Contemporary popular discourses about ayahuasca frequently characterize the experiences it induces as spiritual, regardless of whether it is used in the context of a formally organized religious group such as the Santo Daime or UDV, vegetalismo-style ceremonies, or even in less formal psychonautic contexts. Although spiritual experiences may not necessarily be an intrinsic corollary of ayahuasca drinking, the reverential status the vine is accorded in both Amazonian indigenous communities and contemporary religious movements, such as the Brazilian churches, suggests that such experiences are a frequent and valued outcome. In this section I review some of what has been written about ayahuasca and spirituality (i.e., non-denominational, often primary mystical experiences induced by the tea) or religion (i.e., the beliefs, tenets and practices of the Brazilian ayahuasca churches) in modern contexts, some of which falls outside the genre of academic literature, but nevertheless offers insight into how ayahuasca is being constructed in popular discourses. Another Brazilian church, the Barquinha, uses ayahuasca sacramentally, but since it has been less important in the globalization of the brew and less research has been published about it, studies relating to it will not be covered here.

While most of the following plant medicines have the ability to af- fect the body on a physical level – with some being extremely pow- erful and potentially dangerous – special respect and reverenceis also placed on them for having a profound connection with the spirit world. Some act as conduits through which a curandero can connect with a patient or a healing energy, while others possess their own unique spiritual aura and are revered by the Amazon’s indigenous cultures, almost as deities. Their usage as medicinal agents is almost always accompanied by a ritual of some sort, whether it be as simple as a song, or as involved as a ceremony for which one must spend days or even weeks preparing.

The use of these plants is not to be taken lightly in any regard, and the proper preparations and precautions must always be observed. If one is considering entering into a healing process with any of these sacred and respected remedies, the authors must insist that they do so only under the careful guidance of an experienced curandero.

Ayahuasca is the ethnobotanical center of culture in the Amazonian region of South America. It is far more than a simple remedy — it is an entheogen,4 a shamanic magic potion. Ayahuasca acts on the body as well as on the spirit, and harmonizes both. It purifies, regenerates, and heals the body; it grants the spirit visions and insights. For the sick, ayahuasca reveals the cause of suffering and helps to cope with it; for the healthy, it is beneficial and invigorating, promoting spiritual growth.