Friday, November 30, 2012

Harold McMurray, 1:30 p.m, 30 Nov. 2012

He was such a rotten prick that often I wanted to hit him hard and knock him down and  make him hurt so badly that he'd shut up and never dare piss me off again. But he was my friend, so I let it go. And when I did he'd smile and tell a joke to relieve the tension, and because he was basically a decent man who hated himself more than he claimed to hate the world and everyone in it, I liked him for the good in him. One would have to know him a long time to see that good. But it was there for anyone who cared to see it. Now he's dead. I am the recorder, and this is the lasting testament.

Life might mourn.
Thus much and more; and yet thou lov’st me not,
   And never wilt! Love dwells not in our will.
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
   To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.
Lord Byron, "Love and Death" (C, 1824; pub. 1887.)

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part Four)

If you are like me, (and who isn't these days?) you have always wondered just what is or what are icaros? I finally couldn't stand the tension any longer and I looked it up. This is what I found. I feel that I am now a better person for it. OK, so it takes very little to improve me.

Among the Shipibo, Brabec de Mori points out, all songs are sung in the Shipibo language, with one exception—the ikaros, the songs used at ayahuasca sessions, the one song category that does not sound like other Shipibo songs, and the only songs that are sung in Quechua, or in vocables that, while not Quechua, are intended to sound like Quechua (Brabec de Mori, 2011, p. 36; Saéz, 2011, p. 140; Roe, 1982, p. 89).]

It's a question for a specialist, I think, to ask why if Iquitos in the deep Amazon is about 1,000 miles from Pucallpa by river, where the folks are Shipibo, and if Pucallpa is 600 or so miles from the Andes where they speak Quechua, why are ayahuasca songs sung in such a distant language? It's a question I would ask in conversation with an expert. I have a lot of questions about ayahuasca. Mostly I get babble in response. So, I turned to professional writers who have published accounts of their ayahuasca experiences. I am not really further ahead with information, but now I have better questions.

One question I have is why did the writer for Vanity Fair run away from Iquitos and do the ayahuasca story he was assigned to not about ayahuasca at all but about a loser living in London? The magazine paid a lot of money for the writer to produce a story about ayahuasca, and the writer did not deliver. He seems ot have run away. The deepest question I have here is, “Why?”

Is ayahuasca so scary that professional journalists can't bear to face the challenge of it? It might be so. The second writer here will describe her nightmare hallucinations in which she was covered in snakes and confronted the Devil. My question is why don't sophisticated people have hallucinations more upscale than the usual comic book scenario? The worst the mind can throw up is snakes and devils?! I must be living wrong. I have fears, for what it's worth. I fear that after two failed long-term relationships I am now too old and too worthless to be of any interest to the one girl who seems to be the ultimate girl for me. I fear I will lose her without ever having had a chance. I'm not afraid of being alone for the rest of my life: I'm afraid of not being able to love this girl for the rest of my life. Snakes? WTF? But that's just me. I will leave it to readers to decide for themselves what is to be feared and what is to be brushed off as the petty worries of an old man in the jungle.

When I first came to Iquitos by cargo boat many months ago now I was travelling with a young Russian girl who had zero interest in being polite. When I began hearing tales of ayahuasca, which I suspect I had never before heard of till I came here, I told her I might try it. She said, “Why?All you will do is find out about yourself; and if you don't know yourself at your age you have nothing to learn.” That's been my opinion, more or less, from the start. But still, I find it impossible to pass up a test of just how stupid can I get. Mostly I want to know about the stuff, because I'm curious, and if the only way I can find out for sure is by taking it myself, then so be it. I guess it's like sex. I asked about it for a long time, and then figured that even though it's dangerous and I might lose my mind from doing it I might try it anyway. No, it didn't work out the way I thought it would, but life is for learning, and that's what I will do here and beyond as we continue this look into ayahausca in Iquitos, Peru.

Here's some account by a writer at Vanity Fair.

I had recently traveled to Iquitos, a Peruvian city on the Amazon River, to investigate the use of ayahuasca, a much-storied hallucinogenic tea prepared from botanical ingredients native to the tropical rain forest and used by indigenous tribal peoples for purposes medical, magical, and ritual.

Inside the large front room of the restored farmhouse, the shaman’s advance man deployed ritual paraphernalia: candles, a rattle, a skin drum, mapacho cigarettes rolled from dark jungle tobacco, bottles of Agua de Florida, and one of a darker fluid. The shaman soon arrived and set to work with silent efficiency. He made a circle of the room, stopping to smudge each participant with mapacho-tobacco ash—which helpful spirits dote on—while shaking his shacapa, a traditional Amazonian leaf rattle. After the shaman’s purifying visit to me, I lay back on my mat and watched as he continued his preparations, singing icaros to the ayahuasca, a light-brown liquid, which filled about one-third of a two-quart plastic soda bottle. The shaman’s icaros are sacred songs that can be used to control the ceremony, to reinforce the ayahuasca visions or to take them away. My legs twitched involuntarily, the movement an outward manifestation of an impulse to flee.

The author did flee, in fact, and went to London to cover a stupid story about a failed project on the river started by a man he heard of while supposedly writing about ayahuasca. The stuff can be frightening, especially if one is a well established professional in the word business. Losing ones mind is bad, but losing ones ability to express how bad that is would be, for the writer, a fear unbearable. I'm not slagging the man at all. Ayahuasca can kill people. He took it anyway, much later.

My name was called. I rose, crossed to the small altar, and crouched before the shaman. He handed me a small cup. I gulped the contents. The shaman smiled and I returned to my mat. The plant medicine didn’t taste as horrible as most written accounts had suggested, nor smell as bad. My goal was simple: I’d been told I should try not to throw up for as long as possible, in order to derive the maximum benefit from the acrid jungle tea rumbling ominously in my gut. I lay back and waited, hoping for strong visions, if that was the will of the spirits.

I sat in the dark and listened to the rain, the celebrants’ groans and sighs in response to such visions as they experienced, to their belches, their passing of intestinal gas, their barking retches,.... Gemma too had visions she felt were significant. “In the beginning I saw a lot of faces among people I’d never seen. And in the beginning I saw, like, pink flowers … like a pink garland.” She was disinclined to analyze the experience: “When you start, like, being rational, thinking about it … like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen this, and I don’t want to forget …’ ” Gemma left her thought unfinished.

I had frequently heard, and as often read, that the ayahuasca experience is impossible to put into words.

Ted Mann, “Magnificent Visions.” Vanity Fair December 2011.

The “ayahuasca experience is impossible to put into words.” I think it's very likely true that if one is stupid enough everything is impossible to put into words. Ya just sit and drool and stare into space. I know we can do better, and here it comes.

A woman writing for National Geographic gets to the concrete and illustrates some harrowing emotional suffering under the influence of ayahuasca. Here is a severely abbreviated version of a very nice piece of work:

I will never forget what it was like. The overwhelming misery. The certainty of never-ending suffering. No one to help you, no way to escape. Everywhere I looked: darkness so thick that the idea of light seemed inconceivable. Suddenly, I swirled down a tunnel of fire, wailing figures calling out to me in agony, begging me to save them. Others tried to terrorize me. "You will never leave here," they said. "Never. Never."

I found myself laughing at them. "I'm not scared of you," I said. But the darkness became even thicker; the emotional charge of suffering nearly unbearable. I felt as if I would burst from heartbreak—everywhere, I felt the agony of humankind, its tragedies, its hatreds, its sorrows. I reached the bottom of the tunnel and saw three thrones in a black chamber. Three shadowy figures sat in the chairs; in the middle was what I took to be the devil himself.

"The darkness will never end," he said. "It will never end. You can never escape this place."

"I can," I replied.

All at once, I willed myself to rise. I sailed up through the tunnel of fire, higher and higher until I broke through to a white light. All darkness immediately vanished. My body felt light, at peace. I floated among a beautiful spread of colors and patterns. Slowly my ayahuasca vision faded. I returned to my body, to where I lay in the hut, insects calling from the jungle.

"Welcome back," the shaman said.

The next morning, I discovered the impossible: The severe depression that had ruled my life since childhood had miraculously vanished.

Kira Salak, “Peru: Hell and Back,” National Geographic. March 2006.

“When you start, like, being rational, thinking about it … like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen this, and I don’t want to forget …’ ” Gemma left her thought unfinished.

To people like Gemma, and she is one of a growing crowd of aggressive morons pouring out of our universities with degrees in idiocies, it is a bad thing to think rationally. Salak gives a clear account of her experiences. But going further we find that professionals are often little better than chatting with Gemma.

Salak continues:

At the vanguard of this [ayahuasca] research is Charles Grob, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at UCLA's School of Medicine. In 1993 Dr. Grob launched the Hoasca Project,

According to Grob, ayahuasca provokes a profound state of altered consciousness that can lead to temporary "ego disintegration," as he calls it, allowing people to move beyond their defense mechanisms into the depths of their unconscious minds—a unique opportunity, he says, that cannot be duplicated by any nondrug therapy methods. "You come back with images, messages, even communications," he explains. "You're learning about yourself, reconceptualizing prior experiences. Having had a profound psycho-spiritual epiphany, you're not the same person you were before."

To my untrained-in-psychiatry mind that statement seems little better than Gemma above. More words, polysyllabic, but still nonsense.

Salak continues again:

Fantastical scenes glide by, composed of ever-shifting geometric forms and textures. Colors seem to be the nature of these views; a dazzling and dizzying display of every conceivable hue blending and parting in kaleidoscopic brilliance. But then the colors vanish all at once as if a curtain has been pulled down. Blackness. Everywhere.

Dark creatures sail by. Tangles of long, hissing serpents. Dragons spitting fire. Screaming humanlike forms. For a bunch of hallucinations, they seem terrifyingly real. An average ayahuasca ceremony lasts about four to five hours. But in ayahuasca space—where time, linear thought, and the rules of three-dimensional reality no longer apply—four to five hours of sheer darkness and terror can feel like a lifetime. My heartbeat soars; it's hard to breathe.

I see dark, raging faces. My body begins to contort; it feels as if little balls are ripping through my flesh, bursting from my skin. The pain is excruciating. I writhe on the mattress, screaming.

And now they appear to be escaping en masse from my throat. I hear myself making otherworldly squealing and hissing sounds. Such high-pitched screeches that surely no human could ever make. All the while there is me, like a kind of witness, watching and listening in horror, feeling utterly helpless to stop it. I've read nothing about this sort of experience happening when taking ayahuasca. And now I see an image of a mountain in Libya, a supposedly haunted mountain that I climbed a year and a half ago, despite strong warnings from locals. A voice tells me that whatever is now leaving my body attached itself to me in that place.

My entire body hurts. My head throbs.

Kira Salak, “Peru: Hell and Back,” National Geographic. March 2006.

Salak's account ends on an upbeat. This is from National Geographic, after all. But the price she pays for her trip is higher than the average well-adjusted person would ever consider. There, though, is likely the key to the story as seen by so many who rage against Modernity. At the bottom of the following account I have highlighted the last sentence to draw attention to what I see as the neo-Puritan collectivist anger of so many so enraged by the success of those they feel deserve only pain. There is sadism, and it is accompanied by masochism. It is often mixed equally in the same person. The Puritan hatred of the quiet and happy private life of others seems to be for them, for the Gnostic, for the fascist, the worst thing to happen to him. To paraphrase about the Puritan, he is someone who fears that someone, somewhere, is having a nice time.”

The end of the rubber boom brought decay to Iquitos, leaving once-opulent mansions in disrepair. The city's resurrection has partly come from tour operators offering fishing and sightseeing deep in the forest. Now, the ayahuasca devotees are flowing in, searching for insight into their lives from a growing flock of local and foreign shamans, or medicine men. Tour operators say the potion -- and the ceremonies in which it is consumed -- has become a cornerstone of the local tourism industry.

William Grimes, a former soybean farmer from Indiana who has spent much of the past 12 years here... said that some of those who initially came for the ayahuasca were drug users looking for an LSD-like high. But that quickly ended, Grimes said, and most who now come are seeking ayahuasca's medicinal properties and the experience of indigenous rituals.

Some users go on a terrifying journey replete with nightmarish visions. Ayahuasca also induces a severe gastrointestinal reaction, leaving users retching and discharging from both ends. The physical and mental pounding from ayahuasca weeds out those looking for a quick trip.

"There is no way somebody would take ayahuasca as a recreational drug and then go out and party," said Malcolm Rossiter, an Australian who works at Blue Morpho. "This is what separates ayahuasca from hallucinogenic drugs. You don't just take it to have fun.”

Juan Forero, 21 August 2010.

In the next installment of this series I will talk to shaman in Iquitos and the area to ask what they think of ayahuasca. Eventually I'm goiong to take it myself and see if I can do better than Gemma. I ain't making no promises, but I certainly have some secret hopes.Maybe I can get my Shipibo girlfriend Amelia to help me write a song about it in Quechua so I can post it as an icaro/s.
A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part Three)

The epochal events of history are few, mostly over-lapping, and, I think, lasting for uncounted millenia, as in the case of hunting and gathering. The Agricultural Revolution begain, maybe, 7,000 years ago, and it is still not comprehensive in the world, hunter/gatherers still within an easy walk of where I live in the Amazon jungle. Nomadism too, is close by, looking to the Andes and the llama herders not too far away. For agriculture to come to the fore one must accept revolution as the good. Because it lasts, one has to admit it is better for most than previous modes of production. People do not willingly continue a bad practice on a world-wide scale for 7,000 years. When something better comes along, it must be immediately and demonstrably far superior to the previous. So it is with the Industrial Revolution of 1760, the beginning of Modernity. Like every revolution, the Industrial Revolution has its reactionary enemies. 
There were three other revolutions contemporary with the Industrial Revolution, world-shaking and continuously dynamic to this day: The American Revolution, bringing personal freedom to the masses for the first time in history, the right to own ones own life as private property in a state of equality at birth, i.e. that one is not born to class or privilege; there is the French Revolution, in which the aspiration was to greater freedom through the universal nation of patriots equal but beholden to the state for security; and, regrettably, the German Revolution, the counter-revolution of neo-fuedalism, of state supremacy, of collective identity, of rights bestowed from above by an intelligentsia of meritocratic authoritarians determined to control the masses at a macro level and to engineer through superiour intelligence, will to power, and sheer brutality and murder, a utopia of peasant authenticity in the industrialised new mode of production, i.e. state capitalism. It might come as a surprise to some that the German Revolution is directly engaged in ayahuasca “science” in the Amazon, that the figures of Frederick the Great, Bismarck, and Hitler are all points on a line that leads to ayahuasca celebration by Modernists in the jungles and lodges of Iquitos, Peru. True, there are other revolutions significant to this discussion, the proto-monotheistic revolutions from Zoroaster to Abraham, most prominent. In my time my mother continuously bought a range of revolutionary new cleaning products for the house, and my father bought a range of revolutionary new gadgets to putter with around the yard. Revolution in my time has become a cliché, and now it means next to nothing in conversation and often enough in academic journalism. But genuine revolution is significant to us nonetheless, and to have a sense of the significance of Modernist's imbibing ayahuasca we might profit from thinking about revolution in terms of our place and time and ayahuasca use as a part of a counter-revolution against Modernity stemming from the German Revolution we mostly know little to nothing of. We might see a religious revolution against monotheism and against Modernity as one counter-revolutionary, reactionary impulse among adherents of an intuitive fascism, an expression of counter-revolution in the use by some among the lower intelligentsia of entheogenic drugs. A moment then to look at the term entheogen.
Entheogen: [B]roadly, the term entheogen is used to refer to any psychoactive substances when used for their religious or spiritual effects, whether or not in a formal religious or traditional structure. This terminology is often chosen to contrast with recreational use of the same substances.

Further, “en·theo·gen [god within; god- or spirit-facilitating] a psychoactive sacramental; a plant or chemical substance taken to occasion primary religious experience.”

Finally, the etymological: 
The neologism entheogen was coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists and scholars of mythology (Carl A. P. Ruck, Jeremy Bigwood, Danny Staples, Richard Evans Schultes, Jonathan Ott and R. Gordon Wasson). The term is derived from two words of ancient Greek, ἔνθεος (entheos) and γενέσθαι (genesthai). The adjective entheos translates to English as "full of the god, inspired, possessed," and is the root of the English word "enthusiasm." The Greeks used it as a term of praise for poets and other artists. Genesthai means "to come into being." Thus, an entheogen is a substance that causes one to become inspired or to experience feelings of inspiration, often in a religious or "spiritual" manner.[8]

Entheogen was coined as a replacement for the terms hallucinogen and psychedelic. Hallucinogen was popularized by Aldous Huxley's experiences with mescaline, which were published as The Doors of Perception in 1954.

Psychedelic, in contrast, is a Greek neologism for "mind manifest", and was coined by psychiatrist Humphry Osmond; Huxley was a volunteer in experiments Osmond was conducting on mescaline.

Ruck et al. argued that the term hallucinogen was inappropriate owing to its etymological relationship to words relating to delirium and insanity. The term psychedelic was also seen as problematic, owing to the similarity in sound to words pertaining to psychosis and also due to the fact that it had become irreversibly associated with various connotations of 1960s pop culture. In modern usage entheogen may be used synonymously with these terms, or it may be chosen to contrast with recreational use of the same substances. The meanings of the term entheogen were formally defined by Ruck et al.:
In a strict sense, only those vision-producing drugs that can be shown to have figured in shamanic or religious rites would be designated entheogens, but in a looser sense, the term could also be applied to other drugs, both natural and artificial, that induce alterations of consciousness similar to those documented for ritual ingestion of traditional entheogens.

Some people aren't so sniffy.

Addressing the long-standing debate regarding appropriate terminology for consciousness-modifying plants and compounds, de Rios prefers the term “psychedelic”, or, somewhat surprisingly, “hallucinogen”. The latter, deriving primarily from the medical discourse, is surprising because it connotes a judgement regarding the ontological status of the experiences it denotes. It is unlikely, however, considering her decades-long work in this field and her approach to it, that de Rios would be intending to pass such a judgement. She has clarified this point with the understandable explanation that when publishing in medical and psychiatric journals, one must use their lingo. In contrast, de Rios does explicitly criticise the more recently coined term “entheogen”, meaning “creating [the one] God within”. In traditional societies where visionary plants are utilised, there are often numerous sources of spiritual power. Monotheism is a very late arrival in human prehistory, and the term “entheogen”, therefore, may not be appropriate for describing psychedelic plants utilised within these societies.

For those wanting to know what psychedelic means:
The term psychedelic, which means mind-manifesting, was introduced in 1957 by Humphrey Osmond, who hoped that this new label would liberate “scientific investigation from the enduring influence of the Psychotomimetic paradigm, which offered limited field application and a definite pejorative bias” (Yensen 1989:33). 
Evgenia Fotiou , “From Medicine Men to Day Trippers: Shamanic Tourism in Iquitos, Peru.” University of Wisconsin, Madison. 2010.

It is a grotesque mistake to assume that scientists are intellectuals; and it is even more grotesque a misunderstanding to assume that intellectuals are intelligent. Some yes, but few. The majority of working scientists are competent in their fields, and beyond that they have no better idea of anything about anything much than my retarded friend Clarence. My friend has the good sense, on the other hand, to refrain from making idiot comments about the stray ideas that pass through his rather poor mind. Not so with too many scientists and most intellectuals. Intellectuals are often enough no brighter than the retarded man I beat at chess. Those who write and speak about entheogenics demand skepticism from the average thinking person, all the moreso because the intellectuals promoting this term are promoting something far more than simple drug taking. They are, whether they know it or not, and one must assume that their colossal ignorance of history bespeaks itself of a broader ignorance generally, not informed about their field of study and interest. Further, given the base level of ignorance, they are not involved in a greater socio-political attempt to counter the revolutions of Modernity. Most of the men we will see involved in entheogenics below are probably simply not particularly intelligent. They are demonstrably ignorant. They are effectively sinister, even if unconsciously so, in terms of human freedom. Dangerous idiots. None of this should take away form our interest in ayahuasca, however. Ideally we should come away from this with a deeper and better understanding of ayahuasca use. 
The problem I see with the so-called spiritual Modernist is his pretension of all encompassing superiority over his fellow Modernist who has no such pretension toward Gnostic wisdom. The so-called spiritual seeker is prone then to making such statements about others, and as if it were proper, that, for example, one gets from taking ayahuasca, “the trip they needed, rather than the trip they wanted.” From a certain type of personality, using me for as an example, the speaker above would receive an instant invitation to sexually exit himself from my presence, and depending on the rapidity of or lack of removal from my presence he might then suffer facial contusions to go with his oral pretensions. And there, going so philosophically deep as to refer to the German Romantic philosopher Fichte, one can cite him in his fundamental contribution to the canon of all good learning, “It depends on what kind of person one is.” There is no principle underlying philosophical road that leads one a priori to prissiness and moralistic posturing. It is, very naturally and simply, a matter of personality. For a growing number of ayahuasca enthusiasts from the Modern, one finds a growing number of prissy philistines. One of the keys to seeing this clearly is in the use of the neologism, “entheogen.” Intention plays an essential and non-trivial part in the choice of drugs one might take, as we see in the case of ayahuasca users, but the foundational and true fact is that one is still a drug user. There is a qualitative difference between a man with a Ph.D in chemistry from an accredited university in California and an illiterate man shooting heroin in an alley in New York. Nevertheless, both are engaging in what is, aside from the arm twisting exemptions available to scientists, illegal. In Iquitos, Peru, using ayahuasca in tourist circles is an essential aspect of the local economy. At home, as it were, the same activity is a class one felony. 
Yes, but.

Yes, but no. Unless one is willing to accept the fact that taking illegal drugs is illegal, one is gaming the language to devious ends. Coining the term entheogenics is the work of an intellectual, persons merely clever without necessarily being intelligent, sneaky and clever but not the work of an honest mind. Further, what one sees in the use of a term like entheogen is a class snobbery meant to elevate by intellectual obscurantism ones pretensions to a level beyond criticism. The ayahuasca user from the heart of the Modern is not a low-life drug user, he is suddenly transformed into a spiritual seeker of societal value, deserving of esteem and riches and adulation for his Gnostic brilliance and rebellion against the evils of the flesh and the mundane. He is not a mere hedonist drunk at a party, he is not a mere loser smoking hash in a flop house with other losers; he is instead a scientist with a full doctorate in a legitimate field doing research for the general good of mankind. But he's still taking dope on the sly, regardless of his noble intentions for our benefit. I guess.... Today, the average highly educated intellectual is not generally capable of dealing with Latin, and the Greek scholar is so rare as to be limited to a handful of specialists in small departments at universities with grand endowments. One might find a weird middle aged guy living in the jungle in Peru who can sort of get through some Greek as well. To use a Greekish neologism is a sign of something to hide. At risk of belabouring the point, such people are phonies.

The phoniness of the “spiritual” drug user is his basic personality. A cursory reading of a range of religious biography will reveal the personality type in abundance, most familiar to my is the Puritan of New England, c. 1600-1800 A.D. But it is never the intellectual cause that causes the man to act, but it is the man who uses the cause to be himself. Like attracts like, and opposite do not like each other often. Phonies thrive on each others' phoniness. Using a Greek term that would have embarrassed Plato is not the sign of an honest man, and thus other dishonest men are attracted to it. But this is a special kind of phoniness, one that demands of its group a level of sophistication most do not aspire to. Being a sophisticated sophist is a banality most people would forgo. OK, they do avoid it. Who would want to be a first class phony? Well, the bitter second rate intellectual with first class pretensions to spiritual superiourity. 
Ayahuasca use didn't of course begin as a neo-Gnostic fad for failed post-modernist intellectuals. As we have seen above, it was used as a better way to puke out worms. The New Age sheen of spirituality in a bottle comes later. Closer to reality is my Shipibo girlfriend's ancient father, roughly my age, who lives in hut with a grass roof and dispenses medicine in the jungle in competition with the pharmacy in town. 'Dad' provides a service for the villagers. He's a normal and decent guy. He is not special or spiritual. He likes Inca Cola. He has no idea what the crisis of alienation in the Modern world means. 
Nor, I suspect, do people like Ralph Metzner have any genuine grasp of the problem of alienation in the Modern world. A featured lecturer in a naïve post-Nazi attempt at filmmaking for the gullible girls at a vegetarian cafe in Iquitos, the girls squating cross-legged on the floor underneath the tables all around them, they scratched themselves and chatted about their spirituality while eying a handsome young Australian who wanted nothing to do with them, Metzner substitutes angry and moralistic cliches on camera in an attempt to sound both Prophetic and scientific at the same time, coming across as an idiot.

From the film:

Himself (Metzner, Ralph): People who have power want to keep power. People who have wealth want to keep wealth. That's the primary motivation. Capitalism, what's called neo-elite model, is a dysfunctional model. It is not life sustainable. It does not support all of life. Half of the population on the planet is living under the poverty level. A billion people are permanently hungry.

In a popular book on string theory, Hyperspace (1994) or Parallel Worlds (2004), Michio Kaku quotes a famous physicist fed up with someone, saying, as I recall, “That's so stupid it's not even wrong.” Metzner is so wrong his statement about half the population today being under the poverty level because of capitalism that his statement is stupid beyond dispute. But how many intellectuals today understand that? How many kind of smelly girls at vegetarian cafes know it? The fact that every legitimate economist on earth knows that statement is fallacious means nothing to most people. Legitimate economists will not dispute that some and a shrinking number of people are living in poverty; the freer the market economy the higher the standard of living; those living in free market economies are now living at a level unimaginably higher in terms of provision than at any time ever. What is in dispute is not whether free markets create general wealth but how better to, and whether to, engineer economic equality among the economically successful and those who are, like me, on the bottom of the economic scale. Capitalism does not cause poverty, as any and every economist of worth will admit or explain. Only the peasant-minded German Revolutionary adherent will argue that resources are limited and must be managed by an intellectual elite for the good of mankind. Unfortunately there is no scarcity of such fools. Happily, the price for such fools is extremely cheap due to the oversupply and lack of demand. In short, Metzner is babbling about economics and he has no idea what he's on about. That is not his concern. His point has nothing to do with economics, which is why he is obviously content with his ignorance. His point and purpose in making his asinine statements is to further his position as a guru of the German Revolution. He will use his pseudo-religious Gnostic babble to further his personal agenda, based almost entirely on his personality and his need to satisfy himself as ego-driven failed intellectual in search of, not spirituality but of authenticity, which he cannot achieve due to his ground of alienation. Being a better phony is no cure. Meztner is not addressing the failures of capitalism; he is addressing his failures as a man in an alien world he cannot find an authentic place in. About this, more later. 

For now, another quotation from the post-Nazi film Entheogen:

Himself (Grof, Stanislav): So all these inauthentic tendencies to have more- need to double, triple the gross national product, something that guarantees good living standards- is a fallacy. Countries that achieved that- achieved high levels of economic standard- don't necessarily benefit from that emotionally. Actually, there's more violence, more suicide, and more alcoholism, addiction, divorce and so on. There's disconnection, direct disconnection, between economic achievement and a sense of well-being.

Sadly, I was not, as I thought, the first to coin the term “povertarianism.” That dubious honor goes to a writer criticising M. Gandhi for his pseudo-religious affectations. Grof, to his everlasting discredit, is actually more honest in his vileness than the idiotic Metzner above. Grof addresses the central problem of the pseudo-religious poseur advocating today the use of ayahuasca as a spirit-facilitating avenue. Phony like the others, Grof gives away the game in one short quotation above. He doesn't care if half the world's population is living in poverty: he likes it and wants us all to be living in poverty. The problem with capitalism is that it makes people wealthy enough to ignore intellectual charlatans like Grof. People with money enough to choose and pursue their own interests do not have to submit to the authority of a sadist like Graf who would punish them for their own moral benefit. Affluent people can afford to ignore a buffon like Graf. Or they can afford to pay for his books and lecture fees if that pleases them. And Graf is a salesman. He is selling moralism. “You and the world itself, Mother Nature herself, would be perfect if only you would give me all power so I can make things perfect for us all. I am special. I know the Mystik. Adore me. Give me your money. I will take care of your souls and dispel your alienation. Then you too will be morally superiour to those who pursue the mundane rather than my version of the oneness of the universe as seen though a glass bottle darkly.” I calls it phony. It is Povertarianism, a fake longing for a sentimental reversion of a nonexistent Golden Age of peace and plenty. It's a con game that only the affluent can afford to play and lose at. This is not what ayahuasca is about. But what is that? We'll turn here to early discovery by Richard Spruce, unsurprisingly, a botonist.

When and how was Ayahuasca discovered by the world outside the Amazon?

History of ethnobotanical research

The earliest Europeans to mention Ayahuasca were Jesuits travelling in the Amazon. One of the earliest such reports of this “diabolical potion,” written in 1737, describes it as: “an intoxicating potion ingested for divinatory and other purposes and called ayahuasca, which deprives one of his senses and, at times, of his life.”

The serious scientific study of ayahuasca began in the 1850s with the field investigations of the English botanist Richard Spruce.... In 1851, while exploring the upper Rio Negro of the Brazilian Amazon, he observed the use of yage among the Tukano Indians of the Rio Uapes in Brasil. He collected samples of Banisteriopsis and sent them home for chemical analysis. He came upon it twice in Peru in 1853. Seven years later, Spruce again encountered the same liana in use among the Guahibo Indians on the upper Orinoco of Colombia and Venezuela, and, later the same year, found it used the Záparo Indians in Peru near the Ecuador border. In his Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes, he described its sources, its preparation and its effects upon himself.

Spruce suspected that additives were responsible for the psychoactivity of this beverage, although he noted that Banisteriopsis by itself was considered active. The samples he sent to England for chemical analysis were not located and assayed until more than a century later. They were still psychoactive when examined in 1966.

One of Spruce’s greatest contributions was his precise identification of the source of caapi as a new species of the Malpighiaceae. The species was described and called Banisteria Caapi. Subsequent botanical studies showed showed that it belonged to not to the genus Banisteria but to the allied genus Banisteriopsis. The correct name now is, accordingly, Banisteriopsis Caapi.

Although Spruce’s discovery predates any other published accounts, it was not published until 1873, when it was mentioned in a popular account of his Amazon explorations, and his notes were not published in full until 1908. Credit for the earliest published reports of Ayahuasca usage belongs to the Ecuadorian geographer Manuel Villavicencio, who in 1858 wrote of the use of Ayahuasca in sorcery and divination on the upper Rio Napo. The experience made him feel he was “flying” to most marvelous places. He reported that natives using this drink were able “to foresee and answer accurately in difficult cases, be it to reply opportunely to ambassadors from other tribes in a question of war; to decipher plans of the enemy through the medium of this magic drink and take proper steps for attack and defense; to ascertain, when a relative is sick, what sorcerer has put on the hex to carry out a friendly visit to other tribes to welcome foreign travelers or, at least to make sure of the love of their womenfolk.”

Richard Spruce was a self-taught Victorian botanist who spent 14 years crisscrossing the jungles of Amazonia and the Andes Mountains collecting and cataloguing 30,000 plant specimens. During this time Spruce noted the use of a botanical brew known [as] ayahuasca. Spruce identified ayahuasca’s principal ingredient as the giant woody vine known to science today as Banisteriopsis caapi, although he never experienced ayahuasca’s effects himself.
After Spruce’s identification in the 19th century, it was Richard Evans Schultes who did much of the excellent taxonomic detective work in the 1940s and early 1950s. Schultes established that, in addition to Banisteriopsis caapi, ayahuasca tea contained admixture plants. Two of those identified by Schultes, Psychotria viridis (Chacruna) and Diplopterys cabrerana (Chaliponga), were found to contain a potent short-acting hallucinogen: N,N-Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT. As the active alkaloids in the ayahuasca vine—the beta-carbolines harmine, tetrahydroharmine, and harmaline—were known to be only mildly psychoactive on their own, Schultes and his students speculated that ayahuasca’s dramatic effects were the result of a synergistic interaction between the alkaloids in the vine and the DMT in admixture plants. This would prove to be the case.

Spruce found wood. I fail to see him discovering the cure-all for the ills of alienation due to capitalism. We have to leave that to geniuses like our modern scientists specialising in Mythology Studies. For some of that we can turn to a popular magazine feature. Ted Mann, “Magnificent Visions.” Vanity Fair December 2011.

There are three scientists involved historically with ayahuasca now, Spruce being the first. The next, of cursory interest, being Richard Evans Shultes.

From 1941 to 1953, Richard Evans Schultes explored the Amazon (especially the Colombian Amazon), researching the plant knowledge of Amazonian peoples. Schultes, later a professor at Harvard and author of many books, is regarded as the “father of modern ethnobotany.” He documented the use of over 2,000 medicinal plants in the Amazon, and dozens of species are named for him. He observed the use importance of Ayahuasca in indigenous cultures throughout the Upper Amazon. He recorded the fact that admixture plants varied widely, but observed the B. caapi vine or a close relative was the one constant in the brews.

Here's where Shultes becomes somewhat interesting to the general reader and curious person:

Richard Schultes, during his many years of botanical research in the Amazon region, encountered a number of indigenous peoples who use ayahuasca. His overview of its effects and uses is highly illuminating:
Ingestion of Ayahuasca usually induces nausea, dizziness, vomiting, and leads to either an euphoric or an aggressive state. Frequently the Indian sees overpowering attacks of huge snakes or jaguars. These animals often humiliate him because he is a mere man. The repetitiveness with which snakes and jaguars occur in Ayahuasca visions has intrigues psychologists. It is understandable that these animals play such a role, since they are the only beings respected and feared by the Indians of the tropical forest; because of their power and stealth, they have assumed a place of primacy in aboriginal religious beliefs. In many tribes, the shaman becomes a feline during the intoxication, exercising his powers as a cat. Yekwana medicine men mimic the roars of jaguars. Tukano Ayahuasca-takers may experience nightmares of jaguar jaws swallowing them or huge snakes approaching and coiling around their bodies … shamans of the Conibo-Shipibo tribe acquire great snakes as personal possessions to defend themselves in supernatural battles against other powerful shamans. The drug may be the shaman's tool to diagnose illness or to ward off impending disaster, to guess the wiles of an enemy, to prophesy the future. But it is more than the shaman's tool. It enters into almost all aspects of the life of the people who use it, to an extent equalled by hardly any other hallucinogen. Partakers, shamans or not, see all the gods, the first human beings, and animals, and come to understand the establishment of their social order.

The third person in this panel of ayahausca writers is less interesting to me than any other involved so far. I have nearly nothing to add to the polished bullshit p.r releases below. However....

Dr. Rick Strassman (B. 1952- ) Los Angeles, California, United States. Psychiatrist with a fellowship in clinical psychopharmacology research. Strassman was the first person in the United States after twenty years of intermission to embark on human research with psychedelic, hallucinogenic, or entheogenic substances. During the intermission period, research was restricted by law to animals studies only.

Strassman investigated the effects of N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a powerful entheogen, or psychedelic....

DMT is the active “psyche.” in the psychedelic process of ayahuasca, and Strassman is a psychologist who writes books about the combination and effect on those who use it.

Rick Strassman MD performed the first new human studies with psychedelic drugs in the US in over 20 years. His research involved the powerful naturally-occurring compound, DMT – N,N-dimethyltryptamine. Led to this substance through his earlier study of the pineal gland as a potential biological locus for spiritual experiences, he administered several hundred doses of DMT to approximately 60 volunteers between 1990 and 1995. He wrote about this research in the popular book, DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which has sold over 100,000 copies....

Dr. Strassman is currently Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He is also President and co-founder of the Cottonwood Research Foundation, which is dedicated to consciousness research.
Many of his research subjects were experienced psychedelic users, but they were unprepared for the intensity of DMT. One volunteer described his acute ten minute voyage into another dimension as being hit by a "nuclear cannon." While LSD allows the user a self-guided trip, the DMT experience has its own agenda, stripping the subject of any goals, expectations, and ego. As Stassman said, "DMT as the true spirit molecule, gave the volunteers the trip they needed, rather than the trip they wanted."

After 7 years he resigned from the University of New Mexico, and dropped out of the research study he created. He returned the drugs to an unnamed drug control facility and returned the grant money to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

I must learn this: To be a successful writer one must write the words “Spirit dancing balance healing.” My writing is not sustainable. I am a fascist, after all. Who knew? But there is more.
In a move not at all surprising here is a variant of “Replacement Theology” stemming from Western science attempting to show how those interested in ayahuasca have discovered the source of Hebrew revelation:

In 2008, psychology professor Benny Shanon published a controversial hypothesis that a brew analogous to Ayahuasca was heavily connected to early Judaism, and that the effects of this brew were responsible for some of the most significant events of Moses' life, including his vision of the burning bush.

It is that latter point that brings me to see the ayahuasca use among Modernists as a truly Gnostic endeavor. For more on that, though, one must wait. Later we will turn out attention to the shaman up the river an hour or so, and when I talk with him we might be able at last to leave behind-- for one installment-- the Crisis of Modernity and look directly at what ayahuasca is for those who use it traditionally.

In the coming installment here I want to turn to the most articulate writers I can find to get some idea of what drinking ayahuasca is about. There is more to ayahuasca than the typical comments along the lines of “Wow, man, that was heavy. And I puked really good, too.” Yes, there are some interesting accounts of this drug taking, and we'll look at some of those next time.

I will be offline for at least a short time, that depending on the girl in the jungle I am going to stay with. Longer away is definitively better for all of us. If she kicks me out quickly we will resume quickly our look at ayahausca in Iquitos, Peru. Regardless of when I resume, the next post on this topic will look at personal accounts of ayahuasca use by professional journalists, part four of this series, followed by interviews with local shaman in Iquitos, and ending with my own account of ayahuasca use. Yes, I am going to take that stuff. What kind of middle aged bum would I be if I travelled around the world and didn't for no good reason do stupid shit that could kill me. Till then, allow me to quote from memory Thomas Wolff, Electric Koolaid Acid Test

“No left turns unstoned.”

And remember, (as if you really forgot!) that reality is for people who can't face drugs.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Monday, November 26, 2012

Iquitos, Peru Below the Boards: The Scorpion Life

As something of a joke I asked Alfredo to come with me on a treasure hunt at Belen to see what exotic stuff we could find to impress the folks back home. I live in dark and dirty places often, and my life exposed would shock and horrify most people who live the life of my fellows, those middle class people like Alfredo, one of whom I think I am in most ways in spite of my travels into the other realms of humanness. I look around, I see things, I wonder, and I look ever deeper. At some point I must have lost sight of the boundaries of middle class normal. I like Belen very much. I feel good there. And finding the best of stuff that others likely have not seen makes me feel all the better in my explorations. I found what I was looking for. I found the ultimate treasure.

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahausca (Part Two)

Iquitos gets “46-150 thousand visitors” [] per year, which is no good guess at all but better than I would do. Tourists are thick on the ground at the Plaza de Armas, and tourism is a major industry in the area, at least rivalling the oil and gas industries and forestry. Tourists generally spend a lot of money, don't dig holes, and don't cut anything up or down. They do have a lasting impact on the city and surrounding area nonetheless, not all of it beneficial. But there are tourists and there are tourists, and the lack of benefit isn't seen in the local population so much as it is taken back home, to America, to Europe, and then spread strangely throughout the world in ways one can't fully explain as yet, though I will attempt a preliminary interpretation at the conclusion of this series. There are three main types of tourists in Iquitos, only one of which is of interest here, those being the drug-taking “New Age” tourist who come to take the locally legal ayahuasca, a class one felony drug most other places. In Iquitos, ayahuasca is a big deal. Most tourists come to Iquitos to see the Amazon for its wildlife and jungle scenery, for a few days or so at an upscale lodge in safe and comfortable surroundings and a day or two floating on a small cruise ship on the Amazon River; but a significant number come specifically to take drugs. I've talked in depth with a hundred of the later, and so far I am really no further ahead. Thus, I decided to be a little more aggressive in finding out about ayahuasca, why people would risk death to take it, and what they think they gain from the experience. Honestly, most of those I have spoken with are so inarticulate as to embarrass the average idiot. But not all of them are stupid. Below is the first installment of what I hope will be at least three accounts of ayahuasca users and shamans. The first is from a young woman from Alaska. I hope to speak with an American expat who conducts ayahuasca “ceremonies” as they are called. And finally I hope to record a talk I will have with a native shaman in the deep jungle.

First, a bit of background.

"Ayahuasca itself means 'vine of the soul'."

" 'Aya' means dead or spirit and 'huasca' means vine."
Ted Mann, “magnificent Visions.” Vanity Fair December 2011.

First, an account from an American woman, followed by some background about ayahuasca.

I don´t mind sharing my story as I have been out here for three years working with ayahuasca and quite a few different healers, and it is important for people to understand what they are getting into when they decide to come to Peru to and work with medicine and healers.

I was born and raised in Alaska. Before I discovered the ¨medicine path,¨ I was working as an intern at the National Congress of American Indians in Washington, DC, the largest advocacy organization in the States. I had planned to go to law school to study Native American law and continue the work, but before doing so, had decided to take a vacation to Mexico and do some travelling for a few months.

Four months after arriving in Mexico (where I spent my time traveling around the different provinces, bar-tending on beaches and having a wild adventure with other world travellers), a friend emailed me to tell me about a gathering in Cusco, Peru. He mentioned that is was a ¨spiritual¨ gathering and that there would be indigenous elders from throughout the Americas (North America, Central America and South America) in attendance; wisdom keepers, mystics and medicine men. He insisted that I attend and offered to pay my fare. I couldn´t say no. A week later, I found myself in Cusco, Peru, shaking hands with the organizers of the gathering.

We spent a week together, discussing issues that were beyond me (as I had never heard of the different prophecies that were being discussed, such as the Mayan 2012 prophecy, the Hopi prophecy or the Incan prophecy of the Eagle/Condor), and visiting different sacred sites in the Sacred Valley. I learned quite a bit about the different philosophies during my time with the group, but could not process their significance at the time as the information I was receiving was new to me.

Three days before the gathering came to an end, the organizers of the conference, whom I had befriended, invited me on a trip they had planned, a trip to Iquitos, to the Amazon, to drink ayahuasca with native healers at a healing center they had found on the Internet. “What's ayahuasca?” I asked. I had never heard of ayahuasca before and to tell you the truth, had no desire to travel to the Amazon as the thought of the heat, humidity and insects disturbed me. But they offered to take care of expenses, the flight and three days at the center... and I couldn´t say no. Three days later, we found ourselves stepping out from the cool interior of an air conditioned airplane into the hot, humid and wet atmosphere of the Amazon jungle. One short boat ride later, and we arrived at Refugio Altiplano, one of the most incredible healing centers in the Peru.

That night, we drank ayahuasca and the experience I had changed my destiny. We stayed for three days and I attended ceremony every night. My friends left after their three day stay had ended, and I stayed for another week and a half, drinking ayahuasca almost every night. The experiences I had during my time at Refugio were intense and surreal, and it was difficult for my logical mind to process what was occurring at the time.

When I left Peru and returned to Alaska, everything had changed. My mind, my perspective, how I saw the world. I no longer had the desire to attend law school and became confused and unsure about my path in life. It was difficult for me, and in order to cope I began to seek out activities to help me to process what I had gone through in Peru. I started meditating at the local Thai Buddhist temple in Anchorage, practicing yoga, and started reading books to learn about the many different religious philosophies that exists in the world. (One of my favorites and the one that helped me to process and comprehend what I had experienced during my time in the jungle of Peru, was the Upanishads). I started working with a local Lakota medicine man, doing sweat lodges at his home, but always felt like I wasn't receiving whatever it was that I needed, and began looking for other healers or ¨shaman¨ to connect with throughout the State. There were none. It was then that I decided to search elsewhere, and ended up moving to Taos, New Mexico, to volunteer at the Cottonwood Research Foundation with Dr. Rick Strassman (DMT: The Spirit Molecule), in order to connect with people whom I thought would understand what I was going through at the time.

While in New Mexico, I started attending ¨meetings¨, peyote healing ceremonies with local indigenous healers. They were amazing; but again, I felt as though something were missing. I was always haunted by Peru and could not stop thinking about ayahuasca. For three years, I felt a strong pull to return and did everything that I could to find my home in the States, a place that would connect me with the world that I had discovered in Peru. That didn't happen, so three years later, I quit my job, gave up my apartment and sold my car, and bought a one-way ticket to Peru. ¨We will just see what happens¨ I thought to myself as I prepared for the journey. ¨One day at a time¨ as my grandpa used to say. Descending over the Amazon into Iquitos, blessed with the most gorgeous areal view of the Amazon, I
felt that I was coming home. I had no idea what was to come but didn't care. I knew that this was where I needed to be.

This was three years ago. I have been here in Peru for over three years, learning about ayahuasca healing and working with many different healers throughout the country. I lived with native Shipibo healers for a year and a half, which helped me to learn about the depths of the world that exists here, the medicine world, a world that is ancient and alive - filled with magic and wisdom. I have worked and volunteered at many different healing centers, which has allowed me to gain much experience in this work. My experience here in Peru, working with ayahuasca and being immersed in this world, has been incredible. It has been difficult, challenging... and many times, it has almost killed me, in the literal sense. But it has a blessing. There are no words to describe how incredible, beautiful, and filled with magic this world is; and the gratitude I feel in my heart, brings me to my knees. I would go through Hell a million times to be here now and exist here now, in this medicine world. We are divine; but to exist with an awareness of that requires a sacrifice. We must sacrifice ourselves to live with an
awareness of the divinity that exists all around us... but there, we are home.

I have learned more about life in these three years than I had living in the States. I have learned how to survive. I have learned how to exist in the wild, which has helped me to discover and embrace the wild aspect within myself. I am still learning and it is still very challenging for me, but I have learned how to suffer with joy in my heart. I feel very blessed to be here, to be doing this work, and to have the opportunity to help others to experience the magic of ayahuasca -- to be there when they are journeying
inward, learning about themselves, their minds, and the world that they exist in. I love helping people to heal. I love when they purge, when they cry in ceremony, and it brings me joy... because I know that although they are suffering, they are healing. They are releasing. They are ridding themselves of the sickness of the world so that they can become who they truly are inside... so that they can shine. This is what medicine is all about. Medicine is the work of God. Medicine is love. And this is why I am here [in Iquitos].

I have a lot of questions about ayahuasca, one of which is where did it all begin?
How in the world did indigenous peoples in the Upper Amazon come up with the idea of combining DMT with an MAO inhibitor?
Many shamans will claim, of course, that the plants themselves taught humans how to do this. Other commentators point to some mysterious ecological wisdom found only in indigenous peoples. If we put aside these explanations, then I think the answer may be simple. I think people were looking for a better way to vomit.

The more I ask about ayahuasca the more I encounter and continuously encounter what I now call the “Heavy Thesis.” In the late Sixties the word “heavy” became a favoured term among the inarticulate for expressing something as profoundly positive. “Wow, man, that was heavy.” One sees the origins of the term in a popular piece of music by a group called Iron Butterfly, an impossibly heavy thing. Due to the nature of the music, one sees from it the genre called Heavy Metal. Heavy was therefore an ominous and attractive experience. Though the words change over the decades and few would use the word heavy today to describe their ayahuasca experiences, really, “heavy” is about as good as it could get. On the other side of the ledger there are those who are more articulate-- after a fashion: the academically trained who write books about their drug experiments. Strassman, per above, is one such. Strassman is a scientist, though one might doubt his commitment to (previous) societal standards.

Societies change, and often not for the better, merely one bad thing is swapped out for a different. The “spirituality of today is not significantly different from that of Central Europe in the 1920s, a long and ugly experience that most seem to have learned nothing positive from. The quest for Gnostic perfectioin remains. It is not, I think, a hedonist quest on the part of most, but a societal failing. People turn away form the normative and the possibly better for the sake of the assumed perfect. Those such as Strassamn, having learned nothing from history, keep trying the same, if forgotten, paths to enlightenment. It's something of an intellectual pursuit. Neither Strassman nor anyone else drinks ayahuasca to get psychotic. It doesn't work that way. One can buy plastic sacks of ayahuasca by the kilogram at Belen Market in Iquitos, Peru, and it costs next to nothing. One could mix up gallons of the stuff, or just buy a two litre soda bottle of it and drink it on the spot while standing in the muck amid the vultures all around in the heat and stink of the day. One gets no thrill. It's not the ayahuasca. It's the other thing, far less exotic sounding, not at all mysterious, and actually banal; it's that thing, that thing that gives off no aura of spirituality or a sense of “seeking.” The magic stuff has all hip pizazz of a new four door sedan Honda: DMT. Otherwise, it's known locally as chakruna, and one can buy it too by the kilo for 50 soles, or about $20.00 U.S. But it won't get you high. It takes the mix of ayahuasca and chakruna to reach the lift off. That takes some knowledge and skill, and that is where the shaman come in. He stays in because of the powerful effect such a potion has on the mind of most, though not all.

DMT, when taken orally, is inactivated by peripheral monoamine oxidase-A, an enzyme found in the lining of the stomach, whose function is precisely to oxidize molecules containing an NH2 amine group, such as DMT.

There are thus two ways to ingest DMT or plants containing DMT. The first is by parenteral ingestion—using a route other than the digestive tract, such as smoking, injection, or inhalation—which bypasses the MAO in the stomach lining. For example, a number of indigenous peoples around the Orinoco Basin in Venezuela inhale a snuff called epená, made from the resinous fluid in the inner bark of several trees in the genus Virola that contain large amounts of DMT (Schultes 1954; Seit, 1967; Schultes & Swain, 1976). Similarly, the Guahibo Indians of the Orinoco Basin use a snuff called yopo—also called cohoba, vilca, and huilca—made from the DMT-rich beans of the plant Anadenanthera peregrina (De Budowski, Marini-Bettòlo, Delle Monache, & Ferrari, 1974; Mckenna & Towers, 1985; Ott, 1996, p. 164-165).

Here is some more for those overachieving science nerds among us.

But it is also possible to mix the DMT with an MAO inhibitor that prevents the breakdown of DMT in the digestive tract. And that is just what the ayahuasca vine contains—the beta-carbolines harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine, which are potent inhibitors of MAO-A. Combining the ingredients of the ayahuasca drink allows the DMT to produce its hallucinogenic effect when ingested orally—a unique solution that apparently developed only in the Upper Amazon. The gastrointestinal effects of the beta-carboline MAO inhibitors additionally make the ayahuasca drink a powerful emetic and purgative.

And for those living in mom's basement who haven't blown up the place yet, here some science stuff I don't even want to read at all.

Ayahuasca is consumed in the form of a brew, which is prepared from the stems of Banisteriopsis caapi or B. inebrians combined with other plants in order to induce a hallucinogenic experience. The most common of these plants is Psychotria viridis or chacruna (Schultes and Hofmann 1992). A number of other admixture plants discussed in the literature (Schultes and Hofmann 1992, McKenna et al. 1995) p.8 as well as in chapter 7 are also often added to the brew. The active hallucinogenic substance in the ayahuasca brew is N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is actually present in a number of plants–such as Psychotria viridis and the widely distributed Peganum harmala (Syrian rue)–as well as the human brain (Strassman 2001). DMT by itself is not orally active, due to inactivation by peripheral Monoamine Oxidase (MAO) in the human gut and liver (Shulgin 1976, McKenna 1984). Therefore, to render DMT orally active it needs to be administered with an MAO inhibitor; B. caapi contains harmine and other ß-carboline alkaloids, which are potent MAO inhibitors (Rivier and Lindgren 1972, McKenna 1984, Callaway et al. 1994: 295, Callaway et al. 1999).

Evgenia Fotiou , “From Medicine Men to Day Trippers: Shamanic Tourism in Iquitos, Peru.” University of Wisconsin, Madison. 2010.

Chemistry. Flunked it in high 'school cause I was dropping too much acid. That would be ingesting LSD, whatever that stands for.

Ayahuasca has been around for a long time. If it predates Christianity and ones conservative parents, then it must be more “authentic” than some dusty old prejudices that bore one to tears with petty restrictions about living a humble if constructive life. If a religious practice is older than all things we know of that we call the Modern, then such a practice must be untouched by our Modern failings of imperfection, and thus might be “perfect.” To find some religious ritual that includes mind-altering drugs in the jungle with “indigenous” people adds to the mystique. Or maybe we just bring our own bullshit to the jungle and see what we want to see.

Writers on ayahuasca have often proposed that the use of the drink is very ancient; the date of about 5000 years BP recurs frequently.

The claim that the ayahuasca drink has been used for 5000 years has become formulaic. A quick search of ayahuasca tourist and related websites reveals virtually identical statements of this claim: “The use of Ayahuasca has been recorded over 5000 years ago by the natives of Amazon and surrounding areas,” “Ayahuasca has been known to people for over 5000 years,” “This plant medicine has been used for over 5000 years throughout the Amazonian basin,” “Ayahuasca has been used for over 5000 years.” These examples could be multiplied.
And this claim is, in fact, remarkable. Just for perspective, the date of 3000 BC would make the origins of the ayahuasca drink as old as the founding of the first Egyptian dynasty, five centuries older than the reign of the Sumerian king Gilgamesh, and almost ten centuries older than the earliest South American devices yet discovered for the ingestion of DMT-containing plants—two pipes found in association with Anadenanthera seeds in northwest Argentina, which have been radiocarbon dated to 2130 BC, and which had residues that tested positive for DMT (Torres, 1995, p. 312-314).

Why such extraordinary claims for which support is so thin? I think there are two reasons. The first is that, in an attempt to legitimate ayahuasca use, its proponents invoke the culturally resonant trope of a millennia-old indigenous wisdom. The second is the odd affectation of European colonialism that indigenous people are without history—that, unlike Europeans, they are unchanging in their isolation and innocence. It then follows that the practices of present-day indigenous peoples must reproduce the practices of thousands of years ago.

The Great Chain of Being has myriad links, but when it reaches the ground the point is that there are two classes of people in the world: Those that got and them that ain't. There are the peasants and there are the privileged, the later being born into their right stations whereby they get because they are born, and those born poor are destined to remain so. All of the universe makes perfect, if miserable sense. One is poor, by the odds, but one is secure in the perfect knowledge that the universe makes sense. Miserable, yes; but it is a secure and reassuring misery that when one dies there is heaven awaiting the patient. Modernity, on the other hand, is destructive of all class impositions, and it drives some men to rise to heights unimaginable to most, rich or poor. In an orderly univers, the poor peasant will always be poor, and thus like all other poor people. To see suddenly a poor man become rich is to disrupt the natural order of the universe. Why him and not me? Why him at all when one knows the rich are few and anyone else with anything must have stolen it from its rightful owner? Poverty is equality, and wealth is theft. In a right universe the thieves are aristocrats and priests, given their privileges by the ruler of the universe. For a peasant to rise is a crime on its face. Even for the peasant today in midtown Manhattan, to be rich is to be guilty. Thus, so often, one finds the relatively wealthy Modernist peasant in a suit at the office longing for the world of Order in which one knows ones miserable place and accepts it, seeing all others as like him, the exceptional man being given his place by God. The alienated and resentful peasant in the suburbs working for the government might even hate the successful man who rises of his own accord, breaking the intuitive Great Chain. Back, then, to the real, to the jungle, where money is less important than social skill. Where money is not the defining currency but where spirituality counts and one can be poor and righteous. Often this affliction of Modernity is a flight of the spoiled Modernist into the idiocy of philobarbarism and the hatred of ones own successful society of inequality and wealth, the ugly and stupid as rich as the beautiful and privileged of yore. Talent, ability, luck, skill, energy, all of it is an affront to the man who has to look at another just like himself and wonder how that man did so well without being a good man at all. There is no justice in it. There is justice in the simple life of poverty and spirituality. Back to the jungle.
Europeans had begun to explore the Amazon as early as 1541, and the ritual use of psychoactive snuffs was known to the Spaniards from the early days of their arrival in the New World. Along with the conquistadors there came chroniclers and explorers, often curious about the nature and practical uses of New World plants. For example, the Spanish chronicler Polo de Ondegardo, writing in 1571, records the use of vilca by what he called sorcerers, hechiceros; in 1582, the Relaciones Geográficas de la Provincia De Xauxa describes vilca as a bean used in conjunction with tobacco snuff (Torres, 1995, p. 297; Torres & Repke, 2006, p. 26). There are no corresponding descriptions of the use of either the ayahuasca vine or drink.
Similarly, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish missionary priests wrote vivid and horrified descriptions of the effects of snuffed DMT-containing Anadenanthera, as well as the snuffing and drinking of tobacco, but no similar accounts of ayahuasca. Written descriptions of ayahuasca use do not appear until the eighteenth century, apparently first by the Jesuit Pablo Maroni, published in 1737, and then by the Jesuit Franz Xavier Veigl, published in 1768, who writes of “the so-called ayahuasca, which is a bitter reed, or more specifically, a liana. It serves for mystification and bewitchment” (Brabec de Mori, 2011, p. 32).

The evidence seems to show that drinking ayahuasca as a pathway to enlightenment is relatively recent among natives of the Amazon, not that it detracts from the effects of drinking it now. It is what it is. But being what it is is unsatisfying to many who hate the disorder of Modernity, its frightening challenges to the equality of oppression, ignorance, and poverty. To be worthy of the affectations of the philogarbarist, drinking ayahuasca must be old beyond reckoning. It seemingly isn't.

The evidence seems to point to ayahuasca drinking with DMT to be relatively recent, not the millenias old ritual Modernists so long for. But if one doesn't know and doesn't care to know, one can repeat the accepted cliches and idiocies of the age as if. Those who seek the Perfect might start with the plain facts.

The first ethnobotanical account of ayahuasca dates from 1851, although not published until 1873, when the English botanist Richard Spruce encountered the vine among the Tukano of the Rio Uapes in Brazil, who called it caapi. Two years later, Spruce again encountered the same vine in use among the Guahibo on the upper Orinoco, and, in 1857, among the Záparo in the area of the Pastaza river on the border of Ecuador and Peru, who cultivated the vine and from whom he first learned the name ayahuasca (Riba, 2003, p. 3-4).

Putting all of this together, it becomes a plausible hypothesis that the ayahuasca drink—the combination of the ayahuasca vine with a DMT-containing companion plant—originated, not 5000 years ago, but rather much more recently, perhaps in the seventeenth century. There is certainly considerable evidence for the much earlier use of DMT-containing plants by snuffing, and perhaps some small evidence as well for the use of the ayahuasca vine by itself, perhaps without companion plants, either for its emetic and purgative properties or perhaps for its own independent visionary effects, along with other sacred plants such as tobacco, the San Pedro cactus, and perhaps any of several Brugmansia [toe, prn. "tow-ay"] species. But, before the eighteenth century, with regard to the ayahuasca drink, there is silence.

Spruce writes about ayahuasca:
One of the earliest Western encounters with ayahuasca was recorded in 1853. The author was Richard Spruce, a former British schoolteacher, who was a botanist looking for new plants to collect and classify in the Vaupés area in Colombia. In 1851, while exploring the upper Rio Negro of the Brazilian Amazon, he observed the use of ayahuasca. In 1853, he encountered it twice in Peru. He published his observations in “Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon and Andes” (Spruce 1908) and as William Emboden (1979:101) indicates, “a more eloquent ethnobotanical chronicle has yet to appear”. Spruce became one of botany’s greatest collectors. He had heard of B. caapi before but while staying at the Ipanoré Falls, a group of Tucano Indians invited him to a feast and offered him a cup of the “nauseous beverage”. This is how he described what he witnessed that night: In two minutes or less after drinking it, the effects begin to be apparent. The Indian turns deadly pale, trembles in every limb, and horror is in his aspect. Suddenly contrary symptoms succeed; he bursts into perspiration, and seems possessed with reckless fury, seizes whatever arms are at hand, his murucú, bow and arrows, or cutlass, and rushes to the doorway, while he inflicts violent blows on the ground and the doorposts, calling out all the while: “Thus would I do to mine enemy (naming him by name) were this he!” In about ten minutes the excitement has passed off, and the Indian grows calm, but appears exhausted. [Spruce 1908:419-420] Spruce himself had a cup of the brew but did not participate in the ritual and retired to his hammock after having a cup of coffee. He also reported the experience as described to him by other white men who had partaken in the ritual. He says that these participants felt alternations of cold and heat as well as fear and boldness. They also reported distortions in their sight and rapid visions that alternate between the magnificent and the horrific (Spruce 1908). Spruce suspected that additives were responsible for the psychoactivity of the beverage, although he noted that B. caapi by itself was considered psychoactive. The samples he sent to England for chemical analysis were located and assayed in 1966, when it was determined that they were still psychoactive. 1957). These accounts were also republished in popular periodicals and spread knowledge about ayahuasca and its use for divinatory purposes. (Fotiou: p.110)

In her doctoral thesis, Fotiou writes that:

misconceptions about shamanism abound. They[drug tourists]  believe that this form of shamanism has been practiced exactly this way for thousands of years. They overlook the historical and cultural context of shamanism; for example Amazonian cosmology is ignored, because it does not fit life in the West. They also overlook the ambiguous aspects of shamanism, which will be discussed in chapter 4, such as sorcery, even though now they are starting to take them into account, as more and more have been involved in cases of sorcery. In addition, tourists have unrealistic perceptions of indigenous and local people. They romanticize them only to be disappointed in their first few days in Peru. Dobkin de Rios also addresses this issue when she argues that drug tourists “...see the Noble Savage in the visage of the urban poor carpenter, tradesman, or day laborer. They see exotic people of color untouched by civilization, who are close to nature... drug tourists perceive the natives as timeless and ahistoric” (1994:17). Fotiou, P. 136
Evgenia Fotiou , “From Medicine Men to Day Trippers: Shamanic Tourism in Iquitos, Peru.” University of Wisconsin, Madison. 2010.

The evidence seems to show that drinking ayahuasca as a pathway to enlightenment is relatively recent among natives of the Amazon, not that it detracts from the effects of drinking it now. It is what it is. But being what it is is unsatisfying to many who hate the disorder of Modernity, its frightening challenges to the equality of oppression, ignorance, and poverty. To be worthy of the affectations of the philogarbarist, drinking ayahuasca must be old beyond reckoning. It seemingly isn't. But what is it? Drinking hallucinogenic ayahuasca is definitely something, and something, for most, very big. It is, to many, cosmic. It's even heavy, man.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book: