Mystical Beliefs and Environmental Conservation: Santo Daime

 Liana-VineSanto Daime is a syncretic religion characterized by the sacred tradition of ayahuasca drinking. The ayahuasca brew facilitates communication between the drinkers and the plant spirit found in the brew, allowing environmental knowledge and teachings to be shared. This might sound out-of-this-world to some people, but it’s truly a way to reach different realms for those who partake in these ceremonies. Religious preferences aside, the possibility for positive global environmental changes is an interesting point to consider.

 

For thousands of years ayahuasca has been ritually prepared and consumed by numerous indigenous Amazonian groups. Ayahuasca is created through the combination of two plants, the “…Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria viridis, which contain, respectively, harmala alkaloids and dimethyltryptamine (DMT). These compounds, when ingested in combination, produce a unique biochemical synergy resulting in profound idiosyncratic psychoactive effects” (Shanon 2002).

 

Ayahuasca is an important cultural tool in understanding society, the natural environment, and healing. It is commonly referred to as a “plant teacher”, highlighting its perceived abilities to actively communicate with its drinkers and transfer wisdom. Though this phenomena isn’t typically accepted in the Western world, it’s a firm belief among those who have consumed this brew.

 

Santo Daime has Roman Catholic, Spiritist, and Afro-Brazilian roots. Drinking ayahuasca was borrowed from native Amazonians. Ayahuasca has become a Santo Daime sacrament, and through the mystical and encompassing power of ayahuasca, this religious group aspires to restore harmony between the social and environmental realms of the Earth and the Universe.

 

According to the accounts, a Brazilian rubber tapper, Mestre (Master) Irineu, discovered his destiny during an ayahuasca ceremony. He envisioned a woman who relayed the message to create the religion.  Mestre  Irineu gathered followers and formulated the structure for ceremonies and rituals. Two of the the most popular ceremonies are the Concentração (concentration sessions) and Bailados (synchronized and repetitive dancing sessions). Since the founding of Santo Daime in the early-mid 1900’s, it has diffused throughout Latin America and to places in Europe and the United States. 

 

Many Santo Daime members believe that the change from sustainable and beneficial extraction and modification of nature to unwarranted and unsustainable exploitation is the source of the current troubles plaguing the world. Additionally, it believes in a global entity of negative energy that cycles around the Earth, the correio de má noticia (the bad news post office).

 

Mestre Irineu coined the term correio de má noticia, which is described as:  “…an endless negative chain that goes around the world in all directions, a hurricane of worlds, false testimonies, and distorted opinions that carries in its belly destruction, misery, insanity, illness, and death. This gossip, which always comes before good news and truth, is the worst form of pollution on the earth. These negative vibrations feed various entities and obsessive spirits that dwell in uninstructed minds and produce doubt and fear…Where this foul breath blows through, beautiful flowers lose their shine, the air becomes contaminated and the aura darkens. Deviating from the path of truth is the first of many serious spiritual illnesses and the cause of many more” (Polari de Alverga 1999). 

 

The correio de má noticia allows the continuous ravaging of nature and the inconsideration of human welfare for profit, greedy, or sinful motives, without considering the plants, animals, and humans that live there, and Santo Daime desires to eradicate human negativity and environmental destruction worldwide. There is great emphasis on the necessity for coordination between interacting systems and for restoration of the world’s social and ecological harmony. Drinking ayahuasca in a religious ceremony is believed to be essential to understanding the current huge disjunction among the world and to promoting healing.

 

Some Santo Daime communities, like Céu de Mapiá in the Amazon Rainforest, intend to live as harmoniously with the natural environment as possible, to create a space for spiritual interaction with the forest and allow development. Additionally, it serves as a model of a sustainable community for like-minded organizations worldwide.

 

It appears that support for this religious movement, focused on healing the Earth, will continue to grow. Since religion is a powerful way to bind people with common interests together, the expansion of Santo Daime and environmentally-conscious lifestyles may have noticeable implications on the environmental movement at large.

 

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Progressive Religion In America

Recent Republican debates have chided President Barack Obama for attacking American’s freedom of religion.  These allegations are backed up by the Obama administration’s continued funding of contraceptives, abortion, and sterilization procedures.  Additionally, conservatives feel Obama has harbored an openly pro-gay agenda which violates the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.  While these criticisms about the Obama administration are well known and shared by a percentage of the US population, the administration’s actions may be indicative of a paradigm shift in the United States towards more progressive thinking and away from religious conservatism.

The United States has long thought of itself as a country defined by Puritan values and that same notion has reinforced itself through United States Census statistics which shows over 75% of American’s subscribe to some sort of Christian denomination.  While people’s religious affiliations have remained intact, religion’s priority in their lives has dropped.  A 2010 poll shows that people who believe religion is the most important thing in their life fell from 16% to just 9%, from 2006 to 2008. 

These statistics exemplify a growing disconnect between the percentage of claimed religious affiliates and religions role in American’s lives.  Perhaps the average American’s religious affiliation stands as more of a means of identification rather than guiding light in their lives; or maybe people refuse to cut ties from religions with which they have been historically affiliated (such as someone raised Catholic but no longer practicing).  Either way, American’s are keeping their religious affiliation, which provides them with the groundwork for a sense of morality, but does not let religion take precedent over their family, health, or careers/education.  This may be the source of America’s new found progressivism, particularly because of the United States’ emphasis on education.

In order to insure a more stable family life or health resources, the average American must invest more time and money into their education so that they may acquire a well paying job.  The forced critical and analytical thinking of higher education may be leading to a less religious populous.  This is not to say that people who are religious are stupid; but rather to suggest that religion plays a smaller role in educated people’s lives.  Most notably, in the ever popular field of science, only about 7% of Western society doctoral scientists believe in a personal god.

Religion’s fall from American’s list of priorities is enigmatic in the sense that the new priorities-family, health, career, education-are not mutually exclusive from religion; those same values, in some capacity, are preached and revered in every mainstream religious text.  American’s seem to be focused on improving the most fundamental religious values in their lives while casting aside the disputable specifics of religious texts.  Essentially, the nation is adopting a more accepting, conscious, well-rounded, and open-minded mentality, without the untouchable sacredness that can characterize a devout, unquestioning religious individual’s viewpoint.  Keeping that idea in mind…

What does a more progressive United States look like?  What does it mean for the environment?

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