The preparation and use of the Ayahuasca drink has been traced in the culture and lifestyle of the different tribes of the Amazon Rainforests in South America dating way back up to 500 BC but may have been around even before that.
The ayahuasca drink was said to have been prepared in many different ways and the ingredients used also differ depending on the desired results that they wanted to induce; usually for divination, folk-medicinal and other shamanic purposes. These plants themselves contain “spirits” that helps the drinker open up their souls to the natural spirit world.
It is commonly known that the Shamans, or the tribes’ spiritual healers and leaders, are those who usually cultivate the ayahuasca plants and prepare the ayahuasca drink at the same time. They said that the ayahuasca drink was mainly taken to separate the soul from the physical body with either one of the following as their intentions:
1. To visit the gods and/or deities of the heavens and the natural spiritual world. They do this to speak with the gods and obtain counsel and guidance for their tribes and be able to gain knowledge of the god’s wishes and intentions for the people of the tribe. It is said that most Shamans are required to intensively study the ayahuasca brew in order to attain this level of experience.
2. To visit Hell and/or the demons of the Underworld and fight or frighten them and completely cast them away from their villages/tribes. They also visit the Underworld to reclaim lost souls or stolen souls of their sick loved ones or dead ancestors.
3. To bewitch or attack their enemies by letting their spirits travel from tribe to tribe and inflict pain. One experience was written wherein the Shaman transforms into the spirit of a bird at night to kill an enemy during its sleep. It is also said that after taking the ayahuasca drink, they are able to conjure the spirits of the wild animals and the spirits of their dead warrior ancestors to kill their living enemies.
4. They also reported that drinking ayahuasca has brought them to places unimaginable such as paradise and distant and great cities beyond their lifetimes; thus enabling them to attain a certain level of creative artistry that helps them to produce different works or art, music, etc.
5. Some also reported that they drink ayahuasca to see an enactment of unsolved crimes or to see in their visions the people who have inflicted them with sickness and/or pain.
6. Novices and apprentices of the Shamans took and drank different concoctions of ayahuasca to give them wisdom of the natural world by giving them visions of wild animals, forest activities and flowers and plants that will help them interpret life and dreams.
The oldest artifact to have been uncovered related to the preparation and use of the ayahuasca drink is a ceremonial cup, carved out of stones and engraved with ornamentations, was found in the Pastaza culture of the Ecuadorian Amazon dated from 500 BC to 50 AD and is now being kept at the Ethnological Museum of the Central University of Quito in Ecuador. This particular ceremonial cup may be an indication that the ayahuasca drink was discovered and consumed even way back to at least 2,500 years ago and its ancient origin was most probably concentrated in the lower Amazon area.
Other archaeological evidences such as pottery vessels, anthromorphic figurines, snuffing trays and tubes more or less establishes the theory of the presence of plant hallucinogens in the Ecuadorian Amazon in the 1500 – 2000 BC but nothing specifically to point to the use of the ayahuasca drink. Due to the lack of enough data and evidence, no one can say for certain where the preparation and use of the ayahuasca drink originally started. When the ayahuasca drink was introduced and came to attention of the Westerners during the 19th century expeditions, the said drink was already widely spread among the different tribes of the Amazon.
Even if the drink was found to have at least over 40 different indigenous names, the preparation, ingredients and rituals behind it were more or less almost the same although out.