Visions That The Plants Gave Us

Contemporary Visionary Literature: Writing Ayahuasca

Steven White's paper Contemporary Visionary Literature: Writing Ayahuasca examines literary texts in which ayahuasca (a sacred drink that has been used for milennia by at least seventy indigenous groups primarily in the Amazon basin for adivination, healing and other cosmogonic/shamanic purposes) is a protagonist and a catalyst. Ayahuasca (also known as yagé) is one of many decoctions derived by humans throughout the ages based on a profound knowledge of the plant world.

As a means of defining with greater clarity the diverse roles of sacred plants in both ancient and contemporary societies, Michael Winkelman proposes the name "psychointegrator plants." In summarizing some of the cross-cultural commonalities with regard to the use of these plants, Winkelman says that "the induced experiences have effects upon personality in: entering into a personal relationship with a reality established in a mythical time; developing relationships with an animal spiritual realm which is the source of power and self-identification; the dissolution or death of the ego and its resurrection and transformation; and social rituals to enhance social identity formation, group integration and cohesion, and to reaffirm cultural values and beliefs." In his paper, White analyzes these functions of ayahuasca in works that include Allen Ginsberg's The Yage Letters, Peter Matthiessen's At Play in the Fields of the Lord, Cesar Calvo's The Three Halves of Ino Moxo, W. S. Merwin's "The Real World of Manuel Cordova," Mario Vargas Llosa's The Storyteller and Nestor Perlongher's Aerial Waters. These texts (by means of their artifice, their "artificial" nature by definition as human constructs) approximate the ineffable by means of the word transfigured by ayahuasca, and impart a state of grace that in some way resembles the one that lingers and resonates long after the visionary experience itself.

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