🫠 Psychonaut POV

[5-min read] Q&A with Mary Olivar, Director of Development

Welcome to Tricycle Day. We tried to email you some fresh air and sunshine, but it wouldn’t attach. Guess this interview will have to do. 🤷

To Mary Olivar, shamanism isn’t some big secret. The magic's hidden in plain sight as soon as you step outside. As director of The Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange, her goal is simple: to support the indigenous wisdom keepers who’ve maintained their connection to nature, for the benefit of all mankind.

We asked Mary about the role of ayahuasca in the Shipibo tradition, why cultural exchange is so important for humanity, and how anyone can bring shamanism into their modern life.

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Mary Olivar Psychonaut POV
Was there a specific moment or experience that first drew you towards shamanism?

Shamanism, for me, is deeply connected to nature-based spirituality. It's hard to pinpoint a specific moment when I started feeling excited about my connection with the earth because it takes me back to my childhood—the joy of feeling the grass under my toes, marveling at the birds, noticing the wind, saying hello to the sunshine, and smelling the flowers.

At the core of shamanism is connecting with the natural world around us. Allowing myself to embrace and deepen my sense of appreciation, wonder, and connection with the natural world feels liberating. It has always been an innate part of who I am.

My teachers, José and Lena Stevens from the Power Path, were the ones who first gave me the lexicon of Shamanism that I use now. They're also the founders of the Center for Shamanic Education, which they founded in 2009. A lot of my own personal path honors their leadership as my teachers. They gave me the practices that I use personally as well as the vehicle to be in reciprocity with many of the indigenous communities and teachers that we work with.

How did studying with the Wixarika and Shipibo peoples change you? What aspects of their ways of life have you incorporated into your own?

My experience with indigenous communities in Mexico and South America has been one of warmth, openness, connectivity, trust, and joy. They've shown me the joy of being awakened to the world around us, to notice the elements, to be grounded in the earth, and to be in full awareness of the connection we hold as humans—not separate from the earth, but as part of it.

As an extension of that relationship between humans and the earth, there's also a leaning into the connection from human to human. It’s a full presence and engagement with the person standing in front of you, while simultaneously holding an awareness of where we're standing together on the earth.

One specific Wixarika practice that I find beautiful is the five points of attention. As I understand it, these points involve maintaining awareness of all these facets at once: how your body is feeling, where you are and what is happening around you, what you are doing and your intention, what is below you, and what is above you. The last two can be taken metaphorically, perhaps as frameworks of time, inheritance and evolution, earth and sky, or physical manifestation and spirit. The task is to hold all of these things in your awareness simultaneously, but even just doing the first three puts you in a really good place.

What I love about the teachings I have received is that they are often simple, profound, and accessible. I believe they are part of our universal human legacy. They’re not necessarily things we're being introduced to, but essentially remembering.

Tell us about The Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange. What has been your favorite or most impactful project so far?

One of the projects I'm deeply humbled and honored to be a part of is with the Kogi nation in the mountains of Northern Colombia. They are considered one of the most intact indigenous cultures in the world. Our project focuses on their holy women, the Sanhas, who hold the mysticism particular to the female body, often involving reproduction, birth, and other elements. They call it "spiritual midwifery," but it encompasses more than our Western ideas of what midwifery means.

Everything the Kogi do is entwined with their spiritual cosmology and relationships between earth, self, masculine, and feminine. They are one of the communities who have never forgotten how to be in harmony with the earth. As part of the project, a census was taken to identify the Sanhas in different Kogi villages, and they were brought together for a meeting, which was a first in everyone's memory. They committed to ensuring they each have an apprentice to impart their wisdom to.

Another project I'm deeply involved with is supporting the Shipibo-Conibo community in the Ucayali River Basin of Peru. We provide resources for the younger generations to participate in month-long plant dietas, deepening their relationship with the plants through fasting, focus, contemplation, and deep listening.

While many Westerns assume Ayahuasca is the sole focus of these dietas, the Shipibo often use Ayahuasca as a symbiotic companion to this work. It opens them up to work more deeply with a different plant they are dieting with. The Shipibo believe that through dieting, the plant becomes part of the person's multidimensional field, which can then be summoned and connected with through song.

Seeing the young people of the community come into their confidence, ability, and desire to be of service in the world through these dietas has been truly inspiring. It provides a framework for them to deepen their connection to their heritage and ensures the continuation of valuable knowledge and traditions.

With all our projects, we strive to support indigenous communities in maintaining their spiritual practices and wisdom. Our goal is to help ensure their perpetuation, which I believe is fundamentally important for our collective human experience. It's not about preservation, which implies something static, but about nourishing these living traditions.

The Center actively connects shamans from different cultures to exchange ideas. Will you share an example of how this approach has benefited their tribes or inspired new expressions of shamanism?

Spiritual expression is always evolving; it's not a book to memorize but an experiential process. Our world is evolving too, so we adapt our projects accordingly. For one of them, we’re sending a Wixarika Huichol Marikame from Mexico to Peru for a couple months to participate in dietas at the Kurin Metsa School of Shamanism. We won't be there to observe or document their conversations; it's an organic exchange between them, as they all speak Spanish. This type of sharing is part of our human legacy that has been disrupted by modern borders and frameworks. We want to reignite it.

Looking at cultural heritage sites like Chaco Canyon in Northern New Mexico, we see evidence of long standing spiritual exchange. They had bird feathers from South America, cacao, and other items—signs of a history of pilgrimage. We're not meant to be in isolation but in relationship and connection with one another.

Our role is to support these indigenous-to-indigenous exchanges and to share the stories of these experiences with our community and donor base. We recognize that some communities may be more reserved with what they want to share, often as a result of past harms and extractionism. Reciprocity implies consent, and we facilitate exchange only when the community is interested in sharing. Our goal is to support their intentions.

Looking ahead to the future, what role do you see for shamanism in an increasingly digital and globalized world?

I believe that our connection to nature is the antidote we need for maintaining our sanity and health in an increasingly digitized world. There's such good medicine in simple practices like going outside, putting your feet on the ground, and getting some sunshine on your body.

The more we're caught up in the projection and the doing, we lose the desire of being. There's a lot of talk nowadays about feminine leadership, a new way of doing things that emphasizes interconnection and relationship. The most fundamental way to tap into these different systems is by allowing ourselves to rest in our being-ness.

These simple practices are part of our genetic and spiritual heritage, and they are inescapable. All of us have this collective experience of greeting the sun, feeling gratitude, laying on the earth, and connecting with her abundance. It’s part of who we are. We are in our earth bodies; we're earthlings.

As we increasingly engage in an intellectual and external expression of a world outside the body, the more we need to lean into the remembrance of the joy of being human. That's why I see shamanism as absolutely essential for harmony in our future.

Want more from Mary?

Learn more about her work with the Center for Shamanic Education and Exchange, and support indigenous communities by buying their artisan goods or making a donation.


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DISCLAIMER: This newsletter is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. The use, possession, and distribution of psychedelic drugs are illegal in most countries and may result in criminal prosecution.

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