As deforestation continues at such a rapid rate in extremely rich depositories of biodiversity such as the Amazon River Basin, we seem to be losing a great deal of information; information that may very well be the key to finally creating a sustainable habitat for all forms of life on this planet. For thousands of years, people indigenous to the Amazon as well as many other regions of Latin and North America have implemented the use of various hallucinogenic plants into their cultural practices. The shamanic techniques that have developed, due to the introduction of these alkaloids into our distant ancestors’ diets, have harvested an invaluable array of understandings that have helped them survive and live in a symbiotic relationship with nature.
So why are these cultures beginning to lose this information, and how is this archaic practice slowly dwindling from the traditions of these communities? As I have mentioned earlier, deforestation is a large factor, along with oil drilling and the continued installation of hydroelectric damns within areas that go deeper and deeper into the Amazon. This has displaced a significant amount of indigenous communities from their ancestral lands as well as degraded the environmental conditions that were once optimal for the growth of these medicinal plants. Looking further into the past, we can see the cause of these problems through a psychological and sociological perspective. Along with the conquest of 1492 came Christianity and a different way of perceiving nature and our relationship to it. The Christian God set the human race above the flora and fauna, whereas most indigenous cultures see nature as just as powerful, if not more powerful than themselves. (Miller 27) This leads to a significant difference in attitudes on how to use land and resources. Over time, as the economic and religious ideologies of the people conquering Latin America spread further and further, we see more and more indigenous communities losing their ancient techniques and teachings.
Millenarianism is the concept of ideologies taking hold of an entire society and being implemented into the fabric of their lives. This may very well be the plague of our current human condition. Although there are still different social and political structures across the globe, they all have the same effect on their societies: a fixed perception of the self and the exterior world. This seems to be the roadblock that so many of us face when trying to understand other cultures as well as the natural environment that surrounds us. Terence McKenna claims that the archaic peoples of the warm tropics seem to have the right “sensory ratios” thanks to the presence of ayahuasca and various species of tryptamine containing mushrooms. Furthermore, this expansion of conscious awareness, under the administration of these hallucinogenic plants, is heavily claimed to disassemble cultural boundaries and break up personal habitual patterns. So even though these indigenous communities have their own ideologies, which fit under the umbrella of millenarianism, the psychedelic experience brings the individual out of that world and allows them to gain a deeper understanding of biology and evolution from a planetary perspective. There is currently a non-profit organization, Botanical Dimensions, whose mission is to preserve and study these hallucinogenic plants, as well as doing fieldwork within these indigenous communities in order to help them thrive and preserve their way of life and way of interacting with nature.
By focusing our attention towards preservation and moving out of our cultural periscopes, it is highly probable that we, as a human race, could communicate better with each other and with these plants. This seems to be an efficient, yet difficult springboard for us to create sustainable planet.