By Stephen Trichter, Psy.D.
As the use of ayahuasca shifts to use outside of its original cultural context, we must examine how the spread of this healing practice can not only bring the benefits for which it was originally intended, but how its transfer into a new cultural framework potentially can also cause distress and harm.
(Painting by Augustin Lesage)
This is an edited transcript of a series of conversations between Howard G. Charing, author of The Ayahuasca Visions of Pablo Amaringo, and Steve Beyer, author of Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon. These talks took place during the summer of 2010, at the kitchen table and on the front stoop of Steve’s house in Chicago. Some drinking and cigar smoking was involved. Howard: I read Singing to the Plants several times, and I found it not only an extremely well researched book but also inspirational; it came through to me as a true labor of love. I understand that you originally envisioned the book to address more of an academic, anthropological audience, which is the reason that you wanted it to be published by the University of New Mexico Press; but you have created much more than an academic work. When you talk about your teachers, doña María and don Roberto, your warmth, humanity, and respect for them shines through. You asked them to describe their history, …
In the words of Dennis McKenna; Peter Gorman has “been way, way beyond the chrysanthemum on many a dark jungle night.” Gorman’s long awaited book Ayahuasca in My Blood: 25 Years of Medicine Dreaming tells the story of his long, deep relationship with ayahuasca. This book review, and an interview with the author, sets up camp to explore the edges of an astonishing journey.
The use of entheogens such as ayahuasca is exemplary of the long and ongoing tradition in many cultures to employ psychoactives as tools that stimulate foundational types of understanding. That such substances are capable of stimulating profoundly transcendent experiences is evident from both the academic literature and anecdotal reports. This article attempts to present these concepts in such a way that the possibility of using entheogens as tools is taken seriously by those with an interest in new and transformative ideas in education.
Steve Beyer talks about ayahuasca and transformative experiences, in a clip from the film project From Neurons to Nirvana: Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century, produced and directed by Vancouver-based filmmaker, writer, and media artist Oliver Hockenhull.
An interview with Donal Ruane, Irish author, researcher and explorer, about his views on Ayahuasca, shamanism, plants, and his meeting with Pablo Amaringo. First published in Dreamflesh, a journal of altered states, archaic consciousness, prehistoric art and shamanism.
What happens to the rest of us in that great, sweating, moaning throng who have drawn the coach these centuries? What will remain for us on ruined plains of collapse?
Here is what I believe will remain. Reality and the truth, and the opportunity for spiritual evolution, which, in the end, I think will include most people.
Steve Beyer, author of Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon, talks about the differences — and similarities — between healers and sorcerers in the Upper Amazon.
We slowly can come to understand ourselves as focal points of the Whole, learning to broaden our conception of ‘self’ to include communities, ecosystems, the planet and galaxy, and beyond. For all these compose the primordial definitions of our being.
I was asked about the Barquinha’s astrology. There isn’t any (I was told). Stars are a part of the creation. One can learn anything from anything. Some people can learn things by looking at stars. In the Barquinha they look at God. For a week I was preparing with prayers, candles, intensions… Daime work at the Barquinha of Dona Gabriel each day… Came the 27th, a Saturday before the Semana Santa and the entity Don Rafael was going to operate me. Finally I am going to heal the pain in my back which does not leave me alone ever since I had hernia of a disk two and a half years ago. It is normal that such treatments are done over 3 ceremonies (three 27th) but I had only one (two to come). I did not know I was supposed to bring something to lie on, and sitting was never as difficult as it was that night. I did not know what to expect… we were seven or eight people in a dark room, drinking …
Steve Beyer’s Singing to the Plants, writes Morgan Maher, is “a wild ride out and across the jungles of mestizo shamanism. The book, and its wonderful cast of characters, curanderos, animals, plants, spirits and stories presents honest, accurate, respectful, levelheaded and, at times, outrageously marvelous descriptions of the environments and climates of mestizo shamanism in the Upper Amazon.” Morgan interviews the author.
More and more people are using or consider using ayahuasca tea as an alternative medicine for different therapeutic purposes: depression, Parkinson’s disease, ageing-related cognitive decline, etc.
Yet most of these actual or planned uses are relying on the rich pharmacodynamics of the caapi vine and don’t necessitate the preparation and use of a standard mix. Rather what is needed is a caapi tea specifically designed for these purposes.
Anthropologist Michael Winkelman, at Arizona State University, says that shamanic practices — drumming, chanting, and the ingestion of sacred plants — create a special state of consciousness he calls transpersonal consciousness, and that these practices create this state of consciousness through the process of psychointegration — that is, by integrating a number of otherwise discrete modular brain functions. Anthropologist Homayun Sidky, at Miami University in Ohio, says that this theory, despite a surface plausibility, is without empirical justification.
Marcelo Bolshaw Gomes
“Kambô circulates in the heart. Our shaman said that when we take Kambô it makes the heart move accurately, so that things flow, bringing good things to the person. It is as if there was a cloud on the person, preventing the good things to come, then, when it takes the Kambô; it comes a ‘green light’ which opens its ways, making things easier.”
We have talked before about the Grob, McKenna, Callaway, et al., psychiatric study on the long-term effects of drinking ayahuasca in the ceremonies of the União do Vegetal church. I noted that the study had not clearly disentangled any bias that might have resulted from the fact that the ayahuasca drinkers — but not controls — had been preselected for their orderly churchgoing habits. Here is a study that may shed some light on that question.
How could such a complex synergistic potion be discovered amongst over 80,000 catalogued plant species of the Amazon forest? Studying Ayahuasca, modern minds have puzzled the origins of the discovery of the Great Medicine, since it is commonly said that being a synergistic potion, there is no effect when only one of the plants are consumed.
The Peruvian National Institute of Culture resolved that indigenous ayahuasca rituals — “one of the fundamental pillars of the identity of Amazonian peoples” — are part of the national cultural heritage of Peru, and are to be protected, in order to ensure their cultural continuity.
In the book ‘Left In the Dark’, a culmination of over fifteen years of independent research into human evolution, the authors postulate that the universal myth of a pre-historic Golden Age is a racial memory that reflects our primate evolution in an arboreal, rainforest environment in which humans possessed mental and psychic abilities that have since become lost or atrophied in the profane ages that followed.
Taking this opportunity to think about the more-than-human world from a more-than-human perspective : if you are open to a little ego dissolution this will lead you through a shamanistic visualization sequence. The intention is to prime our creative imaginations, and explore a path of evolutionary remembering, mourning, honoring the extinct and taking responsibility as steward-healers of the biosphere.