by Krystle Cole
I feel truly honored to have had the opportunity to interview a practicing member of two entheogenic religions. In order to preserve this person’s anonymity and privacy, this person would like to be called “Waterbird”.
Waterbird: I have been a member of the NAC for about 4 years, and the Santo Daime for almost 2, with nearly six months of that as a committed member, or Fardado. We have NAC ceremonies, aka “meetings” right here in the town where I live, and there are others happening pretty much every weekend all throughout my state, as well as most others. The Daime works I attend are about an hour away by car, and they typically happen every other weekend, often more. I go to as many Daime works as I can, and the NAC meetings around here are less frequent, about 4 to 6 per year, so I am able to give time with both churches. I also sit regularly with more intimate ayahuasca circles.
My feeling is that dual-membership works for some people, but not all. There are a handful of people from the two churches who attend the ceremonies of both, and only one or two that I know who are dedicated to both. Others within the organizations believe that you should stick to one thing, and not mix medicines in your life at all. It’s really a matter of personal choice. For me they are complimentary. To my knowledge there is nothing within the structure or doctrine of either church that prohibits members from also being members of other churches. Many within each group have other spiritual practices, and enjoy the perspectives of various religions and spiritual teachings. For me, each sacrament and ceremony confirms that there is but one Truth and one essential teaching.
KC: As you see it, what is the primary difference between the Native American Church and the Santo Daime?
Waterbird: I would say the primary difference is the sacrament. In the Santo Daime we drink Ayahuasca (daimistas just call it Daime) and in the Native American Church we eat Peyote. In some ways the two religions can be seen as expressions of the character of the plants, and at the level of form, the two religions are completely different. The ceremonies are so different it’s difficult to compare them. I’ll just describe them each a little bit.
In NAC meetings we sit in a huge (sometimes 40ft) tipi on the ground for 12-14 hours, all night. We call going to meetings “sitting up” because there is no lying down in there, and at certain times we are requested to sit on our knees. We pray with tobacco, eat medicine, and sing all night long until the sacred meat, corn, and berries are sent around the tipi in the morning. The meeting is essentially a prayer service. One person, called the “sponsor” asks a road chief to run a meeting, to support and give powerful breath to a particular prayer, which could be about anything from a physical healing to a birthday celebration. Then the whole community comes together to create the meeting and support the prayer. It is a very heart-centered community, a family, and in these meetings we support each other in the healing process. Everyone is equal. The Native American Church is one facet of what is called the “Red Road”, which is a way of life that for many includes various types of native-American based practices, such as sweat lodge, chanupa, vision quest, and many types of sacred dances.
In The Santo Daime we come together wearing our uniforms or our whites, say the rosary, drink the Daime, and sing a selection of hymns, mostly in Portuguese. All the hymns of the Santo Daime are received, or channeled. There are thousands and thousands of hymns, and anybody can receive them. There are certain hymns we sing every time, and other selections that are compiled with specific intention. We often make a space in the Works for people to share the hymns they have received. 🙂 The hymns ARE the doctrine of the church. The text of hymns are often quoted among Daimistas, because they are seen to contain deep wisdom and healing potential, and are applicable to everyday life.
KC: How has membership in these churches been helpful to you?
Waterbird: Going to NAC meetings and Daime works has helped me so much! How can I even begin to describe the magnitude of the blessings?! The blessing of the sacred plant teachers is self-evident in all those who use them for spiritual growth. Working with Peyote in the NAC meetings I am reminded that I am human. For me it is often an intensely grounding and humbling experience. Sitting on your knees in the dirt all night praying and hearing the passionate and sincere prayers of your closest friends and family has a certain way of bringing everything back to the heart. Peyote is heart medicine. The NAC has also taught me a lot about work and service, what it means to give freely, and why. It takes a lot of hands and time to put one of these ceremonies together – and everybody helps out in their own way. And everything is done in prayer, from gathering the wood to cleaning the cedar to preparing the food, we start it all with a sacred smoke and a prayer. It’s so beautiful. In the NAC I was introduced to the plant medicine circles of California, in which I have met so many beautiful and inspiring individuals, many of whom I now count among my closest friends and family. Since I have been drinking Daime the healing and remembering process has amplified even more, the learning never stops. By learning I really mean, peeling away. It’s an unwinding process that Aya facilitates, a deep and gentle unwinding, no strings attached, free heart, quiet mind. In the Daime we sing in unison, and from this I have learned to merge. We are One.
One of the greatest things about using entheogens in settings like these is that you can learn from people who approach the medicine in many different ways. I have met 6 year old kids drinking ayahuasca that were more sharp clear and mature than most adults. And then there are the elders who have been in these ways for decades, I like to hang out with them. Elders and children are highly respected in these communities.
KC: Have you encountered any legal harm due to membership in these churches?
Waterbird: No. Neither has anyone I know had any trouble with the law because of their involvement in the churches. As far as I know, the use of ayahuasca and peyote is not legal in the united states, though there has been a Supreme Court ruling that decriminalizes the sacramental use of Peyote for NAC members (once you set foot in the tipi you are a member). There has also been an Oregon Supreme Court ruling to specifically protect the Santo Daime church in that state, but with a set precedent like that, the Daimistas would easily win any other case that came up. So it’s quasi-legal. We ship the medicine from Brazil and Hawaii, box labeled “Santo Daime Tea,” and then we drink it in the Works. Nobody is worried about legal repercussions, although we all of course would love for it to become fully legal.
KC: Is there anything else that you would like to say to the NeuroSoup readers?
Waterbird: If you are feeling called to either of these groups or to working with Ayahuasca or Peyote, seek it out! There really is a lot of plant medicine going around the US, and seems like more ceremonial circles popping up all the time. The churches do not advertise or evangelize, so basically if you are meant to find it, you will! I have seen message boards online full of people searching.. and some of them did seem to connect. You could also go down to South America for Aya, and Mexico for Peyote. You may also be able to find a shaman that lives in or visits your area, or host one. The peyote that grows in the desert around Real de Catorce, and the place itself is.. something else altogether. Also, here’s a great website that a lot of Daimistas use for hymns and other info: www.nossairmandade.com