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


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Another distinction is that between the "use" and the "abuse" of psychoactive substances. Carrying out research among psychoactive substance users in the U.S.A, Dr. Norman Zinberg discusses the question of "controlled" and "compulsive" uses. The first has low social cost while the latter is dysfunctional and intense with very high costs.

Although there are several small differences between Xiberras and Zinberg's conceptions, Xiberras's notion of "soft practices" and Zinberg's "controlled use" share the fact that they are both governed by rules, behavior patterns and values transmitted within subcultures that develop among the user groups. According to Zinberg these social controls work in four ways:

a - Defining what is acceptable use and condemning whatever escapes from that pattern;

b - Limiting the usage to physical and social means that will allow for positive and secure experiences;

c - Identifying potentially negative effects. Behavior patterns dictate precautions to be taken before, during and after use;

d - Distinguishing the different types of use of the substances; they support the sense of duty and the relationships maintained by users in fields not directly associated to psychoactive substance use (3).

It is, therefore, evident that the use of ayahuasca, in the Santo Daime religion, seems like a paradigmatic example of Xiberras's "soft practices"', or Zinberg's "controlled use". Among the followers of the religion, the effect of the brew is traditionally understood as a "trance", in which the subject expands his powers of perception, becoming conscious of phenomena, on a spiritual level, that, by their subtlety, normally elude the senses. Besides, as mentioned above, this practice is rigorously prescribed in its minimum details, becoming an excellent example of the controlled use of a psychoactive substance.

As an example of the control mechanisms at work one may take an "hinário" ritual , as performed in the Santo Daime churches in the highly industrialized southeastern region of Brazil.

Beginning by what Zinberg would call "social sanctions, which include values and rules of conduct, it must be remembered that the ritual is considered to be a sacred celebration, demanding attitudes and behavior of deep respect. In these ceremonies the main objects of reverence are the brew and the sacred symbols, laid on a starshaped table set in the middle of the room.

So as to ensure that all those taking part are fully aware of the sacred nature of the occasion, those coming for the first time are requested to attend a lecture, where they will receive explanations and be informed of a few basic precepts, like the need to avoid alcoholic beverages and sexual activities three days before and three days after the ceremony. All must maintain a respectful attitude and avoid crossing their arms or legs during the session. It is considered that this would "cut the current". It is, also, explained that the session is led by the "padrinho" (god-father) or by a "commander" and that he and his helpers must be respected and obeyed during the ritual by all those taking part.

During the entire session, hymns are sung, the lyrics and melodies of which are simple and easy to understand, even when the individual is in a state of trance. These hymns impart the "Santas Doutrinas" (Holy Doctrines) of the Santo Daime, and constantly evoke its main themes: the need for harmony, love, truth, justice, brotherhood, "cleanliness of heart", firmness, humility, discipline... The frequent allusions to God, the Father, to the Virgin Mother and to Jesus Christ and many other spiritual beings, keep reinforcing the sacred character of the activities.

The ceremonies are frequently seen as "astral battles", in which the group of participants are the "Army of Juramidam, in the battle against evil". Like good soldiers they must wear "uniforms", that, while not being military, are quite austere, covering the body in a manner that minimizes its erotic appeal, evoking a formality reminiscent of "Sunday best", worn on occasions that demand solemn and contained behavior.

The services are preceded by the burning of incense. During the entire event, candles are kept lit and incense is burnt constantly, both inside and outside the room. The beverage, considered to be "the blood of Christ", is usually stored in a china container, on a high table, in a corner of the room. Under this table there are more bottles with extra reserves of Daime. As if to emphasize the sacred nature of the brew , a candle is lit beside the containers. Severe rules regulate the transport and stocking of Daime. Should a drop be spilt, the area must be washed immediately. The sacred nature of the occasion is further reinforced by the daimista custom of crossing oneself before drinking the sacrament.

The main symbols on the central table are the two armed Cross of Caravaca, and a rosary wrapped around it. Frequently there are also images of the Virgin and other saints and maybe even photos of Santo Daime leaders. Three candles are usually lit around the cross and flowers are used both for their decorative and their spiritual value . This table, a kind of altar, is the center of the activities. It must be treated with respect and the participants avoid bumping into it or altering its disposition.

Beyond these precepts, that, to use Zinberg's words, one might call "social sanctions", there are the "social rituals ",stylized, prescribed behavior patterns, pertaining to the "controlled" use of psychoactive substances. They have to do with the methods of acquisition and use of the substance, the selection of an appropriate physical and social setting for its consumption, the activities undertaken after substance has been taken , and the ways of preventing untoward effects.

Under the heading of "acquisition and administration", it must be remembered that "Daime" is generally produced in "Colônia 5.000" on the outskirts of Rio Branco or in the "Céu do Mapiá" community , in the heart of the rain forest. From these places it is sent to the leaders of the other churches, who have been entrusted by the head of the religious movement with the responsibility of distributing the sacred brew. The Daime is usually stored ceremoniously in the house of the local leader, besides whom it may only be handled by a few more trusted members of the local church .

Except for cases when people who are ill receive special dispensation to take Daime in their own homes, the beverage may only be taken in the church and during the sessions. These must be presided by one of the leaders or someone designated by him. The beginning and the end of sessions are marked by a set formula and Roman Catholic prayers .

During the rites, the amount of Daime consumed varies in accordance with the nature of the work. It is usually served by one of the leader's close helpers, but, it is he who determines the right moment and the quantity to be served. Usually, each participant is given two thirds of a cup of brew to drink every two hours.

As for the physical setting, there is an official document which deals with the CEFLURIS ritual which even carries architectural recommendations for the ideal buildings for the different types of "work". However, as many of the churches are still relatively new, there is much improvisation in this regard. Works are commonly held in rooms lent by followers, in the local leader's house or in partly built Daime churches . In São Paulo, for example, one of the local churches is being built on a small landholding on the outskirts of the city. Meanwhile, the sessions are usually held in a thatch covered hexagonal structure, open on all sides, leading to a sense of intimate contact with Nature in keeping with the words of many of the songs that are sung and which abound with references to the sun, the moon, the stars and the forest.

The social setting where the beverage is taken is also subject to regulations. With the exception of a few healing works, the sessions are open to all the "fardados" (in uniform), that is, those who have officially confirmed their adherence to the "Holy Doctrines", and who have been awarded a special medal by the local god-father: a six pointed star, showing in its interior an eagle perched on a half-moon. These followers are committed to following the Santo Daime doctrine and assume the obligation of participating in the fourteen "official hinários" of the year, wearing a special uniform for the occasion. They also commit themselves to attending the "concentration works" held on the 15th and the 30th of each month.

Eventual participants, or those not wearing uniform , must have special permission to attend. This permission depends on the participant's being familiar with the basic principles of the movement, on the need to strike a balance between the number of men and women taking part and to avoid overcrowding. Visitors are usually only allowed to take part in the more festive "hinarios" and are excluded from the heavier "concentrations" and "healing works".

Even first timers and those who have not yet chosen to become "fardados" end up behaving according to the rules, since before the work, they are usually expected to take part in an interview and a briefing session where they are explained the rules and are told about the effects they should expect from the drink . They are assured that these effects are of an essentially beneficial nature and learn how to face the eventual feelings of physical or psychological discomfort that might arise during the session. Newcomers are usually accompanied by the more experienced daimistas responsible for their invitation. During the session they act as models of the expected behavior and as agents of social control .

Even the placing of participants, in the work, is pre-determined. Like in all the activities of this religious movement, it is considered fundamental to keep men and women separate . An imaginary line crosses the room and the table diagonally creating two areas, and men and women are expected to keep to their respective sides, taking care not to "mix energies".

In each space, participants stand in line, according to their height, the taller ones at the back, and to their degree of commitment to the doctrine, those not wearing the uniform keeping behind. The married and the single are also separated and in some churches there is a line specially for children. Thus, by following reasonably objective criteria, it is possible for each participant to find "his/her place" and try and stay in it all during the work, taking care not to invade his neighbor's. This is called "se compor em seu lugar" ( to compose oneself in one's place), an expression that crops up frequently in the hymns.

Should the participant feel exhausted or ill he is allowed to be absent during three hymns, after which he should return to his place or ask permission to extend his absence.

Daimistas believe that during the singing and the dancing, which consists basically in swinging the torso to the right and to the left, a "current of energy" is formed that circulates through the room, around the table. This should not be blocked or cut . So, when leaving his place, the participant must be careful to take a predetermined route so as not to cut any of the lines. For similar reasons, his place should not be left empty too long; and should his absence be prolonged, this "gap in the current" must be closed by another participant, sometimes leading to a complicated shift of several people. In works where participants remain seated, this criterion is less rigorous, although the separation between male and female must always be maintained.

Thus individual movements are constantly controlled during the duration of the brew's effects. As previously remarked, these sessions are always considered to be religious rituals. They may be "hinarios" ( hymn singing sessions) , when the great majority of participants are expected to keep to their places, dancing , for periods that vary between six to thirteen hours. They may be "concentration works" or "healing works" that last from two to six hours, with the participants seated, in silent concentration or singing a given sequence of hymns.

If the work is danced, everybody performs the same simple harmonious movements, keeping to the rhythm set by a small musical group sitting around the table, and to the beat of the maracas played by many of those taking part in the work. If it is a concentration work, where the participants remain seated, they must keep their heads high and gesticulate as little as possible. Regardless of the type of work, no one must disturbing his neighbor: chatting, touching or even staring at other participants is to be avoided.

Although the placing of participants in the ritual, the aesthetic composition of the religious symbols and the words of the hymns are a constant reminder of the solemnity of the occasion , a few people are specifically designated, by the leader to maintain the expected orderliness and smooth flowing of the ceremony. They are called "fiscais" or guardians and are hierarchically organized, each one being put in charge of specific tasks, such as assisting those who are not well, cleaning up after people vomit, or keeping an eye on those who leave the room. In all cases they should act more as facilitators than as agents of repression. Occasionally this may also be necessary , usually with inexperienced individuals, who, under the effect of the brew, behave in a troublesome or aggressive manner.

Thus the consumption of Santo Daime is highly controlled by values and rules of religious conduct, very similar to those of popular Catholicism, which are constantly brought to mind explicitly by the prayers and the hymns, and implicitly by religious aesthetics, that organizes the space, the symbols and the participants, These values and rules of conduct are reinforced by the behavioral and postural prescriptions which watched over by the guardians. Therefore, even if the effects of the ayahuasca might bring about a momentary breakdown in the rules and regulations governing social conduct, which underpin the individual's sense of identity, he can still count on a series of mechanisms to guide and protect him from social and psychic harm.

Although, ultimately not disagreeing with these observations, the anthropologist Nestor Perlongher, preferred to use other arguments to interpret what happens. He criticized the notion of "ritual control" of the use of psychoactive substances, because he felt that they implied in something too "external". He preferred to borrow from Nietzche the idea of a tension between the dionisian and the apolinian which leads people "to feel like God" during the dancing and the singing. For Perlongher the Santo Daime ritual gives an apolinian form to the ecstatic force which it awakens and stimulates, preventing it from being dissipated in vain phantasmagoria. Accompanied by various behavioral restrictions it prevents the work with this force from drifting towards the potentially dark and destructive path normally condemned by white Western culture .

Perlongher maintained that this was not a dionisian experience in the sense of a pagan carnival, nor of voluptuous excess, but that, instead of individualization, it brought about a rupture with the "principium individuationis", as well as affording a total reconciliation of Man with Nature and other men in a universal harmony and in a mystic feeling of unity. Rather than stimulating self conscience it lead to a disintegration of the superficial ego , and to an emotion that abolished subjectivity to the point of a total self forgetfulness.

Some people, not fully familiar with the daimista practices, still question the harmlessness of this ritual use of ayahuasca. They fear that the consumption of the Santo Daime might lead people to madness and society to disorder. Yet it must be remembered that the work-group set up to study the question by the Federal Narcotics Council, came to the conclusion that the Santo Daime followers were happy, tranquil people, keeping to moral and ethical standards similar to those recommended by our society, "occasionally, even in a very rigid fashion".

A better understanding of this rigidity, can be gleamed from the religious and anthropological studies of Fernando de la Roque Couto, for whom the Santo Daime rituals tend to reinforce the social structure. He considers that in these rituals, two structural elements are strengthened: hierarchical cohesion and ecological harmony with nature. (6).

The regular participation in the Santo Daime rituals, frequently leads to noticeable changes in its followers. They are often recruited among individuals who are socially stigmatized either for their impoverished condition, as in the Amazon, or for their adhesion to unorthodox values, like drug taking or free sex - common among more urbanized groups . For them the rituals stimulate a sense of self-discipline, giving them purpose and direction to their lives .

This fits in with Victor Turner's idea, that rituals periodically turn the obligatory into the desirable, putting society's ethical and juridical norms in contact with strong emotional stimulation. His considerations befit very well the Santo Daime ceremonies.

In the ritual in action, with the social excitement and directly physiological stimuli - music, songs, dance, alcohol, drugs, incense - one might say that the ritual symbol, produces a quality exchange between its two sense poles, the norms and values are charged with emotion, while the basic and lower emotions become ennobled by their contact with the social values.

The irksomeness of moral repression converts itself into "the love of virtue" (7).

1. Weil 1986:26.

2. Xiberras 1989:132-159.

3. Zinberg 1984:17.

4. Zinberg 1984:5.

5. Perlongher 1990:26.

6. Couto 1989:133 and 134.k

7. Turner 1980:33. (retranslated from a Spanish version)
6 - From the Solitary "Vegetalistas" to the "Collective Shamanism" of the Santo Daime

Shamanism, also called "pajelança" in Brazil, is the most important Amerindian religious institution preserved by the Amazonian mestizo. In spite of having adopted Christian prayers, placing Catholic saints in place of familiar spirits, side by side with supernatural water and forest spiritual beings, shamanism is still of the least modified Indian cultural legacies (1).

In the Shamanism practiced by the Santo Daime cult adepts it is possible to detect innumerable traces of Indian and "caboclo" (mestizo) traditions.

As already mentioned, the man, sometimes referred to as Don Crescêncio, to whom Mestre Irineu's initiation to the use of ayahuasca is attributed , was probably a vegetalista, very similar to the ones studied by Luna and Dobkin de Rios. In this comparison, Mestre Irineu is similar to the more urbanized shamans, who maintain in their beliefs and practices an Indian influence coexisting with elements of Roman Catholic, Spiritualistic, Esoteric and African traditions. The very title of "Mestre", given him by his followers and also used by members of another Brazilian ayahuasca-using sect, the União do Vegetal, reminds one of the Spanish "Maestro" used by the Peruvian ayahuasqueros.

The reports of Mestre Irineu's initiation show the basic elements present in the shamanic tradition, specially his solitary retreat to the forest, where he followed a series of rigorous dietary and other behavioral ritual prescriptions. Although the period normally attributed to his isolation in the woods is short (only eight days, vis-à-vis a minimum of six months, for the "vegetalistas" studied) one must remember how, as a rubber-tapper, it was part of his routine to spend long periods alone in the jungle. And in spite of his first experiences with the brew having been in the end of the 1910's or the beginning of the 1920's, it was only in the 30's that he felt himself ready to perform works in public, and subsequently develop his doctrine. Therefore it might be justified to suppose that his initiation extended itself for many years and that, in the 20's, he had spent other periods of retirement in the woods, learning the secrets of the brew he named Daime.

To the Amazon "caboclo", the forest and the rivers are the domains of a great variety of evil spiritual beings, the "anhangás". There are also guardian spirits that protect certain animals , plants, mountains and rivers. They are generally conceived as feminine spirits, called "mothers", that must be propitiated in various ways by hunters, fishermen, or others who for one reason or another wander through their domains. They have their place in the caboclo's religiosity but, though they might be occasionally propitiated they are not worshipped. Worship is reserved to saints conceived as providers of the means of attaining well-being, good crops, good health, etc..

With regard to "teacher plants", it is their "mothers" who are the real holders of the wisdom passed down to those who know how to use them. One of the main plants that have "mothers" is the ayahuasca. Therefore, when having visions where a "lady", the "Queen of the Forest" came to deliver her teachings, Mestre Irineu was keeping himself strictly within the traditions of the "ayahuasquero" shamans. As a "caboclo" strongly influenced by Western and Christian traditions, he does not perceive her as Indian spiritual being but as the great Catholic archetype of motherhood, Our Lady of the Conception, widely revered in the region. This way, the pagan tradition of Indian origin could be incorporated to the cult of the Catholic saints, becoming legitimate and socially acceptable.

The adoption of the double armed cross of Caravaca, under the name of "Cruzeiro", mandatory in all Daime "works", is another important symbolic support for the Christianization of the ancient "ayahuasquero" traditions. This version of the cross of Christ, though not very common in Catholic ceremonies, was already well-known to the people in the Amazon. In all of Latin America it is usually associated to magic and Esoterism, due to the use practitioners of such arts, make of the compendium of prayers that carries the name and has its image stamped on the cover.

Maybe the main consequence of this process was the incorporation of basic values of Christian ethics, pushing aside the ancient moral ambivalence that made it difficult to distinguish the good from the bad "vegetalistas". There is no place in a doctrine revealed by the Virgin Mother for the use of magic poison arrows or "virotes" and other types of sorcery used by the "vegetalistas". Maybe as a result of this christianization, the Daime shamanic work has lost many of its bellicose characteristics necessary for engaging evil spirits or witches in battle. In their place, more diffuse and generalized ideals of the "struggle of Good against Evil", relief pain etc., were adopted. The daimista's protection was more dependent on his moral rectitude and on his obedience to rules of good conduct than on a defensive armor, like the "arkana" of the "vegetalistas".

The virotes and the magic phlegm "yachay" used by "vegetalistas" to protect them or to withdraw evil from the patients' body, are conceived as being made of the same substance, simultaneously material and spiritual. The spiritual substance can also be the ritual knowledge which gives spiritual strength or the spirit itself. So, the generic term for shaman is "yachak", in quechua, meaning " owner of a yachay" (2). With christianization , this complex and morally ambivalent conception of being "the owner of a spirit" seems to have been substituted by the concept of holy beings, like the Virgin Mother, the Celestial Father, Jesus Christ and other divine members of the Celestial Court. It is they who are requested for the power, firmness, light, wisdom and love, which the "daimista" needs in order to perform his works.

It would be unwise at this distance in time , to try to guess the reason or intentions behind certain aspects of the doctrine as taught by Mestre Irineu. Its inspired nature makes this especially difficult, and it is not our intention to suggest that it might have been the result of conscious planning to achieve certain material advantages. It is more probable that the doctrine was merely a result of Mestre Irineu's life experience and of his religious sensibility. The support he occasionally received from influential politicians, shows how well adapted his teachings were to his social milieu. But one must be careful not to overestimate such support, remembering that, on occasion, he and his followers were the target of official persecution.

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