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


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The history of humankind is rich in examples of the senselessness of intolerance and religious persecution, the results of which seem to lead inevitably to fanaticism, on one hand and arbitrary prepotence on the other. This could be seen in Brazil during the first forty years of the century. At that time the official repressive policy against the Afro-Brazilian religions caused serious social problems, laying bare the prejudiced and unjust nature of the regime. The Christian tradition itself abounds with examples of martyrdom for faith, that could serve as models for the followers of ayahuasca religions who might wish to protest against a banning of their rituals.

The Narcotics Council 1987 report ends with a criticism of the allegation that the ritual use of Daime, in the big cities, of the South, may lead to the dangers of a culture shock. According to Lévi-Strauss, quoted in the report,, "no culture is alone; they are always prone to form associations with other cultures, and that is what allows them to build cumulative series"(3). One must not consider culture as something complete, enclosed in insurmountable boundaries. It is better to take it as a meaningful activity, conceiving of it as a process, through which man in order to act socially must constantly produce and use cultural goods (4). So, one might say that this process includes the adaptation and the attribution of new meanings to old behavior patterns and the absorption of others from other societies. In this case, there is no "a priori" incompatibility between Indian shamanic practices and modern urban industrialized society. "Cultural work" on them being enough to give them new uses and meanings, in accordance with the rest of the systems of value and meaning in operation.

Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz, examining Brazilian popular religiosity from a sociological angle, criticizes the dichotomy that is often established between popular and official Catholicism. This might help us in our thinking about the question of the alleged insurmountable differences between Amazonian religious practices and those of urban Brazil. According to her, the dichotomy is not based on exact definitions, but in value judgments. This difficulty applies to any sociological use of dichotomous concepts, that seem to originate from a systematic and theoretical reasoning, that has, as its starting point, ideological conceptions of Good and Evil and not a direct examination of the reality of the case in question. As a result, instead of being appropriate to the analysis of social reality, they deformed it to suit the researcher's ideology.

Confirming this view, one can see that the criticisms of the urban use of Daime are based on an incorrect notion of how it is used in the Amazonian Region that does not take into account the fact that, from its beginning, Mestre Irineu's doctrine was directed to a population that was already urban or in the process of urbanization. The adaptations needed for larger urban areas, would, therefore, be relatively simple, similar to the ones which were necessary for the adaptation of the Afro-Brazilian religions, originating in smaller northeastern cities, to a metropolis like São Paulo, for instance. In addition, it must be remembered that, even in the Southeastern area, many churches are located in rural areas, where there is an effort to reproduce the communitarian life patterns of Colônia 5.000 or of Céu do Mapiá.

Thus, there is the possibility that this dichotomous reasoning has as its origin, the intention of validating predetermined value judgments. These seem to be directly related to the question of which states of consciousness are to be recognized as healthy or normal. After all Medicine and Psychoanalysis frequently tend to label any kind of spiritual experience as pathological phenomena.

Therefore, an important current in psychoanalysis, following the example of Freud himself, interprets the unifying and oceanic states of mystics as a regression to a primary narcissism and to childish helplessness, and sees religions as a collective obsessive-compulsive neurosis. Shamans are frequent by described as squizophrenics or epileptics and even great saints, prophets and religious masters, like Buda, Jesus, Mohamed, have been, occasionally given the most varied psychiatric labels (6).

It is difficult for daimistas to escape from such a treatment even though they even profess ideas which are fully identified with the spiritual and social values

which are considered to be emblematic of our society such as those expressed in the formula used to close the Daime works:

In the name of God, the Father,

Of the Sovereign Virgin Mother

Of Our Lord Jesus Christ,

Of the Patriarch Saint Joseph

And all the Divine Beings

Of the Celestial Court

Under the orders of

Our Imperial Master Juramidam

Our work is closed

My brothers and my sisters

Praised be God in the heights

So that She be always praised

Our Mother Most Holy Mary

Over the whole of Humanity

1. Chaumeil 1983.

2. Speech made in the Chamber of Deputies, by Deputy José Elias Murad (PSDB-MG), 23/02/92.

3. Lévi-Strauss 1970:262.

4. Durham 1984-28.

5. Queiroz 1983 91:2.

6. Grof 1987:243.


Mestre Irineu's "O Cruzeirinho" (The Little Cross)

The followers of the Santo Daime religion consider their holy doctrine to be summarized in the last thirteen hymns that comprise Mestre Irineu's hymn collection. Grouped under the name of "Cruzeirinho", they are frequently sung during the rituals.

When reading them one must remember that "Daimistas" consider themselves as following a "musical doctrine" and that the hymns only reveal their full strength when sung to the sound of "maracas" and under the effect of the sacred brew.

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About the author

I was born in 1946, of a Scottish father and a Brazilian mother. Part of my education took place in Brazil and part in Britain. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Sussex (1968) and a Masters degree in Sociology of Latin America at the University of Essex (1971). After moving back to Brazil in 1972, I finally received my doctorate in Social Anthropology at the University of Sâo Paulo (1986). I then began doing research on different aspects of drug use and was researcher at the Escola Paulista de Medicina in São Paulo. In 1994 I moved to Salvador, in the State of Bahia, where I continue to study cultural aspects of drug use and to teach anthropology at the Federal University of Bahia.

I have been member of different official Brazilian government commissions set up to study drug use in Brazil and am, at the moment, taking part in board of experts set up by the President encharged with the elaboration of the official Brazilian drug policy. I have published books and scientific articles on urban social movements, sexuality, drug use and AIDS prevention, some of which have been translated into English, French and Spanish.

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