Wednesday 18 September 2019

My red-hot tobacco ceremony

A tobacco ritual lifts Victoria Mary Clarke's spirits

Victoria Mary Clarke with medicine woman Erika (left)
Victoria Mary Clarke with medicine woman Erika (left)

I'm going to a Native American Tobacco Ceremony. I don't actually know what that is, but it was a choice between going to a movie by myself or going to this with my friend, Amy. I was a vegan 20 years before it was a thing, but I feel like I'm falling behind now by not having been to Peru and done ayahuasca. Even the tech nerds are doing magic mushrooms and micro-dosing LSD. I would be terrified that I would vomit and hallucinate if I did any of those, but a tobacco ceremony in Rathmines should be fairly harmless. And I am very fond of Amy.

We have been told not to eat anything before the ceremony - which worries me because I really don't want to vomit. But at the same time I feel compelled to disobey, so I am stuffing myself with vegan chocolate cake. Before I even get to the venue, I spot the medicine woman sitting on the steps, doing something on her phone. I recognise her from the picture on the poster and because she has long, flowing grey hair and turquoise jewellery. I know it's massively unfair and nobody's perfect, not even the Dalai Lama, but I sort of expect her to be somewhat superhuman and radiating overwhelming good vibrations, but she seems distracted and not hugely thrilled to meet me. She spots my food and tells me that I really shouldn't eat before the ceremony and I consider going to the cinema instead, but decide that when I'm old and looking back over my life I will regret not trying the therapeutic tobacco.

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We are a very small group, mainly women and we sit on the floor as Erika Gagnon, the medicine woman, lays out her sacred altar with stones and crystals and stuff and then passes around some sage to clean our energy.

She tells us that she is from Montreal and that she is of mixed-race ancestry and that she has spent the past 24 years working with indigenous elders from North and South America and learning to work with their ceremonies, traditions and medicinal plants. The ceremony that we are about to do is, she says a traditional South American liquid tobacco ceremony called 'Singado', where we will ingest liquid tobacco up our noses to help heal, cleanse and release old blockages, unhealthy patterns, memories and traumas.

She stresses several times that we don't have to make up our minds yet and if we want, we can decide not to take the tobacco. Which makes me wonder if I should decide not to take the tobacco, but I figure I will listen to the instructions and then play it by instinct.

Erika tells us that she has always been a very practical, grounded and logical sort of person who likes to know how things work and likes to test things out before she believes in them, but that she has seen a great many amazing transformations after the tobacco ceremonies and she invites us to start thinking about things that we might want to release from our lives and things that we might want to bring in.

I really just want less stress and struggle and a lot more money and fun. She also warns us to be careful what we wish for and tells a story about a woman who wished for her husband's pain to go away and that night her husband ended up in hospital with a burst appendix, so I resolve not to ask for anything too dramatic and nothing involving my husband Shane [MacGowan].

Eventually, we get to the bit where we decide to have the tobacco, or not, and I get really nervous because I have absolutely no idea what will happen if I take it and they start producing buckets and tissues. But I know I will have to try it, so I do. The liquid tobacco is squirted up my nose and it burns like crazy and my eyes start streaming and I start screaming. Pretty soon, I am making very loud noises indeed, and jumping up and down like a furious toddler.

Lots of people are crying and screaming and some of them are laughing. She tells us not to worry about what anyone else is doing, but it is kind of a relief not to be the only one screaming. After about 15 minutes I collapse in a heap on the floor, convinced I won't be able to get up and feeling very light headed, but also strangely liberated. As if I hadn't realised I was so enraged and now the rage is all gone. After a while I get up the energy to leave, and I begin to walk home.

Suddenly I realise that I am striding along, and bouncing with energy, even though it is after 11pm. At home, I eat a large meal and watch a movie before I sleep, but in the morning I am still full of beans and actually really buzzed about life. As though something has been lifted from me.

The mood of optimism continues and I begin telling everyone I know to forget about ayahuasca and do a tobacco ceremony. A few weeks later, I go back and do another one. I hope I am not addicted.

https://www.facebook.com/Erika-Gagnon-Ceremonial- leader-1025153560858125/ l Donation of €40 suggested

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