Govert Derix. Ayahuasca. A critique of psychedelic reason. Philosophical adventure in the Amazon region.

In German: Derix, Govert. Ayahuasca. Eine Kritik der psychedelischen Vernunft. Philosophisches Abenteuer am Amazonas. Solothurn, Nachtschatten Verlag, 2004.

In Dutch: Derix, Govert. Ayahuasca. Een kritiek van de psychedelische rede. Avontuur in het Amazonegebied. Amsterdam/ Antwerpen, De Arbeiderspers, 2004.

Explanation of why a philosopher writes a book about a subject that philosophy has seldom taken seriously. Observation that it is precisely philosophical astonishment (the beginning of philosophy) that is driven into a corner by academic philosophy. Description of the first contact with the psychoactive tea ayahuasca in Brazil in 1990 and the way in which astonishment at its properties (despite serious vomiting) was given new life. Indication of the fact that ayahuasca is becoming more and more known in the West, partly through the experiences of the pop star Sting and the exhibition Unknown Amazon in the British Museum (2002).

1. Between encouragement and caution
First position: the theme of this book is caution and demystification. Namely, that ayahuasca is a supreme source of sensational stories, but this book will not take this route. Description of ayahuasca as possible weapon in the real war on drugs. Survey of the literature that has so far appeared on this theme (Spruce, Burroughs, Huxley, McKenna, Metzner). First mention of the Brazilian religion União do Vegetal and a description of ayahuasqueiros (drinkers of ayahuasca) as ‘true technicians of the psychedelic sacrality’ (McKenna).

2. Drinkers of the small death
Marco Machado became acquainted with ayahuasca in the 1980s through the university in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza. He describes his first experience: apparently a ‘bad trip’, with hindsight the beginning of a turnaround in his life. A preparo (ritual preparation of ayahuasca) is organized at Marco’s estate, where for fifteen days ayahuasca is drunk. One of the participants compares the experience to that of Obelix when he fell into the cauldron of magic potion. Introduction of the ‘Mestre de Si’, the personal inner master or ally.

3. Religion as recreation
Description of the course of an ayahuasca session according to the ritual of the União do Vegetal. Account of the session as a ritual for making a connection with others, but also as an exercise ‘within’ yourself. Specification of the metaphor of the ocean: ‘Allowing yourself to understand what you mean in this context can imply that you learn to experience the island from out of the ocean and the ocean from the island.’

4. The origins of a nuclear group
Marco and several friends decide to drink ayahuasca fortnightly, following the ritual of the União do Vegetal. To do this, they seek contact with a Master from the Amazon region. It soon becomes clear that Marco will have to become a Master himself.

5. The sung burracheira
During a session the chamada (a ritual song) is an important instrument for directing the burracheira (the name for the effect of the tea). Description of the phenomenon synesthesia (melting of the senses), as already analysed by McLuhan, and account of the chamada as synesthetic vehicle for safely sailing the ocean under the influence of ayahuasca.

6. Master Gabriel and the strange power
Biography of José Gabriel da Costa who as a rubber tapper in the Amazon gets to know ayahuasca and who founded the religion of the União do Vegetal (UDV, Union of the Plant). This religion would not be a religion if various groups had not split off in the meantime. Marco will become Master in one of these splinter groups.

7. Leaky canoe becomes seaworthy ship
Interview with the 86-year-old Master João, one of the first followers of mestre Gabriel. First mention of the essence of mastership.

8. Indian cinema
Interview with Master Manu, a taxi driver who was also one of the first followers of Master Gabriel. Description of the Indian use of ayahuasca as cinema do índio and universidade do índio.

9. Porto Velho
Meditation on the deforestation of Amazonia. Porto Velho is the capital of the Amazon state of Rondonia and according to ayahuasqueiros of the UDV the capital of ayahuasca. Description of a preparo around Master Gabriel’s birthday, a ritual attended by ayahuasqueiros from all over South America.

10. Not afraid to suffer
Interview with an ayahuasqueiro who travels all the way from Argentina to attend a preparo in Porto Velho and, following a period of atheism, rediscovers the religious dimension in himself. Comparison between ayahuasca and psilocibin.

11. Disappearing point of reality
The bewildering experience of the author that in university philosophy there is a taboo on reflecting on the meaning of life. Description of his philosophical search from the university to the jungles of South America. Meditation on the essence of philosophy as jumping your own shadow, the naming of the unnameable and thinking in constellations. Analysis of ‘nothingness’ as the centre of religious mysteries: nothingness as the disappearing point of reality and the appearing point of wisdom, and the possibility of giving direction to your own life. The life of the ayahuasqueiro as a project for self-improvement; self-change as the prize of the ayahuasca experience.

12. Zen and Amazon
Interview with a tv reporter who was saved from his alcohol addiction thanks to ayahuasca. Consideration of the role of purification, the wisdom of caboclos (half-breeds) and the relationship with western science.

13. Solomon’s chord
Interview with a journalist who by using ayahuasca beat her marihuana addiction and is putting her initially radical feminism into perspective. She bears two children under the influence of ayahuasca. Description of the role of the legendary King Solomon in the freemasonary-like mythology of the UDV. Account of ayahuasca as a woman: “Everything we do within the vegetal (a name for ayahuasca) is based on going within the mysteries of ayahuasca which, in a way, are also the mysteries of a woman.”

14. Perspectives of mastership
In-depth study of thinking in constellations; analysis of the relationship between constellations and authentic destinations; description of mastership as the ability to be able to work with constellations. Autobiographical description of a journey along a number of ayahuasca societies, with as final goal a closed session in which Marco has his first taste of mastership. Marco talks about the ideal of the priest-scientist philosophy (oneness with philosophy, science and religion), as embodied by King Solomon.

15. Drinking to your own limit
Interview with a gynaecologist who was involved with the first medical-scientific research into ayahuasca, which seemed to confirm the positive reputation of the tea (not damaging to health, not addictive, positive effect on the mental stability of the ayahuasqueiro, etc.). The doctor tells of how he broke free of his alcohol addiction through ayahuasca.

16. Miraculous science
Conversation with a nuclear physicist who has been drinking ayahuasca regularly for several years. Comparison of the ayahuasca high with mathematics (is the experience a question of creation or discovery?) and insights into modern physics.

17. The price of the experience
Meditation on the empirical beginnings of religions. The beginning of a religion (in a way like drinking ayahuasca with Marco at the beginning of the 1990s) as something adventurous that slowly but surely is subjected to the strictness of the ritual. During Marco’s first taste of mastership, the author decides to stop temporarily with drinking ayahuasca because it threatens to clash with his critical philosophy. At this point he has drunk ayahuasca more than a hundred times. In a monastery in the Ardenne he experiences a burracheira without ayahuasca.

18. Discovering the question
Conversation with Master Pádua (a psychologist in daily life) about the relevance of ayahuasca for psychotherapy, the relationship with modern science and social development. Criteria for being able/allowed to drink ayahuasca. Consideration of the wayward language concept of the UDV and the need to know Portugese in order to understand the UDV fully. “After Hebrew and Sanskrit, it’s now the turn of Portugese.”

19. Ayahuasca for leaders
Description of human existence as a constellation of roles backed by an authentic core that is linked with your destination, which in turn has everything to do with ‘connection’: ‘the connection between myself and the others as expressed in my lifeline’. Ayahuasca can help you take control of your own life. The unavoidable question is that of the connection between ayahuasca and leadership. This could be ‘one of the most explosive themes of our time’. Indication of the possibility of a ‘practice for psychedelic treatment’ and recognition of the temporary naivity of this kind of proposition.

20. Master against the odds
Interview with Miguel, long-time Master leader of the UDV in the north-east of Brazil, but now an ‘apostate’ because of his critical attitude. Comparison of the UDV with the ritual of the Santo Daime religion. Description of the essence of mastership and the possibility of manipulating people with ayahuasca. Description of the relationship between ayahuasca and the fear of dying (also in relation to the designation ‘ivy of the small death’). Closer definition of the essence of the ‘light’ of ayahuasca.

21. Anchorage for the conscience
Description of the connection with Immanuel Kant’s Critique of pure reason and the philosophical area of difficulty after Kant (relationship subject-object, I-other). Comparison of the small death of the orgasm with the small death of ayahuasca. Description of the possibility of holding a real debate under the influence of ayahuasca. The burracheira as a mirror of yourself. Account of ayahuasca as telepatine and as a means of coming in contact with Good and your conscience. Consideration of the importance of the rite of passage. The ayahuasqueiro as ‘good housekeeper’.

22. Sisyphus in the Netherlands
Importing the first litres of ayahuasca into the Netherlands by the author in the early 1990s. Description of the culture shock between Brazil and Western Europe and the reconciling of this shock by those bringing home experiences of ayahuasca. Description of the way in which ayahuasca found a place in the life of the author in the Netherlands. Information about the availability of ayahuasca in smart shops and as pharmahuasca. This chapter also contains the first reference to the theme ‘geopolitics’: the psychedelic territory as a yet to be explored space which, probably not coincidentally, attracts attention now there is virtually no new area in the earthly world to be discovered.

23. Legalization in the Low Lands
Interview with Hans Bogers, leader of the ayahuasca religion Santo Daime in the Netherlands, who has fought a successful battle for the legalization of ayahuasca in the Europeon Union. Account of Hans Bongers’ lifestory with entheogenes (substances which awaken the God in yourself) like LSD and magic mushrooms. Santo Daime in the Netherlands. Interpol raids ayahuasca churches in Europe. Description of the court case and the legalization. Description of ayahuasca as professor dos professors (‘teacher of teachers’) and the connection with Afro-Brazilian religions like candomblé.

24. Ayahuasqueiro on the Keizersgracht
Profile of the Amsterdam writer-ayahuasqueiro Arno Adelaars, who has been organizing ayahuasca sessions around the world for some time. Comparison with XTC, LSD and the art of the samurai warrior. Ayahuasca as a method of beating your deepest fears. Description of Arno’s development as leader of his own do-it-yourself sessions and the special role of snakes in the visions of the ayahuasca high. The hilarious tale of the Dutch drug writers who drink ayahuasca for the first time in the 1990s to judge whether the tea can be commercialized. Their conclusion (after much vomiting): this is so heavy, you can’t just sell it in a shop.

25. The third shore
Just as traditional philosophy places us opposite things and the other (rather than next to them), so we have a growing problem in accepting sickness, old age and death as things that are intrinsic to us. The experience with ayahuasca is able to correct this crooked growth. Just as in the Middle Ages philosophy was like a serving wench in helping theology defend dogma (Thomas Aquino), so the ayahuasca experience can give philosophy new substance and bring it ‘home’. But there is a danger of romanticizing. Matt Ridley warns us of ‘spiritual ecology’ (there is no back to nature), and Claude Lévi-Strauss describes our fundamentally problematic relationship with Indian cultures, and therefore with their experience of ayahuasca. All this does not detract from the fact that ayahuasca can give us back ourselves, and partly through this can be a source of inspiration for, for example, an anti-global impulse. A remark by Diderot is applicable to the experience of ayahuasca: ‘You were here before you entered and you will be here after you have left’. It is a remark that also expresses the essence of our relationship with the burracheira. The small and the large death are inalienable (but often alienated) aspects of your own relationship with the third shore. You are probably ‘not completely yourself if you have never taken the leap across the rational borders and logical laws of the island of everyday life.’

26. Civilizations
Short interview with a Brazilian building worker who was at the sessions with Marco from the beginning. ‘Humans are well on the way to losing the simplicity of things.’

27. Commandment of a forgotten birthright
A book about ayahuasca in a modern context is not complete without taking into account the relationship with evolution theory and in particular the interpretation of Dawkins (The Selfish Gene) and Dennett. According to Richard Dawkins the first question asked by alien visitors to our planet will be if mankind has already discovered the principle of evolution through natural selection. They may also ask a second question to ‘assess our level of civilization’. Namely, if we have managed to close the gulf between science and spirituality in order to give the world direction again. Hegel spoke of the ‘unhappy consciousness’ that would arise because there is always something outside of thinking that has not yet been annexed. The ayahuasca experience gives you the insight that peace and direction actually lie in the acceptance of the principled impossibility of absolute annexation. By reanswering Kant’s three questions at the end of his Critique of pure reason (the question of the limits of knowledge, the question of the legitimacy of our hope, the question of the ingredients for a successful life) there is a practical completion of the ‘happy consciousness’ in sight. ‘Initiated into the burracheira, we discover a world in which concepts like destination, authenticity, originality and morality certainly have value and can have a sound base.’ The great taboo of academic philosophy, namely that you keep silent about the meaning of life, is then broken. It is precisely philosophy that is called to learn its Mestre de Si better.

28. The right tone
Conversation with the manager of an ayahuasca plantation on the edge of the rain forest and meditation on the question of how long this forest will remain.

The completion of this book coincided with the first European conference on ayahuasca in Amsterdam, where numerous scientists and interested people came together. Short description of this conference and a reflection on the future of ayahuasca and the possible relevance of the ayahuasca high for our individual and collective destination. ‘Only when half way through this manuscript did I see that the title Critique of psychedelic reason is perhaps not so much suitable for a book, but for a constant project of self-searching that provides live experiences which can give meaning and direction to science and philosophy, through which we try to understand the metaphorical book of nature.’

Ayahuasca contains a list of important ideas and an extensive bibliography.

Govert Derix is a philosopher, entrepreneur and writer of successful books about new ways of working, including The Vision Web, a journey to the world’s most exciting entrepreneurial style, which was named one of the best management books of 2000 by the quality Dutch newspaper, de Volkskrant.

Publisher: De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam
Editor: Peter Claessens

Sold to: Nachtschatten Verlag (German rights)

To get in touch with the author:

Clike here for more information on the book and on the author in Portuguese.

1 Comment

  1. Vinicius says:

    Penso que compreendo o fato de Labate se furtar a tecer comentários sobre possíveis aprendizagens extra-corpóreas quando bebe o daime, circunscrevendo suas experiências mais sob o domínio dos efeitos purgativos. É mais sensata essa posição. Filosofia (razão)psicoldélica? Sei não. “O coração tem razões que a razão desconhece”. Vou ali, no cantinho do meu quarto, dizer dentro de minha cabeça a mamãe Terra e papai do céu que estou orgulhoso de ser conterrâneo do Sivuca, e que no Neip tem muita gente boa.