Ayahuasca, the hallucinogenic drug favored by many traditional
peoples of South America, has in the twentieth century
become the center of a major new religious movement in Brazil
and began to spread among neo-shamanistic groups in North
America and Europe in the 1990s. Ayahuasca (or vine of the
dead) is also known as yage (Colombia) and caapi (Brazil). It is
prepared from the vine Banisteriopsis Caapi by boiling vine
segments with various other plants. The resulting drink contains
several hallucinogenics including harmine andor N,Ndimethyltryptamine.
Archeological evidence, including mythology and preColumbian
rock drawings, strongly suggest that ayahuasca has
been used for centuries. It first became known in the outside
world through the account published in 1858 by Manuel Villavicencio,
who described his own experiences from its use. The
notes of Richard Spruce, a British explorer who traveled in the
upper reaches of the Amazon in the 1850s, were published in
1908 and subsequent accounts appeared through the twentieth
century. These were buried in professional journals until the
1960s when ayahuasca was rediscovered in the context of the
wave of interest in LSD and other hallucinogenics throughout
the West. In 1968, Michael Harner wrote a pioneering paper,
‘‘The Sound of Rushing Water,’’ describing his experience after
taking the drug in 1961 while doing field work in Ecuador. A
variety of people during the hippie era sampled ayahuasca but
it never gained the popularity of LSD, peyote, or other more
easily obtained psychedelic drugs.
Among the indigenous peoples of South America, ayahuasca
is a healing substance. It is gathered, prepared, and used
with proper ceremony and reverence. In the Upper Amazon,
Banisteriopsis Caapi is mixed with another plant, Psychotria
viridis, and boiled for a full day and then stored until needed
for a ceremony. It is believed that in using the drug, the individual
is connected to the force that interconnects all things.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Raimundo Irineu
Serra had an apparition of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of
Conceiç˜ao. During the vision, she began to teach him new doctrine.
He was under the influence of ayahuasca at the time.
From this experience he began to construct what became a new
religion, Santo Daime, the Religion of the Rainforest. That religion
grew slowly, but in the decades since World War II
(1939–45) has spread across Brazil and in recent decades has
spread to North America and Europe as Brazilian members
have migrated. The appearance of ayahuasca as a sacramental
substance by an ethnic religious community has presented legal
problems. At the beginning of 2000, members were arrested in
Spain, and the movement has begun an effort to have the drug
legalized in the United States and several countries of western
As of the beginning of 2000, the legal situation of ayahuasca
consumption is ambiguous. In the United States, for example,
the plants from which ayahuasca is made are not illegal; however,
some of the substances they contain are. Ayahuasca is not
listed as a controlled substance, but N,N-dimethyltryptamine
is a controlled substance and illegal. European drug control
agencies have demonstrated much more interest in controlling
the spread of ayahuasca than has the America Drug Enforcement
Ayahuasca Home Page. httpwww.ayahuasca.com. June
12, 2000.
Luna, Eduardo. Ayahuasca Visions. North Atlantic Books,
———, and Steven F. White, eds. Ayahuasca Reader Encounters
with the Amazon’s Sacred Vine. Synergistic Press, 2000.

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