Ayahuasca and Modern Music
This is a topic close to my heart. Most of you will know that one of my biggest passions is music, but another passion of mine is understanding the rich spectrum of spiritual lenses humans have used to pierce the veil of reality in order to catch a glimpse of, or perhaps even participate consciously with, the great beyond.
I’ve always had a fascination with the topic of Shamanism. Throughout history, the Shaman has played the role of the visionary community leader. Part of his or her role typically would involve applying specific techniques of altering states of consciousness to access a deeper state of reality, where the borders of time and space are said to dissolve. Here, in this super-conscious state, the Shaman would undertake important work such as soul-retrival, the removal of witchcraft, appealing to the forces of nature for favourable conditions, healing the sick and divining the future. A true Shaman, traditionally speaking, would be chosen personally by the spirits and would be appointed either through a severe sickness, or a strike of lightning. After a powerful initiation process typically involving a simulated death-rebirth ritual, the ultimate role of the Shaman was to serve his or her community
Ayahuasca is one of the many powerful tools a Shaman may use to benefit their community. Found typically in the Amazon, Ayahuasca is a herbal potion consisting of two plants. One plant (typically Chacruna) contains dimethyltryptamine, or DMT (the same chemical our brains naturally produce during birth, death and dreaming). Ordinarily, if this plant is ingested by itself, the DMT will break down in the digestive system and never reach the blood stream. However, the second plant, the sacred Ayahuasca vine, happens to contains a particular enzyme that prevents the dissolution of DMT in the digestive system, allowing the chemical to enter the bloodstream subsequently triggering a powerful hallucinogenic experience in the drinker that can last for many hours.
The Ayahuasca vine: image from www.dreamingintobeing.com
The indigenous cultures of South America refer to Ayahuasca, and with good reason, as the ‘vine of the dead’. The experience is said to be intense (though I haven’t come across any deaths resulting from ingesting Ayahuasca). Once the drinker overcomes epic bouts of ‘purification’ (ie. vomiting and diarrhoea) many hours of powerful out of body experiences ensue. The ingestion of Ayahuasca is said to invoke a powerful spirit who communicates, with devastating clarity, whatever a particular individual may need to experience at that particular moment. Personal experiential accounts range from a sublime fear of total annihilation to a blissful ‘at-one-with-everything’ realisation that God is Love. Participants also commonly receive resolutions to personal problems, profound insights about reality and encounter powerful mythical and archetypal beings or principalities.
Artistic representation of an Ayahuasca experience by Pablo Amaringo.
Traditionally, all Ayahuasca sessions are administered by an experienced and powerful Shaman who is able to properly prepare the potion, setting and experience. During the session a Shaman may journey with participants, and also sings specific songs, called ‘Icaros’, which are said to help guide an individual through their personal experience.
Thirty years ago, virtually nobody had heard of Ayahuasca. Today, it is becoming ubiquitous and recent years have seen a rapid growth of ‘Ayahuasca tourism’ throughout South America (the potion is classified as an illegal drug in most other countries, however it remains legal in South America for religious and cultural reasons). I can highly recommend the book ‘Aya’ by Rak Razam for those who wish to learn more.
I have been interested in Ayahuasca for a few years (though I have yet to experience its effects personally) and have noticed that its influence is now extending into modern music culture.
J. Tillman (aka Father John Misty) references Ayahuasca in his song’I’m Writing a Novel’
Australian indie pop icon Ben Lee has gone a step further and is set to release an entire concept album about his experience with Ayahuasca. The album, simply titled 'Ayahuasca: Welcome to the Work' will be released on May 7th, with all profits going to the Amazon Conservation Team and the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS).
Image from www.ben-lee.com
You can already listen to one track off the forthcoming album, 'Welcome to the House of Mystical Death' over at Rolling Stone.
As Ben Lee explains to the Australian media, Ayahuasca has been safely used in South America for thousands of years as a tool for healing individuals and communities. In South America it’s been traditionally considered as sacred medicine, and definitely not something for mere recreational experimentation.
I look forward to seeing how this album will be received by the larger public and how the relationship between visionary plants and modern culture will grow into the future.