The Santo Daime

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My shaman said that thursday night’s “trabalho” would be a preparation for Sunday’s ritual. It would be a “concentration” exercise. We would ingest the ayahuasca and sit in silence for few hours, eyes closed, arms and legs uncrossed. We would interrupt our concentration only to drink the tea two more times, in smaller quantities, merely to prolong the plant’s effects.

We reached the Santo Daime Church at 19:30, half-an-hour before the ritual started. Men were wearing white shirts and dark blue suits. Women put on their most beautiful white dresses and crystal jewelries. Me too. I felt like Christmas time: all pretty, “arrumada”. We chatted outside, in the middle of the forest, and entered the church a quarter before eight o’clock. The building was designed in the shape of a heart, its narrowest extremity forming the entrance. The center of the room was occupied by a huge, clear-white crystal. Above the precious stone, the glazed rooftop pointed towards a star-spangled sky. Around the crystal, thirty chairs were placed in the heart shape, like the room’s surface. The left half of the heart was soon occupied by women, and the other half by men. Closer to the crystal were sitting the regulars, silently guiding the ritual. I sat on the last available chair, by the heart’s finest extremity, by the line separating us from the men’s side, the right part of the heart.

Today, I was taking part in a real Santo Daime ceremony. I ended up here by following the coincidences, as every crazy thing I happened to do in this trip. But what is Santo Daime? I just started to know a bit about it… Santo Daime is a syncretic religion, which was founded by Raimundo Irineu Serra in the 1930s, in the Brazilian Amazonian state of Acre. It incorporates elements of several spiritual traditions, such as Folk Catholicism, Kardecist Spiritism, African animism and indigenous South American shamanism. The Ceremonies, always called works, “trabalhos”, last for many hours and are normally undertaken sitting in silent « concentration ». Like today. All Santo Daime practitioners were here to learn. Learn from those beautiful visions that would give us a sense of communion with nature and spiritual reality, or learn from those harsh revelations about ourselves and our four dimensional reality. The Daime reveals both positive and negative, unresolved aspects of our individuality. Facing those revelations, having to integrate and accept them, may be the most terrible part of the Santo Daime rituals. Daime, “Dai-me” in Portugueese, means “give me”. “Dai-me força”, “dai-me amor”. Give me strength. Give me love.

When the ceremony officially started, we were invited to form two lines, one for each side of the heart, feminine and masculine. We waited in line to drink the first glass of Santo Daime. This tea was nothing similar to the one I drank a month ago in Arraial d’Ajuda. This time, it was liquid like water, a yellowish brown. A horrible smell and taste. Acrid. Like vomit. Every woman and man turned with a disgusted grimace as they swallowed the potion and walked back to their plastic chair. As I swallowed the repulsive tea, I wondered: would I vomit this time? Would I poo a lot? How long would I wait till I would feel the effects? How could I stand the three hours silent-sitting meditation? If the Plant was to act upon me as it did last time – exploding in my brain as an unstoppable, overwhelming blast of colors and frightening thoughts, making my body weak an floppy as a worm, only able to lay on the floor and vomit continuously – sitting still for three hours seemed totally impossible.

Now, let me sum up the ceremony as a boring storyline. My own digestive system requires way more time than normal to absorb the Plant and experience it totally – four to five hours rather than half-an-hour. So I spent the three hours sitting still, silent, eyelids closed, my sitting bones hurting, trying to meditate but listening to this poor teenage boy who spent the whole ritual vomiting in the bathroom, looking at his worried dad wringing his hands, feeling myself happy that I might not vomit this time, disappointed I might not poo either – I’ve been constipated for three days, after I recovered from my yellow fever vaccine symptoms of diarrhea. They called us three times, every hour. Each time, I was happy to stand up, move my legs a bit and know that one more third was over. I drank the three glasses of Santo Daime, carefully, in small amounts – I knew the Plant would surprise me later and wished She would be softer to me this time. During the concentration, I felt Her working on my intestinal system, felt some warmth in my chest, but that’s all. At eleven, the ritual finally ended. Finally!!! Some of the regulars seemed to have had a magical experience. I could not share their amazement. Not at all. It had been boring, long and painful.

We were all invited to continue the party at my Shaman’s host, where were also sleeping a handful of Santo Daime regulars, whom I met during my first ritual in Arraial d’Ajuda. Luckily, I would not be left alone with the Plant tonight. She should visit me from a minute to another.

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