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Ayahuasca and the concept of reality. Ethnographic, theoretical, and experiential considerations. (cont.)
By Luis Eduardo Luna, Ph.D., F.L.S.

Ayahuasca (and yajé) is used within a shamanistic complex by numerous indigenous groups of the Upper Amazon with various purposes, such as divination, diagnosing illnesses, transformation into animals or more generally to get in touch with normally unseen realms subjacent to ordinary reality, including visits to the primordial time where humans and animals acquired their present shapes. The concept of reality among indigenous groups suggests a many-worlds interpretation of the real. Ayahuasca and other sacred plants facilitate access to these other realities. Its importance is reflected in the myths of origin. Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff, who worked among Tukanoan indigenous groups of Colombia (also living on the Brazilian side of the border) collected a myth that I present here in a highly condensed form (Reichel-Dolmatoff (1975:134-136): The Sun Father is the Master of Yajé. He impregnated a woman who looked at Him through the eye. She gave birth to the Yajé vine in the form of a radiant child. When she entered the maloca or communal house she asked, “Who is the father of this child”. One after the other several men, the ancestors of the Tukano, said “I am his father”, the first cutting his umbilical cord, others grabbing him by his fingers, his arms and legs, tearing him into pieces, each getting his own kinds of yajé. With it they also got the rules by which to live, and other things with which to reciprocate: conversations, songs, food, and also evil things. They found their place, their way of life.

Among the Cashinahua and other Pano indigenous groups of Peru and Brazil (who call ayahuasca nixi pae) the origin of the vine is in the sub aquatic realm. According to Lagrou (2000:33) the ancestor named Yube enters the water world of his spiritual kin, the snakes, to marry the beautifully-painted snake woman whose vision had seduced him. He is initiated into taking ayahuasca but he fails to resist the fear induced by the visions. He cries out, offending his snake kin, owners of the brew, and escapes, only to be found and wounded by his angry kin a year later. Before he dies, he transmits to his people his knowledge of the brew’s preparation and its song.

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