Psychedelic Rituals in the Netherlands
Psychoactivity Conference. Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen. Sunday, October 4, 1998.
In a country like Holland, with relatively liberal drug laws, talking about drugs and drug use is not something you can only do behind closed and locked doors, in the privacy of a trusted home, after searching for hidden microphones. It is not really neccesary to know to whom you direct your open mindedness. If somebody is against drugs, or dislikes your attitude towards drugs, you will know soon enough because of his or her reaction.
It is just that you don't have to be afraid for somebody sneakily informing the police. The police is not interested. Drug use is a kind of personal behaviour that does not have any priority for Dutch police. In such an atmosphere there is no real need for an underground network of like-minded people as we know it exists in many other countries where users face draconian jail sentences.
This luxury position for Dutch drug users results in a slightly different situation concerning psychedelic rituals. Here in Holland it is possible to attract participants for rituals through advertising in smart shops, by direct mail, and of course by word of mouth.
It is because of this openness that in a small country like Holland, different ways of conducting psychedelic rituals are being performed. If people don't like a certain way of conducting rituals, a certain belief system, or just dislike a leader of a ritual, it is easy to chance to another group.
Hans Plomp told you about the history of psychedelic rituals, based in the idea of the hippiemovement who saw Amsterdam as magical centre of the world, and from that point on further developed in the city itself and in the sanctuary that was shaped in the squatted village of Ruigoord.
I will talk about recent developments concerning psychedelic rituals in the Netherlands, which will mainly focus around the use of ayahuasca. I will not explain anything about the botanical or pharmacological properties of this fascinating amazone brew, since other speakers in this conference have done so already, and in no doubt in a better way than I could do it.
About five years ago, in 1993/1994, the first ayahuasca rituals were being held here, organised by members of the Brasilian based Santo Daime church, who wanted to introduce their faith. Early Dutch members could be found mainly in followers of the Indian guru Osho, formerly known as Bhagwan Shree Rashneesh.
A typical santo daime service is characterised by an elaborately designed ritual containing elements of roman catholic, black african and amazonian indian belief systems.
A Santo Daime ritual has very strict rules. The ayahuasca being served at the rituals has to be prepared in Mapia, the spiritual center of the Santo Daime church in the Brazilian rain forest, and is called by the church members Daime. Daime contains a mixture of Banisteriopsis caapi vines and Psychotria virides leafs. Participants are asked to abstain from sexual intercourse from three days before until three days after the ritual.
Women should sit on one side, men should sit on the opposite side of a central table. The table has a rectangular shape, and this shape is reflected in the positioning of the men and women. The head of the table is reserved for the "commander" of the ritual. Behind the commander, and on the commander's left side are the women. On the opposite side and on the commander's right side are the men. Looking from above a santo daime ritual resembles a mandala. Church members are dressed in uniforms. They wear different uniforms in different rituals. Many members wear shiny metal stars on their shirts, rather reminiscent of those being worn by sheriffs in western movies. Three kinds of rituals can be distinguished. There are rituals were people sit, and there are dancing rituals. A female and a male senior church member will take care that everything is going along the rules of the church. It is for example not allowed to sit cross armed or cross legged. Participants have to sit or dance in one line. The purpose of all these rules is to establish a certain group energy that has to result in a spiral towards heaven.
Hymns are very important in this religion, and the church members are singing non-stop the hymns of their "third Testament".
Two fardado's will stay outside the mandala-shaped ritual to supervise and to aid affected participants if necessary. A woman will supervise the female part of the ritual, and a man does the same with the male part of the ritual.
There are right now three chapters of the Santo Daime church in Holland. They mainly attract baby boomers, people in their forties and fifties.
Quite a lot of psychedelic enthusiasts are you might say allergic to the christian character of the Santo Daime rituals. You have to take into account that only a minority of the Dutch population belongs nowadays to the christian faith.
A Mestizo Curandero from Peru
In November 1995 Don Juan Tangoa Paima, a Mestizo curandero from Iquitos, Peru, visited Holland to perform ayahuasca rituals. The style of Don Juan's rituals were quite different from those of the Santo Daime church: Don Juan's rituals are done in complete darkness for example. According to this Mestizo curandero, the darkness enables participants to see more vivid visions. Don Juan also claims there is a difference in visions when the eyes are opened or closed. Pitch darkness enables participants to keep their eyes open without being disturbed by the surroundings. Participants sat on cushions on the ground in no particular order. Don Juan did not like people to lie down. He said too much relaxation makes people vulnerable for bad spirits. He revered tobacco as a sacred plant. Don Juan smoked cigarettes non-stop during the ritual. He blowed smoke in the bottle of ayahuasca before it was served to the participants. He protected the participants with his tobacco smoke. If somebody had to leave the room to go to the toilet, Don Juan advised them to lit up a cigarette, so that they were protected by the smoke. Don Juan is convinced of the vulnerability of somebody under the influence of ayahuasca. Mean spirits might enter easily, and the smoke should hold them back.
Don Juan sing, whistles and blows smoke during the rituals. He also cleanses with a bundle of chacapa leaves. The bundle of leaves is also used as a rhythmic instrument to accompany his songs, which are called Icaros. Don Juan started assisting in his father's rituals at the age of 13. Being in his forty's in 1995, he has a long experience in guiding rituals. Don Juan has a really beautiful voice, and his songs seem to steer the visions of the participants.
Don Juan's ayahuasca is quite different from the brew being served at most other rituals here in Holland. In most rituals the ayahuasca is made from two different plants: a DMT containing plant and a ß-carboline containing plant (= MAOI containing plant). Don Juan's ayahuasca is a more elaborate mix. He adds jungle tobacco, Brugmansia leaves and camphor to the brew. Ayahuasca doesn't have a good taste in general, but this mix tastes more horrible than usual.
The Amsterdam based Friends of the Forest started with ayahuasca rituals in september 1996. The driving force behind Friends of the Forest is Brazilian born Yatra da Silveira Barbosa. As a former member of the Santo Daime church, she was one of the people introducing the Santo Daime doctrine, and the ritual drinking of ayahuasca, to Europe. Friends of the Forest wants to use ayahuasca in a therapeutical way. Yatra da Silveira Barbosa kicked of her 20 year heroine and cocaine addiction with the aid of drinking ayahuasca, and this is the treatment she wants to give to other addicts. To raise money to start the addiction treatment, Friends of the Forest began in September 1996 organizing rituals on a regular basis. These rituals share some characteristics with the Santo Daime services, but they lack the rigidity of the Santo Daime rules. Participants of Friends of the Forest rituals are asked to be dressed inwhite, abstain from sexual intercourse from three days before until threedays after the ritual and stop eating four hours before the ritual. These rules are roughly the same as in the Santo Daime. There is also a similarity within the structure of the ritual: In the Santo Daime ritual, participants stand or sit in the shape of a mandala. In a Friends of the Forest ritual, participants lie or sit in a circle. The aim of both structures is to work with the group energy. Another similarity is the way the brew is served: Participants queue up for the table where the ayahuasca is handed out. As a former member of the church and as a trained singer, Yatra da Silveira Barbosa knows many hymns from the Santo Daime repertoire, which she often includes in her rituals. As a follower of Osho, she also includes religious songs from the East. Recently she adopted songs from Vinho da Jurema rituals that are sung by members of almost forgotten tribes of Pernambuco, like the Atkum, the Tore and the Truka. Friends of the Forest offers different types of rituals. During a Forest Journey, tribal music is played, a Heart Journey is accompanied by soft New Age type music, in a Trance Journey ambient trance music is played, sometimes mixed by a Goa trance DJ who is also drinking ayahuasca himself. The Power of Mantra's is an East-meets-West ritual where participants domeditation and sing mantra's. Finally, Friends of the Forest offers a ritual titled Depth of Silence, where no music is played and hardly any songs are sung. Once again, this ritual is quite similar to the Concentration ritual in the Santo Daime church. To emphasize the therapeutical value of these rituals, the day after the ritual a Sharing and Integration session is organized, in which participants can talk about their experiences. Friends of the Forest organizes roughly 20 rituals per year, with an average of fifteen to twenty participants. They use an ayahuasca analogue for the brew they serve. Mimosa hostilis and Peganum harmala are used as ingredients.
Since four years a group in the city of The Hague perform rituals they call 'Vision Circle'. In contrast to Friends of the Forest, this group does not advertise. It is quite hard to be allowed to join them actually. Their ritual will have a maximum of twelve people. No more than two newcomers per session can join in. The Vision Circle uses three different entheogens: The Trichocereus pachanoi, also known as San Pedro cactus, the mimosa/harmala combination that is also used by Friends of the forest, and a mushroom/harmala combination. One of the group's goals is to use as many ingredients from this area as possible. They grow Psilocybe cyanescens themselves in their garden. Vision Circle-members claim the harmala/mushroom combination is the strongest.
Last spring I was invited to join in a ritual with this particular combination. In contrast to almost all the other rituals being performed in Holland, this ritual started in the afternoon instead of in the evening. The participants lie in a circle. Every person is asked beforehand to meditate on a personal question. They are also asked to be dressed in white.
A big difference with all the other rituals is that there is no real leader of the ritual. In the four years of their existence, the members of the Vision Circle tried all varieties of conducting a ritual and they ended up in an unique way: One person is responsible for the overall character of the ritual. It should be quiet, no distractions, people shouldn't disturb others. Somebody else is responsible for assisting people who need help. This division of responsibillities is flexibel. Halfway the ritual it is possible that somebody else takes over the tasks.
The members of the Vision Circle are long time yoga practitioners. In contrast to all the other rituals I have attended, hardly any song is sung, hardly any music is played. The silence is sometimes overwhelming and forces the participants to go deeper and deeper. Or if you wish Higer and higher.
Do It Yourself Ritual
Since the arrival of ayahuasca in Europe, some people were more interested in the effects of the brew than in the various types of rituals in whichthe brew was served. Many modern Europeans are allergic to christianity and can't stand the christian atmosphere that is so essential in a Santo Daime ritual. This allergy was one of the reasons Friends of the Forest started with a different type of ritual. Quite a few participants think also the Friends of the Forest rituals are not their cup of tea, because these rituals are a mixture of Santo Daime and Osho belief systems. Until recently it was hard to find ayahuasca in a more recreational context, because no one except the above mentioned had access to the brew or to the plant sources. Recently quite a lot of ayahausca ingredients became available to the European market, and this opportunity was the starting point of a new type of ritual, which might be nicknamed as the 'No Ritual Ritual' or the 'DIY Ritual' (Do It Yourself Ritual). In this modern ritual an experienced ayahuasca drinker, or somebody otherwise experienced in the effects of DMT or similar substances, acts as a guide for the participants. Most participants like the idea of somebody leading the session, since the effects of ayahuasca can become quite overwhelming and are sometimes unpredictable.In a typical 'DIY ritual' there is no dressing code and no rules regarding sexual behavior. Participants are asked not to eat any substances thatmight interfere with the MAO inhibiting effect of the brew several hours before the rituals starts. Otherwise participants are free to do what they want, since they are responsible for themselves. In rituals I guide myself I ask the participants not to talk to other people. Any sound might distract people, take them out of the trip into mundane reality. I serve a glass of ayahuasca every hour, until the effects are on a desirable level. For most participants two or sometimes three glasses are enough. In my rituals I try to mimic a natural surrounding. I play recordings of natural soundscapes, combined with recordings of indigenous tribes and medecinemen from South America, Africa and Asia. I also play trip music like 'Acid Test-Hommage à Albert' and the like. In cases where people need help, I use my experiences as a guide in other rituals, and I use a bundle of chacapa leaves to dust down the problematic period. Most important is my knowledge that until now everybody came down from an ayahuasca trip. Essential for these kind of rituals is a certain selection beforehand. Psychedelics are not for everybody and for some people a mystical medicine like ayahuasca sounds like the panacea they have been looking for so long. Beware of the lunatic fringe!
Published in: Jahrbuch für Ethnomedizin und Bewußtseinsforschung/Yearbook for Ethnomedicine and the study of Consciousness Issue 6-7, 1997/1998. Christian Rätsch, John R. Baker, Claudia Müller-Ebeling, VWB, Berlin, 2000. p. 355-340.