Santo Daime - Religion of the Amazon Rainforest
"The Santo Daime church was founded in 1930 by Raimundo Irineu Serra, a Brazilian rubber-tapper. Ireneu, born in Brazil in 1902, reached adulthood at the time of the great Brazilian rubber boom. He migrated in 1922, along with many other young Brazilians, from the north-eastern drought-ridden region of Brazil to the Amazonian rainforest where the rubber trade was thriving. He spent six years in the new town of Xapuri, in Acre, working as a rubber tapper."
"While learning the rubber trade, he was also serving a spiritual apprenticeship with the Peruvian Indians with whom he worked. Ireneu had been brought up a Catholic, but he now came into contact with spiritism (religion based on the spirits of plants and animals) and native Indian beliefs. He tried the sacred ayahuasca tea and was shown the correct way to prepare it. He was taught methods for journeying into ecstatic states, and learnt how to integrate the visions and knowledge he brought back from those journeys."
"Ireneu's first significant vision was of a Divine Lady, sitting in the moon, who told him he must retreat into the forest for eight days with only ayahuasca to drink and only macacheira (boiled manioc) to eat. During this retreat Ireneu had visions of the 'Forest Queen' who told him that he must start a new faith in which the ayahuasca drink (to be called 'daime', meaning 'give me' in Portuguese) would be central. She would show him how the Daime was to be used as a sacrament and guide him through the initial hostilities he and his followers would face."
"Ireneu started his new church in Rio Branco, the capital of Acre, in 1930. He was still receiving visions from the Forest Queen and he also channelled hymns. Collections of these hymns became the church's guiding principle."
History of the Santo Daime Religion in Brazil
Santo Daime is a syncretic spiritual practice founded in the 1930s in the Brazilian Amazonian state of Acre by Raimundo Irineu Serra, known as Mestre Irineu. The practice became a worldwide movement in the 1990s. Santo Daime ceremonies are based upon the collective singing of hymns, sometimes between periods of silent meditation. Ceremonies are performed seated or danced according to simple steps in geometrical formation. A drink known as Daime is consumed during the ritual. The drink Daime, as it was named by Irineu, is also known generically as Ayahuasca. Dai-me means "give me" in Portuguese, as in "daime força, daime amor" (give me strength, give me love), phrases found in several of the doctrine's hymns.
Santo Daime is syncretic in that it incorporates elements of several religious or spiritual traditions including Folk Catholicism, Kardecist Spiritism, and African animism and South American Shamanism. The religion, called simply the Doctrine of Mestre Irineu by its most senior practitioners, has little basis in written texts. Instead, its teachings are learned experientially, through singing of inspired hymns, which explore perennial values of love, harmony and strength through poetic and metaphorical imagery.
Ceremonies, which are called trabalhos meaning "works", are typically several hours long and consist of drinking Daime and either sitting or dancing while singing hymns and playing maracas, or sitting in silent "concentration".
The drinking of Daime can induce a strong emetic effect which is embraced as a purging of both emotional and physical impurities. Overall the Santo Daime promotes a wholesome lifestyle in conformity with Mestre Irineu's motto of "harmony, love, truth and justice", as well as other key doctrinal values such as strength, humility, fraternity and purity of heart.
Ayahuasca, which contains the psychoactive compound dimethyltryptamine (DMT), has been the subject of increasing legal scrutiny in the last few decades as Santo Daime has expanded. The decoction has been explicitly legal for religious use in Brazil since 1986, while recent legal battles in Europe have legalized its use in Holland and Spain. In the United States, the Supreme Court in 2006 upheld a preliminary injunction permitting another Brazilian church, the União do Vegetal (UDV), to use ayahuasca ritually. This decision, as the result of specific litigation involving the UDV, applies only to that group, so the legal status of ayahuasca generally remains in a gray area in that country.
"In 1974, the Eclectic Center of the Fluent Universal Light Raimundo Irineu Serra was recorded at the registry office of that city and its first statutes, eminently regionalist, were published. In 1989, during the first Encounter of the daimista churches in Céu do Mapiá, the new Statute of CEFLURIS was approved, transforming it into an entity with national scope. That statute was more advanced than the first and it already foresaw the unfolding of the entity at the international level..."
"In 1994 new studies and consultations began, on the part of the Management then elected, aiming at formulating the new and definitive institutional format. In 1997, during the IX Encounter of the Churches in the Community Sky of the Mountain in Mauá (in the forest of Rio de Janeiro state), we consecrated the beginning of the separation of the Spiritual/Religious part from the Social/Financial/Administrative one. The juridical embryos of a Church and of a Non Governmental Organization were created in that same opportunity."
"In July of 1998, in the X Encounter, it was recorded the foundation of our Church of Santo Daime, now denominated Church of the Eclectic Cult of the Fluent Universal Light. It is responsible for our Shamanic, Esoteric and Christian Church; it must also produce our sacrament; manage our gardens of cultivation of the sacred plants and realize the spiritual works scheduled in our Official Calendar."
Western knowledge of yage ceremonies was first recorded in the 17th century by Jesuit missionaries who condemned the use of "diabolical potions" prepared from jungle vines. The ruthless attempt to eradicate such practices among the colonized inhabitants of the Americas was part of an imperialist effort to impose a new social order that stigmatized the ayahuasca experience as a form of devil worship or possession by evil spirits. But the ingestion of yage for religious and medicinal purposes continued, despite the genocidal campaigns of the conquistadores.
It wasn't until the 1930s that Richard Evans Schultes, director of Harvard University's Botanical Museum, provided a scientific analysis of the complex ethnobotany of yage and many other psychoactive plants in the Amazon region. By this time, the shamanic use of ayahuasca had spread from remote jungle areas to South American urban centers, where mestizo curanderos added a Christian gloss to archaic Indian ceremonies. Several Brazilian churches started to administer ayahuasca as a sacrament in a syncretic fusion of Catholicism and shamanism.
The two largest of these church movements - Santo Daime and Uniao de Vegetal - utilized yage in their religious services without interference by the Brazilian government until the mid 1980s, when U.S. officials pressured Brazil's Federal Council on Narcotics to put the Banisteriopsis caapi vine on a list of controlled substances. The ayahuasca churches protested and a government committee was appointed to investigate the matter. After examining the churches' use of yage and testing it on themselves, the members of this committee recommended that the ban on ayahuasca be lifted. The Brazilian government acted upon this recommendation and legalized the sacramental use of yage in 1987, much to the dismay of the U.S. embassy.
The revival of shamanic rituals found a fertile ground particularly in areas where wealthy plantation owners and multinational corporations displaced peasants from the land. For these poor and desperate people, ayahuasca was a gift that helped them cope with the expansion of the market economy into the frontier. As their subsistence society unraveled, so, too, did their sense of sanity and well-being. Consequently, a growing number of mentally ill individuals and uprooted wage-laborers sought out curanderos, who were forced into a new role. In addition to curing the sick and communicating with the spirit world, many witch doctors began using ayahuasca to mediate class conflict. As one Putumayo medicine man told Taussig, "I have been teaching people revolution through my work with plants."
The more big business encroached upon native turf, the greater the resurgence of shamanism. And in another ironic twist of globalization, the sacred beverage of the Amazon made its way to Europe and the United States, sending law enforcement into a tizzy.
The Santo Daime religion has taken root in Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area, where yage sessions are held in secret. This ayahuasca church also has branches in several other countries, including Great Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Japan.
In October 1999, successive police raids targeted Santo Daime members in Amsterdam, Paris, Marseilles, and Germany. The crackdown prompted church representatives throughout Europe to mobilize. They are seeking official recognition of their religion, and they want the sacramental use of ayahuasca to be legalized.
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