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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 vine (Banisteriopsis caapi). Photo by Johanne Grue Danielsen

In other groups the plants from which the beverage is prepared came from the bones, flesh or blood of mythical beings. Numerous Amazonian indigenous groups consider B. caapi, together with tobacco and coca, as highly sacred, one of the greatest gifts to humanity.

Since at least the beginning of the twentieth century ayahuasca has been adopted by segments of the mestizo population of Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. In Peru ayahuasca, along other plants, often psychotropic, is considered a doctor, a plant-teacher (Luna 1984, 1986). A new phenomenon took places in the states of Acre and Rondonia, in the Brazilian Amazon. Religious leaders originally from the mostly Afro-Brazilian Northeast created religious organizations, a mixture of popular Catholicism, in some cases Afro-Brazilian ideas, European esotericism, native Amazonian beliefs and the use of ayahuasca as a sacrament. There has been a rapid expansion of these religious organizations in urban centers of the whole country, later with offshoots in other Latin American countries, Europe (mostly Holland and Spain), the United States, and Japan.

Consequently, in the last fifteen to twenty years thousands of people have had access to the ayahuasca experience, either by traveling to Amazonian countries, mostly Peru, or by joining the rituals of Brazilian religious organizations, or through practitioners from various backgrounds that offer ayahuasca sessions in many countries. Significant religious syncretism has occurred since its use depends on cultural setting. A variety of therapeutic methods have also been the incorporation within or around the ritual setting. Experiences are often extremely powerful, featuring contact with entities, animal or plant spirits, and journeys to other realms. In Westerners the ayahuasca ingestion often elicits discussions of a philosophical nature, as people try to somehow make sense of their experiences. Many claim that ayahuasca has been a veritable teacher to them, and it is not uncommon that ayahuasca is considered as an intelligent being, a mother or grandmother, ideas similar to those found among Amazonian indigenous groups.

It is my intention to present here some reflections on the ayahuasca experience based on fieldwork I carried out among some indigenous groups in Colombia and Peru, Peruvian mestizo practitioners, members of Brazilian religious organizations as well as among contemporary westerners from a number of countries. I will also draw materials from my contact with other researchers and my own investigations throughout the years with ayahuasca.

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