Interest in Ayahuasca has grown tremendously in recent years. The need for good information on this sacred medicine is greater than ever. 

With this in mind, we created the ultimate resource on Ayahuasca.

Ayahuasca: Rituals, Potions and Visionary Art from the Amazon

For many tribes, Ayahuasca is the basis for creating and sustaining their culture. Ayahuasca reveals to mankind its role in the universe and the true nature of reality. When used properly, Ayahuasca provides healing, leads to personally meaningful visions, and stimulates the creative process. 

The three authors of this book are leading authorities in the field of ethnology, anthropology, and pharmacology, and demonstrate the use of Ayahuasca in shamanic rituals.

They dive deep into shamanic visionary worlds, explore the plants, and their own souls, and share their encounters with Amazonian cultures and their artistic works.

This is an authoritative and comprehensive treatise on the use, history, culture, and art of the sacred plant medicine Ayahuasca.

"Ayahuasca is the essence of the Amazon forest. It is one of the most potent shamanic remedies granted to humanity by the plant world.

Derived from several Amazonian plants, it is the name of a potion with effects that are both physically powerful and psychologically astounding. Ayahuasca is the prototype of the true shamanic medicine.

It lies at the heart of the Amazonian shamanism and is one of the most important entheogens in the history of civilization."

- Arno Adelaars

The Origins & History of Ayahuasca

Every tribe, every shaman, every ayahuasquero has a different origin myth or their own explanation for the discovery of Ayahuasca. One myth explains its origin in the following way:

"A long time ago there lived a good hunter in the rainforest. One
day he was a long way from his hut when he heard a liana speak to him. The hunter, who knew a great deal about preparing hunting poison from roots, barks, and seeds, also knew about the power of plants. He returned home with his new find. The following night he had a dream in which the spirit of the liana explained how to brew itself into a potion that could cure many illnesses."

No one knows when the first Ayahuasca ritual took place. It must have been hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Some experts have conjectured that the ritual use of Ayahuasca is at least three thousand years old, although there is no scientific evidence to support this claim. As the ritual ingestion of Ayahuasca is prevalent across a massive geographical region, we can only conclude that this tradition must be at least a few hundred years old. It is no longer possible to reconstruct the form of that original ritual with the bitter brew. We cannot be sure if a shaman led the ceremony, if that person was a man or a woman, or if he or she sang, danced, and played instruments — as is the case today in the few Amazonian societies that remain comparatively untouched.

The Preparation of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is something akin to a handbook of Amazonian pharmaceutical practice; it is the basis for medicine from the rainforest. On its own ayahuasca is already a medicine: medicina poderosa, medicina prima. But it is also used as a vehicle or basis for further ethnopharmaceutical agents. There are numerous additives that can be selectively admixed to lend the potion specific medicinal qualities beyond its general healthpromoting, purifying, and visionary effects. Among the most important of these additives there are further psychoactive plants such as Datura, borrachero (Brugmansia) and mescaline-containing cacti, coca, and tobacco as well as the remedios cat’s claw (uña de gato, Uncaria tomentosa), chuchuchuasi (diverse species), and huito (Genipa americana).

In all preparations the crude drug is the liana portion of Banisteriopsis caapi. The DMT-containing leaves boiled together with it are most commonly derived from chakruna (Psychotria viridis), often from chagropanga (Diplopterys cabrerana), and more seldom from other species of Psychotria.

The preparation of the Ayahuasca potion is usually a ritual in itself. It is carried out at a particular time and place to the accompaniment of singing and prayers. Every ayahuasquero is unique; each has his or her own recipe.

This book explores the many different preparations of Ayahuasca in different traditions.

The Shipibo pharmacy: healing woods from the Yarinacocha region (Peru).

Ayahuasca Visions

Delve into detailed analysis of the many components of Ayahuasca visions, including:

Contact with Spirits

Simply visions? Or something more?

Otherworldly Realms

What are the realms that Shaman and participants travel to?

Cosmic Connection

"My consciousness suddenly encompasses the entire jungle. . . I absorb the forest into myself, I am the forest. I feel it in me. I glide abruptly over to a new dimension of sensation. I float. I go for a walk behind my closed eyes. . . I see thousands of snakes leaving my body."

Ayahuasca Dietary Requirements

Time and again one hears or reads that one must fast before taking ayahuasca, and that certain foods must not be eaten before and particularly after the ritual, as they contain substances that can suddenly become toxic due to the presence of β-carbolines. Many publications list numerous foods that one should not ingest when MAO is inhibited. Yet these instructions are more a reflection of the fears of Western scientists and faith healers than actual Amazonian practice.
Anyone who is fearful of particular foodstuffs should in any case abstain from them, for in most cases panic is more dangerous than the actual toxicological potential. Nevertheless, the effect of ayahuasca can be influenced through dietary measures. Hence, salt, chilies, and beans are not eaten in the period before ingestion, as this makes it easier to relax into the ayahuasca experience.
For those who have never experienced ayahuasca, fasting before a ritual is strongly advisable. After a breakfast that isn’t too luxurious, nothing more should be eaten for the rest of the day, and no alcohol should be drunk either. Two hours prior to the ceremony novices are likewise advised to drink nothing more whatsoever, and that includes water.

Ayahuasca Music

Music is one of the most important elements in all ayahuasca rituals, if not the main element. Every shaman, ayahuasquero, curandero, or cantador has his own live repertoire: He whistles, hums, sings, plays on diverse instruments, and blows over the opening of the calabash gourd or bottle from which the bitter brew is dispensed. The sounds open up new worlds to the inebriated musicians and listeners, directing their experiences. Every form of music has a powerful influence on the experience of the ayahuasca state. That is why it counts among the most important magical tools of the ayahuasqueros; they use it to extol the participants, enchanting them in the process. They treat the patients with songs and sounds such as the magical rustling of chacapas. During the ritual their musical instruments become medical equipment. Music is mystical and incomprehensible, yet perceptible.
It is a temporary anomaly of the acoustic timeframe, a stretch of time structured by rhythm, melody, and tone. Music can deeply touch the “soul” — or whatever one wishes to call this arcane, immaterial, resonating entity.

Personal Ayahuasca Reflections

My Yagé Initiation

An excerpt from the book:

"We took yagé, and the taita concerned gave me a huaira sacha (chacapa) as a gift. In itself that signified nothing in particular, as taitas often give participants a chacapa without initiating them as a shaman at the same time. However, during the session I had a vision in which a swarm of green parrots appeared just as he placed a quartz crystal in my hand. In the same moment these birds were swallowed up by the crystal, and as he took his hand away it was so light it seemed as if it could fly, having absorbed the aerial energy of the birds into itself. The taita explained to me how I could use the crystal in the future.

Since that time this quartz has kept the aerial energy of the birds, and I always have it with me during my healing sessions. Whenever I heal I sense that my crystal is an important instrument. I have learned that it is important to treat the mother first when children are sick. So, for example, when there was a child suffering from asthma I determined that the mother was very nervous and overprotective."

"Hence I dedicated myself primarily to the mother and her anxieties, as I intuitively recognized that the child was suffering from the fears of its mother. As I treated the mother and she became aware of her anxieties, the child’s condition improved immediately. Nevertheless, following the treatment the mother’s fear gained the upper hand again, as she had work problems and lacked a spouse with whom she could establish a satisfying sex life. The child became sick again and had fresh asthma attacks. Consequently I dedicated myself anew to resolving the mother’s anxiety symptoms. Once I had brought the problem to her attention she was no longer able to suppress it, and her child’s asthma attacks decreased immediately. With the help of ayahuasca and ambíl the mother was able to attain renewed access to her feelings. As a doctor yagé helps me to ascertain where the problems lie and obtain access to the patient’s feelings. This emotional access is made easier by the application of coca and ambíl."

And many other topics including:

Use of Tobacco in Ceremony

During ayahuasca rituals tobacco is smoked, drunk, or snuffed.
Sometimes tobacco leaves are boiled together with the other ayahuasca ingredients. It is said that the tobacco spirit fortifies the effect of the ayahuasca, protects the drinker, and purifies the ritual space. The tobacco helps the ritual participants by warding off inner and outer tormentors, centering consciousness, and purifying the body.

Significance of the Maloca

Every maloca is an image of the universe and a place of mythical remembering: “The world is conceived as a huge round maloca whose construction is determined by its geographic alignment and the relationship to an original water axis” (Cayón 2002: 89). This “original water axis” is a reference to an east-west orientation toward the Atlantic mouth of the Amazon that is shared by many tribes of the lowlands.

Copal, Insense & Fragrance

Fragrances have a number of functions in ayahuasca rituals. They mark out sacred place and time. They open up the barrier between body and spirit, dissolve boundaries, protect the participant from malevolent spirits, purify the inebriated consciousness, and center the wandering spirit. They have healing powers.

Healing with Ayahuasca

The shamanic healing process involves the restoration of the harmonious structure of the individual patterns with the help of songs (the so-called ícaros). These ícaros are communicated to the shaman by spiritual beings in ayahuasca visions.

Shipibo Patterns

The patterns do not come about arbitrarily or randomly. They do
not arise from a passing whim of their creators, but rather have their roots in the invisible world and determine a variety of precisely defined schemata. Their indigenous designations relate to their origin among spiritual beings, to old (forgotten or rare) and new (frequently used) formal prototypes, and to the ritual or social functions of the quené.

Know Thyself

Shamanism is an experiential science, not a dogmatic belief system. In the shamanic world, what is believed is entirely irrelevant; only experience is of any consequence. True, it is possible to pave the way for those who wish to embark on this adventure. But only one’s own experience has significance and meaning; dogma is relevant to rulers and exploiters alone. The shamanic experience can free us from all belief systems, doctrines, and structures. What one believes is of no consequence at all; it is only what one experiences that is crucial!

The Meaning of Patterns, Signs and Signatures

An abstract-symbolic depiction of cosmic fertility: The vertical row of concentrically mirrored triangles above the central sun is the mythical anaconda in whose serpentine canoe the ancestors of the Tucano settled their present tribal area. The yellow objects with double spirals are masculine symbols. The row of points symbolizes the fertilization. To the right diamonds filled with colored parallel lines signify women. The similar objects beneath the sun represent a gathering of men whose ritual songs invoke the regeneration of the universe.

Visions in Indigenous & Contemporary Art

Ayahuasca and DMT visions have manifested themselves artistically since time immemorial, inspiring not only movie directors and cartoonists but also numerous painters: from the academically educated — such as Yando Rios from Peru or Carlos Jacanamijoy from the Inga tribe of the Colombian Sibundoy Valley — to autodidacts such as the Kamsá artist Juan Bautista Agrado or Pablo Amaringo from Pucallpa, Peru, who attained international fame through the publications of Luis Eduardo Luna.

Animal Symbolism

Within shamanic activities and the art they influence, animals play an important role as positive and ambivalent assistant spirits, or as the dangerous initiators of disease. The primary assistant spirits are birds, snakes, and the jaguar: ambivalent beings, both feared and admired, into which mighty shamans can transform themselves, and which are conceived as intermediaries between humans and the gods. Be it with or without ayahuasca, animals play a vital role in shamanism as assistant spirits, providing shamans with specialized senses that transcend ordinary human perception.

Ayahuasca Traditions in Different Cultures

The remaining indigenous peoples of Amazonia do not perform exactly the same rituals: There is an infinite variety of forms, for every tribe has its own techniques, and even within an ethnic group there can be huge stylistic differences in the performance of ceremonies.
Ultimately every shaman develops his own style. This fact is illustrated well by the ceremonies of two shamans of the Cofán, an ethnic group from the Putumayo region bordering Colombia and Ecuador.

Modern Rituals in the West

Ayahuasca rituals have been taking place in the West since the 1990s — there they form part of the development we term “globalization.” Ayahuasca is one of numerous South American plants that have conquered the entire world; it is comparable with the potato, tomato, peppers, and tobacco in this regard.
But ayahuasca alone is insufficient, as the effects of the potion are unpredictable. The ayahuasca experience requires an escort, and in Europe, Australia, and North America there are not enough shamans to meet the demand for ayahuasca ceremonies, which is many times greater than the supply.

Ayahuasca Tourism

The jungle attracts tourists. Most of them are lured by the promise of exotic experience and the desire to drink ayahuasca in the middle of the forest with a “real” shaman in his maloca. Every travel agent in Iquitos has their own ayahuasquero and their own jungle lodge. The competition is extreme. One gets the impression that ten percent of the inhabitants of Iquitos are shamans. Ayahuasca is big business in Peru.  According to those in the know, of an estimated four thousand curanderos (Lumby 2000) only around four hundred to eight hundred are really competent.

Lessons from the Kogi

The Kogi are renowned for their spiritual way of life. They were the first South American people to come into contact with the Spanish conquistadors. The lesson that the Kogi took from this contact was to turn away from the European immigrants, whom they called “younger brothers.” They retreated into the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a mountain range on the Caribbean coast in northern Colombia with peaks of almost six thousand meters. Today the Kogi still live there in their traditional manner, independent and barely influenced by the outside world.

Interview with Indigenous Peoples

"First and foremost I want to pass on our traditional teachings on the use of healing plants and “plant teachers,” in particular ayahuasca. How these plants were originally employed in Amazonia, and how they should be used. That is my central concern. In addition, I want to show people how they can mobilize their own healing powers and find a balance in their lives; how they can experience the beneficial effects of this medicine; and how they can learn to use it in the correct, traditional way." 

-- Hilario Chiriap

When Ceremonies Go Wrong

Leading a ceremony isn’t simple. Many dangers lie in wait. Traditionally leaders themselves drink ayahuasca during ceremonies, as it sharpens their intuition. A leader who doesn’t drink should be treated with the utmost suspicion. When good ayahuasca meets a bad ceremony leader, difficulties inevitably follow.

Condor And The Eagle

This prophecy comes from the Aztecs. Their ruler Cuauhtémoc prophesied that the world in which we live is the true paradise that we must preserve with the help of rituals and traditional knowledge. This prophecy comes from the north, from Mexico. Therefore the brothers of the north (the eagle) must be united with their brothers from the south (the condor). 

Conversations with Ayahuasca Drinkers

Recorded accounts and experiences from Ayahuasca Drinkers, the healing they went through, and the visions they encountered.

Face and Body Painting

In order to appear more attractive to their assistant spirits and repel harmful powers, indigenous ayahuasqueros paint their bodies and faces prior to the ingestion of ayahuasca, primarily with the black pigment of the genip-tree (Genipa americana) and the red dye (annatto) of achiote seeds (Bixa orellana, also known as urucú).

Coca: The Leaf of Life

In South America coca use became a focal point of indigenous cultures, and the plant retains its status to this day. It is still classified as “sustenance,” employed as a magical plant, consulted as an oracle and cherished as a medicine. As a socially integrative factor, life without coca for many indigenous South American cultures has long since been unimaginable.

Yopo Snuff Poweder

Yopo is a shamanic snuff powder produced from the DMT-containing seeds of Anadenanthera peregrina (Leguminosae). Its utilization is very longstanding and extends from the Caribbean to central South America.
The roasted seeds are used by many tribes to produce powders that are snuffed for shamanic purposes, often together with ayahuasca, or to aid hunters in the tracking of prey. Shamanic use of this species has been documented among many peoples.

The Seven Pillars of Jungle Medicine

The ethnopharmacological ayahuasca complex is composed of the “seven pillars of jungle medicine”: ayahuasca, pinta, yopo, coca, tobacco, copal, and remedio (i.e., the potion; vision plants; snuff powder; coca and other stimulants; tobacco and other smoking herbs; copal or incense and fragrance; and remedio, the medicine).

Full Colour Insert

Included in this hardcover book is a full color insert, exploring the culture of Ayahuasca.

Answer The Call

See inside The Book:

"An authoritative and comprehensive treatise on the use, history, culture and art of the sacred plant medicine Ayahuasca."

About the authors

The Ayahuasa experience is so big, so grand, so out of our ordinary experience, that it has taken three international experts to scratch the surface of this profound phenomena.

Arno Adelaars

Arno lives in Amsterdam and explored psychedelic substances for over twenty-five years. He has been organising conferences and seminars with Claudia Muller-Ebeling on shamanism and psychoactive plants since 1998. 

He was initiated by a Colombian Ayahuasca shaman in his tradition eight years ago.

Christian Ratsch

Christian is an ethnologist and ethnopharmacologist, speaker, and author. He studies shamanic cultures and their use of psychoactive plants worldwide since many years.

He wrote a number of books, among others the classic Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants, now in its 12th reprint (original German edition).

Claudia Muller-Ebeling, Ph.D

Claudia is an art historian and anthropologist and coauthor, with Christian Ratsch, of "Shamanism and Tantra in the Himalayas", "Witchcraft Medicine", and "Pagan Christmas". 
She works in Hamburg, Germany, as an independent researcher and translator, and has served as a member of the board of advisors of the European College of the Study of Consciousness (ECSC)

What readers are saying about the book

Alan Shoemaker

Author of Ayahuasca Medicine: The Shamanic World of Sacred Amazonian Plant Healing.

“An extraordinary covey of shamanic knowledge coming together to put their many years of wisdom together, this is sure to be a best seller and a reference book for your library. Exquisite!”

Richard Down

Author of “The Song: Shamanic Story and Sound Journey,” Gateway to the Heart CD.

“Ayahuasca... this is my medicine world. It is where my songs are powered — the curatives restoring people to their own wholeness. The authors are clearly talking about my spirit friend, giving details and descriptions and ways for others to learn of the most powerful medicine known to this world. This book will be of great help to many seekers.”

Jeremy Narby

Author of The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge

“This book by three renowned European authors is a welcome addition to the growing literature on ayahuasca: it is well researched, multi­ disciplinary, and a pleasure to read.”

Roland Nyffeler

Coauthor of the Himalayas

“When properly used, ayahuasca reveals the true reality, is important for healing and health, and promotes visionary creative activity. This book is very well structured and the highly competent team of authors — all specialists in their fields —presents the downright hot topic with scien­tific detachment and objectivity.”