The word Ayahuasca originates from Quechua - the language of the lost empire of the Incas. It translates to mean 'vine of the dead', 'vine of the soul', or spirit vine' — all of which accurately describe the essence of the entheogenic beverage that has generated great interest within the Western alternative healing world.
The properties, history and traditions of Ayahuasca are notoriously difficult to write about in any traditional sense for the real essence behind this sacred medicine only reveals itself to those who engage with its guardians spirits following ingestion of the brew.
Three experts in the fields of psychedelics and entheogens have collaborated on a ground-breaking work titled Ayahuasca: Rituals, Potions, and Visionary Art From the Amazon.
- Arno Adelaars - organiser of seminars on Shamanism and psychoactive plants
- Christian Ratsch - an ethnologist and ethno-pharmacologist.
- Claudio Muller-Ebeling - an ethnologist specialising in visionary art.
Together they have produced a publication that highlights their respective ideas, insights and researches into the mysterious world of this Amazonian vine concoction.
Part one of Ayahuasca opens with an examination by Ratsch of Ayahuasca's long history and rich mythology and explains how the history of Ayahuasca is said by the South American peoples to stretch back to the very origins of human existence.
Indeed, the development of their culture is wholly resonant with their relationship to the plant ayahuasca liana which they describe as having the effect of 'connecting heaven and earth'.
It is this vine, along with its infusion with the leaves of other Amazonian plants, which releases high levels of DMT that has made it so popular with shamans throughout the region.
However the story does not end there for with other additives such as tobacco and coca leaves the mix can extend the properties of the drink beyond its primary medicinal, purifying and visionary effects.
Ayahuasca is, of course, only one of many hallucinating plants found in South America and so the publication reflects that fact and catalogs their significance and importance within the scope of Ayahuasca use.
In part two Muller-Ebeling explores the visionary experience initiated by Ayahuasca ingestion. This, she explains, can take several different forms and that it does not always invoke the traditional form of the Shamanic visionary experience via the conduit of traditional imagery. Very often its inherent spiritual wisdom manifests itself through emotional experience whilst at other times it appears simply through abstract geometric patterns.
However, the author explains that one of the most common experiences that many Ayahuasca users have includes the universal visionary experience of two entwined snakes. Whilst this is a symbol that appears all over the world and has many different connotations it effectively expresses the fundamental structure of human DNA.
This, as well as other geometric patterning experienced in an ayahuasca state often forms the basis of some of the sacred art that is prevalent through this region of South America.
These aspects to the ethno-tradition are featured in detail by Muller-Ebeling prior to closing this part of the book with a look at musical instruments and music used in Ayahuasca rituals and as a guide through the pathways of inner space.
This includes both ethnic music and Ayahuasca-inspired Western popular music.
In the third and final part of the book Adelaars introduces the reader to the rituals associated with ayahuasca ingestion.
Here the book takes on a personalised form with the author including personal and first-hand accounts of the many different forms of rituals as well as their all-important preparatory periods.
Some of these are performed for individual users whilst others are community-based with the intention of sending healing energy out to the World.
By way of conclusion the book includes a glossary, bibliography, and discography.
Our Review of Ayahuasca: Rituals, Potions, and Visionary Art From the Amazon
When trying to translate or describe the spiritual essence of the Ayahuasca experience from the language of its indigenous roots in South America through to the material psycho-centric culture of Western-world psychology the essential message of this drug can be far too easily lost.
Not so with this publication which to my mind carries with it the very core dynamic or characteristics of the potion that is studying.
Like the snaking motion of the vine this book weaves in and out of the world of ethno-medicines, South American Shamanic culture and the wider world of human spirituality in a way that engages the senses at every level.
However, and also just like the vine itself, this book never moves so far from its host subject that it loses the essence of its core function which is clearly to try and educate and inform those of us whose only interaction with Ayahuasca has been through the written word.
As a book this about as inspirational and engaging as it gets.
With some wonderful accompanying photographs, occasional forays into the Shamanic realms and contextual comment from a Western viewpoint this is a book that simply excites the senses and stimulates the imagination.
Those who use Ayahuasca; as well those who administer it in its proper Shamanic setting, are all in agreement that this is an entheogenic substance that could, if universally accepted have a profound impact upon the world at large. As part of this sharing process the authors of Ayahuasca have proven that it is not only vitally important to share the knowledge of this healing agent but also to protect the indigenous peoples who hold the key to its right application as well as the natural environment in which it grows.
Ayahuasca is a psychedelic that asks many difficult and penetrating questions and Ayahuasca: Rituals, Potions, and Visionary Art From the Amazon is a book that provides many of those key answers in an authoritative, as well as engaging, way. Given the evident complexity of the task in hand the result is not only a beatutifully-crafted publication but also is one that does justice to the sheer quality of research and encyclopaedic information presented by its authors.