What is a traditional Shamanic Plant Dieta?
Dieta in the Amazonian shamanic tradition is a way of gaining knowledge of the plant spirit and restoring one’s health.The dietas in Amazonian practice can be compared to North American vision quests and are usually chosen either to address a specific physical illness, strengthen the immune system, specific organs or to connect to the spirit of the plants and undergo a shamanic apprenticeship.
When one decides to undergo a dieta, he or she retreats to an isolated tambo (hut) in the forest for any period of time from 5 days to several months or even years at a time, depending on the reason for the dieta. During the dieta the apprentice eats very limited food (boiled rice and plantain prepared with no oil or salt), water and the chosen plant medicine.
Social interactions, sexual activity, and speaking of outside concerns are eschewed. In this way the dieta loosens the hold of human cultural traits – the understanding being that by doing so humans are more open to guidance and power from the natural world. In addition, its ritualized structure values and inspires self-discipline. Such traits are shared with vision quests, and the dietas can be approached in this way.
During the dieta, the apprentice learns the medicinal properties of the plants he or she is dieting, ways to prepare them and also receives icaros - medicinal songs. By way of icaros the curandero calls on the plants he has dieted, thus bringing their spirit and medicinal properties into the ceremony.
There are several opinions on how the plants are being selected and in what order, while some curanderos feel that there is a strict sequence of the plants for the dieta, others use a more intuitive approach based on the need of each dietero ( a person undergoing a dieta). But all maintain the view that one should start first diets with plantas (plants, bushes and small trees) and move to palos (hardwood trees) with time, as palos require stronger discipline and longer dietas. The first dietas usually would include plants such as ajosacha or sukoba for purifying the blood and intestine track and then later progress to more advanced dietas such as chirisonango, which is usually given to the initiates on the healing path as it opens one heart and emphatically connects one to others, the skill necessary for a healer. A more experienced dietero can venture into the more shamanic dietas such as caipirona, puca lupuna and toe (angel's trumpet) - a highly powerful visionary plant.
Dietas are not reserved only for curanderos, majority of the population living in the Amazon area and even outside, in bigger cities like Lima, come to the jungle to undergo dietas to restore health or to address spiritual illnesses such as evil eye and curse.
An experienced vegetalista (a type of curandero who is skilled in the art of dietas and knows properties of medicinal plants) will choose an appropriate plant for each person and indicated length of the diet, depending on the purpose of the dieta. Usually, the dieta will last at least 8 -10 days for a novice apprentice, but can go on for months and even years.
After completion of the dieta it is important to ease your way back into the world and protect your physical and spiritual body by following a restrictive diet for another month. It is important to maintain a clean energy field for the plant spirit to thrive in you. By eating some foods or allowing intimate energy of another person enter your energy field you can "cross" the dieta and not only lose all the benefits of your hard work, but in some cases even become ill.
After dieta restrictions include:
- no meat (especially pork)
- no sex, exchange of bodily fluids or masturbation
- no alcohol, drugs, any stimulants or tranquilizers ( natural or not )
- no chemicals, additives, preservatives
- no dairy (cheese)
- no oily/fried/spicy food
Eggs, fish, fresh vegetables are all good options for post-dieta month.
The concept of knowledge earned through hard personal work and solitude is common thread that runs through different shamanic practices.
From the anthropologist Knud Rasmussen's interview with Inuit shaman Igjugarjuk:
"True wisdom is only to be found far away from people, in the great solitude (...). Solitude (...) opens the human mind, and therefore a shaman must seek his [/her] wisdom there."
A dieta offers a chance to deeply connect to the forest and its spirits and spend time alone with yourself and your fears. It can be used as a "reset" button on your life, if you are willing to step outside of your comfort zone and encounter the magic that lies outside of it.