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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.

Contemporary members of Brazilian religious organizations that use ayahuasca as a sacrament exhibit similar ideas. Among members of the UDV (União do Vegetal), one of these organizations, the central doctrine is embedded in certain Histórias, stories or myths, which are recited (not written down) during rituals, the memorization of which would determine the advancement in the organizational hierarchy. I participated in some rituals hearing several times the main central myth, the História da Huasca, in fact a variation of a myth of origin found among indigenous groups and among mestizo practitioners by which the origin of the two plants involved in the preparation comes from the bones and blood (or simply from the grave) of human beings. I was struck at how vividly the story unfolds in the mind while under the effect of the brew, how easily it would be to believe the myth to be true. Ayahuasca may in fact reinforce any religious beliefs, hence it’s potential for being adopted by other religious organizations and for facilitating syncretism. Mestizo shamanism in Peru is the result of the syncretism of popular Catholicism, Amazonian and Andean ideas (as well as some European esoteric elements). Furuya (1994) has pointed out the gradual umbandization (from umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion) of CEFLURIS, the largest of the Brazilian religious organizations that use ayahuasca under the name Santo Daime. Afro-Brazilian ideas are even more evident among members of Barquinha, an organization I studied carefully (Luna 1995). They have the concept of “incorporation”, different from “possession” in that the person remains conscious of his normal self. Members are believed to be able to incorporate four types of spirits: pretos velhos (old and wise black slaves), caboclos (the spirits of Indians), erés (the spirits of children), and encantados (princes or princesses “enchanted” or transformed into certain animals). This is close to the Amazonian idea of transformation. Once while harvesting the vine in the forest with a group from Barquinha, one of the men told me the story about one of the members that once was gripped by high anxiety while harvesting the vine up about twenty meters above the ground. He solved the problem by “incorporating” the spirit of a preto velho, a black slave, and descending easily to the ground. This suggests that accessing such states of consciousness may have had an evolutionary advantage.

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