This is a guest post by Frances Keyton, an actor, writer and aficionado of alternative medicine.
“Kambô will change my life” – I thought, as I watched a video of a man vomiting into a bucket.
For those who do not know, Kambô is a healing “purge” ritual used mainly in South America. It’s named after the poisonous secretions of the giant monkey frog Phyllomedusa bicolor. At this point you might be thinking What? Did I misread that? Frog poison is the new “thing”? Yes, you read right. But before you rush to book your shaman, let me tell you about my own Kambô cleanse.
The indigenous people of South America have used Kambô for centuries to heal and cleanse the body by strengthening its natural defences and warding off bad luck. It’s also believed to increase stamina and hunting skills. While I’m not a keen hunter myself, I was interested in the mental-health aspect. One of the supposed benefits of Kambô is that it has long been used to clear the head of panema, which means a general bad aura or dark cloud. A person is with panema when nothing goes right in their life. I felt quite whole-heartedly that I was with panema, and I was keen to get rid of it. (I’m also terrified of frogs, and a perverse part of me thought that being smeared with frog poison might rid me of my phobia.)
Following a miserable day of fasting and drinking water, the shaman arrived at my flat. She told me her story as she transformed my lounge into a spiritualist haven; pushing aside furniture, draping a scarf over the TV, and wafting incense into every crevice. Her name was Sophie and she had formerly been a doctor with the NHS before turning to alternative medicine.
After a small chant to open the ceremony, she thrust a bucket into my quivering hands.
“This is your friend”. I nodded sagely.
“First, I’ll burn some small dots on your body, and then I’ll apply the frog poison. At first you’ll experience a euphoric rush as if you’re coming up on a pill, and then the nausea will start. It’s important to stay upright as much as possible while you vomit into your bucket. The entire ritual could take anywhere from forty minutes to two hours.”
I gulped. “Any questions?”
“Yes – is it likely I’ll poo myself?”
Sophie’s face remained calm.
“It can happen, but it depends on the person. If you feel like you’re going to poo, make your way to the bathroom on all fours. It’s best not to stand up.”
Sophie began burning the dots on the inside of my right lower leg, just above my ankle – a popular place for beginners, and part of the lymphatic system. She applied the green frog poison which had been mixed with water and now resembled wasabi paste. My last clear thought was of sushi, and then it began.
The rush came – just like Sophie had said. A pulsing beat ran up my body to my brain, feeling briefly pleasant, but all too quickly the nausea began. As my body started to reject the alien substance, I felt very, very sick. I clutched my bucket and began to vomit. This was awful. I remember thinking My mum will kill me for this, as I vomited a fresh stream of clear gloop to my rapidly-filling bucket.
I don’t remember passing out, but when I came to, Sophie was in my face shaking maracas and chanting. Irritated, I went back to my bucket. It was indeed my friend.
After about forty minutes of sheer hell, I stopped vomiting and Sophie told me that it was over.
Shivering and traumatised, I lay on the sofa wrapped in a blanket, watching as Sophie packed away her scarves, incense and maracas. She handed me a cup of green tea and I thanked her for poisoning me.
Later that night I lay in bed staring at the ceiling thinking. I had been alarmingly lucid throughout the purging experience and now that it was over, I felt the mild euphoria that you get after surviving a horrendous experience, tinged with guilt at having gone along with this expensive Kambô cleanse in the first place.
I sighed then googled a picture of a frog and instantly recoiled in terror.
My life had not changed.