Deatf and Rebirtl in Santo Daime

Madalena Fonseca

This is an account by a Brazilian copywriter in her thirties of a powerful experience in the context of a Santo Daime ritual. A woman with a multifaceted religious background, she experienced the sacred marriage of Jesus and Mary, the masks and illusions of personality entanglements, her sacrifice by fire, and release into cosmic consciousness.

This experience took place in my hometown of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at a Santo Daime healing center. We were a group of four people taking the daime from a batch I had personally worked on, washing and drying the leaves. My purpose in taking the substance was to find the necessary strength to undergo the process of transformation that I knew was already happening. It was Easter Sunday.

After ingesting the tea, I lay down and relaxed. Soon my body was taken over by powerful physical sensations, starting with an intense sexual arousal. I had visions of flames in the pelvic area rising up through my spine in undulating movements. The perception of my body changed and took the form of a leopard. It was as if I actually was a leopard, an animal that has been present in my dreams for many years. I felt the alertness, the ease, strength, and total surrender to the power of instinct.

Then the fire rose up to my chest. I saw a beautiful woman I perceived as being Mary. She was looking at me with the most loving eyes I had ever seen, and I felt completely and unconditionally loved. My heart opened and expanded. She became a man, whom I recognized as Jesus, but the eyes were the same. Then they became two and merged into a loving embrace and sweet kiss. Soon they were making love, and somehow I was part of it, inside of them, in the same way that they were inside of me. Their lovemaking turned into the image of yin and yang, intertwining, flowing, dancing eternally together inside me. The image went down to my pelvic area, and I had an insight into the sacredness of sex.

When the fire reached my throat, I became aware of restraining cords pulling from the back of my neck. I focused my attention on the cords and followed them to their source. I saw a man looking at me with a very mean expression on his face. It was a very intense and frightening moment, because I realized I was looking the enemy right in the face. His features changed to those of other men, consecutively. Some of them I recognized as brothers, uncles, cousins, grandfathers, ex-lovers, and my own father. I had very intense and painful talks and experiences with each one of them, and all of them ended with the faces falling off like masks to reveal the face of the Devil. In those moments, I felt the presence of God and heard him say "This is all illusion!"

This was a pattern that lasted throughout the whole episode. It was a history of crimes, ambition, betrayal, violence, and pain. I experienced both sides of sadomasochistic relationships. I was victim and tyrant at the same time. Soon the experience took on a wider aspect, and I actually felt everything every criminal and every victim had ever felt at any point in time and space. It gave me a deep understanding of human pain. I cried rivers. All my resentments, shame, and guilt dissolved. I forgave humanity. I forgave myself.

Still focused on my throat, I followed another cord that took me to the ocean, where I met dolphins and mermaids. We started to swim together toward the bottom of the sea. There I saw a gigantic life-for..., a purple amoebalike organism with undulating fringes. It had a hypnotizing power, and in the exact moment I sensed the danger, the amoeba opened its fringes to reveal an enormous mouth ready to swallow any living creature. I swam rapidly to safety. The creature seemed to be a most primitive life-form, a primordial mother ready to devour her children back into herself. It also felt like a vagina, a womb, symbolic of the danger of being swallowed back into unconsciousness.

The fire, by now in my head, was opening channels inside my brain. The heat became more and more intense as I saw myself being carried away by a group of people to another planet and put on an altar to be sacrificed. My body burst into flames, and I could smell and feel the pain of my burning flesh. When there was nothing left of me, I awakened to the ultimate reality, that I will call the Void, or Emptiness. There was neither God nor Devil, neither pain nor joy, but there was a sense of Omnipresence, Omnipotence, and Omniscience that was pure bliss, infinite love, and eternal being. It was a familiar sensation, a consciousness that laughed at the simplicity of the experience. I was beyond form, time, and space, back to the natural state of mind. I was also aware that I was All That Is and a part of the Whole at the same time.

When I came back to my body, I felt something moving in my stomach. I had a vision of millions of larvae cracking open their eggs. I felt a deep, joyful pain as I gave birth to myself. Gradually, I became aware of the room. I opened my eyes feeling refreshed and as full of life as a newborn.

The fact that I come from a country that is mostly Catholic, even though the influences of Candomble, Umbanda, and Spiritism are present, probably explains the appearance of Jesus, Mary, God, and the Devil in my psyche. I thought it was interesting that the essence of the experience was about the process of life, death, and rebirth, and that it happened on Easter, the Catholic celebration of Jesus's resurrection. I was also very intrigued by the fact that Jesus and Mary were a couple, and not mother and son. That made me think that maybe the woman was another Mary, Jesus's beloved Mary Magdalene. To me, this was the beginning of a quest, a search for the contemporary Goddess, the feminine principle that embodies both spirit and flesh.

It affected my life to a point where I developed the work that I'm doing now, teaching dance as a means to bring the spirit back to the body, healing the split between spirituality and sexuality. After this experience, there's been a general sense of lightness in my life, more humor, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, and responsibility, not only for my actions, but also for whatever happens to me. I have no doubt that work was done within the deep unconscious, and that it reflects in my ordinary life. To realize that the Emptiness is a space inside of me, always present, real, possible, and available is the greatest gift I got from the daime, which translated into English means "give me."

Nature Has Embt Blown t\)e B^ of Life into J

Stefan G.

Stefan G.

In this account of several experiences with ayahuasca in the context of the Unido do Vegetal, this physician in his forties relates various visions, both positive and negative, of relationships past, present, and future. In the course of time comes a deeper wisdom and acceptance of life's unpredictable transformations.

Shortly before leaving for an expedition to South America to participate in some sessions with the UDV (Uniao do Vegetal), I was told that a new female acquaintance, R., would be joining us. I was not pleased to hear this news. R. was recently unattached and alluring. I was encountering ambivalence about my marriage, but not to the point of wanting to leave my family. R. had apparently decided one week before our departure that she wanted to accompany me on the journey. Before informing me of this, she had purchased her ticket. The day to leave came. We traveled together to South America, to the distant Amazon. Culture shock, sleep deprivation, the excitement of our mission. Opportunities to join in ceremonies employing ayahuasca, freshly prepared from local rain forest flora. R., filled with enthusiasm, embracing our vision, bonding with our hearts.

One night, we are with a community, in a distant forest compound.

It is June 24th, the day of St, John the Baptist. Although the community practices a religion where ayahuasca is consumed ceremonially, the traditions of the powerful South American Catholic Church remain strong. For the night of St. John the Baptist, a special outdoors ayahuasca session is planned. I sit adjacent to R., in a reclining chair. I settle back and close my eyes. Visions come to me, beautiful, enchanting, soft, subtle reds, blues, and greens. My body starts to gently vibrate. In my reverie, I "see" R. and I slowly begin to elevate out of our chairs, rising, until we are suspended above the congregation, bathed in beautiful and shimmering lights of divine hue. In this celestial palace, among the union of the assembled faithful, R. and I are being joined, married. I am enraptured, overwhelmed with ecstasy. But, from the distant periphery of my consciousness, comes a sound, a question, quiet at first, then rapidly building in intensity. I listen intently and finally decipher the words. It is asking me: But what about N.P N., my wife! N., with whom I had shared the past sixteen years. N., the mother of my child. I wake from the trance. The vision of R. explodes, I suddenly fall hurtling back to earth. I am in my chair again, but stunned, desperate, terrified. My world implodes, and I am cast into the darkness, losing all orientation. Meaning loses its thread. The knowledge accrued over a lifetime vanishes, leaving only vague outlines of what had once been an identity, a life. Language loses its coherence. I know that such a phenomenon as language exists, but I have lost all capacity to use productions of sound symbolically. I know that there is such a word as "chair," but for the life of me, I have no idea what a "chair" is. Disjointed, fragmented images swirl through my nightmarish vision. I lie there, for all eternity, trapped in this whirlwind of anguish and grief. Finally, I slowly emerge, shaken. I turn to R. She too has been overwhelmed and exposed. She tells me she has "seen" all of the hurtful and cruel things she has ever done to others. She has suffered the unrelenting torment of the damned. She, too, is humbled.

Years later, as I look back on this episode, the meaning is finallv clear. Ayahuasca had spoken to me, yet I could not immediately acknowledge the message. Over a longer period of time than prudence or good sense should have allowed, I failed to consistently act on the teaching and paid the price. In spite of my misguided insistence that R.

and I were fated for one another, the spirit of the vine had discerned only sorrow could grow from such a union. From its ethical core, ayahuasca spoke to me that night and revealed to me that only action based on truth and integrity can prevail. My self-delusion was laid bare, a hard yet invaluable lesson.

Some years later, I attended in North America another UDV hoasca ceremony. Before departing for the session, I had had a telephone conversation with a friend of mine who had participated in a session with these same ayahuasqueros several nights previous. My friend told me that he and his companions had had only a very mild experience, hardly worth the time expended. Thus forewarned of the brew's weak psychoactivity, I brought with me to the session a meditation bench, prepared to at least devote my energies to contemplative practice. I arrived at the designated house and was introduced to the gentlemen from South America. I was instantly struck by how quiet and unassuming they were. They were, I learned, from a remote rain forest town and had been devoted practitioners of ayahuasca for the past twenty years.

We gather around the table, on which lay a pitcher of dark amber liquid, emanating an acrid nauseating odor. Modest amounts of the beverage are poured into small paper cups. As we hold our breaths to avoid gagging and rapidly drain the drink, words, incantations are spoken rapidly in a language with which I am not familiar. We move to a large room equipped with comfortable chairs and cushions. I sit on my meditation bench on the floor, following my breathing, becoming focused, still. I sit. One of the South Americans, through an interpreter, tells the story of the mythological origins of his church. I begin to listen to the unraveling tale but suddenly become aware of a force field of energy that is beginning to sweep through my body and my psyche. As my being pulsates to the beat of some deep, inner force, I slide off my meditation bench and lie face up on the floor. As a field of light saturates my being, I perceive the back of my skull lifting up, allowing a current of energy, the vegetable energy of the earth, to stream through me. I dissolve and merge into the harmonious, welcoming vibrations of the plant world. I am still.

Later, I return, gradually stirring from the enchantments of nature. The particles of my being are one with the flowers, the trees, the elements. I feel purged of all burdens, of all sorrow. Nature has embraced me, revived me, blown the breath of life into me once again. I have been reborn, renewed. Looking back, I still shake my head in wonder at this initiation into the natural world. Our true identities as beings of light, at one with the forces of nature, had been revealed to me. An identity I had hardly dreamed of had been made manifest. Much time has passed, yet I remain in awe of the power revealed to me that night by the messenger spirits of ayahuasca.

On one of my travels to Europe, I had another occasion to be with representatives of the UDV. In Spain, near Barcelona, in a large, low-ceiling room, I attended a gathering. It was not an easy session for me. The setting, the disparate backgrounds of those in attendance, the hot, claustrophobic environment, all conspired to create a state of relentless physical and emotional constriction. Well into the session, I made my way to the bathroom and tried to alleviate the mounting internal tension through vomiting. I retched but could not trigger the emetic reflex, failing in my gut wrenching efforts. I returned to my seat, sitting with eyes closed, exhausted, the energy drained out of me, waiting for the ordeal to run its course. As I slipped into a half-waking reverie, my thoughts took me to the turbulent and tragic history of the country I was then visiting. Suddenly, I sat bolt upright, a sharp pain piercing my back. My eyes still closed, I entered a vision, attired as a sixteenth-century Spanish Jew, outside the walls of a city, facing an angry prelate surrounded by armed men. I am told I have to relinquish my faith and embrace the true Church, or else face the consequences. I refuse, defiantly. I turn to walk away, and as I do, tensing as I know what is to come, I feel the sudden, stabbing pain to the left of my thoracic spine of the lance hurled deep into my back. I collapse, pain searing through me, until the breath fades and departs, and I submerge into the sea of ancestral memory. Other personas, remembrances, glide through me, themes of strength, perseverance, duty. I slowly return to the present, silent and reflective.

A year after I had last taken ayahuasca, I received a call from an old friend. He was excited, telling me that a colleague of ours from South America was planning to visit the North. He would be bringing with him, so I was told, a tea of legendary potency, prepared in the heart of the Amazon rain forest.

These friends met me at the airport, and we drove into the mountains. When we arrive, I am surprised by the number of parked cars. I had imagined a small intimate session with a few close friends. Instead, a steady stream of younger, eager initiates. We rest, converse, wait for several hours. The session is called to order. I realize I don't know who many of these people are, I don't know their stories. I feel odd, disconnected, not quite prepared for what is to come.

We are outdoors, sitting in a very large circle around an altar. There are twenty-three of us, by my count. I am sitting directly across from the leader. He is sitting on the North node of the circle. I am anchoring the South. It is getting dark. The wind starts to pick up. We are handed plastic cups filled with ayahuasca, and I breathe in its pungent, familiar essence. I gag. Oh, I know you, rank libation of the Gods. I brace myself. I see others put the cups to their lips and drink. This is it! I look inside. Am I ready? I inch closer to the edge of the existential cliff. I look and see nothing but darkness. I am ready! I begin to drink, holding my breath, chugging the ghastly brew. I do not pause. As the fetid liquid courses down my throat, as I restrain an involuntary shudder, my mind focuses on the intent of this journey, the words suddenly crystallizing in the moment. May the experience that is to come give me courage, may it give me strength. May I find forgiveness. We sit down.

I sit for a long time. I breathe in the cool mountain air of dusk. I can feel the tea inside of me, percolating, working its way. I sit with the periodic waves of nausea. I do not respond. I know this place well. This is the time of sitting and waiting. Around me I can make out through the gloom thin figures rising from their places, staggering into the woods. I hear their bellowing, harrowing sounds of emetic catharsis. I breathe, deeply. My pulse quickens. I do not move. I wait. Time passes. I feel ill, filled with a heavy, tense torpor. I look at my watch. Exactly one hour has passed. It is time. I slowly rise to my feet. My head spins, my body sways. I very cautiously begin to move, putting one foot in front of the other, traversing with great care down the side of the hill. I walk some distance away from the circle, into the trees. I halt, stand, without moving. I collect myself, bend over, and put my hands on my knees. I lean forward, and with one, two, three efforts I heave and my stomach contents erupt and spew from their turbulent resting place. Release! I step back, breathing deeply. I have propelled that dark, foul, stifling mass from the core of my being. I look up to the night sky, filled with stars. I am lighter, balanced, free. I turn and silently, confidently walk back to the circle.

Night has fallen. It is cold. Colder than I had expected. There appears to be little ceremony, as far as I can see. We are, each of us, alone in the dark. I am cold. I have neither coat nor blanket. The wind cuts through my sweatshirt. I shiver. I do not feel connected to the group. I cannot ask for help. I sit, my shoulders hunched, chin against my chest, steeling myself against the elements, wondering how am I going to get through this night. I dig in and wait. Slowly, barely audible, a song starts to build within me. I feel a rhythmic gentle vibration, rising, and then softly uttered, intoned. A simple beat, a subtle melody, voiced from my soul. It is my song. My song! Empowering me, ennobling me, protecting me. My simple song, barely perceptible, weaving a blanket of energy around me. The cold fades, leaving a protective coat of warmth and reassurance. Throughout the night, I continue to sing my song. Quietly, to myself. Within my song, I perceive my Self, my reservoirs of power. Guiding, grounding, remembering.

With my eyes closed, I see incredible explosions of brilliant color. Dazzling landscapes. A glimpse of eternity. The beauty is overwhelming. To the side, something else. An other worldly presence. I have been in this place before. Something not quite human, but what? Plant? Insectoid? Strange. Cannot look directly at it. Cannot get too close. The Gaian overmind. I look away and move on.

In deep space. Inner space. Kaleidoscopic, multicolored images dance before me, through me. I see my face, my internal image, melt, flow, re-form, congeal. Repeatedly, a new face, a new persona, consolidates, steps forward, briefly, then fading, one followed by the next. Who am I? Which of these are me? None of them, all of them. I breathe deeply, surrendering to the cosmic wave, dancing with the stuL of Creation.

Images of R. come to me. I tense, my heart hardening. I remember my intention and see a path opening up, an avenue, of forgiveness and compassion. A history passes before me. I know I need to move on, yet I understand to do so I must come to terms with what has happened. I must learn to accept. I know this is the only way to let go, and I know it is time to move on. My heart opens. I forgive R. for being who she is. Then, my wife N. comes before me. Twenty-one years together. Twenty-one years of accumulated grievance, so much of it petty. I open to N. A tremendous wave of appreciation, jubilation for that person who has shared so much with me. I forgive N., for not being who I thought I wanted her to be. Pictures of N. and our child dance before me. Images of tender, shared moments, some in the past, some which have not yet come. I see N.'s pain, her fears, her frailty. My song, quietly, gently, percussing. Through my song I open up a channel of healing. I see this path, inlaid with brilliantly colored stones, at the end of which is N., the healing energies filtering through her, filling her with light, renewal.

The long night wears on. There are fewer people sitting around the circle. Some have drifted off. Some lie nearby on the ground. We mostly sit in silence. Occasionally small groups form, quietly chatting. I am accustomed to taking ayahuasca in tightly structured rituals. This is something else. The circle feels fragmented, frayed. Next to me, on my left, my friend T. leans over and whispers to me that she has had enough. She puts her arm around me. We embrace, merge, two fields of light energy, briefly blending, then separating. She gets up and walks up the hill toward the house. People get up and move toward the house. The circle is slowly coming apart, seemingly controlled by its own autonomous mechanism. No closing ceremony. No thanking the spirits. One by one, in pairs, drifting off into the night. I sit. I am conscious of where I am sitting. The others may go, but I have a responsibility. I am anchoring the South. I am holding the circle. The others don't seem to know, but I do, so I have a duty. My back hurts, my legs are sore. But I have no choice. I sit. There is no one near me. Only the leader remains, on the North node of the circle, and one or two others sitting next to him. I am prepared to sit through the night, if I have to. I wonder how long until dawn. I quietly sing my song, a song of empowerment, of strength. I am planted in the ground, taking root, becoming one with nature. Time passes. Finally, the leader gets up and walks over to me. He tells me that he is going up to the house for a cup of tea, and that I

can either join him or stay where I am. I say I'm ready to go. I stand up and walk toward the house. The circle is closed.

I sit on the porch for a long time, reflecting on how I had come to be in such a place. Feelings of gratitude and attainment pass through me. My encounters with ayahuasca had brought me to many stations along the way. Some joyous, and some full of dread. But each had taught me a valuable lesson. Where I will travel next on the path, I do not know. I will wait, and I will be attentive, and keep my senses tuned. Waiting, for the call.

Santo Daime

In this account, an actor and body therapist in his forties relates the visions he had in a Santo Daime ritual, in which esoteric Christian figures, Buddhist concepts, and the goddess of the forest mingled.

The setting was the Amazonian rain forest outside of Manaus, Brazil. I had experienced ayahuasca a number of times, but this was the first time as a guest of the Santo Daime, one of the main churches in Brazil that uses ayahuasca, or daime as they call it, as their main sacrament. We arrived at the Santo Daime encampment just as the sun was beginning to set and were taken to their main church, a covered terrace in the middle of the forest. Surrounding the center pole of the structure was an altar with Christian icons, mainly of Mother Mary, as well as crystals and candles. Two Brazilian women had told me of the importance of the Mother Mary in the Santo Daime, that the daime visions were given by the leaf of the ayahuasca mixture, which they called Rainha, the Queen. Seated around the altar were the inner circle of fardados, the priests of the Santo Daime church, and then in circular rows around them were other Brazilian participants and North American guests. Men and women are seated in semicircular rows on opposite sides of the terrace.

Once we were welcomed by the mestre, the spiritual elder who would lead the session, we went in two lines, the men to one window behind the altar and the women to the other, where we were given our first dose of the tea, a rather pungent amber liquid. Once everyone was seated, the songs began, Christian-based hymns in Portuguese with a driving rhythm, sung with abandon by the fardados and accompanied by several guitars. The songs were constant, one after the other, and went on for several hours. I began to wonder if there would ever be silence, a chance to close my eyes and focus inward on my own experience. I didn't purge this first dose of ayahuasca, and as a result, it went through my entire system, whereupon I went to the bathroom and eliminated. Later, we were offered a second drink, which I took. I later purged this dose over the side of the railing into the jungle earth.

Early in the session, much of my focus was going into the well-being of the twelve-year-old son of a friend, who was attending his first ayahuasca session. He was doing just fine and starting to have his own visions. The songs were strong and good, generating a powerful energy. Finally the singing stopped, the hitherto bright lights were turned off, and only the candles remained lit. The contrast from the sound to the quietness sent me into a silence like none I had ever experienced. It was as if the songs had charged the air and built an energy, so that when they ceased, there was tangible etheric substance all around. I became aware of my breath. The subtle sounds of the jungle emerged, the sound of the life of the jungle. I heard the breath of those around me and together with the jungle, we all began to breathe as one Being. I experienced being the Buddha, all of nature being the Buddha. The Pali Buddhist term paticca samupada came into my mind, the circle of the interconnectedness of all life. All things were spontaneously self-arising, a pulsating membrane of one Life. I was in an experience of nonduality, Spirit and Nature were bridged, were One.

At a certain point, the daime surged into my third eye. It began to churn and pulsate. I saw a brilliant green mandala, the green of the vibrant jungle. It stayed there for several minutes, growing brightt. and brighter.

The main vision of the session came later. I experienced a large chalice holding the entire group, a receptacle being filled with light from above. I sensed my body as a smaller chalice, being infused with Spirit. And I experienced all of Amazonia as a gigantic chalice, a cauldron of life infused with the power of Heaven.

Later, as we danced a ritualistic dance, the bailado, in a circular pattern around the central altar, I experienced this flower-entwined pole as the axis mundi, the tree of life. The worshipers were joyous, celebrating life. I felt like we were all blessing each other. Light was pouring from our eyes and hands. I felt open-heartedness and unconditional love with those present as though the Christ consciousness was coming through me, that I was being an emissary of beings such as Yeshua, Zarathustra, and Melchizedek.

As the session neared its close, and I stood in the jungle under the stars, I had the strong sense of truly standing between heaven and Earth. I felt a closeness to the stars, and a closeness to Gaia. I sensed a strong presence of Mother Mary, not in the traditional sense, but as the feminine principle that was the creative abundance of the Amazon, that was the vision-giving leaf of the daime. I felt caressed. The Rainha of the Jungle was blessing me.


In this account of two sessions with the Santo Daime group, the psychologist in his fifties, experiences a rapturous feeling of empathic bondedness with the community, the forest, the continent, the Earth and beyond; in another experience, the rhythmic singing and dancing carry him through some agonizing past-life hells.

I had had several experiences with ayahuasca in small group shamanic healing cermonies and also had participated twice in the rituals of the UDV (Uniao do Vegetal), when the opportunity arose to participate in a Santo Daime session in Manaus, on the occasion of the ITA (International Transpersonal Association) conference. The UDV cermonies are reminiscent of a Protestant church service, with the people sitting quietly in straight-back chairs, in brightly lit rooms, listening to sermons and some singing by the mestres sitting at a table in the center. The Santo Daime cermonies on the other hand are more like Pentecostal or Gospel services, with loud driving, rhythmic singing, and swaying dances, as well as quiet periods of prayer and contemplation.

A group of about thirty or forty Americans and Europeans were taken by bus to the Santo Daime center outside of Manaus in the forest, where about fifty Brazilian daimistas had already assembled. We were instructed beforehand to wear white shirts (the men) and white blouses and skirts (the women); no red or black clothing. Although most of my prior experiences had been in small groups, I had already gone through a UDV experience with several hundred people, with no ill effects, so I was calm and filled with positive expectations. Besides, I had met one of the leaders of the Santo Daime church, a man with a long grey beard, and very large, gentle, expressive eyes—and I had a good feeling of trust toward him as leader of the ceremony.

The temple or church building was a hexagonal roofed terrace, open at the sides, in a clearing in the forest. Chairs were set up in semicircular rows around a central altar table, decorated with Christian icons. The central wooden pillar was garlanded with vines and flowers, like a Maypole. About a hundred or more people crowded in the space, generating a lot of body heat in addition to the humid warmth of the tropical night. My twelve-year-old son was with me—it was to be his initiation into ayahuasca or any visionary plant medicines. There were other Brazilian children in the ceremony as well—some as young as seven or eight. One American couple brought their infant with them, who was taken care of nearby, so the mother could nurse him from time to time during the night. Long-term Santo Daime members in Brazil regularly take ayahuasca while breast-feeding, some even while delivering their babies.

The separation of women from men in the ceremony did not bother me, as it did some of the Americans and Europeans, who were used to doing everything in close proximity with their spouses or partners. The church people apparently feel that because the experience can be so intimate and revealing, couples might be tempted to cling and huddle together, and this would detract from the group unity and synergy. For the same reason, I also did not mind the group monitors reminding one to come back inside after one has gone outside to relieve oneself, purge, or breathe fresh air. At any one time there were maybe ten to fifteen people (out of a hundred) outside; if more had gone and stayed for longer periods, the group energy field would definitely be affected.

In this particular session the format was focused on healing, so people mostly sat in their chairs and sang, occasionally rising to sing while standing. At the end there was about an hour of dancing. In other sessions, the group dances the whole time, except for an hour-long silent meditation around midnight. After everyone had lined up and received their first dose of the very bitter tea from the dispenser at a sort of counter, we sat down and the singing began.

A group of young women from Mapia, the main Santo Daime community, formed the main choir—they always started the songs, which followed a definite sequence in a hymn book, called hinario. Since I didn't understand any Portuguese, I didn't pay any attention to the content, and just sort of hummed along with the music, which was simple, melodious, and very rhythmic—having a similar kind of rapid rhythmic structure as the shamanic icaros. Some men around the central table were accompanying the women on guitars, and many of the men also had metallic rattles—so the volume was quite impressive and even overpowering at times. After a while I learned to let it carry me along.

The first "effect" I noticed was that with my eyes closed I would see the familiar tryptamine geometric visuals, but with eyes open I saw only the singers, the building, and the forest outside. Then the heat began to rise to my head, and I felt I needed some fresh air. I made my way outside, winding through the crowded seats, and once outside, just before fainting, I sort of gently eased myself down onto the muddy ground, gratefully taking in the cooler night air. One of the monitors leaned over me and kindly asked me whether I was where I wanted to be or whether I needed anything. I assured him I was just fine and just needed to rest a few moments. After about ten minutes I returned to the circles and the singing.

By now I felt the energy of the ayahuasca had sort of settled into my systems, and I was happily humming along with the songs, and rocking in my chair with the rhythms. My heart was opening more and more, and I felt empathically connected to this group of mostly strangers, singing in a foreign tongue words I did not understand. It reminded me of group sessions with the empathogenic substance Ecstasy (MDMA), in which one often feels a similar emotional bonding.

With the lilting rhythmic singing, this empathy, this heart-centere_ caring and joyous feeling of mutuality and connectedness, embraced the whole circle and the forested lands outside; then it expanded to all the people at the conference and the whole city of Manaus. As the verses of the song continued, the rising and falling of the rhythmic phrases generated a wavelike force-field, in which we were all embraced, that seemed to swell and recede, swell and recede, expanding over the whole Amazon region, all of Brazil, the whole Earth with its vast oceans and continents, still expanding out to the Moon, the Sun, the planets, and stars, then the whole galaxy and beyond—and at the end of the song I landed back down in this body, in this place, at this time, with these people. It was an ecstatic state of rapture—of being lifted up and out of myself—or rather with myself, and others: human, animal, plant, and land, into a larger community of beings, angelic, divine, spiritual, and cosmic. And then to be brought back so precisely, lovingly, knowingly, caringly, at the end of the song. And then another song would take off, generating another rapture.

In some of the quieter periods in between, I was able to take some of the enormous amount of energy that was palpably generated in the room, and direct it for healing some chronic discomfort in my head and face. I was able to trace this pattern of contraction to a surgery with ether anaesthesia that I had as an eleven-year-old boy. The aware energy of the daime seemed to open up this contracted space in my body, when I chose to direct it in that way.

The session went on for four or five hours. Some took booster doses of the daime tea. Then came two hours of dancing. We were shown the simple steps—two to the left, two to the right. The monitors ensure that one stays in the line and moves in harmony with the others. That way the movements became effortless, one is carried by a wave, like a group of seals bobbing in the surf; if people move counter to the group, the harmony is lost and it becomes stressful. As it was, I felt I could have gone on for hours.

Riding the bus back to the hotel in Manaus, I asked my son what his session was like. He said it was "cool." He did not purge or have any significant discomfort, less than I in fact. I asked him if he had any visions, and he said a giant fish, similar to one we had seen in an aquarium earlier in the day, had descended from the sky into his space. He was impressed and pleased with this visitation.

After we got back we slept for the four remaining hours of the night and awoke refreshed with the energy of a normal day.

My second encounter with the Santo Daime took place in a large house by the water, in northern California. A group of Brazilian church leaders, with singers and musicians, were traveling and conducting what they call "works," in various parts of the country, assisted by North American church members. About sixty or seventy people had assembled, all wearing white, some relatively experienced, some new to the ceremonial format.

We were given an intensive introduction, in English, to the process, with some of the things to expect and written guidelines for preparation. "The Daime offers an opportunity to align with the Divine. . . . It opens your consciousness, giving you the opportunity to experience love and truth at depths you may never have imagined. . . . The Daime opens you to what is highest and lowest in yourself. The purpose is to use the highest in you to transform the low." Suggestions for the work included deep breathing, surrendering to the energy, sitting or standing with body straight, sitting with the legs uncrossed, and feeling the ground beneath your feet. We were also told, "if you can't dance—sit, if you can't sit—lie down." There were mats along the side for people who needed to lie down for painful parts of the process.

For myself, I was used to dealing with intense ayahuasca experiences by lying down, with short periods of sitting. To sit for long periods, much less dance, was a challenge, and I wanted to learn to accommodate the heightened energy and consciousness in this more dynamic way. I could appreciate how, with large groups like this, the structure had to be well-formed, for one is in a state of heightened suggestibility and too much chaotic moving around would be very distressing and distracting.

After the initial prayers and invocations, two lines formed to take the tea from the ceremonial leader; as soon as everyone had drunk and taken their place in the circles, the singing and dancing began. Those who knew or were learning the hymns had the little booklets and were following along. I was content just to concentrate on the sounds, the movements, and the feelings in my body. The hymns were all said t_ have been channeled by the Founder or later church leaders during ayahuasca sessions. They are simple songs calling the names of figures such as Jesus and Mary, St. John and other figures from the Bible, as well as the Sun, Moon, and stars, and certain deities unique to this movement.

About half an hour after ingesting I noticed intense energy changes in my body, and visual patterns in the field around me, even with my eyes open. The pulsating energy of the songs and the dancing, swaying bodies filled the room. I began to feel anxious and worried that I might fall down. I went outside, where some others were purging. I did not feel the need to purge, but I felt faint. One of the assistants, or guardians, asked what I needed, and I requested a place to lie down. He provided me with a mat that was placed outside on the deck right outside the window of the room where the dancers and singers were.

I collapsed and closed my eyes and breathed deeply into my solar plexus. My visual field was filled with blood and gore, bodies contorted and broken, flesh pierced and cut with metal. I seemed to be in a battlefield of some kind, a scene of carnage. The thought flashed through my mind that this was another life in which I died in battle. There was a strange quality of emotional detachment—in spite of the gruesomely graphic hallucinations, I did not feel fear or pain. My body was shaking and vibrating, and I felt very much alive and power-full, even while traversing this hell. All this time I was very much aware of the singing dancers, in the room behind the wall I was lying next to. I could hear them and could sense the pounding rhythm of the feet of the dancers.

After a while I pulled myself up to a sitting position. One of the assistants came and encouraged me to breathe more and used hand gestures to seemingly pull some etheric obstruction out of my solar plexus. I started to hum and chant along with songs, and rock back and forth with the rhythm. I felt I was riding a wild wave of energy, or some powerful animal force, having just traversed a nightmarish killing field. I was glad to have had the singing dancers close by while going through the vision of bloody carnage. It would have been much more traumatic without that. The songs and rhythmic beats keep consciousness moving through whatever it is we're in.

I continued to sit outside, connected to the singers and dancers, singing and rocking along. My mood was serene and joyous, my body felt light and clear. Various other people also came outside from time to time, to lean over the railing to purge, to breathe fresh air; occasionally one would hear moaning and groaning, but also laughter and quiet conversation. The songs and dances continued, relentlessly. After a set of hymns lasting about half an hour, there would be a brief pause, where the names of spirits, guides, and ancestors were invoked and thanked, followed by vigorous shouts of "Viva, Viva."

Around 11:00 pm, the singing and dancing stopped, and there was a forty-five-minute period of total silence. People came and sat outside in the darkness, looking out over the water, watching the Moon and stars and their reflections, quietly meditating, absorbed in the stillness filled with meaning. There followed some more songs for about an hour, and then the closing prayers.

In reflecting on these experiences I saw that the songs and dances are the essence of the Santo Daime. There are no other doctrines or teachings in this church, other than what is in the hymns. Like the icaros in the shamanic healing rituals, which have a similar sing-song rythmic quality, they allow you to keep moving through visionary experiences, whether hellish or heavenly, and not get stuck in one or distracted by the other. The form of the concentric semicircles, whether sitting or dancing, provides a container in which individuals can go through extreme experiences of purging and transformation, and still feel supported and connected.

Some people, including some North Americans, prefer the more rigid structure of the UDV ceremonies, where the priests sing and preach and answer questions; the church members only sit and listen. For myself, the Santo Daime process seems more participatory, more inclusive. Daime literally means "give me," which to some may sound like a demand or a plea. In my visions I understood it to mean rather "you are giving me"—an affirmation of receptivity to the gifts of the Divine.

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