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An authoritative and comprehensive

treatise on the use, history, culture, and art
of the sacred plant medicine ayahuasca.

As leading authorities in the field of ethnology, anthropology,

and pharmacology, the authors dive deep into shamanic visionary
worlds, explore the plants, and share their encounters with
Amazonian cultures.


Ayahuasca is the strongest of the plant medicines used by

shamans. When brewed from a vine and a leaf, the potion creates
awe-inspiring visual and mental effects, revealing to mankind
its role in the universe and the true nature of reality. When
used properly, ayahuasca provides healing, leads to personally
meaningful visions, and stimulates the creative process.


B ODY , MI N D & SP I R I T / EN T HEO G EN S & V I SI O N A R Y SUBST A N CE S $2 9.95 USA / $4 1.95 CA N


Rituals, Potions, and Visionary Art from the Amazon

ARNO ADELAARS lives in Amsterdam and has explored psychedelic

CHRISTIAN RTSCH is an ethnologist and ethno-pharmacologist,

speaker, and author. He has studied shamanic cultures worldwide
and their use of psychoactive plants. He is the author of the classic
Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants.

CLAUDIA MLLER-EBELING is an art historian and ethnologist

specializing in visionary art. She is an internationally soughtafter speaker and coauthor of the classic Shamanism and
Tantra in Nepal.

Rituals, Potions, and Visionary Art from the Amazon

substances for over twenty-five years. He has been organizing

conferences and seminars with Claudia Mller-Ebeling on
shamanism and psychoactive plants since 1998.




This book by three renowned European authors is a welcome addition

to the growing literature on ayahuasca: it is well researched, multi
disciplinary, and a pleasure to read.
Jeremy Narby, author of The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of
An extraordinary covey of shamanic knowledge coming together to put
their many years of wisdom together, this is sure to be a best seller and
a reference book for your library. Exquisite!
Alan Shoemaker, author of Ayahuasca Medicine: The Shamanic World of
Sacred Amazonian Plant Healing
Ayahuasca this is my medicine world. It is where my songs are
powered the curatives restoring people to their own wholeness. The
authors are clearly talking about my spirit friend, giving details and
descriptions and ways for others to learn of the most powerful medicine
known to this world. This book will be of great help to many seekers.
Maestro shaman Richard Down, author of The Song: Shamanic
Story and Sound Journey, Gateway to the Heart CD
This book is an amazing resource for anyone who wants to dive deeper
in understanding this shamanic magic potion. What a richness this
book contains, being written by three authors with an interdisciplinary
approach. A must-read!
Yama Voorhorst, plant medicine guide, tantrica and womb wisdom
A compelling work due to the enormous wealth of experience and
knowledge of its three authors. It is penetrated by the authors deep
insight into the practical experience with the plants. It is without exag
geration the best and most comprehensive book on the subject.
Chela Review

Three competent writers provide an excellent three-part overview of

the world of ayahuasca. A glossary, a very good bibliography, and a
small discography complete this highly recommended book.
When properly used, ayahuasca reveals the true reality, is important for
healing and health, and promotes visionary creative activity. This book
is very well structured and the highly competent team of authors all
specialists in their fields presents the downright hot topic with scien
tific detachment and objectivity.
Roland Nyffeler, coauthor of the Himalayas
The ideas, thoughts, and research presented in this work have been
well presented for both the uninitiated or the experienced. Covering
the ethnobotanical, visionary, and ritual uses gives a great overview of
what ayahuasca is and is not. Plant medicines can be a rabbit hole of
exploration and healing for the mind, body, and soul. Traditional uses
for thousands of years have brought us to the modern age and now
more than ever perhaps is the time ayahuasca and other plant allies are
needed the most.
Jason Abbott, Host of The Intellectual Gentlemans Club Podcast,

Rituals, Potions, and Visionary Art from Amazonia


Published by DIVINE ARTS
An imprint of Michael Wiese Productions
12400 Ventura Blvd. #1111
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 379-8799, (818) 986-3408 (FAX)
Cover design:
Book Layout: William Morosi
Cover Painting: Mauro Reategui Perez
Editors: Geraldine Overton and Gary Sunshine
Translation: Hereward Tilton
Printed by McNaughton & Gunn, Inc., Saline, Michigan
Text set in 10-point Baskerville with headings in 21-point Expo Sans Pro
Note to the Reader: The information provided in this book is for educational,
historical, and cultural interest only and should not be construed as advocacy for the use
or ingestion of ayahuasca or other psychedelics. Neither the author nor the publisher
assumes any responsibility for physical, psychological, or social consequences resulting
from the ingestion of these substances or their derivatives.
Manufactured in the United States of America
Copyright 2006 by AT Verlag, Aarau and Munich, Switzerland
Updated and revised edition
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means
without permission in writing from the author, except for the inclusion of brief quota
tions in a review.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Adelaars, Arno, author.
Title: Ayahuasca : rituals, magic potions, and visionary art from Amazonia /
Arno Adelaars, Christian Rtsch, Claudia Mller-Ebeling.
Other titles: Ayahuasca. English
Description: Studio City, CA : Divine Arts, 2016. | Includes bibliographical
Identifiers: LCCN 2016030272 | ISBN 9781611250510
Subjects: LCSH: Ayahuasca ceremony. | Hallucinogenic drugs and religious
experience. | AyahuascaAmazon River Region. | ShamanismAmazon River
Region. | Amazon River RegionReligious life and customs. | ArtAmazon
River Region.
Classification: LCC BL65.D7 A3413 2016 | DDC 299.8/142dc23
LC record available at

Contents  v
Introduction 1

Ayahuasca: The Magic Potion of the Amazon 1

The Ayahuasca River 2
The Seven Pillars of Jungle Medicine 3
The World Tree  6

Amazonia: El mundo de la Ayahuasca
The Realm of Ayahuasca 12
What Is Ayahuasca?14

Entheogens  14
Origins and Discovery  17
Other Names for Ayahuasca  17

The Ayahuasca Plant: Ethnobotany 20

Banisteriopsis caapi: The Ayahuasca Liana 22

The Ayahuasca Potion: Snake and Jaguar  24

The Ayahuasca Potion: Ethnopharmacy 25

Recipes for Receptors  28

A Natema Recipe of the Shuar (Jvaro)  29

An Ecuadorean Recipe 30
Tama yag A Recipe of the Cofn 30
Preparation by the Unio do Vegetal (UDV, Brazil) 30
A Recipe of Don Agustn (Peru)  30




Western Medicine, Pharmacy, and Pharmacology  31

DMT: The Enlightenment Molecule 32

The Ayahuasca Effect: Experiences 33

On Sense and the Senses: Some Personal

Ayahuasca Reflections 34

Dietary Rules: Ayahuasca Diets  34

Sacred Meat  35

La pinta: The Vision Plants  36

Shades of the Night 37

Maikua and Chamico: Angels Trumpets and Thorn Apples 37
Borrachero, the Inebriant 42
The Cactus of the Four Winds  44

Yopo: Snuff Powder and Ayahuasca 45

A Yopo Recipe of the Sikuani (Colombia)  48

Coca: The Leaf of Life 50

Ayahuasca especial 52
Other Stimulants from the Amazon  53

Tobacco: Food of the Jaguar Shamans 55

Mapacho: Jungle Tobacco  60

Tobacco Licking: Ambl, Chim, and Mambeo 60

Copal: Incense and Fragrance 62

Incenses Amplify Experience 63

Copal 64
Sahumerios 67
Siete plantas zahumerio: Seven Incense Plants 67
Incense in Modern Ayahuasca Rituals  67
Florida: The Jungle Perfume 68

Remedios: The Remedies  70

South American Medicinal Plants 73

Green Gold? 74

A yahuasca V isions an d A rtistic R e f l ections

What Are Visions?  76

The Historical Background  79

The Image Worlds of Ayahuasca  80
Mushroom and DMT Visions 86

On the Meaning of Patterns, Signs, and Signatures  90

Constants of Form and Phosphene 91

Zigzag Patterns 92
Spirals and Circles  96
Crosses 97
The Phases of Inebriation 97
Amazonian Ayahuasca Art 98
Shipibo-Conibo 99
The Primary Shipibo Patterns 105
Animal Symbolism 108
Birds 110
Face and Body Painting 111

The Scene of the Action 113

Archaeological Ayahuasca Artifacts 114

The Maloca Cosmos  116
Thinking Stools 119

Musical Instruments 120

Ayahuasca Music, by Christian Rtsch 123

The Natural Sounds of the Jungle Symphony 125

Songs as a Cartography of the True Reality 126
A Personal Experience 129
In the Beginning Was the Rhythm  129
Dionysian Music 131
Yurupar: The Sound of the Pleiades  132
Snail Sounds 133
Religious Music: Himnos 135
Ayahuasca as a Source of Inspiration 136
Rocking Ayahuasca 137
Stings Message in a Bottle 138
Trance-Amazonia 139





Ayahuasca Visions in Contemporary Art141

Jungle Cinema 141

La pinta in South American Painting 145
Pablo Amaringo  146
Yando Rios  147
Carlos Jacanamijoy 148
La pinta in Western Painting 149
Mati Klarwein 150
Nana Nauwald 152
Alex Grey 153
Other Artists 153

Infinite Variety  156
The Art of the Taitas: Rituals of Indigenous Colombians  158

The Trans-Sibundoy Express 159

Preparation of the Ayahuasca 159
The Jaguar Is My Nephew 162
A Peace Ceremony in Colombia 167
Ceremonies Without Rules: Taita Querobn Queta 171
A Cofn Ritual with Strict Rules: Taita Diomedes Dias  174
The Cams Shaman Taita Martn Agreda 180
Kajuyali Tsamani: The New Shaman 182
The Kogi 183
A Ceremony in the Nabi Nunhue maloca  187
A Doctor Becomes a Shaman 189
Healing Rituals with Ayahuasca 191
The Course of the Ritual 192
My Yag Initiation 192
A Holistic Hospital 193
Coca Powder and Ambl 194

Peru: Indigenous and Mestizo Traditions  196

Iquitos: The Center of Ayahuasca Tourism 196

Elements of Vegetalista Rituals 197
My Shaman Is Better than Yours 198
The Typical Course of a Vegetalista Ceremony 199

R itua l s

The Old Woman in the Forest: Doa Adla Navas de Garcia  199
Doa Adlas Ritual 201
A Ritual with the Shipibo Shaman Quetsembtsa 203
Ecuador: In the Land of the Sacred Waterfalls 205

Shuar Rituals in Ecuador 205

The Condor Meets the Eagle  206
An Interview with a Shuar Shaman  208
The Condor and the Eagle 211
The Making of a Shuar Shaman 216

Brazil: Where Rituals Become Religions  218

Santo Daime: The Best-Known Brazilian Ayahuasca Church  218

Trabalhos  220
Feitio 221
The Church Service 221
Cura 223
Hinario 223
Concentrao 224
Santa Missa  224
A Private Ceremony on the Atlantic Coast of Brazil 224
Barquinha: The Doctrine of the Blue Book 225
Unio do Vegetal: The Alliance with the Plants 226
Santo Daime Offshoots  228
Friends of the Forest  228

Modern Rituals in the West 231

Fear of Ayahuasca  232

An Interview with a Contemporary Ritual Attendant 236
Safety Issues in Contemporary Rituals 238
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  238

Some Critical Remarks on the Cultural Transfer of

Shamanism, by Claudia Mller-Ebeling 242

Lurking Pitfalls  243

Misunderstandings  248
Explanations from an Ethnological Perspective  249

Ayahuasca and Spirituality, by Arno Adelaars 251

Dogs Bark, Men Think 252

Mamacita Ayahuasca as the Voice of Mother Earth 254
There Is No Medicine Against Stupidity  254




Cheers! Conversations with Ayahuasca Drinkers  256

The Blood of the Jaguar and the Spirit of the Dead Child  256
An Account of a Healing 262

My Story 267

How Do Songs Come? 271

Glossary  275
Bibliography 278
Discography 294

Rock Music 294

Ethnic Music 295

Acknowledgments 297
About the Authors 299



the most potent shamanic remedies

granted to humanity by the plant world. Derived from several
Amazonian plants, it is the name of a potion with effects that are
both physically powerful and psychologically astounding. Ayahuasca
is a medicine indeed, it is the prototype of the true shamanic
medicine. It lies at the heart of Amazonian shamanism and is one of
the most important entheogens in the history of civilization.
Ayahuasca constitutes the basis of culture for many ethnic
groups it is an institution that both creates and preserves culture.
Ayahuasca is a medicine that is utilized in rituals; it is a means of
knowledge, showing humanity its place in the universe and revealing
the true reality; it is a catalyst for creative processes and a source of
artistic inspiration. When applied correctly, ayahuasca bestows health
and healing upon us, lends us personally significant visions, and stim
ulates creative endeavors.
In writing this book we sought to investigate this shamanic
magic potion and its cultural significance. We show its utilization in
shamanic rituals; we follow its cultural traces; we open up the fields
of ethnobotany and ethnopharmacology. We plunge into visionary
shamanic worlds, journey into other realities, study the plants and
their souls, and encounter the realities of Amazonian cultures and
their artistic manifestations.
Researching ayahuasca is a scientific adventure that cannot be
undertaken by a single researcher alone. Ayahuasca belongs to a
broad field of inquiry that calls for interdisciplinary approaches.1 To

yahuasca is one of

Approaches in the sense of Ernst Jnger (1980).




do ayahuasca justice, being an ethnologist does not suffice; it is also

not enough to be a doctor or a pharmacologist. In order to under
stand ayahuasca many disciplines are required: ethnography, ethnology,
ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, ethnology of art, psychology,
cognitive anthropology, history, art history, archaeology, ethnohistory,
criminology, medicine, psychiatry, pharmaceutics, pharmacology, and
chemistry. However, even this arsenal of scientific approaches does not
suffice to understand ayahuasca; rather, it is experience, the personal
encounter with the potion, which is required in order to draw nearer
to its secrets.
For this reason our book is written by three authors in the hope of
giving closer consideration to several facets of our subject, and in order
to enrich science with personal experience. We wish to demonstrate
that ayahuasca does not simply concern something exotic, but rather
that it has universal significance for humankind. For the investigation of
ayahuasca has also left substantial traces within our own history.
The general human significance of ayahuasca reaches far beyond
the borders of Amazonia and leads us to ourselves, to the great ques
tions of our own lives. The investigation of ayahuasca is necessarily
bound up with the fundamental questions of philosophy, which have
been the subject of our intellectual history since antiquity: Where do
we come from, what are we doing here, where are we going? Likewise,
ayahuasca compels us to confront the thorny problem of matter and
spirit. Ayahuasca challenges us, or invites us, to occupy ourselves with
the meaning of life.
When we ask a shaman from Amazonia what the meaning of life is,
the purpose of our being, the basis of our existence, and the meaning
of death, we receive a very simple reply: Drink ayahuasca! Then you
will understand.


Ayahuasca is a river upon whose banks the vision plants (pinta) and
snuff powder (yopo) ingredients grow; there the remedios thrive, tobacco
and coca are grown, incense (copales) and fragrance plants are gathered.
That river is the Amazon, the stream of the shaman, the healer
anaconda.2 That river is the university of jungle medicine. Its water is
Known to the Shipibo as ronin, the anaconda (Eunectes murinus) is regarded as the
ancestor of all forms.

I ntro d uction

the stream of life, illuminated with visions, saturated with insights, filled
with scents, healed with plant spirits.
The river flows into the boundless ocean, and is most effective and
powerful when the shamanic spirit swims within it. The spirit of the
shaman can draw and even create from all sources of the plant world,
but the life force and healing power stems from the plants themselves.
He can channel the river of plant spirits for the sake of humans
but nothing more! The delta of rituals flows forth from the river of
ayahuasca. From its sparkling drops visionary artworks blossom.
Many ethnobotanically significant plants are associated with
la pinta, the visionary plants
yopo, the snuff powder
coca and other stimulants
tobacco and smoking herbs
copal, incense and fragrance
remedios, the medicine
Ayahuasca is the Amazon, the other plants are its tributaries (Ucuyali,
Putomayo, Ro Negro, etc.). They merge with one another into a cultural
brew, a jungle medicine. From this river the delta of rituals flows forth
in innumerable channels, for all rituals are fed by the river. Without the
river they would parch, wither, and eventually run dry.



The ethnopharmacological ayahuasca complex is composed of the

seven pillars of jungle medicine: ayahuasca, pinta, yopo, coca, tobacco,
copal, and remedio (i.e., the potion; vision plants; snuff powder; coca and
other stimulants; tobacco and other smoking herbs; copal or incense and
fragrance; and remedio, the medicine). Nevertheless, the everyday usage
of these categories is not quite so abstract. There are overlaps, ambigui
ties, and multiple classifications. For example, coca leaves which are



The Delta of Rituals

The Crown of Art

primarily chewed as a stimulant can also be added to the ayahuasca

potion to intensify visions; what is more, they can be pulverized and
inhaled as snuff, mixed with tobacco and smoked, burned as incense
with copal resin, and serve as a medicine in the most diverse prepara
tions. The case is similar with tobacco and incense. Every category is
formed on the basis of its principal application.
The ethnopharmacological architecture of an ayahuasca ritual
may be constructed with all seven pillars. In addition to the ayahuasca
potion, preparations from vision plants (pinta) may be passed around,
yopo snorted, coca chewed, tobacco smoked, copal burned, and medicine
(remedios) utilized.
The indigenous peoples use ayahuasca for healing and vision
quests, and describe the liquid as their university. (Kraemer
1997: 142)

For the inhabitants of the rainforest, the visible, tangible, compre

hensible, edible, smellable reality of the jungle is not the only thing that
exists. Behind the material world, which is interpreted as the world of
outer appearances alone, there exists for these peoples a reality hidden
from normal view. The indigenous population of South America name

I ntro d uction

this other reality the true reality, the reality of souls, the invis
ible world. One might conceive of it as a parallel universe. The true
reality does not lie somewhere outside the forest, but is the primal
ground of being, so to speak the place in which the souls, the struc
tures of consciousness, the primordial images, the archetypes are active.
There everything is reversed as in a mirror. There the souls of the rain
forest peoples appear in animal form. And the souls of the trees look
like humans humans who stand on their heads, for the soul of a tree
is anthropomorphic. The world of expanded, extraordinary conscious
ness is a place outside of ordinary perception, beyond known regions,
and lost to time; it is an invisible world, a place of dreams, a house
of smoke, and the true reality lies so the Tucano people say
beyond the Milky Way.
The forest is the world of apparitions and forms that express them
selves in the shape of matter. The experience beyond the Milky Way is
the more real world, the place of insight, the source of power. There the
gods and goddesses live, and all the beings of the forest partake of their
life force. But this otherworldly place is not a far distant world it lies
within us and in everything around us. The material world perceptible
to everyday consciousness is the external appearance of the invisible
world, which is only visible when one leaves the forest and everyday
consciousness behind.
All the rainforest peoples are acquainted with consciousness-altering
techniques that allow them to see into the heart of things, to travel
to the origins of being and surrender themselves to the adventures of
expanded consciousness and the powers of the visionaries. By looking
into the world beyond the effects of which constitute the world
here the peoples of the rainforest gain the orientation they need to
survive and thrive. In expanded, extraordinary consciousness the effi
cacy of myth begins to unfold. In that place mythology becomes reality.
It is also the map that the shaman uses to travel purposefully to desired
places within the other world.
The consciousness-altering technique favored by most people of the
rainforest is the targeted use of master plants: that is to say, plants with
psychoactive effects. Master plants are instruments (plant teachers)
through which acquired patterns of perception can be unlearned and
a view into higher dimensions or other realities can be opened up.
Shamans name them the plants of the gods because they grant access
to the other world, the true reality, and allow contact with the gods.



If one only masters the art of hearing and reading their message,
then dreams, acts of possession and visions be they assisted
by drugs or other means become valuable keys, deserving of
respect and care, to that other world which holds deeper truths
and which is of the utmost relevance for both the individual and
a community that finds its inner equilibrium always threatened
anew. (Prins 1987: 68)

At the heart of shamanism lies a healing through journeys into other

realities; that is to say, extraordinary states of consciousness. To this
end either the shaman alone, the shaman and his patient or a collective
(tribe, secret society) transfer themselves to a state of altered waking
consciousness, as for instance among the ayahuasca cultures of the
Amazon. The shaman either takes ayahuasca himself in order to detect
the disease in the patient, or he gives the patient ayahuasca and leads
him through the true reality to his own center. In this way the patient
can recognize his own problems or causes of illness, and in so doing
change or relieve them. Sometimes the whole tribe will go on the trip in
order to reinforce social cohesion and discern the tasks and position of
the tribe in the cosmos through shared mystical experiences.
Shamans are not superstitious nuts rather, they are true
naturalists. They put their trust in experience and empiricism; not in
religious belief, nor in scientific theories, and certainly not in the popu
list esotericism peddled in the bargain basements of department stores.
A shaman once said that astrologers believe in books more than in their
experience, but that shamans speak with the stars directly. Shamans
are the disciples at Sais, who as dead men can lift the veil of Isis
that goddess who unites everything that is, that was, and that will be.
While still alive they undertake journeys into the worlds beyond. But
they know the trick of getting back to this side from the other, bringing
knowledge, power, and healing forces.


In the shamanic worldview the world tree is of central significance. It
is a mighty tree growing at the center of the world, connected to the
underworld by its roots and with a canopy reaching up to the realm
of the gods. The world tree is the axis mundi, the axis of the world.
It is the connecting link between the underworld, the earth, and the
heavens, and for the shaman it is the central hub from which he can
travel to other realities. An indigenous Amazonian once explained that

I ntro d uction

the world tree is like an elevator: It does not carry normal people, but
rather transports souls from one world into another. Hence, sacrifices
are offered up to the gods at the foot of the world tree, because the
souls of these offerings i.e., their spiritual principles ascend to
heaven via the trunk. However, world trees are not only significant for
the topography of the shamanic universe they also deliver a range
of remedies.
The concept of a world tree is known to almost all cultures, and
particularly to those of the rainforest. Thus, the kapok tree (Ceiba
pentandra) is the earthly representative of the world tree for the indig
enous peoples of Central America just as it is for many denizens of
the Amazon.
The kapok tree grows to a height of up to sixty meters, develops
buttress roots, and has a mighty, imposing crown. Harpy eagles
and other raptors often lurk in its canopy, on the lookout for prey.
What is more, numerous spiritual beings are supposed to live in the
epiphyte-covered branches. Thus, in the kapok an orchid flourishes that
occasionally transforms into a seductively beautiful woman. The lone
some hunter can enjoy the night with her.

The world tree lupuna blanco (Chorisia insignis; Iquitos, Peruvian Amazonia, February 1999) is
closely related to the cotton tree.



The seeds of the kapok tree are embedded in white cotton fiber,
which is why it is also known as a cotton tree. In earlier days the fibers
were used as a filling for life jackets and as insulating material. In folk
medicine, wounds and injuries are treated with the trees bark, which
also has emetic, diuretic, and muscle-relaxing effects. Powerful decoc
tions of the bark are drunk by indigenous women to expel the placenta
after birth. The Amazonian shamans add the bark of the world tree as
a remedy to the arcane, vision-inducing ayahuasca potion.



The ingestion of hallucinogenic drugs is the fastest and surest

method shamans possess for entering into other realities,
making contact with non-human individuals (spirits) and
thus gaining knowledge and power. (Illius 1991: 105)

word ethnobotany has been adopted

into many of the worlds languages. But what does it mean? The
term is derived from ethnos (folk) and botany, the science of
plants. My colleague Wolf-Dieter Storl formulated it elegantly:
n recent decades the

Particular plants play an important role in the diet, the fairy

tales, myths and sagas, the ceremonies and rituals, the magic,
the natural calendar, the medicine, the soothsaying and divina
tion, the religion and the entire symbolic and cultural cosmos of
various cultures. Such plants are referred to by many different
names, and every designation expresses something about the
qualities and essence of the plant. Hence we can see that plants
not only have a botanical or pharmacological identity, but also
a linguistic and cultural one. The primary task of ethnobotany
is to comprehend these relationships between plants and human
culture. (Storl 2003b: 3)

Ethnobotany is an ethnoscience (cognitive anthropology); it is by

no means a subdivision of botany, and it is certainly not economic
botany. A person who pursues ethnobotany attempts to gain insight
into the cultural perspective of the people under investigation, the
object of research. From a purely scholarly viewpoint, the ethno
botanist should always try to adopt the perspective of the people he
or she is investigating. That sounds almost too simple; however, it can
be extremely difficult, if not entirely impossible. If the researcher
succeeds in slipping into the role of those under investigation, unfore
seen opportunities open up for the understanding of unfamiliar
cultural realities, and he or she is lost in a universe of meaning and
simultaneous meaninglessness.
When ethnobotanists conduct research, they attempt to illuminate
the multiperspectival realities that emerge between them and the
object of research. If this hazardous endeavor is successful, a bridge
of communication and mutual comprehension opens up between two
peoples; an opportunity for understanding between cultures arises.
Those who wish to take advantage of this opportunity can begin by
overcoming their own belief systems, their own cognition and percep
tion of the world (in the sense of Nietzsches overcoming man).

E thnobotanica A yahuasca

But enough of theory. When it comes to ayahuasca we have prac

tice before us. With this jungle brew the philosophical questions and
problems of the pre-Socratics are solved. Being is no longer perceived
as the polar opposite of non-being; instead, it is completely dissolved
away. If Heraclitus (c. 500 BCE), Protagoras (fifth century BCE) et al.,1
had drunk the potion from the land of the dreaded Amazons, there
would also be no need to understand or save our world. We always
stand before the great mysterium; we are occupied, or indeed ruled by
those urgent questions: Where do we come from? What should we do
here? Where are we going?
When it comes to an adequate answer, the shamans have just as little
to offer as the ancient philosophers, the Christian mystics, the oriental
Sufis, or the Indian fakirs and sadhus. For there is no answer to be
found in the words of any language. All philosophy revolves around
these three questions concerning our existence; every religion attempts
to answer them; every spiritual seeker despairs over them. The answer(s)
to these questions are the fuel in the engine of the human spirit. It
seems impossible to supply an answer in verbal that is, linguistic
form. Individuals such as Plato (427347 BCE) or Apuleius (second
century BCE), who have clothed the mysterium, the secret, in words and
laid it down in history as the sedimentary layers of our human spirit,
have left behind beautiful, edifying, poetic words and fine philological
material, but their words have no meaning for the seeker who has not
experienced the mysterium. Only the mystes, the initiate, knows or at least
believes he or she knows what the ancients might have meant.
The Socratic saying I know that I know nothing appears to be a
paradox, a contradiction in terms.2 Under the influence of ayahuasca
the contradiction simply dissolves away and blithely leaves the seeker
behind. Perhaps the serious ayahuasca drinker understands the wisdom
of Socrates (469399 BCE), a man who was accused of being a
corrupter and seducer of youth (like Timothy Leary two and a half
thousand years later in the United States), and who was sentenced to
death as a result.3 If the sources can be trusted, the wisdom of Socrates
appears to have been: Know thyself !
On this subject see Erwin Schrdingers enlightening text Nature and the Greeks, first
published in 1954; this is the physicist who discovered Schrdingers cat and stated:
A purely rational worldview without any mysticism is an impossibility (Schrdinger
1989: 175).
In reality we know nothing; for truth is in the depths. Democritus, Fr. 117.
Timothy Leary (19201996) had more luck than Socrates: He only went to jail.





Although this maxim sounds rather banal, it is the cognitive key

to ones own experience of the world, to the realm of ayahuasca: the
place where the realities lurk. Those who see them understand what
I mean. These otherworldly realities are no longer communicable, at
least not in verbal form. Some blessed, seasoned artists have opened up
a few small doors. But those who really wish to know what lies hidden
behind them must take the risk and look for themselves.
Experimentation is the only way to learn something, writes the
Colombian shaman Kajuyali Tsamani (2003: 13) not in order to
discourage us but, on the contrary, to embolden us. Those who inves
tigate the world themselves will perhaps understand it; they may at
least understand particular parts of it, or understand it from certain
perspectives. The mysterium is a self-potentiating factor of all (or at least
of our?) existence. It is not tangible, visible, or perceptible yet the
mysterium accompanies us on every step we take. We can grasp it, but
not comprehend it; we can only surrender ourselves and cry out: All is
one, all is interconnected, all is here and now!
Shamanism is an experiential science, not a dogmatic belief system.
In the shamanic world, what is believed is entirely irrelevant; only expe
rience is of any consequence. True, it is possible to pave the way for
those who wish to embark on this adventure. But only ones own expe
rience has significance and meaning; dogma is relevant to rulers and
exploiters alone. The shamanic experience can free us from all belief
systems, doctrines, and structures. What one believes is of no conse
quence at all; it is only what one experiences that is crucial!


Amazonia is the realm of ayahuasca. Among the pre-Columbian
cultures of South America the forest was already considered to be the
fount of healing, the treasury of the healing arts, the divine apothe
cary. Long ago the Moche crossed the Andes to wander in the forest
of wonder-drugs. Still today the curanderos from Chiclayo journey to
Amazonia, because that is where you may learn the most.
The ethnobotany of ayahuasca has its origins in the mysterious
land that was feared by early modern Europeans as a region populated
by wild Amazons, and that was eventually christened the Amazon or

E thnobotanica A yahuasca

The primeval forest is dappled white with hundreds of birds

large storks motionless in the branches, hardly stirring their wings
as our boat travels past. With the coming of the dry season a
myriad of beasts leave the jungle and seek something fresh on the
banks of the river. There can be some surprises in store for you
there. (Gheerbrant, 1950: 105)

The Yarinacocha Lagoon in Peruvian Amazonia is home to the Shipibo and their ayahuascainfluenced culture.

Every year large expanses of the rainforest are inundated: Then Amazonia becomes a waterworld that can only be crossed by boat (near Iquitos, Peruvian Amazonia).





Amazonia is a gigantic projection screen. The unknown forest is imbued

with countless imaginings indeed, it is almost overloaded, at least by
those who are not indigenous to the region. For the native peoples the
forest is their world a world that they know, and with which they are
able to live (or from todays perspective: were able to live) without
destroying it. In other words, the indigenous peoples arent in the habit
of sawing through the branch on which theyre sitting. However, around
five hundred years ago foreign invaders brought their fear of the forest
and the old sacred groves to the New World, and began to mercilessly
hack off this branch exactly as the forest realm is being devastated
today by high-tech machines, the inventions of the Old World.

Ayahuasca is the essence of the Amazonian forest. Only those who
taste it can understand this water-world. The gates to the jungle trea
sury are opened only to ayahuasca drinkers. Only to them is the secret
of the forest revealed.
Ayahuasca is a medicine, a medicina poderosa (Spanish: precious medi
cine). After almost three decades of ethnobotanical research across
the entire world, and after many shamanic experiences, my conclu
sion is unequivocal: For me ayahuasca is the best shamanic medicine
that humanity has yet discovered. Others may be of another opinion.
But I know that many people who have encountered the ayahuasca
spirit endorse my view. I am not claiming that ayahuasca is the best
entheogen or psychedelic; far more than any other magic plants and
potions, ayahuasca is a remedy, a medicine that does not necessarily
entail having fun. After all, those looking for fun have a whole arsenal
of party drugs at their disposal. Ayahuasca does not belong to that
arsenal; rather, it is a serious matter. And the more seriously we take it,
the greater is its potential to heal.

Entheogen is a term derived from the Greek (entheos = possession

by divinity, -gen = that which produces); it was introduced into the
scholarly literature by the mycologist and ethnomycologist R. Gordon
Wasson (18981986), the Hellenists Carl Ruck and Danny Staples
(Boston University), the mushroom expert Jeremy Bigwood, and the
organic chemist Jonathan Ott (Ruck et al. 1979: 145):

E thnobotanica A yahuasca

Plant sacraments or shamanic inebriants evoking religious ecstasy

or vision; commonly used in the archaic world in divination for
shamanic healing, and in holy communion, for example during
the initiation to the Eleusinian mysteries or the Vedic soma sacri
fice. (Ott 1994: 88)

The term does not designate a group of chemical agents, but rather
all substances (pure substances, pharmaceutical preparations) that are
used by humans for a particular goal of cultural activity (Ott 1996).
The term is not defined pharmacologically i.e., on the basis of
a specific mechanism of action but rather culturally (Ortiz de
Montellano 1981). Nevertheless, most entheogenic plants, preparations,
and substances are biologically active, and above all psychotropic or
psychoactive (stimulant, narcotic, hallucinogenic). But not all psychoac
tive substances are used as entheogens.
Cannabis, opium, fly agaric, Datura, coca, peyote, psilocybin mush
rooms, fermented and distilled alcoholic beverages, tobacco, kava,
ayahuasca, and betel are among the most important entheogens world
wide (Rtsch 1998b). The entheogens used by shamans are produced
from plants that are worshipped in their respective cultures as sacred
plants (plants of the gods), and so possess a central cultural signifi
cance (Schultes et al. 1998).
Lately it has become customary in some subcultural scenes to label
all psychoactive substances entheogens, even if no cultural applica
tion is apparent. This usage is not correct and should be avoided at all
costs (see Ott 1996). Likewise, the term entheogen is increasingly used
in a religious or pseudo-religious sense, according to which entheogens
are supposedly psychoactive substances that trigger religious visions and
feelings in the user, and are responsible for the emergence of (messi
anic) religions and religious movements or liberation cults (e.g., Forte
1997). This reinterpretation of the term entheogen has been sharply
criticized (Ott 1998a) by the creators of the word (Ruck et al. 1979).
Ayahuasca is the ethnobotanical center of culture in the Amazonian
region of South America. It is far more than a simple remedy it is
an entheogen,4 a shamanic magic potion. Ayahuasca acts on the body
as well as on the spirit, and harmonizes both. It purifies, regenerates,
and heals the body; it grants the spirit visions and insights. For the sick,
The entheogen seizes possession of the body, infects it with the jaguar power, and
disorganizes the body amid the ayahuasca inebriation in order to activate the transfor
mation. (Tsamani 2003: 93).





ayahuasca reveals the cause of suffering and helps to cope with it; for
the healthy, it is beneficial and invigorating, promoting spiritual growth.
If there were a Nobel Prize for ethnopharmacology, it would have
to go to the shamans of the Amazonian jungle, for their discovery of
this magic potion is a true miracle. It is not known when, where, or
by whom the first ayahuasca potion was brewed and sampled. The
beverage is essentially composed of two plants whose ingredients only
yield the desired effect when mixed together.
In order to really understand ayahuasca, you need to drink it your
self the more often the better. For ayahuasca reveals itself to the
drinker all by itself, thanks to the plant spirits that are present within it.
Most shamans from the land of ayahuasca agree that the ayahuasca
itself is the true shaman: They are mere underlings, helpers, enablers,
assistants, mediators, if also leaders. They are the travel guides on a trip
generated by the master shaman: ayahuasca.
The potion itself can answer all the questions a drinker might have
concerning ayahuasca better than any human can. For to some extent
the possibility of speaking about the ayahuasca experience eludes us
humans. Our linguistic capabilities can never quite reach experiences
that meander through nonverbal highs and inexpressible depths. In
fact it is absurd to write a book about ayahuasca or it would be
if the authors believed they could fathom the mystical space of true
experience with their writing. But communicating about ayahuasca is
nevertheless very important, as it can help seekers to understand expe
riences that have already taken place, or assist them in embarking upon
a journey to the plant spirits.5
Like most ritual hallucinogens, ayahuasca is a sacred medicine
and a vital component of the shamans repertoire, enabling him
to communicate across great distances in the forest to diagnose
illness, ward off evil, prophesy the future. But for the peoples of
the northwest Amazon, it is far more. Ayahuasca is the visionary
medium through which human beings orient themselves in the
cosmos. Under the cloak of the visions, the user of ayahuasca
encounters the gods, the primordial beings, and the first humans,
even as he or she embraces, for good and for bad, the wild
In Sanskrit the plant spirit is called deva (literally, god[head]): The plant deva is
thus a numinous, otherworldly being. In order to take up contact with it, the plant
collector must possess the ability to transport themselves into a corresponding spiritual
state. They must master the rules and rituals which enable an interaction with the deva
(Storl 2000: 91).

E thnobotanica A yahuasca

creatures of the forest and the powers of the night. Lifted out of
his body, the shaman enters a distant realm, soaring like a bird to
beyond the Milky Way or descending the sacred rivers in super
natural canoes manned by demons to reach distant lands where
lost or stolen souls can be found and mystical deeds of spiritual
rescue may be accomplished. (Davis 1998: 166)

Origins and Discovery

The word ayahuasca originally comes from the Quechua language.

Quechua was the language of the lost empire of the Incas, and
today it is still the official language of Peru. Ayahuasca is comprised
of aya soul, ancestor spirit, death, transformation, the
beyond and huasca liana, vine, tendril, bine and is
most commonly translated as vine of the dead, vine of the soul, or
spirit vine. In the German-language literature one often encounters
the false translation wine of the soul, as some authors have falsely
translated the English phrase vine of the soul with wine rather
than the correct vine, tendril, or liana.6
The word ayahuasca has four meanings, all of which are inter
related with one another. Firstly, there is a (-carboline-containing)
plant (Banisteriopsis caapi) named ayahuasca. Secondly, an entheogenic
beverage called ayahuasca is prepared on the basis of this so-named
plant with the addition of at least one other (DMT-containing) plant.
Furthermore, the shamanic ritual in which the shamans and their clients
imbibe the potion prepared from the ayahuasca plant and additives is
likewise known as ayahuasca. Initially this may seem rather confusing,
but it is logically consistent. Occasionally the psychopharmacological
effect of the potion and ritual are referred to simply as ayahuasca.
Thus we are dealing with the following four components:
ayahuasca plant
ayahuasca potion
ayahuasca ritual
ayahuasca effect
Other Names for Ayahuasca

There are a great number of names given to the ayahuasca potion by

the Amazonians. These include: ambihuasca, ambiwska, ayawska, biaxi,

So, for example, von den Blttern des Weinstrauches [sic!] (Banisteriopsis caapi)
sammeln (Leginger 1981: 334).





caj, caapi, calawaya,7 camaramti (Shipibo), chahua (Shipibo), cip, daime,

dapa, dap, doctor, el remedio, hoasca, honi, iyaona (Zapara), jungle ambrosia,
jungle-huasca, jungle tea, kaapi, kahi, kahpi, la droga (Spanish: the drug),
la purga (Spanish: the purgative), la soga, masha (Shipibo), met, mihi,
mii (Huaorani), moca jene (Shipibo: bitter brew), muka dau (Cashinahua:
bitter medicine), natem (Achuar), natema, natma (Shuar), natem, natem,
nepe, nepi, nichi cubin (Shipibo: brewed liana), nishi sheati (Shipibo:
liana potion), nixi honi, nixi pa, notema, ohoasca, ondi (Yaminahua),
pilde, pild, pinde, pind, rao (Shipibo: medicinal plant), remedio (Spanish:
remedy), sachahuasca (Quechua: forest liana), santo daime, the brew,
uni (Conibo), vegetal, yag, yaj, yaj, yax.
Since ancient times the psychoactive beverage known as ayahuasca
has been used by shamans and medicine men in Amazonia for healing
rituals and shamanic experiences. Its discovery lies in a mythical
primeval age.8 Its use is perhaps as old as South American civilization:
Archaeologists speculate that it is possible ayahuasca was discovered
in western Amazonia (present-day Ecuador) (Naranjo 1979). Artifacts
have been uncovered during archaeological excavations in Ecuador that
have been described even in the scientific literature as witches
pots. These are very simple, large ceramic vessels attributed to the
Milagro-Quevedo culture (500 BCE 1500 CE) that are believed to
have been used to produce ayahuasca (Andritzky 1989a: 179).
Every tribe, every shaman, every ayahuasquero has a different origin
myth or their own explanation for the discovery of ayahuasca. One
myth9 explains its origin in the following way:
A long time ago there lived a good hunter in the rainforest. One
day he was a long way from his hut when he heard a liana speak to
him. The hunter, who knew a great deal about preparing hunting
poison from roots, barks, and seeds, also knew about the power of
plants. He returned home with his new find. The following night
he had a dream in which the spirit of the liana explained how to
brew itself into a potion that could cure many illnesses.

This Andean word is customarily used in the highlands for the wandering healers or
their medicine. The calawayas (variant spelling: kallawayas), also called qolla kapachayuh
(Quechua: the masters of the medicine bag), have been practicing their herbal healing
arts for over a thousand years; they mastered brain surgery, for which purpose they
primarily used Ilex guayusa (Bastien 1987).
Kraemer (1997: 142) claims that ayahuasca has been used since approximately 2500
years ago.
On these origin myths see Samorini 1998, as well as Luna and White 2000: 16f.

E thnobotanica A yahuasca

The pattern on this post-Incan belt

(c.seventeenth century, Cuzco, Peru) is
derived from the traditions of the Incas
and is strongly reminiscent of an ayahuasca
pattern. Many Amazonian peoples perceive
the Incas as knowledgeable ancestors who
originally bestowed ayahuasca upon them.

Clay vessel for the magic potion kaapi,

with serving gourds, Ro Tiqui (from:
Koch-Grnberg 1921: 225).

Most shamans say that ayahuasca emerged from the cosmic anaconda.
Thats why the liana which is often as thick as your arm looks
like a snake that twists and turns its way through the forest. It contains
the power of the anaconda. As if it were a canoe, the liana carries
humans to the greatest of heights. It becomes a cosmic umbilical cord
connecting humans with their origins.
Ayahuasca, the umbilical cord of the cosmos, emerges from the
place of the jaguar, within the maloca [ancestral longhouse] of
the cosmos, where the energies of the anaconda and the jaguar
spring, directly from the heart of heaven and earth. When the
ayahuasca was drunk for the first time, the word quivered through
the spirit, and from the word came song and the primeval music: