Here we are, all bright-eyed and throwing sparks, after having danced and sang in a high voltage ceremony all night, for 10 hours straight, surpassing all our preconceived limits of physical exhaustion, guided by light doses of the iboga medicine.
For the second time, Chor Boogie & I visited Mother Africa to receive teachings from the Bwiti tradition and experience the sacred iboga medicine at its roots.
Africa was supernatural, to say the least...
*All photos were taken with permission, with the shared intention of raising awareness about this beautiful tradition.
Much love and thanks to Moughenda Mikala, the great Bwiti nganga (shaman). He generously shares his beloved tradition and offers healing to all sincere human beings. He is the inspiration behind my intimate memoir, Heart Medicine, which chronicles our healing journey to treat the heroin relapse of my long-time love with the iboga medicine. To learn more about how the iboga can help to heal substance abuse, explore this article.
We are also deeply grateful to the whole Bwiti community who embraced us, all lifelong devotional artists, musicians, dancers, and healers.
The Bwiti is not a religion in the typical sense, Moughenda expresses, as it is not "man-made." It is a tradition stemming from the wisdom of the plant teacher, iboga.
In our Eurocentric and enthnocentric culture, it may be challenging for some people to understand how a plant can be a teacher, however science is finally starting to catch up with the indigenous traditions by discovering plant intelligence. Furthermore, plants have no ego, which can be one of the great downfalls of human teachers.
Unlike some religions, the Bwiti do not hold "beliefs" in the sense that no one is expected to adopt a dogmatic ideology that has been dictated by someone else. Rather, seekers are encouraged to verify knowledge through direct experience. The Bwiti is a study of life; they practice the art of knowing rather than believing.
There are no authoritarian hierarchies in the Bwiti. Everyone is equal and free to make choices. I have watched Moughenda over the years, and noticed that he will never tell anyone what to do in an absolute sense, even when people come to him for advice. He may share observations and illuminate options, but then he will encourage people to be 110% honest with themselves and find their own answers.
The front of a Bwiti temple is always wide open. Everyone is free to enter, and everyone is free to leave at any time.
Here, Chor and our friend Manima lovingly prepare raw iboga roots for our ceremonies.
These roots were sustainably harvested from wild iboga plants, deep in the jungle of Gabon. This means that only a few roots are carefully gathered from each plant so that it may continue to live.
Before cutting any roots, there is a ritual for "asking" the plant for permission to harvest some of it.
Every part of finding, gathering, and preparing the medicine is infused with reverent ceremony. The medicine is known to respond to the intentions with which it is handled.
Some special plants may be up to 35 - 70 years old. The older the plant, the more potent and spiritually mature the medicine is.
Though our friends in Gabon have expressed that they have no shortage of the sacred medicine, other contacts have witnessed the devastating social and environmental impact of overharvesting in different areas of Africa.
For reasons of sustainability, safety, and ethics, is critically important to never order the medicine online. Refer to the SAFETY TIPS on the IBOGA page.
A better approach, though one that requires more patience, is to develop relationships with local communities and Bwiti trained facilitators.
We do not recommend seeking the medicine in any country where the medicine is illegal.
It was so beautiful to be at the roots of this magnanimous spirit! The Missoko Bwiti regard iboga as the "godfather" or progenitor of all plants, though it is essentially a dual spirit in the sense that is can serve as both "mother" and "father" at different times.
In addition to initiation and healing, the iboga medicine also helps people with ongoing spiritual discovery.
The Bwiti is an oral tradition. According to the Missoko Bwiti, when this plant was first discovered by the people, the spirit of iboga revealed that it had been "watching" the human beings for a long time and "listening" to all of our spiritual and existential questions, and it was there to answer these questions. This is not so outlandish, considering both the depths of plant intelligence and the origins of modern human beings being from Africa.
In Gabon, I sensed that I was at the very roots of the human world...
And the roots are powerful. As Chor puts it, the Bwiti ceremonies are like a roller coaster on a freight train on a rocket ship. Drums pound, aromatic torches illuminate visions, rattles tremble, hands clap, voices sing, hips shake, bare feet pound on bare earth, shamanic transmissions flow through the mouth of the nganga. The dancers' bodies move in elegant, surreal, and seemingly superhuman ways, so agile and swift that one can barely see the limbs.
Through the movement, medicine, and music, the community is woven into one harmonious whole.
Beholding all this, I revere life all the more. My spirit is fortified. Joy is stoked along with the fire.
In the Bwiti temples, I could literally see the origins of all sacred ceremony on the planet.
Many elements of Bwiti ceremony can also be found in other parts of the world, such as the sacred fire, the anointment of the 3rd eye with symbolic pigment, drumming, communal dancing, singing, and more, and it all began in Africa.
Shown above: Okume, my teacher and friend.
We were blessed to witness a traditional music jam in the jungle...
Our friends have tremendous strength, passion, and endurance in their artistic expression.
Their love for life and nature was palpable. They kept going and going, until everyone was dripping in sweat and radiant. Music and dance are also beautiful medicine!
Thank you Danny Mikala, Andy Mikala, Ashil, Pharrell, Manima, Papi, Brice, Kifa, and Silver! (Forgive my spelling!)
We were also blessed to spend time with the great Bwiti harpist, Boussengue Guy Roger.
One can hear a lifetime of devotion and discipline in his music...
Have you ever met your own soul, face to face?
I will never forget the first time I did, three years ago.
In the Bwiti initiation, people are guided to connect with the tradition, the iboga medicine, and their own soul. It is a rebirth, and a gateway into one's full humanity.
During this initiation ceremony, one young man discovered his abilities as a seer, after being guided into the visionary state... Moughenda invited each person in the temple, one at a time, to sit in front of him. He then proceeded to stare into each set of eyes and "read" them, speaking their deepest secrets, life challenges, good qualities, and some things that might be yet to come. He said things that should have been impossible for him to know in the ordinary world.
As I watched this amazing scene unfold, I wondered what he would see in me. When I sat down in front of him, I intentionally opened my heart, mind, body, and soul. I wanted to be completely transparent, hiding nothing, so he could see into me as deeply as possible. When I looked into his eyes, I could see that his personal ego was simply not there at that time. I was looking into the eyes of the medicine itself. I will never forget the first two words he said to me:
The temple chuckled. Two words that hinted at so much more.
He then went on to tell me a few intimate, resonant things. How could he know? I will keep these sacred gems to myself. It was affirming to be so deeply seen, and powerful to be receive prompts from the medicine itself. My purpose, direction, and spiritual prescription were solidified.
With the aid of the iboga medicine, the Bwiti know that we can enter the spirit world, which is actually a spiritual realm rather than a hallucination. This may sound wild to some, but after you actually travel there, you will understand.
In the temple... reborn through INITIATION... I see...
LIFE is a GIFT, freely offered from Creator, to do with what we will.
We are free to create healing, art, beauty, & discovery--or darkness and misery.
I am the artist of my own life, my purpose, and my mind, in every breath.
They start 'em young here!
One can see just how deep the roots of this tradition go, watching this young nganga move...
The RITE OF PASSAGE in Gabon is a test of strength, patience, endurance, skill, & humility. You'll know what you're made of at the end of it.
It is generally for young people between the ages of 6 - 18, and it serves as the entrance to the community of respected adults. There is no common equivalent in our mainstream culture.
For this visit, Chor was able to help facilitate the men's rite of passage, being a graduate himself.
The women have their own rite of passage, which I experienced during our first trip.
Some elements must remain a mystery, but I'll say that everything in life feels easier—and more precious—after it.
This was a traditional cleansing treatment, with medicinal aromatic smoke. After a few intense minutes of sweat and tears in that hut, my eyes and breathing passages felt brand new.
I like to say... the Bwiti are the original Jedis....
Below are images from a rare healing ceremony. More often, ceremonies are for other purposes such as initiation, welcoming visitors, marriages, or spiritual discovery.
This particular ceremony was requested by a family who wanted help from the Bwiti. They had been practicing dark sorcery, and they wanted to cleanse their lives of it.
The Bwiti itself is a healing culture, but other practices are known to exist in Africa that are malevolent.
So what differentiates the benevolent from the malevolent? This is an important question. During colonial times, prejudiced Christian missionaries brutally persecuted the Bwiti people and demonized their tradition. Even today, sometimes Bwiti temples are burned and the people are stigmatized. Though no one should be hurt for their personal esoteric practices, the ignorance of the differences still persists.
The Bwiti know that whatever one puts out into the world comes back, ten fold or a hundred fold or infinitely stronger. They are the healers and protectors. And they know that the most important "battle" between dark and light is in one's own mind, every day.
As my Bwiti elders have said:
Bad spirits try to control free will.
Good spirits support free will.
My humble observations:
Malevolent practices are rooted in fear—hate, greed, envy, rage all sprout from fear.
Benevolent practices are rooted in love—you know, the true kind, without self-centered attachments.
Bad spirits try to dominate nature.
Good spirits harmonize with nature.
What are your reflections?
Many long days in village were spent doing nothing other than JUST BEING—in the heat. It was the perfect pressure cooker to connect with myself and the people around me.
No one seemed to hurry anywhere, and there was no strict schedule. Each day, "time management" was dictated by an organic process and full presence. Moughenda spoke to us about valuing our quality of life more than so-called efficiency.
Though cell phones are starting to penetrate even remote villages, internet access is still extremely limited. I was happy to unplug from the matrix for a while.
I noticed, someone was always playing with the baby... The baby had countless relatives around at all times, and thus, everyone had fresh energy and attention for him. This is very different than our mainstream culture, where the nuclear family model leaves people isolated, stressed, and fatigued. I see how people here in Africa grow up feeling loved, supported, happy, and confident.
Everyone spent most daytime hours outside, in nature. Sunlight and fresh air are also forms of medicine that we all need more of! We cooked, washed dishes, played soccer, washed laundry, all outside. I did not miss my stove or dishwasher or washing machine, and I began to doubt the value of doing everything in such a fast, automated way.
With no running water, the men in the village had to go to a local well with containers, every day. It was a communal effort infused with fun. Though running water is a great thing, I found myself appreciating every drop of that water—and especially the bucket-showers on those hot days.
There was no television in this village. (GASP!) In the evenings, everyone sat around actually talking and enjoying each other. Chor and I noticed, jokes and laughter filled the air continuously.
As Moughenda says, no place is "perfect." Africa is a great land, rich with tradition and nature, and we were fortunate to connect with wonderful people there. And yet, Africa has problems, too. It has good people and troubled people. It has political, economic, and social issues, like we do.
It can be easy to idealize one place over another.
It can be easy to dream of far away places as the source for fulfillment.
It can be easy to put off tending to your own soul, by fixating on some external circumstance that has not yet come into form.
LOVE NOTE: No matter where you may be in the world, the greatest temple is within & the most important person is the one in front of you!
"for it is the seeking that keeps you
from being where you are"
—excerpt from Traveler, a poem by Martin W. Ball
host of the Entheogenic Evolution Podcast
Check out the iboga inspired artwork by Chor Boogie...