:: Ayuzule ~ Mebeakún ~ Uba Ayu ::
:: Semillas de la Madre de Coca ~ Seeds of the Coca Mother ::

Kaggen     I Am Rain     Always     Name of the Rain     Muisca     Boy     Coca

:: 2017 :: 90cm x 30cm :: Acrylics, Inks and Markers on Canvas ::

…con profunda gratitud a la Madre de Ayu...

In December 2017 I was fortunate enough to visit the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of Colombia for an intimate spiritual gathering of some 60 people in the beautiful setting of an Eco-Lodge in the rain forest. This gathering included an art exhibition in which my Chiguexica Muisca was being shown along with about 50 other artists’ work, but the heart and centre of our work in the retreat was a group of indigenous ceremonies with Muisca, Witoto and Wiwa elders as part of an unfolding new sacred agreement with the Earth. Various ceremonies were held, including a Witoto mambeadero with tobacco and coca, a Word of Life ceremony, a Cacao ceremony, a Muisca ceremony of purification and renewal, as well as many songs and dances from the Muisca and Witoto elders.

Seeds of the Coca Mother

During many of these, the indigenous Colombians were chewing coca leaves – a sacred plant to many people across South America – and they were generous in sharing this with us, the international visitors: indeed, to swap handfuls of coca leaves is one of the traditional greetings between indigenous people in Colombia. The effect of coca is very different from cocaine, its more infamous extract: chewing the leaves awakens, and renders one more alert and attentive, but it also moves and opens the heart. There is a widened sense of compassion too, an unexpected (and delightful) surprise compared to the famously egotistical effects of cocaine.

Coca Seeds 1

Another more profound surprise for me was the arrival, during the ceremonies at night, of very delicate visions, in soft shades and lines of green, silver and gold, with occasional hints of blue and yellow. They were subtle, and one had to remain alert and focussed for them to be visible, while the slightest distraction caused them to shimmer away. It was as if a delicate path – a caminito, a little road – into the heart of the forest was opening up to me.

I had five of these gentle visions in total while in the retreat. The first was of a beautiful horse with a wildly shimmering mane galloping through the hills and trees around the Eco-Lodge, while the second was of a beautiful but strange hybrid creature: part-dragonfly, part-hummingbird, part-sea-horse. The third vision took place during the cacao ceremony and was most striking: a golden-green woman with leaves for hair stretching out into the sky.

Coca Seeds 2

When I was drawing this third vision the next morning, two Muisca and Wiwa elders saw me sketching and suggested that this might be the madre de ayu, the mother of the coca tree. Wiwa elder Auimaku even took my pen and wrote the word Mebeakún next to my sketch. I wanted to stay modest here – it seemed hardly likely that I should meet the mother of the plant after such a short time, but Muisca elder Dwe Wiby explained that this vision could have been both a woman and the madre at the same time. Just as the coca tree bears seeds, so the madre is reflected in each woman. He seemed to be saying that I could see her both ways, as a woman of coca and as a vision of the madre de ayu herself.

Coca Seeds 4

This left me very humbled, and increasingly grateful for the delightful gifts that this plant was giving me. I was truly touched, and I turned down the chance of attending a peyote ceremony – something I have wanted to do for many years – in order to keep walking this little road, this caminito, that the forest and the coca had opened up for me.

The fourth vision was the fullest vision of all. At first I saw a glowing golden galaxy, but it resolved itself into the Earth surrounded by water. The words las aguas del mundo appeared in my mind: ‘the waters of the world’. I caught sight of a little flow falling away and I followed it: it became a torrent and turned into a waterfall rushing over rocks and wending its way through trees until it became a fast flowing river. Floating along this river were eight semi-circular boats, shaped like traditional cacao-serving cups, but in my mind they were coca seeds.

Coca Seeds 5

In the prow of each seed-boat stood a woman, alert and gazing forwards, and in each of their hands, the women brought gifts for humanity from the forest, and from the coca tree. The first woman brought the skills of hunting, while the second bore flowers for beauty, and the third brought sorrow and compassion. Next came the coca plant itself while the fifth woman carried love. The final three women carried the moon, representing the inner light of vision, corn for food and farming, and finally a beautiful serpent standing for sacredness itself. These gifts were brought to a ninth woman waiting at a maloca longhouse whose fire burned brightly. But I didn’t enter the maloca: rather I plunged into the water and beheld the coca boat-seeds from underneath, seeing that each one had a characteristic pattern on its underside.

I was stunned by this vision. Though it was delicate and I had to remain focussed to hold it, I felt as if the madre de ayu had somehow recognised my sacrifice, letting go of my desire – the peyote ceremony – in order to continue walking this coca caminito. I felt a sense of communication between myself and the plant that I haven’t truly felt since my years of working with salvia divinorum.

Coca Seeds 6

On my penultimate evening in the Eco-Lodge, I sought a fifth vision. By now I had already decided I would create an artwork of these visionary gifts from the coca mother and so I admit I had some expectations this time. However in this vision I was shown a series of unconnected images: a half-hidden leafy woman, a shadowy woman surrounded by bright flames, a Tairona bat-shaman, a swirling green labyrinth and a smiling coca leaf with its characteristic three lines – tres caminos as Muisca elder Dwe Wiby put it. As I began to wonder why I was seeing these unconnected images, I felt the arrival of a new thought: Well, I already showed you your big vision last time. Now I’m just giving you some beautiful images for your painting. At this, I smiled widely and understood, let go all of my expectations and attended closely to what I had already been shown, so that I could render it as beautifully as possible in artistic, visionary form.

Coca Seeds 3

I don’t know of anyone else who has experienced gentle visions like this with coca, but the indigenous elders didn’t seem that surprised. Perhaps it’s quite common but they choose not to say much about it. Either way, it was a sublime surprise which animated and enlivened my ten days in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta with a whispering, shimmering sacred intent. It also left me feeling very strange about the world’s obsession with cocaine, a drug I have never liked. It is as if they have torn out the spirit of the tree in order to get the drug. I am so grateful to have seen these visions, these seeds from the coca mother. I am so grateful to have seen something of the natural truth of this plant teacher.

The title of this artwork is a composite of terms from five languages:
Ayuzulea-yu-zhu-leh – This is the Kogi word for ‘coca seeds’, and was given to me by Leandro, a visitor to our gathering and exhibition on our last day in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
Mebeakúnmeh-veh-a-kun – This is the word that Wiwa elder Auimaku spoke on seeing me drawing the sketch of the woman with leaves for hair from my third vision, and which he wrote next to the sketch. It means ‘mother of the coca tree’ in the Wiwa language.
Uba Ayuu-bah-a-yu – Muisca elder Dwe Wiby gave me this phrase in the Muisca language when he was explaining about the coca tree and the seeds. Figuratively, it means ‘seeds of coca’, but it literally translates as ‘child of coca’. He also explained that chuta ayu, ‘daughter of coca’, may also be appropriate for my third vision. The word ayu is used by indigenous people in Colombia as a term of respect for coca as a whole: the tree, the leaf and the madre.
Semillas de la Madre de Coca – This is a composite of the above three indigenous phrases in Spanish, and it means the same as the English title below…
Seeds of the Coca Mother – This is the title in English.

Postscript: A few weeks after returning from Colombia, while searching for Andean and indigenous myths and songs about coca, I happened to come across some excerpts from a book by Gerardo Reichel Dolmatoff on the subject of the religious beliefs of the Kogi people. One of these excerpts concerned coca: as can be seen from the image below, I now understand why the Wiwa elder Auimaku and Muisca elder Dwe Wiby both reacted in the way that they did upon seeing my sketch of the woman with leaves for hair. I also understand how lucky and blessed I was to receive a delicate vision of the Madre de Coca, Madre de Ayu, in precisely one of the forms that was recognisable to the very indigenous people in whose country - the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta - we were staying.

Coca Seeds 7

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