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Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon Paperback – June 30, 2010
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Gorgeously written and eminently practical... Scholars will appreciate the depth and breadth of the learning here, and would-be ayahuasca pilgrims should consider this a must read. --Cultural Anthropology, 25(4), 2010
Meticulous and rewarding... a fresh and evocative journey into the magical-realist world of indigenous plant medicines... infused with the colorful detail and ring of authenticity. --HerbalGram: The Journal of the American Botanical Council, 88, 2010
This extraordinary book is as thorough an account of any shamanistic complex as is available today... surely one of the more lucidly written books in the broader field of religious studies. --Religious Studies Review, 36(3), 2010
An exhaustively researched and detailed study, unique among its kind, and an absolute "must-have" for college library collections strong in anthropology and information on indigenous religions. --Midwest Book Review, 5(2), 2010
His own experiences with the potent hallucinogen ayahuasca are woven seamlessly into local, regional, and even global contexts... Serious scholarship blended with subjectivity and self-reflection. --Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 25(1), 2011
From the Publisher
"Eminently readable, clear, and engrossing... This is really outstanding, important work. I would not hesitate to say that this could become one of the classics of its kind." --Kağan Arik, PhD, University of Chicago, author of Shamanism, Culture and the Xinjiang Kazak: A Native Narrative of Identity
"The author is a consummate scholar, a compelling and elegant writer, an authority on hallucinogens... His rare combination of qualities gives multiple dimensions to the story he tells--spiritual, anthropological, and political. Impossible to put down once you pick it up." --Wendy Doniger, DPhil, PhD, University of Chicago Divinity School, author of Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities
"A rare mixture of exhaustive scholarship and gripping first person account... Find room in your backpack. You'll want to return to this one again and again as your journey unfolds." --Richard Doyle, PhD, Penn State University, author of The Ecodelic Hypothesis: Plants, Rhetoric and the Evolution of the Noösphere
"Encyclopedic in scope, theoretically nuanced, eminently readable, and thoroughly spellbinding. A tour de force... the definitive work on this topic." --Bonnie Glass-Coffin, PhD, Utah State University, author of The Gift of Life: Female Spirituality and Healing in Northern Peru
"This is a classic volume that provides an unsurpassed understanding of the healing power of shamanism, its use of spiritual rituals and visionary plants, its light and dark sides, its sophistication and humor." --Stanley Krippner, PhD, Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, co-author of Spiritual Dimensions of Healing
"The real deal--scholarly and quite compellingly written... Treated as an apprentice, the author was able to gain insights into the rituals, beliefs, and practices that form the social context and the inner world of shamanism." --David Lukoff, PhD, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, author of "Visionary Spiritual Experiences and Mental Disorders"
"Elegantly written... incorporating thoughtful analyses of psychological, cultural, and spiritual perspectives. A very valuable contribution to the literature." --Ralph Metzner, PhD, Green Earth Foundation, author/editor of Sacred Vine of Spirits and Sacred Mushroom of Visions --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Stephan Beyer spent many years undergoing a formal shamanic apprenticeship with two main teachers, one male, one female, becoming an adept in the process. In a first, theoretical part of the book, we meet these widely esteemed mentors, learn what healing with the sacred plant medicine involves and what effects it has - what it can do and what it does not do - followed by a general discussion of shamanism and of various kinds of magic. Shamans are performers and have often been called tricksters, talking, cajoling or even bullying us into better organization of self, as the author empathically explains. In the mythical otherworld visited by these healers, adventures are traced, visions followed, spirits encountered, remissions engendered and lost souls retrieved. The Amazonian province of the soul has its own flavor and is peopled by many entities unknown to us. That makes it attractive and repulsive at the same time, a fascinating foundation for inner fermentation.
A second part of the book is dedicated to the actual medicine. Ayahuasca or yagé is commonly a mix of two plants - the vine itself and the small-leaved chacruna (Psychotria viridis) but may contain other ingredients, giving rise to individual potions with special effects. Working with any of these brews makes it imperative to know the plants one is about to consume in order to enjoy their beneficial effects or avoid them where deadly. Like in Chinese or medieval European medicine, we are talking correspondances. Acquiring this knowledge the traditional way - essentially fasting and roughing it - Stephan gradually acquaints himself with many different plants, naming and describing them again for us in his plant and animal Vademecum at the end of the book (Appendices A and B).
Chapter by chapter, the world of the mestizo shaman unfolds: we learn about magical sounds, ways of harming and healing, sucking & blowing doctoring, spirits, magic stones and darts, shamanic herbalism, ending up with an overflowing cup of ingredients to bring to the practice of ayahuasca ingestion and its effects.
As anyone acquainted with the medicine will readily confirm, drinking it usually leads to a thorough purge in the form of vomiting and/or diarrhea. That actually sounds worse than it is, since one is wretched with a noble aim in mind. To get well it is necessary to clean out the old and make room for the new. The mareación produced by the "vine of the spirit", i.e. the mental and physical state it induces, may be compared to the effects of the two most popular natural entheogens of the Americas, peyote and San Pedro, except stronger. As usual, dosage is of vital importance.
Part III discusses the history and ritual context of ayahuasca use, taking us into the deep jungle. When exactly it all began, we do not know but it seems safe to assume that the indigenous tribes were familiar with the practice millennia before it reached the white man or even the man of mixed blood. In fact, it took the rubber boom of the late 19th century to bring these ritual healing ceremonies to the fore in order to produce the cults of Santo Daimé, Barquinha or the more individualized healing sessions of the mestizos living on the river banks of the no longer virgin forests. Unfortunately, the shamanic tradition as still encountered not too long ago seems to be disappearing. Like in many other cultures, the young do not want to take upon themselves the hardships of learning the old way, and many consider the healing practices of their elders as outdated. Money rules instead.
This brings us to the present (Part IV), with ayahuasca tourists trampling herd-like along the old river paths in hope of finding a way out of their mental malaise and back home. Some are in serious physical trouble and, just like their local counterparts, could not be helped or healed by Western medicine. That's the lure. Is this globalized stream of well-intentioned Westerners making things better or worse by being there? And what does the law say, for that matter? The author takes a thorough look at the legal situation of ayahuasca and wonders what the future will bring. Fortunately, he is a reporter more than an advocate, making his dense book a captivating read. Not to mention the admiration one feels in the presence of such vast knowledge! And: this would not be a scholarly work if it didn't reveal its sources and give us an index as a beacon for recognition and return.
Susanne G. Seiler
A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon
By Stephen V. Beyer
Finally, someone has taken the time to write a pretty damned comprehensive book about the world of Amazonian shamanism. Far too often reports of ayahuasca use, the world of plant healing, and the traditions of humans interacting with the spirits of plants and animals and non-ordinary beings are written by people who don't have a context with which to frame those reports, and the result is skewed by a lack of knowledge of the region and the cultures of the people who live within it. Beyer, on the other hand, has spent considerable time in Amazonia, has listened to what the locals and curanderos themselves have to say; has personally worked with ayahuasca and other plant medicines over several years. He's also apparently read and digested everything else ever written on the topic, with an eye to incorporate the historical perspective of people who studied or lived with indigenous peoples who incorporated shamanism into their daily lives.
And Beyer makes his virtual encyclopedia an effortless pleasure to read. He works with a full palate of writing skills, understanding and a fine ear for detail. Coupled with a larder full of anecdotes, Singing to the Plants is as good as it gets if one wants to know what the heck shamanism in the Upper Amazon is all about. Put it this way: Any writer willing to investigate deeply enough in this topic to discover that Tabu cologne is a favorite of the spirit of Ayahuasca, has done his damned homework. Good for him. And, of course, good for us.
Peter Gorman, author of Ayahuasca in My Blood--25 Years of Medicine Dreaming
Ayahuasca in My Blood: 25 Years of Medicine Dreaming