Journeys To The Dark Side

    by Karen Farini

    Last night, I dreamed about the tarantula again.

    The first time this powerful symbol had appeared to me was a little over a week ago, but then it had been safely inside a cage; a cage that I’d nonetheless been holding onto, proudly. My beautiful pet!

    I’d even let it out at some point, and yet still it seemed to remain in my control, because when I wanted to find it again to put it back inside – hey presto, there it was; I could actually hear it call out to me.

    There was this cord attached to it, too, so I didn’t even have to pick it up.

    Last night was different.

    It was like I was in some kind of brightly lit training ring, and it was led by La Madre herself. By Pachamama.

    And the instructions were clear: You have to hold it some more, and get more used to it, she was telling me, as the giant thing crawled freely all over my skin.

    Tarantulas can symbolize our dark sides. Our shadow. So, this is why I’m thinking about Thursday
    night, and where I think I might be going…

    On another jaunt, then, to the depths of my unconscious.

    And I’ll admit it: I’m excited.

    Over the past week, my dreams have become more vivid

    Along with some of the others who have been sharing this shamanic retreat experience with me, I’ve been drinking tea from the piñon blanco plant – a master plant that opens up connection with the universe, facilitating awareness and clarity in the form of subtle thoughts and dreams.

    Facilitating, too, the work we’ve been doing with her; this sacred medicine that heals and nourishes, and that often times kicks you like a mule.

    She can be the hardest of task-masters (or, according to Jim, like some ‘nagging old grandma’).

    During the first ceremony of the retreat, he said he’d been forced to keep going up for yet another cup, which – as the word ‘forced’ does imply – had far less to do with his own volition than it had with this awful, tedious voice that kept shrieking at him from a place deep within:

    Go on! Go on! You’ve got to take your medicine!.

    He’d asked me, amused and baffled, the following morning, Why do we do it?

    And it’s a fair enough question, but all of us here on this retreat know the answer. Because we can’t not.

    Because honestly, when you’re called to drink, you’re called – although some people say it’s the other way around, and it’s you who calls, and it’s she who answers, by showing up quite suddenly: Available!

    And then what can you do?!

    No matter how nervous you are, and how such a large part of you just wants to resist resist resist, it’s like you’re driven by another force that is simply way too compelling to ignore, and far, far stronger than simple curiosity.

    Plant medicine is beautiful – but it isn’t recreational. It’s work.

    As a matter of fact, it’s the work, which is exactly the kind of thing you might hear.

    Let’s go do the work.

    And the precursor to the work? Intention.

    The dieta you should uphold for at least 1-2 weeks prior is of course part of it (with meals that are as bland as they’re sparse; and no sexual activity).

    But as well as the dieta, there is also the necessity of at least attempting to prepare oneself with a carefully chosen goal, or ‘request’.

    Mine for this retreat had been easy for me to decide on, because I’d consciously been trying to do this for at least 6 months:

    Please let me live from the heart, and not from the trappings of my mind.

    It was a particularly good intention, I thought, because that’s exactly what Ayahuasca is. Medicine of the heart.

    But that very first ceremony, the only thing I’d done all night was walk to the toilet to purge, while the likes of Liza, having issued a loftier aspiration into the bottom of her cup – to find out how the entire Universe worked – had left her body curled up on her mat to go off flying past the moon and beyond the fabric of space and time.

    For an hour, she’d screamed out in Russian for her mother, and the next day, while Jim recounted his stories of Grandma, we kept asking Liza to tell us how scary it had been to think she might not ever come back.

    The medicine purge is famous

    It’s virtually the first thing people ask me about. So, they say. So, you vomit a lot?

    So you’re sitting in the dark with your blanket, mat and pillow – all alone with yourself and internalized – as the medicine works its way through your body, finding whatever she needs to throw out?

    And I tell them – yes, yes. That’s pretty much how it all works. Although here’s the thing, you’re right there beside her throughout the whole process.

    You’re not just throwing up. It’s not like you ask her for healing, then just let her get on with it with no extra input. Medicine she is, but she’s hardly paracetamol.

    She’s not the passive kind. The integral part of Ayahuasca’s healing process comes from your own participation, because after all, beyond a surface repair job, nothing can ever truly be healed without your own conscious awareness.

    Sometimes the lessons are hard to digest.

    She takes the blinkers off your own stubborn ignorance; she makes you turn up to the truth. And thus you always know exactly what it is that you’re removing from your system.

    The sound of people vomiting can be quite extreme.

    And you may well think that with your lively, chequered past, you’re no stranger to other people vomiting – not with all those nights sewn up downing shots with your circus performer friends or disgusting amounts of wine with your media colleagues every lunchtime for the past 10 years (or whatever, whatever)…

    But let me tell you that this isn’t that kind of vomiting, because – especially as you continue drinking the medicine beyond the initial few ceremonies (and thus beyond the mere physical: into your emotional body instead, and beyond) – the medicine is no longer helping you get rid of something dodgy in your stomach or out from your organs.

    She’s ejecting those stories and blockages from deep within your cells.

    You’re cleaning up, you’re renewing, reinstalling your DNA…

    Frankly, it tends to sound like it. It’s actually fucking beautiful, especially the relief that you also sometimes hear being spat out.

    ‘Yessss’, is what you’re thinking, ‘Good riddance’; and then, addressed to La Madre herself: ‘Thank you’.

    The purge can come in other forms too: with movements that make you wonder exactly how it’s possible to have held on to so much shit (and for how long, exactly?!), and also via emotional release: with bellows of sobs that come thundering up through your being; or through screams of rage, or hysterical laughter.

    Throughout the two weeks that followed, the dome of that Pyramid hidden in the forest would resound with such noises as sometimes it rattled with each hit of a mighty thunderstorm in the middle of the night, or as Guillermo sang icaros to each one of us in turn, or as Yakov delivered his medicine songs whilst strumming on his guitar.

    Although, the first tiny sounds that emerged from those strings were often like the very first sparks of consciousness, because usually they would come from those times in the night wherein all that had existed for a long while was silence.

    One of the best pieces of advice I’d ever received was from my friend, Jo:

    You just have to go into it and let go.
    It’s like a big, vivid dream.
    Trust Mother Nature.
    Trust the spirits.
    Listen to what Mother says. Do what she says to do.
    If you feel fear, face it. And face everything with love.

    Remember the experience will end. So make the most of it.
    If you’re gonna die. Die. (It’s just a rehearsal)
    (So, if you feel like you are going to die. Or see yourself dying…Do it.

    Keep breathing. Let go.

    On the second night, the lesson received was exactly that: Let go.

    I hadn’t wanted to leave the ceremonial circle, and the safety of the others, but uncomfortable snaps from my neck had kept twisting my head towards the door, and I suddenly found myself standing up and walking out despite myself, the ground springy under my feet, the entire forest looking at me.

    I ran into a cubicle: For privacy, Ayahuasca was telling me, because that’s where she seemed to want me whilst she taught me how to just let go: of all my plans and ideas, of my lists and schedules, of my need to control, and then even of the visions themselves as these lessons grew faster and I tried in frustration to try and grasp on to them.

    I purged and purged all this need to control, that I truly hadn’t even known was inside me, not to this extreme degree…

    And she kept chastising me: Why did I have to understand it all?

    I had to let go of it all – yes, even of these insights that she doggedly kept pouring on through me, and after my umpteenth ok, ok, she told me to let go of that, too – of the sudden need that had suddenly just arisen in me to be done with all this purging and lecturing, and just go back to the others.

    La Madre can read your mind. You want to go back there? But why?

    And of course, it made sense.

    Why did I want to go back to the circle? There was nothing happening up there for me; the medicine process is an interiorised one: no-one interacts, and everything comes from within.

    Everything was here… So, what, then, was I running from? And, why was I always running? Why was my mind… always… distracted?

    What couldn’t I face within me?

    ‘Why?’ became a common retort throughout that whole night’s process for me right there all alone inside that toilet: Why, why, why – and sometimes also, why not? Why not let go? Why not just stay here?

    I mean, she added, it’s not even like you can go right now, can you, so why not just stop thinking about it?

    When I realised what she meant, I burst out laughing in between my heaves.

    You’ve got your pants round your ankles and your head in a bin, she suddenly retorted, loud and clear. What more do you want? And, amused, I yelled back, Nothing! Nothing! – because right this very second, and as I suddenly understood had always been the case, I had exactly all that I needed.

    And so it occurred to me, then, in this nauseous kind of wonder:

    What on earth is there ever to worry about?

    Trusting the medicine is key

    She only ever gives you what you need, as well as only ever as much as you can handle.

    Every time is different.

    One person on the retreat told me how he went through all the stages of his own evolution, and what it felt like, for example, to remember how he’d once hatched out of an egg.

    Someone else went through dozens and reams of past lives.

    Another friend was taken back and shown clearly something that had happened to her when she was a toddler – something that she had never remembered consciously, and so, along with her demons, had remained hidden and shamed, and denied, in her own darkness.


    The next night: Relax.

    As my neighbour coughed and heaved to the right of me, trying to free stuck energy in the middle of her chest, I was shown to stop striving and to simply enjoy where I was sometimes.

    I was shown an image of how to just flop down on a sofa, and that when something had been achieved, it was good to take a break. Enjoy life.

    Well, duuh, I thought (because it was obvious, right?), before swiftly realising with a start – and truly for the very first time in my life – just how alien this actual concept felt to me.

    Had I ever even been relaxed?! I realised the truth with a jolt of surprise and a chirp of laughter.

    I was always ten steps ahead in my head of wherever I happened to find myself, I was hardly ever fully ‘present’, everything was usually finished quickly in some kind of race to get to the next goalpost, and what’s more, I never, ever ‘got there’.

    Because, well, was that even possible? Where was ‘there’, anyway?

    Gently, through visions and other communications, Ayahuasca showed me how I might release this perpetual state of anxiety (which often times I experienced in ways I thought was positive: in over-excitement and hyperactivity).

    Then she showed me how to feel things differently in my body; things like spontaneity and joy, and to express myself without a set agenda. (Without an agenda?! All these things felt so, so new…)

    And it felt like being a child again. Be patient, she told me. Then, Relax like a cat.

    A black panther was shown as my totem animal, bringing with him lessons on how I should live with pride, and with the simple joy of being.

    There were lessons on how to meditate; the need to focus my scattered energy.

    With every strong inhalation of breath, feelings of sickness and lower emotions were shown to rise from my lower chakras and transmute once they’d reached my heart.

    Then I saw the spirits open up my heart chakra, and fill it to the brim with love.

    ‘I want to show you where it’s dark, but have no fear.’

    Sometimes, throughout the night, the pitch blackness of the dome lights up once more with a single candle from the ceremonial table. It means that, if you want, you can go up for more medicine.

    Tonight, as the visions subsided, and the flicker caught my eye, I decided to do it.

    I wanted to go back there, to this benignly beautiful space where I was being shown how to enjoy life, how to relax. How to live.

    Just half a cup, I whispered to Yakov, then once the bitterly putrid tea was drunk, and a piece of the apple was eaten as a chaser, I flounced down to the toilet in the middle of the forest, where I’d spent most of the night just a couple of nights prior, and I fixed my hair in the mirror before prancing straight back up, all the lessons about being proud and spontaneous still fresh and alive inside me.

    Sometimes it feels like, rather than communicating with, and showing you, the medicine just plain possesses you.

    Looking back, I was different at that point. I was doing things automatically, without even questioning.

    The medicine took hold of me with a sudden depth and force.

    Suddenly I felt drops of rain start sprinkling onto my skin. I reached out my arms in pure gratitude, and I felt myself grow big, like a Buddha. I felt sick.

    I picked up my vomit bowl and saw it had been cleaned. I could see her in front of me, pushing it towards me with her hands. Here you go.

    And so I relaxed right down into it, all the way down. It felt so comfortable.

    I relaxed some more. And then, suddenly, the scenery changed and I could see the truth: I was bathing in mess…

    And this mess was all mine, it was all my mind, and there were demons around me, erotically charged, and they were loving it.

    I snapped my head up abruptly, and everything from that point on I experienced in slow motion, even the shower of vomit I saw dripping right through and off my hair as I sat up, whipping it back from the bowl. (It had been cleaned…?! Yeah, nice joke!).

    Like I was a model from a shampoo ad, the vomit from my hair cascaded onto my shoulders as I sat up, and to my disgust, I found I was rubbing it all lasciviously into my body.

    And I tried to resist, and I tried to stop, but a nudge so forceful (that I thought it was the shaman) pushed heavily at my right side and sent me straight back down towards those murky depths, where the demons continued to pull at me, because you know you like it, really.

    And I knew that yes, I did, and I knew I had no choice but to realize this consciously: I was one of those demons, and all of them were me.

    And for however long it lasted, I stayed down there with them, with me, enjoying the parts of myself that I’d never before even owned: the filthy, the ugly, the cruel and the sordid.

    I felt it all. I enjoyed it all.

    I sat with my shame intensely, in a way that we never usually allow; I sat with all of it and accepted it, and I didn’t try and hide where I was or who I was, because –and this I saw so clearly – nothing can exist that isn’t part of you.

    There was nowhere beyond me – or this – that I could run to.

    Look what I’ve done, I thought to myself, as I sat there with the feeling of being soiled and imperfect.

    And, as the minutes ticked by, I felt my power surge along the same bitter pathway of pain, and I saw how strong and how whole I was becoming, in this fusing together of all that I am.

    So this was the meaning of magic and alchemy, then, and the truth behind turning lead into gold? Your vanity gets in the way of the truth, she said.

    And the sublime, I saw, was everywhere, even in the grotesque.

    You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” – Wild Geese, Mary Oliver

    I remembered this quote by Carolyn Elliott, who was the first to introduce me to shadow integration last year:

    You know all those medieval wood prints of witches wantonly dancing with devils? I’m pretty sure these are graphic representations (and priestly fantasies) of how witches managed to integrate the instinctual and daemonic dimensions of their own psyches, and thereby enjoy strange powers.”

    And then the words of this song: Hallelujah, which tells us that the whole of experience is divine – destitution as well as triumphs:

    Your faith was strong but you needed proof
    You saw her bathing on the roof
    Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
    She tied you to a kitchen chair
    She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
    And from your lips she drew the hallelujah

    You say I took the name in vain
    I don’t even know the name
    But if I did, well really, what’s it to ya?
    There’s a blaze of light in every word
    It doesn’t matter which you heard
    The holy or the broken hallelujah

    The night before had been the first night I’d dreamed of that tarantula.

    When I later googled black panther, I read that ‘when the black panther appears as your spirit animal, it’s time to remove the mask’. (And reclaim your shadow, no doubt).

    Because what happens when you disown your psyche’s shadow is that you simply project it outwards, in order to import it straight back into your world – through external events and through your relationship with others.

    In the micro-universe that is your life, there is only ever you.

    And it’s only when you dare to love yourself – the whole of yourself, the darkest parts of yourself – that your shadows and blocks become free to transform …along with the outside world you experience in reflection.

    Because, as Glinda, Good Witch of the East once said to Dorothy, you had the power all along, my dear.

    Be careful what you think about. Be careful what you wish for.

    The following morning, Jim told me about the intention he’d put into the bottom of his cup that night: To connect with nature, he told me.

    And then what happened? I asked. Well, I ended up in the forest, he said, fucking trees with the wood nymphs.

    Two nights ago, I regressed to a tiny baby.

    I was helpless and vulnerable.

    I had begun to realise that I’d always been too afraid to ever let myself be ‘looked after’,  but now, after nearly a full two weeks of ‘work’ with the medicine, and after all these lessons on ‘letting go’, I managed to find the means to surrender.

    And then I began to express myself, started giggling softly, then suddenly erupted into peals and peals of laughter – and for how long, I don’t know.

    I whooped and whooped, which created more laughter, more room in me somehow.

    I grew much, much bigger. I made a LOT of noise. I stood up, yelling with laughter, then danced and danced around the room, rolling and crawling around on the floor.

    A far easier night than the previous, this was the follow-up in the lesson of really learning to love it all – even the things I always thought I hated – about me, and about life in general. (Welcome home again, Shadow.)

    The times I was stupid, when things didn’t work out as planned, or when they went horribly wrong; even feelings of extreme nausea turned to excitement as I learned to breathe into my discomfort, and to my delight I found the breath not only transforms all experience, but also contains the whole Universe inside it.

    The awkward me, the guarded and chronically introverted me; the disloyal, the depraved, and the bitch in me…

    There was room for all of it at my table, I allowed and adored me full pelt, with no holds barred.

    It was so exquisite I found myself searching my memory for all the times I’d previously shamed – the time I did that wrong, that time when I was really REALLY useless, and once I’d jumped on something, I savoured it and basked in the indecent glory of it all; my delicious imperfections.

    No shame. No shame.

    I laughed and laughed, and luxuriated in the joy of all parts of me that I never before had allowed myself to feel.

    So, then… this is what it really means to be free?

    All my life, I’ve been desperately chasing freedom, ultimately always feeling so chained and trapped no matter what I did or where I ran to.

    Now I know that the only thing that contained me was actually me all along, for having denied such a huge part of my psyche, and for binding myself to limits imposed on ‘how to be good’.

    When you give yourself permission to enjoy the taboo, I discovered that you unleash this incredible, electric inner power.

    The darkness can never hurt me because I AM the darkness.

    And bringing this into consciousness also brought in the light, and so it didn’t matter which direction I went in because everywhere and in everything there was love.

    There is no difference between cursing and praising God. As long as we
    face love and loss with our hearts and minds open to the infinite
    possibility of the moment, we are participating in the Divine” – Unknown



    If this essay resonates with you, please join our WITCH email list by using the forms on this website so we can stay in touch.


    About the Author:

    Karen Farini left her London life as owner of a burlesque cabaret supper club to go tripping around Asia, where she recently escaped another brush with muggle existence after a 3-year stint running another business – this time a backpackers’ party hostel in southern Thailand. Now, after a lifetime of being drawn to spirituality and the occult, she is finally starting to walk the path, and is currently drinking in as much knowledge of all things esoteric as she can get her hands on – including astrology, shamanic healing, sacred plant medicine, and vodou. Grab an insight into her musings at



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