Making the Sacred Brew
The Secoya have been brewing yajé the same way for over a thousand years. Being so, they have perfected a very clean and potent brew. It takes a lot of work and energy to make a pot of brew which usually is enough for 20-30 people.
Firstly, a yajé vine needs to be at least 5 years old, if not older, before being harvested. That said you need to grow a lot, as they use at least 50 lbs of the vine per batch, if not more. This takes a lot of work, energy, and commitment to the process. At the same time you have to grow at least a few batches of Yajé Oco, and as much Waiyajé (pygmy Yajé vine) as possible because it takes much longer to grow as it is much smaller.
Once you have all of these plants growing strong and healthy in your garden, the next step is to build a Yajé Wai (ceremonial lodge) in the middle of the sacred plant garden.
Now it is time to get ready for the cook. The first step is to harvest dead Iron Palm, which is an extremely dense tree that burns really hot even when wet. It can take a whole tree to cook medicine for one 10-day retreat. It takes up to twenty years or more for this tree to grow, mature, and eventually die. Once they find a dead tree, they cut it in half lengthwise into 8-foot plus sections then carry it through the jungle on their shoulders sometimes up to a mile or more.
On the day of a ceremony, an elder and an apprentice, who is at this point a Yajé cook, wake up early and drink Yoco to give them the energy and strength for a long day of cooking and serving medicine all night long. They go off and harvest as much vine as needed and bring it to the lodge. Once there, they start the fire and pound off all the bark of the Yajé vine.
By pounding off the bark, it makes the brew cleaner and less purgative. The Secoya believe that it is best to not purge in a proper Yajé ceremony for a couple of different reasons. First, to allow the medicine to go all the way through you for the deepest healing possible. Second, because it is best to be as still and quiet as possible so the true visions and energy can come through. It is a meditation and if there is any distraction it will be harder to reach those energetic realms.
As one person is pounding away, which can take a few hours. The elder usually goes and collects the Yajé Oco leaves and the Waiyajé. They add the leaves to the pot and then pound the small Waiyajé vines, which they leave the bark on and only use a small amount. Once all the bark is pounded off the vine, all the “bone”, which is also pounded down so more area is exposed, is then added to the pot.
Now that everything is added to the pot, in which you need to stoke the fire up to very intense and high heat, and keep it there cooking for 4-6 hours. After the medicine is ready, they pull out all the vine and discard it, gently placing it in its separate pile. They then strain the brew into a smaller pot, wringing out all the leaves to save any remaining liquid stored inside. Once all the brew is in a small pot, they cook that down for at least another hour. At this point, they clean themselves up and prepare for the ceremony.
Around 8 pm they serve the first cup of medicine. They continue to serve medicine all night until at least 4 am, singing for hours from late night to sunrise, if not longer. In the morning they will do healings on individuals if need be.
While the cook is happening no one else is allowed at the ceremonial lodge until the evening when the ceremony is starting to begin. If someone happens to wander into the cooking area, they can’t leave until the morning after the ceremony. They believe that once the medicine is starting to cook, the spiritual energy "pinta" is present, and if anyone leaves they can carry that energy away and the night will lack the presence of the heavenly beings and be heavier with more personal struggle.
They follow these guidelines every time they do a ceremony. It is not an easy way to host a ceremony, but you can really feel the difference.