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Required reading for budding Ayahuasqueros
on July 12, 2008
The book that awoke Western interest in the Amazonian shamanic potion, Ayahuasca (A.K.A. Yage in Columbia).
Through his letters to Beat poet Allen Ginsburg we follow William Burroughs as he travels down from Panama towards Colombia in search of the mythical potion Yage in 1953. Burroughs writes with bile dripping in every sentence as he passes damning judgment on everybody and everything from the locals to the expats, ("I never knew a Dane that wasn't bone dull". or "The Chinese are all basically Junkies in outlook"), gets thrown in jail and languishes under town arrest in some flea bitten village while fighting Malaria - all the while trying to locate a shaman to try out Yage with.
When he does manage to finally locate a willing shaman, Burroughs' Yage accounts are curiously muted experiences - nausea, purging, some numbness convulsions and minor hallucinations. However, no real epiphanic moments or fundamental inner transformation is revealed. Ginsburg's later 1960 experiences, on the other hand, provide much more detail as to the composition, preparation and ritualistic use of Ayahuasca, and his experiences prove much more powerful and mythopoetic than Burroughs' - "I felt like a snake vomiting out the universe" His experiences are profound as he connects with the "Great being within"and describes his experience as 'The ringing sound in all the sense of everything that has ever been created". Three years later in 1963 Ginsburg sums up his Ayahuasca experiences thus: "transfiguration of self consciousness from homeless mind sensation of eternal fright to incarnate body feeling present bliss now actualised."
Despite rambling in places, it's a quick and worthwhile read, mainly of historical interest to see how two mid-twentieth century literary figures responded to Ayahuasca, inadvertently helping propel the potion to international prominence. .