What Is Ayahuasca and Why Is Everyone Singing About It?

Categories: Drugs

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Credit: Emma Garr
Father John Misty
Ever heard of ayahuasca? It's an ancient medicinal plant that has become trendy of late.

It's not uncommon to overhear ladies at Soho House discussing their transcendental experience with the substance, which is consumed as a thick, almost chocolatey tea and comes from the Amazon, where it has been practiced as a spiritual ceremony for thousands of years. Ayahuasca is increasingly popping up in music, having been name-checked by everyone from Father John Misty to Alchemist to Ben Lee. What's the big deal?

See also: Get To Know Father John Misty, Whoever He Is

Understand: This isn't half-baked stoner rock or heady LSD-inspired psychedelia. In fact, many ayahuasca users don't equate taking it to a drug experience at all. (It's made from the rainforest grown Caapi vine and the leaf Psychotria viridis -- the active element is the naturally occurring psychedelic compound DMT.) For most users, it's actually a psycho/spiritual practice intended to increase one's understanding of self and connection to a higher intelligence -- God, if you will.

The drug's not new to musicians. Paul Simon recounts an Ayahuasca experience in the 1990 song "Spirit Voices" which describes his journey into the Amazon. "I drank a cup of herbal brew," he sings. "Then the sweetness in the air/combined with the lightness in my head/and I heard the jungle breathing in the bamboo."

"I am wired to the cosmos," Sting said of an ayahuasca experience in the 2010 documentary 2012: Time for Change, adding that there is "definitely an intelligence, a higher intelligence, at work in you during this experience." While his music hasn't explicitly dealt with the topic, Sting wrote extensively of his experience with the drug in his 2005 memoir Broken Music.

Tori Amos has spoken about how she envisioned having a love affair with the devil during one ayahuasca ceremony. Even local hip hop duo Gangrene -- producers Alchemist and Oh No -- named their 2012 LP Vodka & Ayahuasca, although neither members have tried the stuff. Folk pop troubadour Father John Misty references ayahuasca in his SoCal canyon hipster anthem "I'm Writing a Novel."

Ayahuasca causes users to experience a sort of highly personal meditative state in which deeply rooted issues are brought to the surface. The high can be visual (check the aya-inspired work of artist Alex Grey), and has also been equated to doing ten years of therapy in ten hours. It can be intense, emotional, scary, ecstatic and revelatory. And while the specifics of an Ayahuasca ritual differ between the various practicing "communities," ceremonies are led by a shaman or another experienced person and almost always end with the user purging in some way, whether it be through vomiting, heavy crying or a trip to the bathroom.

"What people are experiencing through the ayahuasca is really what is changing people. It's not the aya itself," says Australian-born, L.A.-based musician Ben Lee, who has made indie pop music since the '90s and released his Ayahuasca-inspired tenth album Welcome to the Work, earlier this month. "If used properly, it can help people access reality, and it's really reality that's inspiring people."

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2 comments
dawnofeden
dawnofeden

Ayahuasca is a medicine not a drug, but you need to have the experience, and after that your opinion about the ayahuasca will chage for ever, visit http://www.dawnofeden.net for more information

SuperStarre
SuperStarre

In my experience, I have been fortunate to have several positive experiences with Ayahuasca in Peru. I would only recommend drinking ayahuasca with someone that has a lot of experience with the ceremony. The ceremony can be incredibly intense, so you want someone that can guide you and help you process the information being received. 

I have been with two different Shamans that I would highly recommend. The first is a very raw experience because it is in the rain forrest along the Amazon river. His name is Francisco and he runs a botanical garden outside of Iquitos, Peru. His website is http://jardinsachamama.com. He is his 50s or 60s and holds ceremonies weekly. 

The other is more modern and comfortable. His name is Diego and he has been giving ceremonies for the last 13 years with his wife. They are located in Pisac, Peru, in the Sacred Valley of the Andes Mountains, just outside of Cusco. They also have a bed and breakfast on site to allow you to be close to the process. The Bed & Breakfast is http://melissa-wasi.com and their website for Ayahuasca is http://sacredvalleytribe.com

Be prepared and ask all of the questions that you need before you go down the rabbit hole. It is a beautiful experience but it is definitely not for everyone, but then again, if you are curious then it is probably time for you to start your journey. 

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