“The Ritual Use of Ayahuasca by Three Brazilian Religions”.
Drug Use and Cultural Contexts 'Beyond the West': Tradition, Change, and Post Colonialism. 2004.
The native inhabitants of the Western Amazon have used Ayahuasca, a psychoactive brew made from the Bannisteriosis caapi vine and the Psychotria viridis leaf, for many purposes since time immemoriaF. The psychoactive effects of this drink are reminiscent of those of LSD and vary according to the dosage, set and setting in which it is taken. Dobkin de Rios lists some of them as follows: altered visual perception, greater sensitivity to sound, feelings of depersonalisation, synaesthesia, etc (Dobkin de Rios 1990:178). Conceiving of this brew as a means of opening the human perception of the spiritual world, shamans have used it for a large range of purposes such as: the diagnosis and treatment of a large variety of ailments, divination, hunting, warfare, and even as an aphrodisiac (Dobkin de Rios, 1972).
Although its use probably originated among the inhabitants of the rain forest, ayahuasca was taken to the Andean highlands and can now also be found in many of the Brazilian and other South American large urban centres, as well as in the United States, Holland, Spain, Italy and even Japan. The use of ayahuasca and other so called 'teacher plants', by Amazonian tribal societies and by Mestizo healers on the outskirts of Peruvian Amazonian cities like Puccalpa, Tarapoto and Iquitos, has been well documented by a large number of scholars. The use of this psychoactive brew by Brazilian religious groups has also been the subject of many studies, mainly in the field of the anthropology of religion, dealing with classical anthropological themes such as cosmology and ritual, shamanism and trance. Others emphasise the comparative approach, dwelling on the relation between cultures (Amazonian and urban) and on the comparison of symbolic syste~ s (Lab.ate 2002:266). This article aims to provide a brief overview of this material and to call attention to the elements of this ritual use that make these religions a good example of what, following Norman Zinberg, might be called controlled use of psychoactive substances (Zinberg 1984:5).