A recent conversation about the plant medicine Ayahuasca led a friend to hook me up with a Kambo circle in south-east London, where I had holes burned in my leg and venom from the Phyllomedusa Bicolor (green tree frog) applied to the wounds.
Kambo is the sacred secretion from these frogs which have no natural predators, making them particularly chilled. I point this out so as to include gratuitous images of one of my favourite animals:
The frogs’ passivity is said to have given rise to a lovely symbiotic relationship with the jungle tribes who harvest the medicine (without harming the creatures) and use it in initiation ceremonies and to sharpen their senses for hunting. It’s said to cleanse the body of ‘panema’, which translates as bad luck/sadness/weakness.
The cleansing effect of the poison, which stimulates the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and then the parasympathetic one (the chilled one), has been said to rectify everything from depression and alcohol dependency to fertility problems and cancer.
The science revolves around the ‘peptides’ our body produces, aka amino acids you’ve heard of like endorphins, serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Kambo contains a cocktail of peptides that sweep toxins from the body’s cells and wash them into the stomach. So you can puke them up, because the only way out is inevitably through.
As with Ayahuasca, the magic is in the purge. So a Kambo cleanse starts with meditating together then necking two litres of water on an empty stomach (you’ve fasted for at least 12 hours before). Then the aforementioned burns are made and the poison dabbed on.
Possibly because of getting soaked in the sleety Sunday rain on my way to the suburbs of London’s deep south, possibly because my mind was building its trademark resistance, the period just previous to commencing the ceremony for me was marked by shivering so ferocious I thought my teeth were going to break against each other.
Down the two litres, the first dab of the serum and just as Charlie, the deeply caring space holder of the circle, gently says that I’ll start to feel heat… BOOM. A huge rush starting around the temples and travelling down. That familiar rush of nausea and the puking commences.
Vomiting is never pleasant, obviously, and I burst out crying with the release and the sensation of letting go of all the shit that’s being scooped up and out of my stomach.
A lull, then more dabs, more water (best to just down it, not sip and prolong the agony) and more heaving: up and out. The urge to curl up in a ball is strong, but it’s not time yet. More full-body projecting as Charlie rattles and sings in that shamanic way that’s so soothing and makes you feel like you’ve crawled into the centre of the Earth and all of nature has your back.
After half an hour, maybe 40 minutes altogether, with the mind screaming WHY AM I DOING THIS NEVER AGAIN OH MY FUCKING GOD NEVER AGAIN, it’s time to lie down. I disappear, I feel neither my body nor my mind with its incessant thinking, remembering, regretting, imagining, projecting, whatever.
Charlie has left and after an indeterminate time returns with a plate of chopped fruit and a cup of herbal tea. Time to sit up and eat for the first time in almost 24 hours; the fruit tastes like something God hands you when you arrive in Heaven after your passage through the underworld.
My face, though. My eyes feel a bit puffy but it’s when I go to speak that I realise even my tongue feels swollen. Charlie says it tends to happen if one is hunched over for a prolonged period during the purging. I remember her gently guiding me at various points to lift my head but you know what it’s like when you’re puking: always anticipating the next heave and bracing for it.
We talk a while and the universe does its thing with synchronicity, the biggest already being for me the fact we are in the heart of my late brother’s old stomping ground in London. I haven’t been down here since I was a uni student travelling to visit my drama graduate older sibling to go gigging and get to know each other a bit better. Feels like a long time ago.
Charlie advises that the following few days will present the results of the kambo journey: strong emotions are likely to be felt as the cleanse does what its name suggests and de-frags us.
My initial sensation has been around the feeling of forgiveness, of myself first of all, and an opening of my mind with regard to scenarios that have become fixed narratives but now have the potential to change.
But my face throbs like a bastard for now and I close my eyes the whole train journey back because it hurts to open them and I don’t want anyone to ask me what the fuck has happened to me.
I look like I’ve chewed 17 tattooed bees in leather jackets and it reminds me of some of the best internet dogs ever witnessed.