"Shamanism is not some obscure concern of cultural anthropologists.

Shamanism is how religion was practiced for its first million years. Up until about 12,000 years ago there was no other form of religion on this planet. That was how people attained some kind of access to the sacred." Terence McKenna


"After death, the soul of the De’áruwa shaman travels to the place of the winds on top of the mountain. There he inhales yopo and sings. The shaman’s throat becomes a flute that preserves his songs. A jaguar is born from his breath and bees, from his eyes." - Source: a Piaroa

myth from Orinoco Online.

Modern Perspectives On Ancient Knowledge

Shamanism is practiced of many cultures in the Amazon. Often the shaman has access to the spirit worlds. The role of the shaman is to communicate with the spirits who can help him and his people. The Yanomami, Ye'kuana, as the Piaroa, and most indigenous cultures of the Amazon believe that all things in nature including rocks, trees and mountains have a spirit. In the Yanomami belief, shamans control these spirits called xapiripe by inhaling a hallucinogenic snuff called yakoana. As shown above, the Piaroa shaman enters into a trance like state through an hallucinogenic and is guided by chanting or singing often  accompanied with a rhythmic sound such as from a maraca. As, he enters into another reality, he has access and can communicate with the beings of the spirit world. The role of the Shaman takes various forms within their society. He is a leader, traveler, visionary, healer, and sometimes an artist. The information that the shaman has access to is often refered to as Ancient Knowledge and is derived from these inner experiences where powerful information can be obtained.


Photo: Peter Bach
Photo: Peter Bach


Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami shamanexplains a shamanic vision: 

"Only those who know the xapiripë can see them because the xapiripë are very small and bright like light. There are many, many xapiripë, thousands of xapiripë like stars. They are beautiful, and decorated with parrot feathers and painted with urucum (annatto) and others have oraikok, others have earrings and use black dye and they dance very beautifully and sing differently." -Survival International

Photo: Barbara Brändli.
Photo: Barbara Brändli.

The recipes for the shamans hallucinogen are sacred and come from specific native plants and require specific preparations. For example, yopo which is used by the Yanomami is made by toasting the seeds of the Anadenanthera Peregrina tree over the fire until they split open. After their husks are removed, the cooled beans are ground into a fine powder with a pestle and mortar, and then mixed with ashes or snail shells. This mix is then moistened to a consistency similar to bread dough with some water and kneaded into a ball, before being left for several hours or days depending on intensity desired. Other groups such as the Peruvian shamans prepare a drink called Ayahuasca which is a combination of two specific plants and then boiled for 12 or more hours. The mystical properties of these plants are just now being discovered by western science and have become a growing trend in spiritual and natural medicine as being miracle plants that heals many illness. Today, it is easy to find a shaman ready to take you on an inner journey to cure your ills. It is important to know, that in the indigenous way of life, not everyone is a shaman or uses these prepared sacred recipes but only the ones who shows certain abilities, are trained, and/or guided.


In the traditional setting, the essential role of the shaman is to maintain balance by bring guidance and protection to his people. Through his inner experiences he can communicated directly with the plants and spirit world who give information as to how to cure illnesses, or, what certain plants maybe used for. Jeremy Narby, an anthropologist who lived with the Ashanica Indians of Peru, encountered Shamans who recounted their experiences with ayahuasca, in which they claim, it reveals to them the healing properties of the forest, outlined in his book, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge. Narbys work, along with many other contemporary anthropologist such as Wade Davis, challenge our modern and rational perspective giving value to the ancient knowledge of the indigenous cultures of the Amazon. Narby expresses in his book, that the shamans of the rainforest have known for thousands of years, what modern science is just beginning to now discover.


"The moon dwelled in the body of a grand shaman. When he died, she was free to wander in space but instead returned to the earth to eat his incinerated bones. When the shaman’s relatives discovered this outrage, they attacked the moon with arrows but the arrows fell harmlessly to the earth. The moon tried to evade the arrows by hiding in the clouds, but at last one arrow penetrated, and her blood spilled to the earth. From the drops of her blood the Yanomami were born."

-Source from a Yanomami Myth

taken from Orinoco Online.

Photo: Peter Bach
Photo: Peter Bach

In just the past few decades there has been increased interest in Ayahuasca and its' healing properties. It is calling the attention of some of the worlds most critical thinkers and artists. Many new developments have been born from this re-discovery of plant knowledge revealing important aspects of mans relationship to the environment and the potential for artistic, scientific and spiritual development. Intellectuals and urban shamans around the world, are beginning to question the values, conditionings, and historical assumptions which have shaped our thinking for hundreds of years.  Perhaps, something in this ancient knowledge holds the key to the future of humanity?