Published on July 20, 2023

Ayahuasca Ceremonies: Origin and History 

The tales of history and origins of the Ayahuasca ceremonies often conflict as it is used by various distinct cultural groups with divergent histories. However, Ayahuasca treatment has spread across the world, with some of the best ayahuasca retreats found in many parts of the world. Its usage in ancient healing ceremonies and other traditions associated with artistic inspiration, spiritualism, and divination can also be seen up to this day.

Ayahuasca, a plant-based visionary brew, has been used among various groups that are indigenous to the Upper Amazon for thousands of years. The best ayahuasca retreats will have a Shaman who prepares the brew, which consists of at least two components – Banisteriopsis Caapi vine and Psychotria carthagenensis, Psychotria Viridis, or diopters Cabrera.

Ayahuasca inhibits the processes in the human body, mainly monoamine oxidase (MOA) in the stomach. This would otherwise prevent the psychoactive ingredients from reaching the bloodstream and, eventually, the brain. The other elements have psychoactive properties, mainly dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which leads the drinkers to experience hallucinations and other effects.

The tradition of using Ayahuasca in the indigenous shamanistic traditions of South America dates back several thousand years, the most popular theory being 5000 years. However, these dates are conflicted largely because the Amazonian tribes did not use written language, and there is also a lack of other archaeological evidence supporting it. So how did these people discover that an MOA inhibitor mixed with a DMT-containing plant could create such an effect without modern medical technology, and when did they find it?

Unfortunately, the origins of the ayahuasca ceremony are lost with time. Still, there is evidence that certain groups in different regions of South America inhaled or smoked DMT-containing plants as far back as 900 BC. Most shamans say that these rituals started when the ayahuasca plants began communicating with the shamans in their modified states of consciousness, like dreams and visions, and this was when they received the information to combine the two plants and prepare the psychedelic brew.

It is also said that the caapi vine, for its emetic and purgative properties, and the DMT-containing plant, for visionary effect, were used as a medicine by accident by certain ancient people, the natives of Tiwanaku, to be specific.

Recent Evolution

So is brewing Ayahuasca an ancient tradition passed down through centuries of history, or is it an evolving practice arrived at by people participating in cultural exchanges that have evolved more recently? However, most pieces of evidence point out that the Incans were keen botanists and cultivated well-known plants in their territories. These plants had interesting properties. The Incans ruled parts of South America where Ayahuasca would have been used, but there are no details about it. The first Europeans arrived in South America in the 1500s, but any of their writings do not mention ayahuasca brewing, although they mention many psychoactive snuffs. Some groups in South America started using Ayahuasca within living memory.

Some experts claim that the exchange of knowledge was exacerbated by how the conquistadors forced the native groups to live together in mixed communities. This would mean that the brewing of Ayahuasca could be a relatively recent expansion based on several much older traditions. Therefore, the modern incarnation would be several hundred years old rather than a thousand. However, the roots can be traced to ancestral knowledge stretching back thousands of years.

First Use in the Western World

Jesuit Missionaries first recorded that the natives in South America used a brew for ‘mystifying and bewitchment’ in some of their ceremonies. To be specific, they were Maroni and later Franz Xavier Veigl from Spain and Portugal, respectively, in the 1700s. After another hundred years, a great Victorian explorer and botanist, Richard Spruce, attempted to define the scientific properties of the plants involved in these ceremonies in the 1800s. Caapi vine samples were returned to England but deteriorated for another century. However, the 1960s saw a rise in interest in these plants.

Therefore, Richard Evans Schultes is considered the first modern ethnobotanist who wrote about many plants used by indigenous tribes in South America. His work encouraged several influential Western thinkers to travel to the Amazon, seek out Ayahuasca, and mention it in their writings. The most notable writers include William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. It was Ayahuasca’s ability to cure and reduce cravings in addicts that interested Burroughs.

Wrapping Up

Today Ayahuasca is used by indigenous and non-indigenous people amongst many groups in the Amazon region. But it has become a popular idea for non-Amazonian people too. For the indigenous groups, Ayahuasca is deeply spiritual and should be treated with respect. Hence, it is extremely important that you have the ayahuasca experience under expert professionals and experienced shamans so that you can benefit from this treatment method.


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