Spiritual Content in Reports from Ayahuasca Sessions
By Stanley Krippner and Joseph Sulla
ABSTRACT: There has been little rigorous research on
the spiritual content of ayahuasca
sessions, despite the tribal use of this herbal concoction and the existence of
three Brazilian churches in which ayahuasca
is considered a sacrament. The Casto Spirituality Scoring System, a reliable
measure designed to identify spiritual content in dream reports, was utilized to
answer the following question: "Is it possible to identify spiritual
content in ayahuasca reports?"
This system was found to be feasible in identifying "spiritual
objects," "spiritual characters," "spiritual settings,"
"spiritual activities," "spiritual emotions," and
"spiritual experiences" in ayahuasca reports taken from pertinent literature. The Casto system
defines "spiritual" as one's focus on, and/or reverence, openness, and
connectedness to something of significance believed to be beyond one's full
understanding and/or individual existence.
For millennia, indigenous
cultures have used plant preparations in their spiritual ceremonies
to communicate with other-worldly spirits as well as to maintain their linkage
with the natural world. Western culture severed this connection when Zoroaster
banned the Haoma plant, when the Eleusinian rituals in Greece fell in disrepute,
and when witches were persecuted by the Inquisition, in part because of their
utilization of mind-altering substances. Western theologians and philosophers
spoke of the necessity of humankind to dominate and manipulate nature; this
"modern" worldview supplanted the "premodern" worldview with
the latter's position that human beings were part of nature, and separated from
it at their peril.
What philosophers refer to as the "modern" worldview is
responsible for impressive advances in technology, industry, and scientific
discovery. However, it has not
prevented (and may even have been partially responsible for) unprecedented
fragmentation, nihilism, and devastation. As Berman (1984) states: "Western
life seems to be drifting toward increasing entropy, economic and technological
chaos, ecological disaster, and ultimately, psychic dismemberment and
disintegration" (p. 1). However, the epoch of "modernity" may be
in the process of being supplanted by the era of "postmodernity." Some
writers (e.g., Gergen, 1994) see "postmodernism" as a welcome
corrective to the excesses of "modernism," replacing its mechanistic
and reductionistic assumptions and activities with those that are more organic
and holistic in nature.
Metzner (1999b) calls
for an "ecological postmodernism" that would include the ecological
context of human life in psychology and other areas of contemporary inquiry.
Drawing on such diverse sources as Native American rituals, the goddess cultures
of pagan Europe, and the visions of Hildegarde von Bingen, Metzner holds that
human beings must find their rightful place not as rulers, but as participants
in the integral and interdependent community of all life (p. 166). Metzner sees
modern Western civilization's "war on Nature" as an exteriorization of
intrapsychic conflicts, the "shadow side" of its preoccupation with
its own imbalance and separation. For Metzner, human overpopulation, addiction
to fossil fuels, preoccupation with material goods, and the resulting
environmental degradation are psychopathological symptoms of a dissociation from
the natural world. He sees the spread of religious rituals based on sacred
plants as an aspect of "ecological postmodernism" that would
contribute to sustainability, symbiosis, and the preservation of all life forms.
Reich, Oser, and Scarlett (1999) correctly point out that in
postmodern times, the concept of spiritual development has come to mean
something different than religious development. Indeed, several research studies
have indicated a relationship between waking spiritual incidents and positive
outcomes in individuals' lives, such as psychological well-being and improved
psychological attitudes (e.g., Hood, 1974; Kaas, Friedman, Lesserman,
Zuttermeister, & Benson, 1991; Pollner, 1989) as well as individuals'
relationship to the world, e.g. investigating the purpose of life and their
place in that purpose (e.g., Grof, 1988, p. 265; James, 1902/1958, p. 389).
Contributing to this literature has been varied reports of purported spiritual
experiences triggered by mind-altering brews and concoctions derived from
plants. These experiences have been described, in the literature, through first
person accounts, historical anecdotes, and ethnographic accounts.
Furst (1976) suggests that the ritual use of
mind-altering substances in the upper Amazon dates back to at least 3000 B.C.E.
Serious Western research into the nature of these preparations began with the
expeditions of Richard Spruce, an ethnobotanist who explored the Amazon and the
Andes between 1849 and 1864; among the species he discovered was the Banisteriopsis
caapi jungle vine (Rudgley, 1995, p. 64). In 1855 he observed that
concoctions containing elements of this vine were ingested ritually.
Reichel-Dolmatoff's (1972, pp. 97-102) informants told him that
concoctions containing this plant are used to "travel" to "other
worlds" to visit their tribal divinities.
In addition to the term ayahuasca,
the brew is called yage(e'), caapi, kahpi, cadana,
pinde, natem, natena,
rami, and a variety of other names, depending on the tribe that uses
it (Rudgley, 1993, p. 65; Schinzinger, 1999, p. 8).
The term hoasca has been
introduced not only to describe the sacred brew used by one of the ayahuasca-based
religious groups in Brazil, but also as a descriptor in the ethnopharmacological
literature (e.g., Callaway et al., 1999). Artifacts from Ecuador indicate that ayahuasca
was known and used by indigenous groups there as far back as 2000 B.C.E.
The universal ingredient in all of these concoctions
is Banisteriopsis caapi, often called the "vine of the
souls," but other plants such as Psychotria
viridis, a leafy bush, must be added to potentiate its effect (figure
1.). However, some formulae are unique to one group of
Indians residing in the Amazon and Orinoco River Basins, or even to a single
shaman. Another factor compounding the accounting of the brews is the diversity
in methods of preparations. The most commonly recorded processes involve either
infusing Banisteriopsis bark in cold
water or boiling the bark and/or the stems for long periods of time, adding
other ingredients as is deemed appropriate (de Rios, 1975).
The chemical N,N-dimethyltryptamine
(DMT) is found in several Amazonian plants (including Psychotria viridis), but it has no psychotropic effects when taken
orally. This is due to the monoamine oxidase enzyme found in human saliva, which
breaks down the chemical, rendering it inactive. The Banisteriopsis vine contains a variety of harmala alkaloids, type-A
monoamine oxidase (MAO-A) inhibitors that are found throughout the body and
counteract the effects of this enzyme, allowing DMT (and other substances
normally inactive) to flow freely, binding to serotonergic sites in the brain.
In addition to conferring activity on DMT, MAO-A inhibition may contribute to
actions of other psychoactive substances sometimes found in the beverages
(Callaway et al., 1999). For these reasons, thousands of plants have been used
to produce ayahuasca brews with
For example, Rudgley (1993) has described the use of
an ayahuasca-based concoction, caapi,
by the Tukano Indians of the Colombian northwest Amazon. Consumption is
restricted to males, and for specific ceremonies such as funerals, the diagnosis
of ailments, and shamanic vision quests (p. 67). Several pieces of the fresh
ingredients are cut, and then mashed to a pulp in a wooden trough to which cold
water is then added. The mixture is strained and transferred to a specially
decorated ceramic vessel, ideally made by an elderly woman, polished by a
phallic-shaped stone, "purified" by tobacco smoke, and used
exclusively for the drink by participants who have prepared themselves by a
prescribed diet and a period of sexual abstinence. Ingestion is preceded by a
recitation of creation myths and genealogies, accompanied by the sounds of a
rattle and, later, flutes, whistles, singing, and dancing. The experient's
report usually begins with a description of phosphenes (circles, triangles,
spirals, and other neurologically-based images) and later of such
culturally-conditioned imagery as jaguars, snakes, and mythical landscapes (Reichel-Dolmatoff,
1987). The resulting condition is considered superior to one's ordinary state of
consciousness, and is reflected in artistic decorations, architectural designs,
and the decorations found on Tukano pottery and musical instruments. Rudgley
(1993) observes that the imagery reinforces key concepts and values in the
Tukano cultural belief system.
Luna (1992), while conducting field work in the
Peruvian Amazon in 1985, met don Pablo Amaringo, a former mestizo shamanic
healer who showed him a series of exquisitely detailed landscapes he had
painted. When asked how he had learned to paint, don Pablo replied that under
the influence of ayahuasca he had been shown by the spirits how to combine colors to
produce a panoply of hues. Luna was
familiar with artwork stimulated by similar brews, and asked don Pablo if he
would paint some of his ayahuasca
visualizations. A few days later, don Pablo completed the first two such
paintings, most of which related to Amazonian shamanism.
Eventually, the two men collaborated on a book, Ayahuasca
Visions (Luna & Amaringo 1991), which explores the iconography of 49
paintings which present hundred of animals, plants, spirits, and mythological
beings. A comparison of don Pablo's
work with that produced by the Takano (Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1978), the Siona
(Langdon, 1992), the Canelos Quicha (Whitten, 1981), and the Shipibo (Gebhardt-Sayer,
1984) demonstrates that the images are influenced by the individual's cultural
background. As such, they provide a
great deal of relevant information about the artist's culture and its guiding
mythology (Luna & Amaringo 1991, pp. 43-44).
Dobkin de Rios (1992, p. 158) has chronicled the
ritual use of ayahuasca by an urban shaman, Hildebrando, better known as don Hilde.
Dobkin de Rios interviewed each of the 97 men and women seen by don Hilde
during her field work in Pucallpa, Peru, the site of his office.
She observed that the client plays an active role in the ayahuasca ritual: "Intrinsic to the drug effect is the power of
the plant to evoke expressive experiences equal in force and drama to the best
theatre available anywhere. The ayahuasca
client's particular experience during the healing ritual is multifold -- he [or
she] is actor, playwright, stage director, costumier, make-up artist and even
musician. A fast-moving, brilliant
kaleidoscope of colours, forms, geometric patterns, movement and counterpoint
provides the most unique experience most individuals ever encounter in normal
waking consciousness. This effect
is produced entirely from within the individual's own psyche. The stage manager throughout this is the healer.
Through music, chants, whistling, or even percussion sounds, he [or she]
evokes patterned visions which are important to the client. Again, these visions
have been canalized by the client's culture.
From his earliest years, the Amazonian city resident or farmer hears
discussions of ayahuasca use, listens while people who have partaken in these
sessions analyze them in retrospect, and determines whether there has been an
appropriate response to the drug. Dobkin
de Rios (1992, p. 156) concludes that "the stereotyping of drug visions is
not unusual" because there are specific expectations surrounding the
In Peru it is common for allopathic physicians to
refer some of their patients to ayahuasceros
(i.e., shamans who use ayahuasca) when
they are unable to make a diagnosis, identify a problem, or find a cure.
The ayahuasceros sing sacred
songs or icaros, which call forth
spirits who, in turn, are thought to attempt healing (Dobkin de Rios, 1992). In
addition to the use of ayahuasca by
Indian tribes through the Amazon (Schultes & Hofmann, 1980) the brew is
utilized in at least three organized religious groups that consider it a
sacrament: Santo Daime, Uniao do Vegetal, and Barquinha. Apart from the
indigenous population, it has been estimated that there are at least 15,000
monthly users of ayahuasca within the
urban populations of South America (Callaway et al., 1999). In 1987, the use of
such beverages within a religious context was officially recognized and
protected by law in Brazil, after lengthy investigations into its alleged
threats to national security and public health (Ott, 1994). This was the first
time in 1,600 years that a government had granted permission to its
non-indigenous citizens to use a mind-altering substance in a religious context
(McKenna, Callaway, & Grob, 1998).
Santo Daime traces its origins to Raimundo Irineu
Serra, a 7-foot-tall Brazilian rubber tapper of African-Brazilian descent, who
was born in the state of Maranhao in 1882. At the age of 20, Serra traveled to
Acre, Brazil, to participate in the booming rubber trade. En route, he
encountered several native tribes that allowed him to witness the manufacture of
the ayahuasca brew. In one of his sessions with the natives, a woman
calling herself the "Queen of the Forest" appeared to him. Irineu, who
came from a Christian background, identified her with the Virgin Mary. The lady
told him to enter the rainforest alone to prepare and drink the ayahuasca
brew for eight days. Subsequent instructions were to spread her message
throughout the world. ayahuasca was to
be called, "daime" (i.e., "give me," as in "give me
love, give me light, give me strength"), because the lady insisted that
this beverage was the sacred blood of Jesus Christ, and that it would give
light, love, and strength to all who would use it.
When Irineu left the rainforest, he brought with him a
complete structure for a Daime ceremony that consisted of a syncretic mixture of
Amazonian, African, and esoteric Christian elements. The central focus for these
Santo Daime ceremonies was the singing of hymns, which he claimed to have
"received" while within the "force" of the Daime. In the
1930s, Irineu assembled a congregation in Rio Branco, in the Brazilian state of
Acre. He could not read, write, or transcribe music but his hymns were soon put
into written form by his followers. He became known as "Master Irineu,"
the first great leader of the Santo Daime movement.
Initially, Santo Daime was a rural phenomenon
(Richman, 1990-1991, p. 39). In
recent decades, however, Santo Daime has maintained its centers in the
rainforests and has established new assemblies in Brazilian urban areas (Larsen,
One of us (JS) has pent several months in Ceu do Mapia,
a Daime community of several hundred people located in the southwest Amazon, on
a tributary of the Purus River. Ceu do Mapia is equipped with a small hospital,
a school, and a bevy of small wooden houses; rice, beans, and manioc are grown
locally, chicken are bred and a few cows are raised for their milk, while
bananas, cashew fruits, and lemons can be found in the nearby village. A large
star-shaped church has been built at the village's center, but small, focused
healing takes place in a smaller building called the "Star House." Feito, the ritualistic preparation of Daime, is a communal event,
month-long festivals are held twice a year, while healing ceremonies are
scheduled when needed.
The Star House is not the only place where spirit
guides are incorporated or "channeled." "White Table" works
are held twice monthly (on the 7th and 27th of each month) at the church. There
are several terreros where Umbanda
works occur, and a "Santa Casa" (or "Holy House") has been
built where a great deal of healing through mediumship occurs. The spirits
incorporated are not always benign; often, suffering, rebellious, or malignant
spirits appear. A unique element of UmbaDaime (the synthesis of Umbanda and
Santo Daime) is that these spirits are "illuminated" by giving them ayahuasca (figure
There are an estimated 5,000 Daime members in Brazil
(as well another 2,000-3,000 overseas members). There are several doctrinal
groups, and many types of Santo Daime ceremonies. Typically, the ceremonies take
place in church settings with a six-pointed table in the center. The ceremonies
are typically called "works," because participants attempt to work on
their own spiritual evolution during each session. "Celebration works"
are differentiated from "concentration works" and "healing
works." Each "celebration work" involves a period of highly
structured singing and dancing, followed by an hour intermission, and concludes
with another period of singing and dancing. Maracas, drums, guitars, and other
instruments may be heard during the ceremonies (figure
3.). The songs and musical rhythms are designed to help participants
focus on their "inner work," aided by such symbols as the sun, moon,
stars, the Star of David, and pictures of the Christian saints and Daime
founders. In some centers, elements of other African-Brazilian religions such as
Umbanda, as well as such spiritistic beliefs as those based on the writings of
Allan Kardec, have found their way into the ceremonies. Every few hours,
participants have the opportunity to imbibe the ayahuasca brew.
Master Irineu's group grew steadily; many people
followed him because he developed a reputation as a great healer. In the early
1950s, one of his most avid followers claimed to receive another series of
visions from the Queen of the Forest, ordering him to establish a new branch of
the Daime doctrine which incorporated more elements of Umbanda. This man became
known as Master Daniel and his church was named Barquinha (or "Little
In Barquinha, ceremonies center around a table shaped like a cross.
Participants usually sit in contemplation for the first half of the ceremony,
then began to dance with "spirits" summoned through carimbas
and pontos (sacred songs). The spirits
summoned are also found in Umbanda -- encontados
(nature spirits), criancas (spirits of
children), caboclos (spirits of those
who descended from unions of Native Amazonians and Africans), pretos
velhos (spirits of Africans sold into slavery or their descendants), and
mermaids (representations of Iemanja, the African "Goddess of the
Oceans" who protected the slaves on their hazardous journey to Brazil). Ayahuasca
is served periodically during the ceremonies.
The "Uniao do
Vegetal" ("Union of the Vegetal" or UDV), was founded in 1961 by
another rubber tapper, Jose Gabriel Da Costa who had been trained in the
manufacture of ayahuasca by the
natives of the rainforest, and who later became known as Master Gabriel. When
Gabriel first drank the cha misterioso
(the mysterious tea), he knew of it as the cinema
do Indio or Indian cinema, a term used by his fellow rubber tappers, many of
whom had ingested the substance themselves.
Gabriel was introduced to the tea by a rubber tapper who had a reputation
of drinking the tea with one hand, sugar cane liquor with the other hand, and
using the tea to seduce women (Schinzinger, 1999, p. 11).
During his first burracheira
(i.e., the altered state of consciousness induced by ayahuasca),
Gabriel was taken to the forest and shown how to identify the two plants used to
prepare the tea. On the very next day, he and his son gathered the plants,
prepared the tea, and drank it again with his wife. Over the next few years,
Gabriel established the teachings given to him in the burracheira, combining them with his Portuguese Catholic roots, and
the years he spent as a leader of Umbanda. He was also exposed to the writings
of the French spiritualist, Allan Kardec, and the teachings of the Bolivian and
Brazilian Indians with whom he tapped rubber and drank ayahuasca. Presently, UDV claims some 6,000 members who are
distributed among at least 60 nucleos
throughout Brazil (Luna & White, 2000; Metzner, 1999b)(figures 4,5,6,7).
UDV ceremonies focus around a table, with the Mestres
(Masters) sitting in the middle. A series of chamadas
or "calls" open the ceremony. Sacred
readings from the writings of the church founders are read; often the "Mestres
will give their reflections on these texts. A large portion of ayahuasca is served at the beginning of the ceremony, and then
participants sit in silent meditation, sometimes with recorded music played in
the background. Some Mestres sing
hymns from the church repertoire. In the second half of the ceremony,
participants share their reactions or ask the Mestres questions about the session. Men and women were separated
until the mid-1980s, and this practice persists in some congregations or nucleos.
UDV sponsored the International Conference of Hoasca Studies in Rio de Janeiro
in 1995, an event that attracted an international audience and received wide
Master Irineu and Master Gabriel both died in 1971;
they both tapped rubber in the same region but apparently never met. We(SK and
JS) met an associate of Master Daniel, a Padrinho (or "godfather") of
Barquinha, in 1996 in Manaus at the 15th conference of the International
Transpersonal Association. The theme of the conference was "Technologies of
the Sacred," and all three ayahuasca-based
religions were discussed by several of the participants.
Grob et al. (1996) conducted a study of 15 male UDV
church members, 11 of whom had diagnoses of alcohol abuse disorders and phobic
disorders, with such symptoms as binge drinking and violent behavior before
regular use of the tea. These subjects were interviewed three times over a two
week period, and compared with 15 members of an age-matched control group of 15
non-UDV members. No harmful sequelae were observed and the 11 UDV members with
pathological diagnoses had all remitted. A pharmacokinetic study of the same 15
Uniao do Vegetal church members by Callaway et al. (1999) found "no signs
of physical or psychological deterioration," and concluded that "the
regular use of hoasca in a ceremonial
context seems to increase one's ability to psychologically adapt to the larger
process of life" (p. 255) (figures 8,9,10).
In the summer of 1993, a group of biomedical
researchers from the United States, Finland, and Brazil, met in the Amazonian
city of Manaus to investigate the psychological and biomedical effects of ayahuasca.
They conducted their study with members of the UDV church in Manaus who had used
the substance regularly for at least 10 years. No negative effects were
observed, but an increased density of serotonin uptake sites in blood platelets
was detected (Callaway et al, 1994). The latter result was paradoxical because
most psychotropic substances decrease serotonin. However, it provides a clue as
to the therapeutic effects of ayahuasca
because the serotonin system is deficient in violent alcoholics (Grob et al.,
1996). Psychologically, the team found their subjects to be "more
relaxed" than non-UDV members, and demonstrated "more purpose and
direction in their lives," and a greater concern for the preservation of
the natural environment. A "hallucinogenic rating scale" was
constructed, which placed ayahuasca on
the mild end of the spectrum in contrast to intravenous DMT which was on the
However, this scale did not address the
phenomenological contents of the ayahuasca
sessions. What was needed was a different kind of research procedure that would
make such a contribution. We decided upon content analysis to accomplish this
objective because this method has been developed to systematically and
objectively identify characteristics and themes of communications or documents
and the relative extent to which these characteristics and themes pervade a
given communication or document (Berg, 1989, p. 106; Holsti, 1968, pp. 597, 601;
Weber, 1990, p. 9).
As there has been little rigorous research on the
spiritual content of ayahuasca
sessions, this research study was designed to answer the following question:
"Is it possible to identify spiritual content in ayahuasca
reports, and if so, how?"
DEFINITION OF TERMS
Several definitions were employed in this research
study and guided its focus:
"Transpersonal studies" can be defined as
disciplined inquiries into those observed or reported human behaviors and
experiences in which one's sense of identity appears to extend beyond its
ordinary limits to encompass wider, broader, or deeper aspects of human, life,
and/or the cosmos including purported divine elements of creation (Krippner,
The "divine" was defined as that which is
regarded as holy (belonging to, derived from, or associated with religious or
spiritual powers) and sacred (that which is dedicated to or worthy of veneration
or worship) (American Heritage
Dictionary, 1993), thus deserving the highest respect.
The locus of the divine can be either outside of oneself, as when it has
the nature of a superhuman entity or a deity, or within oneself, as when it is
thought to reside within one's "inner," "deeper," and/or
"higher" self. "Reverence,"
in this research, was defined as an attitude or feeling of profound awe and
respect (American Heritage Dictionary, 1993).
Achterberg and Lawlis (1980) define
"imagery," as "the internal experience of a perceptual event in
the absence of the actual external stimuli" (p. 27).
Therefore, imagery in ayahuasca
experiences does not have to be visual, but can be auditory, olfactory,
gustatory, or kinesthetic as well.
"Spiritual" was defined as one's focus on,
and/or reverence, openness, and connectedness to something of significance
believed to be beyond one's full understanding and/or individual existence
(American Heritage Dictionary, 1993; Elkins, Hedstrom, Hughes, Leaf, &
Saunders, 1988; Krippner & Welch, 1992, pp. 5, 122; Shafranske & Gorsuch,
1984, p. 233). There is an overlap between "spiritual" experiences and
those referred to as "transpersonal," "mystical," or
"religious," but these are not regarded as synonyms. In
"transpersonal" experiences, one's sense of identity appears to extend
beyond its ordinary limits; in "mystical" experiences, this extension
appears to unite with something considered "divine,"
"sacred," or "holy"; in other words, all
"mystical" experiences are "transpersonal," but not all
"transpersonal" experiences are "mystical." In
"religious" experiences there is a reported contact with something
that an organized body of believers considers to be "divine,"
"sacred," or "holy."
Definitions of "spiritual" and
"religious," and of "spirituality" and "religion"
are often similar. For example,
James (1902/1958) defines "religion" as "feelings, acts, and
experiences of individual men [and women] in their solitude, so far as they
apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider
divine" (p. 42). However, this
definition is very much like the definition of "spiritual" as given
above, especially in its implied link between beliefs and action.
Therefore, for clarity's sake, "religion" or
"religious" was distinguished in this research from
"spiritual" as pertaining to, and adherence to, an organized system of
beliefs about the divine, and the observance by a body of believers of rituals,
rites, and requirements of that organized system of beliefs (American Heritage
"Shamans" can be defined as
socially-sanctioned practitioners who deliberately alter their conscious
functioning to obtain information not ordinary available to their peers, using
this information in the service of their community (Krippner & Welch, 1992).
The term "entheogenic" has come into use to
describe substances that purport to release one's "inner divinity"
(Roberts, 1999, p. 24). As such, the term is considered by many to be more
precise that the terms "psychedelic" (i.e.,
"mind-manifesting") and "hallucinogenic" (i.e.,
"mind-wandering"). Many writers claim that the latter term is not
appropriate for ayahuasca sessions, few of which produce full-blown hallucinations.
However, "psychedelic" can be viewed as an umbrella term that
encompasses substances that evoke "entheogenic" experiences as well as
the "sensory-perceptual," "psychological-recollective/analytic,"
and "symbolic-mythic," levels of experience described by Masters and
Houston (1966), and the "biographical-recollective" and "perinatal"
levels of experience described by Grof (1985). Masters and Houston's
"religious-integral" and Grof's "transpersonal" levels of
experience could be regarded as "entheogenic," but not everyone who
ingests ayahuasca reaches those
levels. In the meantime, a case can be made for using such terms as "entheogenic"
to describe experiences rather than substances, because not everyone ingesting ayahuasca
and similar plant concoctions will have an "entheogenic,"
"transpersonal," or "spiritual" experience.(note 2)
Hall and Van de Castle's system of dream content
analysis, with its predetermined categories and subcategories, is frequently
used to detect common and recurring elements in dreams. While Hall and Van de
Castle's (1966) categories do not include spiritual categories per se, they do
include categories that sometimes contain spiritual content items, e.g.,
physical surroundings, characters, social interactions, activities, achievement
outcomes, environmental press, emotions, descriptive elements.
The reliability of scoring, or consistency of measurement, was found by
Hall and Van de Castle to be 73% for physical surroundings, 76% for characters,
70% for social interactions, 85% for activities, and 63% for emotions.
Hall and Van de Castle's
original normative data has been replicated in other studies; for example, Hall,
Domhoff, Blick, and Weesner (1982) found few differences between the normative
data of Hall and Van de Castle's original research and their own participants.
Kira Lynn Casto developed a "spirituality scoring
system" to supplement Hall and Van de Castle's work (Casto, 1995).
Named the "Casto Spirituality Scoring System" (CSSS), she
modified several categories in Hall and Van de Castle's (1966) system to
identify spiritual content (Figure
11). Their "objects" category was altered to
"Spiritual Objects"; their "Characters" category was altered
to "Spiritual Characters"; their
"Settings" category was altered to "Spiritual Settings";
their "Activities" category was altered to "Spiritual
Activities"; their "Emotions" category was altered to
Hood's (1975) Mysticism Scale was used to develop a
"Spiritual Experiences" category yielding several possibilities, i.e.,
experiences in which there is a sense of direct contact, communion, or union
with something considered to be ultimate reality, God, or the divine;
experiences in which one's sense of identity temporarily reaches beyond or
extends past his or her ordinary personal identity to include an expanded
perspective of humanity and/or the universe; experiences where one appears to
enter a sacred realm or condition that goes beyond the ordinary boundaries of
space and linear time.
The difference between "activities" and
"experiences" is similar to the psychological differentiation between
behavior (i.e., externally observable actions, including verbal behavior) and
experience (i.e., lived events that are phenomenological reported). The phrase,
"I was angry at God" would be scored for "spiritual
emotion." The phrase, "I told God that I was angry" would be
scored for both "spiritual emotion" and "spiritual
activity." The phrase, "I was angry at God, and this reaction produced
a red glow in my heart that sent intense heat throughout my body" would be
scored for "spiritual emotion" and "spiritual experience."
The phrase, "I told God that I was angry, and this reaction produced a red
glow in my heart that sent intense heat throughout my body" would be scored
for "spiritual emotion," "spiritual activity," and
Some dreams contain religious content but not
spiritual content. A Brazilian woman reported that, in her dream, I
found a place with perfumes and soaps. There were some gifts that I had received
from my older brother. Someone gave me a little car and a doll. Someone else
showed me a chain made of sandalwood which was very sweet-smelling. I received
two blue envelopes that were sealed. Then I designed a chapel, a little church
in a unique style which would be used only for weddings. This dream could be
scored for "religious content" because of its references to a chapel,
church, and weddings. However, none of these meet the criteria for
"spiritual content" as outlined in the CSSS.
Casto Spirituality Scoring System
SPIRITUAL OBJECTS: Objects used for focus, and
reverence, to open and connect one
to something of significance that is believed to be beyond one's full
understanding and/or individual existence.
People, animals, or beings that are meaningfully connected to something
of significance that is believed to be beyond one's full understanding and/or
individual existence and that one associates with a sense of reverence.
SPIRITUAL SETTINGS: Places where one feels
meaningfully connected to something of significance believed to be beyond one's
full understanding and/or individual existence and that are associated with a
sense of reverence.
SPIRITUAL ACTIVITIES: Activities used to open and
connect one to something of significance believed to be beyond one's full
understanding and/or individual existence and that are associated with a sense
Felt emotions that are regarded as meaningfully related to something of
significance which is believed to be beyond one's full understanding and/or
individual existence, associated with a sense of reverence.
Experiences in which a sense of direct contact, communion, or union with
something that is considered to be ultimate reality, God or the divine; and/or
experiences in which one's sense of identity temporarily reaches beyond or
extends past his or her ordinary personal identity to include an expanded
perspective of humanity and/or the universe; and/or experiences where one
appears to enter a sacred realm or condition that goes beyond the ordinary
boundaries of space and linear time.
We felt that Casto's system might be applied to ayahuasca
sessions reported by individuals representing a wide variety of spiritual
backgrounds. One person might report experiencing "intense ecstasy
accompanied by white light conveying a blessing by Jesus Christ," another
might report an experience of peace accompanied by white light felt to be a
precursor to "the Nirvana described by the Buddha," and still another
might report an experience accompanied by white light that represents the
arrival of Oxala, the African-Brazilian orisha
(i.e., deity) of purity. All three
reports would be scored for "spiritual experience," for
"spiritual activity" (e.g., the blessing, the description, the
arrival), for "spiritual object" (e.g., the white light), and
"spiritual character" (e.g., Jesus Christ, the Buddha, Oxala), despite
the disparate traditions represented.
For this pilot study, the three of us collected a
small sample of ayahuasca session reports, subjecting them to analysis with the CSSS.
Both indigenous accounts and those obtained from ayahuasca church services were included. Some of the reports were
extremely lengthy, so we selected excerpts from the reports that would
illustrate each of the CSSS categories to determine their utility in studying
spiritual elements of ayahuasca
LIMITATIONS AND DELIMITATIONS
This study was limited in that the session reports
were not selected from a random selection of experients. Furthermore, like all
experiential reports, they are vulnerable to faulty memory, distortion, or
This study was delimited to experiential reports
available in English, and to those which occurred in a spiritual setting, either
with shamans in South America, in one of the ayahuasca
churches, or in a location organized by an ethnobotanist or ayahuascero
familiar with the "set" and "setting" required for something
meaningful to occur (see Metzner, 1999b, p. 162).
We applied the CSSS to ten phenomenological accounts,
beginning with the original report of Master Irineu that dates back to the
1920s. His report of the "Queen of the Forest" was scored for
"spiritual character," her command to him to drink ayahuasca
for eight days was scored for "spiritual activity," and his conviction
that he must follow these orders was scored for "spiritual
experience." There might have been additional spiritual elements involved
in Master Inineu's experience, but they are not apparent from the information
The CSSS defines "spiritual objects" as
those "used for focus, and reverence, to open and
connect one to something of significance that is believed to be beyond
one's full understanding and/or individual existence." An example is given
by Luna and Amaringo (1991) in an excerpt of their description of one of
Amaringo's paintings, "Curandera Transformed Into a Boa": "A
great vegetalista curandera has become
a beautiful queen wearing a golden crown, with the body of a blue serpent with
disc-shaped marks....The blue glasses that appear under the queen's throat are
purified glasses from which the genies of the trees drink when they are invited
to have liquor or the ayahuasca brew" (p. 60). In this report, the "purified
glasses" was scored as a "spiritual object." In addition, the
queen was scored as a "spiritual character."
The CSSS defines "spiritual characters" as
"people, animals, or beings that are meaningfully connected to something of
significance that is believed to be beyond one's full understanding and/or
individual existence and that one associates with a sense of reverence." An
example of a "spiritual character" can be found in an excerpt from a
U.S. psychologist's self-described "initiation to ayahuasca"
under the direction of an ethnobotanist: "As
the images of forms and objects recede back into the swaying fabric of visions,
I realize that I am seeing them as if projected on the twisting coils of an
enormous serpent, with glittering silvery and green designs of its skin....My
emotional response is one of awe and humility at the magnificence of this being
and its spiritual power..." (in Metzner, 1999a, p. 160). This excerpt
also was scored for "spiritual emotion" (i.e., "awe and
The CSSS defines "spiritual settings" as
"places where one feels meaningfully connected to something of significance
believed to be beyond one's full understanding and/or individual existence and
that are associated with a sense of reverence." An example can be found in
an account by a college philosophy professor's first ayahuasca
experience in the Peruvian highlands with 14 other participants: "I
found myself in a psychomanteum, a place specially constructed for divination and
communication with deceased relatives. There was a large mirror on the wall, in
which a face took shape and became three-dimensional. This face and the eyes
told that...that I, as Robert Dudley, had previously worked on under the
tutelage of the Elizabethan magus Dr. John Dee....I saw the machinations of the
ego-personality and its subtle deceit of the Self....I realized that
intellectual success is not the end-all, but rather love and compassion wisely
applied" (in Metzner, 1999a, pp. 94-95). The psychomanteum was scored
as a "spiritual setting," Robert Dudley was scored as a
"spiritual character," and the realizations as a "spiritual
The CSSS defines "spiritual activities" as
those "used to open and connect one to something of significance believed
to be beyond one's full understanding and/or individual existence and that are
associated with a sense of reverence." Narby's first ayahuasca
experience took place in the Peruvian Amazon; he recalled: "These
enormous snakes are there, my eyes are closed and I see a spectacular world of
brilliant lights, and in the middle of these hazy thoughts, the snakes start
talking to me without words. They explain that I am just a human being. I feel
my mind crack, and in the fissures, I see the bottomless arrogance of my
presuppositions. It is profoundly true that I am just a human being and, most of
the time, I have the impression of understanding everything, whereas here I find
myself in a more powerful reality that I do not understand at all and that, in
my arrogance, I did not even suspect existed. I feel like crying in view of the
enormity of these revelations. Then it dawns on me that this self-pity is a part
of my arrogance. I feel so ashamed that I no longer dare feel ashamed.
Nevertheless, I have to throw up." (pp. 6-7). The snakes' conversation
"without words" was scored as a "spiritual activity." This
excerpt also contains "spiritual characters" (the snakes),
"spiritual emotions" (the self-pity, arrogance, and shame), and
"spiritual experiences" ("I find myself in a more powerful
reality that I do not understand at all" and "these
The CSSS defines "spiritual emotions" as
"felt emotions that are regarded as meaningfully related to something of
significance which is believed to be beyond one's full understanding and/or
individual existence, associated with a sense of reverence." One of the
authors (SK) recalls: "In 1992, I
was invited to participate in an ayahuasca
ritual held by a Santo Daime congregation in coastal Brazil. Although that
particular church was quite Christian-oriented, I observed several references to
African-Brazilian deities in the songs we sung while waiting for the opportunity
to imbibe the sacrament. The
church's trabalhos ('ritual works')
were highly structured; to the beat of rattles, church officials taught the
rhythmic right-to-left dances to newcomers, and gently corrected them if they
made mistakes. After a preparatory
period of about two hours, the singing and dancing stopped and glasses of a dark
green fluid were offered. Once the
congregation had imbibed, there was additional music-- drums and guitars
supplemented the maracas-- followed by a period of silent reflection.
This cycle was repeated four times, and participants could consume the
brew once, twice, three times, four times, or not at all. For me, the Daime
experience was associated with few alterations in consciousness.
There were no remarkable changes in perception, input-processing, memory,
subconscious processing, sense of identity, or motor output.
My major shifts were in emotions. I have seldom felt such complete peace
of mind or one-pointedness; I rarely have had such a complete immersion in the
here and the now. People on all sides of me were having very different
experiences. A friend of mine
shifted his identity remarkably, believing that he had turned into a huge
emerald. Another friend of mine was
escorted to the back room for individual counseling when she became overwhelmed
with grief after retrieving a painful memory.
A few members of the congregation had visceral reactions and went outside
to vomit (and were assured that their nausea was a positive
"cleansing" rather than anything negative).
It was clear that the ayahuasca
ritual produced difference experiences for everyone; in my case the experience
remained stable for about two hours. My cares and worries dropped away, as I
found my spiritual center, and was able to maintain this feeling of equanimity
for several months." This report was scored for "spiritual
emotion" (the "peace of mind") as well as for "spiritual
experience" (the "immersion in the here and now").
The CSSS defines "spiritual experiences" as
those "in which a sense of direct contact, communion, or union with
something that is considered to be ultimate reality, God or the divine; and/or
experiences in which one's sense of identity temporarily reaches beyond or
extends past his or her ordinary personal identity to include an expanded
perspective of humanity and/or the universe; and/or experiences where one
appears to enter a sacred realm or condition that goes beyond the ordinary
boundaries of space and linear time." The anthropologist Wade Davis' (1998)
took ayahuasca in the Colombian Amazon, reporting, "Reality
was not distorted, it was dissolved, as the terror of another dimension swept
over the senses....Then the terror grew stronger, as did my sense of hopeless
fragility....My thoughts themselves turned into visions....This was the actual
world, and what I had known until then was a crude and opaque facsimile"
(pp. 160-161). This excerpt was scored as a "spiritual experience" but
the reported "terror" also was scored as a "spiritual
A Buddhist meditator known as "Renata"
reported, "I felt totally alive, open, responsive, and fearless! Accepting
the fleeting nature of all, it was so simple to be fully present for every
moment. Perhaps for the first time ever, I felt an implicit trust in my capacity
to guide myself through the incredible labyrinth of dark and light. It is this
experience of trust which is perhaps what I value most from my journey"
(in Metzner, 1999a, p. 133). This report was also scored as a "spiritual
experience" as well as containing "spiritual emotions."
Peter Gorman (1992) has written a lengthy description
of his ayahuasca sessions. In one of them, he recalled, I
watched the bird from a great distance, then I felt myself merging with it.
Soon, I was looking down from the bird's perspective, my sharp eyesight picking
out minute details of the landscape below. I flew over a mountain range and
peered into a stream. I saw fish moving about, and watched rich hues of blue and
green sparkling from their scales. Unexpectedly, I tilted off the horizon and
plummeted toward them. I felt no fear, only hunger; I wanted a fish. I split the
water with hardly a splash and in an instant was racing skyward again with a
fish in my beak. A piece of it slipped into my stomach unchewed. I remember
thinking I didn't eat food that way (p. 51).
This excerpt does not meet the qualifications for
spiritual content because it does not suggest an encounter with "ultimate
reality" or "the divine." However, it could be regarded as an
example of a transpersonal experience in which "one's sense of identity
appears to extend beyond its ordinary limits to encompass wider, broader, or
deeper aspects of human, life, and/or the cosmos." Wade Davis' (1998) sense
of "dissolving" could also be regarded as transpersonal content in his
ayahuasca session. In other words, the CSSS allows investigators to
differentiate among spiritual, religious, and transpersonal content of
entheogenic reports; often there will be an overlap, but these terms are not
synonyms, and the overlap should not be taken for granted.
In working with dream reports, the same phenomenon
occurred; a dreamer reported feeling "temptation" to "take one of
the icons" on the wall of a church; this dream was considered to have had
religious content but not spiritual content. Another dream report mentioned
"the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Hebrew candelabrum" and the dreamer's
comment, "How impotent is religion in stopping the war." This dream's
religious content was not scored as "spiritual" because a sense of
reverence was lacking, an indispensable criterion for dreams scored for
On the other hand, there are many ayahuasca
reports that contain what Uniao do Vegetal Mestres
refer to as peia and cacete,
the torment that results from the thoughts and actions that have caused lack of
attention to spiritual growth. Annelise Schinzinger (1999) recollected, "One of my peias came in the
form of feeling I had wasted four hours of a session, because I had let my mind
be taken on 'monkey-mind' rides. When I returned my attention to what was going
on in the session, I realized how much of the session I had missed because of my
lack of will to concentrate....Experiences like this motivated me to focus my
attention more: on the spoken word, on the music being played, and on the flow
of energy" (p. 43). In this report, spiritual growth is revered, and
lack of attention to this growth has produced torment; hence this report was
scored for "spiritual experience." In addition, it demonstrates the link between belief and
action that Reese (1997) considers the operational marker of spirituality.
In summary, we would give a positive answer to our
question: "Is it possible to identify spiritual content in ayahuasca
reports, and if so, how?" Using our definition of the word,
"spiritual," we were able to find several reports of ayahuasca
sessions where spiritual content could be readily identified, using the Casto
Spirituality Scoring System.
of what Karasu (1999) has called "spiritual psychotherapy" will
recognize the potential therapeutic value of the CSSS. According to Karasu,
"this type of therapy has its own tenets, not as principles of therapy but
as principles of existence" (p.
143). Both spiritually-oriented psychotherapists and native shamans have
commented on "loss of soul" as a contemporary malady (Moore, 1991;
Krippner & Welch, 1993). Spiritual
psychotherapy, whether native or modern, is concerned with human anguish,
isolation, alienation, meaninglessness, and with existential guilt over not
living up to one's potentials (Karasu, 1999, p. 155). Many therapeutic schools
underplay their clients' spiritual dimensions, but Jungian, existential,
humanistic, and transpersonal psychotherapists are among the exceptions.
Karasu (1999) insists that "spiritual therapy is
not religious counseling" (p. 158). Religious counselors typically
represent organized and structured forms of spirituality with specific
traditions, proscriptions, and required rituals. By contrast, spiritual
psychotherapy rejects strict formality, substituting flexibility and freedom (p.
159). Kovel (1991) adds that everyone has the potential for transcendent
experiences. Spirituality is a path of contemplation in which the divine is
found in the given world and within ourselves (pp. 319, 546). Kovel's
description of "transcendent experiences" offers a term that might
encompass spiritual, religious, and transpersonal experiences. Karasu (1999)
states that "spiritual therapy seeks the self beyond itself, in order not
to be self-preoccupied; in short it is egoless. It is geared toward
self-transcendence, the love of others in a universal, timeless, and spaceless
field. Spiritual therapists help their recipients to relinquish self-serving
actions, to express compassion and forgiveness" (p. 161), he subsumes the
best of spiritual, religious, and transpersonal perspectives. Within this
framework, a spiritual psychotherapist could utilize material from ayahuasca
sessions to assist clients, using as analogues the practices of traditional
shamans in the Amazon throughout the millennia.
Adele brought a dream to one of us (SK) that had
originally recurred for about three years when she was a child, and now had
returned. The setting of the dream was a hilly countryside, and the dreamer was
seated outside a cave that seemed to be sacred. As she waited expectantly, a
faceless monk in a black robe entered the sacred cave, chanting, "In time I
come for everyone." Adele's feelings were fear, respect, and reverence.
This dream report was pivotal in allowing Adele to examine the existential
issues surrounding death, as it occurred at a time in her life when the
realization that she might lose family members became acute. Eventually, Adele
resolved these fears by focusing on the feelings of respect and reverence in her
dreams, concluding that death is part of the life process, and that an awareness
of its inevitability enhances the immediacy and enjoyment of each daily
activity. Similar cases might emerge when psychotherapists work with clients who
bring ayahuasca experiences to the therapeutic session.
The transformative power of an ayahuasca
experience is dramatically illustrated by Santo Daime Padrinho Sebastiao's
account of the first time he drank the beverage in Mestre Irineu's church:
"I drank the Daime, went to my corner and sat. After some time things began
to happen, and I became fearful. I got up to leave very quietly because everyone
was silent. I started to leave on tiptoe and as I passed by the place where
people drank the sacrament, the Daime enveloped me in an awful smell. It made me
go quickly back to my space. As I arrived on the bench, I heard a voice saying,
'The Mestre asked if you are a man, and up to now the only thing you have done
is moan.' Then my old body hit the floor and there it stayed. I was outside my
body looking at the old junk that was me.
"All of a sudden I saw two men who were the most
beautiful beings I had ever seen in my life. They were resplendent, like fire!
They began to take out my whole skeleton from within my living flesh without
hurting anything. As they worked, they vibrated everything from side to side,
and I, on the other side, was watching all they were doing. Next, they took out
my organs. One of them held my guts in his hands. Together they used a hook that
opened, separated, and extracted from my guts three nail-sized insects, which
were responsible for what I felt walking up and down inside me.
"Then the one who had been seated next to my
prostate body, which was still stretched out on the floor, came very close to me
and said, 'Here it is! What was killing you were these three insects, but now
you will not die from them anymore.' Then they closed my body. Do you see any
scars? There are none. Thank God I healed, like a child"
(De Alverga, 2000, pp. 74-75).
From this experience, Padrinho Sebastiao was initiated
into Santo Daime. The CSSS would score this for spiritual characters (the two
"beautiful beings"), spiritual activities (the "work" with
Sebastiao's body), and spiritual experiences (the out-of-body experience, and
the encounter with the two men from which Sebastiao "healed like a
child"). The bodily "work" is similar to that of many shamans who
are "called" to their profession by a dream or vision of
dismemberment, death, and rebirth (e.g., Krippner & Welch, 1992, p.67). In
the case of Sebastiao, he devoted himself to a spiritual mission that was
crucial to the development of the Santo Daime church.
Sebastiao's out-of-body experience is similar to those
reported by other people over the millennia (Alvarado, 2000), but are not a
rarity among ayahuasca experients. The U.S. researcher. Dennis McKenna (2000),
recalls a Uniao de Vegetal session, in 1991, in which he "heard a voice,
seeming to come from behind my left shoulder. It said something like, 'you wanna
see force? I'll show you force!' The question was clearly rhetorical, and I
understood that I was about to experience myself changed into a disembodied
point of view, suspended in space, thousands of miles over the Amazon Basin. I
could see the curvature of the earth, the stars below shone steadily against an
inky backdrop, and far below I could see swirls and eddies of clouds over the
basin, and the nerve-like tracery of vast river systems. From the center of the
basin rose the World Tree, in the form of a giant Banisteriopsis vine. It was
twisted into a helical form and its flowering
tops were just below my disembodied viewpoint" (pp. 155-156). In
retrospect, McKenna felt he had finally experienced the "true
profundity" and the ultimate "force" of ayahuasca.
This discussion would be incomplete without a
consideration of how ayahuasca-induced spiritual experiences meet criteria found
elsewhere in the literature. One of the most instructive models has been created
by Deikman (1980) to categorize mystical experiences; we feel that the same
model can be used to study spiritual experiences. According to Deikman's model,
experiences labeled "mystical" (or, for us, "spiritual")
embody an array of occurrences. They may be "untrained sensate,"
"trained sensate," or "trained transcendent." Untrained
sensate phenomena occur in individuals who do not actively practice a spiritual
discipline; they occur most frequently in natural settings or under the
influence of drugs. Trained sensate phenomena differ from untrained sensate
phenomena only in that the experients have prior knowledge or expectation of the
occurrence; hence, they may be prone toward interpreting their experience to
conform to their acquired learning. Trained transcendent phenomena are
experiences that have been cultivated through disciplined practice. Deikman
suggests that a sense of "ego-loss" (i.e., transpersonal experience)
is most characteristic of the latter category. We feel that the use of the CSSS
could test this hypothesis and other aspects of Deikman's model; spiritual
experiences involving "ego-loss" or what Deikman calls the "unity
of all things" could be compared across his three categories.
Additional research projects suggest themselves. Do
fantasy-prone persons (Krippner, 1993; Lynn & Rhue, 1988) report more
spiritual content from their ayahuasca
sessions than other experients? Does high spiritual content in ayahuasca
reports contradict or mirror scientific descriptions of the natural world?
Narby's (1998) speculations about the link between ayahuasca serpent imagery and the DNA double helix would suggest the
latter. Does high spiritual content in ayahuasca
reports parallel the recovery from drug addiction and other dysfunctional
behavior claimed by many ayahuasca
advocates (e.g., Richman, 1990-1991). Does the spiritual content in ayahuasca
reports support the proposition of some psychotherapists (e.g., Frank &
Frank, 1991) that myth, symbolism, and rhetoric are key elements of successful
psychotherapy in whatever form it is practiced? Is the vividness of ayahuasca imagery related to behavior and attitude change, as has
been reported by some Western psychotherapists (e.g., Achterberg, 1985)? In
addition, the CSSS allows investigators to chart the increase or decrease of
spiritual content during a single ayahuasca
session or during a series of sessions, leading to a better understanding of the
phenomenology of these occurrences.
Roberts (1999) has suggested that entheogen-induced
experiences may facilitate the functioning of the immune system. If such a study
is ever attempted, the CSSS would be one of several scales (e.g., Hood, 1975;
Pahnke & Richards, 1966; Whiteman, 1986, p. 656) that could be used to
identify and evaluate the spiritual content of reports by those individuals
whose immune functions are enhanced following the ingestion of ayahuasca.
Evolutionary models of spiritual growth (e.g., Combs & Krippner,
1999) could also be evaluated by the use of the CSSS in combination with verbal
A final research question is the origin of the brew
itself. Davis (1998) asks, "How did the Indians learn to identify and
combine in such a sophisticated manner these morphologically dissimilar plants
with such unique and complementary chemical properties?" (p. 166). Schultes
and Raffauf (1900) have commented, "One wonders how peoples...with no
knowledge of chemistry of physiology, ever hit upon a solution to the activation
of an alkaloid by a monoamine oxidase inhibitor. Pure experimentation? Perhaps
not. The examples are too numerous" (p. 9). Narby (1998) adds, "So
here are people without electron microscopes who choose, among some 80,000
Amazonian plant species, the leaves of a bush containing a...brain hormone,
which they combined with a vine containing substances that inactivate an enzyme
of the digestive tract, which would otherwise block the...effect. And they do
this to modify their consciousness. It is as if they knew about the molecular
properties of plants and the art of
combining them, and when one asks them how they know these things, they say
their knowledge comes directly from [the] plants" (p. 11). And, for now,
that may be the most parsimonious answer.
The words "ritual" and "ceremony" are
used in a variety of ways, but Krippner (1994) has made the following
distinction: "Rituals may be conceptualized as prescribed, stylized (often
symbolic), step-by-step performances of mythic themes; as such, they attempt to
promote social solidarity, provide for life transitions, and reinforce a
society's values, belief systems, and rules of conduct. Rituals are generally
performed in specific places, at definite times, by mandated persons. Although
used interchangeably with 'rite' and 'ceremony' by some
writers, it may be useful to define 'rites' as 'mini-rituals' of passage
from one stage to another (e.g., puberty rites, funeral rites) and 'ceremonies'
as elaborate 'maxi-rituals' that often include a series of rituals (e.g.,
coronation ceremonies, four-day Sun Dance ceremonies)" (p.183). Because the
ayahuasca sessions described in this
paper are elaborate events, we have used the term "ceremony" as a
Masters and Houston's (1966)
"sensory-perceptual" and "psychological-recollective/analytic"
levels roughly correspond to Grof's (1985) "biographical-recollective"
level, while their "symbolic-mythic" level resembles Grof's "perinatal"
level which, in turn, reflects his "basic perinatal matrixes" and
"systems of condensed experience." According to Grof, both the
"basic perinatal matrixes" and the "systems of condensed
experience" can incorporate "mythic sequences" (p. 97).
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Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., is professor of psychology at
Saybrook Graduate School in San Francisco. A Fellow of the Society for the
Scientific Study of Religion, the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality,
the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychological Society,
he has conducted field research in Brazil for three decades where he visited
several Santo Daime and Uniao do Vegetal centers. He is the editor of Dreamtime
and Dreamwork, the co-editor of Broken
Images, Broken Selves: Dissociative Narratives in Clinical Practice and Dreamscaping,
and the co-author of Dreamworking, The
Mythic Path, and Spiritual Dimensions of Healing. Dr. Krippner is the past
president of the Association for the Study of Dreams, the Association for
Humanistic Psychology, the Parapsychological Association, and the American
Psychological Association's Division of Psychological Hypnosis. He has worked
with shamans and shamanic healers on five continents, and has taken an active
role in protecting the cultural legacy of indigenous peoples.
Joseph Sulla is a psychology student who has taken
courses at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the University of
Hawaii. He has made five expeditions to various ayahuasca centers in Brazil
including Ceu do Mapia, where he learned about Santo Daime traditions,
participated in ceremonies, and studied local herbalism and Umbanda with
Madrinha Maria Alice Freire. Sulla's fieldwork resulted in much of the
historical material appearing in this article.
1: Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria
2: Santo Daime ceremony, Ceu do Mapia, Brazil (courtesy, J. Sulla)
3: Alex P. de Alverga (right) and Santo Daime church members singing hymns
(courtesy, D. McKenna)
4,5,6,7: Preparation of Ayahuasca by
Uniao de Vegetal temple, Brazil (courtesy, D. McKenna)
8,9,10: Research study of Uniao do Vegetal members,
11: Casto Spirituality Scoring System