Anthropology •  Latin America and Religion

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Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon

Stephan V. Beyer

In the Upper Amazon, mestizos are the Spanish-speaking descendants of Hispanic colonizers and the indigenous peoples of the jungle. Some mestizos have migrated to Amazon towns and cities, such as Iquitos and Pucallpa; most remain in small villages. They have retained features of a folk Catholicism and traditional Hispanic medicine, and have incorporated much of the religious tradition of the Amazon, especially its healing, sorcery, shamanism, and the use of potent plant hallucinogens, including ayahuasca. The result is a uniquely eclectic shamanist culture that continues to fascinate outsiders with its brilliant visionary art. Ayahuasca shamanism is now part of global culture. Once the terrain of anthropologists, it is now the subject of novels and spiritual memoirs, while ayahuasca shamans perform their healing rituals in Ontario and Wisconsin.

Singing to the Plants sets forth just what this shamanism is about--what happens at an ayahuasca healing ceremony, how the apprentice shaman forms a spiritual relationship with the healing plant spirits, how sorcerers inflict the harm that the shaman heals, and the ways that plants are used in healing, love magic, and sorcery.


Stephan V. Beyer has a law degree and doctorates in both religion and psychology, and has previously published three books on Buddhism and Tibetan language and religion. He has been a university professor, a trial lawyer, a wilderness guide, and a peacemaker and community builder. He studied wilderness survival among the indigenous peoples of North and South America, and sacred plant medicine with traditional herbalists in North America and in the Upper Amazon.


"Scholars will appreciate the depth and breadth of the learning here, and would-be ayahuasca pilgrims should consider this a must read. Find room in your backpack for a paperback edition, but be sure to add a waterproof sleeve. You'll want to return to this one again and again as your quest, should you be called on one, unfolds."


Cultural Anthropology

"Beyer has provided a very useful sourcebook for anyone who wants to know more about shamanism and ayahuasca than is available from drug-focused websites and sensationalized tourist brochures for 'authentic' shamanic experiences in the Amazon. I hope that is a large audience, as the book merits wide attention."


Medical Anthropology Quarterly

"Building an inclusive bridge between a layman's accessibility and comprehensive scholarly research, Beyer has effectively embodied and integrated his intellectual understanding and knowledge with years of first-hand experimental encounters with Ayahuasca and other plant medicines of Upper Amazonia."


International Journal of Transpersonal Studies

"An exhaustively researched and detailed study, unique among its kind, and an absolute 'must-have' for college library collections strong in anthropology and information on indigenous religions."


Midwest Book Review

"As plant-based shamanism peaks in the Western consciousness, a number of books have recently been published documenting different facets of this archaic revival. Few are more carefully researched or as delightfully presented as Stephen V. Beyer's magnum opus, Singing to the Plants, which as the subtitle suggests, is the invaluable guide to mestizo shamanism in the Upper Amazon....This is a serious and scholarly compendium for the academic and layperson alike. It is to be most highly recommended to those with an interest in Amazonian medicines, shamanism, culture, and the current impact these evolving traditions are having as the West undergoes its own global shamanic resurgence."



6.125 x 9.5 in. 544 pages 12 halftones, 2 charts