Ayahuasca and the concept of reality. Ethnographic, theoretical, and experiential considerations.
By Luis Eduardo Luna, Ph.D., F.L.S.
Books by Luis Eduardo Luna
US - UK - CA
Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon's Sacred Vine
US - UK - CA
Inner Paths to Outer Space
US - UK - CA
Wasiwaska, Research Center for the Study of Psychointegrator Plants, Visionary Art and Consciousness. Florianópolis, Brazil. www.wasiwaska.org.
Luis Eduardo Luna was born in Florencia, in the Colombian Amazon region, in 1947. He studied Philosophy and Literature at the Complutense University of Madrid. He earned an interdisciplinary Masters degree while at the same time teaching Spanish and Latin American Literature at the Department of Romance Languages of Oslo University. In 1979 he moved to Finland where he is currently a Senior Lecturer at the Swedish School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland. In 1989 he received a Ph.D. from the Institute of Comparative Religion at Stockholm University, and in 2000 an honorary doctorate from St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. A Guggenheim Fellow and Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, he is the author of Vegetalismo: Shamanism Among the Mestizo Population of the Peruvian Amazon (1986), and with Pablo Amaringo of Ayahuasca Visions: The Religious Iconography of a Peruvian Shaman (1991). He is co-editor with Steven F. White of Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon's Sacred Vine (2000). In 1986 he co-founded with Pablo Amaringo the Usko-Ayar Amazonian School of Painting of Pucallpa, Peru, and served as its Director of International Exhibitions until 1994. He was Professor of Anthropology at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil (1994-1998), has lectured about Amazonian shamanism and modified states of consciousness worldwide, and has curated exhibitions of visionary art in several countries.
Luna has over 30 years of experience with ayahuasca in various contexts: as an anthropologist with indigenous groups and among urban and rural mestizo ayahuasqueros in Peru and Colombia, with all the syncretic Brazilian religious organizations that use ayahuasca as a sacrament, and as a .facilitator in specially designed workshops. See his webste at www.wasiwaska.org.
Ayahuasca, a psychotropic preparation created by upper
Amazonian people since time immemorial, has been the subject of an
increasing number of scientific and popular publications. Today,
thousands of people from many countries and walks of life have had
experience with it. Ayahuasca is the Quechua name, widely used
in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, and to a lesser extend in Brazil, where
it has been adopted by religious organizations that refer to the
beverage either as Santo Daime or Vegetal. It is
prepared by brewing the stem of Banisteriopsis caapi, a vine
of the Malpighiaceae family, and the leaves of Psychotris viridis,
in the Rubiaceae, locally known as chacruna or chacrona.
In Colombia as well as areas of the Ecuadorean Amazon, Diplopterys
cabrerana, a vine belonging also to the Malphighiaceae locally
known as chagropanga, is added to B. caapi to prepare a
beverage (as a cold infusion or as a brew) called yajé
(also spelled yagé). Some indigenous groups make a
drink of only B. caapi, in which case I propose to use just
the term caapi. Banisteriopsis caapi contains two main
alkaloids, harmine and tetrahydroharmine (some varities contain also
traces of harmaline), while both Psychotria viridis and
Diplopterys cabrerana contain the powerful visionary alkaloid
dimethyltrytamine (DMT), which is not orally active when ingested
alone due to oxidation by the enzyme MAO (monoamine oxidase) in the
liver and gut wall. In the presence of harmine, a MAO inhibitor, DMT
crosses the brain-blood barrier and attaches to 2A and 1A serotonin
receptors in the CNS (central nervous system), causing dramatic
perceptual, cognitive and mood changes. Ayahuasca (as well as
yajé) is thus an invention of upper Amazonian
indigenous groups, also famous by their discovery of the properties
of other plants, such as those involved in the preparation of curare,
a powerful muscular relaxant, various species of rubber essential to
the automobile revolution, as well as the domestication of numerous
plants, such as tobacco, and many species of palms. The Amazon area
is gradually being recognized as a center of high culture previous to
the European invasion that brought unimaginable destruction to the
whole continent, with the disappearance within 150 years of around
95% of its population, mostly due to contagious diseases for which it
had no natural defenses (see for example Mann 2005).