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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.

Els Lagrou (2000:32) reports that among the Cashinahua of Northwest Brazil and Eastern Peru “Ayahuasca is a means of transport and of transformation, a means of reconnecting with invisible layers of the cosmos, as well as a way of making present the world and stories told in myth through imaginary experience.” Osmani, one of her informants, told her “you have to remember a myth before you drink the brew. If you concentrate well on the story, the story and its beings will appear to you in vision and you will understand the meaning this story has for your own life and experiences. You will feel the story. You will live it.” (Ibid. p. 33).

This last report goes along similar observations made earlier by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff among the Tukano: “Taking yajé is called gahpí irí-inyári (from iri/to drink, inyári /to see), and is interpreted as a return to the cosmic uterus, to the “mine,” to the source of all things. It has the objective of reaffirming religious faith, through the personal experience of seeing with one’s own eyes the origin of the Universe and of mankind, together with all supernatural beings. On awakening from the trance, the individual remains convinced of the truth of the religious teachings” (Reichel-Dolmatoff 1971:174).

This idea is related to that of transformation into an animal, a common shamanistic motive in the Amazon area (as well as in traditional societies all over the world). The shaman is thought to transform into a predator of one of the three realms (earth, water and sky), jaguar, anaconda, harpy eagle, or into other animals, in order to perform certain tasks or to experience the world through them, a transformation of identity the Cashinahua referred to as a “change of skin”, a symbolic death (Lagrou 2000:31). This is a radical epistemological possibility difficult to imagine without direct experience. If true, it would mean alternative consciousness and transpersonal perception of whatever is out there, of the “real”.

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