Updated: Sep 19, 2022
Let me begin with a disclaimer:
I am a plant medicine enthusiast and student, but am by no means a Shaman or keeper of this sacred snuff. Hapé is a sacred and indigenous medicine that is kept and used by native tribal peoples from the Amazon and should be administered by an experienced Shaman. It can be addictive and is not to be used in a recreational setting. This post is not intended to sell or even promote Hapé use, but to give an authentic and open account of my own experience. :)
Hapé (or rapé) is a powdered blend of sacred mapacho tobacco from the Amazonian jungle, mixed with various plants and herbs - unique to the specific tribe that creates it. This sacred tobacco is used for the purposes of prayer and communing with the divine - helping with the purification of mind, body and spirit. Hapé is traditionally served through a pipe called a Tepi, usually made from wood or animal bone, and ceremonially blown through each nostril by the keeper of the medicine. In some cases it can be self-administered using a different kind of pipe.
Depending upon the blend Hapé has a variety of cleansing and purifying benefits. It not only purifies the body (physically - yeah, prepare for that bit) and the energetic systems, but can cleanse our mind’s eye that can become blocked witnessing our inner vision. Hapé is a warrior medicine that brings you back to equilibrium, removing any toxins or impurities from the many layers of mind, body and spirit. A shamanic understanding of disease is that all sickness begins as a spiritual or energetic imbalance, and if we can heal the root of dis-ease, its physical manifestation will also heal. One is administered Hapé as an energetic cleansing agent, and it is often found used in accompaniment with other (stronger) plant teachers, such as Ayahuasca.
I was lucky enough to stumble across an intimate Hapé ceremony listed on the amazing Psychedelic Society's event directory. The ceremony was due to take place the following night in Brixton, South London and so I signed up right away. As a Cacao advocate and curious student of plant medicines, I saw this as an opportunity to meet a new energy, open my heart to new experiences and learn more about myself from this little-known Amazonian jungle medicine. I had only heard whispers of Hapé from friends and community members who communed with the medicine whilst on Ayahuasca journeys and knew nothing more about what to expect.
As the ceremony grew closer I began to get a little nervous and in classic-me-style decided to do some googling to see if I could soothe my anxious heart. I couldn't find all that much online except your classic horror stories from traumatised westerners chasing the 'head fuck' experience. So I closed my laptop and summoned up the courage to enter the ceremonial space later that evening with an open heart and to trust the medicine to hold me as I needed.
Arriving in South London felt like a cheerful nod to further embracing this sense of surrender. It was a Saturday evening and the bustling streets were filled with groups of party-goers, wailing sirens, beeping horns and the loud thump of Caribbean music flooding out of every window. The total opposite to quiet and leafy North London where I had come from. I already felt out of my comfort zone, but on I ploughed towards the ceremonial space - in search of the infamous Amazonian plant medicine hiding in the midst of The Big Smoke.
The ceremonial venue was hidden and unassuming. The 'Leaky Cauldron' of Brixton - a warm, welcoming and magical space hidden behind an easy-to-miss exterior. Opening the door I was greeted by the beautiful Bhavinie and her little daughter Rosie with hugs and the familiar scent of Palo Santo. I was home.
We trickled in one-by-one and made our little nests out of blankets, cushions and Yoga mats provided by the shaman Luke and his wonderful family Bhavanie and Rosie who run their own events under the title Heart Centred Living. There was a gentle sense of mysticism in the air, aided by Luke's incredible sound healing set-up ready for action and the tentative whisperings of other ceremony attendees around me. We were all newbies to the medicine and so Luke explained that we would be receiving a gentle dose until he could assess how well we managed - after which it would be our choice to receive a higher dose if necessary.
After an opening blessing Luke talked us through how the ceremony was going to flow and a little about the specific Hapé blend he was going to be using. A mix of Tsunu and Mapacho tobacco made by Yamarume and Hukena, the son and daughter of Pajé Hushahu. Shaman Hushahu is from the Yawanawa tribe in Brazil and was the first woman to have been initiated into their medicine-keeping lineage by going through a 15 month dieta and significant training. The medicine is made in the traditional way in the jungle, and blessed with sacred prayer away from all noise and distraction making it especially potent.
Just a side note at this point - Hapé can be quite purgative, which I had mentally prepared for after reading about it online. Luke provided us with buckets, toilets and tissues to have nearby. It is not advised to eat heavily on the day of a ceremony, and I really cannot suggest sticking to a strict fast strongly enough. You will thank yourself after.
We all shared a little about ourselves, forming prayers and intentions to help us through the ceremony before lying down for an opening blessings and some medicine songs sung by the shaman himself. These songs are specific to particular tribes and are passed down through the ancient aural tradition - each song carrying a very specific meaning and energy for within the ceremonial space.
It was then time to receive the Hapé. One by one, with sacred medicine songs playing in the background, we knelt infront of the Shaman who blew the snuff powder up our noses using his Tepi pipe. Luke suggested breathing through the mouth to prevent too much ingestion of the powder - which can encourage heavier purging - whilst receiving the Hapé and then blowing the nose after a few minutes to clear out the nostrils.
The first hit of Hapé honestly felt like someone had blown extremely strong wasabi up into my sinuses. My eyes were streaming and my head felt like it was on fire. The warrior medicine of the Amazon indeed. Luke had suggested taking the second hit up the second nostril as soon as possible after the first to balance the masculine and feminine energies appropriately. So head still spinning - I leant in for the second hit. POW. Not going to forget that in a hurry. Returning to our nests we were instructed to be still, breathe and experience the effects of the medicine as it worked on the many layers of the body, mind and spirit.
As I surrendered to the fierce, all-over burning sensation I was drawn into an immediate state of total bliss and joy. Listening to my ceremonial brothers and sisters purging around me was strangely soothing as we all shared this extremely human and primal experience of being - very firmly - ripped into the present moment and drawn back in the body. I could feel the medicine coursing through my veins, searching for impurities to release and burn away - but no purge came for me. Tears welled up and poured down my cheeks as a profound sense of love came flooding in. All my insecurities and low-vibrational behaviours were wiped away and I was lifted up to a higher plane. All I could feel was love, gratitude and a sense of being protected and cared for by something greater than myself. I was reminded over and over again that I was good. I was made of love. That I had a very specific purpose to fulfil whilst on the earth. That I was walking the path intended for me and all would reveal itself at the right time. TRUST and all is coming.
The medicine songs played on, the most beautiful music I have ever heard, with Luke adding his own vibrations on the gong and singing bowls. A could feel the songs assisting the medicine in working on my heart. I felt a deep and profound sense of peace.
After a while the Shaman began to call us up for a second round of Hapé which some people chose to partake in. Feeling a little nauseous I knew a second round of medicine would tip me over the edge into purge-ville and so I decided to opt out. The bodily sensations were significant and I felt content to lie in peace, absorbing the medicine of the music and Hapé as it continued to speak to my heart. I don't know if I have ever had such a profound sense of love, gratitude, connection and a feeling of purpose before. I came away feeling that I am truly special, and I should treat myself as such! Something I feel every person should understand about themselves.
As the ceremony wound down Luke blessed us with more medicine songs, tones on the gong and profound moments of peace punctuated by a final track, 'I am Loving Awareness' by Ram Dass and East Forest (which brought on more water works for me).
We closed the ceremony with some more sharing (plus some more spewing for a couple of folks) and a bit of group grounding.
My journey home was a hilarious juxtaposition to the serenity of the ceremony - the London tube on a Saturday night certainly has its charms. But as Ram Dass says... it's all Medicine.
The days after I spent re-grounding and reintegrating what I had learnt. I spent long afternoons strolling through the woodlands, immersing myself in nature, meditating and reflecting. I feel I shed a lot about myself in that ceremony - my anxieties, insecurities and low self esteem. I have set myself the target to meditate everyday now, even if just for five minutes, those small moments of calm can truly bring us closer to our truest selves. The anxieties come creeping back in slowly, but if we commit ourselves to PRACTICE then we are able to see beyond these earthly struggles. As the lovely Bhavanie said "this too shall pass"...
I feel Hapé teaches us an inner warrior courage, a strong (strooooong) sense of presence and appreciation for ourselves exactly as we are. I was shown gratitude, interconnectivity, trust and oh-so-much love and for that I shall be forever grateful to Hapé.
Sacred spaces can be found everywhere in the world. All we need to do is open our hearts, call to the universe and surrender.