The question related in the title of our presentation addresses the role and use of psychoactive plants, throughout the process of human evolution, as inducers of altered states of consciousness. We will closely analyze the consciousness of the shaman, and give a detailed description of the “miração”, a particular state of mystical experience and visionary ecstasy induced by the sacramental beverage called “SANTO DAIME” (ayahuasca, yage, caapi, etc.). The experience brought about by this sacrament is similar in nature only to that of triptaminics. Lastly, we will describe the entheogenous experience as a paradigm for a new awareness, centered in the true Self.
II – A Brief Theology of Entheogens.
We shall begin this chapter by going back 3 million years in time, when human beings, standing out from other superior primates, began their slow evolution towards self-awareness. During the following period, the brain tripled its weight and 500 thousand years ago, the neo-cortex was shaped. We can surmise that human consciousness, in primordial times, was ample “ID” governing a slow embryo of an ego in the process of development. According to Anthroposophy, the monads of spiritual principles, promoting life and human evolution, that were then incarnating on our planet were not yet adjusted to the physical bodies of these first human beings. Rudolf Steiner said that they had a broad awareness of the spiritual plane and of the auras of beings and objects around them, but that they lacked a clear and distinct perception of themselves. This perception only emerged after the etheric and physical bodies of man became fully integrated. At this point, human consciousness was ceasing to be a “consciousness of misty clairvoyance” in order to acquire more clarity in the apprehension of the material world. In the last hundred thousand years, the process accelerated significantly.
The homo sapiens became the master of the planet and was already conscious of itself as an individual of its species. It possessed a rudimentary system of communication that was developing into an articulated language. It was in the last phase of this period, 30 thousand years ago, that a true revolution occurred in the evolutionary process. By that time, our ancestral hunters and gatherers had a form of organization that insured their survival in the face of predator attacks and the harshness of their physical environment. Until today, researches and scientists sought an explanation for this inexplicable acceleration in human evolution. This acceleration corresponds to the last developments that men underwent in order to enter into the scene of history. Various authors, among them Wasson and Mckenna, have stated a solid argument, which I share in my brief exposition; that the main reason for this sudden eruption of human self-consciousness was a symbiosis of mankind with the world of plants, namely with psychoactive plants. This is the poetic and visionary perspective that presents itself when we consult the intelligence and the memory that the “plant mind” has of these events. Following this thesis, we can picture a scene in which the more advanced groups of omnivorous proto-humans were expanding their diet and increasing their knowledge about nutritive, medicinal, and psychoactive plants. This process produced rapid changes in their neural structure, state of consciousness and behavior. In reference to Wasson’s work, Levi Strauss interprets the myth of the tree of knowledge and the biblical story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit as a metaphor of man’s contact with the primordial entheogen. In other words, this act marked man’s shift from an indifferent state of nebulous clairvoyance to a state of lucid self-awareness, the consequence of which was man’s expulsion from Eden. However, it was at the end of the last glacial period, around 12 thousand years ago, that terrestrial conditions became more auspicious for the increase of agriculture, the domestication of animals, and the creation of pastures. The familiarity that herdsman and shepherds had with their pastures brought about their contact with “psilocybes” which grow from cattle excrement. From that time, rituals which consecrated the sacred mushrooms were enacted as part of fertility cults honoring the “Great Goddess”.
Archeological remnants of the art from this period, namely those from after the eighth millennium B.C., strongly indicate the ceremonial use of fungus by various cultures distant from one another. This seems to point to the importance and universality of these plants, which M. Eliade, described as the first “plant hierophanies”. This was a type of pre-religion and was the first distinction that man made between the “Sphere of the Sacred” and “the world of the profane”. Certain plants and trees, and nature in general, were believed to have divine attributes. Today, we can be certain that these beliefs were neither naive nor ingenuous, but were, in fact, a result of the use of “psilocybes” and of the visions induced thereby. These visions gave birth to the myths,, symbols and archetypes present in man’s consciousness during that period. Therefore, these “plant hierophanies” were the most ancient ones. At the beginning of known history, man was already familiar with the themes of the “sacred plant” and the “plant deity”. This knowledge was one of the main substratum for the growth of the mystery cults and, later on, for the development of the great world religions. Perhaps the most well-known and poetic example of the ancient plant religions, is the use of Soma. According to the hymns of the Rig-Veda, it was squeezed and mixed with milk, to be drunk (namely by priests) in rituals and ceremonies dedicated to Indra. The Soma was exalted to a place of great importance in the Vedic pantheon. It is the same “Haoma” cited in the Persian text, the Zend Avesta, and attributed to Zoroaster.
We can imagine an Arian root being spread by various migratory waves of Arian people who were moving into the Indus Valley between the second and first millennium b.C. It is also possible that difficulty in adapting the Soma to new conquered lands compelled the Arians to use a substitute plant. This alternative to the soma could have been introduced by the Dravids, who already inhabited that area and whose culture mixed with that of their Arian conquerors. Consequently, yoga and the sankhya philosophy were developed. Their body postures, breathing techniques, and psychological refinements emphasized the “sadhana”. The austerities and the meditation characteristic of the “sadhana”, became a new method to obtain “samadi” (ecstasy), the state of consciousness in which the Atman Self is plunged into the ocean of Brahman. This ecstasy had certainly been experienced by the Rishis (ancient clairvoyant sages to whom the Vedas were revealed), when they were influenced by the “soma”. The influence of entheogenous plants in the mystical states related to agrarian and fertility cults can be seen in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. We can imply that these plants have been an accelerator agent, the detonator of an authentic “Big Bang” of consciousness, that occurred in the last 30 thousand years. There is a definite consensus that triptaminics were the primordial entheogens. This is due not only to a evidence from historical reconstruction, but also to the peculiarity and excellence of triptaminic ecstasy, namely that of ayahuasca.
The visions induced by this beverage are unequaled in their brilliance and content, and are unique because they allow the “self” to participate in the interior events of a cosmic state of consciousness. The reverence of these plants in ancient times becomes understandable when one remembers that the visions they induced were considered to be divine. The recently conquered ego becomes able to transcend itself and get in touch with the “You” and the “Other”. In man was born respect for this source of wisdom, that was both plant-derived and spiritual, and which sent him grace and comprehension of himself and of the universe. Along with this respect, was born the idea of religiosity, of “re-ligare” with his origin and cosmic motherland. In one sense, religion is that strong desire man has to relate himself to the Transcendental Other. This phenomenon began to occur at the dawn of self-consciousness. At the same time, it became possible to catch a glimpse of cosmic consciousness. Lightening flashed down into the abyss and the human crown was illuminated! This is the reason why alkaloids, especially triptaminics, are strong candidates to become demi-gods.
Under its auspices, man made the first large connection between his self-consciousness that had been recently awakened, and the divine eternal world; between the sacred and the profane. The ancestral and mythical hero, from Gilgamesh up until Viracocha, present in cosmogonies of different cultures, are the echoes and shadows from the time of the Titans. By that time, these demi-gods, half-human and half-god, were initiated by teachers of a higher and divine consciousness, in order for them to share the light, the fire of Prometheus, with other human beings. Serotonin is the strongest archeological evidence for the contributions that the alkaloid gods made within the labyrinths of human consciousness. Serotonin is a neuro-transmitter responsible for the stimulation of neural receptors. It has the same molecular structure as DMT, an alkaloid present in various entheogenous plants. Even greater is the opportunity that the plant mind has offered to the human mind, and that it continues to offer us in the same revelation sent to our ancestors. This is because revelation is always true in and of itself. However, it is expressed by various symbols in the human psyche, and is the vision that mystics and initiates have had throughout the ages.
The only factor that varies in revelation is the particular conviction and perception that the adept has about their experience. This becomes apparent when one notes the resemblance between accounts of ecstasy in different traditions. If, in erstwhile times, those who believed without seeing were considered blessed, our joy will be all the greater when we can perceive that of which we were certain through faith. It all began with an almost unlikely character, a very tall and strong black teenager from the State of Maranhão in Brazil, who at the age of 18 decided to take the route of the rubber extraction soldiers, heading west into the Amazonian rainforest. It was early 20th century, and young Irineu worked in the rubber extraction until he became a frontier soldier, having then access to the foreign lands neighboring the Brazilian Amazon region. While in Peru and Bolivia, some friends acquainted him with the beverage known in the region as ayahuasca. He heard it was a research instrument into the realm of spiritual energies, the path of the shaman, having its healing powers but also bringing about physical and psychic torture. In fact, Irineu became interested in getting in touch with the ayahuasca, which he learned to be translated as “the soul’s vine.” The experience turned out to be a divine revelation directly assigning Irineu to found a spiritual doctrine, which would be centered around the consecration of that immemorially used beverage within the context of the Christian culture and symbolism and taking advantage of the American Indian, Brazilian, African, and Eastern transcendental wisdom.
Such encompassing syncretism was born in the Brazilian city of Rio Branco, Acre State, where Irineu finally settled and started his saga as a spiritual leader. In the course of the century, as from the mid nineteen thirties, Irineu was acknowledged as Master for his assisting, helping, and conducting all of those who became interested in his spiritual work. He naturally began to deal with spiritual healing, mainly approaching the cases in which medicine was fruitless and suffering met no relief. Irineu was the “sheltering tree” for many, even for prominent people – politicians and farmers – who would seek his help in times of severe pain. Around this period he started to channel messages from the spiritual dimension which came to him in the form of simple chants, hymns, making up hymnals (collections of hymns), the doctrine’s guiding principle.
The Santo Daime worship movement grew up around Irineu Serra, and for those who know its power it is not hard to figure out the spiritual caliber required for performing such a herculean task. In 1970, when he passed away to the spiritual dimension, Master Irineu was already the “Chief Empire”, the monarch of a lineage ready to spread out for the task of “indoctrinating the whole world,” as it is said in one of his hymns. However, it is worth mentioning one of the first commandments the Master received as the doctrine was revealed to him: inviting is not allowed. Although we are not supposed to invite others into the doctrine, we can speak about it. And the very urge to speak about the doctrine and to truly live according to its teachings moved Sebastião Mota de Melo, one of Master Irineu’s direct disciples, to take up his master’s mission after his passing away. His charisma and reliance on the spiritual dimension and the doctrine led him to guide a group through the accomplishment of a communal project founded on the simple teachings disclosed by the hymns. It was a question of re-establishing a living Christian fraternity, now imbued with a modern awareness suggesting we should turn back to nature and reminding us of simple but nearly forgotten values. Rainforest community, down-to-earth ecological consciousness, Amazonian region – the world’s lungs, Brazil. “Padrinho” Sebastião, as his many “godchildren” began to call him, opened the way into the forest, and, after some initial ventures, founded the Vila Céu do Mapiá, Amazonas State.
Two days away from the nearest village by canoe into the “igarapé” (natural waterway between two islands or between an island and the mainland) tracks, the Céu do Mapiá began to be visited by Brazilian and foreign followers, having become an outstanding place of pilgrimage. With about 700 inhabitants and a great floating population of visitors, it faces today the challenge of getting ready to play its role as the worldwide headquarters for a spiritual mission whose high quality is widely recognized. But those who visit Mapiá go back to their places carrying the seed of a transformation proposal. The tools for accomplishing this proposal are translated into a sacrament, hymns to be communed by a current of spiritual awareness, and the required space and infrastructure for holding the sessions. Now that the formula is there, it is simply a matter of planting the seed in urban communities by getting the individual capacities together. This is the reality of a living doctrine, which takes place within each of us and reveals its results on an everyday and down-to-earth basis. This is going on in several cities around the world nowadays, and so it is in Brasília, in the Céu do Planalto community. My purpose here is to point out some of the interesting insights we have had in the course of our spiritual experiences and to share them with our readers.
Reprinted with permission from the Santo Daime website.