La Medicina - The History of Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca, which is translated, as ‘vine of the soul' or “vine with a soul” is an Amazonian plant that has been used for centuries, possibly millennia by the indigenous tribes across the upper Amazon region, throughout Peru, Columbia, Ecuador and Brazil. The use of Ayahuasca is widespread and represents the basis of traditional medicine practice for at least seventy- five different indigenous tribes across the Amazon rain forest. Nobody knows for sure how long this drink has been used although there are many different stories amongst indigenous tribes of the Amazon. The history of Ayahuasca is relatively unknown as there are no written records until the Spanish conquistadors invaded in the 16th century. There is resent evidence of a ceremonial cup found in Ecuador that contains traces of Ayahuasca, which is believed to be well over 2,500 years old.
First recorded Western contact with Ayahuasca was made in 1851 by Richard Spruce, the famous ethnobotanist from England. When taking into account his archeological evidence of comparable native plant use, it seems likely that its use dates back at least two hundred years. The origins of the shamanic use of Ayahuasca are lost in the mists of history and there are many stories surrounding how the indigenous tribes initially came to work with this sacred medicine. In an indigenous context, the shamans of the Amazon region for healing and divinatory purposes primarily use Ayahuasca. Complex rituals surround the preparation and use of the brew, which has been passed down through generations of healers. By holding healing ceremonies, the shamans use the medicine as a diagnostic tool to discover the root of illness in their patients.
Ayahuasca – The Magical Combination of Two Plants
Unlike all other sacred plant medicines, Ayahuasca is made from two different plants, the Ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi) and the leaf of the Chacruna plant (Psychotria Viridis) (or Chagropanga, depending on the region). Both of these plants are collected from the jungle to create a potent mixture that offers the drinker access to new realms of consciousness. We encounter a world that exists around & within us, all of which we are not able to perceive in our ‘normal’, day to day state of mind. Ayahuasca serves as a sacred vehicle, portal or channel into the realm of spirit, which gives us direct access to higher states of consciousness.
It remains a profound mystery as to how the Amazonian shamans learned to combine these two plants in order to prepare this sacred medicine. The statistical probability of this concoction being discovered ‘by accident’ is millions to one chance. In spite of this discovery remaining unclear many tribes and shamans have their own mythical tales explaining this miraculous event. Individually taken, both plants are more or less inert. In the Amazon rainforest there are approximately 80,000 catalogued leafy plant species with as many as 10,000 of which are vines. Neither the vine nor the leaf is especially distinguished in appearance. When the mixture circulates through the bloodstream and into the brain it triggers powerful visionary experiences and enables us to access otherworldly realms, our hidden subconscious mind and inner landscapes we never knew were there. The great mystery is how healers of the Amazon, acting as archaic psycho-pharmacologists, knew how to use one particular species of vine and one particular species of leaf to make a psychoactive brew.
The primary ingredient of Chacruna and Chagropanga is also a neurotransmitter found in all human beings and plays a key role in all kinds of extraordinary states of awareness. This neurotransmitter is called Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT for short, and is found in the brain, blood, lungs and other parts of the human body. There is strong evidence pointing towards the pineal gland ("the third eye" in esoteric traditions), located in the center of the brain, as the main factory of human DMT. Apart from human beings, DMT can be found in every mammal and in a variety of plants.
One of the greatest challenges of the movement of Ayahuasca culture to the West is the transfer of a tradition rooted in shamanic communities to ones with vastly different psychological needs and cultural values. We feel it is important to understand, respect and honour the traditional practices that have evolved over hundreds of years of working with the plant. At Lotus Vine Journeys we view participating in Ayahuasca ceremonies as a sacred privilege.