Ayahuasca in Peru

Ayahuasca – A Mysterious Combination of Two Plants

Unlike all other sacred plant medicines, ayahuasca is made from two plants – the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaf of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). Both plants are collected from the jungle to create a potent mixture that offers access to the realm of spirits and an energetic world that that we are typically unable to perceive in our ordinary state of consciousness.

It is a mystery how the Amazonian shamans learned to combine these two ayahuasca vine plants. Individually, both plants are more or less inert. In the Amazon Rainforest there are approximately 80,000 catalogued leafy plant species, of which as many as 10,000 are vines. Neither the vine nor the leaf is especially distinguished in appearance. Yet the healers of the Amazon, acting as archaic psycho-pharmacologists, somehow knew how to use one particular species of vine and one particular species of leaf to make a psychoactive brew.

In chemical terms, the leafy chacruna plant contains the powerful psychoactive dimethyletryptamine (DMT), which, by itself, is not orally active because it is metabolized by the stomach enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). However, certain chemicals within the ayahuasca vine contain MAO inhibitors in the form of harmine compounds that result in a psychoactive compound with an identical chemical makeup to the organic tryptamines in our brains. This mixture circulates through the bloodstream into the brain, where it triggers powerful visionary experiences and enables us to access otherworldly realms and our hidden, inner subconscious landscapes.

History of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is an Amazonian plant medicine that has been used for centuries, possibly thousands of years, by indigenous and more recently mestizo ayahuasca shaman across the upper Amazon throughout Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Brazil. There are over 40 other names known for this sacred medicine, including caapinatemamihi and yage.

The origins of the shamanic use of ayahuasca are lost in the mists of history but there are many different stories among indigenous tribes of the Amazon about the how they initially came to work with this medicine. In an indigenous context, ayahuasca was used by the shamans of the Amazon region for healing and divinatory purposes. Complex rituals surround the preparation and use of ayahuasca that have been passed down through generations of healers. By holding healing ceremonies, they use the medicine as a diagnostic tool to discover the roots of illnesses in their patients.

With no written records from the Amazon until the Spanish conquistadors invaded in the 16th Century, the history of ayahuasca is relatively unknown. However, a ceremonial cup containing traces of ayahuasca was found in Ecuador and is believed to be well over 2500 years old. The use of ayahuasca is widespread and represents the basis of traditional medicine practice for at least 75 different indigenous tribes across the Lower and Upper Amazon.

Renaissance in Shamanism

Shamanism is the oldest spiritual practice known to humankind with archeological evidence that it been practiced all over the world for at least 70,000 years. Shamanism is not a religion, but a method for making transpersonal connection with the sacred realms. It’s at the epicenter of a new cycle of spirituality – one where there is no need for a priest, prophet or guru standing between you and your experience of the sacred realms. Each person becomes their own priest, their own guru receiving revelations from within themselves and higher transpersonal sources.

Shamanic healing techniques have been practiced within ancient wisdom traditions across the planet for many thousands of years and we are now experiencing a renaissance in this ‘spirit assisted healthcare’ reemerging in the modern world. Shamans view illness as disharmony in a person’s life on energetic and spiritual levels. This disharmony can lead to mental, emotional, and/or physical illness if left unresolved.

A shaman addresses the energetic and spiritual aspect of illness by making journeys into the astral or spirit world; a ‘non-ordinary’ reality parallel to our own physical reality. There the shaman meets transpersonal forces and benevolent plant, animal and human spirits, who are just ‘off stage’ from the human drama, yet willing and able to constellate within and through us. It is these compassionate spirits who perform the healing work with the shaman only acting as a conduit.

Shipibo Plant Medicine Healing Traditions

The Shipibo culture, originating along the Ucayali River in the Peruvian Upper Amazon, is well known for shamanism and plant medicine. Among the indigenous cultures of the Upper Peruvian Amazon, the Shipibo are one of the few cultural groups that have managed to maintain their language, art and mystical plant medicine. The Shipibo tribe seems to have a particularly strong relationship with ayahuasca and many consider the Shipibo to be the most highly skilled ayahuasca healers in the Peruvian Amazon.

The use of Shipibo imagery related to ayahuasca is widespread and the Shipibo patterns of ikaro are synonymous with ayahuasca and its practice throughout Peru. Indeed, many mestizo curanderos (healers of mixed Spanish and Peruvian blood ancestry who have moved away from indigenous traditions and identity) still wear Shipibo  cushmas (robes) in ceremony.

Ayahuasca – A Mysterious Combination of Two Plants

Unlike all other sacred plant medicines, ayahuasca is made from two plants – the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaf of the chacruna plant (Psychotria viridis). Both plants are collected from the jungle to create a potent mixture that offers access to the realm of spirits and an energetic world that that we are typically unable to perceive in our ordinary state of consciousness.

It is a mystery how the Amazonian shamans learned to combine these two ayahuasca vine plants. Individually, both plants are more or less inert. In the Amazon Rainforest there are approximately 80,000 catalogued leafy plant species, of which as many as 10,000 are vines. Neither the vine nor the leaf is especially distinguished in appearance. Yet the healers of the Amazon, acting as archaic psycho-pharmacologists, somehow knew how to use one particular species of vine and one particular species of leaf to make a psychoactive brew.

In chemical terms, the leafy chacruna plant contains the powerful psychoactive dimethyletryptamine (DMT), which, by itself, is not orally active because it is metabolized by the stomach enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). However, certain chemicals within the ayahuasca vine contain MAO inhibitors in the form of harmine compounds that result in a psychoactive compound with an identical chemical makeup to the organic tryptamines in our brains. This mixture circulates through the bloodstream into the brain, where it triggers powerful visionary experiences and enables us to access otherworldly realms and our hidden, inner subconscious landscapes.

TravelFrancesca Tabor