AN IBOGA CEREMONY: The Ultimate Psychedelic Ritual In The African Rainforests

An Iboga Psychedelic Ceremony

WHAT

In the mid-eighteenth century,  the Mitsogho tribes of West Africa faced serious persecution from European colonists keen to capitalize on the region’s abundant natural resources.  To preserve their cultural identity and evade disease, famine, and enslavement, the Mitsogho tribes fled into the depths of the Congo jungle. Here, they encountered the pygmy tribes, who shared a secret that would change their culture forever. The psychedelic plant – Tabernanthe iboga. An ultra-powerful psychoactive root native to the jungles of western Equatorial Africa.

Tabernanthe Iboga Tree
Iboga comes from the root bark of the Tabernanthe Iboga tree. Photo Credit: Creative Commons

When the Mitsogho people eventually returned to their villages, they brought with them knowledge of a mysterious root that induced a dream-like state of consciousness. Therein, users experienced lucid visions, repressed memories, insights into the nature of existence, and communication with one’s dead ancestors. Thus was born the Bwiti tradition; an animist nature-culture who venerate the iboga plant as a medicine, a key to the spirit realm, a hotline to deceased ancestors, and a tuning fork for the mind, body, and spirit.

Woman preparing for iboga ceremony
Preparations for an iboga ceremony can last weeks. Photo Credit: Tony Hoare

Sadly, most westerners know of iboga only because of its capacity to relieve heroin addiction. However, western media claims that iboga’s benefits are limited to addicts is an enormous mistruth. For centuries before its anti-addiction properties were discovered, iboga was used as a visionary healing tool, eventually becoming the central pillar of the Bwiti tradition. Bwiti, which roughly translates to mean “dead,” “deceased,” or “ancestor,” is a mysterious and secret practice.  The only way to understand Bwiti is to see Bwiti. And the only way to do that is via an initiation ceremony, where you’ll eat lots and lots of iboga.

Bwiti creed has no gospels and no dogma. There is only the iboga plant and its life-changingly potent effects. A Bwiti shaman or ‘nganza’ may describe iboga as a super sentient being, tasked with instructing mankind on the nature of life, death, the natural world, and self-actualization. Descriptions from visiting westerners may range from “an acrid root that just made me vomit for fifteen hours,” to “a paradigm-shifting, hi-definition dream machine that  lifted the veil on the true purpose of existence.”

A woman slips into an iboga induced trance
After consuming iboga, people slip into a trance-like state where they experience lucid visions. Photo Credit: Tony Hoare

HOW

Undergoing a Bwiti initiation in Gabon requires some planning. First, you’ll need a travel visa, which requires a letter of invitation from the government, which is obtainable via Gabonese tour companies. Upon landing in Gabon, don’t expect to find a Bwiti representative waiting at the arrivals lounge with an Initiation sign in hand. The vast majority of initiations take place either in the jungle or on the outskirts of the capital city Libreville. There are no websites and no promotional literature. That said, specialist Gabonese tour operators, some of whom are Bwiti initiates, have links to the select few Bwiti groups willing to initiate outsiders.

Village members dancing during an iboga ceremony
Photo Credit: Daniel Brett

The iboga ceremony is the culmination of a period of preparation that usually lasts no less than a month. During this time, potential initiates will prepare by fasting, meditating, spending time in nature, defining their intent, and focusing on what they hope to gain from the experience. Positive personal growth and a desire to become a catalyst for positive social change are great starting points.

Bwiti member dances during iboga ceremony
Photo Credit: Tony Hoare

As well as lucid visions, the experience may include psychic downloads, words, sounds, light bulb moments of solar intensity, and other mediums that stretch the imagination. Forget imagined comparisons with LSD, mushrooms, or any other psychedelics.  The only way to truly understand an iboga Bwiti ceremony and iboga is to buy the ticket and take the ride. And the best place to do that is Africa.

Bwiti tribes drumming at sunrise after an iboga ceremony
Live music is considered a vital component of the iboga ceremony. Photo Credit: Tony Hoare

While some westerners prefer initiation in the depths of the jungle, others may find this too much to take in. In Libreville, Gabon’s capital city lives a small number of western ex-pats who are also Bwiti initiates. A fraction of these have been ordained as Bwiti shamans and cleared to perform true initiations. Some of these city-based “Nganzas” can be tracked down and contacted online.

A Sunrise dance party in Gabon.
Sunrise Dance Party – Gabon Style! Photo Credit: Tony Hoare

WHERE

Gabon, Africa.

RISKS

Although extremely rare, iboga-related deaths have occurred. Largely, these fatalities have taken place among heroin users seeking iboga, or more specifically, the ‘ibogaine’ alkaloid, to help relieve their addiction. Usually, victims have failed to follow certain protocols that ensure safe, effective treatment. Anyone seeking ibogaine to help with addiction is strongly advised to research elsewhere.

Woman lights candle during iboga ceremony
Although iboga ceremonies begin at night, they may last for days. Photo Credit: Tony Hoare

REWARDS

The iboga journey is challenging, beautiful, ineffable, humbling, awe-inspiring, enlightening, and above all, healing. Iboga is a teacher, a doctor, a giver of meaning, and a therapist capable of administering decades worth of therapy in a single night.  Approached with reverence, intention, and an open heart and mind, iboga and its spinoff spiritual discipline – Bwiti, can bestow gifts that no words exist to describe.

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