Yagé Letters review

This tome is a collection of the letters between Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, who both took individual journeys down into the Amazon searching for the Vine of Spirits, although it was not called as such at the time, and known locally as Yagé. In this redux version it is split first into Burrough’s letters, followed by Ginberg’s. It is noteworthy to mention because they are some of the first published literature concerning the ayahuasca medicine, only precluded by the Ayahuasca Analogues of Jonathon Ott, and is worth a read for those psychonauts and people interested in pharmacology, anthropology, or psychedelics. In Burroughs’ letters, a rather vulgar language pervades, and aesthetes of his earlier characters come through, such as his past addiction to drugs, being a junkie, and his homosexual tendencies. A few passages, I found that must have been quite controversial to publish at the times of the first pressings, but it is about the hunt for this plant, so I will get back to that. Burroughs’ finds some of the shamans who administer the ayahuasca brew to him on several occasions, and his letters are heavily focused on the sickness he feels at the time, and the struggles of his travels, he writes fervently sometimes in a dis-coherent manner to Ginsberg for support, and seems to approach the ayahuasca in a kind of naive way at times. Ginsbergs letters on the other hand are very humble, and he writes to Burroughs like seeking help from his guru. He perhaps has the more intense and authentic experiences in my opinion with the plant.

There are some insightful takeaways from this book, for instance, the name Yagé as the plant moniker, is not the only name for Ayahuasca, in fact it can be a different plant mixture altogether, of different herbs, and is named locally according to which tribe lands it grows in. You will have to read it yourself to find out the other names, but I was able to sit through this one in 1 day, it’s not a long or exhaustive read at all and because of its nature of dealing with this still conspicuous plant, the chewy biological information is lacking. This became a cult book, and still stands as an interesting window into the early days of how Ayahuasca made its way into the western world. A must for any connoisseur of drug literature.

3 thoughts on “Yagé Letters review

  1. So long as they are continued to be revered as medicines, and sacred healing agents, the popularity of these Amazonian and central American plant substances like Ayahuasca, DMT, Peyote, Salvia will eventually usher in a new collective consciousness that has been latent in the DNA for too long. I do think these are the way of imprinting new evolution models.
    I also enjoy fine tobacco when I can get it, if you ever travel to Mexico, make sure to try the green Mayan tobacco, it is so smooth and clean in the lungs, and very effective. They have mescal there which has a similar taste to whiskey methinks, but it comes from Agave.

  2. I would be happy to talk more about these medicines and intoxicants with you brother, since this is highly in line with my current studies right now. I am trying to arrange a trip back to Mex/central America to study more of the Curanderismo tradition.

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