Diego Palma is dead. And I am not surprised. Neither would he be, I suspect, since the ‘luxury shaman’ of Peru’s Sacred Valley, a shrewd tycoon and thief of indigenous lore and wisdom, made a fortune on treasons he committed against forces that deal in death and vengeance.
Yes, Diego Palma, the city-slicker shaman who built a glamorous global empire on knowledge he stole from South America’s ancient and dangerous lineage of plant medicine healers, is dead. And I am not sad. It was only a matter of time before the emperor on a stolen throne would have to sip his own medicine, and account for the blood on his trail.
Thousands of those he served the ayahuasca brew over 15 years in Peru, are grieving a man who they never really knew.
Because the Diego Palma who showed the world a mild, transcendental smirk, as he loped about the Peruvian countryside in hessian ‘Jesus-wear’, with ponchos, was a fabrication.
Palma knowingly cultivated and then played on others’ willingness to invest in him shamanic powers, then narcissistically mocked them for their gullibility. As you can watch here, in a study of how little he really knew of shamanism, but relied on a salad of sarcasm, pop psychology, persuasion and New Age rhetoric to gather his many thousands of followers.
The true story of Diego Palma, the war he created and the business empire he built on psychedelics and land pimping was sealed in secrets, and eventually in blood.
If you are reading this, you’ve also managed to outwit the gringo network of ayahuasca entrepreneurs , cult tribes and hush makers who have suppressed this story everywhere… and you are in good company, because there are powerful shaman and defenders of culture everywhere who are getting a voice, and who want to say NO MORE!
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October 21, 2019: News trickled in on online plant medicine and shamanic forums (but was scrupulously hidden on search engines), that the Ayahuasca Tycoon of the remote pueblo, Pisac, in Peru’s Sacred Valley, had died from cancer, about a decade after he had overseen the ruination of the man who taught him all he knew.
From Bali to Berlin, key figures in Diego Palma’s organisation, The Sacred Valley Tribe, an influential and wealthy network of drug trafficking profiteers the imposter shaman recruited using the dangerous and powerful mind altering plants of Amazonian culture, issued sad messages from their own HQs as startup gurus and healers.
Melancholic guitar and cringe sacred techno tributes from his cult followers appeared on social media after he passed from cancer on October 21, 2019, but an obvious veil of secrecy was activated within hours of Palma’s death, and tributes have now mostly disappeared.
Yes, mostly, the businessman’s death, after an extremely lucrative two decades dealing in psychedelic healing and real estate, was hushed up online, possibly because early death, in shamanic circles, is in itself a sign of trouble.
And because those who understand the ferocity of true shamanic war, will be fearing for their own selves too, or should be.
~ * ~
Here at passionfruitcowgirl, messages from Diego’s vast international net of fans and acolytes trickled in from those who know the city-bred exploiter of indigenous plant secrets, as a ‘currandero’ a magic man of ancient and sacred wisdom, but who do not know the truth of his rise to fame.
And among them, and in briefer, harsher tones, a series of relieved or even bitter messages from genuine plant workers in South America who are glad he is gone, and who have been waiting a long time to see the sacred plants avenge themselves.
Powerful Shipibo and Amazon-based curranderos were in touch. There were heated conversations. There was anger. And then there was the sober and deadly nod of my maestro, too, the mighty and fearsome Banco of Tamshyako, who said, it is time the truth was told. And also time the gringo thieves of true plant medicines were given warning that the game is up.
Meanwhile, I’d say pot lucks were not doubt on, everywhere from Byron Bay to San Fransisco, with those who trade in ayahuasca, the powerful psychotropic plant brew belonging to the ancient lore of South American jungle people, and whose ring leader has left a throne to be reseated.
Here in Bali, those among us who have networked the New Age Yoga/ Psychedelic trail, exploiting every possible sacrament to make a fortune, and selling ceremonies under Diego’s empire were probably ‘a little bit sad’.
But I suspect their grieving was distracted by the intoxicating whiff of a new opening in the market – now their guru is gone. Because among this ‘tribe’, being a goddess, or a healer, or a shaman, or a yogi, or the top of any sort of pyramid is the real name of the spirituality game.
Yes, some of you out there are mourning a man who taught you how to turn the proud, fierce rites of a brave culture into a singalong circus, and make your own fortunes as gringo shaman, false gurus and criminal traffickers of illegal drugs.
And some of you have drunk the Kool Aid, and don’t know it.
Because even among his closest apprentices, very few people know the real man behind the Diego Palma shaman mask.
And those who do will never tell.
Because Palma, the one who reinvented himself in 2004, and headed from the city of Lima to the Peruvian hills, may have had many fine qualities, but he was also a businessman of ruthless ambition, dark deeds and massive influence in Peru’s Sacred Valley, a large slab of which his estate now owns, (and trades in).
And because the others are either dead or ready to edge into his seat.
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The candles and the prayers for Diego Palma go out to a man who ripped away the true, holy covenants of Ayahuasca ceremony to invent easy-access, high volume, ‘healing ceremonies’ for tourists, who thought they were getting medical, psychological, or sacred journeys, but were really sold cheesy kum buy ah circles for huge fees by a deeply corrupt and cynical team of ex-bankers, addicts and djs.
Diego’s inner circle was made of financiers, real estate sharks and confused hippies desperate to be among the a chosen few he drip-fed access to the vast financial gains and massive real estate prospects he shrewdly levered as he built his fortune as the imposter currandero of Peru’s spectacular Cusco region.
The vast and bewildering caravan of traders on ancient animist rites broke every covenant and every sacred boundary when they plundered indigenous plants, but though they credit the healing rites of the Amazon, Australia, Africa and everywhere – they scoff at the warnings that the mysterious forces defend the holy sacraments, and do nothing to honour or defend its true custodians.
Everywhere, people are trading in sacred plants, setting themselves up as healers and shaman, and seeking trips, highs, healing or visions, and recklessly ignoring the consequences of this plunder, or the unseen forces that avenge it.
After cashing out big on yoga, especially in once charming, and now toxic hubs like Ubud, Bali, and Costa Rica, ‘the tribe’ has learned the formula – hunt on the latest ‘spiritual trend’, appropriate rites or story or sacraments from indigenous or ‘ancient’ cultures, buy up ALL the land around yourself, and market the hell out of both your ‘healing’ abilities, and cheap real estate.
They are making a fortune on stolen ceremony, and gentrifying small villages, traditional pueblos, virgin land – anywhere they can find cheap acres to flip on the cults they establish around themselves in places like Costa Rica, Indonesia, South America.
While they play guitars and talk about ‘love and light’, the true medicine men and nature defenders of this planet are assassinated and systematically murdered in the Amazon and everywhere indigenous, virgin forest, and their cultures are in peril.
Meanwhile, the global mega-bucks have been hauled in on the back of these people and their cultures, by individuals like American, Meghan Pappenheim, in Bali, who established the Yoga Barn there and gives no fucks what’s sold as yoga or healing or shamanism or trauma therapy (shame on you, Bex Tyrer) at her juggernaut, as long as the dollars keep rolling.
Her teaching staff are ALL untrained. There have been countless issues, including burns, fractures, mental health disturbances, breakdowns, sex abuse and cult behaviour at Yoga Barn, but Pappenheim’s brand is massive, her real estate holdings huge, and her local staff earn less than $5 a day – so imagine the pyramid you can build on that formula. And the irony, of course, being that the slave wages go to the Bali heirs of an animist culture which actually does ceremony, instead of just selling it, like the mostly white ‘shaman’ and ‘yoga healers’ who make big bank at Yoga Barn.
But these people – the spirituality tribe – say nothing on these issues.
They claim ‘community’ but there is no actual leadership, morality or accountability among them. They claim ‘healing’, but on a buyer beware basis.
This is a ‘tribe’ on hunt for status and money: they will use any persuasion, vulnerability, drums, feathers, intoxicants and fashionable gimmicks (including risking death penalty in Indonesia for dealing in illegal substances) to get it.
They’re too busy becoming limitless, or hunting miracles, or manifesting their dream lives on yoga, and ayahuasca dollar to bother with the genocide facing the people they claim to have been initiated by, nor the injuries and mischief they are causing themselves.
As one researcher into the sacred rites and chemistries of African peoples told me;
“A Westerner dabbling in animism is like a
toddler playing with sharks.”
And others, natives of South America, the true heirs of these ceremonial plants, and even scientists and fellow plant workers are quietly observing the tragic mathematics of voodoo justice around a man who was a villain from the start.
~ * ~
I met Diego Palma in Pisac in 2008 when the tourist scene was gently emerging between Cusco and Machu Picchu, and Palma had already made his Machiavellian move.
Use of the psychotropic plants, ayahuasca and san pedro cactus, had fallen into the hands of entrepreneurial travellers, city-slicker businessmen and vast hordes of the lame, sick and trend-conscious were on the way to spend big dollar for access to the sacred psychedelic temple of the Great Mother, ayahuasca.
When I say vast, what I mean is MASSIVE.
From virtual obscurity in 2000, psychedelic plants EXPLODED into the public arena by 2010. There was a prophecy around this that even remote jungle curranderos understood, but nobody calculated the ferocity with which outsiders would steal and peddle the medicine, nor the multitudes of sick, lost, curious and irreverent who would come to drink it, or buy it online to swig at home.
Diego, a city boy from Lima, picked the market well. He caught the sniff of gold. He found his own cache in the Sacred Valley hills. And he zeroed in to mine it.
Trading his richboy city life for an apprenticeship to an actual ancestral shaman who lived quietly in the Pisac region and whose name is now erased, along with his home and memory, Diego said he came to cherish the sacred rites, but what he really wanted was to copy them.
While he feigned the role of humble student with the healer, Palma, ex-Tech in Finance, quietly bought vast tracts of land in the undeveloped hamlet of Pisac, secured leases on shops, plotted subdivisons and strategised a cluster of business to serve them and the cult that he would build, once he had plundered all he could from the healer, and then betrayed him.
When I arrived this was well underway.
Diego had built luxury houses on the outskirts of town, he had secured possession of huge plots of land for his future suburbs full of wannabes and seekers, projected the massive escalation of land values this would cause, and had totally defied the taboo his shaman teacher had placed on him from ever serving the medicine himself.
He set up a website that did not disguise his aims.
He traded in healing ceremony and real estate from the start.
But in his own teacher’s opinion, Diego Palma was no shaman.
He was never anointed to hold ceremony. He was never given the tools or maps to really navigate the dangerous realms of these catastrophic and profound tribal recipes and rituals. He received more than he ever understood, really, and was only ever capable of using plant medicine as entertainment, or worse.
He was, in fact, in deliberate and conscious breach of the lineage he plundered, and all of this had resulted in the shunning of his maestro, and the declaration of shamanic war between the humble elder and the student who deceived him.
Everybody in Pisac in 2008 knew this. But nobody cared.
Within a few short years the obvious wealth, the influx of tourists paying any price for the legendary ayahuasca experience, the intoxication of ceremonies designed to recruit followers, the exploitation of thousands of people who were drugged, sleep deprived and could smell a future life as puppets and imitators of the Diego Palma illusion saw gold on their horizons too, and the real maestro was made invisible, forgotten out in his hillside finka, and eventually left to rot.
~ * ~
Whispers of this story made it to the little adobe cottage where I was running a hostel for freaked out Americans and others seeking respite from the impending cataclysms in their countries.
I had, as it happened, a lot to do with ayahuasca. And been apprenticed also.
I was only months out from a long stint in the Amazon myself, under the tough care and severe protocols of one of the oldest and most fearsome of ayahuasca shaman in all Peru. And I had seen what shamanic healing looked like, and what shamanic initiation asked.
It was a tough, ugly, profound and miraculous journey. I had no intentions or pretensions of ever using that experience to facilitate others, and I had seen the viscous consequences when one around me did.
After months out in the remote and sweaty jungle, an indigenous man who was understudying my maestro disobeyed etiquette at the temple (a wonky wooden hut reserved for giving ayahuasca and elaborate healing rites) by serving plant medicine while the shaman was away.
All. Hell. Broke. Loose.
Severe punishment was metered out. The shaman, returning, roared like a sea monster. His face went purple with fury, and a terrible, violent, radioactive silence shrouded the jungle everywhere for days.
Our little camp shivered. Our frigid camp cowered under the wrath of a shaman who defended the honour of the medicine and the hierarchy of its use like he was avenging the Earth herself, and it took weeks of punishment, peace-making and adventures into the psychedelic realms to earn forgiveness, to restore the space and heal the camp of treason.
Our shaman was the heir of his father’s legacy. His father, the feared and respected Banco of the region, had earned his ceremonial rite by decades of prostration, isolation, pilgrimage into the deep Amazon with ayahuasca and other simple or deadly poisonous plants which took him to the most terrifying and ecstatic corners of the biological, karmic, intergalactic and unseen worlds they reign.
He was the child of medicine men murdered, tortured, ruined and heroic in keeping these secrets alive as they were hunted down and stamped from living memory by Conquistadors and missionaries.
This was a man who, then, at maybe 80, was spritely as a pixie, with wide eyes bright with gold of wisdom, and so brim full of life and mischief that he was to be seen constantly whizzing about the Amazon on Yamahas, fast boats, and bare feet, usually in his underpants, with harps strung across his shoulder and singing wild, lusty love songs to the trees and clouds.
This man, who is still Yamahing about at almost 100 today, and adoring the terrible gate keepers to the shamanic realm he humbly begs for entry and for favour, had also built a quaint and wonky sort of retreat deep in the Amazon. He also knew the hordes were coming.
He was said, in fact, to be the first Ayhauasca millionaire, and with that wealth he built a school for river children, and did not appear to have developed a taste for Calvin Kleins, real estate, wearing feathers, making websites or any other sort of cult or capitalistic type endeavours.
He said, “de medicine, ahhh but she is beautiful!
She is de wise and very gentle one.
She is de one who be so de very dangerous and jealous one.
We must be walking very softly, very with respect with her – and I be telling you! Superstition, disrespect, dishonour or sneaky business will not be please de Mother, Ayahuasca, and all her magnificent friends.
Oh, she will see de everything.
And she will be de one who speaks, and rules, and revenges, in de end. And always.
This. Be you remember!
When you drink with me, you always be with me.
I will be to find you when I need you.
And off he zoomed, with a little monkey in his pocket, and a very buxom young Peruvian lady beaming and giggling and pressing herself in close to his sun-polished naked back, into the wild and heavy jungle.
~ * ~
In my first ceremony with this man, one I had not signed up for, actually, but was singled out by kooky chance to have been almost abducted into out of the jungle city, Iquitos, I saw this man transform from a humble underpant-wearing pixie into a fifty -foot tall conductor, summoning a storm directly from the livid, ancient throat of the deep and heaving Amazon midnight.
I saw him conduct massive wild cats of thunder, a space war of terrifying lightning and choreograph an opera of wild forces in the humble shack he used as a temple out on in the true cathedral of plant medicine; the unhurt, untamed jungle.
I drank his black medicine and rode its churning sewer, saw the sick television of my wrung out mind, felt the sickness in me show itself as microscopic demons, roaring through my blood, and outcrops of woody mushrooms, colonising my skin.
I heard him play bells and flutes and feathers with such beauty that it hurt me. I heard him scream like a Tibetan at hosts of unseen beasts and monsters, ghosts and entities that he brought under his reign, or flung to far off galaxies. And when he came near to me, in the pulsing velvet darkness, under the churn and wooze of his sacred plant medicines, I saw his yellow eyes, I saw the devil and the laser in them, and vomited all over myself. And so the journey began.
The next day I was dragged off to another camp, provided an empty hut, a litre of pure and deadly tobacco juice, and told to, “Drink! All.”
I was calmly then observed as I exploded into cascades of treakeled puke, all of which was caught in buckets and carefully examined, and then packed off to a ‘mosquito net diet’ – which meant staying put, inside a rotten old mozzie net, with nothing but the jungle sounds, my own sweaty self, a parade of vile and toxic poisons, and a bucket. For days.
And so the journey began.
What I sought was a cure, and not a franchise opportunity.
And this I received.
And when I left, the maestro over-charged me by $50 and told me, “You are going to have to be write. The war. It is coming. Never: I say you must be Never touch the medicine that does not come from true. Be smart. Be thankful. And stay away from de gringos. Vamos!”
So I was lucky. I didn’t know I was, but I was unbelievably fortunate to have found, somehow, the actual hands of a true Peruvian scientist of plant chemistry, and wizard of healing and psychology. He kicked my ass. He made me cry. He wrung my guts out, wrapped me in honey, buried me underground, scrubbed me with a laundry bush, then let me go as if I’d just popped in for aspirin.
I did not know then that what was happening all around us, and was soon to explode into a catastrophic plunder and humiliation of sacred culture by ruthless and greedy capitalists and quick-fix or thrill-seeking tourists and home dosers who were hunting ayahuasca fortunes, or ayahuasca games.
But I found out soon enough.
~ * ~
When I met Diego Palma, way back in 2008. I saw a very sick man. Even then.
Everything about him was grey. His skin was lizard-shed ash, his teeth were dark. His eyes were hooded. His clothes looked somehow withered.
On the doorstep of his massive luxury villa, complete with a ‘temple’ purpose-built for up to 100 people, with his own luxurious seat, elevated on a guru-like podium at center, all around me glittered with money, but the man before me exuded something dry and desolate. Something made of ashes.
If there was an actual opposite of everything I knew from my time out in the jungle, this was it.
I never went to any of his gigs, because I was, frankly, scared to. Even though what Palmer offered was singsongs and candlelights, and I had already seen a level of plant mastery that was more dangerous, more wild and deliberately lethal.
But I made meals and cookies and veggie patches at my little pension nearby, and I watched.
I watched Diego Palma, and his wife, Milagros’ massive tide of in-coming fans, travellers and seekers of sacred healings, vision quests, cancer treatments and psychedelic cleansings that they marketed across the world, and sold like toffee apples. I watched the inner circle build, and spread its tentacles to America, Australia, and Bali.
There were many foreign proteges to the Diego throne, mostly moonblinked and miserable in between the happy clappy ceremonies they served at with made up songs, and none of the ancient, taboo-fearing etiquette that true shaman conduct with fear and reverence.
The inner circle, the next wave of wealth-making gringo shaman, being prepared to expand the empire, were in those days kept strictly on poverty wages. They often cruised my pension guests trying to earn a dollar selling kombucha or brownies as they wrestled with supporting themselves in far off lands, and yearned for their emperor, Diego, to anoint them as shaman, and let them loose on the vast fortunes to be made.
I heard all their woes, and lent one or two of them $10, because I detest kombucha, and make better brownies anyway. And I kept away from Diego Palmer. Even in the street.
But I did go, one fine afternoon, out hiking in the far off hills, to find his abandoned maestro.
It took me days to find the place.
Information was hard to get. The man was already disappearing into a void of secrets and forgetting.
I hobbled together a vague sketch of hills to climb, a river to cross, corn fields, boulders, Inca ruins and set out with a picnic of avocado and bright tomatoes from our garden.
What I found, under the hot Andean sun, I will not describe here in full, out of respect and mercy.
Suffice to say, the small, dark man was sick. His farm was under heavy shadow. There was a darkness over everything.
He told me he was broken. Because it was him who had given Diego Palma enough of what he had to break the covenants of magic, and he was guilty then, of causing this betrayal, and was also under relentless attack from Palmer, in the valley.
Recruiting the unwitting subconscious or occult energy of his endless tide of unwitting clients, Diego, he told me, could easily destroy him in the dreamworld, and the war, he could not even fight it. He was done. He knew it then, as he poured us tea with gnarly fingers, and looked through swollen eyes across his ratty gardens.
A few years later, I heard by casual mention, that the healer man was dead. His farm was obliterated in a freak flood, as I remember. And that was all was ever told, and even less remains today about the one who fell first, and whose dark magic student joins him now.
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