Friday, December 09, 2005

The Green Labyrinth

Aerial view of the Rio Orinoco, a tributary of the Amazon River, Venezuela. © John Mitchell 2006
Some people view travel as a means of escape, while others see it as a quest for adventure and understanding. Canadian writer Sylvia Fraser, author of clearly fits into the latter group. In her most recent travel book The Green Labyrinth: Exploring the Mysteries of the Amazon,Fraser ventures into the heart of the Peruvian Amazon to study the practices of shamans, native healers who use herbs and psychic methods to treat their patients’ emotional, physical, and spiritual problems. She also wants to experiment with ayahuasca, a powerful visionary plant medicine whose name means “vine of the dead.”

Fraser stays at isolated shamanic retreats where she revels in the tropical rain forest’s beauty and its diversity of flora and fauna. As someone who “missed the psychedelic sixties and rarely takes so much as an aspirin,” Fraser admits that the prospect of drinking ayahuasca terrifies her. She confronts her fears, however, and ends up ingesting ayahuasca eight times with the help of shaman guides. Along with visions, the powerful medicine causes bouts of intense nausea and vomiting. Fraser persists despite these ordeals, and her experiences with ayahuasca yield some surprising and valuable insights into the mystical world of South American shamanism.

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