Development of the Santo Daime Religion
The South American rain forests occupy an area of approximately
6.5 million square kilometers, with a predominance of plains.
They also include the greatest part of the Amazon basin and extends
as far as North of the Guianas and reaches the mouth of the Orinoco.
In spite of its immensity, the region is extraordinarily homogenous
, due to its climate and its location on the Equator Writing on
man's adaptation to the Amazonian ecology, anthropologist Betty
Meggers comments that one of the most surprising characteristics
of life in the Amazon of today is the absence of great regional
differences. She points out that along all the main rivers and
some of their smaller tributaries, the people eat the same food,
wear similar clothes, live in the same type of house and share
the same beliefs and aspirations.
Many other researchers have made similar comments about the habits
and beliefs of contemporary Amazonian Caboclos. The Brazilian
anthropologist, Eduardo Galvao, attributes it to the influence
of settlers and missionaries who, in the beginning of the XVII
century, broke up the Indian societies and imposed Catholicism
on them by incorporating them into missionary villages.
Although the Indian influence certainly marked the development
of these new values and conceptions with many traits of their
own, the basic nature of the Catholic institutions prevailed partially
because in the native cultures the relatively simple ritual complex
was not able to stem the new practices. The old beliefs that were
best able to survive were those most closely connected to the
environment and which had no equivalent in the Christian religion.
The spread of a "general language", a variant on the
Indian tupy-guarany also played an important part in the leveling
of the different forms of expression. According to Galvao, this
even led to a tendency to attribute an exaggerated importance
to the Indian contribution to the "Caboclo" culture,
in a region exposed to several other strong influences.2
The anthropologist Clodomir Monteiro da Silva, on discussing more
specifically the Western Amazon, calls attention to moments of
great social effervescence which occurred during periods of intense
migration both within the region and, on a more national scale,
involving the absorption of outside social groups.
Initially, the region was colonized and settled by waves of destitute
people from drought striken areas who came to work in the rubber
plantations. The economic depression of the 20's and 30's stopped
this flow. The loss of importance of the Amazonian rubber due
to the competition from the rubber plantations in Malasia, brought
on a substantial drop in the population of the area. A new migration
flow started in 1940, when the Second World War made Amazonian
rubber important to the West again.
The social-economic changes also unleashed a strong process of
urbanization, begun by those who had managed to accumulate some
savings and moved to big cities in search of a more comfortable
life. These were followed by the rural masses of "caboclos"
and by the migrants who had come from Northeastern Brazil in 40's,
and their descendants, who frustrated in their hopes for a better
life then moved to the towns, big or small. After a period of
time, on realizing that there, too, they could not attain their
goal, they would start a new movement towards the bigger cities,
and local capitals. In the past decades this urbanizing process
was speeded up, worsening living conditions in these large towns,
and leading to the growth of ever more shanty-towns...
The military regime, which came to power in 1964, had as one of
its main priorities the "integration of the national territory"
and the complete insertion of the Brazilian Amazon into world
economy. The resulting social-economic changes, however, also
implied in the disruption of the primitive populations and in
changes in the urban order. These social and cultural changes
lead to a series of new developments like the growth of the Santo
Daime religion around the ritual use of "ayahuasca".
The "Santo Daime" followers consider 1930 as the year
their doctrine was founded. That was when Raimundo Irineu Serra,
a corporal in the Territorial Guard opened his ayahuasca works
to the public in Rio Branco, the capital of the then Territory
of Acre, in northwestern Brazil. Previously, he had undergone
a long period of initiation, and after he had spent many years
in touch with the users of "ayahuasca" in the frontier
region between Brazil, Peru and Bolivia..
Described as being Black, and very tall and strong, he was born
on December the 15th, in Sao Vicente do Ferre, Maranhao, in 1892
and died on July the 6th, 1971, in Rio Branco. In 1912 he migrated
to the Western Amazon, along with a group of people attracted
by the dream of making an easy fortune as rubber tappers.
At first, he settled down in Xapuri, where he lived for two years,
and then went on to Brasilea, where he worked for three years,
in the rubber plantations and then to Sena Madureira, for another
three years. During this period he also worked as a civil servant
for the Border Commission, created by the federal government to
map the Acre frontier with Bolivia and Peru.
In the years spent working in the Amazon forest he acquired a
deep understanding of the local "caboclo" population
and its culture. He also contacted the Caxinawa Indian groups,
living both in Brazil and Peru and already undergoing a rapid
process of assimilation of the dominant cultural values of both
During a certain period he had, as companions, two brothers, Antonio
and Andre Costa, Black friends who were also from Sao Vicente
do Ferre. With them he first came across the use of "ayahuasca",
in the Cobija region, in Bolivia. Reports collected by anthropologists
Clodomir Monteiro da Silva and Fernando de la Roque Couto, suggest
that it was a Peruvian "ayahuasquero", known as Don
Crescencio Pizango, who first introduced the beverage to Antonio
Costa. His knowledge of it was attributed to an Inca king, by
the name of Huascar, Antonio Costa introduced the ayahuasquero
and his brew to Raimundo Irineu Serra.
Although there is little reliable information on the subject,
there are indications that, based on their experience, the Costa
brothers opened up a religious center in the 20's, called "Circulo
de Regeneracao e Fe" (CRF) (Center for Regeneration and Faith)
in the town of Brasileia, Acre. Raimundo Irineu Serra also belonged
to this group.
The organization of this center, considered today to have been
a forerunner of the Daime, obeyed a hierarchy based on military
ranks which went from "soldier" to "marshal".
For a certain period there seems to have been a dispute between
Antonio Costa and Raimundo Irineu Serra for its effective leadership.
Reports on this period are few and have acquired a certain air
of founding myths. This might put in question their reliability,
were it not for the fact that they fit in with many local traditions
generally associated to the use of the brew. Mestre Irineu seems
to have submitted himself initially to the usual processes of
initiation and shamanic development already described here for
"ayahuasqueros" and "vegetalistas", in the
His first experiences are supposed to have included the vision
of distant places, like his native Maranhao and the city of Belem
do Para. But the most important vision was the repeated apparition
of a female spiritual being called Clara, that later became identified
as Nossa Senhora da Conceicao (Our Lady of Conception) and was
also known as with the "Queen of the Forest". During
these apparitions she is presumed to have given him instructions
about a diet he should follow, in order to prepare himself to
receive a special mission and become a great healer.
Obeying these recommendations, Raimundo Irineu Serra went to the
forest, where he spent eight days, drinking "ayahuasca",
and avoiding speaking to anyone, specially women who he had been
instructed neither to see nor think about . During this period
he also had to restrict himself to eating nothing but manioc root,
devoid both of salt and sugar. An incident about this period is
frequently told involving of his companions, sometimes identified
as Antonio Costa, who had thought of adding salt to the "macacheira"
(manioc root) and only refrained himself at the last minute. Mestre
Irineu was not around at the time, but was warned by a voice of
his companion's intentions and later told him about it, and, in
great surprise, his friend confirmed the premonition and recognized
this as a sign of his spiritual development.
There is another episode which is frequently told about his initiation,
when he had a the vision of the moon coming close to him, having
at its center an eagle. It was Our Lady of the Conception or the
Queen of the Forest coming to deliver her "teachings"
This "miracao" or vision was of great importance in
his later work becoming the theme of his first hymn besides providing
the Daime religion with one of its most important symbols , where
the moon represents the idea that this doctrine was taught by
the Virgin Mary and the eagle points to the powerful vision awarded
to the followers of the new doctrine.
So, Mestre Irineu like many "vegetalistas" of the region,
is shown spending some time alone in the forest, following a severe
diet, and then receiving important lessons directly from the "teacher
plant" or from the spirit associated to it. The name "Mestre",
which was conferred to him, also seems to point towards the Vegetalista
tradition, whose most distinguished members are often given that
After a period of active participation in the "Circulo de
Regeneracao e Fe - CRF", and many quarrels with Antonio Costa
over its leadership, Mestre Irineu first moved to Sena Madureira
and, later, in 1920, to the town of Rio Branco, where he joined
the Forest Guards. He remained in this force till 1932 ,when he
left, having reached the rank of corporal.
In 1930, while living in the, then, rural district of Vila Ivonete;
he began to hold ayahuasca works for the general public, calling
it by the name "Daime" which he claimed to have received
from the Virgin. He became quite well-known in the local Black
community, drawing from there the bulk of his following. With
the passing of time, his doctrine started consolidating itself
and his "works" attracted people of other racial groups.
Eventually his healing powers became so well-known in the region
that even members of the local ruling elite became interested
There was in force at this time, an official repressive policy
against witchcraft based on a decree of 1890, which was intended
to curb illegal medical practice, witchcraft, quackery and the
use of "poisonous substances". All these articles could
have been used against Mestre Irineu and were, it seems, occasionally
used by his enemies to threaten him. But the official combat waged
against "centers of witchcraft" was not always systematic
and many Afro-Indian spiritual and healing groups managed to survive,
with the support of politically influential friends or clients
by having their activities classed as religious and therefore,
out of police jurisdiction(6).
The persecution suffered by the different Afro-Indian religious
groups, at the hand of the State, although unable to eradicate
these belief systems, had a marked effect in molding them both
doctrinally and ritually into forms considered to be more compatible
with the dominant values of Brazilian society. Certain aspects
were encouraged and others discouraged. Rather than end the practice
of magic in general, what was sought was the detection and restraint
of those dealing in sorcery and evil (7).
So, as long as they kept within certain limits and emphasized
their ¡°commitment to goodness¡± certain religious centers were
able to establish profitable relations with members of the political
and intellectual elite. These in turn used their connections with
these centers for many different purposes. Some resorted to their
magical services while others tried to benefit from their prestige
among voters. Mestre Irineu also had friends of this kind and
enjoyed the support of important local politicians who were glad
to be seen at his side especially during election (8). This may
help understand the greater importance Mestre Irineu gave to ¡°white¡±
Catholic and esoteric aspects of his doctrine at the expense of
the different forms of possession associated to the use of ayahuasca
by Amazonian shamans. Similarly one may consider that this is
why his doctrine presents none of the moral ambiguity to be found
in shamanic and vegetalista traditions, such as magical attacks
against enemies, and the preparation of love potions, for example.
Thus, in the 1940's, with the support of Governor Guiomard dos
Santos, Mestre Irineu received as a donation the area known as
Colonia Custodio de Freitas, a rural area on the outskirts of
Rio Branco. The land was then divided among his followers and
The area became known as the "Alto Santo", and a temple
was built there which Mestre Irineu named "Centro de Iluminacao
Crista Luz Universal" - CICLU. At the entrance he raised
a large Cross of Caravacca, 5 meters tall. After a while CICLU
became very well known and attracted large numbers of people who
came in search of healing and occasionally there were up to six
hundred people taking part in the rituals.
The land, informally divided between more than forty families,
was worked under a cooperative system known as "mutirao",
which was quite common in the region and made it possible to produce
enough to feed everybody.
Mestre Irineu's followers regarded him as a benevolent patriarch
and in the community's daily life he played alternatively the
role of advocate, arbiter and even police officer in the disputes
that might arise among them. He thought of himself as a "sheltering
tree"; his happy, hospitable temperament attracted visitors
from all sides, and he often received as many as 20 to 30 visitors
in a day. He is said to have received all who came to him in his
characteristic affable and undiscriminating manner. Even when
disagreeing with someone, he adopted a friendly and paternal tone.
In this way, he managed to maintain a sense of cooperation and
brotherhood among his followers during the last years of his life.
The importance of his charismatic personality grew even more evident
after his death when the community was split by disputes involving
the spiritual leadership, the ownership of the plots of land and
individual misunderstandings among its members.
The Holy Doctrines
the frequent visions he had of the Virgin or the Queen of the
Forest, as he called her, she presented him with a series of revelations
and lessons. That is how he learned to call the drink "Daime",
which in Portuguese also means "give me", and which
he claimed referred to the invocations "Dai-me luz",
"Dai-me forca", "Dai-me amor" (give me light,
give me strength, give me love) which were present in the hymns
she taught him and which were to become a central characteristic
of the new religious doctrine. The "Queen of the Forest"
was also said to have awarded him the title of "Chefe Imperio
Juramidam" (Imperial Leader Juramidam), identifying him with
Inca spiritual entities, his predecessors in the use of ayahuasca,
and with King Huascar. In the same way that the "Queen of
the Forest" was identified with the moon, other celestial
bodies, the Sun and the stars were also seen as the visible manifestations
of other divine beings. The drink itself was associated with the
Sun or even with God Himself. According to Vera Froes, a researcher
and daimista leader: "Mestre Irineu's mission is Juramidam's,
a divine being a divine that represents Christ, and reveals His
doctrines and teachings, through hymns that correspond to the
sacred Bible (10).
The hymns are simple words put to music, considered to be "received"
by people through channeling - Though he initially received "chamadas"
(calls), which were melodies without words, that he whistled;
after some time , Mestre Irineu began receiving the hymns that
were to compose his "Hinario do Cruzeiro", which is
considered to be the basis of the "Santo Daime" doctrine.
They speak of Mestre Irineu's visions , featuring "divine
beings" from the "celestial court" including a
wide range of spirits from the Christian, Indian and African pantheons.
Little is known of Mestre Irineu's spiritual development in the
early years following his first experiences with Daime. We know,
however, that, in 1931 when he had already parted company with
the Costa brothers, he started to organize ayahuasca sessions
involving a few other people. These consisted basically of concentration
sessions and of talks in which he transmitted the teachings that
he received from the Daime . It is also known that his interests
in spiritual research led him to join the "Circulo Esoterico
da Comunhao do Pensamento" (Esoteric Circle of the Communion
of Thougth) an organization whose center was in Sao Paulo and
which had a wide network of correspondents in the area. He had
also joined the Rosacrucian Order. These two organizations had
a strong influence on his thinking and some of the basic principles
of his doctrine, like the motto "Harmony, Love, Truth and
Justice" are direct reflections of the teachings of the "Communion
Between 1935 and 1940, the new doctrine took on its present characteristics
and the "Hymnary of the Cross" ( the collection of hymns
"received" by Mestre Irineu) took form. Some of his
followers also "received" hymns which were also considered
to be expressions of the "Holy Doctrines", in so far
as they confirmed Mestre Irineu's teachings. They are concerned
with healing, discipline, visions and guidance, and reflect certain
moments as lived by the community and by certain individuals.
They form a vast body, difficult to systematize, in which one
distinguishes the tendency to consider the material side of life
as secondary, false, while emphasis is placed on the spiritual
life and the basic principles of harmony, love, truth and justice.
As a whole, they form the ethical basis for the daimistas' daily
The system also reproduces a familial ideology , and the words
"father", "mother", "son" appear
very frequently. The daimistas are seen as making up a brotherhood
and a symbolic familial relationship is also extended to the elements
of Nature and to spiritual beings of the forest and the rivers,
as well as to the Sun, the Moon and the stars.
This relationship also emphasizes the principle of duality manifested
in the pairs sun/moon, father/mother, God/Our Lady, man/woman,
the "Jagube vine/ the Chacruna leaf (ayahuasca components).
Although the Christian Trinity is not ignored, this dualism is
the axis around which the main ideas of the Santo Daime doctrine
gravitate. So, it is considered that during the sessions an "energy"
circulates among the participants, that is of a dual, masculine/feminine
polarity, whose power or flux may be affected by the existing
balance between male and female members of the group. In accordance
with this principle, there is a tendency to stimulate the adoption
of traditional gender roles, with an emphasis on the woman's responsibility
in household activities like cooking , sewing, and looking after
children, while men are expected to do the work that calls for
physical strength as well as to occupy most of the decision making
and prestigious positions in the community.
The world is conceived of as being under the constant influence
of spirits, in different stages of evolution - Besides his body
or "apparatus", all human beings are thought to have
a "lower" and a "higher self". The first is
related to matter and is transitory in nature, although it is
important for the development of the other half, the" double".
"Astral work" thus consists to a large extent in the
progressive discovery of this double and of its true identity
through "miracoes". Thus, the "double becomes the
source of inspiration for the actions of the lower self in the
material world. Illnesses, considered to be a sign of transgression
of the divine order, provide possibilities of atonement, and opportunities
to regain spiritual equilibrium (11).
Daimistas believe that the spiritual world is full of conflicts
that spill over to the physical plane where spirits must materialize
in order to establish alliances. So, there is a constant interaction
between the spiritual and the physical worlds. These two worlds,
in spite of belonging to different dimensions, are considered
to be indivisible and interdependent (12).
Work in the astral plane is conceived of as a war or a battle
against weakness, impurity, doubt or illness. The daimistas are
the soldiers or "midam", who alongside Jura (God) make
up the Juramidam Empire, a source of strength for the obedient,
the humble and the clean of heart. Thus, Juramidam means God or
God and his soldiers, a notion of the divine which is both individualistic
Organizations such as this one, depending to a great extent on
the charisma of a leader, are notoriously unstable at times of
succession. So, after Mestre Irineu's death in 1971, his organization
was torn apart by a series of disputes that arose among his followers.
Initially, the command of the works passed on to Leoncio Gomes,
son of one of Mestre Irineu's closest collaborators, and his last
wife's uncle. But, he was unable to maintain the unity of the
group, and many decided to leave. In 1974, a group of more than
one hundred daimistas left, under the leadership of Sebastiao
Motta de Mello. From then onwards, though maintaining fidelity
to Mestre Irineu's teachings, he held his own sessions, adding
little by little, new elements to the original doctrine.
After Leoncio Gomes passed away, the was substituted by Francisco
Fernandes Filho (Teteu) who very soon quarreled with Mestre Irineu's
widow, Dona Peregrina, and was chased out of Mestre Irineu's house.
Teteu founded a new center, less than a kilometer away from the
original one and claimed for himself the original register of
the CICLU. in a dispute that continues to this day.
At this new address, Francisco Fernandes Filho was in turn succeeded
by Luiz Mendes and the old center which had been started by Mestre
Irineu, and which to this day houses his tomb , held in great
veneration by all daimistas, is now run by Peregrina Gomes Serra.
There is in Porto Velho, Rondonia, another church which although
politically autonomous, keeps a close link with CICLU. That is
the Centro Ecletico de Correntes da Luz Universal (CECLU) founded
in 1964, by Virgilio Nogueira do Amaral, and which follows the
basic lines of the doctrine as taught by Mestre Irineu (Nakamaki,
Nowadays, the most influential of the daimista organizations ,
is the Centro Ecletico Fluente Luz Universal (CEFLURIS) which
was started by Sebastiao Motta de Mello who led it up to his death
on January 20th ,1990.
Sebastiao Motta de Mello, now known as Padrinho (Godfather)Sebastiao
was born in the state of Amazonas, on October 7th, 1920, in a
rubber plantation on the banks of the Jurua river. He began to
have visions and to hear voices while he was still a boy and used
to say that, before moving to the state of Acre, he had already
been there on an "astral voyage". He was initiated into
the spiritist tradition of Alain Kardec by a Black man from Sao
Paulo known as Mestre Oswaldo. In this work, which did not involve
the use of ayahuasca, Padrinho Sebastiao frequently channeled
well-known guides of the Kardec line known as Doctor Jose Bezerra
de Menezes and Antonio Jorge, attending to the ill and doing faith
In 1959, he moved with his family to an area on the outskirts
of Rio Branco, known as Colonia 5.000 where his wife, Rita Gregorio,
had relatives. For several years he continued to hold healing
sessions and was finally introduced to Daime in 1965, when he
went to Mestre Irineu in search of healing for himself. On recovering
from the problem with his liver that had been troubling him, he
began to attend the works at the Alto Santo group, and soon began
to receive hymns and to rise in that community's social hierarchy.
Other members of the Colonia 5000 joined him at the Mestre Irineu's
and as they lived quite far, he was given permission to produce
his own Daime and to preside over works ,as long as he attended
some of the main celebrations held at Alto Santo and handed over
half of the brew he produced . This agreement was honored as long
as Mestre Irineu lived, but after his death Leoncio Gomes, who
vied with him for the leadership of the center, began to question
the agreement In 1974, during one of the sporadic police raids
against his community, hoping to show his allegiance to law and
order, Padrinho Sebastiao proposed to perform a Daime work for
the authorities which would include a solemn hoisting of the Brazilian
flag. Leoncio Gomes, who did not agree with the idea, said that
if he wanted to introduce changes in the ritual he should hoist
a flag in his own house... This disagreement was the catalyst
of a definitive separation between the two. According to various
stories, Padrinho Sebastiao then walked away , followed by his
numerous family and a by great part of the Alto Santo daimistas.
From then on he began holding his own independent meetings at
That same year the community organization of the Colony was reinforced
and the old, traditional "mutirao" system was substituted
by totally collectivized agricultural work. The new center soon
attracted not only the field-workers from the neighborhood, but
also members of the Rio Branco middle-class and young people coming
from many parts of Brazil and abroad.
Stressing his autonomy in regard to the Alto Santo, but remaining
faithful to the old traditions of the vegetalista "ayahuasqueros",
Padrinho Sebastiao occasionally introduced other "teacher-plants"
in his works. He emphasized that they should be used correctly
so that they might grant access to astral secrets and not mere
profane entertainment. Of these other entheogens, the one that
was most used was "Cannabis", whose spiritual name according
to Padrinho Sebastiao was Santa Maria" and which he claimed
corresponded to the spiritual force of the Virgin Mother, a feminine
energy that counterbalances the Daime, or God the Father, a masculine
For some time, Santa Maria was used in concentration work, with
a specific ritual aimed at healing. At the same time there was
a tendency to consider inadequate the more profane, daily use
of the plant. In spite of this the Colonia 5.000 was invaded by
the Federal Police, in October, 81; and its sacred Cannabis plantations,
called the Santa Maria gardens, were burnt and some its leaders,
including Padrinho Sebastiao prosecuted. This also gave rise to
a series of official measures against all groups using ayahuasca,
even those who disapproved of the use of Cannabis. This persecution
culminated with an explicit prohibition of the use of ayahuasca
which was placed for some time on the list of illicit substances.
This led the Colonia 5.000 to suspend the use of Cannabis in its
official rituals and to recommend its followers to do likewise.
During the late 70's, the Colonia 5.000 went through a rapid process
of expansion, attracting new members and sympathizers from all
social classes, coming from various parts of Brazil and from abroad.
Towards the end of the decade, the area began to show itself too
small to accommodate its three or four hundred inhabitants. The
intensive deforestation of the Rio Branco region began to show
its terrible consequences, such as changes in the weather and
invasions of insects which destroyed the plantations. This, added
to the lack of financial resources needed to mechanize agricultural
production led to a drop in production. Padrinho Sebastiao began
to talk about moving the community further away from the city
and in 1980, with the authorization of the Instituto de Colonizacao
e Reforma Agraria (The Colonization and Agricultural Reform Institute)
- INCRA, he began the settlement of land in the municipality of
Boca do Acre, Amazonas, which was considered to have no owner.
During two years, the community worked planting rubber in an spot
he called "Rio do Ouro", which in May 1982 occupied
an area of approximately 13.000 hectares with 22 households, 12.500
rubber trees in production, 215 settlers and an annual production
of between 10 and 15 tons of rubber (13).
However a company from the south then claimed ownership of the
land and Padrinho Sebastiao started announcing that this was not
yet the site determined by the astral plane for the community
to build its New Jerusalem .
So, in January he led his followers to another area suggested
by the INCRA, on the banks of the Mapia igarape a river that runs
into the Purus river, in the Pauini municipality, in the state
of Amazonas. Once again, relying solely on the physical strength
of its members and their desire to work their own land, and not
counting on any kind of financial help, the community embarked
on this new adventure, undertaking the colonization of a stretch
of the rain forest, isolated from the rest of civilization, in
an area that, to this day, can only be reached after a two day
canoe journey from the nearest town, Boca do Acre.
Although it was encouraged by the official land settlement institute,
INCRA,, the colonization of this new area did not follow the customary
pattern since it was carried out on a totally communitarian basis
whereas land in the region is usually attributed to specific individuals.
These activities of the Daimistas have much in common with messianic
movements "where the reorganization of a society, or the
production of a new one is the result of the joint effort of a
social group and a charismatic personality" (14). Monteiro
da Silva, as well as Froes, attributes messianic characteristics
to these Daimista movements, owing to their composition, the structure
of their leadership and their effort to give a religious answer
to economic problems and social anonymity. Stressing this argument
Padrinho Sebastiao, himself, and Alfredo, his son, announced Mestre
Irineu as the New Messiah who under the name of Jura or Juramidam
was considered to have brought a Third Testament. His task being
the building of the Realm of God, the New Jerusalem, in the forest,
the only place where survival would be possible after "the
chaos that is being prepared for the world through fire, atomic
forces, and pollution" (15). Although not all his followers
were going to live in Mapia, there would come a time, on the eve
of the great "balance", when every one of them would
be called to go and live there, the only safe place to be.
Couto disagrees with such an analysis, arguing that this exodus
did not take place in a context of social upheaval, deprivation
or family breakdown, generally taken to characterize messianic
movements. This anthropologist is certainly right in calling attention
to the importance the daimistas attributed to family values and
to their central role in the organization of the community's move
to the forest. Couto claims that although a mythical family relationship
is established among all the members of the various currents of
the religion, which he even calls "The Juramidam Family",
the relationship among blood relatives followed the traditional
patterns set by the greater Brazilian society. Even in cases where
some relatives do not, there are no restrictions with regard to
them or to others that do not belong to the brotherhood. At all
times the recommendation is for harmonious coexistence.
As mentioned before, there is a tendency to reinforce traditional
gender roles and their differences are emphasized in the rituals.
Women, for instance, are allocated the task of caring for the
"Psychotria viridis" plants and of cleaning their leaves
for the preparation of the brew, while the men are in charge of
collecting, cleaning and pounding the vine, as well as preparing,
storing and distributing the brew. Traditional taboos are maintained,
like excluding menstruating women from certain phases of the manufacturing
rituals. Value is also placed on virginity and, during the sessions
the women and the maidens wear different badges on their dresses
and are given separate areas in the room. But , as happens everywhere,
the traditional prescriptions are not always followed, and there
are even cases of bigamy and homosexual relationships to be found
among the daimistas. Members coming from an urban middle class
frequently question rules considered to be "machista"
and there are centers led by women.
As the anthropologist Alba Zaluar, had already noticed in her
research among other Brazilian field workers, this often introduces
a cleavage in families, allowing their members to establish strong
ties of solidarity with people of the same sex of other families
(17). Among daimistas there is a marked existence of a "woman's
world" and the separation between sexes even in daily life
is common. Although, the male leader , or "Padrinho"
has overall authority , there is always a "Madrinha",
responsible for the women.
"backpackers" and the new churches
During the 70's, the military regime using brute force managed
to overcome all organized political resistance . This was when
the hippie-inspired "Peace and Love" ideology made its
belated appearance in Brazil . In the more advanced and democratic
societies of North America and Europe, this ideology was an answer
to the excesses of a wasteful consumerist society that had shown
itself unable to avoid the horrors and stupidity of the Vietnam
war or the misery and marginalization of certain minority groups
in their own midst.
It was commonly held among the members of this peace and love
movement that there was no possibility of a true social change
that was not preceded by an inner revolution occurring at an individual
level. So there was a great interest in means and techniques that
might liberate individuals from an over materialistic and over
rational life style. There was a search for alternative values
in cultures considered to be less "bourgeois". There
arose great interest in Oriental, Afro-Brazilian and Indian philosophy,
religions practices etc.
The use of psychoactive substances, like Cannabis, LSD and certain
mushrooms represented to many a way to develop their spirituality.
However, as there was no commonly shared tradition that might
offer the necessary guidelines to render this way safe and fruitful
,for many the consumption of these substances soon lost the seriousness
of a spiritual quest, to become simple entertainment.
Some, rejecting the commonly held aspirations of upward social
mobility, dropped out of their jobs or schools, and set off to
start Utopian rural communes trying to eke out a living from subsistence
agriculture handicrafts or artistic production . Others took to
the roads recently built by the military regime to further their
control over the Brazilian territory, hitchhiking round the country
in search of a community guided by the ideals of "peace and
love", and close to nature.
At that time, it was common for young members of the middle class
, mainly from the prosperous Southeast of Brazil, to set out to
the Andes, usually in the direction of the Inca ruins of Machu
Picchu, in Peru. The journey some times also awoke in them an
interest in Amazonian frontier, its people and their customs .
A small number of these ended up going to Acre hearing about Daime
and eventually drinking the brew. For them , the Colonia 5.000
seemed to be the answer to their longings. There they found a
fully established agrarian community led by the venerable and
hospitable Padrinho Sebastiao who beckoned to them with his eclectic
doctrine of Indian origin and offered to guide them along a well
marked road to initiation and spiritual learning. Through the
use of ayahuasca, they gained immediate access to experience of
ecstasy and enlightenment that followers of other spiritualist
traditions take a lifetime to attain.
After a time Padrinho Sebastiao had built himself a large following
of people coming from all over Brazil and even from abroad. Frequently,
after a more or less long stay in the region, the visitors would
go back home, taking with them their new ideals and spreading,
among their colleagues, friends and relatives, news of their newly
Gradually a few small daimista centers were set up in Southeastern
Brazilian metropolitan areas and in a few South American countries.
Although they tried to remain true to the principles and practices
they had learned in the Amazon, the new social, cultural and ecological
contexts ended up producing a few inevitable changes. The very
distance between Acre and these urban centers, was already a selecting
factor based on economic and life style considerations since not
everyone could afford the expense or dispose of the time needed
for the initial journey. Therefore, on arriving at these urban
centers the doctrine mainly reached middle class young people
and adults who were already interested in spiritualism and in
the use of hallucinogens.
In November, 1982, the first Daime church, outside the Amazon
Region was formally set up. It was named "Centro Ecletico
de Fluente Luz Universal Sebastiao Motta de Melo (The Eclectic
Center of the Universal Flowing Light Sebastiao Motta de Melo)
- CEFLUSME, better known as Ceu do Mar (Sea Heaven) and was established
in the town of Rio de Janeiro, under the direction of the psychologist
Paulo Roberto Silva e Souza. It is located in the large urban
Tijuca Forest, a natural reserve protected by the Instituto Brasileiro
de Desenvolvimento Florestal (Brazilian Forest Development Institute)
Sometime later, another daimista rural community was started,
in Visconde de Maua, Rio de Janeiro, under the leadership of Alex
Polari de Alverga, a writer, poet , ex-guerrilla fighter and longtime
political prisoner. After that other centers were set up in Pedra
de Guaratiba , Friburgo, Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte,
Santa Luzia, Caxambu, Airuoca, Minas Gerais, Florianopolis, Santa
Catarina, Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo. as well as in Argentina and Uruguay.
Federal Narcotics Council and the new CEFLURIS statutes
The spread of the religion in metropolitan areas, and its growing
public visibility due to the conversion of a few television celebrities,
occurred at a time when the government authorities were increasingly
concerned over the use of psychoactive substances. In 1985, the
Divisao of Medicamentos do Ministerio da Saude-DIMED-(Pharmaceuticals
Division of the Ministry of Health),decided to place the "Banisteriopis
caapi" in its list of forbidden products, in the national
territory. without making the required consultation of the Federal
Narcotics Council whose prerogative this was.
This led the Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, another
ayahuasca using religious group, independent of Mestre Irineu's
tradition, to petition the Council for an annulment of the measure.
As a result, the Council's president , the lawyer Tecio Lins e
Silva, set up a working group to gather more information on the
Initially, two councilors, the medical professors, Isaac Karniol
and Sergio Seibel, went to Rio Branco to gather information. The
report they presented to the Council on January 31, 1986, was
The report made the following points:
a - Ayahuasca has been used by these religious groups for many
decades, not causing any noticeable social damage;
b - Among the users of the brew the predominating moral and behavioral
patterns were "in every way similar to those existing and
recommended in our society, in certain cases even in a particularly
rigid manner ";
c - It's necessary to examine in a global way the ritual use of
the drink, as prepared by religious or Indian communities, and
taking into account sociological, anthropological, chemical, medical,
psychological and general health aspects;
d - The 02/85 DIMED resolution had included the "Banisteriopis
caapi" among the forbidden drugs ignoring the 1st paragraph
of the 3rd article of the Decree 85.110, of September 2/1980,
which instituted the need for a previous hearing of the Narcotics
Council whose prerogative it was to exert normative orientation
and the supervision of the activities referring to the National
System of Prevention, Control and Repression of Narcotics.
During that meeting the composition of the work group was enlarged
and alongside Suely Rosenfeld (representing DIMED and the Economics
Ministry), Isaac Karniol (Brazilian Medical Association), Sergio
Seibel (Ministry of Social Security and Social Welfare.) and Paulo
G. Magalhaes Pinto (Federal Police Narcotics Repression Division)
there were also included a number of scholars:
- Francisco Cartaxo Rolim - Sociology lecturer at the Rio de Janeiro
State Federal University;
- Joao Manoel de Albuquerque Lins, Philosophy lecturer at the
Pontifitial Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, and doctor
in Philosophy and Theology at the Roman Gregorian University in
- Joao Ronildo Bueno, professor at the Department of Psychiatry
at the Medical College of t the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro;
- Gilberto Alves Velho, professor and anthropologist at the National
Museum, councilor of the Brazilian Society for Scientific Progress
- SBPC and ex-president of the Brazilian Anthropological Association.
- Regina Maria do Rego Monteiro de Abreu, university lecturer
- Clara Lucia de Oliveira Inem, clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst
and consultant at the those in the new CEFLURIS, are notoriously
unstable and prone to divisions. But, unlike groups whose autonomy
is guaranteed by their leader's simple ability to gather groups
of followers around them, the daimista churches, specially those
in urban areas outside the Amazonian Region, are dependent on
a central organization to ensure a regular supply of the brew.
The "Banisteropsis caapi" and "Psychotria viridis"
plantations are still not fully developed and the ingredients
of the brew must frequently be gathered in the rain forest. This,
besides being extremely laborious, demands a knowledge of the
region and its mysteries which is seldom accessible to outsiders.
Therefore, despite all the tendencies toward fragmentation that
frequently arise, it is quite likely that the daimista organizations
will keep their organizational unity, and the resulting ritual
and doctrinal uniformity, to a much greater extent than the Afro-Brazilian
religions, for example, who have no equivalent common binding
Before his death, Padrinho Sebastiao chose his son, Alfredo Gregorio
de Melo, to be his successor. Padrinho Alfredo, had already gained
considerable leadership experience in Colonia 5.000, and in the
Rio do Ouro and Mapia settlements. Endowed with the charisma of
being son and nominated heir of Padrinho Sebastiao, one of the
founders of Mapia and having a collection of hymns (hinario)which
was considered suitable to sing during the most important "official
works", Alfredo Gregorio de Melo was a good choice for a
new leader. Nevertheless he faced a series of challenges in asserting
his command due to his relative youth and to the political pretensions
of a few of Padrinho Sebastiaos earliest followers both in the
Amazon and in the Southern cities. The importance of these leaders
of a more urban origin tends to grow, due to their ability to
establish working relationships with the large institutions which
are important in the political and economic affairs at a national
level, with which the daimista communities must now keep in permanent
contact . It is now said that, whereas his father's mission had
been to build the "community", it is now up to him to
build and strengthen the "brotherhood", or rather the
large scale organization of the various Daime organizations that
follow his father's teachings.
Although this book is basically about the "Santo Daime"
religion, one must not forget about the existence, in the West
Amazonian Region and in other parts of Brazil, of other religious
groups that also use ayahuasca. Although they all make constant
references to the forest and its spiritual power, their followers
are, in fact, largely of urban origin and continue to work and
live in some of the main Brazilian cities .
The one with the largest following and most widely spread throughout
Brazil, is the Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal-UDV
( Benevolent Spiritualist Centre of the Vegetable Union) which
was founded in 1961 by the rubber tapper, Jose Gabriel da Costa,
better known as Mestre Gabriel, in the town of Placido Castro,
Acre It nowadays has its main Amazonian center in Porto Velho,
Rondonia, and its national offices in Brasilia. This religious
doctrine shows a spiritist influence and avoids any kind of possession
trance during its ceremonies, in spite of the original connection
of Mestre Gabriel with umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian religion of
possession. Although it does not deny the therapeutical properties
of the "miracao", or shamanic trance produced by the
drink, the UDV, fearing charges of unlicensed medical practices,
claims not use the brew with that purpose, and concentrates on
the furthering the spiritual development of its members. In spite
of its rigidly centralized structure, the Uniao do Vegetal has
suffered schisms and defections of some of its important leaders,
however, unlike the Daime organizations, it refuses to acknowledge
the new groups as members of the UDV tradition and even threatens
them with prosecution should they insist on using the same name.
Another ayahuasca doctrine is the one founded by Manoel Pereira
de Matos. In 1947, after spending six months in Alto Santo, under
Mestre Irineu's guidance, he began to perform his own rituals
and started a new center on the outskirts of Rio Branco which
he called "Centro Espirita Culto de Oracao Casa de Jesus
Fonte de Luz" (Spiritist Center and Prayer Cult House of
Jesus Fountain of Light).Following Matos's death in 1958, his
group was torn by dissent and after a time some of its members
opened a new church, called "Centro Espirita Daniel Pereira
de Matos" (Spiritist Center Daniel Pereira de Matos). The
leadership of the original church was left in the hands of Manoel
Hipolito Araujo. These and other similar religious groups which
follow Matos's teachings are commonly known as "A Barquinha"
(the Little Boat), and emphasize the African aspects of Brazilian
popular religiosity ,cultivating possession episodes in their
ceremonies as well as the more classical shamanic visionary trance
brought on by taking the brew. Apart from simple worship, they
are also concerned with physical and spiritual healing.
Couto, also, mentions the existence of an Umbanda "terreiro"
(center) where ayahuasca is used, it is the "Centro Espirita
Fe, Luz, Amor e Caridade - Terreiro de Maria Baiana" (Spiritualistic
Center, Faith, Light, Love and Charity - Maria Baiana's Center)
in the Rio Branco rural zone, on the left bank of the Acre river.
Unfortunately, there is little anthropological information available
about it (Couto - 1989:244).
A New Report by the Narcotics Council - June 1992.
The report produced by the Federal Narcotics Council work group,
in 1987, had been approved and the religious use of ayahuasca
liberated(20). Yet, despite legal principle, an anonymous accusation
led to the setting up of a new a police inquiry in the town of
Rio de Janeiro in 1988, reopening discussions on the propriety
of the use of ayahuasca in Brazil (21).
The opening of this inquiry surprised The Federal Narcotics Council
and was considered to be based on weak motives. The accusation
besides being anonymous, made obviously absurd to anybody with
any knowledge of the matter. Among other preposterous assertions,
the anonymous denouncer claimed that:
- "Adepts of the ayahuasca sects number more than 10 million
fanatics, in the great urban centers";
- "The majority of their leaders are drug addicts and former
- After drinking the brew, "the adept is taken by exhaustion,
and herbs said to be marijuana, are then burnt under the guise
of incense, with temple windows and doors shut".
- "The same happens at the Uniao do Vegetal. Unknown to any,
LSD or a similar drug is added to the brew when it is to be drunk";
- "The followers are induced to "slave-labor" and
to making large donations . To explain all this, the imaginative
accuser added: "And what is behind this? - A guerrilla counter-attack
is the most likely answer" (22).
On account of this accusation the president of the Narcotics Council
designated the author of the previous, Dr. Domingos Bernardo Gialluisi
da Silva Sa, to carry out further investigations so as bring the
data of other reports up to date .
So Sa paid new visits to places of worship, and to several ayahuasca
using religious communities talking to the leaders, listening
to their followers, and taking photographs.
In his new report Sa then analyzed the facts and took into account
other similar accusations which had also been leveled against
the ayahuasca religions. He called attention to the small number
of accusations (he only had received three, during the seven years
the Federal Narcotics Council had been concerned with the subject).
He considered that they were made by parents, who were unhappy
with the religious option made by their children and with their
search for a new life in the rural communities that followed Padrinho
Sebastiao¡¯s teachings. So , the problem generally seemed to be
a fundamental disagreement between parents and their children,
about life projects styles considered desirable by the different
generations, rather than the effects of ritual practices on their
central nervous systems. Sa considered such difficulties to be
similar to those of parents who might be against their children's
option to enter a convent or monastery.
Apart from the anonymous accusation, The Federal Narcotics Council
also investigated a technical analysis prepared by Dr. Alberto
Furtado Rahde from the Coordination of the National System of
Information on Toxicopharmacology, on the 1987 report . In this
analysis Rahde gave priority to the toxicopharmacological aspects
of the subject. Although he did not present any new information
in this respect, he restated the known data on the brew's alkaloid
Rahde says that several alkaloids had been isolated from the "Banisteriopsis
vine (jagube or mariri), of which the most important were:
a - Harmine (also called: 7 metoxi methil-9H-piride (3,4b)- indol;
banisterine, yageine, telepatine, or leucoharmine);
b - Harmaline (also called: 4,9 dihydro - 7- metoxi-1methil-3H
- piride (3,4 b) indol; 1-methil-7-metoxi-3,4 dihydro- betacarboline:
3,4 dihidroharmine: harmidine; methilic ether of harmalol O-methil
From the "Psychotria ("rainha or chacruna) the following
active principles were isolated:
a - Dimethiltriptamine (also known as: NN dimethiltriptamine:
DMT) N Dimethil-1 H-indol 3- etanamine: 3 - (2-dimethilamine)
b - Monomethiltriptamine c: tetrahydro - B - carboline.
The report went on to call attention to the fact that harmine
and harmoline besides being known to have hallucinogenic effects,
like tetra-hydro-B-carboline, is classified as an inhibitor of
monoamino-oxidase . When ingested with substances of the triptamine
type they preserve the action of the triptamine. Harmine and harmaline,
like dimetil triptamine, are classified as hallucinogens, and
as such, have the characteristic of producing altered states of
perception, mood and behavior, of which the most significant are
the alterations in visual perception. According to Rahde, they
might also lead to severe personality alterations.
Rhade's report continued with the reminding that dimetil triptamine
is included in the list of forbidden substances of the United
Nations Organization and of the Brazilian Division of Medicines-Dimed
(which also includes harmine among forbidden substances in Brazil).
Rhade considered that the occurrence of what he called "hallucinatory
states" and physical manifestations, like vomiting and diarrhea,
demonstrated that the brew is not just a placebo drink, but shows
intensive action on users, although up till then , the concentration
of the active principles had not been measured.
Rahde"s report ends by discussing the fact that the brew
is now to be found all over the country, extrapolating its "original
local use, in the Amazon jungle". He considers the UN posture
of respect for Indian traditional use of proscribed hallucinogens
and stimulants, not to be applicable in this case. He also inquires
about the existence or not of plantations of the vine and the
leaf , about the way the brew is distributed throughout Brazil
and abut the constancy of its composition. He ends with a suggestion
that The Federal Narcotics Council should get answers to these
questions be furnished to the Federal Narcotics Council, in order
to provide determine whether the use of Daime could be characterized
as ritualized and restricted . Should its use not be characterized
as such, he proposes that the brew be placed in the list of forbidden
substances, since its effects are clearly similar to that of its
already proscribed components.
Stressing the fact that the best understanding of the question
of drugs, is not based on a mechanical vision, based on the predominance
of a pharmacological determinism , Sa says, in his final report,
that he would prefer to adopt a holistic perspective of the subject.
In this case it would be necessary to take into account three
different factors: the individual, the setting and the product.
This position led to the request of reports to be made by: Dr.
Elisaldo Carlini, Professor of Psychopharmacology at the Escola
Paulista de Medicina, Dr. Isaac Karniol, Professor of Medical
Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Campinas, Clodomir
Monteiro da Silva, anthropologist and head of the Department of
Philosophy and Social Sciences at the Federal University of Acre,
as well as the author of this book, Edward MacRae, doctor in Social
Anthropology and researcher at the Department of Psychiatry and
Medical Psychology at the Escola Paulista de Medicina.
Carlini and Karniol were asked to give their opinion on three
specific items: possible harmful reactions in the human organism;
personality alterations and whether the altered states of perception,
mood and behavior, mentioned by Rahde, necessarily had negative
, harmful or pathological implications.
Carlini's reply emphasized that possible harm to the organism,
would depend on a massive liberation of noradrenaline whose best
known liberating agent is teramine and which could lead to a hypertension
crisis. But in order for this liberation to it would be necessary
that the person taking the brew consume certain types of highly
fermented cheese (like Camembert) or drink large doses of certain
wines; which is not a common practice among the followers of these
religions. As for the alterations in the mind of the user, these
do not represent a modification of the personality, but temporary
changes in the seat of their senses. In addition, such mental
alterations may be channeled in a positive direction in the subject's
social and individual life, and do not necessarily carry negative,
prejudicial or pathologic implications.
Karniol, in turn, considered the forbidding of the religious use
of the brew to be much more violent than any eventual side effects
of the brew. He also considered that the possible harmful effect
in the organism had not been entirely proven; and neither had
the alleged severe personality changes. Neither did the altered
states of perception, behavior and mood brought on by the ingestion
of ayahuasca necessarily have negative , prejudicial or pathological
My own anthropological report was to deal with other questions
of a more socio-cultural nature. These questions were related
to cultural importance of the fact that ayahuasca had been in
use in Brazil for over sixty years. There was also a request for
an evaluation of the allegation that the use of ayahuasca had
extrapolated its place of origin, in the Amazonian jungle, as
well as considerations on the notion of "ritualized and restricted
use" brought up by Rahde in his report. My answer was that,
as shown by Clodomir Monteiro da Silva, among others, this brew
had been used for decades in Brazil, in rituals with the function
of integrating its participants into their habitat and in this
way promoting the peaceful and orderly behavior of the followers
of the different ayahuasca using religions. The restriction of
the ritual drink to the Amazonian Region, would be meaningless
and equivalent to the banning of their most important religious
services , once these religions are predominantly urban. Such
a proscription would be counterproductive since it would lead
to the structural weakening of the religious organizations which
played a key role in the control of the use of the brew. Besides,
it would mean doing violence against thousands of people, who
had invested their lives in these religions, making them the center
of their social, individual and spiritual identities I also called
attention to the sad example given by the policy of repression
of the Afro-Brazilian religions which had been put into practice
during the beginning of the century. I also stressed that the
origins of the Santo Daime religion date back to the time when
the very popular Afro-Brazilian Umbanda doctrine was being systematized
(early 20's) and that the ayahuasca using religions deserved the
Clodomir Monteiro da Silva's anthropological report , one of the
sources I relied on for my own work, points in the same direction,
and stresses the social and ritual nature of the use of the brew,
which involve a set of sequences of rites and activities that
must be observed. He considered the ritual use of ayahuasca to
be almost irreplaceable for the followers of those religions,
owing to its psychical effects .
The report ends by agreeing with the position adopted by the Narcotics
Council when it suspended the prohibition that had been imposed
on the use of "ayahuasca" in 1985, stating that the
community had been able to exercise adequate control over the
use of the brew without the need of State intervention. Any other
solution would only have created unnecessary problems. The following
suggestions are then made to the Federal Narcotics Council members:
a - "Ayahuasca" (in Brazil mainly known as: Santo Daime
or Vegetal), and the vegetable species National Foundation for
the Welfare of Minors-Funabem.
One of the expeditions of the work group to Rio Branco, Boca do
Acre and Ceu do Mapia also included Federal Police chief Sergio
Sakon, one of the members of The Federal Narcotics Council.
The work. group was presided by the Rio de Janeiro lawyer Domingos
Bernardo Gialluisi da Silva Sa.
Following the report's recommendations , The Federal Narcotics
Council passed a resolution suspending the inclusion of "Banisteriopsis
caapi" in the list of forbidden plants for the duration of
The research lasted two years and included interviews, the observation
of ayahuasca users, the study of news reports on the various communities
and visits to many of them.
Visits were held to Uniao do Vegetal communities as well as to
the daimista centers at Colonia 5.000 , Alto Santo, Boca do Acre
and Ceu do Mapia in the Amazon . In the State of Rio de Janeiro
research was done at the daimista churches Ceu do Mar, in Sao
Conrado, Ceu da Montanha, in Maua, and at the Uniao do Vegetal
center, in Jacarepagua. On many occasions the councilors took
the brew, and on occasion some had visions, suffered diarrhea
or vomited, all expected occurrences. They reported having invariably
felt very welcome and having received hospitable treatment wherever
This research led to a series of conclusions on the manner of
use and the effects of the brew:
Doctor Karniol, considered that, in pharmacological terms, ayahuasca
should be considered a hallucinogen. Besides the expected effects
of this class of substances there were also secondary ones such
as: vomiting, diarrhea etc. According to him, there were insufficient
elements to allow a more accurate evaluation of the clinical and
mental reactions that might accompany prolonged or acute use,
among adults, children, pregnant women unborn foetuses. However
uncontrolled observation made by the work-group did not register
any untoward effects.
It was also noted that the ayahuasca was always made from native
species and it was specified that synthetic or concentrated forms
of the product should receive a different treatment from the researchers
should they exist.
It was considered that the social effects observed could not be
attributed to the influence of the brew alone on the organism,
but also to the surroundings, the music and the dancing.
The rural communities were considered to be very well integrated
in their natural context and a harmonious interaction was observed
between individuals of different ages and social class coming
from different regions and different cultural backgrounds.
In spite of the geographical and cultural distances between the
Amazon and Rio de Janeiro, a great doctrinal and ritual uniformity
was observed in the Santo Daime and Uniao do Vegetal centers.
The complexity of the preparation rituals meant that they were
necessarily communitarian, involving a division of roles and special
ceremonies of great symbolic and religious significance. The common
reactions of vomiting and diarrhea, also lead the work group to
believe that ayahuasca is not of easy consumption by the public
in general for indiscriminate use.
The work group did not find one single objectively proven case
that could lead to an unequivocal inference of social damage caused
by the use of ayahuasca. On the contrary, the moral patterns maintained
were considered strict, the followers seemed tranquil and happy,
and were encouraged by the ritual use of the brew to search for
social happiness in an orderly and hard working manner.
In his final report, the president of the work-group , on discussing
the experiences brought about by the psychoactive nature of ayahuasca
stated: "it is important to note that the search for a peculiar
form of perception, on the part of the ayahuasca users, in their
various works, does not appear to be a hallucination, if you take
this word to mean mental disorder or insanity. What all the visited
groups showed was a strongly communitarian project in search of
self-knowledge and the sacred. It is not up to the work-group
to define whether this form of experiencing self knowledge or
the sacred is illusion or fantasy - other interpretations for
Further on, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas the report argues that
"often, the use of faculties we all possess, even if incipiently
, is classified in a superficial way as hallucination"(19).
According to the report, adopting the concept of hallucination
to define a ayahuasca experience makes it difficult to examine
the problem, especially when it is associated to the notion of
a "total war on drugs", as promoted by the American
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in the world media.
Another question, which The Federal Narcotics Council's work group
considered to be of great importance was the discussion of whether
or not the Amazonian and the Rio de Janeiro groups shared the
same culture, for it is frequently argued that activities which
might be acceptable in the State of Acre are not acceptable in
the great metropolis.
This would imply a strict separation between the cultures of the
two areas, something the work-group denied once they were struck
by the constant presence, in Mapia, of many "pilgrims"
coming from urban areas and by the frequent visits paid to Rio
de Janeiro by Padrinho Sebastiao and his family. Although the
doctrine takes on certain metropolitan characteristics in Rio
de Janeiro, great efforts are made to ensure that the ritual remains
the same and there is a compliance with the basic values of the
Amazonian community emphasizing communal concerns over individual
The recommendations made by the work groups final report were
accepted and Bannisteriopsis caapi was removed from the list of
forbidden products and liberated for ritual use on the 26th of
The rapid growth of the new centers, affiliated to Padrinho Sebastiao¡¯s
organization , and the founding of others without the formal permission
the main religious leaders of the group, coupled with the concern
with showing the government authorities that the use of ayahuasca
was restricted to strictly controlled ritualistic ends, led to
an effort to set up a new structure for CEFLURIS, that might answer
more efficiently the new needs brought on by this growth.
Significantly, the elaboration of proposals for the new statutes
was carried out by one the leaders coming from outside the Amazon,
Alex Polari, "padrinho" of the Visconde de Maua, daimista
community, in the State of Rio de Janeiro. He called representatives
of the other centers for various preliminary meetings and eventually,
the proposal, which counted with the approval of Padrinho Sebastiao,
himself, was discussed and approved by leaders of all the churches,
during a meeting held in Ceu do Mapia in May 1989.
By this statute a new institution was created and, although it
was given the same name as Padrinho Sebastiao's old organization
" Centro Ecletico da Fluente Luz Universal Raimundo Irineu
Serra (CEFLURIS) (Eclectic Center of the Universal Flowing Light
Raimundo Irineu Serra), it was much wider in scope and was meant
to congregate all the Daime groups both in Brazil and abroad that
followed his teachings. According to their size and to the degree
to which they were able to carry out the activities performed
at the mother church in Mapia, they were classified in four categories.
In a descending order of importance these were: "churches
with special charters" (the only ones to be authorized to
start new nuclei), "churches with definitive licenses",
"churches with temporary licenses" and "spiritual
first aid centers" (composed by a minimum of three daimistas,
and associated to a church with special license).
When they were drawn up, these statutes seemed somewhat Utopian
due to the complexity of the relationship between the various
centers which frequently extrapolated the proposed bureaucratic
Religious organizations of a loose structure and developed around
one charismatic figure, like that are used to make it: "Banisteropsis
caapi" (commonly known as "cipo"; "jagube"
or "mariri") and the "Psychotria viridis"
(known as "folha" , "rainha" or "chacrona")
should not be placed on list of proscribed substances drawn up
by Dimed, or any other organ responsible for enforcing article,
36, of the Narcotics Law .
b - The illegitimate use of the "ayahuasca" or any other
substance acting on the central nervous system, may subjected
to reexamination if based on new facts, whose the essential aspects
have not yet been investigated by The Federal Narcotics Council.
This must be so since the obedience of decisions already taken
by the Council is important both for the stability of relations
within the public administration itself and for the protection
of the individual interests involved;
c -A mixed commission should be set up by the Federal Narcotics
Council, with the possible membership of outside experts and representatives
of the organizations that make a ritual use of "ayahuasca"
with the aim of consolidating common principles and rules, that
may be subject to public supervision .
These recommendations were given unanimous approval by the Federal
Narcotics Council, in June, 1992 , reinforcing the legitimacy
and legality of the religious use of ayahuasca in Brazil.
1) Meggers 1977:185.
2) Galvao 1983:6.
3) Mestre Irineu's early years are little known. There are many
stories which are frequently contradictory or even mistaken. An
example of the confusion existing on the subject is the diversity
of names of places where he is supposed to have been born. In
spite of what some earlier authors have written , it is now clear
that he came from Sao Vicente do Ferre, in the State of Maranhao.
4) Monteiro da Silva 1983:54.
5) Once again, the information available is contradictory. Some
say the "ayahuasquero" was called Don Crescencio, and
Pizango was the name of the spiritual being he incorporated .
6) See B.G. Dantas, 1983 and Y. Maggie, 1988 on the persecution
of Afro-Brazilian cults.
7) Maggie 1989:5 and 6.
8) Couto 1987:58.
9) Couto 1989:59.
10) Froes 1986:25.
11) Monteiro da Silva 1985:20.
12) Groissman 1991:13.
13) Couto 1989:106.
14) Oro 1989:11.
15) Froes 1986:123-5.
16) Couto 1989:108.
17) Zaluar 1983:110.
18)Report prepared by The Federal Narcotics Council work-group
19) Report prepared by The Federal Narcotics Council work-group
20) For information on the Federal Narcotics Council report I
am grateful Dr. Domingos Bernardo Gialliusi da Silva Sa who presided
the work group set up to study the ritual use of ayahuasca in
Brazil and whose work is frequently quoted in this book.
21) Police inquiry, 09,89 - DRE/SR/DPF/RJ, ordered by M.M. Dr.
Judge - 13th Federal Branch, Rio de Janeiro.
22)Report by The Federal Narcotics Council work-group, issued
on July 2, 1992, p.p. 1 and 2.