New Book on Amazonian Shamanism

I am delighted to announce that my new book, Singing to the Plants: A Guide to Mestizo Shamanism in the Upper Amazon, is going to be published by the University of New Mexico Press. I am particularly gratified by this acceptance because the University of New Mexico Press has traditionally had a strong list in shamanism, Native American studies, and Latin American studies.

Indeed, the University of New Mexico Press has published some of my own favorite books: Keith H. Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache; Claire R. Farrer, Living Life's Circle: Mescalero Apache Cosmovision; Bonnie Glass-Coffin, The Gift of Life: Female Spirituality and Healing in Northern Peru; Barbara Tedlock, Time and the Highland Maya; and two groundbreaking anthologies — Stacy B. Schaefer and Peter T. Furst, People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival and E. Jean Matteson Langdon and Gerhard Baer, Portals of Power: Shamanism in South America. I feel that I am in distinguished company.

Here is a description of the book:

In the Upper Amazon, mestizos are the Spanish-speaking descendants of Hispanic colonizers and the indigenous peoples of the jungle. Some mestizos have migrated to Amazon towns and cities, such as Iquitos and Pucallpa; most remain in small villages, their houses perched on stilts on the shores of the rivers that are their primary means of travel. Here in the jungle, they have retained features of the Hispanic tradition, including a folk Catholicism and traditional Hispanic medicine. And they have incorporated much of the religious tradition of the Amazon, especially its healing, sorcery, shamanism, and the use of potent plant hallucinogens, including ayahuasca. The result is a uniquely eclectic shamanist culture that continues not only to fascinate outsiders with its brilliant visionary art but also to attract thousands of seekers each year with the promise of visionary experiences of their own.

Ayahuasca shamanism is now part of global culture. The visionary ayahuasca paintings of Pablo César Amaringo are available to a world market in a sumptuous coffee-table book; international ayahuasca tourists exert a profound economic and cultural pull on previously isolated local practitioners; ayahuasca shamanism, once the terrain of anthropologists, is the subject of novels and spiritual memoirs. Ayahuasca shamans perform their healing rituals in Ontario and Wisconsin.

Singing to the Plants sets forth, in accessible form, just what this shamanism is about — what happens at an ayahuasca healing ceremony, how the apprentice shaman forms a spiritual relationship with the healing plant spirits, how sorcerers inflict the harm that the shaman heals, and the ways that plants are used in healing, love magic, and sorcery. The work emphasizes both the uniqueness of this highly eclectic and absorptive shamanism — plant spirits dressed in surgical scrubs, extraterrestrial doctors speaking computer language — and its deep roots in shamanist beliefs and practices, both healing and sorcery, common to the Upper Amazon. The work seeks to understand this form of shamanism, its relationship to other shamanisms, and its survival in the new global economy, through anthropology, ethnobotany, cognitive psychology, legal history, and personal memoir.

The book is due to be published in October. I will keep everyone advised on its progress through the press. Everyone is invited to the launch party!


  1. This is so exciting! I will be looking forward to the release of your book. Congratulations!

  2. This is an ambitious, incredible, and much anticipated project. May the spirits bless this work!

  3. Thank you all for your comments. I am very excited, but there is still a long slog — copy edits, design, galley proofs — before we get to the launch party. :-) I will post updates from time to time.

  4. I'll bring my chillum to the launch party!