Another Reason to Like the Rainforest -- New Book, "Singing to the Plants," a Compelling Look at Upper Amazonian Shamanism

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Stephan Beyer's new book is a fascinating first-hand account of initiation into the magic and mysteries of ayahuasca, one of the most powerful sacred hallucinogens on the planet, and into the sorcery, shamanism, and plant healing of the Upper Amazon.

It's scholarly and quite compellingly written. Treated as an apprentice, Beyer was able to gain insights into the rituals, beliefs, and practices that form the social context and the inner world of shamanism.

An expertise in hallucinogens may not seem the most compelling resume builder for your average corporate litigator, but Stephan V. Beyer's trajectory from Chicago law to his tenure as one of the world's leading experts on sacred plant medicine in the Upper Amazon has been anything but average. Take Carlos Castaneda, add a university professorship, throw in a law degree and doctorates in psychology and religion, and you begin to get a sense of the scholarly gravitas Beyer brings to Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon (University of New Mexico Press, cloth, $45.00), his fascinating first-hand account of initiation into the magic and mysteries of ayahuasca--one of the most potent shamanistic hallucinogens on the planet.

Beyer's story is the story of the Mestizos, Spanish-speaking descendants of Hispanic colonizers and the indigenous peoples of the Amazon jungle and their shamanistic use of ayahausca--an hallucinogen getting its fair share of global attention of late by authors including Paul Theroux, Peter Matthiessen, Isabel Allende, and artists such as Paul Simon, Sting, and Oliver Stone. Partly through their work--as well as through the visionary ayahuasca paintings of Pablo Cesar Amaringo--a flourishing international ayahuasca tourism has developed as travelers, academics, and adventurers venture to visit the isolated Amazon outposts where Mestizo shamans ply their trade performing their sorcery and healing.

Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic drink made from the stem of the ayahuasca vine, Banisteriopsis caapi and the leaves of any of three compañeros, companion plants--the shrub chacruna, Psychotria viridis; the closely related shrub sameruca, Psychotria carthaginensis; or a vine variously called ocoyagé, chalipanga, chagraponga, and huambisa, Diplopterys cabrerana.

The word huasca is the Quechua term for "vine." Aya refers to the soul, or to a dead person and ayahuasca translates alternately into "vine of the soul" or "vine of the dead. Whatever it's called, it's the mechanism through which the shaman is able to see distant galaxies and planets, the wellbeing of distant relatives, the location of lost objects, the lover of an unfaithful spouse, and the identity of the sorcerer who has caused a patient to become sick.

Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon is "the real deal", says David Lukoff, author of Visionary Spiritual Experiences and Mental Disorders. "It's scholarly and quite compellingly written. Treated as an apprentice, Beyer was able to gain insights into the rituals, beliefs, and practices that form the social context and the inner world of shamanism."

Singing to the Plants makes this shamanism completely accessible to the lay reader. From precisely what happens at an ayahuasca healing ceremony to the specifics of how the plant is used in love, magic, and sorcery, we're treated to a wonderfully vivid first-hand account of plant spirits dressed in surgical scrubs, extraterrestrial doctors speaking computer language, all presented within the context of the beliefs and practices common to the Upper Amazon.

Richard Doyle, author of The Ecodelic Hypothesis: Plants, Rhetoric and Evolution of the Noosphere, calls Singing to the Plants "a rare mixture of exhaustive scholarship and gripping first person account." Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School and author of Dreams, Illusion, and Other Realities, says Beyer is "a consummate scholar, a compelling and elegant writer whose rare combination of qualities gives multiple dimensions to the story he tells--spiritual, anthropological, and political."

Destined to become the definitive work on the topic, Singing to Plants is a mind-expanding experience--in the best use of the term. It's a scholar's probing look into a different reality, a ticket to the fascinating intersection of anthropology, ethnobotany, psychology, and religion.

For more information, visit http://www.singingtotheplants.com

Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon
By Stephan Beyer
University of New Mexico Press
PUBLICATION DATE: October, 2009
$45.00 Hardcover, ISBN 978-0826347299, 552 pp., Illustrations

Media contact:
Victor Gulotta
Gulotta Communications, Inc.
617-630-9286
victor(at)booktours(dot)com
http://www.booktours.com

Biographical Information

Stephan V. Beyer has a law degree and doctorates in both religion and psychology. He has published three books on Buddhism and Tibetan language and religion. Beyer has been a university professor, trial lawyer, wilderness guide, and peacemaker and community builder. He studied sacred plant medicine in North America and in the Upper Amazon, where he received coronación by banco ayahuasquero Don Roberto Acho Jurama.

Questions for Interviewers

1. How did you manage to get from an interest in wilderness survival to being
     trained in ayahuasca shamanism?

2. Why did you feel a need to write this book?

3. What is ayahuasca?

4. Are you worried that ayahuasca will turn into a street drug?

5. Is ayahuasca legal?

6. What is it like to drink ayahuasca?

7. Do you really hallucinate? What's that like?

8. Are ayahuasca tourists traveling to the Amazon to drink ayahuasca going to
     corrupt the traditions that exist down there?

9. What happens in an ayahuasca ceremony?

10. Do shamans really heal people?

11. Are you a shaman?

12. Has drinking ayahuasca in the Amazon had any effect on you personally?

13. You have been described as another Carlos Castaneda. How do you feel about
     that?

14. If someone asked you for some advice about going to the Upper Amazon to
     drink ayahuasca, what would you say?

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