Two decades ago, the Amazonian plant medicine ayahuasca was largely unknown in the Western world. Few people outside of a circle of fringe scientists and daredevil psychonauts were privy to the obscure psychedelic brew, and fewer still had experienced its powerful effects firsthand. Yet over the past several years an explosion of interest in ayahuasca and its ceremonial use has rippled out across the globe, drawing the sacred vine out of the jungle and into the popular consciousness.
Alongside this rising movement, a vibrant new literary genre has come into being. Myriad aya-inspired books ranging from anthropological treatises to mind-bending initiation memoirs now fill the shelves. Among them, a recently published title from Divine Arts, The Shaman and Ayahuasca, stands out as singularly unique. Compiled from interviews with Peruvian curandero Don Jose Campos, the book is the first of its kind—an exploration of Amazonian shamanism told through the words of the indigenous shaman himself.
The book is the print companion to an eponymous documentary which follows filmmaker Michael Weise and his wife Geraldine Overton to Peru to visit Don Jose, a renowned healer. Whereas the film serves as a valuable introduction to the world of ayahuasca, the book unpacks the shamanic phenomenon in full depth and detail. Here, the 25-year veteran shaman offers up his version of “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Ayahuasca, But Were Afraid to Ask.” In short, conversational chapters edited by Overton, Campos demystifies the recondite rituals and philosophies that make up a traditional ayahuasca ceremony, from the practical function of icaros (medicine songs) to the reasons behind keeping a strict diet. For both uninitiated readers and seasoned shamanic journeyers, the lucid and thorough exposition from a bona fide maestro will be refreshingly illuminating.
The Shaman and Ayahuasca also serves as Don Jose’s memoir, relating numerous anecdotes along his path to becoming a vegetalista—one who heals with plants. With disarming humor and candor, Campos recounts the revelations and challenges—physical, spiritual, and intellectual—he has faced throughout his own shamanic journey. Especially interesting are his discussions on the benefits and drawbacks of Western medicine versus traditional healing practices. As the son of a conventional doctor, Campos is uniquely poised to comment on the interplay between these two modalities, and his observations are enlightening.
Ayahuasca shamanism is a spiritual healing technology far removed from the materialist dimensions of Western thought. As more and more people around the world engage with this ancient practice, the need for a contextual bridge between these disparate perspectives has become apparent. It is fitting that it is Campos who has stepped up to play this role, as he helped to facilitate early ayahuasca research with international scientists in Peru and was one of the first shamans to travel into the United States offering ceremonies.
Yet despite acting as emissary between humans and sacred plant consciousness, Don Jose comes off as endearingly unassuming. Such humility is fundamental in communing with and being healed by the plants, he insists: “It’s a privilege [to drink ayahuasca] because it gives you the key to open up. My friends, there is so much value in gratitude.”
This, perhaps, is Campos's most potent lesson, and one much needed in our hyper-egoic, blindly destructive culture. We would all do well to give thanks—for wise teachers like Don Jose, and for the beneficent, ever-mysterious universe that sustains us.