The relationship between the human species and plants capable of altering body and mind is millenarian. People have developed a harmonic relationship with these plants, and frequently they have had a great influence in the human and cultural development of many societies and civilizations.
The use of ayahuasca originates from the Amazon region in countries including Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. For centuries, indigenous peoples have utilized this botanical mixture in their rituals for healing or divination, as well as other activities such as witchcraft and warfare. It is known that at least one of the plants used in the ayahuasca preparation has been used for millennia. This plant, known by the botanical name Banisteriopsis caapi, is a vine that grows in the entire Amazon and has been used by numerous cultures for its emetic effects and other somatic symptoms. The main botanical species this plant is combined with are the bush Psychotria viridis (Chacruna) and Diplopterys cabrerana (Chacropanga), but many admixtures are used in traditional recipes, such as tobacco, varieties of Brugmansia, Brunfelsia, etc.
Extension of its use
Ayahuasca has been traditionally used by many ethnic groups such as the Shuar in Ecuador or the Shipibo-Conibo in Peru, who continue using ayahuasca, as well as many other plants, for medicinal and divinatory purposes today. Ayahuasca has a central role in these cultures’ world views.
The widespread use of ayahuasca is not restricted to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon; it can also be found in the mestizo populations in the rural and urban areas of countries such as Colombia, Peru and Brazil. In such places, ayahuasca is used for the purpose of healing and other ritualistic activities, where the boundaries that divide indigenous traditions from elements of other cultures often are blurred.
Approximately eighty years ago, non-indigenous groups who incorporated the use of Ayahuasca into their religious rituals began appearing in Brazilian cities in the Acre and Rondônia State. Santo Daime, União do Vegetal, and Barquinha are the most representative religions that first appeared in the Brazilian Amazonian cities and later expanded across the main Brazilian cities as well as Europe, the United States and Asia. The religious use of Ayahuasca by these groups is characteristically syncretic, where elements from Christianity, afro-Brazilian religiosity and indigenous shamanism are blended together.
In the fifties, awareness of the existence of ayahuasca spread to western civilization. The publication of “The Yagé Letters”, which contained the letters William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg shared about their personal experiences with ayahuasca, as well as the research conducted by Richard Evans Schultes, all played a crucial role in bridging these worlds. Since then, the use of ayahuasca started to spread into occidental culture slowly, and new contexts of use appeared, such as the use in psychotherapy and personal growth.
Today, the use of ayahuasca has globalized significantly and is being integrated more and more into contemporary contexts.