The Tree of Light, The Myths and Legends
Noya Rao, known in Spanish as “Palo Volador” or “The Flying Tree” is a mythical plant, of which there are only three found in the entire Amazon Basin. When shed, her leaves glow brightly in the dark, which is one reason why she is also known by those that seek her as “The Tree of Light.” In Shipibo culture, Noya translates as “Flying” and Rao to “Plant Spirit” which has given rise to the affectionate naming of her as “The Flying Plant Spirit.” Noya Rao has been used in sacred ceremony by the Mahua Shipibo traditions for centuries and dieting on her bark is believed to be essential in the path towards becoming a healer.
Noya Rao is a “Master Plant,” and when completing a dieta with her, a student will be required to adhere to particular terms and conditions as determined by an experienced curandero and the master plant itself. A Dieta, to refresh the reader’s memory is best defined as a series of dietary and behavioural regimes that allow one to move effectively and safely into working relationships with such [sacred] plants.
“These relationships can bring about profound transformations and the Dietas are best designed to facilitate them.“
A dieta with Noya Rao will often occur in total seclusion and under the expert guidance of a respected and experienced curandero. The student will be required, for the period of the dieta to abstain from the use of toothpaste, deodorant, insect repellent, soap and other personal care products unless they are made with 100% natural ingredients and are free of any scent or perfume. They will also be instructed to not have sex or masturbate and are forbidden to eat pork, oil, salt, chocolate, red meat, sugar and certain fruits such as papaya, watermelon and mango. They must also not drink caffeine or alcohol. Women are advised not to begin a dieta when they’re menstruating as this may make it difficult for the plant spirit to enter their body, causing dissonance and discomfort to both the woman and the plant.
It’s important to note that the conditions for an individual’s dieta are highly particular to that individual and are not generally replicable. They are established by the plant spirit indwelling within the Master Plant together with an experienced curandero. Depending on the severity of the restrictions, a curandero may attempt to bargain with the plant spirit to reduce the length, duration or to ease the restrictions imposed on the student.
The purpose of completing a dieta with Noya Rao, as with any Master Plant is for the student to slowly build a trusting, sincere and respectful relationship with what the Amazonian traditions believe are the plant spirits that dwell within. The ritual of the dieta also serves as an expression of determination and dedication to one’s spiritual, emotional and physical transformation. The dieta is therefore the practice necessary to make the mind more susceptible to the wisdom, knowledge and instruction provided to them by the plant teacher or spirit dwelling within a particular Master Plant.
A dieta with Noya Rao is said to enhance one’s connection and relationships to the spirits indwelling in other sacred plants and to facilitate profound transformation in the individual. Dieting on Noya Rao can lead to greater capacity for organised thought, mental clarity, activate one’s intuitive capacities and help to bring to light unconscious assumptions one may have about the world; in turn leading the dietero (a) to develop the courage necessary to abandon limiting beliefs and change their perceptions.
“A dieta with Noya Rao is said to enhance one’s connection and relationships to the spirits indwelling in other sacred plants and to facilitate profound transformation in the individual.”
The Shipibo peoples possess many stories that have led Noya Rao to acquire an unique mythical status in their culture. Shipibo elders Don Miguel and Maestra Juanita are the custodians of two such legends.
The Myth of Noya Rao as told by Don Miguel
The setting for this legend is an ancient Shipibo village, to the north of the Ucayali river mouth, somewhere between Pucallpa and Iquitos.
One day while out walking, the chief of the village found a tall tree on the river’s edge and was mesmerised by the transformation he witnessed in both the nearby fish and birds that came into contact with it. The chief stood on the bank and watched as fish transformed into birds and flew out of sight and as birds, perched on the tree’s branches transformed into fish, diving deep below the surface of the water. After witnessing what he took to be a miraculous happening, he walked quietly back to his village. That night, the tree showed up in his dream and spoke to him. It said that if he used its bark medicinally, he too would be able to fly.
Don Miguel singing the Icaro next to the majestic Noya Rao tree
The following morning, guided by this vision, the chief went back to collect the tree’s bark as he was instructed to do. The chief made a special tincture from the bark and used it to encircle the village, drawing a subtle line in the earth around the entire camp. The chief then gathered his people and told them that for three consecutive nights nobody was allowed to leave the village, as they were to throw a huge celebration. On the first night of the celebration while everyone was drunk on Masato, the youngest son of the chief decided to run into the jungle alone, to find and play with the tree that this father had described. While the boy was playing beside the tree he felt strong vibrations in the earth but thought nothing of it. He continued to play and retuned home as the sun was rising.
The celebration continued the next day and that night, the second night of the celebration, the young boy left again, alone, to visit and play beside the tree. The vibrations in the earth were stronger this time, but he continued to play until morning. On the third night of the celebration the chief’s son disappeared again but because the villagers were so intoxicated by Masato, not one of them noticed he was missing. During the night, the vibrations in the earth were stronger yet again. In the first hours of the morning, as the boy was returning quietly home, he saw from a distance that his entire village was being torn from the earth. Terrified, the boy broke into a run, in the direction of his home, but it was too late as the village was too high above the earth for him to reach. He screamed his father’s name like death but nobody could hear him as the celebrations continued unperturbed. The village continued to rise above the clouds and disappeared into the sky leaving the young boy alone on the ground below. Today that Shipibo village is still missing, and many believe that it has become a star in the night sky.
The Myth of Noya Rao as told by Maestra Juanita
The setting for Maestra Juanita’s legend is a small Shipibo village to the north of the Ucayali river.
In this small, isolated village was a young boy who lived on his family’s farm together with his mother and brothers. On the river’s edge, there was a majestic tree, known to the villagers as Noya Rao. Many had witnessed fish who contacted the tree transform into birds and soar up and out of sight. The young boy used to disobey his mother and in order to avoid working the family’s farm he would run far into the jungle spend his days playing in the river water beside the tree.
Maestra Juanita singing to Noya Rao Tree of Light
One day, his mother became worried as the boy had not returned by dark. Days passed and the boy never returned. Despite desperate attempts to locate the boy, he was never found. His mother continued to call his name for years, and the village people came to believe that he too transformed into a beautiful bird and flew far away.
Upon listening to the stories recounted by the Shipipo elders, it is evident that Noya Rao is understood as having the power to profoundly transform lives and communities, quite literally. Based on my own experience of undergoing a dieta with this profoundly mystical plant, I too have come to appreciate that Noya Rao possess the unique means to affect meaningful change within us, for the better.
My journey with Noya Rao
On the day of my 33rd birthday, I encountered Noya Rao for the first time and on January 1st, 2017, I began a twelve-month dedicated Dieta with her.
For thousands of years the Shipibo curanderos have been connecting with and working medicinally with this tree. They have cultivated an enduring spiritual relationship with Noya Rao and some say that they have been receiving etheric chips from the spirit realm, which they implant into people during ceremony. These seeds are believed to inhabit the dietero(a) and continue to grow inside them for the duration of their natural life. The implanting of these etheric chips is the method the Shipibo people use to heal others and to initiate recipients into the healing profession.
One of the brothers of the family who I was staying and studying with at this time believed that he had a wife in the spirit realm and a child in the tribe of the Chaikuni people who also inhabit the spirit realm. He told me that his son would gather these etheric chips and send them down to him in the physical realm to use as needed. One day, this brother, a highly revered Shipibo curandero received a message that Noya Rao had returned to the human dimension. He wasted no time and that day embarked on a journey in search for the tree. Some days later, exhaling smoke out through his tobacco pipe, he discovered the tree, in all its majesty on his daughter’s land.
Cutting off the dreadlocks during the Noya Rao Dieta.
Whilst completing my Dieta with Noya Rao, I was visited both during our nightly Ayahuasca ceremonies and in my dreams, by bright, vivid, ethereal beings of light; unlike anything I had encountered before. This experience ended in me shaving off the dreadlocks that I had spent the last seven years of my life growing. This symbolic gesture felt like the perfect wearable emblem for the mysterious transformation I had experienced. After expressing my deepest gratitude to Noya Rao, I buried my hair in the earth next to her.
I can’t say exactly how they did, but these beings helped me to discover what I’ve come to regard as ‘my true self.’ After these nightly encounters, the masks that I had been wearing in my relationships, and the roles that I had been playing, quickly dissolved and I entered a state of being that was (and is) the most authentic and fulfilling I have ever known.
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