Fruit of the vine
Abrown brew that tastes like muddy earth, ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic tea, born of the union of two rainforest plants and the deep botanical wisdom of indigenous tribes of the Amazon. Though there are dozens of ways to create ayahuasca, the most widely known method begins with the leaves of a rainforest shrub which supplies copious amounts of DMT, a psychedelic compound known for its intense, if short-lived, trips. When the leaves are steeped in liquid with a jungle vine the psychoactive chemical in them gets bathed in a protective coat of harmine alkaloids. This renders the DMT impervious to human digestive enzymes and free to float across the blood-brain barrier. The result is an often daylong encounter with the sublime and the abyss — euphoric engagements with animal and plant spirits, along with pitched battles with one’s most closely guarded delusions and fears.
“Sacred plants are ubiquitous in the Americas. Without understanding the use of these plants, we simply cannot understand pre-Colombian history,” said Steven F. White, a co-editor of the recently updated and reissued Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters With the Amazon’s Sacred Vine (Synergetic Press). “All of this has been completely forgotten, it’s not in the textbook. That’s in part because Western people have historically viewed Amerindians as a rather primitive people with no great civilizations.”
Weighing in at 496 pages, the lives up to its encyclopedic name. Featuring more than 60 writers, shamans, scientists, painters, poets, ethnobotanists, and anthropologists, as well as spiritual leaders from the ayahuasca-based syncretic religious movements, the book’s list of contributors is split evenly among indigenous, mestizo, and European/North Americans.
This new edition of the book will be the focal point of a discussion on Thursday, Sept. 15, at Collected Works Bookstore. The event features a conversation between Jim Gollin, president of the board of directors for the Rainforest Action Network; and Deborah Parrish Snyder, publisher of Santa Fe’s Synergetic Press, which has released titles on the environment and ethnobotany for 30 years.