Currents, Fluids, and Forces: The Esoteric Origins of Santo Daime Theories of Healing

Matthew Meyer, PhD (C)

Abstract: Although such recognizably esoteric terms as “current,” “fluid,” and “force” crop up frequently in talk about ritual experience in the Santo Daime congregational practice, we still know relatively little about how such notions came to be part of Santo Daime in the first place. This paper explores the influence of Western esotericist movements on the rubber tapper culture of Acre, Brazil, out of which Santo Daime emerged. The currency of these philosophies among military leaders and their aptness to make sense of Amazonian experience—with the forest, with Indians, with ayahuasca—also made possible their use as tools of social reform among the disadvantaged. With some understanding of the roots of these concepts in hand, we can better appreciate the moral basis of Daimista healing as individual and collective reform. The paper concludes with a consideration of the concept of mental or volitional “current” in contemporary ritual practice at Alto Santo, Brazil’s first “ayahuasca church.”

Matthew Meyer has a BA in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and MA degrees in Cultural Anthropology from California State University, Chico, and from the University of Virginia. He is currently a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Virginia. Between 2002 and 2007, Matthew made several trips to Acre and Amazonas, Brazil, to study the various Brazilian “ayahuasca religions.” He is author of several papers on the areas of drugs, ritual, and religion, and is also translator of two books from Portuguese into English: Ayahuasca Religions: A Comprehensive Bibliography and Critical Essays (MAPS, 2009) and Opening the Portals of Heaven: Brazilian Ayahuasca Music (Lit Verlag, 2010).

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