Ayahuasca and Amazonian Shamanism
Ayahuasca is one of the most powerful and well-known natural entheogens known to Man. It is an Amazonian plant concoction that has been used for centuries, possibly millennia by native Indian and more recently mestizo shamans across the upper Amazon throughout Peru, Columbia, Ecuador and Brazil. Over 40 other names for this sacred medicine are known including caapi, natema, mihi, and yage.
The name Ayahuasca comes from Quechua, a widely spoken South American language found throughout the Amazon: aya means “soul” or “spirits” and huasca means “vine”, therefore translating to “vine of the soul” or “vine of the spirits”.
Look deep into Nature then you will understand everything better – Albert Einstein
In the Shipibo language the name for ayahuasca is Oni (pronounced Ooni) which means ‘knowledge’ or Oni Kobin which means ‘cooked/prepared knowledge’. The Shipibo name for a healer working with ayahuasca is an Onanya which means ‘one who has knowledge’.
Ayahuasca is made from the Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaf of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). Both of these plants are collected from the jungle to create a potent mixture that offers the drinker access to the realm of spirits and an energetic world that exists around us all of which we are typically not able to perceive in daily life.
It is a mystery how the Amazonian shamans learnt to combine these two plants in order to prepare this profound medicine as individually taken; they are more or less inert. In chemical terms, the leafy chacruna contains the powerful psychoactive dimethyletryptamine (DMT) which is not orally active but is metabolized by the stomach enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO).
However, certain chemicals within the Ayahuasca vine contain MAO inhibitors in the form of harmine compounds which inhibit the action of the MAO in the medicine and result in a psychoactive compound that has an identical chemical makeup to the organic tryptamines in our brains. This then results in the mixture circulating through the bloodstream into the brain where it triggers powerful visionary experiences and enables us to access otherworldly realms.
The origins of the shamanic use of Ayahuasca are lost in the mists of history and there are many stories surrounding the how the natives initially came to work with this sacred medicine. In an indigenous context, Ayahuasca was used by the shamans of the Amazon region (ayahuasqueros) for healing and divinatory purposes. Complex rituals surround the preparation and use of Ayahuasca which have been passed down through generations of curanderos and curanderas (healers). By holding healing ceremonies, the Maestras use the medicine as a diagnostic tool to discover the root of illness in their patients.
Ayahuasca is a Medicine
Ayahuasca is a shamanic brew; a holistic, existential, experiential medicine that facilitates states of inner-awakening, direct connection with the spirit world and a tool to reach amplified states of consciousness. It is known to and respected by a vast number of indigenous people of the Amazon as a healing plant or master “teacher plant” and represents the basis of their traditional medicines.
Based on a series of scientific investigations, it has been proven that the physiological effect of ayahuasca in the human body does not cause any toxicity. Consuming ayahuasca within a controlled context shows no side-effect, is not addictive and it does not produce any lasting withdrawal syndromes.
As Timothy Leary, Ph.D and Richard Alpert Ph.D said in Harvard University in 1962 about psychedelics,
"What are these substances? Medicines or drugs or sacramental foods? It is easier to say what they are not. They are not narcotics, nor intoxicants, nor energizers, nor anaesthetics, nor tranquilizers. They are, rather, biochemical keys which unlock experiences shatteringly new to most Westerners."
Ayahuasca is a medicine that works on every level; on the physical and non physical being, on our consciousness, on our emotions and on our spirit. The medicine also is called “La Purga” and as the name implies, causes purging of physical, emotional and spiritual issues accumulated within the body of the patients.
Although it contains a psychoactive component, ayahuasca cannot be considered and condemned as a classic drug of addictive and negative effects. On the contrary, it is essential that working with ayahuasca is never within a recreational or playful context. The medicine must be offered within a ceremonial, ritual environment with sacred, spiritual and therapeutic characteristics by trained healers who can guide, protect and contain the healing / learning journey of the drinker. This is essential in order to safely move into an often intense process of deep introspection whilst experiencing both agreeable and difficult experiences throughout the ceremony. The essence of working with ayahuasca is being able to have a direct experience of one’s inner world through which one clearly sees the nature of one’s difficulties or problems and discovers the ways to overcome and transform them.
All manner of people from different walks of like, whether they be indigenous forest people, shaman, psychologists, therapists, spiritual seekers or those looking for solutions to health issues do not consider this plant to be a drug, but a unique tool for healing, introspection, meditation, therapy, inner cleansing, auto-exploration or a sacrament.
Ayahuasca is one of the most powerful and well-known natural entheogens known to man. It is a plant medicine that needs to be approached with absolute respect and caution. Provided a number of clear guidelines are followed then this medicine, in combination with a myriad of other plant doctors of the Amazon, has the potential to affect profound healing.
Ayahuasca is not a drug despite the unfortunate draconian drug laws questionably implemented in various Western countries across the planet as a means of controlling the masses to be disconnected from our innate truth. It is a sacred gift that offers transformational properties; physical, emotional, mental and spiritual healing that can considerably better your relationship with yourself, as well as the world and people around you.