Ralph Metzner ed.
From the Back Cover
Ayahuasca is a hallucinogenic Amazonian plant concoction that has been used, often as a sacrament in religious ceremony, by native Indian and mestizo shamans in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador for healing and divination for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. The name is from the Quechua language: huasca means ‘vine’ and aya means ‘souls’ or ‘spirits’. ‘Vine of the spirits’ would be an appropriate English translation. Many Western trained physicians and psychologists have acknowledged that these substances can give access to spiritual dimensions of consciousness, even mystical experiences, indistinguishable from classic religious mysticism. Ralph Metzner has been at the forefront of the field of consciousness studies for over 35 years, beginning with his work at Harvard University with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert on the possible therapeutic application of psychedelic drugs. In this book he has assembled a diverse group of contributors who provide an exploration of the chemical, biological, psychological and experiential dimensions of Ayahuasca — one aspect of the revival of interest in shamanism and sacred plants as part of the worldwide seeking for a renewal of the spiritual relationship with the natural world.
Review by Marcus
This is a collection of essays and experiences of Ayahuasca collected by R. Metzner, professor of psycology at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. This book describes in detail this entheogen delivery system, the history of its discovery by science, its chemical and medical properties. The following chapters form the book:
- Introduction: Amazonian vine of vision, by R. Metzner.
- The Experience with Ayahuasca, by various.
- Ayahuasca: an Ethnophamacological Outline, by D. J. McKenna.
- The Psycology of Ayahuasca, by C. S. Grob.
- Phytochemistry and Neuropharmacology of Ayahuasca, by J.C. Callaway.
- Conclusions, Reflections and Speculations, by R. Metzner.
This is a well written and easy to understand book about Ayahuasca. Instead of the usual more or less anonymous experiences reports here a profile of the reporter is given, thus making our understanding of the experience easier and more interesting. In my personal opinion the chapters of the Introduction and of the Phytochemistry are the more interesting, possibly because I already knew something about the subjects in the other chapters.
If I may say something negative… I was a bit disappointed by the last chapter, but I know that summing up such a complex subject such as Ayahuasca and at the same time writing something entirely original it’s not easy at all. [Much has been said] about physical problems with Ayahuasca, such as vomiting & diarrhoea, what the curanderos call “la purga” (the purge), and how to avoid it. In this book a psychological and not just a physical interpretation is given to la purga, which is seen as a necessary part of the experience. From this book I have also understood that Ayahuasca experiences need the correct music, a capable sitter and to be group experiences to acheive some results.
The chapter about Phytochemistry and Neoropharmacology explains clearly how Ayahuasca works within a body and also the origin of these physical effects. A study is made on the DMT content in P. viridis and on the time of the day when tryptamine content in this plant is highest.
This book is a bit of a must if you are interested in Ayahuasca or you want to experiment with it. It can help you to acheive a better experience.
I was very disapointed with this book. Around 65% of this book is made up of personal accounts of Ayahuasca experiences, where a user (almost exclusively American middle-class) describes one or two of their Ayahuasca experiences, and explains what they feel they have learned from the experience. Scores of similar experiences can be found on the net via Erowid.org etc. There were a few of the experiences which I found very interesting, but this was more because the detail of description concerning different types of Ayahuasca ritual (or lack thereof).
Also, several of the technical/historical essays in the book can be found very easily on the web, this disapointed me a lot.
On the plus side, it is nice having all this info in a book, something that you can take on the train or to the park. And the small amount of content that I actually felt was truly worthwhile was very interesting. But all in all I was unhappy buying a book which only contained about 20% original material. (I have disregarded the experiences as original as so much equivilent material can be found on the net). On the other hand, if you like reading first hand accounts of other people’s psychedelic experiences and the morals they feel they have learned from them, you will probably like this book.
Would I buy it again if I didn’t already own it?
Unfortunately yes, but only because there are so few books out there on the subject.