Ayahuasca and Amazonian Shamanism
Ayahuasca, also commonly called yagé, is a psychedelic brew of various plant infusions prepared with the Banisteriopsis caapi vine, and used extensively in many Ayahuasca retreats in Peru. It is usually mixed with the leaves of dimethyltryptamine (DMT) containing species of shrubs from the genus Psychotria such as ‘Chacruna’ or ‘Huambisa’ (also known as Chaliponga). The brew was first described academically in the 1800’s by the famous English botanist, Richard Spruce and then further expounded upon, in the early 1950s, by legendary Harvard ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who found that it was employed for divinatory and healing purposes by the native peoples of the Upper Amazonian regions of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil.
It is known by as many as forty different names. ‘Aya’ ( meaning ‘soul, death or spirit’ ) – ‘ Huasca’ (meaning ‘vine’) – Is originally from the Quechua language which is the second most widely spoken language in Peru and was spoken by the infamous Incas.
Why ‘The vine of the soul’ ?? According to the many indigenous tribes that have traditionally used this curious brew for centuries, if not millennia, consuming Ayahuasca allows them to communicate with the ‘spirits’ of plants, with the dead, with God/Creator and even to travel to different dimensions, some below (underworlds) and some above our own material reality (upperworlds). It was and still is used as an aid for healing, especially (but not only) if the patient is suffering from some form of ‘energetic’ imbalance or ‘psychic’ attack.
The curious thing about Ayahuasca is that both of it’s active ingredients need to be present in the brew for it to have any effect on the drinker. Consumed by themselves, the vine, ‘Ayahusaca’ (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the DMT containing leaves such a ‘Chacruna’ or ‘Huambisa’ usually have little or no effect what-so-ever.
Why is this ??
It is universally accepted by both Amazonian Shamanic healers and botanists alike that the ‘visions’ that are sometimes experienced after drinking Ayahuasca are a direct result of the DMT found in the leaves that are added to the brew.
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is found in numerous plants and even mammals from all over the world. It was first synthesized in 1931 by Canadian chemist Richard Helmuth Fredrick Manske and then, much later, was used in approximately 400 human experiments on over 60 volunteers by Rick Strassman MD in the 1990’s which resulted in the book (and then film) ‘DMT – The Spirit Molecule’. He was drawn to experimenting with DMT “…because of its presence in all of our bodies. Perhaps excessive DMT production, coming from the mysterious pineal gland, was involved in naturally occurring “psychedelic” states. These states might include birth, death and near-death, psychosis, and mystical experiences.”
The thing with DMT is that to feel it’s hallucinogenic effects you need to either inject or smoke it’s synthesized form. Taken orally, DMT is rapidly broken down by the enzyme monoamine oxidase that is found in the human digestive tract through a process called deamination and is therefore almost completely inactive unless combined with a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAO Inhibitor).
‘Coincidentally’ there are present in the vine ‘Banisteriopsis caapi’ the necessary MAO Inhibitors that prevent the stomach enzymes from breaking down the DMT that is found in the Chacruna/Huambisa leaves which then results in the effects of euphoria and beautiful, awe-inspiring visions often experienced by consumers of Ayahuasca.
The big question is…… How did the South American Natives know how to mix these two specific plants together in order to experience these mystical states of consciousness ?? There are literally tens of thousands of different plant species found in the Amazon basin, the most biologically diverse region on the planet. Why these particular plants cooked together ?? When asked this question, by the numerous botanists who have studied these indigenous rituals over the last couple of hundred years, the native tribesmen invariably replied…. “The plants told us”
Ayahuasca and DMT in a modern context
Over the last decade the use of Ayahuascaand DMT has snowballed. Working off of answers provided in the ongoing Global Drug Survey, researcher Adam Winstock and his co-authors found in a November article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that DMT “had a larger proportion of new users” compared to other powerful drugs like magic mushrooms, LSD and ketamine — “suggesting its popularity may increase.” The global survey’s findings are supported by numbers from another survey administered by the U.S. government, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. That sampling found that the number of people in the U.S. who have used DMT in some form has been up almost every year since 2006 — from an estimated 688,000 in 2006 to 1,475,000 in 2012.
The difference between ‘Ayahuasca’ and ‘synthesized’ DMT
Although many users of synthesized DMT report incredible, life-changing visions, many people and most ‘Curanderos’ (shamanic healers) feel that it lacks the ‘depth’ of Ayahuasca and, especially, is missing the support of the benevolent plant spirits which aid in the healing process which are actively called forth by the Shaman during the Ayahuasca ceremony through the singing of ‘Icaros’. These are sacred songs/incantations, usually received by the Shaman through visions or dreams during periods of ‘dieting‘ with the various master plants.
The Shaman (preferably) has spent many years training diligently to form a close, personal relationship with the said plant spirits and they become his/her ‘arsenal’ so-to-speak, that they are able to call forth to aid in the healing work that is being undertaken.
Another very important difference between Ayahuasca and DMT is the amount of time that the user has to examine and understand the experience. The ‘visions’ of smoked or intravenous DMT overwhelm the user almost instantaneously and have usually dissipated within a pretty short space of time ( just 15 or 20 minutes) which can often leave the person feeling quite disoriented and possibly too confused to fully process the ‘journey’. By contrast, drinkers of Ayahuasca get to have a very similar ‘trip’ but stretched over a much longer period of time (usually between 2-4 hours) with the effects gradually developing or ‘coming up’ during the first hour. This allows the user to get used to the effects of the DMT at a much more comfortable pace and also enables them to examine much more closely whatever is coming up for them during the ceremony.
Many people (myself included) who have experimented with both, often observe that Ayahuasca also has an organic quality that pure DMT lacks, one often feeling and even seeing plant spirits and tribal ancestors present in the ceremonial space.
‘Purging’ (known in South American Shamanic circles as ‘La Pulga’) is also very common after drinking Ayahusca (but by no means compulsory) and is considered to be very beneficial as it is a sure sign that the ‘medicine’ is actively cleaning you out on many levels. You witness the ‘physical’ part of vomiting up the foul tasting Ayahuasca brew but you are also retching up old, painful memories, negative energy and even childhood traumas.
I remember clearly my first ever Ayahuasca ceremony in well-known center just outside of Iquitos in Peru. I ‘purged’ sporadically for hours then there came a point where I realised that there was a definite connection between what was going on in my mind/emotional state and what was being delivered into the bucket !! A multitude of old, painful memories were coming up, right before my eyes, kind of like a hallucinogenic slide show and each time I remembered something especially painful or traumatic, I would have to bury my head in the bucket once more, releasing yet another torrent of brown liquid.
One Shaman even commented that he could ‘see’ the negative energy being purged out and was busily blowing tobacco smoke around me so as to disperse it before it had a chance to creep back in !!
If you were to ask any South American Shaman and pretty much anyone who has experimented with it, they will invariably tell you the same thing. Ayahuasca is not a ‘drug’ using the conventional interpretation of the word, but rather, it is a medicine. You could say, it is an incredible ‘gift’ from Mother nature to help humanity in it’s evolution and I sincerely believe that it is here to assist in the birth of the new, higher consciousness that is blossoming around the planet at this time. It is not something you take and then go out partying with a few friends. Not something to be used without the utmost respect and professional care and also should not be approached without expert guidance, i.e. a trained Curandero, and also the necessary ceremonial protocols, including proper diet, that will aid the user to heal themselves on many levels in the safest environment possible.
So far, after extensive scientific research, there have not been any findings of toxicity, addiction or unpleasant side effects associated with the drinking of Ayahuasca though it has been documented that adverse reactions are possible if used in conjunction with various illicit/pharmaceutical drugs, especially cocaine and antidepressants. People with heart conditions are also at a slight risk as drinking Ayahuasca can raise the blood pressure.
It is essential to inform the Curandero/Healing Center of any health conditions, drug use or if you have a history of psychological problems in order to avoid any unpleasant reactions.
Who drinks Ayahuasca ??
People from all walks of life, from all corners of the world are discovering this magical jungle brew and are travelling, often long distances, to Peru and other South American countries in order to partake in authentic Ayahuasca ceremonies at Ayahuasca retreats. Doctors, scientists, new-agers, housewives, stock brokers, DJ’s, artists, therapists….
Unfortunately, the lifestyle model that we can call ‘Western Society’ that is rapidly proliferating all over the world at this present moment in our evolution has created an epidemic of unhappy, dysfunctional people who have completely lost their connection with Mother nature, with God/ Creator, their ancestors and traditions and especially, their ‘higher selves’.
Many people at this time are asking themselves….. ‘Why am I here ? What is my purpose ? What is the POINT of it all ?’ Many can clearly see that as a species we are heading towards a crisis of unparalleled proportions. We are actually in serious danger of completely destroying ourselves but they are at a loss as to what they can do to make a difference ?
“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
The ancient Amazonian Shamanic traditions and Ayahuasca in particular, can help us to rediscover ourselves, help us to see the beauty and magic all around us once more and reconnect us with the Divine Spirit that is present in every leaf, every smile and in each one of Us. The truth is we don’t need to ‘get anywhere’, there is no place ‘we need to go’. Our ‘Higher Selves’ (or Souls/Spirits) are ever-present, from birth to death, in every moment of every day of our lives. They are simply ‘obscured’ by all the traumas, the conditioning, all the ‘brainwashing’ and all the fear mongering that are a predominant part of our modern culture.
Ayahuasca really can help us to clear out some of our ‘baggage’ so-to-speak, can help us get back on the path towards self-realisation which in turn will lead to a brighter, more harmonious future for humankind as a whole.