Wisdom of the Plants: Ayahuasca & The Shamanic Resurgence


Heather Grzych

Date of original publication

Jan 29, 2021



Talking points


What is Ayahuasca?


The world is made of language


A wave of global shamanic resurgence


Training to understand


Ayahuasca - the healing ally


How we lost our connection


The greatest gift you can give back

When I first went down to the Amazon in 2006 I was a virgin ayahuasquero – as I came to realize we were called – a person who was working with ayahuasca. Ayahuasca is a sacred jungle medicine found in South America for those who don't know. It's made from a concoction of a woody liana vine, banisteriopsis caapi, traditionally called ayahuasca. It's mixed with admixture leaves, usually psychotria viridis (chacruna) and other plants into what the hallucinogenic brew used as a plant medicine in the indigenous cultures of the Amazon.

On the Ayahuasca Trail

Ayahuasca is a purgative. You often vomit, so it's cleaning you out on a cellular level. Some of the admixture plants contain chemicals like dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which can be very visionary and create not just hallucinations but visions.

Some studies have recently looked at psychedelic hallucinations and what happens in the brain. When most people hear the word hallucination, they think it's not real, or it's just an affectation, but what happens with ayahuasca is a profound visionary experience that may involve contact with entities outside of ourselves, or with archetypes in a very dense, beautiful, and profound visionary state where there are transmissions of information beyond a mere hallucination.

Ayahuasca is used within an indigenous paradigm, a sort of mythopoetic cosmovision or an understanding of the world. Drinking the brew there can be a sense of oneness or connection to the planet, and to deeper aspects of ourselves. People have often reported the experience as being like ten years of psychotherapy in one night.

There's a lot of reasons for that: in the neurochemistry of the brain, ayahuasca helps potentiate a sort of relaxing of the Default Mode Network (DMN), areas which collaborate incoming sensory data to create this frequency of reality. Those same minds can be like a cork on a bottle holding a lot of the unconscious material, where a lot of trauma and a lot of stress and issues can be stored.

Lowering the DMN is a step towards sorting through or defragging the brain and the emotional baggage. Ayahuasca is a very potent medicine, and very revered. It has really been coming out from the jungle to the West in the last 20 or 30 years and being used in a ceremonial context, in a healing context, and science has been studying it in a lot of global studies as well, looking at ways it can ease PTSD and physical illness.

It seems like the scientific paradigm is coming around to an understanding that the vegetal kingdom does have an intelligence which is what the indigenous cosmovision says. I can often feel ayahuasca loading and snaking through my body. In the Peruvian cosmovision they call ayahuasca the Mother or Madre, and she's a great, great healer. In the hierarchy of spirits ayahuasca represents the planetary mother Gaia, or the planet, Mother Earth or nature.

The Evolution of the Shaman Archetype

The Western word shaman was coined in the 1950s by Mircea Eliade, who wrote the book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. The word shaman was actually taken from the Siberian “saman”, which was their name for their medicine person. All across the world, there are indigenous cultures who live on the land, who appreciate the rhythms and the intelligence of the planet. There's a web of life within which each creature, each being, plays a role and sort of eats and is eaten – there's a reciprocation – and there's a feeding of energy along the line in a greater organism, which is the great being.

Most places worldwide have had psychoactive plants as part of the landscape. The Western cultural post-1960s War on Drugs mentality was sort of still inherited from the Judeo-Christianity moralistic frequency that originally suppressed and exploited indigenous cultures. But for the people of the Amazon ayahuasca is all-natural and is seen as a being, as is the world itself.

In Peru, they call the world soul Pachamama. In some of the native American traditions like Lakota, they might call it “Great Spirit” or “Great Being” or say:: “mitakuye oyasin” (all my relations). They understand that there is an intelligence in nature that is orchestrating this Great Being that we're in, this womb of life containing us.

All around the world, there have been shamans in service to the health of their community and in modern times, it hasn't stopped. What we see with ayahuasca culture in the West is sort of the crest of a wave of a Global Shamanic Resurgence where Westerners who have been in search of meaning or in search of healing have heard about the healing properties of ayahuasca and have been going back to the jungles to experience it and to learn. That's just the beginning, and so there's been a generation or two of the popularity of plant and earth medicines in the West. 

Western culture is out of the right relationship with itself, with the planet at an individual level and with our health and our well-being.

Shamans of the Global Village

We could go all the way back to the 1950s when William Burroughs went down to the jungles and experienced yage, which is the Colombian name for ayahuasca and wrote about it. There's been this trickle of Westerners going down that's now become a flood, but there's also this return. This has been the idea that certain people who experience it hear the call to action, which is one of the shamanic initiation rights. They decide or take on the responsibility of being that caretaker and being a medicine person in the West.

I've seen this generation growing up globally in the hundreds of thousands if not millions of people working with earth and plant medicines worldwide. There are some cultural issues around the language of that and the egos and the Western sort of integration of that, but essentially I've seen this re-initiation of the shamanic archetype in the West.

We look at this dynamic in my online TV show Shamans of the Global Village. There's a continuation from the planet, plants, and people of this energy and healing and reconnection that is going out and wanting to re-embrace the world.

Learn more about Amazonian hallucinogenic shamanism

Own the full Ep 2 on the peyote trail to Wirikuta the holy land of the Huichols
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It's All a Love Story

I think if you've ever been in love and had your heart broken, that devastation, that trauma where you just can't function, is very similar I believe to what happened to us collectively 12,800 years ago. Many cultures believed there was another form of consciousness, connected, belonging, at peace.

And yet as the last ice age ended (The Lower Dryas) there was a catastrophic extinction event that befell humanity. Some cultures call this “The Fall” or just document the worldwide floods and devastation. We fell into survival and we fell into the ego, the mind, and now we've had 12,000+ years now of enculturation, of living in the mind and of separation from nature. The ego feels normal now, but the dominating way it acts is not.

Part of the way it works is actually a defense mechanism, an armoring protecting us from that oneness of life, because at one stage, we feared it. We’ve adapted to our trauma and now it appears normal. 

We're trapped in our minds, and the reason why plant medicines like ayahuasca are so popular at this point in time lies in the fact that they may be healing physical ailments, but they're also healing our disconnection from ourselves, from each other and from the planetary matrix that we were born into.

There is something to this relationship with the plants, medicines, and earth, which is part of our birth right. We've forgotten, and if we want to heal in our fullness, this is a pathway that is becoming pronounced and available again.

Key takeaways

  • Ayahuasca is a sacred jungle medicine found in South America. It's mixed with admixture leaves and some other elements into what is a hallucinogenic brew, and it is used as a plant medicine in the indigenous cultures of the Amazon.
  • Some of the admixture plants contain chemicals like dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which can be very visionary and create not just hallucinations.
  • All around the world, there have been shamans in service to the health of their community and in modern times, it hasn't stopped.