Guided by the moon- shamanism and the ritual use of ayahuasca in the Santo Daime religion in Brazil


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Guided by the moon- shamanism and the ritual use of ayahuasca in the Santo Daime religion in Brazil
Edward MacRae
(Original printed reference: MacRae, Edward Guiado pela lua- xamanismo e o uso ritual da ayahuasca no culto do Santo Daime , São Paulo, Brasiliense,1992)

In memoriam,

Padrinho Sebastião Mota de Melo

Alan Godfrey Gonçalves MacRae

Glauco Rodrigues Bueno

Severino do Ramo


The present work is the result of research, financed by the Brazilian funding organizations CNPq (Post-doctorate and visiting researcher grants) and FAPESP . During the initial field work, I relied on the excellent help of Maria Etelvina Reis de Toledo Barros, my dear Telva; Carlos Viccari Jr. and Cristina Flora de Oliveira - from the Institute of Social Medicine and Criminology of São Paulo - IMESC.

The elaboration of the first research report occurred during a difficult period that coincided with the illness and eventual death of my brother. During this painful moment, I was greatly comforted by the affection and strength of Dulce Baptista das Neves Gonçalves MacRae, my mother. Also crucial was the collaboration and support of friends who accompanied me on the academic retreats away from my home town of São Paulo, at which time this book gradually took form : Julio Assis Simões, Oswaldo Lobo Fernandez, Ulisses Ferraz de Oliveira, Pedro de Souza, Lorivaldo P. Rocha and Nestor Perlongher.

I would also like to thank Suzana Cabral and Eduardo Luna, Clodomir Monteiro da Silva, Carlos Eugênio Marcondes de Moura, Anthony Henman, Marion Aubrée, Fernando de La Roque Couto, André Lazaro, Walter Dias Jr., Alberto Groisman, Vera Fróes and Hirochita Nakamaki, who gave me access to research material and to their own work on the subject. Cláudio Leme, leader of the music group at the "Flôr das Águas" church, not only constantly encouraged me but also enriched the Daime sessions with his beautiful flute and helped with his transcriptions of the Daime hymns.

Júlio Dias Gaspar helped me transform my original academic prose into something more pleasing to the general reader. The original Portuguese version of this book was completed while I was already involved with the "Programa de Orientaçåo e Atendimento à Dependência da Escola Paulista de Medicina" (Program of Orientation and Care for Drug Dependence of the Escola Paulista de Medicina), whose director, Dartiu Xavier da Silveira, and other members, I thank for their many stimulating discussions concerning issues of drug use. I would also like to thank Paulo Bettinelli and João Garcia Neto for their help with typing and for their “native” comments on a few of my texts. Also invaluable were suggestions offered by my original Brazilian publisher, Caio Graco da Silva Prado, of the Editora Brasiliense.

In 1991 during the canoe journey to Céu do Mapiá, I suffered a rather alarming accident which cost me a few broken ribs, but at the time seemed as if it might have been more serious. On the seemingly endless journey back to Boca do Acre, I was accompanied by Fernando Orvath, who helped me keep my spirits up. I would also like to mention the friendship and solidarity shown by Ulisses Ferraz de Oliveira, who accompanied me back home once I was better.

Finally, I want to thank the followers of the Santo Daime religion, who shared with me their beliefs and their knowledge of the use of ayahuasca. They not only helped me to produce a piece of academic research, but also allowed me to develop greater self-knowledge and a better understanding of spiritual matters. Maria Cristina Cunha Bueno, "Madrinha Kiki" (Godmother Kiki) provided me with both a very meaningful interview and much support during this period. Padrinho (Godfather) Alex Polari de Alverga shared valuable insights with me with respect to the Santo Daime, as did Clara Iura. I cannot forget the welcome bestowed upon me by the other daimistas, especially those from the Flôr das Águas church in São Paulo and from the Céu do Mapiá in the rain forest. And to Padrinhos Sebastião Mota de Melo, Manoel Corrente, Alfredo Gregório de Melo and Wilson Carneiro I am indebted for the instruction and inspiration that went far beyond mere academic interest.

Finally, I would like, once again, to thank my mother for her insistence that I translate this work into English – the first draft of which she generously undertook. I also thank Michael Sommers for having helped with part of the final revision.


Introduction - Psychoactive Substances and Shamanism 5

1. Shamanism in the Western Amazon 16

2 “Caboclo” conceptions of illness and of the use of ayahuasca 34

3. The development of the Santo Daime religion 44

4. The Santo Daime rituals 76

5. The controlled use of the ayahuasca and its structuring effects in the Santo Daime rituals 94

6. From the solitary Vegetalists to the collective shamanism of the Santo Daime 104
Conclusion 115

Annex: Mestre Irineu's “Cruzeirinho” 121

Bibliography 121

Introduction - Psychoactive Substances and


Although it first appeared in the Brazilian Amazon in the 1930s, it is only within the past two decades that the Santo Daime religion has spread throughout Brazil and to many other countries. Nevertheless, this growth might be considered negligeable if compared to other religions that have appeared in Brazil during this period. Although the celebrity status of some of its followers and the sacramental use of "ayahuasca", a brew with psychoactive properties, have contributed to awaken media interest, more often than not, Santo Daime has been portrayed in a discriminatory and sensationalist manner.

This work proposes to delve more deeply into the religion’s origins, while focusing on the use of this sacred brew. The goal is to analyze the values and the social controls that guide its use by the religion’s adherents.

Much is said about the dangers involved in the non-medical use of psychoactive substances. These substances are generally stigmatized and considered to be the cause of physical and moral degeneration. When it does not attract outrage or ridicule, any dissenting opinion on this matter is studiously ignored. For this reason, I shall be dealing with a case that flies in the face of this demonization – that of "ayahuasca". Technically labeled a hallucinogen, this brew constitutes the central sacrament of Santo Daime, a religion that mixes Indian and African elements with esoteric practices, all beneath a veneer of Christianity. According to the various academic studies concerning this religion, its followers are ordinary people, differing from other Brazilians only in their religions zeal and in their rather rigid adhesion to certain values which are, nevertheless, part of the fundamental ethical standards of Brazilian culture.

In order to better understand the phenomenon of a psychoactive substance having an opposite effect to that which is stressed by the advocates of the "war on drugs", one should start by rethinking certain common expressions.

As such, throughout this book I shall avoid using the word "drug" wherever possible, in order to downplay the emotional charge and pejorative connotations which often inhibit new thinking on the subject. The term "psychoactive substance" seems to be preferable due to its descriptive nature and to the fact that it clearly places those which are licitly consumed and accepted by mainstream society alongside illicit products consumed by stigmatized minorities.

Also, when dealing with ritual contexts, I prefer to avoid the term "hallucinogen" due to its implications regarding the nature of the perceptions produced by the ingestion of certain substances. A "hallucination" is usually taken to mean “a perception of objects with no reality” and to “halllucinate” is, to fool oneself, to be deprived of reason or understanding, to go mad. From the outset, such a word would tend to invalidate the beatific perceptions of transcendental states of communication with the spiritual world, which, according to the beliefs of many creeds and to the experiences of their followers, many attain on taking such substances.

  • These considerations have led some to propose alternative terms such as "psychedelic"(1) and "phan-erotism(2)." I prefer "entheogens", derived from the classic Greek "entheos", signifying, literally, "god within" – a term used to describe the state of mind of a person inspired or possessed by a deity. Traditionally associated with prophetic trances, artistic creativity and erotic passion, it has been applied as well to religions rites in which mystical states were experienced through the ingestion of substances partaking of the divine essence. Thus, "entheogen" means that which leads to the individual having

the divine within him(3).
Studying the effects of the traditional use of entheogens
Three factors must be taken into consideration, when discussing the relationship between psychoactive substances, their users and their social environment.

1 - The "drug" or psychoactive substance and its effect on human physiology.

2 - The "set" - The individual's psychological state of mind at the moment the substance is used, as well as his personality structure and his expectations as to the effects of the substance.

3 - The physical, cultural, social "setting" - where the substance is used.

Most studies by doctors and psychologists tend to emphasize the two former items. In this work, however, the "setting" will be the main focus of attention in an attempt to understand the experiences of those who consume the entheogen.

Although commonly accepted today, this triple view of the factors governing the effects produced by the use of psychoactive substances only became widespread in the ‘60s. One of the first to develop this notion was the American psychologist Timothy Leary, better known as an advocate for the generalized use of LSD. Leary claimed that in order to have a positive "psychedelic experience", it was essential that both the "set", the subject´s expectations of the effects to be experienced, and the physical setting, be conducive to a tranquil and harmonious experience.

Far from advocating uncontrolled drug use, Leary and his collaborator, Ralph Metzner, proposed programmed psychedelic experiences. These were based on shamanic practices, such as the ritual use of peyote by Mexican Indians and the recitation of the Tibetan funeral texts known as "The Book of the Dead". These experiments called attention to details such as background music and appropriate food. They also emphasized the need for a more experienced person to take on the role of guide, acting as a shaman, conducting the session and avoiding "bad trips". The very concept of the experience with entheogens, as a voyage or "trip", had its origin in the shamanic model.

Although the expression "shaman" – which has now become commonplace in anthropological literature - was borrowed from the language spoken by the Tungs, in Siberia, today it has expanded to embrace widespread practices throughout the world. In a shamanic rite, an inspired visionary, the shaman, goes into a state of trance. With the help of protecting spirits, he travels in this "separate reality" in which he encounters assorted spiritual beings that can bring aid to members of his community(4). The intention might be to diagnose and treat certain illnesses, to divine or prophesize, or simply to acquire power through contact with spirits, “power animals”, “ allies” and other spiritual entities(5).

Such a trance, or voyage, occurs during what psychologists call an "altered state of consciousness", a label which embraces different kinds of experiences during which the subject is under the impression that the usual workings of his conscience are transformed. Such alterations place him in a different relationship with the world, with himself, with his body, with his identity(6). Such states of consciousness might occur spontaneously or be induced by meditation techniques, breathing exercises, fasting or by the ingestion of psychoactive substances.

Leary's work rekindled interest in shamanism and in altered states of consciousness in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Like him, other scholars began to observeIndian rites, mainly in Central and South America, where states of trance were produced by the use of psychoactive substances or by other means such as percussion instruments. Other researchers adopted an opposite method, trying to produce the phenomenon under more controlled conditions, usually by administering hallucinogens to volunteers in hospitals or laboratories.

Aside from observing Indian practices and describing them in ethnographic reports, anthropologists also made transcultural comparisons, documenting the many ways these substances are used. Simultaneously, they studied the role played by cultural variables, such as beliefs, attitudes, expectations and values, all of which contribute to the structuring of the entheogen experience.


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