Peruvian Torch, Trichocereus peruvianus is found high in the Andean mountain deserts of Peru (specifically in the area of Huancabamba) and is a close relative of San Pedro Cactus, Richocereus pachanoi, but has longer spines and a darker color which is found in the same region. The human use of the cactus dates back thousands of years to the northern coast of Peru and the monks of a pre-Inca culture known as Chavin. They prepared a brew called “Achuma”, “Huachuma” or “Cimora” which was used during ritualistic ceremonies to diagnose the spiritual links to a patient’s illness. There are numerous variations of the Trichocereus Peruvianus. Subspecies have evolved in Peru’s mountain valleys for centuries. In appearance they range from green-gray skin to shades of blue, and from short spines to long ones. Spine color goes from golden at emergence to brown or white.
Aguacolla is a long columnar Cacti which can grow up to 6 meters high and 15 centimeters thick; it has large, white flowers. The stem has four to nine rounded ribs with on it big areoles with brown wool or felt. Above each areole a V-shaped indentation is placed. From each areole there are growing three to ten brown colored thorns. The longest central spines reach a maximum length of ten centimeters.
The hallucinogenic Peruvian torch cactus has been used since ancient times, and in Peru the tradition has been unbroken for over 3,000 years. The earliest depiction of the cactus is a carving showing a mythological being holding a Peruvian torch, and dates from about 1300 bc. It comes from the Chavin culture (1400-400) and was found in a temple at Chavin de Huantar, in the northern highlands of Peru. Later, the Mochica culture, (500) used the cactus in their iconography. As can be imagined, early European missionaries held native practices in considerable contempt and were very negative when reporting the use of Peruvian torch. One 16th century Conquistador, for example, described it as a plant by which the natives are able to “speak with the devil, who answers them in certain stones and in other things they venerate”.
It is also known as Huachuma and this is how it is most often referred to by the Shamans who use it, who call themselves Huachumeros (male) or Huachumeras (female). Its use as a sacrament and in healing rituals is as old as history itself.
The earliest archaeological evidence so far discovered is a stone carving of a Huachumero found at the Jaguar Temple of Chavin de Huantar in northern Peru, which is almost 3,500 years old. Textiles from the same region and period of history depict the cactus with jaguars and hummingbirds, two of its guardian spirits, and with stylised spirals representing the visionary experience.
Cactus ceremonies are held today for the same reasons as ever: to cure illnesses of a spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical nature; to know the future through the prophetic and divinatory qualities of the plant; to overcome sorcery or saladera (an inexplicable run of ‘bad luck’); to ensure success in one’s ventures; to rekindle love and enthusiasm for life; and to experience the world as divine.