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A New Book on Ayahuasca Shamanism

My new book on ayahuasca shamanism, Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon, is due to be published in October by the University of New Mexico Press.

In the Upper Amazon, mestizos are the Spanish-speaking descendants of Hispanic colonizers and the indigenous peoples of the jungle. Some mestizos have migrated to Amazon towns and cities, such as Iquitos and Pucallpa; most remain in small villages, their houses perched on stilts on the shores of the rivers that are their primary means of travel. Here in the jungle, they have retained features of the Hispanic tradition, including a folk Catholicism and traditional Hispanic medicine. And they have incorporated much of the religious tradition of the Amazon, especially its healing, sorcery, shamanism, and the use of potent plant hallucinogens, including ayahuasca.

The result is a uniquely eclectic shamanist culture that continues not only to fascinate outsiders with its brilliant visionary art but also to attract thousands of seekers each year with the promise of visionary experiences of their own.

In Singing to the Plants I try to set forth, in accessible form, just what this shamanism is about — what happens at an ayahuasca healing ceremony, how the apprentice shaman forms a spiritual relationship with the healing plant spirits, how sorcerers inflict the harm that the shaman heals, and the ways that plants are used in healing, love magic, and sorcery.

There is a website for the book and an accompanying blog at http://www.singingtotheplants.com/.

There are several reasons why I think a book on the mestizo shamanism of the Upper Amazon was worth writing at this time. Mestizo shamanism occupies an exceptional place among the shamanisms of the Upper Amazon, assimilating key features of indigenous shamanisms, and at the same time adapting and transforming them. There is today considerable interest in shamanism in general, and in Upper Amazonian shamanism in particular, especially its use of plant hallucinogens; yet there is currently no readily accessible text giving general consideration to the unique features of Amazonian shamanism and its relationship to shamanisms elsewhere in the world.

We now know much more about shamanism than when Mircea Eliade published his famous overview in 1951. There is now a wider range of excellent ethnographies, including many of Amazonian peoples; debates within the field have sharpened an awareness of many of the assumptions that underlay the fieldwork of many decades ago. Indeed, we now know, too, much more about ethnobotany, hallucinations, and the actions of such substances as dimethyltryptamine.

Moreover, ayahuasca shamanism has become part of global culture. The visionary ayahuasca paintings of Pablo César Amaringo are available to a world market in a sumptuous coffee-table book; international ayahuasca tourists exert a profound economic and cultural pull on previously isolated local practitioners; ayahuasca shamanism, once the terrain of anthropologists, is the subject of novels and spiritual memoirs. Ayahuasca shamans perform their healing rituals in Ontario and Wisconsin.

In Singing to the Plants I emphasize both the uniqueness of this highly eclectic and absorptive shamanism — plant spirits dressed in surgical scrubs, extraterrestrial doctors speaking computer language — and its deep roots in shamanist beliefs and practices, both healing and sorcery, common to the Upper Amazon. I have sought to understand this form of shamanism, its relationship to other shamanisms, and its survival in the new global economy, through anthropology, ethnobotany, cognitive psychology, legal history, and my own personal experiences studying wilderness survival and plant healing in the Amazon.

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Steve Beyer has doctorates in religious studies and in psychology. He has been a university professor, lawyer, wilderness guide, and peacemaker. He has studied both wilderness survival and the indigenous cultures of North and South America. He has studied sacred plant medicine with traditional herbalists in North America and with ayahuasqueros in the Upper Amazon, where he received coronación by banco ayahuasquero don Roberto Acho Jurama. He has worked with ayahuasca and other sacred plants in the Amazon, peyote in ceremonies of the Native American Church, and huachuma in Peruvian mesa rituals. He has served as an editor of the Journal of Shamanic Practice, and is currently completing a book on shamanism, sorcery, and plant medicine in the Upper Amazon.

7 Comments

  1. Drew says

    All of natures cures and answers are held by the mothers plants and their secrets are being revealed to us as are the means to our own eventual sharing of energies in this damaged world.The relationships with the living plants is crucial to continue our own journey.

  2. yes we must turn to the plants for knowledge and to open knowledge from within. ayahuasca is very important and all who want to experience its effects should be very humble and respectful to this plant teacher. Working directly with the plants will repair much damage. we must use plants now and spread the word to friends and let them know to use the plants and give back to the earth

  3. I had a question for you. Do you think ayahuasca can help with addictions like alcoholism? or if you have a tendency to be addicted to junk food and overeating?

    Do you do any tours? Can you recommend a few shamans down around Iquitos. I have not been there? I like the way you were doing it visiting 3 or 4 shamans.

    If you know any other Shamans or healers anywhere please let me know.

    Thanks,
    Jim

  4. mike kerman says

    I attended a week in BC with Roninniwe-two ceremonies and more group time with Gabor Mate.
    It was an amazing week for me.
    D. told me that the Ontario community was his “favorite” and I would like to be in touch with whomever is organizing.
    Do you have this contact?
    Thank youm
    Mike

  5. Raymond Stephen says

    Would like to increase knowledge of ayahuasca. Are there shamans in southwestern Ontario who have direct knowledge.

  6. Hollie says

    I have read many books relating to ayahuasca and reports from the 1950’s although look forward to reading something like this more contemporary. I am very interested in the auditory and visual relationship of the ayahuasca ceremonies. I have been to two ceremonies and have not experienced anything visual or the presence of madre, the plant yet. After practicing the diet for two weeks and also chiric sanango I hope to attend 3 or more ceremonies in pucallpa. I see that it was mentioned most shamans still are in small villages, can anyone recommended some banco ayahuasqueros near Pucallpa? I am interested in meeting many shamans in addition to establishing a close connection with the spirit of the plant. I am leaving tomorrow and look forward to any advice or suggestions.

  7. I was looking to get linked up with a shaman in Ontario who can lead me on an ayahausca journey. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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