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Ayahuasca and Santo Daime

Updated on March 2, 2018

Ayahuasca in the Santo Daime and its Use as a Spiritual Tool

The Santo Daime, is a syncretic Brazilian doctrine, composed of a range of varieties of one single spiritual belief. What all of these have in common is the use of an entheogenic herbal drink called ayahuasca, composed of a vine of the same name boiled and filtered with some DMT containing plant. It is used rituals and spiritual ceremonies in the doctrine. The objective of ayahuasca is to aid the user in reaching self knowledge and the experience of god and the “superior internal self”. The eclectic aspect of these cults falls on their highly syncretic nature, having roots in many religious, cultural and folk elements.

The Brazilian to envision this syncretism was Raimundo Irineu Serra, born in the state of Maranhão in 1892, quite far from where, many years in the future, he would have a life changing experience, the revelations of which would lead to the development of the Santo Daime. It is worth noting that exactly how he had his first experience with ayahuasca isn’t completely known and some stories contradict each other. The version of his first ayahuasca experience that I present here is the one accepted as the most viable by the official Santo Daime site.

He arrived at Acre in around 1912. There, in a frontier city called Cojiba, between Brazil and Peru he had his first experiences with the entheogenic drug, guided by a Peruvian called Don Crescêncio Pisango, known as Huascar. During his use of the substance, Raimundo had an experience where a feminine figure appeared to him in a vision. The figure self identified as Virgin Mary, and in some instance Raimundo said she seemed to be coming from the moon. The Virgin is an important figure in catholicism, the religion to which he was once adhered. After some trials, that involved specific eating habits and a period of 7 days during which he had to live inside the forest, apart from other challenges, he received the task of spreading the lessons taught to him as a spiritual mission from the figure. She also taught him some hymns, that later he organized in a book of hymns called “O cruzeiro”. This book is used in the Santo Daime to this day. According to him, after seeing her through the ayahuasca for the first time, he saw her more times without the aid of its effects. Also, according to him, before he first saw her on a trip, Huascar said that she was going to appear to him in vision next time he used ayahuasca, and called her by the name of Clara.

In around 1917, after his first experiences with the substance, he moved, and with the aid of two brothers, Antônio and André Costa, opened the first spiritual center, called CRF(Círculo de Regeneração e Fé). He left soon after, due to clashing beliefs among the group members. The center remained functional some years after the master went away, but was closed in 1921, due to prosecution by the authorities. Only after many years of travels, around 1931, when Irineu met friends that would be with him the stepping stones of the doctrine, that he attempted to present his beliefs and experiences to the public again . In the following decades he witnessed a huge growth of the Santo Daime, and with that, the appearance of the first deviations of his original religion, some of which added new concepts to this already stirred cultural mix. He “received” some more hymns to complete “O cruzeiro”, sometime during the 60s. On july 6th of 1971, he died peacefully at his home, in his hammock, leaving behind a spiritual work that was put forward by his followers and friends and remains alive until this day.

Today, the doctrine is divided in two main strains. The CICLU or Centro De Iluminação Cristã Luz Universal, directed by the widow of Raimundo, and CEFLURIS or Centro Eclético Fluente da Luz Universal Raimundo Irineu Serra, founded by Sebastião Mota de Melo, a friend of Irineu and a quite known figure, almost as well known as Irineu. The main difference between both is quite simple ,the CICLU is a christian cult and the CEFLURIS is somewhat based on kardecist spiritism. Apart from these two, there are some few other variations that have evolved, adding elements of African-Brazilian beliefs such as Umbanda, hinduism and buddhism. All of them make use of ayahuasca in their cults, to achieve their respective goals inside their belief system. Most of the centers based on the teachings of Irineu are in Brazil. There are also some foreigners, “neo-ayahuasqueros”, that use it ayahuasca outside of a strict belief system, mostly for personal interest and curiosity.

The word “Daime” comes from the Brazilian verb “to give”. Daime means literally “give me”. It’s sort of a mantra created by Irineu, asking the ayahuasca “Give me strength” or “Give me love”. As for the etymology of “ayahuasca”, the term comes from the Quichua word “aya” which means corpse or dead person and “washka”, that means rope or vine, so the meaning goes something like “dead vine” or “soul vine” or “vine of the dead”. The “ ayawashka” was transformed into the Spanish version “ayahuasca”, with time.This is also the name for the substance that is commonly used in Brasil.

The drink is brown, strong in taste and slightly acidic. During cult ceremonies everyone should be dressed with pastel clear tones such as white and blue. A “padrinho” , an indigenous analog to a priest manages the ceremony. During the first part, everyone gets into a circle divided by their gender, then they make lines to receive the sacred tea, the dose of the women being half of the one drank by men. Everyone normally takes three doses but have the freedom to take more or less. After that the second part of the ceremony commences. This is when the users meditate under the influence of the tea and access their inner consciousness.During the whole ceremony, the hymns from “O cruzeiro” are sung, accompanied by a variety of popular instruments.

This “christianized” use of the substance is a relatively new phenomena, it is hard to pinpoint with precision how far back the use of the substance goes. The oldest artifacts that have been found to date are two pipes which were found in Argentina. They appear to have been used for the ingestion of DMT containing plants, radiocarbon dated to 2130 BC. As for the oral ingestion of the ayahuasca vines with DMT containing plants, there is no archaeological or documentary evidence of that prior to the eighteenth century. Before the Santo Daime, the entheogenic was used in a shamanic context. To clarify, a shaman, for the purpose of this text, is a person that reaches altered states of consciousness through the use of mind altering substances to fulfill their spiritual goals(healing, psychonautic travel, divination, “interdimensional” travel et cetera). Ayahuasca is used traditionally all over the western part of the Amazon basin, and by some tribes in the north of Peru and Bolivia. It is mostly used as a healing tool in these areas. An Indigenous healer would identify the cause of the illness that patients have by ingesting the tea and interpreting its effect. While under the effect, they determine if it’s bad luck, “witchcraft” or any kind of negative energy, that could be affecting the individual and the whole community. The healing conducted by these indigenous men reaches areas that modern western medicine does not address very well. The solving of psycho-spiritual imbalance through the use of mind altering substances is an area barely touched by the field of psychiatry, and still is a big taboo in many regions of the world, almost never addressed to the mainstream public. When it does get addressed, it is through some publicity media fueled by the polemic against such substances and urges against their use, instead of sharing the truth with people.

Ayahuasca is composed of two species of plants. The vine known as ayahuasca, is the species Banisteriopsis caapi and the other plant varies, but is always some plant that contains DMT.Iit can be Psychotria spp , Diplopterys cabrerana. In Brazil the indigenous people make use of the roots of Mimosa hostilis, and in Argentina they use seeds of Anadenanthera spp. Regardless of the fact, it is very interesting how these two plantas work together. Our bodies have an enzyme called Monoamine Oxidase, that as the name suggests, catalyses the oxidation of monoamines. Since DMT is a monoamine alkaloid, it can be ingested orally without being digested. That’s where the other plant enters in action, Banisteriopsis caapi has β-carbolines that act as Monoamine Oxidase inhibitors (MAOi), inhibiting the act of this enzyme, making it active orally. At least this is the mechanism said to underlie the mechanism of action of DMT. The ethnopharmacologist Dennis J. Mckenna attempted to confirm experimentally this mechanism. He confirmed in tests in vitro that the substance has great MAO inhibitor properties, and that the degree of inhibition was directly correlated with the amount of MAO inhibitor β-carbolines, showing that it’s effect is additive, not synergistic or antagonistic

There is a promising path to be cruised in the realm of mind opening psychedelics, not as individuals, but as a society. Much can be inferred about the risks and hazards through the gathering of scientific data, but little to nothing can be truly grasped about the subjective value of its experience without empirically giving it a chance, without running it through this magnificent machine that is our brain. And once we do that, we can maybe start to grasp the nature of this absurd reality.


  1. (2017). Santo Daime - A Doutrina da Floresta - O que é nossa religião?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Nov. 2017]. This is a great introduction to the Santo Daime religion and the culture. It provided me with some basic knowledge, which sparked my interest to continue researching further. It also gives a brief introduction to ayahuasca and served as a very good starting point for research on a paper about the relationship between Santo Daime and Ayahuasca. This site was also useful to find some information on first hand experiences with ayahuasca.

  2. (2017). Mestre Irineu - Peregrina Gomes Serra. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2017]. This website provided me with supplemental information about Raimundo Irineu Serra, told by his wife. It talks about his experiences with the plant, but this time on a second-hand account. This one, once again talks about the doctrine and a centre that was founded by Raimund Irineu Serra.

  3. (2017). Folha de S.Paulo - Santo Daime se expande e invade crenças - 02/12/2007. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2017]. In this article I learned about ayahuasca outside of the Santo Daime religion and how its use is different in different cultures and religions. I chose to consult this website because I wanted to learn about different ways that ayahuasca is used, and not just the ones I learned about in the Santo Daime. What was interesting was the incorporation of ayahuasca into different world religions and how it goes along with the original traditions.

  4. Bia Labate. (2017). O uso ritual da ayahuasca em centros urbanos. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017]. This article takes the use of ayahuasca away from religion and to average people in urban centres. The importance and effect of the drink change drastically as people are consuming it just for personal amusement and a new experience. The reason why I chose to look at this one, as well as the previous one is because uses of ayahuasca in different environments and for different purposes vary a lot, but are still just as important to those using it. No matter where and how it gets used, there is always some kind of ceremony behind it as it is such a powerful substance.

  5. McKenna, D., Towers, G. and Abbott, F. (2017). Monoamine oxidase inhibitors in South American hallucinogenic plants: Tryptamine and β-carboline constituents of Ayahuasca. This article was written by Dennis McKenna, an ethnopharmacologist, so it takes a bit of a different take on ayahuasca as Dennis McKenna is someone who studied the substance using science and not primarily through experience. To him what was more important were the components of the drink and how they affect the brain and not the use and function of it in religion. What I also found interesting was the fact that Dennis Mckenna had completed his doctorate at UBC and also supervised some researches

  6. (2017). Erowid. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017]. Using the above mentioned site, I learned about different drugs, such as LSD and how they relate with ayahuasca. The site also gave some background knowledge about the components of them. I was also able to learn about how different kinds of experiences are caused for different people and how having the correct mindset before a “trip” is vital.

  7. Anon, (2017). [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2017]. Despite ayahuasca being a powerful and eye-opening substance used in religious ceremonies, it is viewed as an evil drug by many and as a result prohibited in hundreds of countries. Ayahuasca isn’t any worse than alcohol, which is legal and a major cause of death and health problems around the world. Few people know of the true uses and effects of ayahuasca, so preconceptions lead them to just simply ban the substance altogether. As is shown in this article, ignorance plays a major role. For most people, very little knowledge is enough to classify something as a “drug” that should be avoided at all costs.

  8. Temple of the Way of Light. (2017). Shamanic Healing, Ayahuasca Shaman, and Amazon Medicine. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2017]. I chose this website to get an overview of the different uses of ayahuasca in the Amazon area. It is interesting how, despite being a completely different region of the world and a completely different substance, some traditions remain the same. Natives all over the world use natural substances to heal illnesses and the amazon is no exception. Similar traditions, just a different plant. A difference from the others that ayahuasca has is that it is composed of two plants, instead of just one.

  9. (2017). What indigenous groups traditionally use Ayahuasca? - [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2017]. Here I was able to learn about other tribes and areas where the use of the substance is common. It provided a good concise list of other tribes to search up to learn about the different ways that this substance gets used.

  10. (2017). On the Origins of Ayahuasca | Singing to the Plants. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Oct. 2017]. It’s quite challenging to find the exact origins of the plant and its use as it has been in use for possibly thousands of years. Tribes who use it often have legends about ayahuasca’s first appearance, but those are generally not so trustworthy. I chose this site because it takes on a more scientific perspective to attempt to discover the origins and first uses of the plant. Of course, it takes into account the usage of it in different tribes and their stories.

  11. Mundo Estranho. (2017). O que é o Santo Daime? | Mundo Estranho. [online] Available at: [Accessed 7 Nov. 2017]. Accessed for some basic, as well as more profound information on the Santo Daime religion. I was also able to broaden my knowledge on the substance. The information was presented in an informative and easy to understand way, so I could easily grasp what was important.

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