top of page
The Importance of Ayahuasca
The importance of Banisteriopsis caapi for the western Amazon cannot be overestimated. Along with yuca it is among the most import plants in shaping West Amazonian cultural identity. It gives a distinctive shape to art, music, and ayahuasca medicine. But perhaps most importantly it shapes relationships between communities as well as between humans and other species. According to Runa thinking drinking Ayahuasca allows human beings to communicate with plants. This idea depends on the assumption that the plants and animals were once human. At the beginning of this world they retreated to become the species they are now. In this transformation plants did not lose their linguistic abilities. Rather the transformation from humans into other species raised curtains of privacy encoding their languages so that the remaining humans could ordinarily no longer understand those who became plants. Nevertheless, behind the apparently silent leafy surface are people who can speak. The ayahuasca visions raise this curtain that veiled communication between species. Ayahuasca opens the persons ears so that they can hear the communication from the vast personal world hidden behind the other plant and animal species as well as behind the rivers and mountains. This idea contrasts starkly with the western model of understanding the body as a delicate chemical machine fine tuned to perceive reality. In this idea external chemical compounds not originally intended for consumption can be introduced into the body to produce errors in perception called “hallucinations”. Ayahuasca and certain other plants contain these chemical compounds. Hence ingesting them produces hallucinatory errors. These errors in perception may be frightening or enjoyable but as errors in perception they do not help the person know anything about the external world. Alternatively, for some westerners, these errors in normal perception may teach us something about the brain and the human psyche of the person ingesting them but they do not tell us anything important about the external world of other species. Ayahuasca and certain other plants contain these chemical compounds. Hence ingesting them produces hallucinatory errors. These errors in perception may be frightening or enjoyable but as errors in perception they do not help the person know anything about the external world. Alternatively, for some westerners, these errors in normal perception may teach us something about the brain and the human psyche of the person ingesting them but they do not tell us anything important about the external world of other species.
Talking about Ayahuasca
Their flowers are their clothes: on the dress of plant men
Oh! That! The Ayahuasca spirit. Yage spirit! All (those plants) have spirits (supayuj). I had gone to Rutunu. My father took me there. They say my health was damaged. A witch had asked for my hand in marriage. He was from here, a man called Rangu. They say he was from Napo, Alligator's son. I was the age of my granddaughter. "You have been witched," they said. My mother took me upriver to the late Justo Lluvia. Way up the Rutunu to a place called Cumal. There they made me drink two bowls! Of ayawaska. See? Two! Then I was unconscious. I fainted see? Then he said to me. …. He came. See? The first to come was Tobacco Man. Now he said to me, "I have come to blow (smoke) on you. You are not going to die. Ayawaska should not have made you so drunk.” "See! This is the bad guy [indicating Ayawaska Man]. He did this to you. He is the bad guy." And when I looked I saw that Ayawaska Man is covered in flowers. Yage Man is covered in flowers. Tobacco Man is covered in flowers. Wayusa Man is covered in flowers. When I looked I saw them lying there like soldiers. He was a tall tree. I mean a tall man! This Wayusa. He came and stood there. "These guys are coming see?" he said, "But I am going to cure you. You will revive." I had not yet regained consciousness. I was still passed out. You were seeing this? Yes I saw this while I was unconscious. The clothes of the Tobacco Man are his flowers. His dress. Those are his clothes. The tobacco flower. What does the wayusa man look like? He is a big old man. A tall man. His clothes are wrapped around him tak! His flowers. The wayusa flowers are his clothes. What color? His clothes are bright purple. White and deep purple, purple, purple. Wayusa has beautiful flowers when it matures! At our place there is a big old ways tree like this! Those flowers are his clothes. Just like we wear clothes? He stood there clothed like that wearing pants. He was a man. Ayawaska came. He was a man too. He was also dressed as a man with very yellow clothes. "These are my clothes!" he said. And then Yage came. What color were Ayawaska's clothes? Yellow. They were yellow. Ayawaska flowers are yellow. Then Yage came too. Yage Man. "He is Ayawaska Man," he said. "And I am his companion. He is like my boss and I am his secretary." "Like many people have. That is how I am," he said. He wore yellow clothes around him, “Tak!.” He came dressed. "I am Yage Man," he said, "and he is Ayawaska Man. And this big man, the man who can defeat us, is Wayusa Man," he said. "He is the one who overpowers us.” He was beautifully dressed in his flowers. "It is me," he said. If you drink remembering... They drink, they will drink remembering me. If you drink me... I am a strong man. If they drink me thinking of me always, and if they drink tobacco water they will live strong. But I wonder if it is true. The Aucas (the Achuar) are sick and they live drinking wayusa. The Napos live drinking wausa too. We don't drink it and we get sick all of the time. "I am the one he said. That is the reason they value me.” "I am not a man who gets sick. But the ones who drink tobacco are stronger than I." Then Tobacco was standing like just over there see? Wearing very beautiful clothes with a headdress tied around his head like a hat. "I am Tobacco Man'" he said. I walk smoking with tobacco powder in my mouth. Everyone drinks me. “They drink my flowers,” he said. And they do not just drink me for no reason. They drink me because of my clothes. Now I am going to cure you," he said to me. "Then my mother said, “Quick! squeeze out some tobacco juice. That will revive her”. I heard that. I saw that although I was drunk, lying there like I was dead.
Jaguar eating raw Banisteriopsis caapi
Shipibos preparing ayahuasca
Clear depiction of the harvesting of chacruna and the cooking of chacruna with Banisteriosis caapi. You Shipibo man explains what each plant does. Anthropologist Jeremy Narby author of the Cosmic Serpent explains (in French with English subtitles) how the chemistry of the two plants works together.
Pablo Amaringo Ayahuasca Visions Video
Joe Rogan taks about DMT
The chemistry of Ayahuasca
According to chemists ayahuasca is basically a vehicle for delivering DMT in a form that can be more easily remembered and reflected upon. There are two forms of DMT. One form is produced by the pituitary gland during deep rapid eye movement sleep as well as at the transitional moment of death. This form of DMT produces the ordinary dreams that all people have at night as well as the visions associated with near death experiences. The problem is that very little can be retrieved from these processes because most dreams are almost immediately forgotten or are remembered in a very vague or hazy form. A closely related form of DMT occurs naturally in a variety of plants consumed by humans. The problem is that the stomach almost immediately neutralizes this DMT through what are called MOI. As a result any DMT that goes through the stomach has no effect. To get around this some fans of psychedelic experience in the west have smoked the dry leaves, flowers or bark of plants containing DMT. This experience produces a very intense hallucinatory experience that lasts 7-10 minutes. But when it is over the person cannot recall or retrieve much of what they experienced. Enter ayahuasca. The drink ayahuasca is a mix of plants containing DMT and Banisteriopsis caapi. What Banisteriopsis does is to inhibit the MOI allowing DMT to pass through the stomach unsuppressed and so to allow the inducement of visions to take place unhindered. By allowing the DMT to be digested the caapi allows the DMT to be experienced more slowly, less intensely and over a longer period of time. Hence the perception of this digested DMT can be remembered and reflected upon. If the form of the DMT produced by the pituitary glan produces nightime dreams that are forgotten, then the DMT that comes from plants combined with the MOI inhibitors in caapi produces “waking dreams” that can be reflected upon and remembered. If ayahuasca “visions” are simply waking dreams produced by a form of DMT that is very similar to that produced by the pituitary gland causing dreams while asleep then the question of what is perceived in ayahuasca visions becomes similar to the question of what is perceived in dreams. Under the heavy influenced of Sigmund Freud, western thinking understands dreams as suppressed memories of past experience. Runa thinking, by contrast understands both the dreaming of normal sleep and the waking ayawaska dreams as a form of communication between the self and others that has been suppressed and or encoded. The similarity between the two traditions is that dreams reveal something hidden suppressed or encoded. The difference is that western thinking sees dreams as something solipsistic. They tell you something about the hidden memories and complexes of the dreamer. According to Runa thinking by contrast both dreams and ayahuasca visions communicate information that cannot otherwise be known about other people, other species and the external world. Questions: What purpose does the DMT in plants serve for the life of plants? What purpose does the DMT produced by the human pituitary gland have for humans? in plants serve for the life of plants? Are there similarities between the purpose of the DMT produced by the human pituitary gland has in humans Although it used to be thought that the DMT served no purpose and was perhaps simply a byproduct of something else. But scientist know think that the DMT is part of what allows plants to communicate. What purpose does the suppression of DMT by the MOIs have? Perhaps it shields human beings from sensory overload giving them the privacy of exclusion from this plant communication. Perhaps it helps to put up a wall of privacy between species that is necessary for humans to focus on their more limited immediate conscious lives. If this were the case then ingesting the DMTwould lessen the barrier between species heightening inter-species communication or intersubjectivity.
Amazonian Artistic Traditions
Ayahuasca has inspired Amazonian artistic traditions of spectacular beauty. A primary distinction can be drawn between the realism of mestizo art exemplified by the late Pablo Ameringo and the more abstract native traditions. The native traditions are hesitant to represent the sacred directly. For this reason they have produced a geometric art in some ways analogous to the iconoclastic art of islam, Judaism or some forms of Christianity. Yet Runa reasons for avoiding realistic representations of the sacred differ significantly from monotheistic reasons. In Runa thinking the withdrawal of the previous humans into their present plant and animal form was necessary to make the world habitable. If the walls between species were to break down causing biodiversity to collapse into a single human form we would destroy each other competing for the same resources and the world would end. The leafy, furry, feathery, forms of other species function like clothes to hide the intimacy of a humanity that should remain secret. Representing their realistic human form displays to gawking eyes an intimacy that should remain hidden. It could awaken a dangerous desire provoking an intimacy that crosses species boundaries causing sickness, death , or even the collapse of biodiversity. The most well known west Amazonian artistic traditions are the Shipibo tradition of the Ucayali and the Shuar/Zaparo/Kichwa traditions of Pastaza (a tributary of the Ucayali). Shipibo art is characterized by geometric mazes. As multivalent symbols these mazes are said to represent several things at once. First they represent the peculiar branch structure of the ayahuasca vine.
The most well known west Amazonian artistic traditions are the Shipibo tradition of the Ucayali and the Shuar/Zaparo/Kichwa traditions of Pastaza (a tributary of the Ucayali). Shipibo art is characterized by geometric mazes. As multivalent symbols these mazes are said to represent several things at once. First they represent the peculiar branch structure of the ayahuasca vine. The drawing on the lower left by Pastaza artist Estela Dahua represents the ayahuaska runa as a man with arms and body in the shape of the ayahuasca vine. On either side are two banisteriopsis vines illustrating the peculiar branch structure. Because the branches end in a T shape the branch leading up to the T creates a “ dead end” creating a natural similarity between the ayahuasca vine and a maze. In the figure below right the same ayahuasca vine structure is portrayed in more abstract form on a ceramic vessel by the same Pastaza artist. In the Shipibo pattern above the the ayahuasca vine is portrayed in still more abstract form.
bottom of page