Shaman Or Facilitator Category: Ayahuasca
On September 24, 1961 in a poor little village in Peru, about 100 miles south of the border with Ecuador, José Mercedes Campos Campos was born. It was inCujillo, in the District in Cajamarca, with a population of only a few dozen people. His mother, Francisca Campos Sempertigue gave him his last name because his father, Demostenes Cabrera, a medical school student at the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, did not recognized his parenthood at the time. José has always carried very proudly his last name Campos, given by his mother, as she was the one that raised him the best she could. Francisca was a hardworking woman, daughter of a local mestizo and a white immigrant from Spain’s Basque province. It was not until 40 years later that José met his father for the first time. They mended their father-son issues and today they meet frequently and enjoy the family life. He always longed to meet his father and it was a long wait. His father, who was a medical doctor, was in turn the son of an authentic curandero of the region. In retrospect, José realized that his origins come from a lineage of healers and started to see himself as the continuation of a legacy.
When he was six years old his mother had to move to another town and sent him temporarily with his aunt and cousins until she was able to settle in. José waited for two long years until it was possible to reunite with his mother. This was a happy period but it was short lived. A few months later he is sent to live with another uncle, where he found painful emotional abuse had a hard time adjusting in this new environment. He went to school and was able to obtain his primary education. However, when he became a teenager, he was expected to earn a living to contribute to the household that was hosting him. The only work available was very physical and exploiting, something that made him start looking for alternatives for his future. At seventeen, seeking a more bearable future he managed to move again with another relatives, in the small town of Moyobamba, Although his next two years would also require hard work in farms, he had the opportunity to discover his connection with the wild Amazon jungle. He remembers the early lessons learned about fauna and flora, while he explored his natural curiosity for the unknown.
After completing military service, Dr. Vecco gladly put him back to work in his previous job, but this time brought him closer like a son. In the next couple of years he instructed José about his personal hobby that consisted in studies of Inca archeology, paleontology and pre-history. In the weekends, the doctor included José in his day trips to the fossil sites in the San Martin region, where he taught him how to find and appreciate prehistoric fossils.
Dr. Vecco was a devoted scientist that around 1984 founded the “Patronato de Ciencia y Cultura”, a type of non-profit foundation that organized and sponsored scientific lectures, field trips, and conferences for the advancement of science and the Inca culture. He invited doctors, university professors, and other professionals to join as members and it became a successful meeting forum of the intellectual community of the region. Dr. Vecco delegated to José the operations of the foundation and started to expose him to the foundation members. Not surprisingly, he became a well known and likable person among them. He travelled with them to the archeological field trips and even became a sort of tour guide in certain ruins that were visited frequently. José was thirsty for knowledge and nourished himself informally in many different areas. For instance, the German biologist, Reiner Schulte, took him under his wing and taught him about the different indigenous snakes and all about the poisonous and hallucinogenic frogs of the San Martin region.
Relevant at this point is an anecdote that has a very special place in José’s memory. He remembers how a regular day of work at the doctor’s office became an unforgettable one. It happens that the waiting area of the office was decorated with several glass covered displays containing the doctor’s fossil collection. He saw an old lady watching very carefully to every single fossil in the displays, something that José found curious, as local patients normally paid little attention to such strange looking rocks. While he stared at the old lady, she suddenly turned to him with a piercing look in her eyes. José got closer to her and without further signals she said: “You have the spirit of thecurandero and you will become a good one, that is written in your destiny”. This sparked José’s interest and they engaged in conversation for several hours. She was Dona Marta, a well known San Pedro curandera that invited him to experience her medicine. José got excited and the following week he was initiated in the San Pedro medicine, his first entheogenic experience. He wanted to explore it further and did it several times in the following months.
Meanwhile, his old mentor Cesar Villanueva, had founded a non-governmental organization named CEDISA - Centro de Desarrollo e Investigación de la Selva Alta. He invited a French researcher of traditional medicine, Dr. Jacques Mabit to conduct studies in the Tarapoto region. He came to Tarapoto and offered a lecture that captured José’s imagination. He got very excited about the scientific approach to traditional medicine and knew at that moment that his life was heading in that direction.
Jacques was born in one of the French possessions and spent much of his early childhood in Algeria and Djibouti, before moving to France, where he completed his secondary education and university studies in general medicine. He pursued additional studies in tropical medicine in Belgium and then traveled to Peru, where he conducted research on the environmental, cultural and social factors for the design of an appropriate health care strategy in the Peruvian high plains. He had received a research doctorate for his thesis on that topic from the University of Medicine in Nantes in 1984 and a further diploma in natural medicine from the University of Paris XIII in 1986.
José and Jacques immediately became friends as they found in each other what they needed. José found science and knowledge, while Jacques found an intelligent local ally that would help him move around the Peruvian culture. Soon enough, José invited him to experience the San Pedro medicine with Dona Marta and they did it together in several occasions.
During his investigations, Jacques found a local curandero who initiated him in the ayahuasca medicine and gave him a life changing experience. In July of 1987 he reciprocated José’s invitation to experience San Pedro by inviting him to an ayahuasca session with Don Wilfredo Tuanama. That was José’s first ayahuasca journey. He still remembers that ceremony as the most powerful and impressive ever. He saw his future as a shaman, his travels to Europe and USA, and many things he was never been able to put in words.
Dr. Vecco was going through a divorce and José was feeling uncomfortable with the situation. After years of being equally loyal to both husband and wife, he was now feeling the pressure of taking sides. Jacques perceived the situation and offered José the same deal he had with the doctor, and he accepted immediately. The doctor agreed and he became Jacques’ housekeeper and his right hand for almost everything. They spent the next year together exploring the ayahuasca universe researching, interviewing and many times drinking with dozens of curanderos in the region.
In 1988 Jacques took him to the “ II Congreso Internacional de Medicina Tradicional ” being held in both Lima and Iquitos. In one of the symposiums of the conference in Lima, José offered his first lecture about medicine plants to a group of visiting scientists and scholars from around the world.
In the Iquitos part of the conference they met Don Solon Tello and organized an ayahuasca session to initiate about 30 international participants. After the event, José continued close to Don Solon with whom he took ayahuasca many times and learned key shaman lessons from him. He considers Don Solon one of his major mentors in his shaman path.
During the conference he also met Mackie Erdely, a medical doctor and acupuncturist from New Mexico who invited him to the USA, but they were unable to obtain the USA tourist visa for José. He stayed in Tarapoto with Jacques and people started suggesting him that he was prepared to offer ayahuasca sessions to others. He accepted. After consulting and obtaining permission from his teachers José conducted his first ceremony as a shaman in late 1988. Then another participant of the conference recommended him to a group of Brazilians and through them he met Kamal Benjelloun, the son of a wealthy businessman from Morocco. Kamal was very impressed with José and promised to get back to him in the future.
In 1989 he was contacted again by his doctor friend from New Mexico who this time was able to obtain a visa. José agreed to travel and met curious scientists that were interested in traditional medicine. He met Dr. Rick Strassman who was investigating the plants containing DMT a few years before he actually did his famous research and published his bestseller book “DMT: The Spirit Molecule”.
In May of 1990 he was invited again to the USA with Jacques and together they met Terence McKenna at the Esalen Institute. They participated in one of Terrence’s workshops at the institute covering the area of Amazonian medicine plants. Terence was an intriguing American ethnobotanist, philosopher, psychonaut, researcher, lecturer and writer on many subjects, such as human consciousness, psychedelic substances, the evolution of civilizations, the origin and end of the universe, alchemy, and extraterrestrial beings. Esalen Institute is a residential community and retreat center in Big Sur, California, which focuses on humanistic alternative education and devoted to activities such as meditation, Gestalt, yoga, psychology, ecology, and spirituality.
In another trip, Jacques arranged a meeting with a senior officer of certain organization of the European Union based in Paris, in order to start the process of requesting a grant to establish a traditional medicine project in Peru. Jacques and José travelled to the meeting and to their surprise, the project was well received and shortly thereafter the grant was approved without major inconveniences. This project was for the creation of a rehabilitation center to treat drug addiction using traditional medicine plants. They named it Takiwasi Center. After a few months dealing with the required paperwork, the funding for the project finally occurred in September 1992 and the Takiwasi Center was born in Tarapoto. Takiwasi is a word in quechua language that means singing (taki) house (wasi) in reference to the many icaros that are sung in the center. Takiwasi was created as an experimental center to treat drug addicts using traditional Amazonian medicines. The idea was to apply the healers’ art in a more systematic way.
José was co-founder of the Center with Jacques and acted as Sub-director of the Center. Here he had the opportunity to develop and polish his curandero / shaman skills conducting hundreds of ayahuasca sessions to the patients of the Center.
By modifying his state of consciousness with drugs, the drug addict looks for a meaning in his life and often for an unconscious access to their spiritual or divine nature. This method has always been used through the ages by every culture. The majority of today’s drugs are made with plants (wine, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, marijuana) which are considered “sacred” in many cultures and for that reason are taken ritually. All the Amazonian healers or shamans explain that psychoactive plants contain chemical substances but also are living entities carrying genios or “spirits” which help and cure if they are respected, but kill if they are abused. Rediscovering the ritual is essential. The aim of Takiwasi was to help the patient to get over his addiction, teaching him that he can modify his state of consciousness without damaging himself and gain a more spiritual outlook on his life, giving him strength and faith.
By the mid-2000’s almost everyone referred to him as “Don José”, his international recognition and many years of service to others gave him the respectful prefix to his name. Although he insists on being named just plain José, people ignore his wishes and continue to call him “Don José”. He definitely deserves such respect, especially when the “Don” is something that years ago was reserved to honor the experienced elders but today even young apprentices add this prefix to their names only for marketing purposes.
Don José cooks his own medicine using assistants under his supervision together with his experience and wisdom. He does not sell medicine to anyone nor buys medicine from others. He believes in a chain of responsibility that goes from the cutting, preparation, cooking, and administration to the participant.
Now throughout this second decade of the millennium José continues to meet fascinating people, enriching his interesting life, and deepening his shaman power and energy to help in the universal expansion of the sacred medicine.
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