A Visit to the Santo Daime
November and December of 2003 there were many pilgrimages
to the Daime Centers throughout Brazil. Here we present
a report from one group that visited the modernity of urban
Brasilia and the primeval forest of Amazonia.
by Daniel Pinchbeck
I visited centers of the Santo Daime with Jyoti, our guide
from the Kayumari network, and ten other Westerners from Europe
and the United States, on a three week tour. Our first stop
was Brasilia, the capital
of Brazil, a modernist
city built from scratch in the early 1960s. We
stayed at a Santo Daime community on the outskirts of the
city, and attended two ceremonies while we were there.
I experienced a tremendous resistance to the Santo Daime work.
In the shamanic ceremonies I had attended in the past, we
took our medicine in the dark, and the focus was on experiencing
individual visions. In the Santo Daime ceremonies, the lights
were kept bright, and the energy was focused on creating a
kind of group mind. Later, Jose Murilo and Fernando La Rocque,
explained that they called it “collective shamanism.”
It also took me a while to get used to the hymns, which seemed
very foreign at first. I also felt a powerful negative reaction
to the idea of a formal religious structure
where people wore uniforms, sat in rows, and separated men
kept having to run out of the ceremony. I would leave to sit
near the fire outside or to walk around and look at the stars.
There were guardians assigned to keep watch over the ceremony
and these guardians kept coming over to try to get me to go
back inside. For me, at that point, it seemed to be a violation
of my personal freedom to be part of the ceremony. I only
returned with the greatest reluctance. I felt anger at their
attempts to restrict my independence.
Brasilia, our group flew six hours to the Amazon forest in
western Brazil. We stayed at a Santo Daime community named
Ceu do Cruzeiro do Sul. They had a beautiful ceremonial
center, following a blue and white motif complete
with decorative streamers. For our one night there, they organized
a ceremony that involved dancing all night. The dance was
a little two-step, everyone shuffling back and forth within
a little three-foot space. I danced for a while, then my resistance
rose up again. I ran out to sit by the fire, then went back
to my hammock. In this community, nobody seemed to care whether
or not I stayed in my place.
returned alone to our guest quarters where I realized that
I did want to participate in the ceremony. My resistance had
suddenly disappeared. I went back and danced the rest of the
night, and I began to understand why the Santo Daime ran the
ceremonies in such a rigorous way: As I allowed myself to
stay in “the current,” as they call it, I felt
like the medicine was not only introducing me to a divine
force or presence, but it was also flushing out my psyche.
It was a bit like a Buddhist mindfulness meditation where
thoughts would arise, then channel themselves out.
next morning, I went back and sat for a while inside the empty
church. For the first time in my life, I felt that I understood
the nature of devotion as a spiritual practice. It seemed
as if devotion was a vibration or a kind of frequency that
helped to hold together the structure of reality. I felt moved,
and grateful that I was being introduced to this ceremonial
We then took a boat, traveling
with Padrinho Alfredo and Luis Fernando two and
a half days down the Jurua River. We stopped briefly to visit
the Daime center in Ipixuna
and then traveled on to the village of Estorrões, which
is also known as Céu do Jurua. For some reason, I was
sort of terrified of this trip before leaving New York, and
I couldn’t even bring myself to look at a map to see
our destination. All I knew was that we were going very deep
into the Amazon.
The first night, after an amazing sunset,
we climbed into hammocks
strung throughout the boat. Mine was located on the top deck,
under a small roof, and it was an incredible experience. At
night I would wake up to find everything shrouded in fog,
the trees just visible like wraiths on the banks. I felt like
we were floating into the void, into the abyss, and it was
Finally we reached our docking
spot. Part of our initiation process was learning
how to make the Santo Daime sacrament (ayahuasca), to work
with the two plants that are brewed together, the vine and
the leaf. As soon as we landed, we were brought to the community
house and a huge pile
of leaves which we were told we had to clean
individually, leaf by leaf. Usually only women work on the
leaves but for some reason, they decided they wanted the men
to try it also.
first, cleaning the leaves seemed an impossible and endless
task. They gave us Daime to drink, however, and after a while
the entire task suddenly changed into something intensely
pleasurable. I felt each leaf was presenting itself like a
little female deity that demanded attention. It seemed that
the medicine was teaching us how to take care of it. Immersed
in the task, I lost all track of time.
We took a break for lunch and then marched
four hours deeper into the forest,
to the community of Ceu do Jurua which is considered one of
the most important spiritual centers of the Santo Daime. By
Western standards, it is a very rudimentary place -- no phone,
no electricity, no running water. The houses
are strung off long jungle paths like beads on a string. A
bridge across a low-lying area leads into the
center of the community where there is a central kitchen,
a dining area, an open air sanctuary
and a small church.
were led to our one big room, where we put up our hammocks
and mosquito nets. It took some effort to get used to the
jungle heat and humidity.
soon learned to follow the example of the villagers, who were
good at keeping still and conserving their energy during the
hottest parts of the day. They were very friendly to us, and
seemed to support us for having made this long trip to visit
them and participate in their rituals. Without judgment, we
were welcomed into the life of the community.
the next days, our work centered around the feitio
house where the Daime is made. I learned how
to work on the Vine — carving
out the moldy and rotten parts, and then pounding
it into filaments for cooking.
had two ceremonies,
presided over by Padrinho Alfredo, who is the leader of the
church. I was very impressed with Alfredo. He had a very gentle
manner, yet I had immediate trust in him, and in his mastery
of the Daime. The ceremonies were extraordinarily beautiful
and moving. I found that I really wanted to be connected to
this tradition, which had established such a direct connection
to the sacred. Two of my friends felt the same way. Before
we left the jungle, we decided we would join the church. We
told Luis Fernando of our decision.
last ceremony we had there was a healing ritual. The energy
became so huge, the visions so intense, I was worried that
we would be unable to contain it, but Alfredo stayed firm
at the rudder. At times I could see the “Mother of the
Forest,” like a vast astral being, twirling over our
heads. I could feel what I can only describe inadequately
as the Divine Presence, at the center of the room, above the
altar, where the energy of the singers was focused. I could
see astral beings who seemed to be coming up to me bearing
flowers and fruit.
a long time I had this sense that there was a dark figure
by my left side, and I was scared it was something threatening.
Finally, in my visionary state, I looked and realized it was
Alfredo himself, reaching out a hand to me. In my vision,
I shook his hand. He gave me a wonderful smile, and vanished.
next day, after gathering for a final hug
photo with Alfredo and his family, we left Jurua.
We took a canoe
through smaller tributaries to reach our boat on the river.
For something like half an hour, an eagle flew along with
us, gliding from tree to tree as we proceeded. It seemed like
a fortuitous sign.
journey was the most beautiful experience of my life.
have been going to Brazil for ten years but this was my first
trip to Brasilia. I know it will not be my last. In the ceremonies
held there, the Mother was very present with a sense of many
blessings toward all. Thank you Fernando and Clarice and Eduardo
and Luciana and Murilo for your gracious hospitality. You
and your people hold such strong vision for unity and peace.
want to thank the beautiful people of Ceu
do Cruzeiro do Sul who, with great devotion, hold open the
doorway to Jurua. And it was a special joy to be able to hug
my new godchild, Carlos
Irineu. This was only my second visit to the
communities along the Jurua but it felt like I was returning
home. Our work was sacred, focused around the feitio, the
making of the Daime. It was a time of great healing and a
deepening our connection with our true source.
our last night in Ceu do Jurua, after another lovely sunset,
we joined the whole community for a special healing work.
It was one of the most beautiful nights of my life. Pad. Alfredo
asked me to sit across from him at the table. As I looked
at the photograph of Alfredo’s father and mother, Padrinho
Sebastiao and Madrinha Rita, surrounded by an altar
of flowers from Nature’s Garden, it was
as if the heavens opened and a golden light poured down upon
heart is full of gratitude to Alfredo for his wisdom and guidance,
and to Silvia, Rute, Luis, Luzenir and Elizabeth for so much
support and good friendship. These gifts will continue to
sustain me in these times of great challenge and change. You
sent me home with a renewed hope in my heart and courage in
my actions to continue to walk this path of love and union.
from Jurua, Re-entering New York
by Angelina Nasso
in New York. Integration time. Every cell in my body holds
the richness of the jungle. Every cell and bone in my body
feels like it has been worked on - massaged - purified. Strange
to be back in this world so full of distractions - so much
takes us away from who we really are. I keep thinking about
Jurua - a place that connects me to the heavens. I return
with my soul and my heart so full. Blessed by the Daime and
the Queen of the Forest, fear dispelled. The vibration of
love takes care of all things - my body can barely stand the
beauty that comes. A deep breath - remembering our true nature
- the divine present in us.
feel enormous gratitude toward Padrinho Alfredo and Luis Fernando
for graciously providing this opportunity to us. Words are
insufficient to describe just how important it is that we
can come into communion with the divine in this way. The Santo
Daime has expanded me with love and has taught me how I can
gracefully and humbly carry love in my heart as I walk through
this world that struggles with so much darkness.
I read this little passage from a book I have by St Theresa
of Avila while on our return. It aptly applies;
“I have myself seen and I know by experience
that the soul in rapture is mistress of everything, and
gains such freedom in one hour or even less that it cannot
recognize itself. It perfectly well sees that this is not
it’s own achievement, and does not know how it has
come to possess such a blessing. Now comes the distress
of having to return to life. Now the soul has grown wings
that can bear it, and has shed it’s weak feathers.
Now the standard is lifted high for Christ, and it really
seems as if the captain of the fort is climbing, or being
lifted, to the highest tower, there to raise it aloft in