Ayahuasca: "Embrace of the Serpent"
Two stories set three decades apart are woven together. One is of a European ethnobotanist who has "dedicated himself to knowledge of plants" meeting the last shaman, Karamakate, of an Amazonian tribe.
They go in search of medicine to save the scientist that, most importantly, will allow him to dream. (One is reminded of the 1980 American movie "Altered States" with William Hurt). Decades later, after reading what the first white man found, a younger white man comes in search of a flower, yakruna, and sacred plant knowledge. He meets the same shaman, who has forgotten the sacred knowledge after the devastation of the living jungle. This visionary adventure epic from Colombian director Ciro Guerra offers a heart-rending depiction of European colonialism laying waste to indigenous culture. But along the way to finding themselves, they drink ayahuasca (DMT). They are in search of answers to awaken or communicate with "the serpent" (Kundalini in the spinal column?) In addition to from Christian slavery, there's sex, drugs, and messianic-delusions at the mission (concentration conversion camp) in an "Apocalypse Now" part of the movie. Highly recommended.
The Sound of Rushing Water
Michael J. Harner (Natural History, July 1968)
|[The white man] was sick, and the only way he could heal was by learning to dream.|
|Jivaro shaman Pwanchir Pitu|
"And when they went, I heard the noise of their winds, like the noise of great waters, as the voice of the Almighty, the voice of speech, as the noise of a host: when they stood, they let down their wings" (Ezekiel 1:24).
- Dr. Harner, founder of The Foundation for Shamanic Studies, gives keynote address on the ancient and contemporary practice of shamanic healing at the first conference on global healing at the University of California at Santa Barbara. More: shamanism.org.
|Shaman equatorial Amazonian forest, June 2006|
The power of the drink fed them. He called, and they came:
First, pangi, the anaconda, coiled about his head, transmuted into a crown of gold. Then wampang, the giant butterfly, hovered above his shoulder and sang to him with its wings.
Snakes, spiders, birds, and bats danced in the air above him. On his arms appeared a thousand eyes as his demon helpers emerged to search the night for enemies.
The sound of rushing water filled his ears, and listening to its roar, he knew he possessed the power of tsungi, the first shaman. Now he could see. Now he could find the truth.
He stared at the stomach of the sick man. Slowly, it became transparent like a shallow mountain stream, and he saw within it, coiling and uncoiling, makanchi, the poisonous serpent, who had been sent by the enemy shaman. The real cause of the illness had been found.
The Jivaro Indians of the Ecuadorian Amazon believe that witchcraft is the cause of the vast majority of illnesses and non-violent deaths.
The normal "waking life"
|There are other, better ways to reach expanded consciousness than drugs. Try breathing.|
The normal waking life, for the Jivaro, is simply "a lie" or an illusion [maya in Buddhism], while the true forces that determine daily events are supernatural and can only be seen and manipulated with the aid of hallucinogenic [entheogenic] drugs [in Buddhism with self-mastery through meditation].
These specialists, called "shamans" by anthropologists, are recognized by the Jivaro as being of two types, bewitching shamans and curing shamans.
Both kinds take a hallucinogenic drink, whose Jivaro name is natema [a local form of ayahausca, a combination of bark, leaves, and vine], in order to enter the supernatural world.
Ayahausca: shaman's brew
|The elements of "ayahuasca" include leaves, bark, and the "Vine of the Dead."|
|The flower Banisteriopsis (caapi) is a key ingredient in ayahuasca (Joao Medeiros).|
This brew, commonly called yagé, or yajé, in Colombia, ayahuasca (Inca "vine of the dead") in Ecuador and Peru, and caapi in Brazil, is prepared from segments of a species of the vine Banisteriopsis, a genus belonging to the Malpighiaceae.
The Jivaro boil it with the leaves of a similar vine, which is probably also a species of Banisteriopsis, to produce a tea that contains the powerful hallucinogenic alkaloids harmaline, harmine, d-tetrahydroharmine, and quite possibly DMT (dimethyltriptamine).
These compounds have chemical structures and effects similar, but not identical to LSD, mescaline of the peyote cactus, and psilocybin of the psychotropic Mexican mushroom.
Washikta, an outstanding Jivaro shaman, quietly listens to a visitor's request for assistance. As is customary when dealing with strangers, he keeps a shotgun in readiness during the consultation.
When I first undertook research among the Jivaro in 1956-1957, I did not fully appreciate the psychological impact of the Banisteriopsis drink upon the native view of reality, but in 1961 I had occasion to drink the hallucinogen in the course of field work with another Upper Amazon Basin tribe.
For several hours after drinking the brew, I found myself, although awake, in a world literally beyond my wildest dreams.
I met bird-headed people [suparnas, garudas in Buddhist terminology], as well as dragon-like creatures [nagas, reptilians] who explained that they were the true gods of this world.
I enlisted the services of other spirit helpers in attempting to fly through the far reaches of the Galaxy. Transported into a trance where the supernatural seemed natural, I realized that anthropologists, including myself, had profoundly underestimated the importance of the drug in affecting native ideology.
Therefore, in 1964 I returned to the Jivaro to give particular attention to the drug's use by the Jivaro shaman.
The hallucinogenic trip (Hollywood version)
("Altered States" by Ken Russell) The Harvard protagonist imbibes the shaman's brew in Mexico centered around psilocybe magic mushrooms.
|Shaman's brew: boiling ayahuasca (wiki)|
Given the presence of the drug and the felt need to contact the "real," or supernatural, world, it is not surprising that approximately one out of every four Jivaro men is a shaman.
Any adult, male or female, who desires to become such a practitioner, simply presents a gift to an already practicing shaman, who administers the Banisteriopsis drink and gives some of his own supernatural power -- in the form of spirit helpers, or tsentsak -- to the apprentice.
These spirit helpers, or "darts," are the main supernatural forces believed to cause illness and death in daily life. To the non-shaman they are normally invisible, and even shamans can perceive them only under the influence of natema.
Shamans send those spirit helpers into the victims' bodies to make them ill or to kill them. At other times, they may suck spirits sent by enemy shamans from the bodies of tribesmen suffering from witchcraft induced illness.
The spirit helpers also form shields that protect their shaman masters from attacks. The following account presents the ideology of Jivaro witchcraft from the point of view of the Indians themselves.
The darts (tsentsak)
|During the trip, who is the serpent, a tsentsak?|
He cuts off part of it off with a machete and gives it to the novice to swallow. The recipient experiences pain upon taking it into his stomach and stays in bed for ten days, repeatedly drinking natema.
The Jivaro believe they can keep magical darts in their stomachs indefinitely and regurgitate them at will. The shaman donating the tsentsak periodically blows and rubs all over the body of the novice, apparently to increase the power of the transfer.
The novice must remain inactive and not engage in sexual intercourse for at least three months. If he fails in self-discipline, as some do, he will not become a successful shaman. At the end of the first month, a tsentsak emerges from his mouth.
With this magical dart at his disposal, the new shaman experiences a tremendous desire to bewitch [negative sorcery rather than beneficial healing]. If he casts his tsentsak to fulfill this desire, he will become a bewitching shaman.
If, on the other hand, the novice can control this impulse and swallow the first tsentsak, he will become a curing shaman.
|Meditation and yoga are better alternatives.|
One informant said that the urge to kill felt by bewitching shamans came to them with a strength and frequency similar to that of hunger.
No sex please, we're tsentsak and shamans
|Amazonian women are amazing like Latin Wonder Woman|
A full year's abstinence is considered necessary to become a really effective bewitcher or curer [brujo or curandero].
During the period of sexual abstinence, the new shaman collects all kinds of insects, plants, and other objects, which he now has the power to convert into tsentsak [microbes, viruses, Trojan horses for energetic packets?].
Almost any object, including live insects and worms, can become a tsentsak if it is small enough to be swallowed by a shaman.
|Schizophrenia (Joseph Polimeni)|
According to Jivaro concepts, each tsentsak has a natural and supernatural aspect. The magical dart's natural aspect is that of an ordinary material object as seen without drinking the drug natema.
But the supernatural and "true" aspect of the tsentsak is revealed to the shaman by taking natema.
When he does this, the magical darts appear in new forms as demons and with new names.
In their supernatural aspects, the tsentsak are not simply objects but spirit helpers in various forms, such as giant butterflies, jaguars, or monkeys, who actively assist the shaman in his tasks. More