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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index

Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice:
An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest.

Plotkin, Mark J. (1993).
New York: Viking.

ISBN: 0-670-83137-9

Description: Hardcover, xvi + 319 pages.

Contents: Foreword by Richard Evans Schultes, 9 chapters, chapter notes, bibliography, plant glossary.

Excerpt(s): In Professor Schultes's class I had learned that the Indians of the northwest Amazon prepare and ingest a hallucinogenic snuff during annual religious ceremonies. Doing fieldwork among the Brazilian Yanomamo in the late 1960's, Schultes found that the Indians there snorted the snuff every day. According to Schultes, snuffing which is the act of nasally inhaling a solid substance, as opposed to sniffing a smoke or vapor was first practiced by the American Indian. It was not known in the Old World before the chronicles of the early conquistadors. (ages 242-243)

At this point I must have lost consciousness. I felt that once again I was slipping through a crack in the wall, moving from what we in the West perceive as reality into a different world one that is an integral part of the Indians' reality. Like the visit of the jaguar and the curing ceremony of the old Wayana, the epena had given me a glimpse of a world that, for the Western scientist, is not supposed to exist. Such an experience almost inevitably leaves you with more questions that answers. But it also opens your mind and forces you to ask what is real and what isn't, what is primitive and what isn't, what we know and what we have yet to learn. (pages 266-267)

The botanical components of the two snuffs once again demonstrate the chemical sophistication of Amazonian Indians. These two hallucinogens are prepared from two different parts (sap and seeds) of two different trees (a nutmeg relative and a legume). ... Living in the heart of the world's greatest forest, surrounded by tens of thousands of different trees, these "primitive" people had found the two plants that gave them direct access to the world of their spirits.

In historical terms, the legume, source of hisiomi, is the better known of the two snuff plants. Originally native to the savanna regions, it was so highly valued for religious purposes that it was transported to many different areas in pre-Columbian times. Even in Andean regions where it could not be grown, highland tribes traded for the seeds with Indians of Amazonian lowlands. Inca shamans in Andean Peru and Muisca medicine men in Andean Columbia are known to have used the seeds for divination well before 1492. (page 268)

This compilation by Thomas B. Roberts & Paula Jo Hruby, © 1995-2003 CSP