Santo Daime is a syncretic spiritual practice, which was founded in the Brazilian Amazonian state of Acre in the 1930s and became a worldwide movement in the 1990s. Santo Daime rituals involve collective singing of hymns, sometimes while engaged in a formalised dance step, other times simply seated in chairs, combined with the consumption of Daime, the name founder Raimundo Irineu Serra, or Mestre Irineu gave to the drink known generically as Ayahuasca. Dai-me means “give me” in Portuguese, as in “daime força, daime amor” (give me strength, give me love), phrases found in several of the doctrine’s hymns.
Santo Daime is syncretic in that it incorporates elements of several religious or spiritual traditions including African Animism, South American Shamanism, and Christianity. The religion, called simply the Doctrine of Mestre Irineu by its most senior practitioners, has little basis in written texts. Instead, its teachings are learned experientially, through singing of inspired hymns, which explore perennial values of love, harmony and strength through through poetic and metaphorical imagery.
Ceremonies, which are called trabalhos meaning “works”, are typically several hours long and consist of drinking Daime and either sitting or dancing while singing hymns and playing maracas, or sitting in silent concentration.
The drinking of Daime induces a strong emetic effect which is embraced as a purging of both emotional and physical impurities. Overall the Santo Daime promotes a wholesome lifestyle in conformity with Mestre Irineu’s motto of “harmony, love, truth and justice”, as well as other key doctrinal values such as strength, humility, fraternity and purity of heart.
Ayahuasca, which contains the psychoactive compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT), has been the subject of increasing legal scrutiny in the last few decades as Santo Daime has expanded. The decoction has been explicitly legal for religious use in Brazil since 1986, while recent legal battles in Europe have legalized its use in Holland and Spain. In the United States, the Supreme Court in 2006 upheld a preliminary injunction permitting another Brazilian church, the União do Vegetal (UDV), to use ayahuasca ritually. This decision, as the result of specific litigation involving the UDV, applies only to that group, so the legal status of ayahuasca generally remains in a gray area in that country.
Santo Daime is the name given to the religious practice begun in the 1920s in the far western Brazilian state (then-territory) of Acre by Raimundo Irineu Serra, an immigrant of Maranhao in Brazil’s northeast region.
Irineu Serra was born in Brazil in 1892 to African parents. Inineu migrated to the Western Amazon region in 1912, attracted to a boom in the rubber tapping industry. He first drank ayahuasca in the border region between Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. After experiencing a series of visions whilst spending 8 days in solitude in the forest, he began to conduct spiritual ceremonies using Ayahuasca. Many people came to him sick, seeking healing they could not afford or failed to find in standard medical practice.
“All who drink this holy beverage must not only try to see beautiful things without correcting their faults, but give shape to perfection of their own personality to take their place in this battalion and follow this line. If they would act this way, they could say, I am a brother” – Mestre Irineu
Devotional in context, the songs praise divine principles. The Cross of Caravacca, with its double horizontal beam, stands on the altar. Each session begins and ends with Christian prayers. Santo Daime practice features several kinds of ritual: two kinds are concentrações (“concentrations”) and bailados (“dances”), also known as hinários (“hymnals”). Other rituals focus on the saying of the rosary, or healing. Participants drink Daime in all types of ritual; but the format and focus can differ; concentrations are silent, seated meditations, while hymnals involve dancing and singing hymns while playing maracas.
The Christian core is combined with other elements, such as an emphasis on personal gnosis and responsibility, an animist appreciation of nature, such as the Sun, Moon and Stars, as well as the totemic symbol of the ‘beija-flor’, the hummingbird. Spiritual beings from indigenous Amazonian shamanism and deities from the African pantheon such as Ogum and Iemanja are also incorporated into the doctrine. The nature of the work is sometimes personified and addressed as ‘Juramidam’, a name disclosed to Irineu in his visionary experience, which means literally, “God (jura) and his soldiers (midam)”.
Participants in the ritual come to submit themselves to a process through which they may learn things. This may include various wonders – Ayahuasca is famous for the visions it generates, and the sense of communion with nature and spiritual reality – as well as more mundane, less pleasant lessons about oneself. The Daime is thought to reveal both positive and various negative or unresolved aspects of the individual, sometimes resulting in difficult or blissful ‘passages’ involving the integration of this dissociated psychological content.
It is not for nothing that ceremonies are referred to as ‘works’ since they can last up to 12 hours. The effects of Daime combined with dancing, singing and concentration require and develop stamina or ‘firmeza’ – firmness.
The essential teachings of the Doctrine are transmitted through the hymns, which, when sung, create a direct link to the astral and the Divine. Master Irineu received 129 hymns within his hinario, or hymnal, and his hinario marks his spiritual journey and evolution from when he began drinking the Daime until his death. Through the singing of his hymns, the participant is able to connect with the spirit, teachings, and salvation of the Master and, in many ways, begin walking the same spiritual path which the Master walked.
Hymns are often received as direct transmissions from the astral, and it is through the singing of hymns that teachings of the Master, Padrinhos, and Madrinhas are passed to the members. Through the force of the sacrament, the hymns become living testimony and bring specific energies of healing, strength, communion, forgiveness, and remembrance. Many members of the church receive hymns, and there are literally thousands of hymns throughout the Doctrine.
The singing of particular hinarios conicides with official dates on the Santo Daime calender, which includes the singing of the Master’s hinario on the Virgin of Conception (Dec. 7), Christmas, Day of Kings (January 6th), St. John (June 23rd). The hinario of Padrinho Sebastiao is sung on Master Irineu’s birthday (Dec. 15), Saint Sebastian (January 19th), Madrinha Rita’s birthday (June 25), as well as Brazilian Father’s Day. Padrinho Alfredo’s hinario is sung on Padrinho Alfredo’s birthday (January 8), St. Joseph (March 18th), and Saint Peter (June 28th), as well as New Year’s Eve (December 31st).
Non-Portuguese-speaking members often “receive” hymns in their native language.
The death of Mestre Irineu in 1971 resulted in a diversification within the Santo Daime community. From a global perspective, the most significant of these occurred when Sebastiao Mota de Melo, commonly called Padrinho Sebastiao, left the original center with a large group of his followers, and formed a group known as CEFLURIS.
According to church documents, this split also entailed disagreement over the use of cannabis. Followers of Sebastiao Mota de Melo believed marijuana to be a healing plant teacher, and referred to it as Santa Maria, using it in ceremony to help their mediumship (embodying of spirits for the purpose of healing.) Followers of Mestre Irineu regard use of cannabis, as well as mediumship generally, as outside the doctrine.
In the early 1980s Padrinho Sebastiao moved the church headquarters to Ceu do Mapia. Control of CEFLURIS was increasingly shared with the southern intellectuals who joined the movement in the 1970s, and in the 1980s CEFLURIS established centers in southern Brazil. The group now has affiliates in North America, Europe, and Japan, as well as throughout Brazil.
Ayahuasca – Daime
Santo Daime’s entheogenic sacrament, ayahuasca, has been used for millennia in South American indigenous cultures. It is one of the traditional tools of the shaman in South America, and in many regions is to this day a common medicine used for finding and treating various ailments as well as for its vision-inducing effects, which are said to be profound and life-changing.
The tea has had many names including Santo Daime (or simply Daime), Hoasca, Ayahuasca, Yage, and Caapi. It is made from two or more plants, one a woody vine (Ayahuasca vine or Jagube; generally b. caapi), and the others known as admixtures. While various plants are used throughout South America, most of which have high concentrations of dimethyltryptamine, the preferred admixture in the case of Santo Daime is Psychotria viridis, known to church members as the “Queen of the Forest,” after the figure who is said to have appeared to the church’s founder in a vision, prompting him to start the religion.
The Santo Daime Church uses only the Jagube vine and the Viridis leaf, not adding any other plants to the mixture. The tea is prepared ceremoniously over a week by members of the church in a festival called a ‘fetio’. Hymns are sung, and Daime is drank while the men hammer the vine into powder and the women clean and sort the leaves. Because of the very specific manner in which they prepare their sacrament, and the very specific way in which they use it, the beverage is not called ‘Ayahuasca’, but ‘Santo Daime’.
Due to their usage of ayahuasca as a sacrament and the spread of the religion, Santo Daime has found itself the center of Court battles and legal wrangling in various countries.
In Brazil, CONFEN (the Federal Drug Council) has consistently upheld the right of the Daime Church to practice its religion and healing practices using the Daime. A study was made of the Daime by the CONFEN in 1987 which included visits to the various churches and observation of the making of the Daime. It also included study of another group of Ayahuasca users, who call the drink Vegetal (Uniao do Vegetal). The work group which made the study included representatives not only of the CONFEN but also of several other government agencies. The conclusion of the study was that the Daime was a very positive influence in the community, encouraging social harmony and personal integration. The study noted that, rather than simply considering the pharmacological analysis of the plants, it was essential to consider the whole context of the use of the tea — religious, social, and cultural.
In the Netherlands, Santo Daime won a court case in 2001 which allowed them to continue their ceremonial usage of ayahuasca. One factor in this decision was a fax from the Secretary of the International Narcotics Control Board to the Netherlands Ministry of Public Health, stating that [P]reparations (e.g.decoctions) made of these plants, including ayahuasca are not under international control and, therefore, not subject to any of the articles of the 1971 Convention. 
In France, Santo Daime won a court case allowing them to use the tea in early 2005; however, they were not allowed an exception for religious purposes, but rather for the simple reason that they did not perform chemical extractions to end up with pure DMT and harmala and the plants used were not scheduled. Four months after the court victory, the common ingredients of Ayahuasca as well as harmala were declared stupéfiants, or narcotic schedule I substances, making the Daime and its ingredients illegal to use or possess. See  and  (French) for more information.
In the United States, court battles over ritual use of Ayahuasca have mostly been fought by the UDV, and practitioners of the Santo Daime doctrine are watching these events closely. So far, UDV has been able to continue practicing legally thanks to Supreme Court decisions that soundly rejected attempts by the government to prohibit it. see  for more information.
The most recent decision came in Italy in 2006; an eight month long investigation had led to the arrest of 24 Italian Santo Daime members in early 2005, but the May 2006 ruling found that no sufficient evidence had been presented to demonstrate that the church members had broken Italian law.
The view from Academia
Two particularly important research projects are worth highlighting. The first is the official investigation made by the Brazilian government at the end of the 1980’s, which resulted in the legalization of the religious use of ayahuasca in Brazil in 1992. The second is ‘The Hoasca Project’ developed by a collective of international scholars. The Hoasca Project presented important findings regarding the use of Ayahuasca as an agent of healing, something it is famous for in its indigenous context.
A collaborative essay on the Santo Daime, in which some of this information is included, can be found at wikipedia.org