How to Interpret Ayahuasca Visuals

By Tina "Kat" Courtney

As one of the strongest psychotropic substances on the planet, Ayahuasca can put on one hell of a visual experience. Although every person and every night is different, one of her trademark storytelling gifts happens through visuals that are often vibrant, detailed, and profoundly real.

This article is not meant to take common visions like snakes and jaguars and interpret their meanings, as those are still highly personal, despite the high degree of prevalence. Instead, I wish to shine a light on how I feel Ayahuasca works with us through the subconscious, and the most effective way we can work with her in return.

She speaks to us in part through visuals, using this method as a way to move us experientially through a lesson or revelation. These visuals are, at times, wholly arresting in their vividness and meaning. At other times, they suck the mind into a portal of chaos, disrupting the flow of thought and analysis, until we are so discombobulated all that’s left is the space of feeling.

Which, of course, is where the truth comes in.

Here are the core questions we are about to explore:

Are the visions prophecies that we should take literally as warnings or guidance? What do we do with these once the ceremony ends?

All right then, let’s dive in.

CHACRUNA: THE QUEEN OF SACRED MYSTERY

In a traditional Ayahuasca brew, you’ll find the strong presence of two material plants, and thus the distinct consciousness of two separate entities: Ayahuasca and Chacruna.

I will discuss their different roles in another write-up someday soon, so let’s focus on how they work with us on the visual plane.

Chacruna is the shadow worker between the two; she’s the behind-the-scenes goddess that interacts with us in the most mysterious of ways. Thus, writing about her is somewhat laughable, because she utterly defies the limits of our language. But I’m giving it a shot nonetheless.

Think of her as your foreign language bestie that cannot speak to you in a tangible, linear fashion, but who you feel so deeply, you don’t need words to communicate.

If Charcuna is going to put on a visual show for you, it’s likely to happen in the first 90 minutes of ceremony. If you’ve ever had a night where the visuals were utterly insane as the medicine went from mild to mind-blowing, that was likely Charcuna’s influence. She doesn’t ratchet up the intensity every night (that’s part of her mystery), but when she does, it’s time to hold on for dear life.

Chacruna’s visuals are often full of sacred geometry, moving at warp speed as they shapeshift and transform into seemingly unrelated imagery. She absolutely bombards you with colors and shapes; millions of eyeballs staring at you from other dimensions, kaleidoscopic beings and forms that envelope you with intensity, portals that blast open and smash shut in milliseconds, slamming every conceivable emotion through your often-trembling body.

Hers are the inescapable visuals that create neon-colored grids and light-speed patterns whether your eyes are open or shut. She doesn’t care if you want her to stop. She is relentless with imagery, energy, and non-stop barrage of other-worldly sights.

I call this space Candyland. It’s unbelievably uncomfortable; this is often the time that the room lights up with purging and electricity. These are the ceremony moments where we feel one more ounce of energy coming through our bodies will be too much. That we will surely combust if it gets any stronger.

So what is the purpose of this circus show of mystery, intensity, and colors? All of this is personal and up for interpretation, but in a generalized sense, I feel this is Chacruna’s way of throwing our brains into a blender and opening us to the downloads of her partner, Ayahuasca. She creates the light show of emotions that gets us to purge and release a blockage or two or twenty, so that Aya can come in with the wisdom and illumination.

It is intentionally completely out-of-mind, because our minds are the reason we are in our patterns and suffering. Chacruna’s medicine and visuals can therefore never be understood by our noggins. They are brimming with sacred geometry, and ancient wisdom that far exceeds my ability to understand or describe. I just know when she comes on, it’s time to sit-up, pay attention, and breathe.

She reminds me of a zen koan; those mind-twisting concepts that halt all logic and feel like a brick wall to the brain. Koans, too, unravel a paradigm and open us up to a deeper truth. That’s a core purpose of Chacruna; to take all that is known and turn it inside out so we can let go of what we think reality is and let in something bigger.

AYAHUASCA’S SUBCONSCIOUS ILLUMINATION

 Art by Xenodimensional 

Art by Xenodimensional 

Whether or not Chacruna has worked her magic in a very obvious, mind-blowing fashion, Aya will swoop in to communicate with us via the subconscious. This is very much the same way we connect with dreams. The subconscious is not UNconscious;  we just receive these messages in a non-linear, anti-logical fashion, so they are much trickier to interpret.

Aya speaks to us through imagery that is not to be taken literally, and yet, our minds don’t know any other way.

The best advice I have for unraveling the message of the visuals (if you have them, which sometimes doesn’t happen in ceremony at all) is to not worry about what they mean in the moment. If you have to search for meaning, that’s forced and not necessarily the point.

Sometimes, though, the meaning is obvious; that clarity comes from the feeling we have in our bodies, not the interpretation of the mind. We understand both Chacruna and Ayahuasca when we are body-present and heart-opened. It’s deep feeling that holds the truth of the vibrations.

This is why the experience is so bloody intense; some of us are tough nuts to crack. Our minds can be so powerful, so desiring to maintain control of the situation, the brew has to come in around a hidden back door and surprise the bejeezus out of our brains.

Not only is Ayahuasca ridiculously good at this, she also seems to get a huge kick out of our shock and awe. Behind every subtle and not-so-subtle vision, I can always feel her there, playful and loving and so, so powerful.

PLEASE DON’T TAKE THE VISUALS LITERALLY

OK, so now we know that while we are in the experience, the best policy is to do our best to receive the downloads and not worry about interpretation, unless it’s beautifully obvious and felt in our bodies.

So what do we do with the visions once the ceremony is over?

The temptation for almost all of us is to take each one literally, and apply it to the future unfolding of our lives.

This is so tempting, even years into my work with Aya, I kept doing this myself. Despite knowing better. But this is part of her power.

Because the medicine works through the subconscious, she is revealing to us patterns and beliefs that are deeply personal. Just like most dreams are not prophetic, but are personal storytelling about the mysterious aspects our psyches, Aya speaks in the exact same way. She is completely rooted in the present moment; this means that applying this wisdom to any future moment is not at all the point.

We are on a need-to-know basis with Ayahuasca. What we need to know, she reveals (just like the universe). Any attempt to apply this to our future realities is a product of thought, not her guidance.

I’ll give you a personal example. And boy was this a painful one.

THAT TIME AYAHUASCA LED ME TO THE SLAUGHTER  

Years ago, I met an amazing man through the medicine circle. He wanted to try ceremony, and I interviewed him, and a few days later, we were on our first date. I was cautious at first, as he was so powerful and intense, I wasn’t sure I could trust his energy.

So I took my fears to the medicine.

Can I trust him with my heart, I asked her?

She was not vague. Oh no. She pushed me all-in with my prince; he’s your SOULMATE, she told me. Go. Love him. Let all the fears fall away and dive in with your whole heart.

I exploded with love and excitement in that ceremony. I started envisioning my dream life with him. The amazing things we would do for the world together. Bringing the medicine to different corners of the globe. Having grand adventures. Loving each other fiercely.

Post ceremony, it was obvious to both of us that I was in love with him. Wildly so. I obeyed the medicine with every ounce of duty I could muster.

Long story short, within three weeks, he told me he was in love with his ex-girlfriend, and I left his apartment that night knowing I would never see him again.

To say I got burned is like saying an atomic blast has a bit of power. I was annihilated. My heart was shattered. Not so much because of him (I have my passport stamped up a storm with heartbreak, so that’s familiar territory! Hah.), but because I felt duped by Aya.

But when I sat with this story of mine, I realized her wisdom.

Her point was not for me to write the rest of my life with this person, but to open my heart and get me to have the experience my soul was after. There were profound lessons in that rejection; how reckless I was with my vulnerability, how attached I was to being in partnership, how quick I was to accept the person before me as perfect even though I know deep down we are not meant to be.

Aya pushed me into the present-moment spiral that was completely in my best interest. But she didn’t say a damn word about how the story would go. That’s not her focus. Her contract with each of us is to align with our souls and help us dive into the places that hold the most growth. It’s not about a happily ever after; she could give two shits about those.

She cares about our evolution. And nothing but.

THE WISE WAY TO WORK WITH THE VISIONS

As much as you can, resist the temptation to take what is shown to you and write future-focused stories. Trust the guidance that you see and feel, but don’t create attachments about where it will lead and what it all means.

This is one of the core focuses I work with people during Ayahuasca coaching. I try to help us receive the visions and messages from the medicine like a dream, showing us the truth about ourselves, and not the prophecy of our futures.

It’s not that Aya can’t sometimes reflect to us a destined event; just like dreams sometimes tap into mass consciousness and show us a glimpse of fate, Ayahuasca is tricky enough to play that way too. But that’s rare. She is a special plant consciousness because of her ability to show us more of ourselves. She and Chacruna illuminate those tricky shadow spots that it seems nothing else can reach.

What we do with those revelations is 100% up to us.

That’s where integration and feeling are so crucial. We are not shown what is going to happen, we are shown what we are supposed to BELIEVE is happening. Why? So we can know more about our stories, our motivations, our patterns, ourselves. So we can learn to get out of our own ways and let life and love in.

And as such, we are given the power to transform, grow, and live more richly connected and joyful lives.

Not a bad process the medicine has there. Even if it winds up breaking your heart. As Leonard Cohen said, “There’s a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

About the author, Tina Kat Courtney

Tina “Kat” Courtney, The Afterlife Coach, has worked with Ayahuasca for 11 years, with a decade as a shamanic apprentice. She works as an Ayahuasca Coach, guiding others through the integration and preparation process with all sacred plants and master plant dietas. Additionally, Kat works with people confronting issues around death and shadow. She’s a transformational junkie with a major love of polarities, and she adores helping others love their darkness too.