We have seen that the origin of the practices and concepts of
the Santo Daime religion go back to ancient Indian traditions.
We have also seen that Mestre Irineu learnt the secrets of the
brew from someone belonging to the tradition of "vegetalistas",
who, to this day, practice shamanism among the mestizo population,
in the Amazon Region.
Mestre Irineu, however, came from a slightly different context.
He was a Black Brazilian , with no Indian ancestry. Although,
the forest was familiar to him, he spent a good part of his life
on the outskirts the Acrean towns. But, as Chaumeil puts it, the
non-dogmatic and questioning character of shamanism, makes it
easier to incorporate new models to its traditional conceptual
framework (1). Therefore, important conceptual and practical changes
were introduced in response to a given social cultural context
. The main one was, probably, the emphasis given to elements of
Christian origin, incorporating the Christian pantheon and most
important of all, its moral code.
Attending a clientele coming from the poorest strata of Rio Branco,
Mestre Irineu, exerted a comforting and assuring influence. The
rituals, over which he presided, kept within the shamanic tradition
of the use of entheogens, where they were not used recreationally,
but to establish contact with the sacred. In this process, rather
than of an escape from day to day pressures, they were used evoke
and validate cultural values.
More recently, the Santo Daime doctrine has spread to other parts
of Brazil and even to other countries, gathering followers, frequently
young adults, from more privileged social layers, bearing the,
so called, new religious consciousness. This spread has led to
concerned and even repressive reactions, like in the case of the
attempt to ban the use of the brew. It is occasionally alleged
that its long term effects are unknown and that it might cause
physical and psychological harm and contribute to social disintegration.
Researchers answer these concerns demonstrating that the use of
this brew occurs in a ritual context, endowed with a very conservative
ethic which has as one of its important aims the development of
communities where the individual can be well integrated with his
physical and social habitat.
As for possible negative long term effects on health, it has been
pointed out that ayahuasquero shamans often enjoy exceptional
physical and psychic vigor, even after they grow old. The followers
of these religions do not usually present any health problems
that might be attributed directly to the use of ayahuasca.
When such assertions show themselves difficult to deny, critics
change their arguments, admitting that it is legitimate that the
brew be used in the Amazon Region, among the Indians, but, not
among civilized and urban groups, who would not have the necessary
cultural mechanisms to control its use.
The ignorance of the Amazonian population revealed by such a view
is the result of the common disregard for the social-cultural
aspects of the subject and a concentration on exclusively pharmacological
considerations. Commenting on paper on the subject, produced in
1992 by the Brazilian Federal Narcotics Council, that once again
emphasized the psycho-cultural-social aspects of the ritual use
of the ayahuasca, the doctor and Federal deputy, Jose Elias Murad,
for instance, made an official statement criticizing the document
(2). His criticisms are all of a pharmacological nature and demonstrate
stereotyped and uninformed thinking when referring to anthropological
concepts. Thus, he says he is against any interference in the
cultural, folk and/or religious use of the brew by the natives
of the Amazon Region once the ban of any of their traditions might
lead to a loss of their culture as well as being very difficult
to carry out in practical terms.
But, continues Murad, there is a great difference between that
assertion and the contention that the Santo Daime Brew is not
a hallucinogen and is a harmless product that should remain liberated
and not be listed among psychoactive drugs.
This type of argument has been refuted on many occasions, including
in the 1987 report, presented by the Narcotics Council work-groups
that studied the question. In this report, for instance, it was
shown that even though certain activities pertaining to rural
areas are not to be found in the towns, the conversion, to the
Santo Daime doctrine, can lead to ritual practices and to ways
of living that maintain the basic characteristics of the Amazonian
religious communities. To restrict the ritual use of ayahuasca
to the inhabitants of the Amazon forest means, in fact, to forbid
the most important religious ceremonies of the many ayahuasca
religions, which, like the Santo Daime, are predominantly to be
found in the suburban countryside of large towns outside the Amazon
area. This would have the self defeating effect of weakening the
church structures which up to now have proven to be notably successful
in the control of the use of the brew. It would also be highly
damaging to the lives of the daimistas.
One should remember that the foundation of the "Circulo de
Regeneracao e Fe" (The Regeneration and Faith Circle), an
important milestone in the history of the Santo Daime religion,
happened in the 19 20's, at approximately the same time as, in
Rio de Janeiro, the "Umbandista" afro-Brazilian possession
religion began to be structured. This religion ,which has much
in common with Daime, after a period of official persecution became
very widespread and legitimate. It is inconceivable that nowadays
anyone would try to ban Umbanda in Brazil again. Just as in this
case and in that of other Afro-Brazilian religions, so to with
the ayahuasca religions, one will find that they have come to
play a crucial part in the lives of countless followers who have
invested their lives in them, making them central to their individual,
social and spiritual identities.
The history of humankind is rich in examples of the senselessness
of intolerance and religious persecution, the results of which
seem to lead inevitably to fanaticism, on one hand and arbitrary
prepotence on the other. This could be seen in Brazil during the
first forty years of the century. At that time the official repressive
policy against the Afro-Brazilian religions caused serious social
problems, laying bare the prejudiced and unjust nature of the
regime. The Christian tradition itself abounds with examples of
martyrdom for faith, that could serve as models for the followers
of ayahuasca religions who might wish to protest against a banning
of their rituals.
The Narcotics Council 1987 report ends with a criticism of the
allegation that the ritual use of Daime, in the big cities, of
the South, may lead to the dangers of a culture shock. According
to Levi-Strauss, quoted in the report,, "no culture is alone;
they are always prone to form associations with other cultures,
and that is what allows them to build cumulative series"(3).
One must not consider culture as something complete, enclosed
in insurmountable boundaries. It is better to take it as a meaningful
activity, conceiving of it as a process, through which man in
order to act socially must constantly produce and use cultural
goods (4). So, one might say that this process includes the adaptation
and the attribution of new meanings to old behavior patterns and
the absorption of others from other societies. In this case, there
is no "a priori" incompatibility between Indian shamanic
practices and modern urban industrialized society. "Cultural
work" on them being enough to give them new uses and meanings,
in accordance with the rest of the systems of value and meaning
Maria Isaura Pereira de Queiroz, examining Brazilian popular religiosity
from a sociological angle, criticizes the dichotomy that is often
established between popular and official Catholicism. This might
help us in our thinking about the question of the alleged insurmountable
differences between Amazonian religious practices and those of
urban Brazil. According to her, the dichotomy is not based on
exact definitions, but in value judgments. This difficulty applies
to any sociological use of dichotomous concepts, that seem to
originate from a systematic and theoretical reasoning, that has,
as its starting point, ideological conceptions of Good and Evil
and not a direct examination of the reality of the case in question.
As a result, instead of being appropriate to the analysis of social
reality, they deformed it to suit the researcher's ideology.
Confirming this view, one can see that the criticisms of the urban
use of Daime are based on an incorrect notion of how it is used
in the Amazonian Region that does not take into account the fact
that, from its beginning, Mestre Irineu's doctrine was directed
to a population that was already urban or in the process of urbanization.
The adaptations needed for larger urban areas, would, therefore,
be relatively simple, similar to the ones which were necessary
for the adaptation of the Afro-Brazilian religions, originating
in smaller northeastern cities, to a metropolis like Sao Paulo,
for instance. In addition, it must be remembered that, even in
the Southeastern area, many churches are located in rural areas,
where there is an effort to reproduce the communitarian life patterns
of Colonia 5.000 or of Ceu do Mapia.
Thus, there is the possibility that this dichotomous reasoning
has as its origin, the intention of validating predetermined value
judgments. These seem to be directly related to the question of
which states of consciousness are to be recognized as healthy
or normal. After all Medicine and Psychoanalysis frequently tend
to label any kind of spiritual experience as pathological phenomena.
Therefore, an important current in psychoanalysis, following the
example of Freud himself, interprets the unifying and oceanic
states of mystics as a regression to a primary narcissism and
to childish helplessness, and sees religions as a collective obsessive-compulsive
neurosis. Shamans are frequent by described as squizophrenics
or epileptics and even great saints, prophets and religious masters,
like Buda, Jesus, Mohamed, have been, occasionally given the most
varied psychiatric labels (6).
It is difficult for daimistas to escape from such a treatment
even though they even profess ideas which are fully identified
with the spiritual and social values
which are considered to be emblematic of our society such as those
expressed in the formula used to close the Daime works:
the name of God, the Father,
Of the Sovereign Virgin Mother
Of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of the Patriarch Saint Joseph
And all the Divine Beings
Of the Celestial Court
Under the orders of
Our Imperial Master Juramidam
Our work is closed
My brothers and my sisters
Praised be God in the heights
So that She be always praised
Our Mother Most Holy Mary
Over the whole of Humanity
2. Speech made in the Chamber of Deputies, by Deputy Jose Elias
Murad (PSDB-MG), 23/02/92.
3. Levi-Strauss 1970:262.
4. Durham 1984-28.
5. Queiroz 1983 91:2.
6. Grof 1987:243.