As recently as the 1970s, the ayahuasca culture of the Peruvian Amazon exhibited a worldview that was a blend of indigenous and mestizo elements and practices. The living tradition exhibited an astonishing depth of knowledge on the varieties of botanical form and their parallel spiritual content. Based on original fieldwork carried out in Peru in the seventies, the speaker will begin by describing that worldview and its traditional means of transmission via the oral tradition, shamanic performance, and direct experience. We are now midway through a fascinating evolution of worldviews that has developed over the past forty years. The spread of ayahuasca culture has pollinated external worldviews with nature-based knowledge, ideas of animism, concepts of causality (fate, health, luck), the dynamics of personal and collective ceremonial experience, and complex interactions with apparent shamanic power. The newcomers have gained much, yet have overlooked, changed and, to some extent, homogenized or depleted the diversity that those sources held. By regarding the "bio-cultural diversity" of the ayahuasca complex such as plant species, varieties and attendant perceptions, we still have much to learn and to investigate. As the metamorphosis continues, what is a possible model for the future of ayahuasca use?
Kathleen Harrison, M.A., is an independent scholar and teacher of ethnobotany. She has initiated and participated in recurrent fieldwork, mostly among indigenous people in Latin America, since the 1970s. She is the president and co-founder of Botanical Dimensions, a non-profit organization that has worked for 28 years to collect medicinal and shamanic species and the lore that helps us understand how to regard them. Kat teaches at various universities (currently University of Minnesota, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Albany College of Pharmacy, and Goddard College), specializing in tropical ethnobotanical field courses in Peru and Hawaii and integrative healing traditions in California. She helps her students understand the nature-based worldviews of traditional cultures, along with the role of plants in healing and story. She is based in rural Northern California and Hawaii. For more information, see: http://botanicaldimensions.org/