Above: Stephan Beyer, conscientious gringo
Singing to the Plants: Stephan Beyer drinks up
by Erik Davis
Book website: http://www.singingtotheplants.com
The spiritual superhero of the baby boomers was the guru. But where the guru once hovered with his beatific smile, the shaman now shakes his stuff: an earthier, more pragmatic icon of mystical powers more suited to our era’s green anxieties. Now a significant figure for scholarly discourses as well as popular ones, the shaman, and especially the ayahuasca-swilling Amazonian variety, has not only stepped forward as a vehicle of archaic spirituality but has become—as the gazillions of bedazzled Avatar initiates can attest—a seductive site of fantasy and projection. For many of the aya tourists now hustling down to Peru in droves, or the untold thousands dropping 300 bucks or so to drink in their own Euro-American backyard, the man with the rattle (and his less common female compatriots) has become a visionary Rorschach blot: a New Age therapist, an avatar of environmentalism, a psychedelic captain fantastic.
This is why we need Stephan Beyer’s new book, the magisterial Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon. In this tome, Beyer has found the sweet spot between scholarly and popular writing, the otherworldly and the disenchanted, participation and observation; the result is the best or at least most comprehensive book I have seen on ayahuasca.