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Full Review
Ayahuasca: The Visionary and Healing Powers of the Vine of the Soul
by Joan Parisi Wilcox
Park Street Press 
Book Reviews
Reviewed by Annette, 7/11/2005

In Ayahuasca: The Visionary and Healing Powers of the Vine of the Soul, Joan Parisi Wilcox delivers a highly descriptive narrative of her fascination with ayahuasca’s visionary experiences. Her account offers an insider’s view of the traditional ayahuasca ritual, in which a shaman administers the drug and guides the experience of the initiate.

Wilcox’s interest in the ceremonial use of ayahuasca stemmed naturally from her training in shamanism and Peruvian spiritual arts. After several introductory experiences in the United States, Wilcox followed the drug to its source. Her story peaks at an Andean jungle retreat, where hours of isolation in individual huts and a bland cleansing diet set the stage for nightly ayahuasca sessions, and provide ample room in which to integrate them. The relative privation of her diet and lodging is juxtaposed with the colorful abundance of the jungle and the rich visions that herald the opening of her inner eye.

Wilcox’s shamanic training is potentiated during her ayahuasca adventures. On the way to the jungle retreat her power animal makes a rare appearance, a portent in her honor. During her ayahuasca sessions, flashes of empathic intuition characterize her altered states. Her thoughts are answered by other’s words, and she senses that her energy is feeding another’s extreme experience. She has visions that belong to others in the circle or that provide insight into the unhealed issues of the people in her life. At night, “spirits” walk near her hut.

The context of shamanic ritual sessions facilitated a process of psychospiritual healing and transformation for Wilcox and her companions. In the classic hero’s journey, you have to lose your way in order to find your self. Wilcox’s is a journey from fragmentation to wholeness; our heroine is plagued then purged of her darkness, brought into the light, purified by spiritual fire, paraded with pretty colors, kissed by the dragon of psychoactive pleasure, and sent home a new woman.

Wilcox’s narrative style is very sensory and feeling-based, which allows for incredibly detailed recollections of her inner visions. Her words undulate over the reader, connoting a sense of vicarious experience, as when impossibly iridescent insects perform a Fantasialike dance under her eyelids. On the other hand, readers searching for a scientific exploration of the ayahuasca experience will not find it here. Wilcox can seem like a gushy selfabsorbed New Ager, endlessly fascinated by her extraordinary internal fluctuations. Aspects of her retelling seem enhanced by the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Undoubtedly, readers’ appreciation of Wilcox’s material will vary widely.

Wilcox’s text offers a representative account of a Westerner’s exploration of the ancient and sacred ayahuasca tradition and a blueprint for responsible use of one of nature’s most powerful entheogens. Wilcox describes ayahuasca as “a beloved but intimidating teacher,” requiring the respect and wariness given to a sacred, powerful entity.

Originally Published In : Trip

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