The following is excerpted from PsypressUK 2014, Vol. 2, edited by Robert Dickins.

Of all the wonderful potions boiled up and blended in the cauldron of Amazonian prehistory, the most fascinating to layman and researcher alike is ayahuasca. With a few notable exceptions such as anthropologist Jeremy Narby, academia does not take seriously the folkloric tale that the plants themselves told the shamans how to prepare them, bringing the powers of a particular vine to bear upon a particular leaf, and thereby unleashing its latent visionary potential. The shaman’s discovery is put down to trial and error.

In biochemical terms, the Psychotria viridis leaf contains the hallucinogen DMT, which is orally inactive, being broken down by the body’s monoamine oxidase enzymes (MAO’s) before it reaches the brain. The Banisteriopsis caapi vine, however, contains compounds which inhibit MAO’s, allowing DMT to pass into the brain.. Science only discovered MAO-inhibition and caught up with the Indian in 1952. According to the more sober histories, the discovery was not due to any spirit whispering in the lab, nor anything so deliberate as trial and error. It was a happy fluke, during unrelated research into tuberculosis.[i] Many biomedical discoveries are flukes, including X-rays and radioactive waves, penicillin and Viagra, nitrous oxide and LSD. Mere chance or Promethean serendipity, it was certainly no targeted research program that produced these wonders. History can be humbling sometimes.

The folklore of the inventors and custodians of ayahuasca also prescribes how it should be prepared and consumed, recommending prayers and songs, periods of isolation and celibacy, and instructions pertaining to diet and menstruation. Taboos and proscriptions might interest anthropologists, but biomedical researchers and psychologists seem to be less interested – at any rate, they have almost completely avoided the subject in their research. Taboos are followed when research piggy-backs on a traditional ceremony, or an individual subject decides to observe them. But any therapeutic effects have not been tested.

Food taboos, for example are almost universally maintained by curanderos, and often their patients; but the only clear guideline from the scientific community on what to avoid concerns the class of anti-depressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Consequently, despite the fact that ayahuasca  and other psychedelics  have been found to help combat depression, newcomers to ceremonies are invariably interviewed about anti-depressants, and those on SSRIs may not take part.

This theoretical objection, however, has absolutely no empirical evidence supporting it, and one psychiatrist, whose SSRI patients have been safely drinking ayahuasca for years, comments that despite widespread use of SSRIs in the West and Brazil, “there is no single report of any death or doubtless case of serotonin syndrome that could be attributable to ayahuasca and SSRIs”.[ii].

Psychiatrist Ede Frecska, who describes the objection as “an overprotective but necessary warning”, [iii] comments that “the traditional ayahuasca diet… [recommends plantain,] a type of banana, which theoretically would be prohibited by the MAOI-safety diet.” He also notes that the diet “may serve a very rational function: to increase brain serotonin by tryptophan intake.”[iv] So why have 15 years passed since the theory was first suggested,[v] without a single study taking place, when rat autopsies or surveys of drinkers would presumably generate data to test the hypothesis?

In summary, the scientific community widely publicizes a theoretical objection from its own camp, despite a total lack of supporting evidence; meanwhile it stays silent about traditional recommendations, and neglects to test them empirically (even when the option arises). One otherwise excellent study of therapeutic effects in a variety of ceremonies notes that “specific cautions regarding diet and the possibly harmful combination of medications were frequently taken,” but neither records data or passes comment on the specifics of the diets.[vi]

Erroneous assumptions about New World natives began with first contact, when Columbus misnamed them as ‘Indians’, but today, as Kenneth Tupper notes, “cultural globalization opens pathways for the movement of ideas, beliefs and practices multi-directionally”.[vii] If pathways are open, however, what keeps traditional ideas from breaching the ivory towers of the academy?

Historically, racism has played a part ever since Amazonian sorcerers (hechiceros) using psychoactive snuff first came to the attention of the “civilized” world in the 16th century. In 1768, Jesuit Franz Xavier Veigl wrote that ayahuasca “serves for mystification and bewitchment”,[viii] but  the situation did improve. Richard Spruce became the first modern scientist to observe ayahuasca use, amongst Tukano Indians in 1851, and the lengths he went to understand the Indians were admirable. During a 15 year Amazonian expedition (which he began in poor health and completed deaf in one ear, with intestinal parasites and paralyzed legs), the botanist learned 21 indigenous languages and recorded extensive notes on community life.

Less conscientious was Alfred Simson, who in 1886 described ayahuasca as “an indulgence which usually results in a broil between at least the partakers of the beverage,” and called his Indian guides as “as villainous-looking a set as ever I beheld.”[ix] While Simson noted the failings of his colleagues, he also shared the superiority complex endemic to 19th century anthropology:

Although I will not deny… that many observers are too prone to give merely the interpretation of their own feelings to social and even many natural phenomena, I would wish to be bourne in mind, when savage customs are being treated of, the inconsistency, vagueness, and superstition which pervade the savage’s mind and actions. [x]

Openly racist articles are no longer published in the respectable journals. But as the diagnostics, cultural assumptions and treatment regimes of pharmacological medicine supplant indigenous medical systems all over the world, can the academy do more to challenge the ugly superiority complex? Or perhaps our cultural artifacts, including our medicines, are simply superior?

During the post-tsunami aid effort in South-East Asia, for example, when philanthropists were freely distributing SSRIs and PTSD diagnostic protocols throughout the devastated regions, were they correct to ignore the professors from the University of Sri Lanka begging them to respect the traditional means by which Sri Lankans respond to trauma? The zeal of a missionary is heard in comments made by the director of AusAID’s, who was charged with helping restore the Sri Lankan mental-health system. “Restore is the wrong word,” he said, “because there was nothing much there before.”

If articles published in the scientific press indicate the mental spaces their authors move in, we might conclude that scientists, like the director of AusAID, are simply unaware that traditional knowledge exists. Catholic missionaries gave the shaman his due, at least, reporting that he was conversing with devils; scientists seem to think he is doing nothing at all. And indigenous people, born into a modernizing world, often pick up the prejudice against traditional knowledge. As one aid worker commented, those in the developing world “are driven by a belief that they lack things, concepts and behaviours that the West can supply… We are confident that we have something exceptional to offer and not the other way round.”[xi]

Scientifically, describing the actions of DMT, harmaline, harmine and tetrahydroharmine can certainly be illuminating, but it isn’t the whole story; and the fact that the terms used are generally taken from abnormal psychology can limit the types of questions asked. A ‘hallucinogen’, by definition, produces images of things that aren’t really there. ‘Dissociation’, where voices are heard and presences are felt, is a symptom of mental pathology. Shamans do not consider “the vine with a spirit” a drug. Visions and voices are not hallucinations but vectors of information. Daimistas call it a ‘sacrament’, with all that that entails; but then all terms carry baggage. ‘Set’ (or mindset) is one principle that nearly all psychedelic researchers agree upon; but what kind of set do we build by calling ayahuasca ugly names, and studying hundreds of abstracts before even drinking it?

Ayahuasca is broken down in the lab, but the further one travels from the modern hospital, the more layered the business of administering medicine becomes. A jungle cure may comprise fifteen plants containing hundreds of thousands of interacting compounds, as well as dietary and sexual regimen, counseling, and unquantifiable factors such as prayer and the mighty caboclo Tupinumbá. If this group of factors is too complex to tease apart, a the role played by ayahuasca cannot be established scientifically one way or the other, and that reflects a limitation of science, not of shamanism. Of course, every system has its limitations, if we are bound by its terms. But not every system commands billion dollar research budgets and the authority gained from half a millennium of colonial history.

Perhaps lab techniques are incapable of analyzing without breaking mixtures down (‘analysis’ is, by definition, separating something into its elements). Even if this was the case, there are still traditional prescriptions that could be tested, like the Daimista tradition of harvesting vine at a new moon. It would be simple enough to compare concentrations of alkaloids from samples harvested at different moon phases, but no such tests have been performed. Indeed, though a relationship between the phase of the moon and the yield of the earth is taken for granted in traditional agriculture the world over, the academy barely looks at it. Scientists have done their job and criticized the research of laypersons, physicians and others, but rather than designing further tests, agricultural scientists treat the subject as taboo. In The Myth of Biodynamic Agriculture, Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott rallies her tribe against the lunatics by banging her spear against her shield:

“[The] recommendations cannot be tested and validated by traditional methods. In practical terms, this means any effect attributed to biodynamic preparations is a matter of belief, not fact…

It would be an interesting experiment to compare conventional farms to conventional farms with biodynamic preparations without the organic practices to see if a difference exists…

The onus is on academia to keep pseudoscience out of otherwise legitimate scientific practices.”[xii]

Surely the onus upon academia is to test hypotheses before denouncing them! Untestable hypotheses, by definition, lie outside the territory of science, and scientists need not wage war abroad. If, however, a widely-held theory can be empirically tested but isn’t, even though Dr. Chalker-Scott herself outlines a suitable methodology, then why are scientists bringing the considerable might of their tribe to bear on this “matter of belief, not fact”?

Crying ‘pseudoscience’, as some scholarly ayahuasca researchers do when the wrong type of spirits draw close, may be disingenuous. Pseudoscience has a precise technical meaning: ‘something untestable that is presented as science’. It does not mean ‘something that a social group is discouraged from doing by custom.’ The technical term for that is ‘taboo’. While a taboo may serve a very rational purpose, the grip a taboo maintains over the tribe is so far from rational that it may become automatic.

Psychiatrists also maintain a moon taboo, critical of suggestive research on hospital admissions,[xiii] but rarely attempting replications. Moon taboos are also found amongst the Maya, Navajo, Hopi and Hmong. Like scientists, Navajos have theories about why they mustn’t look at the moon – if you do, it will follow you and bring you bad luck.[xiv] Theories are merely opinions until they have been tested (and even then they are not facts).

Scientists are duty-bound to militate against pseudoscience. Lunar agriculture, however, is not pseudoscience, and nor is it science (as Bacon framed it – though it may be systematic, methodical and guided by observation). Lunar agriculture, like ayahuasca shamanism, is a knowledge system, and some of the postulates embedded in these systems are testable.

Science should help answer questions, and one of the toughest is: can ayahuasca cure my cancer? Responsible academics tend to reply to the public that “there is  no scientific data about ayahuasca curing cancer.” They might add that there are anecdotal reports. If thinking can effect pathology, as science has established with the sugar-pill placebo, then is this the best thing to tell sick people?

“There are no scientific data” means “I don’t know”; but the juju is entirely different. Perhaps scientists might admit ignorance in plainer terms, rather than dressing it as knowledge, or refer the questioner to someone better qualified to answer – an Amazonian with decades of experience curing, perhaps. An anthropologist from Mars might theorise that a tribe which cultivates knowledge as its main cash crop would naturally maintain taboos around ignorance. They might also have a taboo about knowledge prepared with non-kosher practices (and in science, only Bacon is kosher).

I’m a Daimista with an interest in science, not the other way round (thank the good Lord and all the divine beings of the celestial court) and I observe different taboos. To cancerous questions, I reply that two friends given terminal diagnoses abandoned chemotherapy for ayahuasca, and are still vibrantly alive decades later. A third refused a splenectomy with a 50% survival rate, and abandoned hospital medicine for yoga, which eventually led her to ayahuasca.

These anecdotes with their teleological pretentions are neither here nor there, as far as scientific data goes, neither science nor pseudoscience. But is it good juju?

I’ve not faced cancer myself, but I did fall very ill in the Brazilian Amazon with a flesh-eating bacterial colony called leishmaniasis. It began on my chest as an insect bite and expanded to become a pus-filled boil of flesh-eating bacteria the size of a ping pong ball, which locals call ‘ferida brava’ (angry ulcer). The Brazilian health service phoneline told me in no uncertain terms to take the standard treatment, and so did every single doctor and alternative health practitioner I consulted, and plenty of neighbours I didn’t consult. Treatment would have been three intravenous injections of antimonium tartrate every day until it had dried out – at least 150 shots of a heavy metal salt, and possibly twice that. My sister, a doctor with a specialism in tropical medicine, emailed me links to clinical data and fearsome images: sprawling, putrefying ulcers representing phase one; faces without ears and noses for phase two, when the body’s cartilaginous tissues come under attack. She suggested I made up my own mind; so I prayed, drank a dose, and put my question to the Daime.

To put this into context, I was over seven years into a relationship with my favoured hallucinogen, which my tradition calls variously ‘teacher’, ‘divine being’, ‘medicine’, ‘brother’ and so on. Its consistent wisdom over the years had won my interest, and also filled my life with magic, with synchronicity and wishes speedily fulfilled. 95% certainty is usually good enough for science (p=0.05), but I could not recall a single instance where my sacrament had given me bad advice in hundreds of sessions.[1]

My visions followed a series of acquaintances, who had all shown me their scars and insisted that I take injections as they had. All had either developed some other lingering ailment, such as permanently painful joints or weird bumps on the legs, or they had something stunted about them; one’s bone-headed stupidity brought him failure in all of life’s challenges, for example, and another’s pathological greed had turned a string of friends into enemies.

The philosophies that moved me, whether Buddhist, Christian, alchemical or shamanic, agree that if karmas, sins, imbalances or sickening spirits cannot be worked through in one way, they will manifest in another. Suffering is also common to all, built into the four noble truths, the crucifixion, the nigredo, and the vision of dismemberment. And then there is the Daimista’s purge, with which I was not unfamiliar.

I also remembered that I had come to the jungle with the stated aim of learning about Daime; and here I was being given an opportunity to witness its power firsthand. The clue is in the name: “dai me” means “give me.” The Amazonians around me, panicking that the crazy gringo amongst them would soon be a disfigured or dead gringo, were the terrified human face of something I had studied for a degree in the history and philosophy of medicine – the pharmacological colonization of the body. All over the developing world, brown people are choosing white bottles and white coats over their own medical heritage.

Attitudes towards health have interested me since childhood, partly because my immediate family have all worked with some aspect of healthcare, and also because the ways we conceptualize pain and death, and how we respond to it in the event, are most indicative of our nature. I had given up synthetically-derived drugs at the age of 15 (and only made exceptions for strictly recreational ones, the odd jab to get a stamp in a travel document, and the first 36 hours of an abandoned six month course of anti-malarials).

The narrative threads of my life were converging neatly. In my mid-20s, some extraordinary Daime experiences triggered a three-year spate of compulsive nocturnal writing. The resulting scrawls took two years to work though, following the hunches though the academic literature, and I had gone to the Amazon on a mission to cook the million plus characters of my Word document into a book. It would look at realpolitik in institutional medicine at the fringes of the known, and also at the philosopher’s stone, the key to genuinely integrated health and freedom, perfected by distilling the meaning from all of life’s experiences. My hypotheses would need testing if they were to be anything more than rather cocky opinions; or had the years of rumination generated only gas?

Disease invariably carries meaning in all but the most mechanized of cultures; but in academia, meaning outside of the literature department raises taboos. One taboo is animism, the idea commonplace in the Amazon that things around us have their own agendas and means; the second taboo concerns ‘magical thinking’, where life’s events have some intrinsic significance beyond sex and survival, and stories have a power of their own. As Justin Panneck put it in a previous PsypressUK anthology, “substances like ayahuasca, especially in a spiritually-guided container, allow individuals to participate in not only the myths and mysteries that have been discussed for thousands of years, but the facilitation of their own development.”

The currency of science is statistical significance (p=0.05), but the currency of our lives is personal significance, so its measurement is necessarily personal too. A genuinely global trade of ideas would be possible only if we found a way to convert currencies, and at a fair rate. Perhaps, if narrative plays a part in recovery, the accounts of visions and insights of participants leaving addiction treatment programs would be revealing? Could the presence of a certain narrative theme predict the chances of future relapse? Would different rehab centres lend distinct themes to the narratives – redemption featuring more in urban, Christian-inspired centres, perhaps, but battles with evil spirits dominating in the Peruvian upper Amazon? Might certain cosmologies work better for a given nationality or psychological profile.[2]

Doctors invariably answer my claim that I successfully treated leishmaniasis by telling me that a third of cases clear up without medical intervention anyway, and that my ‘sacrament’ was a ‘placebo’. Scientists have come to understand that there is more to recovery than agonists and antigens; the rest falls into the category of ‘placebo’, whether that is a mother rubbing her daughter’s belly or a shaman sucking out spirits.

Biomedical researchers are charged with modeling the physiological functions over which doctors command some authority. In doing their duty to remove placebo from the laboratory, however, they also remove much of the shamanic cure. But just what is the placebo effect? What happens with that third of leishmaniasis cases that clear up without intervention? Are those patients really sitting idle, as their flesh turns to goo? Or is it rather that the interventions are not ones a doctor would recognize or sanction? If, as placebo theory implies, belief assists cure, then might absolute certainty guarantee it? Does ayahuasca work the mysterious placebo better than the doctor?

‘Placebo’ might be something of a carpet of rationalism drawn over an abyss of ignorance, but biomedical science has begun to lower lines of enquiry into the abyss, with tentative projects in the emerging field of mindfulness studies. One longitudinal EEG study has measured both increased antibody production and a change in baseline brain function over a meditation program of some weeks. Meditators, even when not sitting, come to exhibit less activity in the right prefrontal cortex (PFC) and more in the left PFC.[xv]

In one article researching creativity and ritual ayahuasca use, the author Frecska notes that “it is not possible to disaggregate the specific role played by repeated ayahuasca administration (the drug itself) from environmental factors [i.e. meditation and ceremony]”[xvi] More research is required. The MAPS approach could be adapted,[xvii] with cohorts ingesting different doses at the same ceremony, and later being tested for differences in health, lobe activity or antibody production.

From my limited understanding of the PFC, going from left to right would seem to indicate moving away from suspicion and second-guessing the strategies of others, and towards more charitable thoughts inhibiting fear responses. Would it, therefore, potentiate the medicine if the drinker focused on specific themes? Might the periods of “sitting quietly in the jungle, with no place to go, listening for [the plant’s] song” (Beyer 2009: 56. See also Jauregui, 2011: 747) have measurable effects on the brain’s baseline function, or even its anatomy? Is there a psychopharmacological reason for the daimista’s repetitive dance and maraca beat, and hours of back-to-back call-and-response songs? Is this why our hymns mention ‘paying attention’ far more frequently than do umbanda calls, Sufi songs or Anglican hymns, for example? On the other hand, if you usually spend your sessions thinking about girls, as one biomedical researcher told me he did, are you really qualified to talk to the public about what ayahuasca does to your brain?

I passed my eight months of cure in sexual abstinence, on diets, wrapped in poultices and mudpacks, taking purgatives topically, subcutaneously and orally, and drinking daily for many of those months; but all of it was against a background of meaning. My angry ulcer reddened and cooled, its ire shifting as the many threads of my narrative weaved in and out of the tapestry of experience. When worms bred in my flesh two inches from my heart, that closeness to decay touched me viscerally (literally), and my relationship with flesh changed. I also continued a running battle with a poisonous snake that lived beneath my shack, which ended when I slammed it in a doorway; and concurrently in my technicolour dreams and multidimensional ceremonies, the I fought another battle with a different monster.

Having ignored the doctors, I learned of a curandera famed for treating ferida brava. However, she was a 400 year-old preta velha, a black slave, who would visit a ceremony of the Barquinha tradition via the body of a medium. As drums pounded around us, the medium suggested I take injections, which made me quietly furious, until I remembered that I had not come for her advice, but for the entity’s. The medium incorporated and began speaking with a new voice, massaging points on my left arm, swishing a scarf around me and blowing tobacco smoke over me, recommending diets and prayers, making an offering of white roses. I only broke my silence right at the end, to seek permission to ask a question, but she replied before I had a chance to ask it: “my… name… is… Maria… da… mata.” It all came together, a complete package of medicine, meaning and what racist observers used to call “native cunning,” packing a considerable placebo punch.

After seven months, having lost ten kilos and one wife, and with the end in sight, a nurse came into my life. She would tell me prophetic dreams in the morning so we could watch the events unfold during the day. On one occasion she dreamed of smashed glass, and having her hair platted, and later as we were walking she announced that we were where the glass was, and began clawing at the ground. We unearthed enough to fill six sacks, and years later I learned that a sorcerer had buried it there over 30 years before. We had twins a year after I recovered, and they both had birthmarks where my ulcer had been. My curandero barely raised an eyebrow; a tag passing through the generations is far from uncommon in the context of Amazonian folk healing.

This kind of mytho-magical interpretive lens is a long way from the academy, but that shouldn’t mean that science is incapable of investigating it. Newton, who formalized the study of empirical science, cautioned about the dangers of letting theoretical philosophy interfere with empirical science:

Since the Newtonian Philosophy appears true to us, let us have the liberty to embrace and retain it, and to follow causes proved by phenomena, rather than causes only imagined and not yet proved. The business of true philosophy is to derive the natures of things from causes truly existent; and to enquire after those laws on which the Great Creator actually chose to found his most beautiful Frame of the World; not those by which he might have done the same, had he so pleased.

The Frame of the World is rather broader than any one scientific discipline, which may pose a problem for researchers. Fortunately, however, ayahuasca is not only an object of inquiry but a means of inquiry (and one that has been shown to help molecular biologists and architects a great deal in their research projects). The similar shamanic claim, that plants themselves can communicate to us their secrets, is the subject of some wonderfully groundbreaking work in the field of interspecies communication. As Alf Hornborg puts it:

“Ecosemiotics thus does not merely provide a vantage-point for understanding  [Amazonian indigenous] cosmologies in theoretical terms, but actually also for validating them” (Hornborg, 2001: 125).

Researcher-ayhausqueros, with a foot in each camp, need to understand the taboos of both. If we skip the preparations for ayahuasca, and let our minds wander during ceremony, we may not progress far with our research. Equally, if we ignore the taboos currently observed by the scientific academy, we are unlikely to be published in the scientific press. The scientific community which emerged from the Enlightenment nurtured its own taboos, sometimes rejecting arcane knowledge (such as animism), and other times updating older taboos. As Frecska notes, on one of the difficulties of ayahuasca research:

“Interfering with the integrity of the human body has been a taboo in numerous cultures and the Western cultural tradition was not, and is not exempt”.[xviii]

All over the developing world, and especially in Brazil, traditional knowledge is being lost as Western models expand. My Brazilian wife, for example, was brought into this world by the local wise woman; our own daughters, on the other hand, were surgically removed, one day after her nine month term was complete, after the doctor had finished his lunch and cauterized the day’s other c-section. 44% of births in Brazil are by cesarean,[xix] the highest rate in the world.

In Brazil, a gringo with archaic ideas has even less say than a woman over what happens to the woman’s body; but when her temperature rose a few days later, and everyone was freaking out about infections and antibiotics, I called for the old wise woman. She gave me a fistful of herbs, and told me what most younger, less wise people had forgotten: many women develop a light fever when they begin to nurse. She has lost power in that community as the outside encroaches, with the pharmacies in the 90’s and the tarmac road in the 2000s. The same is true for the shaman. Despite the popularity of ‘the shamanic experience’, Amazonian shamanism is objectively (as the Marxists might put it) in decline, losing ground to the pharmaceutical, interventionist model in its own territory.

Amidst the onslaught of tourism, land grabs, climate change and all the challenges of globalization, science can be an ally in the battle to preserve traditional knowledge. Physician Gabor Maté, for example,[xx] attained excellent results in his Canadian rehab centre by inviting an indigenous shaman to conduct ceremonies; he also raised the status of traditional wisdom. A further step is to make shamanic techniques the object of study, not just the ‘setting’ of the study. Musicologist Susana Bustos’s research into icaros is a bold step in the right direction, measuring the transpersonal effects of these shamanic songs on specific patients with specific symptoms.[xxi]

Adventurous researchers who go native should be cautioned not to offend their own gods and break their own tribal taboos on their return. Perhaps a little sacrifice is in order, a little enthusiasm, a little animism, a little meaning edited out of a traveller’s tale perhaps, but we will surely find that jungle spirits can be very accommodating, and so can the Christian pantheon. The method of inquiry we know as shamanism survived the missionary age because the jungle pantheon was able to absorb Jesus Cristo and the virgin, adapted for the tool box of the jungle empiricist. Jesus Christo, for his part, seems rather more comfortable in his indigenous maloca than he does in European cathedrals, pinned unhappily to the wall to the ages of ages, Amen.

That syncretism may well have begun with some deep and mind-blowing dialogues about cosmology between initiates of the traditions, and if shamanism is gong to survive the current wave, the scientist and the shaman need to start respecting each other, and learning from each other. If indigenous knowledge can be  represented (re-presented) in the only language the academy – and by extension, the Western intellectual world – can understand, perhaps there will be reason to hope that the loss of traditional knowledge can be arrested before the colonization of the indigenous world, mind and body is complete.

The book that Nemu was working on is now available from Psychedelic Press UK.


[1] There is a caveat here: I am given bad advice sometimes (not from my sacrament, but during ceremony). But by observing conditions, parameters and outcomes over time, one gradually calibrates one’s invisible meter to distinguish between different sources, offering good and bad advice. In my case, good advice comes gently and unassumingly, usually surprisingly, accompanied by a certain something. Bad advice comes urgently and insistently, but fleetingly.

I do not generally receive transmissions involving mathematical manipulations of Chinese divinatory systems.

[2] This raises a traditional taboo, which is an aversion towards sharing ayahuasca visions. Daimistas in Brazil discuss their visions only in exceptional circumstances, and the same has been reported in the indigenous world. Any Western-trained talking therapist collecting accounts should take pains to understand the logic behind this taboo first.

[i] Half a Century of Antidepressant Drugs On the Clinical Introduction of Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors, Tricyclics, and Tetracyclics. Part I: Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors – Lopez-Munoz et al. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology Vol. 27, No. 6, Dec. 2007, p. 555

[ii] Pers. Comm.. – And I’m not telling you who said it, sorry!

[iii] The Risks and Potential Benefits of Ayahuasca Use from a Psychopharmacological Perspective – Ede Frecska in The Internationalization of Ayahuasca (Labate & Jungaberle, eds) p. 165

[iv] The Risks and Potential Benefits of Ayahuasca Use from a Psychopharmacological Perspective – Ede Frecska in The Internationalization of Ayahuasca (Labate & Jungaberle, eds)

[v] Ayahuasca preparations and serotonin reuptake inhibitors: a potential combination for severe adverse interactions. – Callaway, J. C., Grob, C.S. (1998). JoPD, 30:367-369.

[vi] Subjective Theories about (Self-)Treatment with Ayahuasca – Schmid J. T. et al Anthropology of Consciousness Vol. 21, Issue 2, pp 188–204, Fall 2010

[vii] Entheogenic Healing: The spiritual effects and therapeutic potential of ceremonial ayahausca use – Tupper, K. W. in The healing power of spirituality: How faith helps humans thrive – J. H. Ellens (ed.), (vol. 3, pp. 269-282) (Westport, CT: 2009).

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Travels in the wilds of Ecuador, and the exploration of the Putamayo River – Simson, A (London, 1886) p. 178

[x] Travels in the wilds of Ecuador, and the exploration of the Putamayo River – Simson, A (London, 1886) p. 181

[xi] Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche – Ethen Watters (New York: 2010)

p. 100

[xii] The Myth of Biodynamic Agriculture – Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph. D, Extension Horticulturist and Associate professor, Washington State University 2004

[xiii] Effects of Full-Moon Definition on Psychiatric Emergency Department Presentations – Varinder S. et al ISRN Emergency Medicine Vol. 2014 (2014), Article ID 398791

[xiv] Navajos Wear Nikes: A Reservation Life – Jim Kristofic (2011) p. 146

[xv] Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation – Davidson RJ, et al. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2003; 65: 564-70

[xvi] Enhancement of Creative Expression and Entoptic Phenomena as After-Effects of Repeated Ayahuasca Ceremonies – Frecska, E, JoPD, 44 (3), 191–199, 2012

[xvii] protocol at

[xviii] The Risks and Potential Benefits of Ayahuasca Use from a Psychopharmacological Perspective – Ede Frecska in The Internationalization of Ayahuasca (Labate & Jungaberle, eds) p. 151


[xx] Source

[xxi] Icaros: Song and Healing in Ayahuasca Ceremonies – Susana Bustos, Ph.D – Talk given at MAPS: Psychedelic Science in the 21st Century (2010)

Eileen Hall Cover artwork 14-2e

Cover art by Eileen Hall, used by permission of the publisher.