According to Jon Miller Weisberger, through his studies with the Secoya and Huaorani (Sometimes spelled “Waorani”) peoples of Ecuador, there is a concept in these Ayahuasca lineages known as “Orphaned Vines”.
Orphaned Vines are vines of Ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi) that have lost their traditional care of elders, traditional growing practices in the jungle, and have lost their energy connections to the ancient sources of of Life that stewarded their evolution since time began.
I would like to start by saying that most of the Ayahuasca medicines, consumed by the large demographic of demand, are in fact, Orphaned Vines.
Traditionally, peoples of the Amazon whom practiced the shamanic arts alongside Ayahuasca had “Jungle Gardens”, which were cared for by the tribal elders. These gardens, according to Weisberger and other sources, contained a plethora of shamanic plants, sometimes not found anywhere else in the Amazon. Sometimes these plants were reported to be “gifted” to the elders, for their gardens, from the spiritual realms that they visited while on Ayahuasca shamanic journeys.
What these cultures suggest is that healers and communities of indigenous peoples kept gardens for their sacred plant medicines, a form of communication with Nature and the Spirit of Life of their surrounding environments: The Amazon.
The potency of these practices mirror modern Permaculture in the sense that the tradition is this: by growing and caring for the plants gifted as beings that heal, feed, and provide sustenence for the community, one is practicing a form of communication with the larger spectrum of Nature. The plants stewarded recognize the needs of those persons growing them, and therefore the energy between the plants biological and spiritual uses (compositions) and the needs of the people growing them are harmonious in an upmost pure way.
In the old ways, it was common for elders and tribal units to steward Jungle Gardens (or areas, specific trees, etc.) that were “gifted” to them by Nature and Spiritual Beings for the purpose of healing, shamanic journeying, and sustenence.
Now with the rise of Ayahuasca Tourism, many of these ways are being lost in light of the growing demand for the medicine. With the rise of tourism, and therefore the rise of the value of a vine, the forests are being degregaded of their original biodiversity and the Ayahuasca vines are now being treated, largely, as an exported material.
For a Western mindset, which is not familiar in the ways of Permaculture or Ancestral Land Stewarding, oftentimes the questions of “where”, “when”, and “who” are not considered when venturing into the process of exploring and ingesting Sacred Medicines. This, alongside the growing demand, results in Orphaned Vines and the degradation of traditional land practices in the Amazon.
It is said that an Orphaned Vine is a vine that has lost the traditional connectivity to the forest, healing pathways of it’s birth, and medicine men who steward them. As vines are being mass-harvested, mass-cooked, and bottled for individual sale in open market places, that vine has now become Orphaned. Because it has been exported from it’s home, prepared by mass-production means, and sold openly in a market where who knows will be serving it as “shaman” or drinking it, the Orphaned Vine has lost a severe amount of it’s original power as a shamanic plant.
To parallel this, let’s think of Amazonian plants being exported and synthesized into pharmaceuticals. This may be an extreme comparison, but if one understands the traditional emphasis on energy retainment in medicines, it really isn’t so far from the truth.
Traditionally, a Vine must be AT LEAST 7 years old to harvest and prepare medicine. But this is the minimum. Many peoples stewarded vines that were 40-60 years, or even older, before harvesting. If we look at what this means in human years, it would be equivalent to drinking the wisdom of a youth or the wisdom of an elder.
The Spirit of the Ayahuasca Vine is said to work in this way: the older the medicine, the more cared for, the more powerful and wise the Spirit is in it’s true Essence. Thus, the more potent and pure the experience is. These days, the bare minimum is what is being harvested is 7 years, and it raises the question if the persons ingesting the medicine are really receiving the highest possible gifts and knowledge from this plant.
There is also the tradition of harvesting and cooking the medicine. Traditionally, a “line of energetic connectivity” was made from the point of harvest to the kitchen, where it was cooked, and then into the ceremonial lodge. It has been said that if that line is crossed by human tracks (similarly to the Western door in Lakota Sun Dance), that the energy and spirit of the Vine would become confused and lost from the medicine, severely degrading the potency of the actual medicine made and ingested.
Furthermore, it is said that the Curandero, Ayahuascero, or Shaman, places his/her intentions into the medicine, which is charged with the growing element, the care-taking element, and the harvesting element, which is then combined with the medicine makers intentions for creating the brew. Traditionally, the brew was made with specific intention, by the community and/or medicine man, and consumed prior to the making. However, now it is being made and stored, shipped and exported (by persons other than the growers and servers), and I wonder what effect this has on the interwoven communication and potency of human-plant connection.
Brewing time for Ayahuasca is usually 3 days. During those three days, the persons brewing the medicine reside in a special hut, or kitchen, that is ONLY used for the purpose of brewing Ayahuasca. Traditions vary, but usually the persons are in a “dieta” (a nutritional diet of plain foods, i.e. grilled plantains or yucca) and in meditative/intentional space in communicating with the medicine. It is said that this is a ceremony within itself, and I wonder if, with mass producing, if this same element of sacredness applies within the realm of intentional export.
Thus, the true concept of Orphaned Vines comes from the observation that these steps are most oftentimes bypassed in light of growing demand and high export of Ayahuasca.
It is apparent, to me, that those persons (especially from Western civilizations), venturing into a once highly sacred culture, have a responsibility to the footprint that their presence is making within these traditions and sacred realms. Education of oneself in the traditional ways requires deep reflection upon conditioned understandings of medicine.
In the West, countless generations have lived the experience of being cut off from our food supplies, our medicine, and therefore we know not what it means to hold sacred connectivity to our sources of life. We have grocery stores and pharmacies. And even though we have other venues, more arising each day, the element of not GROWING our own medicines and foods have detatched our spirits and consciousness from what it means to be highly conscious of the life relationships we create with plants.
Thus, I find that the topics enclosed in this article are largely, and unconsciously, bypassed by Westerners when it comes to venturing into the shamanic realms of sacred plants and traditional ways of being. However, I believe that by educating oneself, truly embodying the connection of plant-human spirit connectivity, we, as a demographic (Western) may begin to take the first steps into a direction that encompasses consciousness and awareness towards our journey into these realms. And furthermore, such consciousness invokes the conservation of traditional culture through ones own actions, ones own path.
This is not to say that we must strictly revert back to these old ways, such a feat is impossible to fully embody. There are highly conscious medicine men and organizations that are evolving with the times, and thus such strict practices are not always enveloped. As in cultural conservation, medicine practice conservation is an evolving aspect of our humanity. We cannot put either in a confined box of tradition, cutting it through “preservation” in light of evolution. Yet, we CAN take conscious steps to holding the traditions and wisdoms before us in sacredness during this evolution.