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Vine with a Soul

“There is another world, but it is in this one.”
– William Butler Yeats


“Although ayahuasca is often translated as ‘vine of the soul,’ the translation that may best convey the sense that ayahuasca has in Amazonian Quechua is ‘vine with a soul.'”
Gayle Highpine –

A very interesting observation from an in-depth and enlightening article by Gayle Highpine, one of the moderators of the Ayahuasca Forums on The idea of a vine having or representing an actual intelligence beyond human knowledge is easy to dismiss with a rationalist analysis. This analysis holds that the way Ayahuasca’s amazing effects were originally discovered was by long-term trial and error by native peoples. Those who promote this reductionist view, don’t understand just how ‘astronomical’ the odds would have to be to do so, nor do they have an appreciation of how medicine knowledge was developed in ancient times and still occurs today for those who are sensitive to it. There are around 80,000 catalogued plant species in the Amazon with an estimated one million more uncatalogued ones. Trial and error as a method to develop complex medicines in a natural setting is unrealistic.

Gayle tells how within a century of so of the introduction of European diseases, the people of one region, the Napo Runa of Ecuador, discovered over one thousand plant medicines in a very short time. Some of these are in complex chemical combinations. These plants are cooked with Ayahuasca and consumed to gain, through visions, specific knowledge about which plants to use to cure which diseases or illnesses. Ecuadorians developed a treatment for malaria within a quarter century of its arrival in their forests. This was quinine, which is still viable today.

“Humans have the same instinctive ability to sense medicinal plants as other animals do, even if most have never developed it,” she says.

It’s a fascinating article for those interested in the history and origins of the “Mother of all plants,” and she presents a lot of information I have not seen before.


2 responses

  1. This is my theory how ayahausca came into use. When people moved into the Amazon region, they were looking for plants for food and medicine. At some point they tried the vine. It contains MAOI so it will cause vomiting by itself. The vomiting would be regarded as medicinal in itself and would be valuable treatment of various digestive disorders and would also combine with the hallucinogenic properties of alkaloids found only in the vine. Some shamans I believe even today use only the vine. To discover the mixture that is usually used for ayahausca brew would require only that people experiment with adding other ingredients until they eventually found one that contained DMT.

    On the other hand, curare is really difficult to explain because it requires elaborate preparation that can kill anyone inhaling the fumes and the final product is used for the unique purpose of paralyzing monkeys so they fall to the ground when shot by a blow gun. How anyone decided to create this concoction for hunting is beyond me.

    June 6, 2013 at 6:57 am

    • Certainly could be. I’ve also heard the idea that people watched jaguars and other animals chew the vine bark and become intoxicated. They realized the animals were using the bark for medicinal purposes. Maybe for spirit purposes, too?!
      One of Gayle’s points, also, was that many older cultures used only the vine and that we should not say that ayahuasca is only the vine/leaf combination. One thing that indicates this is that it is always called ayahuasca (or the other names for the vine, like yagé) and not by the other admixture plant names.

      June 6, 2013 at 7:11 am

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