Ayahuasca is a plant medicine that has been used by indigenous people for millennia to heal, cleanse and purify the spirit, connecting it to the web of life. This Amazonian vine goes by the scientific name Banisteriopsis caapi and is known to contain various harmala alkaloids that are boiled up in a brew with a multitude of other plants, some of which contain the powerful hallucinogen DMT.

Science has made cautious forays into the jungle to study the vine in it’s native setting or, as with the “Hoasca Project” in the 1990s, to study church members of groups like Uniao do Vegetal (UDV) which have been drinking ayahuasca as part of their belief system for decades. But what science cannot explain is the psychic effect of this mother of all plants, the amazing sense of the numinous and the spiritual world it opens up.

The men and women who safeguard the knowledge of the vine and of the spirits are the curanderos and curanderas (from the Spanish “to heal”), or as the West would call them, shamans. Their role has been that of healer, priest and traveler between worlds, acting as intermediaries between the spiritual dimension and this world on behalf of their patients. Yet the demands of the profession and the rise of Western materialism throughout South America have seen a fall in prestige, and customers, for the curanderos.

The profession, usually hereditary, was in danger of extinction before an unprecedented wave of Westerners started coming in search of ayahuasca and the healing it could provide.

You might think that ayahuasca is a niche subject but it is rapidly becoming a mainstream one that is peaking in global media. Time online and NBC’s The Today Show both ran reports following the recent court victory by the oregon based ayahuasca church Santo Daime to practice their religion in the USA; National Geographic Adventure magazine ran a best-selling feature on ayahuasca (Feb 2006) that was the most-read article in the magazine’s history, and ayahuasca has also been reported positively as a cover story in the LA Times (Feb 2008); the NYT travel (Sept, 2004); Village Voice, Slate, The Guardian (UK, March 2008), Sunday Times (UK, Sept, 2007); the Times online (UK, April 2008); as a feature story in the San Francisco Chronicle (May, 2008) and many more. Bestselling books like Daniel Pinchbeck’s Breaking Open the Head (Broadway books); Graham Hancock’s Supernatural (Disinformation); Jeremy Narby’s Cosmic Serpent (Tarcher) and many more show the pull the subject has with a mass audience.

Ayahuasca could be the new global sacrament and everybody’s doing it: from Sting, Tori Amos, Isabel Allende, Paul Simon, (who wrote the song Spirit Voices about his experience with the brew in the Amazon), etc. Yet ayahuasca culture is like an iceberg with nine-tenths of its mass under the surface and AYA is the book to tip it over the edge.

For more information please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayahuasca

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