Ayahuasca Creation Myths and their Application in Modern Times

The Shamanic Link Between Myth and Medicine

The origins of ayahuasca are rooted in the indigenous creation myths of the Amazon and its people. From a native Amazonian perspective, these ancient myths are far more than just simple stories and reveal deep truths about the hidden nature of ayahuasca and the holistic nature of healing.(1)https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/73583

Creation myths are believed to be the deepest and most important of all mythological tales.(2)M. Von Franz, “Creation Myths,” p.14 They are the oldest stories known to man and form the backbone of all tribal storytelling traditions stretching from South America to Australia. “Botanical” creation myths abound in the Amazon and help to reveal the spiritual intention of different plants. These stories allow tribal communities to benefit from the accumulated ancestral wisdom of the past and help new generations make use of each plant as per the dictates of nature. Mythic stories are the metaphorical language of Mother Earth and tales about the creation of ayahuasca reveal an infinite depth of plant-wisdom that has been passed on to humans via tribal oral traditions.

In many ancient religions, the recitation of creation myths forms an essential teaching in the ritual of initiation for young adepts and they are told as the most important part of tribal customs.(3)https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Creation_Myths.html?id=G98nAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y For the various communities scattered across the Amazon, creation myths form an essential part of an entire living body of wisdom that cannot be separated from plant medicine, astronomy, kené (sacred geometry) and the Jakon Nete (medicine world).(4)https://www.limaeasy.com/peru-guide/history-of-peru/peruvian-legends-myths-tales/the-incredible-journey-of-the-shipibo Together, these different strands of native cosmology weave together to form a holistic, interconnected understanding of nature and man’s role within it.

Myth as the Visual Language of Nature

For Amazonian communities, the sacred myths are said to be the visual language of nature and chief amongst native mythological customs is the Shipibo story of Ronin, the cosmic serpent who bought all native people to earth. Ronin is sacred in Shipibo lore because he/she is believed to be the common ancestor of all Amerindians and thus, the progenitor of the human genetic code.(5)https://pure.manchester.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/84022771/FULL_TEXT.PDF

Ronin is also believed to be the mother of ayahuasca, which is what gives this entheogenic plant its sacred status amongst indigenous people.(6)https://www.braveworld.cc/serpent-dna/ Ronin can take on many forms simultaneously and ayahuasca – whose twisted tendrils are reminiscent of a bed of serpents – is believed to be a botanical manifestation of this cosmic creator.(7)https://www.braveworld.cc/serpent-dna/ In short, ayahuasca is Ronin and Ronin is ayahuasca, and without an understanding of the creation myths. Laypeople are likely to abuse or misunderstand the true identity of the sacred vine.

According to the “Doctrine of Signatures,” the essence of every plant is encoded in its physical appearance. This means that the first shamans came to know the healing intent of all florae by examining their shape and texture which allowed them to commune with and understand their hidden medicinal properties.(8)https://medium.com/@SarahBaldwin/the-doctrine-of-signatures-reading-the-signs-of-nature-a8cd50739051 According to this “doctrine” a plant will reveal its true identity to you by its physical characteristics(9)https://medium.com/@SarahBaldwin/the-doctrine-of-signatures-reading-the-signs-of-nature-a8cd50739051 and – based on its appearance alone – ayahuasca is clearly imbued with the magic of the anaconda, the most important animal in pan-Amazonian totemism.(10)https://kapitari.com/myths-and-mysteries-how-did-indigenous-tribes-discover-ayahuasca/

Ronin and Ayahuasca in Indigenous Cosmology

In Shipibo oral traditions, Ronin bought the Shipibo and related tribes to our planet by travelling through different universes until they reached Mother Earth. One day, Ronin decided to come and see how men and women were living with nature and was very disappointed. Instead of living in harmony with their surroundings, people had lost their way and were spiritually sick because they had given into their vices of lust, destruction and greed.(11)https://pure.manchester.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/84022771/FULL_TEXT.PDF

On seeing one Shipibo woman toiling away, embroidering fabric and painting, Ronin decided to give her the gift of ayahuasca. Ronin also handed her the piri piri plant (Cyperus articulates L.) and the sap was poured into her eyes to reveal to her visions of kené, which are sacred geometrical patterns which are believed to be the visual, animating force of the medicine and used to embroider tapestries and clothes.(12)https://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/communion-with-the-infinite-the-visual-music-of-the-shipibo/11393157 These geometrical patterns are said to be the visual, artistic representation of ayahuasca in the same way that icaros are the audible, oral manifestation of the sacred vine.(13)https://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/communion-with-the-infinite-the-visual-music-of-the-shipibo/11393157

According to the Asháninka people of Peru, a great shaman named Ruraingi was instructed on how to prepare ayahuasca by the spirits of the forest. They told him that chacruna leaves were needed in order to unlock the spiritual potential of the vine while other versions of the same myth tell us that he received this information in a dream.(14)https://kapitari.com/myths-and-mysteries-how-did-indigenous-tribes-discover-ayahuasca/ This plays into an idea posited by the mythologist Joseph Campbell who stated that “myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths,”(15) … Continue reading and confirms what Amazonian people experience as part of the fabric of their daily lives.

It also suggests the importance which native people place on the act of dreaming since this is a space that allows us to receive spiritual wisdom that can help us change the trajectory of our lives as well as the lives of the people in our community. Dreaming helped to unlock the gift of ayahuasca for humanity and can continue to enrich mankind with future revelations that can change the course of history.

The Kichwa community of Ecuador say that waking reality is merely a vehicle for preparing themselves for nightly dreaming. The dreamworld is sacred to them because this is said to be the place in which all plant-knowledge was revealed to the tribe. The creation stories that underscore the discovery of the healing plants can therefore be read as a “Materia Medica” – a treatise on the spiritual intentions of all jungle medicine – while simultaneously extending the wider semantic significance of dreams and how they have the power to shape and form cultural identity.

Ayahuasca, Anacondas and the Human Genome

The myths clearly tell us that ayahuasca is imbued with the nature of the magical anaconda, Ronin, who also holds the keys to the origins of mankind.(16)https://kapitari.com/myths-and-mysteries-how-did-indigenous-tribes-discover-ayahuasca/ Ayahuasca is a gateway that allows us to see into the spiritual realms. Since most illnesses are believed to have their origins in the spirit world,(17)https://raokaibo.org/the-shipibo-cosmovision/ it is important to understand that by calling on the spirit of Ronin through the ritual consumption of ayahuasca, we are actually summoning the healing ancestor-spirit of all creation.

As the ethnobotanist Jeremy Narby pointed out in his landmark study on ayahuasca’s therapeutic potential; the sacred vine has the power to heal us at the level of our DNA.(18)https://greatmystery.org/jeremynarby/ Recent lab results also reveal that ayahuasca has the ability to work as a nootropic,(19)https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/psychedelic-drug-triggers-growth-of-new-brain-cells-in-mice while studies conducted on mice suggest that imbibing the sacred vine can actually trigger the growth of new brain cells.(20)https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/psychedelic-drug-triggers-growth-of-new-brain-cells-in-mice Perhaps this explains why snakes have always been associated with higher intelligence while their ability to shed their skin aligns them with the gift of spiritual insight and transformation.(21)https://www.spiritanimal.info/snake-spirit-animal/

It is for this reason that serpents have always been associated with ayahuasca and, indeed, with healing in general.(22)https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1839795 All across the ancient world, serpents were associated with the transformational medicine of nature.(23)https://www.spiritanimal.info/snake-spirit-animal/ In Egypt they were associated with advanced spiritual practices that could alter the human genetic code,(24)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpent_symbolism while Australian aboriginals have a creation myth about an ancestral Rainbow Serpent similar to that of Ronin.(25)https://japingkaaboriginalart.com/articles/rainbow-serpent/ In China, snakes were believed to be the repository of all magical and occult knowledge,(26)https://www.everand.com/book/431413081/The-Occult-I-Ching-The-Secret-Language-of-Serpents while in ancient Greece they were associated with the rod of Asclepius – a serpent-entwined staff used by the deity associated with healing and medicine.(27)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_of_Asclepius

While Ronin is the Shipibo name for the great creator-spirit, other tribes have different stories about the origins of ayahuasca. For the Siona people of Ecuador and Colombia, ayahuasca was discovered when the great shaman Onaywaya began dancing. While he gyrated across the forest floor, he went into a trance which allowed him to meet the spirit of ayahuasca in a vision. He then revealed its sacred status to the other members of his community who then developed rules and rituals surrounding its consumption.(28)https://kapitari.com/myths-and-mysteries-how-did-indigenous-tribes-discover-ayahuasca/ This suggests that ayahuasca creation stories are there to instruct future generations on how to live in harmony with the natural world. They allow us to gain insight into time-honored traditions that have served our predecessors for millennia.

Ayahuasca and Shamanic Initiation

For indigenous peoples from Australia to Peru and beyond, myth and medicine are inseparable from one another because in native magico-religious systems they form part of the same mythic continuum. For indigenous Amazonian people, myths contain the basic problems of human life, for they are concerned with the ultimate meaning, not only of our existence but of the existence of the entire cosmos.(29)https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/73583

In the Amazon, as well as in other parts of North and South America, young initiates could only become medicine men if they were well-versed in the mythological teachings of their communities. As the wisdom keepers and proto-historians of their tribes, they were expected to be proficient in navigating the medicine world which, according to traditional teachings, was transmitted to human beings through the telling of the sacred creation myths.(30)https://pure.manchester.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/84022771/FULL_TEXT.PDF

This suggests that creation stories that outline the birth of ayahuasca form part of the total “shamanic landscape” that can help us understand the sacred vine along with icaros, kené and Jakon Nete – the life-giving world free from disharmony and imbalances.(31)https://raokaibo.org/the-shipibo-cosmovision/ In this native conception of Mother Earth, everything is One and so it is the spiritual duty of each and every human being to return to a state of primordial harmony, free from the suffering of duality.

The manifestation of Ronin-as-ayahuasca can help mankind to transcend the limitation of the opposites as suggested by the primordial image of the world serpent who is often depicted swallowing its own tail. This deeply symbolic image was called the Ouroboros by alchemists; an ancestor creator-god who transcended the opposites but was also the repository of every conceivable opposite in existence.(32)https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ouroboros#:~:text=What%20does%20Ouroboros%20symbolize%3F,of%20destruction%20and%20re%2Dcreation.

The Shipibo conception of ayahuasca as a primeval spirit who can unlock the powers of healing and medicine gives us deep insights into the important role that the sacred vine plays in Amazonian shamanism. Mother and Father all at once, Ronin and ayahuasca represent our genetic origins, a state of the primordial undifferentiated oneness of pre-birth.

Ayahuasca is a unique healing plant because it can help humanity at the most basic – and profound – of levels. It is linked with the prima materia – the primordial substance of life itself – and it is for this reason that it has been associated with the human genome, the so-called building-blocks of our genetic and hereditary history.(33)https://greatmystery.org/jeremynarby/ Thanks to the technological advancements of modern science, geneticists have unequivocally demonstrated that the appearance of double helix mimics two interlaced serpents and confirms what indigenous communities knew all along: that ayahuasca can help unlock the hidden potential buried in our DNA.(34)https://greatmystery.org/jeremynarby/

Awakening the Serpent Within

The connection between serpents and inner alchemy is an ancient one and ayahuasca’s reputation for effecting healing changes in peoples’ lives is undoubtably the main reason thousands of people attend medicine ceremonies every year.

According to alchemical models for working with “serpent power,” it is important to approach the spirit of ayahuasca with an attitude of grace and surrender.(35)https://ia803206.us.archive.org/3/items/TheSerpentPowerByArthurAvalon/The%20Serpent%20Power%20by%20Arthur%20Avalon.pdf Ancient alchemists often referred to Ouroboros’ undifferentiated state of oneness as an “alembic,” an alchemical flask in which the most important transformational work could take place.(36)https://alembicrarebooks.com/blogs/alembic-rare-books-blog/94965830-whats-an-alembic-alchemy-the-history-of-science-our-logo

The alembic is a dwelling-space where the opposites are given the chance to become unstuck; where we have the chance to revert back to a space within us that carries a deeper knowing of our true, uncorrupted nature: our own, personal Jakon Nete. By helping us rid ourselves of all superfluities, we can dive straight into the heart of matter and are able to understand the origin of our diseases and illnesses.

As a botanical manifestation of the primordial power of Ronin, ayahuasca is a gateway into the deepest recesses of our minds, bodies and souls – our totality as humans – and by understanding the native conceptions of the sacred vine as outlined in the myths, we are able to set sacred intentions for our transformational journey at a very profound level, knowing that we may also be healing wounds that have been passed down to us via our ancestral past.(37)https://greatmystery.org/jeremynarby/

Understanding the Difference between Allopathic and Holistic Views of the World

Not only did myths provide cultural explanations for understanding the world, creation stories explained all the elements necessary to comprehend the vastness of the universe and, more importantly, man’s place within that vastness. It is for this reason that archaeologists and anthropologists believe that creation myths function as the very foundation of tribal memory and communal identity.(38)https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/73583 They also serve as cosmological messages from the “Great Unknown” and in the Amazon, these ancient myths rely on serpent metaphors to transmit the “social” component of a wider more numinous cosmovision.(39)https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/73583

The allopathic western approach to medicine is only a recent development in human history and for this reason, it is cut off from all-embracing, holistic views of the world. Man is a microcosmic system that mirrors the vastness of the macrocosm which is why many people who imbibe ayahuasca often experience feelings of being connected to the entire cosmos.

This may also explain why ayahuasca is often used as an antidote to depression since many people who currently suffer from this mental affliction do so because they feel cut off from the world and, ultimately, from themselves. As the Shipibo myth tells us, ayahuasca is about returning to Jakon Nete – a life-affirming, life-giving world of harmony – and by drinking ayahuasca we are able to release the illusion of separateness and feel at one with the universe.(40)https://raokaibo.org/the-shipibo-cosmovision/

This philosophy of unity and non-separateness has underscored tribal identity and cultural production in the Amazon for millennia and, as the Ronin story tells us; the further we stray away from nature, the more duality and division we create in the world and in ourselves.

Ancient Stories for Modern Times

In the Ronin story, the hard-working woman sewing tapestries is presented to us as a model citizen whose dedication to creative activities allows her to activate the creator-spirit of Ronin within her own being. This suggests that the more we tend to our worldly duties in an attitude of servitude and surrender, the more we are able to receive the blessings of the Mother-Father serpent who is awakened inside of us when we drink ayahuasca.

Many people who sit with ayahuasca report that they are unable to look at the world in the same way they did before drinking the sacred vine. Those with a more “allopathic” view of nature are often surprised – and humbled – to witness and experience the interconnectedness of every living thing in creation; to see that the world is a living, breathing entity with its own special consciousness. It is for this reason that multiple Amazonian tribes believe that there are still ancestor-serpents related to Ronin living in the underbrush protecting wildlife, rivers and streams. These serpents are said to be the animating force of the earth, imbuing the planet with a protective sheath that heals and nurtures all living creatures.(41)https://ayahuasca-timeline.kahpi.net/tukano-ayahuasca-myth-yage-woman/

This suggests that working with ayahuasca can help stimulate the self-healing mechanisms of the body, allowing us to vibrate to the frequency of Mother Earth. This is important because as people stray further and further away from any connection to a shared “human” substance, so do they distance themselves from connecting with others at the level of the heart.

Communion with the Infinite

According to indigenous cosmology, allopathic models of the world can only provide us with a superficial understanding of the human organism and its place within the vast tapestry of time and space. This suggests that any ayahuasca visions which foster a sense of oneness and unity with the universe can help shatter a limited, compartmentalizing view of reality, bringing us closer to understanding the Jakon Nete.

By imbibing the sacred vine, we are thrown into the very heart of the indigenous cosmovision and we experience – viscerally – that everything is one and that we are all multi-dimensional, multifaceted “ecosystems” which are interconnected, vital and alive. For those unwilling to drink ayahuasca, simply hearing the myths has the potential to illicit a similar understanding of the Jakon Nete as well as man’s role in helping maintain the sacred order of the universe.

The transformational nature of the sacred vine is conceptualized beautifully by the Tukanoan-speaking people of Colombia who believe that the spirit of ayahuasca is alive in the body of a mysterious jungle-dwelling woman who alters the perceptions of the men she encounters on her journeys across the rainforest.(42)https://ayahuasca-timeline.kahpi.net/tukano-ayahuasca-myth-yage-woman/ To meet her and sit with her is to be transformed and although she might bring us pain as she dredges up old wounds, ultimately, she cares for us like the archetypal, primordial mother who abounds in global folklore.

Final Thoughts 

Indigenous myths are the metaphorical language of the medicine, they can help us understand its role in the grand scheme of things and can instruct us on how to respectfully approach the spirit of ayahuasca for health and healing. The myths distill the essence of shamanism and tribal identity into easily recognizable archetypes that resonate at a soul-level.

Ayahuasca creation myths should, therefore, be understood as broader manifestations of the art, medicine and culture of the Amazon as well as cosmological messages which communicate the social, political and religious values of its people. They can also be used to understand the sacred purpose behind the ritual consumption of ayahuasca as well as how shamanic rites allow us to access the information that enables us to live more authentically, free from the burden of dis-ease and suffering.

References

References
1, 29, 38, 39 https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/73583
2 M. Von Franz, “Creation Myths,” p.14
3 https://books.google.co.in/books/about/Creation_Myths.html?id=G98nAAAAYAAJ&redir_esc=y
4 https://www.limaeasy.com/peru-guide/history-of-peru/peruvian-legends-myths-tales/the-incredible-journey-of-the-shipibo
5, 11, 30 https://pure.manchester.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/84022771/FULL_TEXT.PDF
6, 7 https://www.braveworld.cc/serpent-dna/
8, 9 https://medium.com/@SarahBaldwin/the-doctrine-of-signatures-reading-the-signs-of-nature-a8cd50739051
10, 14, 16, 28 https://kapitari.com/myths-and-mysteries-how-did-indigenous-tribes-discover-ayahuasca/
12, 13 https://www.slideshare.net/slideshow/communion-with-the-infinite-the-visual-music-of-the-shipibo/11393157
15 https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/150888-myths-are-public-dreams-dreams-are-private-myths-we-must#:~:text=Myths%20are%20public%20dreams%2C%20dreams%20are%20private%20myths.,that%20is%20waiting%20for%20us.
17, 31, 40 https://raokaibo.org/the-shipibo-cosmovision/
18, 33, 34, 37 https://greatmystery.org/jeremynarby/
19, 20 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/psychedelic-drug-triggers-growth-of-new-brain-cells-in-mice
21, 23 https://www.spiritanimal.info/snake-spirit-animal/
22 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1839795
24 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpent_symbolism
25 https://japingkaaboriginalart.com/articles/rainbow-serpent/
26 https://www.everand.com/book/431413081/The-Occult-I-Ching-The-Secret-Language-of-Serpents
27 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_of_Asclepius
32 https://www.britannica.com/topic/Ouroboros#:~:text=What%20does%20Ouroboros%20symbolize%3F,of%20destruction%20and%20re%2Dcreation.
35 https://ia803206.us.archive.org/3/items/TheSerpentPowerByArthurAvalon/The%20Serpent%20Power%20by%20Arthur%20Avalon.pdf
36 https://alembicrarebooks.com/blogs/alembic-rare-books-blog/94965830-whats-an-alembic-alchemy-the-history-of-science-our-logo
41, 42 https://ayahuasca-timeline.kahpi.net/tukano-ayahuasca-myth-yage-woman/

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