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Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon Paperback – June 30, 2010

4.9 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: University of New Mexico Press; Reprint edition (June 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826347304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826347305
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.5 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #368,970 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Erik Davis on January 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
In this tome, Beyer has found the sweet spot between scholarly and popular writing, the otherworldly and the ordinary, participation and observation; the result is the single best book I have seen yet on ayahuasca.

In addition to a law degree, Beyer hold doctorates in psychology and religious studies, but his discovery of ayahuasca was more than intellectual. Arriving in the Amazon to practice wilderness survival, he soon realized that learning about the jungle meant learning about the spirit of its plants. So he apprenticed himself to two mestizo teachers named Don Roberto and Dona Maria. He studied ceremony, healing plants and the inevitable sorcery tactics with them and others for many years.

While Beyer's personal tale enlivens Singing to the Plants, he resisted the temptation to write a memoir. Instead, he allowed his experiences to round out, deepen, and authenticate what is a manifestly solid work of scholarship designed, happily, for the rest of us. Beyer's book offers broad discussions more than new data or highly focused arguments; despite some arcane and fascinating discussions of magic stones and sex with plant spirits, I suspect that ethnobotanists and anthropologists familiar with the Amazon will find relatively few surprises. But the ant hills of detail are not the point. Singing to the Plants is designed to inform a wider audience--and gently bust some myths--by presenting this almost literally kaleidoscopic phenomenon through a number of distinct lenses: anthropology, ethnobotany, pharmacology, psychology, international law, cultural politics, and magic both crafty and occult.
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Format: Hardcover
Steve Beyer's Singing to the Plants is a fascinating piece of work. In 400 pages he delivers an encyclopedic analysis of ayahuasca shamanism - and does it in extraordinary detail backed up with hundreds of citations to an exhaustive bibliography that stretches on for 60 pages. It's a work of impressive scholarship written in an engaging, conversational tone that is never dry or dense. From start to finish, it is a pleasure to read this book. It's beautifully organized with bold-faced headers for easy access to various topics, which seems to have been done with college textbook-use in mind. And, indeed, it would make a marvelous textbook for anthropology students.

My one quibble with the book is Beyer's noticeable absence from the text. Here is a man intimately familiar with ayahuasca, yet we hear little of his own personal observations. While his writing has an easy gracefulness to it - as if you're chatting with him over coffee - Beyer maintains a kind of scholarly disengagement from his topic. And, frankly, I wondered if this disengagement was actually evasiveness on his part. Nowhere do we get a straightforward discussion of his personal relationship with the spirit of the plant - which is something I was looking forward to. Instead, the closest we get are examinations of such things as the physiology of hallucinations, magical realism in literature, and Jung's concept of active imagination.

All of this could lead many readers to assume Beyer does not acknowledge the reality of Plant Spirits or plant intelligence - that he believes it's all simply hallucinations or imagination. But in a recent interview with Morgan Maher of Reality Sandwich, Beyer was far more upfront. He said the following: "The plants speak in many different ways, I think." ...
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Singing to the Plants
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
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