voltar para Página InicialShaman Shop – Antonio Bianchi

Shaman Shop – Antonio Bianchi

Review of the book “O Uso Ritual da Ayahuasca” (“The Ritual Use of Ayahuasca”) by Beatriz Caiuby Labate and Wladimyr Sena Araújo (Eds.) Ed. Mercado de Letras — livros@mercado-de-letras.com.br By Antonio Bianchi Translated to English by Jacqueline Knowles Ayahuasca is one of the last remaining great myths of alternative culture in Europe. The word “ayahuasca” comes from Quechua meaning “aya”, soul and “huasca”, liana (vine), and literally meaning the “liana of the souls”. It is used by an ample number of indigenous tribes of the North –East Amazon (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil). It is used far less in other areas of the great rain forest. Among these tribes its use is related to a spiritual vision of the world. Whether it is the prerogative of specialists, the “curanderos,” a local version of what we call “shamans,” or whether it is diffused throughout the whole tribe like in most traditional groups, the essential objective of using ayahuasca is to put a person who ingests it into contact with the world of spirits. It is produced by the prolonged decoction of the liana Banisteriopsis caapi and by the leaf of a shrub, Psychotria viridis. The latter contains compositions of DMT, which are orally inactive substances, destroyed by an enzyme in the gastrointestinal duct. The liana contains a different substance, the B-carboline, which is not hallucinogenic in itself but blocks the enzyme stopping DMT from activating, allowing DMT to be absorbed and to exercise its hallucinogenic powers. The result is a beverage containing a safe and strong hallucinogenic effect, surely safer than many other types of psychedelics (most common side effects are vomiting and sometimes diarrhea) often inducing visions relating to spiritual aspects of the natural world. In summary, it has some characteristics that make it an ideal candidate to become an interesting means for rapidly providing internal experiences to young Europeans, anxious to find alternative dimensions other than material ones. In fact, this is what happened: many Europeans have poured into the urban centres of the Peruvian Amazon (the touristically most accessible ones) in search of magical and esoteric sensations, whilst in Brazil an unrestricted amount of communities claiming to create new messianic religions with the use of this beverage have been founded. As always, for most people this is a fleeting experience, for others it is a brief infatuation, whilst for some, for better or worse, a new purpose of life. These preliminary remarks help us understand the importance of the text edited by Labate and Araújo. Countless anthropological and non-anthropological texts have been written on Ayahuasca. Some of them are excellent. Not one of them, however, has attempted to provide an overall view of the use of Ayahuasca in South America by paying special attention to aspects attracting the interest of Europeans. Others had tried to do so but the results were rather disappointing (Metzner 1999; Luna and White 2000). This is, to the contrary a meticulously compiled text by people who know their job from a scientific point of view. The results is 25 chapters: 7 chapters are about the indigenous use of Ayahuasca, 13 talk about the new Brazilian religions and 5 chapters are dedicated to the pharma-toxicological aspects of Ayahuasca. The best results are found in the sections dedicated to the Brazilian religions, where it is evident that the authors had major contacts. It is the phenomenon of these new Brazilian religions, which are based on ayahuasca, that provide the most detailed analyses that have been offered (excluding some obscure Brazilian thesis and some books which are more worthy as New Age literature than as scientific literature – Polari 1999) In Brazil in the last ten years, due to a rather limited indigenous use of ayahuasca, religious sects have grown exponentially. Two in particular, the Santo Daime and the União do Vegertal – are building churches and borrowing symbols and escathologies deriving from the Christian doctrine and from modern esoterism. The Santo Daime church has diffused throughout many European countries (Italy and USA are two) where ceremonies based on the use of the sacred beverage are periodically carried out. It is unusual to note how the Western world has (or perhaps has had to) create new religions to run a kind of experience appearing too alien. These religions are surely (although there is insufficient reference to this in the Brazilian text) very different from the original traditional indigenous populations’ use of the beverage, revealing how difficult it is to transfer religious practices and knowledge in such different cultures. Labate and Araújo have devoted a chapter to the Alto Santo sect (where the Santo Daime religion was founded), a chapter to the Barquinha (an obscure religion deriving from the remote region of Acre in Brazil), three chapters to the União do Vegetal (especially diffused in Brazil and the States) and 7 chapters to the Santo Daime. The official calendar of the Santo Daime rituals is illustrated, as well as its rites and therapeutic methods, the use of ayahuasca, and its activity in Europe (particularly in Germany). A report (inexplicably found in the indigenous part of the book) on the caboclo use of this beverage (a mixed Brazilian population in the Amazon) is original in that it emphasizes a vast and undervalued phenomenon, which is not known by the above mentioned religions. In Brazil ayahuasca is always associated with the religions of the Daime and União do Vegetal. In Europe the result of this is the idea that these religions are the expression of ayahuasca as used by the rural populations in eastern regions of the Brazilian Amazon. A more detailed study on the use of Ayahuasca outside such religions could probably be surprising to the two Brazilian sects that maintain an ambiguous relationship with the cultural environment they were developed in. The collected material in the text is on the whole vast and well constructed, and scholars of religious dynamics will certainly find excellent arguments to develop. Reports regarding the indigenous use of ayahuasca are probably weaker than the others. Jacques Mabit is one of the authors, a French doctor who opened a centre in Tarapoto, in Peru, originally dedicated, through the use of ayahuasca, to the recovery of pasta basica drug addiction, a drug obtained from coca-leaves. This center was later transformed into something quite close to a spiritual touristic centre for Europeans. A Colombian doctor German Zuluaga, to the contrary, attempted to create an association of indigenous curanderos in Colombia and ended up creating a kind of panindigenistic ethic on both the ritual use of Ayahuasca and the relationships between curanderos and the white participants or the people from the city. And finally Luis Eduardo Luna, who having written one of the most lucid reports on mongrel curanderismo in the cities of the Amazon, became a well known anthropologist (Luna 1986) and has recently given life to an organization which guides Europeans into the Brazilian forest, where rituals are carried out in safe conditions. Each in their own way honestly describes personal experiences. On the whole however, the texts and analysis are quite superficial and rather insignificant, revealing how difficult the cultural interaction between the Western world and the Amazon is. The world of indigenous shamanism is a distant world, a vital one without doubt, which is easily misunderstood and in continuous rapid transformation. To decodify this world requires time and patience, meaning that it remains a foreign land to those Europeans who cannot dedicate but a holiday to it. Perhaps the use of another title rather than “Ayahuasca amongst the people of the forest” could have been sufficient in this section. There are in fact two chapters that discuss the peoples of the forest, one written by Jean Longdon and one splendid pearl by Barbara Keifenheim, the German anthropologist with more than ten years of experience amongst the Cashinahua in the Purus region. She has probably written one of the best recently published reports on the perceptual effects of ayahuasca. The Purus has always been a region with poorly beaten-tracks; although in Peru (and therefore in a Spanish speaking country), it is more easily accessible from Brazil (if we can define days and days of boat journeys along the river so) than Peru itself. Keifenhem accurately describes the importance of the sonorous experience of ayahuasca and how through kinaesthetic phenomena it enables you to structure a visionary experience through which a sound is immediately turned into an immage. The German author emphasizes how these songs are in fact insignificant and that they mainly consist of evocative sounds. This distinguishes the indigenous world from the mongrel world, where songs always carry a meaning. It connects to what is previously indicated by another anthropologist that mostly worked in Shipibo area (Gebhardt-Sayer 1987) and recently by Muller-Ebeling et. al. (2002) in a publication on plants used by shamans in the Himalayan areas, and lays the basis for important scientific hypotheses. It is a past argument that visions induced by Ayahuasca have an archetypal and trans cultural content (Harner 1973). This has also been confirmed by serious anthropologists who have drunk the substance in ancient indigenous communities. A possible ethnomusical analysis of such sounds (not discussed by the German anthropologist) could emphasize the capacity to determine sounds evoked within a determined cultural context or even outside it, and once the level of consciousness has been altered by the ingestion of ayahuasca determining visionary contents. Recent studies on ayahuasca have finally reached modern methodologies of neuro-psychophysical research through which it is possible to analyse the effect on the brain of any kind of stimulus in whatever state of consciousness (Riba et. al. 2002). The German anthropologist’s intuition therefore could reveal, if supported by other data, interesting perspectives in inter disciplinary research finally enabling an objective analysis of the visionary experience to proceed (there is no better way than that of a hallucinogenic substance taken in a culturally different setting). I recommend Labate’s and Araújo’s text partly for this reason, not only to those interested in drugs coming from remote areas of the world. It is a text whose content surpasses one’s interest in Ayahuasca and offers starting points for many unique and limitless developments. As for Portuguese: It would be good if one considered translating it in to a more accessible language, like English or Spanish. Bilbliography Gebhardt-Sayer A. Die Spitze des Bewusstseins. Untersuchungen zu Weltbild and Kunst der Shipibo-Conibo. Klaus Renner, Munchen. Harner MJ (1973). Common Themes in South American Indian Yagè Experiences. In Harner MJ. Hallucinogens and Shamanism,. Oxford Univ. Press, London. Luna LE (1986). Vegetalismo. Shamanism among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon. Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm. Luna LE and White SF (2000). Ayahuasca Reader. Encouter wuth the Sacred Amazon’s Sacred Vine. Synergetic Press, Santa Fe Metzner R (1999). Ayahuasca. Hallucinogens, Consciousness and the Spirit of Nature. New York, Thunder Mouth Press. Muller-Ebeling C, Ratsch C and Shahi SB (2002) . Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas. Thames and Hudson, London. Polari de Alverga A (1999). Forest of Visions. Ayahuasca, Amazonian Spirituality and the Santo Daime tradition. Rochester, Inner Traditions. Riba J, Rodriguez-Fornells and Barbanoj MJ (2002). Effects of ayahuasca on sensory and sensorimotor gating in humans as measured by P50 suppression and prepulse inhibition of the startle reflex, respectively. Psychopharmacology, 165: 18-28 Originally published in: http://www.oriss.org/articoli/a_ayahuasca_en.html