Reviews & Interviews

Book Review – The Ayahuasca Test Pilot’s Handbook by Chris Kilham

Book Review
The Ayahuasca Test Pilot’s Handbook
by Chris Kilham
230 Pages

“The Ayahuasca Test Pilot’s Handbook” by Chris Kilham is a small but information-packed book perfectly sized for travel and guidance. While the Ayahuasca experience is clearly immense and varied, Kilham focuses on traditional use and the rituals surrounding Ayahuascero shamanism, and creates a book that tells you just about everything that you’ll need to know if you’re planning to travel to Iquitos (or a nearby region) for an Ayahuasca ceremony. 

What this book won’t tell you is how to make your own brew, how to dose, where to source ingredients, or much else that would help you prepare Ayahuasca at home; while the making of the brew is discussed at some length, proportions and exact recipes aren’t. The question of dosage is similarly vague; dosage is variable depending on the organization running the ceremony and the shaman preparing the brew, and Kilham helpfully points out that how much each person drinks is generally decided by the shaman, and not by the individual. This doesn’t make the book useless to an explorer who can’t make it to Iquitos, though; much of the information contained is still relevant, but the reader would be well advised to seek these specifics from other sources, or to ask them of any local Ayahuasceros that are engaged in this service. Instead of providing advice for individual usage, Kilham leans deeply into the traditions of shamanism, and primarily discusses the experiences that await intrepid psychonauts and the wounded who seek healing, especially from the Ayahuasceros of Iquitos and the surrounding areas. 

Packed with extensive first-hand experience and advice, this book reads as the practical and sometimes hard-won advice of someone who really knows. When discussing the variations of Ayahuasca brews, Kilham doesn’t beat around the bush in advising against the inclusion of particularly dangerous ingredients such as Brugmansia (which is called Toé by some Ayahuasceros, and contains the potentially-fatal alkaloid scopolamine). He also takes time to closely discuss both the MAOI-necessitated diet of the Ayahuasca user — information which is readily available on many websites about MAOIs, but which is certainly important information to those inexperienced with MAOIs or Ayahuasca — and the traditional shamanic Dieta that is recommended by many shamans, which both suggests some specific foods while banning overwhelming substances such as alcohol and cannabis prior to an Ayahuasca ceremony. He also spends some time discussing the animistic attitude of Ayahuasceros towards other plants, and the way that their use overlaps (for example, a specific type of tobacco is often smoked and blown on participants for energetic clearing during ceremonies). 

Although Kilham is clearly exploring a foreign cultural tradition, he does so with a great deal of genuine respect, and takes time throughout the book to explore the traditional shamanic context of Ayahuasca — something many other enthusiasts of Ayahuasca never mention amongst their pontification upon Ayahuasca’s therapeutic potential or chemical makeup. He discusses the need for respect of this indigenous culture and even touches on issues of Ayahuasca’s biological sustainability (a larger question which Kilham has explored at length in his other personal work). This context provides a wonderful balance and framework for Kilham’s personal experiences, and really sets this book apart from many other works written about the brew. While many books written about psychedelic and psychoactive plants mention Ayahuasca, few of them delves as deeply into both the history and the practicalities of modern Ayahuasca shamanism as Kilham’s. Extraordinarily well-balanced and peppered with extensive warnings (Ayahuasca really isn’t for everyone, and Kilham doesn’t try to pretend it is; nor is every Ayahuascero reputable or trustworthy, and Kilham suggests some methods of discernment), this book provides indispensable information for anyone interested in trying Ayahuasca for the first time.

 

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About the Author:

Sarah McMenomy is an artist and witch. Her craft incorporates herbalism, spellwork, trance, divination, auras, and more. Her work can be found at https://sarahmcmenomy.tumblr.com

 

 

Sarah McMenomy is an artist and witch. Her craft incorporates herbalism, spellwork, trance, divination, auras, and more. Her work can be found at https://sarahmcmenomy.tumblr.com