Ayahuasca often yields transformative experiences that merge such familiar categories as the sacred and the secular, transcendence and immanence, subject and object, and the human and the nonhuman. However, such experiences are interpreted differently by Western and indigenous discourses. Using the work of French philosopher Bruno Latour, André van der Braak asks fundamental ontological questions in order to reimagine ayahuasca as liquid divinity, shifting the focus from ayahuasca experiences to ayahuasca-based ritual practices that aim to cultivate relationships with more-than-human powers, described by Latour as "beings of transformation and religion." Ayahuasca as Liquid Divinity: An Ontological Approach describes Santo Daime practices as a contemporary form of “theurgy” (god-work), as defined by the third-century Platonic philosopher and mystagogue Iamblichus. Theurgical practices aim at drawing down divine action through ritual procedures, using the imagination as an active faculty. Van der Braak argues that ayahuasca religiosity is ultimately not about individual recreation or healing, or even personal visions, but rather about engaging in communal transformative ecodelic practices that let us work as companions of the gods in order to practice solidarity with all sentient beings.
André van der Braak is professor of comparative philosophy of religion at the Vrije Universiteit.
Part 1: Ayahuasca
Chapter 1: Making Sense of Ayahuasca in the West
Chapter 2: Latour’s Experimental Metaphysics
Chapter 3: Reimagining Ayahuasca
Part 2: Ayahuasca Religiosity
Chapter 4: Religiosity as Engaging with Beings of Religion
Chapter 5: Santo Daime Religiosity as Theurgy
Chapter 6: Facing Gaia Through Ayahuasca
This compelling book delves into the still underexplored territory of what ayahuasca can mean for human beings and the challenge this beverage poses for interfaith religious studies. Throughout this lucid and thoughtful text, André van der Braak analyses the ontology of ayahuasca as a liquid object/subject relative to social contexts of ayahuasca traditions like Santo Daime, expertly integrating his philosophical observations with references to the anthropological literature. The result is a text that is a pure joy to read while at the same time offering new questions upon which future scholars can build.
In this clear-headed, thoughtful, and groundbreaking text, the comparative philosopher André van der Braak grapples with the “ontological shock” that can emerge in those who engage, in an ongoing and overtly religious way, with ayahuasca – a mind-altering brew originally found in indigenous contexts in the Amazonian rainforest, and which is now the sacramental center of a variety of religious traditions found across the globe. Van der Braak, drawing upon the “experimental metaphysics” of the French thinker Bruno Latour, argues that the often earth-shattering experiences and transformative practices linked to ayahuasca religiosity should encourage us to create a more “fluid” ontology that makes room for “more than human” entities or powers, even while he refuses to endorse any particular substantive ontology. This wide-ranging, courageous, and self-reflexive text not only directly addresses the philosophical ramifications of the relatively recent encounter between Amazonian ayahuasca religiosity with the secular assumptions of the modern Western worldview, but also underscores the societal relevance of this newly emerging contemplative tradition for a “Gaian” religiosity in which human beings become interconnected participants with the natural world. Read this text and emerge with your own ontological assumptions profoundly shaken.
This is a book to inspire spiritual seekers and intellectual mavens alike. Andre van der Braak takes a vital ontological turn that delivers us from disenchanted, impoverished conceptions of ayahuasca, and paves the way towards a multi-dimensional view of the Amazonian brew and its effects. The result is a new and inspiring framework that makes sense of ayahuasca spirituality and rises up to the current challenges of the ecological crisis. This original and daring work gives due to the spectacular plurality of questions and experiential horizons opened by ayahuasca, without attempting to reduce them in any way. A book that can redefine our understanding of ayahuasca culture.
This is a bold and original work that attempts to carve space in current philosophical practices to articulate the ritual religious ingestion of Daime, that is, ayahuasca transformatively understood as “liquid divinity” in Santo Daime. The author draws on years of ritualistic training and experiences as well as a formidable grasp of comparative religion discourse. As a kind of diplomat between conventional Western ontologies and Indigenous ontologies, the author finds revelatory space for these practices.