Ayahuasca (or yajé), the sacred plant remedy of the Amazon, has been the subject of academic studies, travel narratives and documentaries but rarely do they tell the inside story. This novel lifts shamanism out of the category of anthropology or self-help to reveal how the mysterious powers of yajé highlight the debilities of those who seek enlightenment from it. Ayahuasca Weaving Destinies is the parable of the sorcerer´s apprentice in a post-industrial context.
Taita Franciscano of the Putumayo, “last of the traditional healers”, knew the risks his culture would face when, defying the taboo, he invited white men to his rituals to win Western recognition for his tribe´s medicinal heritage. The irreverent sage may even have welcomed the opportunity to play with fire. But not even his visionary gifts foresaw what would happen when a cast of conflictive characters were drawn into his dream of founding a botanical garden. Among them are the ambitious anthropologist who “discovered” yajé, the autobiographical narrator, a militant indigenous leader, a “revolutionary” poet, several legendary shamans, including the still-living spirit of a dead one, and a feminist from the hippy circle the narrator and his ex-wife belonged to, years before, in Ireland. As they interact, the lure of the garden spreads from the jungle to Bogotá, the U.S. Congress and Europe, setting off a power struggle between professors, missionaries, NGO´s, ethno-botanical entrepreneurs and the guerrilla…until the shaman´s despised, illiterate and lovelorn apprentice unexpectedly wrecks everyone´s plans.
Yajé, the author claims, “is as much about, say, smart bombs or derivatives as therapy”. Yet if, on one level no quest for inner knowledge takes place in a social void and the all too human gets in the way of illumination, on another, as the novel´s title indicates, those who surrender themselves to its godhead enter a cosmic field which rules their destinies. As the narrator suffers the agonies of the purge, unwittingly stirs up trouble with the Indians and gets dragged into the politics of ancient wisdom, all sorts of bizarre synchronicities emerge, which reach their climax when a mage “reads” the presence of sorcery during a special ceremony and the real-life consequences force the narrator to acknowledge the reality of parallel dimensions.
Weiskopf nevertheless insists that such magic is only a metaphor: “Yajé may be a little too exotic, I fear, for the good of my story, which, as in any novel, is a backstage tour of the human circus”. From one angle, going to the jungle to drink yajé amounts to a pilgrimage to a hidden source of self-realization which echoes a real journey to another continent or society. From another, its anti-logic is in tune with the self-destructive nature of the machine society has invented for itself. Its exoticism, he writes, stirs a romanticism which led him to the tropics, but it also goes right to the heart of universals that any writer, in any place, has to deal with.
About the author:
JIMMY WEISKOPF is the author of Yajé: The New Purgatory, hailed as the definitive study of ayahuasca in Colombia. For the past fifteen years, he has drunk yajé with some of the most renowned indigenous shamans of Colombia and participated in rituals in Peru and Brazil. A graduate of Columbia and Cambridge Universities, he is a veteran of the Colombian foreign press corps and one of the country´s top translators. Born in New York City, he has lived in Colombia for 30 years and is a naturalized Colombian citizen.
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