into their medicine. Natem is one of the primary medicines Carlos uses to cleanse the body and heal.

Randy: You make it clear that ayahuasca is not hallucinatory and that it should be used as sacred medicine only.

Margaret: Having seen a number of things from the non-physical world, I don’t believe any of them were a hallucination. After each experience with it, I would find out that the Shuar had experienced the same thing. There would also be certain beneficial spirits whom I would meet. I would describe them and Carlos would tell me who they were.

Randy: Can ayahuasca be used recreationally?

Margaret: I do not recommend the recreational drinking of ayahuasca. Some people might hallucinate by drinking it recreationally because they wouldn’t be in connection with the tradition of it. The Shuar themselves would never take it recreationally. They use it when they are serious about getting healed or they want to know something about the future. They also use it when they want to gain power through various means, which usually involves a lot of sacrifice. The idea of Americans coming down to have a party and hallucinate is horrifying to them.

Randy: Besides your own experience, can you give an example of a miracle you witnessed performed by Carlos?

Margaret: One of the most spectacular miracles involved a man who was visiting from Switzerland. He was hang gliding and fell. He shattered his leg in a billion little pieces.

He was rushed to the hospital, where they told him he would have to fly to Zurich, have several operations and have pins put in his leg. And they told him that he would never walk again without a cane and it would take years to get his abilities back.

Carlos told the man that he could heal him without any operations. He worked with this man for two months, putting plasters on his leg almost every day. He would also give him medicine. Carlos told me this medicine would bring in bone doctors, who would go into his leg and knit the bone back together. In two months, the man was walking. The bone was perfectly healed, as if nothing had ever happened.

Randy: In Black Smoke, there are a number of references to the magical potency of music. Can you talk about that?

Margaret: Of all our senses, music is the most direct path to God and to the spirits. Carlos whistles to call the spirits. He has beings come into him who play the music through him. He sings and plays the violin. He also plays the tumank, a one-string instrument like a Jew’s harp.

His music is spectacular. It’s hard to describe. The sweetness is heightened; the harshness is heightened. It’s almost like synesthesia, a blending of the senses, where you can see the line of the music spiraling up to the heavens. If you follow that line, you will get to a healing place. That’s the best I can describe it. The music sounds incredibly mysterious, because it doesn’t feel earthly. It sends you to the heavens.

Randy: You mention that the Shuar move everything in their houses every month to keep the energy fresh and moving. Speaking of Feng Shui!

Margaret: There’s a natural language for understanding the world. The Shuar are very close to nature, and they have a deep understanding of natural law as it relates to their daily lives. I was working with a Chinese acupuncturist in Botswana. The Africans who came in often had scarifications on their bodies. I asked the acupuncturist about that and was told that those were the places on the skin where they put medicine into their bodies.

I asked him if these places corresponded to acupuncture points, and he said that they did. The Shuar do acupuncture with stones. They know the same meridians and same points on the body that the Chinese have known for 5000 years. There were certain elements of ritual and purification in South Africa that were also exactly the same as the jungle in South America.

Randy: Is there a practice you do in nature that readers might find helpful?

Margaret: One that I learned from Carlos is to sit in front of a bush, like a flowering bush, completely relax, and let your mind go. Focus and concentrate on that bush for ten minutes. Close your eyes and open them again. If you do this, you will be able to see the aura of that plant. This takes patience. If you don’t see it the first time, keep on trying.

Randy: Final thoughts?

Margaret: The experience of my illness taught me that, when we are in crisis, we must often walk through fire. It taught me that there is another world of possibility and promise beyond fear; it is the world of healing and true growth for which so many of us yearn. This is the way of the indigenous people like the Shuar.


Margaret de Wys provides in-person healing sessions, takes people to the Amazon to work with Carlos, and can be consulted by phone. Black Smoke” is published by Inner Traditions and available at your local bookstore and  Visit:

Randy Peyser is the author of “The Power of Miracle Thinking,” She also edits books and helps people find literary agents and publishers,