'THE SNAKE IN THE WALL' - A SHORT FILM ABOUT AYAHUASCA BY NICHOLAS HORWOOD.
“Deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us: something is out of tune.” - Carl Jung
My earliest childhood memory is of a luminous snake emerging from a hole in the wall of my bedroom and talking to me. I was five years old. In 2011, forty years later, I suffered a breakdown which caused this strange memory to resurface. I had struggled to manage my anxiety and depression since I was a teenager, and after life events overwhelmed me, I ended up going on a search for help... and again encountered the snake.
Having found conventional medicine and treatments unhelpful, I had started investigating alternatives, including psychedelic plant medicines. One psychedelic that intrigued me was a Peruvian medicine called Ayahuasca or yagé (meaning “to purge”). Many who had drunk Ayahuasca claimed to have encountered a spirit intelligence called Mother Ayahuasca, often appearing to them in the form of a snake.
With Ayahuasca designated a Class A drug in the UK, the use of which can lead to up to seven years in jail, and without the means to travel to Peru, I opted for an Ayahuasca retreat in the Netherlands. So, on a cold day in November 2016, I found myself in a ceremony room with fifteen other people drinking a foul tasting concoction of Psychotria viridis and Banisteriopsis caapi... aka Ayahuasca.
I drank Ayahuasca twice and on both occasions received a vision of the house I had lived in as a child where I had seen the snake come out of the wall. Accompanying the image was a clear and unambiguous female 'voice' (Mother Ayahuasca?) that told me there was a secret related to that house - an event I had supressed - that was at the root of my mental illness. The voice told me it would reveal the secret to me if I wanted - it would be painful, but I was strong enough to face it. But I was too afraid. I said no.
I have regretted that decision ever since.
In the weeks and months following my trip, I spent a lot of time thinking about my past. Was there a dark secret in my childhood? A festering wound in my psyche? Or were these just the paranoid thoughts of a man with depression; maybe even some form of psychosis? Were the supernatural 'revelations' of Mother Ayahuasca real, or just noise bubbling up from the subconscious, like the fake communications of Ouija boards?
Two and a half years later, I want to return to the Netherlands and drink Ayahuasca again, and document my journey, in order to add to the conversation about mental health. Podcasts, blogs and endless YouTube videos testify to the growing popularity of Ayahuasca amongst Westerners. But is the growing cult of Ayahuasca just adding dangerous chemicals to already unstable brain chemistries? Or are psychedelics the key to understanding and treating mental illness?
“Psychedelics show you what’s in and on your mind, those subconscious thoughts and feelings that are hidden, covered up, forgotten, out of sight, maybe even completely unexpected, but nevertheless imminently present.”
- Dr Rick Strassman