First, some background, which is key to understanding how ayahuasca is perceived as both a sacred plant and medicine.
This idea is shared by indigenous groups, vegetalistas (healers that use plants to treat disease), and Brazilian religions such as the Santo Daimeand the União do Vegetal, which blend Catholic, indigenous, and Afro-Brazilian beliefs.
In the indigenous context, ayahuasca is used to contact the supernatural world, the realm of the jungle spirits, who are called on to bring peace, happiness, and good health – or harm and disease.
During ayahuasca ceremonies, shamans invoke specific spirits either to heal their patients, or to harm their enemies. For them, ayahuasca is a powerful and dangerous plant used with great caution, and only by individuals who’ve undergone a prolonged initiation process that usually involves abstaining from sex and certain foods, along with periods of isolation in the jungle.