The anthropology of Psychedelics goes back many millennia. Possibly as far back as 40,000-100,000 years. The Neuropsychological model of Cave Art pioneered by Dr. David Lewis-Williams interprets much upper-paeleolithic cave art as transcendent. Many close parallels have been found between this art and the art created by more modern psychedelic cultures and even contemporary psychedelic artists. The oldest readily-accepted Shamanic burial site was located at Dolní Věstonice in the Czech Republic and dates back to around 30,000 years ago.
Below is a brief overview of certain forms of psychedelic shamanism which have been well-studied by modern anthropology. It includes those which have utilized substances currently being explored medicinally.
Ayahuasca, Yopo and Oo-koo-he
Various psychedelic preparations have been used in a ritual context throughout the Amazon for more than 5000 years. The use of Ayahuasca alone has been found in over 70 separate tribes. Ayahuasca is a brew made from primarily the leaves of the Chacruna (P. Viridis) shrub, which are high in DMT, and the beaten wood of the Ayahuasca (B. Caapi) vine which contains various beta-carbolines. The combination of DMT and beta-carbolines such as harmine creates a slow-release, orally active DMT experience unique to these Amazonian preparations. Many admixtures are also used across different tribes such as Datura, toe (Brugmansia) and the tobacco known as mapacho(Nicotiana Rustica).
There are also known many DMT-containing snuffs such as Yopo made from the seeds of Anadenanthera Peregrina or Colubrina and DMT-containing resin products Epena or Oo-koo-he which contain both DMT and beta-carbolines. These are shorter-acting and more like smoked or injected synthetic DMT.
Traditionally the preparation is taken by a Shaman or Curandero for the purpose of divining knowledge to heal the sick, resolve conflict or predict weather, game and inter-tribal issues.
People of the Andes Mountains including the Chavin and Aymara cultures have used Mescaline-containing cacti known as Huachuma for close to 3500 years. Various species were used including Echinopsis Pachanoi, E. Peruvianis and E. Bridgesii. Generally speaking the cactus is boiled down over a period to a concentrated ‘potion’ form. It was used in a ritual setting similar to that of Ayahuasca in which the Shaman would take the preparation to open themselves to the divine information regarding illness, conflict, weather, game and other tribal considerations. Mescaline tends to be longer-acting than other psychedelics and can last up to 15-20 hours with a strong dose.
As the majority of psychedelic cactus is not illegal or controlled in most countries this has become a popular mainstay of modern ‘neo shamanism’. This is also a result of it being easy to grow in most climates requiring little tending.
It is generally considered that Siberian Shamanism among tribes such as the Goldi, Yakut and Samoyed is the earliest codified ritual use of an Entheogen which has been recorded. However, many earlier uses are theorized. While there were many variations, a standard was use of the Amanita Muscaria mushroom. This mushroom, when correctly prepared is a powerful deliriant. The shaman would undertake an architypical hero’s journey while under the influence, returning with pertinent information. This was often punctuated by large, tribe-wide feasts at significant dates throughout the year.
The word “shaman” comes from the Tungus-Mongol word ‘sa’man’ which means “one who knows”. The chants, songs and ritual re-enactments from tribal cosmology were carried forward and replicated in almost all forms of shamanism going forward.