It now seems a commonplace occurrence for people to use the medicine of rapé on a whim. I have seen people take rapé while sitting in a moving car. I have seen rapé being taken in parties then everyday chatting ensue within minutes of application. I have seen people serving rapé to other people with minimal knowledge of the indigenous traditions from where it comes (never mind having completed the Muka dieta, which is a fundamental requirement for all serious students of the Huni Kuin and Yawanawa tribes).
Thus, I weave together different sources below that have informed my use of rapé as a sacred practice of healing and prayer. Whenever possible, I present various viewpoints, particularly those of pajés (spiritual leaders & healers) of the Brazilian tribes who have deep knowledge of this medicine (for example, the Huni Kuin, Yawanawa, and Katukina). However, I must admit that the most important teachings for me have come from Spirit, particularly when rapé prayers were incorporated as a complementary practice during strict plant dietas.
I would also like to express gratitude to my friend and teacher, Maestro Curandero Abraham, from whom I received my first cura with rapé (that had me drooling and lying semi-unconscious on the floor for 2-3 hours), my first kuripe (self-applicator pipe), and who has guided my path into his spiritual lineage with patience, compassion, and wisdom.
[Photo is by Sebastião Salgado of rapé being shared by members of the Yawanawa tribe]
Excerpts from “Rapé e Sananga: Medicina e Mediacões Entre Aldeias e Centros Urbanos” by Aline Ferreira Oliveira
Within the science of the forest [pajelança, or curanderismo], you have to be very careful from whom you receive rapé. Not only the type of rapé (since the intention of whoever prepares the rapé confers a certain kind of force to the tobacco), but above all, in the energy passed through the blow.
When you serve rapé to another person, you receive the energy of the person who you serve to (although less than the person receiving from the person serving). This is because energy – considered good and light, or negative and heavy, can be transmitted from one person to another.
According to the Huni Kuin pajé and leader of Aldeia Novo Futuro Ninawa Pai-da-Mata, rapé can firm up the body, keep away “bad things,” take away bad luck and the “evil eye.”
In line with this use, Nani Kate Yuve (Pajé and leader of Aldeia Yawarani of the Yawanawa tribe), states that rapé is to make requests, to make a special request on behalf of one’s family. “If I invite someone to receive rapé, I want to tell them something, to teach them…so rapé has this approach, this alliance.” [Note: This coincides with my personal experience of receiving rapé from someone I consider a true master of this medicine, Maestro Abraham, when spiritual/energetic transmissions seemed to take place that were both profound and mysterious]
Rapé can thus be used to open and reach another person, with a strongly intentioned blow. However, there are energies that can be exchanged involuntarily. For this reason, Nani, before inviting someone for a prayer with rapé [to give and receive rapé from another person], asks himself: “Is this a good person? Is he always connected to Spirit? Is he animated? Is he joyful? Of course I will ask these things. If I exchange rapé with any random person, negative things can be passed onto me.”
In the Yawanawa village of Mutum, siblings and tribal leaders Paulo Matsini and Katia Hushahu, apprentices of pajelança (curanderismo) of the late elder Tata, told me they are concerned with the urban use of rapé, because when it is badly blown, it can bring serious harm to those who receive it. One such harmful effect is that the person can become closed so that they always feel tired, with a locked mind, and their actions always going wrong. If the rapé was given abruptly, or with bad thoughts, it can obstruct one’s thoughts instead of opening them.
Within the confines of dieta (samakei), aside from being mentioned as a companion, rapé is viewed as a study of disease (which is a sharp contrast to the way the use of rapé has spread, as something trivial and commonplace). In order to heal with the use of rapé, one must master the strength of the rapé in its highest degree [during dieta], as that is the way one learns what disease is.
Tepis (the pipes used to serve rapé to others) is also an essential part of the science of the forest in the flow of energy between humans, plants (tobacco and ash), and animals (bones, skin, hair, teeth). It is believed that the “intelligence” of animals, which can also be described as their energy, can be sucked or taken, through their bone, and that their “moral qualities” can be transmitted.
For this reason, only animals considered intelligent by the shenipavo (stories of elders) can be used in the making of the tepi, such as the isu (a type of black monkey), the mutum (a bird that predators find difficult to capture), the hawk (which has “beyond vision”), or the deer.
Thus, the energy that passes through rapé depends on the flow of different forces: the rapé, which includes the pae (force) of your tobacco [as well as the plants added to it, such as the ash of the Tsunu or Cumaru trees]; the yuxin (spirit) and xina (the thought) that is placed in the act of preparing the rapé; the pipe itself (from the yuxin of the animal from which the pipe was made and the xina of the person who made the pipe); the xina of the owner of the pipe which has condensed into the instrument due to prolonged use; and the xina of the person who is serving the rapé. The interaction of all of these forces can be summarized into the category of “energy.
Currently, rapé is used constantly in the Yawanawa villages and has become a vehicle for socialization among people close to one another at the end of the day: before taking a bath, to relax the body, to relieve fatigue, with some gathering by Gregorio river to take rapé and speak among themselves. Rapé is also used in the making of difficult decisions as it has the property of clarifying and opening one’s thinking. It is considered an essential “food” of the dieta (samakei), as well as a form of study, since the best way for a xinaya (one who prays) to ask about yuvehu (spirits or the world of spirituality) is to approach with rapé, taken with the kuripe (self-applying pipe).
Excerpts from “O Uso Ritualistico do Rapé” by Vinicius Casagrande Fornasier, a non-indigenous student of this medicine from Brazil.
1. Rapé is basically a medicine of connection. It alters consciousness in a powerful way. I want to emphasize that rapé, spiritually speaking, has the power to open numerous portals and access different dimensions. For this reason, it is essential to be in a safe and proper environment for such an experience. The songs, as well as rituals with ayahuasca, play a very important role in leading the person to a path of healing and enlightenment.
Rapé is serious stuff! The use of this medicine should always be in line with a spiritual purpose. It is necessary to be in concentration, in prayer, seeking firmness, together with surrender, to receive healing or spiritual instruction.
2. According to indigenous traditions of the Huni Kuin and Yawanawa, when a person blows rapé into another person, there is a strong exchange of energy between the two parties, both for the receiver as well as for the person applying rapé.
You must thus ask yourself: What type of energy are you receiving?
Receiving rapé from someone who has not completed an apprenticeship based on indigenous traditions can lead to an exchange of dense or dark energies that can cause spiritual ailments and physical illnesses. The person who applies rapé to others should first complete a dedicated apprenticeship with a pajé (spiritual leader/healer). Such an apprenticeship involves a special “dieta” (of the Muka plant, in the case of the Yawanawa and Huni Kuin tribes) where (among other restrictions), all sugars (including fruits), red meat, salt, and sex is forbidden, together with strong applications of rapé, until a profound connection with the spirit of the this medicine is reached.
3. Rapé is based on intention. According to indigenous traditions, rapé can both cure and cause disease and spiritual ills, as it all depends on the intent of the person and the application. Applying rapé is thus a big responsibility. We must know and trust fully who will give us rapé, because we are putting our lives in the hands of another person.
Those who give rapé to another person also receives the energy of the recipient, and not having previous study with rapé [namely, during a dieta with the Muka plant, among students of the Yawanawa and Huni Kuin tribes], may be receiving dense energies that can generate countless ailments and even diseases. Therefore, the study (dieta) is fundamental to anchoring and understanding the powerful energy of rapé. Only experienced people (who can steer and anchor) can pass this study onto someone.
4. Rapé, psychologically speaking, mainly deals with fears. A strong healing application can lead one to experience his or her own shadow and access his darkest fears. Numerous experiences have proven it to be effective in dealing with depressions, obsessive fears, insomnia, anxiety, among others ailments.
5. From a spiritual perspective, rapé can greatly expand awareness and mediumship. People with strong mediumship can have intense experiences with rapé, receiving clear information, guidance and cures. For those who work with this medicine, it is excellent for centering oneself, connecting with the Great Mystery, receiving instructions for spiritual work, and protection of our body and spirit.
6. Do not take rapé all the time. For those who study rapé, it is recommended to use it in the morning (before breakfast), late afternoon (after work) and at night, before bedtime. In ceremonial work, one can receive several applications, according to necessity and purpose.
[Note: I believe it may be important to take longer breaks (e.g. a week to several weeks) from rapé from time to time. Some long-time users rapé report sensations of heaviness or being blocked in the forehead that may arise. Pajé Kaku of the Katukina tribe, for example, sees this as symptoms of “nisun,” a type of spiritual illness that may come about from improper use of rapé, or from use of rapé that has not been properly cleaned (from an energetic perspective). I personally believe it may also be the rapé making us viscerally aware of certain blockages that have yet to clear. The Yawanawa and Huni Kuin believe that nisun can arise from frequent, long-term use of ayahuasca and rapé. Whatever the cause, the first step towards treatment of this condition appears to be taking a break from rapé, combined with daily vapor baths with certain medicinal plants of the Amazon Rainforest (or with simple herbs such as Rosemary or Eucalyptus for those without access to the plants of the Amazon). Regular physical exercise, grounding oneself in nature, and eating clean and healthy foods are also part of the prescribed regimen. The medicine of Sananga (eye drops typically made by scraping the root of the Tabernaemontana Sananho or Tabernaemontana Undulata plant) is recommended. A dieta with Kambo (the frog venom medicine common to the Matses, Huni Kuin, Yawanawa, and other tribes) is likewise recommended by some.]
Interview of Haru Kuntanawa, political & spiritual authority of the Kuntanawa tribe of Brazil
“Rapé is a purification process brought about by the plants. Rapé helps us to remove unwanted things from ourselves, diseases in the form of panema [a type of spiritual illness], things that do not belong to us humans but that we end up taking on through certain experiences. Rapé has the ability to strengthen the spirit of everything. The blow (of rapé) and breath is sacred. Breath is life. But the blow depends a lot on the person serving the rapé.”
My Daily Practice with Rapé
I wanted a share a daily practice of mine (keeping in mind that I am a relative beginner to the medicine path) that I have found to be helpful and complementary with my plant dietas and to my personal healing.
It is first worth mentioning that the use of rapé (which can be composed of tobacco and several other plants) is somewhat controversial during a plant dieta itself. I believe it is important to abide by the instructions of your maestro on what is allowed and not allowed during a dieta. The tradition of rapé is absent or has been lost through time among many curanderos (healers) of the Peruvian Amazon, so you should be aware that some maestros may not be aware of whether its particular use is or is not conducive to your dieta.
Having said that, I have received teachings about rapé during my Chullachaqui-caspi dieta for example (a tree known to teach students about the medicinal plants of the Amazon Rainforest), so I do believe there are profound synergies for those called to respectfully incorporate the indigenous traditions of the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon.
The blends I normally use have been Tsunu from the Yawanawa tribe; Cumaru from the Huni Kuin tribe; Cumaru Ferro from Gesileu, a well-known rapé maker from Brazil; and Nukini (from the Nukini tribe).
[Note: Just because someone sells rapé “from the tribes” does not mean it is ceremonial-grade rapé. I have found there to be a world of a difference between the rapé marketed and sold in the US and Europe as “from the tribes” and the ceremonial-grade rapé made in dieta or with intention and prayer by a Pajé or devoted apprentice. I do recommend finding out the background of the person who made your rapé, along with which plants make up its ingredients, if at all possible]
I also occasionally take a small amount of ayahuasca (B. Caapi and Chacruna only) around 1 to 1.5 hours before sitting with rapé in prayer. The amount of ayahuasca I normally take is enough to feel the medicine within the body and mind, particularly with my eyes closed, but not quite enough to fully open my mareacion [state of expanded consciousness after drinking ayahuasca]. I have infrequently used Santa Maria as a sacrament as well, using the same procedure as I describe above, although I consider this to be an advanced practice for those well-familiar with the healing processes of ceremony. This can exponentially increases the force and clarity of the rapé experience so caution is warranted.
I also take Sananga eye drops when it is available (normally made from the shredded root of the Uchu Sanango tree) in both eyes before I begin my rapé prayer.
I apply rapé to myself with the intent of a deep cura (healing) and typically blow into each nostril at least 3 times in one sitting (starting with the left nostril, then right, and repeating two more times in the same manner). Needless to say, this can have a tremendous clearing and healing effect on my body, mind, heart, and soul.
Increasingly, my sight and senses ignite with an incomparable white light amidst a hurricane of force, where all I can do is hold onto the floor with my hands while moaning and trembling.
And then, there are the “bread and butter” ceremonies where I continue to earn credits towards my PhD in purging.
What I have personally found valuable is the period after the initial prayer (i.e. after the force has largely passed, and I have blown my noise & coughed up copious amounts of phlegm).
I always lie down on my side or back and try to let go of my mind’s grip as best I can while allowing the medicine into every part of my being. This can last up to an hour or even longer and I usually have the songs of the Yawanawa or Huni Kuin playing on my speaker.
I personally find entering into a “trance state” during this period to be the most instructive and pleasant part of the ceremony. The trance state does not always come upon me, but it has become a more common occurrence for me as the years have passed. The trance state is when the spirit of my dietas may make their presence felt, or transpersonal events come to pass such as the hearing of music and songs or intense visions. Recently, my experience has evolved to a perception and sensation of merging (as much as I am capable of at this time) into the healing white light of Spirit, where there is little to no “mind” involved.
The learning and insight of a single rapé prayer can be subtle compared to a full ayahuasca ceremony but is still tangible and deepens and evolves over time.
Most people I have seen receive rapé seem to sit in place cross-legged for a while with their eyes closed, then continue on with their day or evening in a routine manner. That may have its place but it is not my way.
Finally, I realize your spiritual beliefs may differ from mine, but I will mention that I consider the core of my ceremony to be my prayer.
It is where I express gratitude and ask for guidance, healing, and teachings from Spirit, the plants I have dieted, along with a large and colorful cast of tribes, teachers, ancestors, and celestial beings.
Haux haux. Só por cima. Só na frente. Muita gratidão.
On Studies with Rapé
Me: “Are there restrictions during a dieta of rapé in the Huni Kuin or Yawanawa traditions, like eating hunted animals?”
Maestro Abraham: “A dieta of rapé? Everyone uses rapé in those tribes and eats hunted animals. Eating what you hunt and fish in the jungle is their way of life. The sacred plant that their students diet is Rare Muka.” [Note: Rapé is considered an essential “food” during the Muka dieta and a way to study disease (and the healing thereof) during the dieta]
“You will learn by experience what a dieta of rapé truly means. Take your time. There is no need to disclose every mystery.”
“Rapé is a powerful tool but should be used in prayer with absolute respect each time. Learn about the tradition of the tribe from where the rapé comes. Learn their songs.”
“Your experience in prayer will continue to change but stay in the mysterious space of knowing and not knowing. The place of grace and connection where you are in the presence, in awe and with joy.”