Ayahuasca, The Strange South American Brew to the Stars!

Now that Fashion Week is finally over PAPERMAG can get back to what's really important -- weird new drug crazes! Actually this craze ain't so new. Two Sundays ago the L.A. Times Magazine featured an in-depth article on the magic Amazonian potion Ayahuasca. Affluent Californians and various celebrities have been using the revered jungle hallucinogen as a heavy-duty psychic colonic. This might have been a ground-breaking story if L.A. Woman hadn't written about the same subject FOUR YEARS AGO (in the April 2004 issue, accompanied by the fabulous Norn Cutson illustration above).

My April '04 column was inspired in large part by a Feral House salon where author and mental adventurer Daniel Pinchbeck spoke about his then-new book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl (Check out his blog here!) However I had even heard about the local Ayahuasca ceremonies years before that! My pal Ralph was a regular Ayahuasca imbiber and once asked me to join in at a secret ceremony being held in Sierra Madre (I declined -- especially when he told me how violent the hallucinations can be and violently ill it can make you). Even so, every time I'd run into him at Millie's Coffee Shop I would be mesmerized for hours by his tales of the even wilder goings-on in Peru (where eco-tourism has been supplanted by shaman-tourism.) I was especially intriqued by the poisonous frog venom ceremony where you dig a hole for yourself before you take the elixir -- so you can have a place to discharge all the vomit and bad ju-ju you've been holding inside you all these years. I decided to wait and try that when I'm in my 90's. Along with sky-diving.

Stick with PAPER peeps! All the news that's fit to print before anyone else sees it fit to print!

And check out this National Geographic article and video "Hell and Back" about one man's experience with the drink in Peru!

From the LA Times article by Gina Piccalo:

Can a psychotropic jungle potion cure the existential angst of the McMansion set?

In an affluent corner of encinitas, just north of San Diego, a young medicine man named Lobo Siete Truenos sits cross-legged on the polished wood floors of a backyard temple. Here in this suburban sanctuary, behind the gates of a faux-Spanish villa, just past the manicured lawn and an artificial lagoon, he’s carefully unpacking a collection of stones, feathers and oils that he’ll use for an all-night spiritual odyssey that will kick off after sunset.

If all goes as planned, Truenos’ nine participants—all seeking his psychedelic “doctoring”—will sip a murky, foul-tasting potion and then wait, eyes closed in the dark, for it to take effect. Wooziness may be followed by nausea, then probably vomiting. For many, a kaleidoscopic array of geometric patterns could emerge. Others may be greeted by friendly plant-like creatures, gnomes, elves or even a giant anaconda—known by indigenous tribes as Mother Ayahuasca, omniscient ruler of the plant kingdom—who communicates telepathically. And the really lucky ones may be treated to a cinematic review of their lives, each scene illustrating a moral failing.

“It’s a deep process,” Truenos says, as he places his precious stones on a tapestry woven with wild serpentine patterns. “It’s certainly not a game. It takes a lot of purifying to serve this medicine.” Truenos, 34, is precise about his tools because, when they’re correctly assembled, they constitute what he calls “the fire altar of the eagle and the condor.” But these instruments are just supporting players for the evening’s star attraction, an inky fluid that Truenos has stored in three plastic drinking bottles.

This liquid is known variously as hoasca, yagé, caapi and daime, but in the U.S. it’s most commonly called ayahuasca. (The word, which comes from the ancient Incan language Quechua, means “vine of the spirits” or “vine of the soul.”) Tribes of Central and South America—Shipibo, Kofan and Tukanos among them—have used the drug for hundreds of years or more in their spiritual practices. In Ecuador, Brazil and Peru, the drug is legal and attracts many pilgrims to ayahuasca ceremonies every year.

The brew was introduced to pop culture in 1963, when Beat writers Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs published their collected correspondence on their ayahuasca experiences in “The Yage Letters.”

In the U.S., ayahuasca remained for years a largely underground phenomenon that, like peyote and psilocybin mushrooms, attracted a following of academics, journalists, psychiatrists and other soul-searching intellectuals. Now, thanks in part to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, ayahuasca (pronounced EYE-yah-WAH-skah) appears to be gaining in popularity. East Coast writers have generated interest among the intelligentsia, and online head shops are selling ingredients for making the ayahuasca brew. At the same time, some scientific studies suggest that ayahuasca has legitimate uses as an alternative psychotropic medicine that can abolish depression, cure addiction and improve brain function.

For ayahuasqueros such as Truenos and the eclectic mix of button-down professionals and New Age acolytes joining him on this night, the potion may be a conduit to higher consciousness. Who exactly are these psychotropic explorers? Truenos won’t reveal much about them, except to say that the owners of the home in which they are meeting are retirees (young ones, it appears) and that participants typically include doctors, lawyers, celebrities, New Age healers and academics. They’re working folks, he says. “People from all walks of life.”

For them, the vision-inducing elixir made from Amazonian jungle vines and leaves opens doors to parallel realities where mystical creatures reign. Because ayahuasca must be exactingly prepared and administered to achieve the desired benefits, a cadre of itinerant shamans such as Truenos has emerged, roaming the U.S. to host marathon candlelight ceremonies in yoga studios, private homes and remote open spaces, and charging as much as $200 a person for each session.

The concoction itself is said to taste so vile that most people fight their gag reflex to swallow it. Devotees liken the flavor to forest rot and bile, dirty socks and raw sewage. Vomiting is so common that indigenous shamans often refer to the ceremony as la purga, or the purge. And ayahuasca can severely test the commitment of its followers: The potion often reveals its celebrated wisdoms only after repeat encounters. The payoff, adherents say, can be life-altering. Debilitating illnesses such as chronic depression or addiction may disappear after just one session, some say. Others say they shed their egos for a night, finally seeing their lives with a startling clarity.

With that kind of reputation, ayahuasca has predictably intrigued celebrities known for charting the supra-conscious: Oliver Stone, Sting and Tori Amos have sampled it and openly discussed their experiences. “It’s quite an ordeal,” Sting told Rolling Stone in 1998. Amos talked on BBC Radio 4 in 2005 about how she envisioned having a love affair with the devil during one ayahuasca encounter.

Read the rest of the article here.

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