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Living in Spain after surviving 24 years in prison. Here I will be sharing my experiences as a writer and journalist, travelling all over the world interviewing dangerous people in dangerous places.

My Spirit Beast - The End
22 February 2013 @ 11:34

The interior of the hut was rudimentary in the extreme. Carefully crafted timbers supported the roof and wall, but the floor was just earth. Various pots and pans stood on make-shift shelves. When asked, Wilder explained that it took him ten months to build the hut. And the log ‘road’? He said it took 25 years!


  We walked back outside with him and, growing close by, he showed us the vine we would be using. He cut a portion off and beat it to a pulp before putting it into a pot of boiling water with other plants he had cut earlier. It was left on the fire to cook. Wilder explained that he prepared the jage which we would be using tonight in the same way yesterday. It was better to let it stand for a day.


  Back outside, Wilder pointed out other plants, telling us which leaf cured which illness and which plant used in conjunction with which bark could cure another. Although he had no formal education, he was an absolute fount of knowledge. He explained that he was from the Huitoto tribe, who have no written records. Knowledge is handed down from father to son over generations. Wilder said that he had been learning now for 46 years, yet there was still much to learn.  


  He went on to explain that the jage ceremony I was about to experience was millennia old and descended from the Incas. He emphasised that it wasn’t himself who was powerful, but God. It was God’s power, passing through Wilder that cured people. 


  He pointed to two small bowls on the floor in front of him. One contained a thick, viscous liquid he said was pure nicotine extract. He dipped his finger in and licked it. The other was dried, powdered coca leaves. He took a pinch and put it in his mouth. According to the lore, both are sacred to God and the Huitotos. They make the hut powerful, attracting divine power down into it, which Wilder then channels. Fortunately for me, the ingesting of either weren’t necessary for the ceremony. I passed on Wilder’s offer.


  It was quite dark now but there was still an hour or so until the ceremony. Wilder went off to prepare. I noticed Dan and Gary standing over by the shaman’s wife. Both were giggling over something. I walked over and saw that the wife was about to cut the dead monkey’s willy off. I suppose it was funny, but not that funny. I guessed they were both off their faces again. I felt like a teacher on a school outing. 


  I called them both over to me. I looked at their now-serious faces and suddenly it was I who felt guilty. “Look fellas”, I said, trying to sound as reasonable as possible, “ I don’t really give a fuck if you get off your faces. But do me one big favour. Keep an eye on me tonight. If I go into one and try to run out of the hut, grab hold of me. I don’t want to run off and get lost in the jungle, okay?”


  I guess the latter image of Norman running loose in the rain-forest was too much for them. Both burst into laughter and couldn’t stop. I knew I was wasting my time and would have to hope for the best. 


  I wandered outside to try to mentally prepare myself. Despite the effects of the jage I wanted to stay focused. This wasn’t just a hedonistic experience, I would try to write a definitive account of it. I was well aware that, with some drugs, you forgot all about the experience once you had come down.


  It was pitch black outside. There was no moon, but even if there had been it’s light wouldn’t have penetrated the canopy of leaves. There were jungle sounds, but the overall impression was one of stillness. I stood, legs apart, eyes closed and face tilted slightly upwards. I felt the power of the forest all around me. I’m not one for melodrama, but I found myself raising my arms towards the heavens. I was sure I felt the power run into me.


  Suddenly, I was aware that I was completely at ease here and feared nothing in the jungle. A small voice whispered that, whatever spirit I am, I’m a powerful one. Another voice warned that perhaps this should concern me.


  The ceremony was about to start. I went inside and Wilder introduced me to Ernesto, a young Colombian guy who was also to take part in drinking the jage. Wilder was wearing a blue tunic-type top and his head was covered by a white cloth. There was a raised, wooden platform in the corner of the hut, which was holy ground. Only the shaman and the celebrants sat on this. Ernesto and I squatted cross-legged opposite Wilder while he prayed over a small urn containing the jage brew.


  Wilder warned us that, when we wanted to go outside to vomit or to use the toilet, we must ask his permission. He emphasised again that this was holy ground. Jorge would then guide us through the darkness. He crawled across and tied a piece of white cloth around Ernesto’s forehead as well as around mine, explaining that this was to protect against evil spirits. Then he summoned each of us in turn to drink the jage.


  The urn was blackened with age, its top encrusted with old, dried jage. The brew itself had an indescribable smell, one that was distinctly unpleasant. Although the taste was foul, there was no residual flavour in the mouth, only a warm feeling at the back of the throat. 


  This was now the holy phase of the ceremony and all light had to be extinguished. Wilder stressed that light was our enemy and would distort the effects of the jage for the worse, He consoled us by saying that we would ‘see’ more in the dark anyway. I reflected that, with no light, there will be nothing for Gary to film. I further reflected that Dan’s little tin would probably get a right hammering. I resigned myself to the fact that I was largely on my own now.


  I sat in the pitch blackness, waiting for the effects of the jage to kick in. A few feet away, but invisible to me, Wilder chanted, sang, talked and whistled a strange, breathy, un-shrill whistle. Time passed, but I had no way of telling how much. I was fully conscious of all that was happening. It occurred to me that sitting in absolute darkness isn’t the most stimulating environment for the mind. I became incredibly bored and realised that it would be a very long night.        


  Suddenly I was aware that the speed of my thought processes had accelerated phenomenally. Ideas zoomed in and out of my mind like bullets. There were some flashes of light, but no colours, and no visions of anything Amazonian.


  My breathing slowed, then slowed again. I guessed that this was the start of the near-death experience. The knowledge did nothing to lessen the horror of the effect. Everything was ultra-real and I was able to think forward to the next step, then the next. I actually began to experience the process of suffocating to death. I couldn’t imagine a more painful, terrifying end. I knew that I had several more hours of this and cursed my self for ever taking the jage.


  I breathed normally again and, all at once, my mind was a computer screen. Schematics of my personal relationships popped up for me to examine. I was super-sensitive to emotion. Marsha and I had been having some problems lately, but the schematic glowed with warmth and light. I could see that she loved me dearly, and I her.

  Another schematic was of an old friend I hadn’t seen for a while. There was warmth in it and I resolved to contact him again. Another schematic was cold and dark. Someone I had considered to be a good friend cared nothing for me. I wouldn’t contact him again.


  Underneath all this, something was gnawing at my consciousness. I focused on it and realised that I wanted to be sick. “Permessos Wilder”, I cried out and heard his mumbled reply. On unsteady legs, I stumbled out into the darkness with Jorge holding my arm. But it was a false alarm.


  Back on holy ground, I was terminally bored. Then I discovered sex. I had been thinking of Marsha and we started to make love. But it was ultra-real and exciting, as if for the first time. A succession of erotic episodes flashed through my mind like ultra-real porno movies. The thinking of it seemed almost as pleasurable as the real thing. Suddenly I remembered being told that the shaman could see what I was seeing. I reflected that I was certainly brightening up the old guy’s life tonight. 


  My bowels intruded. I stumbled through the darkness and rain, into the filthiest toilet I had ever encountered. I squatted over a roughly-hewn wooden toilet bowl and the diarrhoea poured out of me. The sounds, the smells, the whole experience were all ultra-real. I looked up and was reassured that Gary and Dan had both come outside with me. Then I noticed the camera and saw that Gary was filming the sequence. It was hard to look dignified, sitting on the toilet with one’s trousers round one’s ankles, but I was beyond caring.   


  The sex scenes were not so enjoyable now because I was closely monitoring my stomach, which was bubbling audibly. I rushed to the toilet again, pulling my trousers down as I went. In my haste, I crapped all over the back of the seat. Trying to clean up the mess with tissues was probably the worst experience of my life. I guessed that most celebrants did this. The thought that I had been sitting in the shit of hundreds of others did nothing for my composure. 


  Back inside it was just a question of fighting the boredom now. Visual or aural stimulation might have triggered something, but the darkness and silence seemed to deaden even thought. I reflected that jage would never catch on back in London. Sex with your partner might be interesting, but it would have to be in a place with two toilets.


  Finally, after what seemed like an age, Wilder said it was over. He took the cloth from my head and led me to a hammock. I climbed in and he covered it with a mosquito net. I was very comfortable, but my mind was still racing at a thousand miles an hour. I’d have had more chance of falling asleep running up stairs.


  Morning finally arrived and I had counted every second. A cockerel crowed and light filtered through the doorway. When I stood, my legs were still unsteady. As I moved my arms, their outline seemed to lag behind like dark thread. I was tired, I badly needed a shower and I longed for food. 


  I went to wish Wilder ‘goodbye’, but, strangely, his eyes wouldn’t meet mine. He shook my hand and wished me ‘goodbye’, but looked at the floor. I felt too uncomfortable to care and perhaps I was misreading things through the effects of the jage. 


  It did bother me though and it gnawed at me all the way back to the hotel. Previously he had been a man of impeccable manners. What could I have done to upset him? For the more I thought about it the clearer it was that he wouldn‘t look me in the eye.


  A warm shower and clean clothes worked wonders. I felt more like my old self as I joined Dan at the breakfast table. Straight away I asked if Wilder had said anything to him about last night and told him about Wilder not meeting my gaze. Dan looked ill at ease, guilty even, and busied himself with his breakfast.


  My suspicions were fully aroused now. “Oi Dan”, I said chidingly, “you’re supposed to be my mate. If something was said you’re entitled to tell me about it. I’d do it for you.”

  “Norm, I was going to tell you” said Dan , and paused. It couldn’t have been for effect. Taking a deep breath he continued, “Wilder said that it was extremely unusual for you not to vomit. It’s always part of the jage process. Everybody does it.”

  “And?” I questioned. “That can’t be all of it. What’s his explanation?”


  Now it was Dan who couldn’t meet my eyes. He took another deep breath and continued, “Wilder doesn’t know for sure, but he thinks that the evil spirits inside you are so strong that you need to keep what you might vomit inside you just to control them.” You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Dan and I finished our breakfast in complete silence. Later, I reflected that, from a spiritual perspective, it was the worst news I could have heard.


  Back at ‘Front’ though, all was joy and light. For them, the spiritual perspective was something you drank with tonic. They exulted over the photos of me with the anaconda and baby crocodile. They laughed at the ridiculous tapir and it’s long trunk. The photo of my sitting on the toilet brought the house down. They were all to be included in the article. I laughed along with them, but inside I was far from amused. Wilder’s words still haunted me.


The End

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