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Short Glossary of the Terms Used in the União do Vegetal1
by Beatriz Caiuby Labate2, Matthew Meyer3 and Brian Anderson4
v 1.0 - Jul 30, 2009
Citation:   Labate BC, Meyer M & Anderson B. "Short Glossary of the Terms Used in the União do Vegetal." Jul 30 2009.
The União do Vegetal (UDV), or the "Union of the Vegetal",5 is a religion of roughly 15,000 members who consume the psychoactive brew ayahuasca in their religious ceremonies. The UDV was founded in 1961 by José Gabriel da Costa in the Sunta Rubber Camp, located in the southern part of the state of Acre (Brazil). Soon after founding the UDV, José Gabriel da Costa moved to Porto Velho, the capital of the state of Rondônia, where he further developed the religion. In the 1970s, the UDV began to expand throughout Brazil, and then in the 1990s, the religion established centers of worship abroad. Outside of Brazil, the UDV currently holds ceremonies in the United States and Spain.

In order to help the English-speaking public understand some key elements of UDV cosmology, rituals and social organization, the authors have compiled a short glossary of native hermeneutic terms and Spiritualist idioms that commonly circulate within this particular religious universe. Out of respect for the UDV's wishes for privacy, we have opted to exclude from the glossary all secret sayings and doctrinal teachings that are considered to be "reserved" for UDV members of advanced hierarchical standing. The terms included in this glossary are considered by the authors to be fundamental for understanding the basic religious activities and discourses of UDV members. Words not of English-language origin (such as those in Brazilian Portuguese) are written in italics.
Abrir o Oratório ("To Open the Oratory"): The act of transitioning from a ceremony's initial phase to the period of the ritual when UDV leaders preach and answer disciples' doctrinal questions, and disciples can make chamadas with permission of the Mestre Dirigente (see Sessões).

Astral Superior ("Highest Astral Plane"): A cosmological level of the highest spiritual authority. Its importance is seen in the ritual celebration of the day of the Confirmação do Mestre no Astral Superior ("Confirmation of Mestre Gabriel in the Highest Astral Plane"). The Astral is also an important term used in another Brazilian ayahuasca religion, the Santo Daime.

Burracheira: the experience of being under the effect of Vegetal, of the força ("force") and luz ("light"); burracheira is said by UDV members to mean força estranha ("strange force") in Portuguese. Estar de burracheira, estar na força da burracheira, or estar no tempo de burracheira all mean being in the state in which one can feel the effects of the chá ("tea"); sentir a burracheira crescer ("to feel the burracheira growing") means being aware of the intensification of the effects; serenar a burracheira ("the burracheira calms down") means the effects are diminishing or softening; alto tempo de burracheira ("burracheira high time") means a strong effect; temporal de burracheira ("burracheira storm") a very strong effect; sombreado ("in the shade") an incipient effect, prior to a full-on burracheira, or when the effects are wearing off (e.g., during the hours or day following a sessão. In a sessão, the burracheira is both ritually "called" (chamada) and "bid farewell" (despedida).

Caboclo ("Forest Peasant"): José Gabriel da Costa and the other initial members of the UDV were caboclos, mixed-race manual laborers who inhabit the frontier towns and wilderness of the Amazonian rainforest in the north of Brazil.

Caiano or Mestre Caiano ("Caiano or Master Caiano"): According to the UDV, Mestre Caiano was the first hoasqueiro, or first human being to "commune with the Vegetal".

Caupuri: A variety of the vine Banisteriopsis caapi generally characterized by segments punctuated with knotty growths.

Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal - CEBUDV ("Union of the Vegetal Beneficent Spiritist Center" - CEBUDV): The official name of the UDV organization.6

Chá ("Tea"): A synonym for Hoasca and Vegetal. It is often employed in the phrase comungar o chá ("to take communion [with] the tea").

Chacrona: Among rubber tappers in Brazil's northern region, in some Santo Daime groups, and above all in the UDV, the term refers to the shrub Psychotria viridis, whose leaves are used in making ayahuasca. In the Brazilian ayahuasca religions (UDV, Santo Daime, and Barquinha), chacrona is known as ayahuasca's feminine principle. In the UDV, a chacronal is a place where chacrona grows, wild or cultivated. In Spanish, the plant is referred to as chacruna.

Chamada (from the verb chamar, "to call" or "to summon"): A performance genre in which a single member intones a chant a cappella. Chamadas are intended to channel the "force" of the burracheira by calling on divine entities and/or revealing certain aspects of nature's mysteries.

Ciência ("Science"): The body of UDV spiritual and material knowledge; the "true knowledge". This term is also commonly used by rubber tappers to refer to the arts of surviving in and understanding the rainforest; in some areas, rubber tappers refer to the art of making and using ayahuasca as a science (a ciência da ayahuasca).7

Cientificação ("Scientification"): The process of "spiritual evolution" by which people attain salvation or purification.

Clandestino ("Clandestine"): A colloquial term predominantly used in some núcleos in the north of Brazil to refer to groups that declare themselves to be followers of Mestre Gabriel although they are not institutionally tied to the Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (CEBUDV); these groups are also known as dissidências ("dissidents"). The term can also be applied to objects, e.g., uma fita clandestina ("a clandestine tape-recording") or um vegetal clandestino ("a clandestine Vegetal").

Corpo do Conselho or CDC ("Council Body"): A hierarchical class in the UDV composed of male and female Conselheiros ("Counselors"), helpers of the Mestres. Together with the Quadro de Mestres, the CDC makes up the leadership of each nucleus and pre-nucleus. The Counselors are responsible for advising and orienting the group's disciples. Preferably, Counselors are married and exhibit exemplary behavior according to UDV moral standards.

Corpo Instrutivo ("Instructive Body"): A class in the UDV hierarchy composed of disciples who are in a position to receive the "instructions" of the UDV; these disciples have access to the UDV's ensinos reservados or "reserved teachings" (which should not be revealed to anyone who has not reached this level). Disciples are convoked to the Corpo Instrutivo by the Representative Master according to his/her dedication to the group's activities, his/her "evolution" in the ritual, and his/her "degree of memory" (see grau de memória). If, in the narrow sense, the Corpo Instrutivo refers to a position in the internal hierarchy that comes after the category of Sócio and before the category of Conselheiro, then in a wider sense, it refers to any disciple who has at least reached this hierarchical class (including Conselheiros and the Mestres).

Curiosidade ("Curiosity"): False knowledge, speculation, superficiality. The "curious" do not have true knowledge, although they may be seeking it.

Departamento ("Department"): A division of the UDV that is staffed by members on a volunteer basis and that takes care of specific institutional tasks. Such departments include the Departamento da Memória e Documentação ("Department of Memory and Documentation"), the internal record keepers of the UDV, the Departamento do Plantio ("Plantation Department"), the custodians of the plants used to make Hoasca, the Departamento Jurídico ("Legal Department"), the group that handles issues related to the legalization of Hoasca and the consolidation of the internal laws of the UDV, the Departamento da Beneficiência ("Charity Department"), the arm of the UDV that organizes its charitable activities, and the Departamento Médico-Científico (DEMEC - "Medical-Scientific Department"), the division that monitors health issues related to the consumption of Hoasca.

Distribuição do Vegetal ("Distribution of Vegetal"): The moment in which the participants of a sessão receive a cup of Vegetal. It is also the name given to a sessão held during a preparo. Distribuição Autorizada de Vegetal ("Authorized Distribution of Vegetal") refers to a developing center of worship that has not yet reached the status of pre-núcleo or núcleo.

Doutrina ("Doctrine"): The spiritual teachings left by Mestre Garbriel to the irmandade ("brotherhood").

Encante or Encanto ("Enchantment"): Enchanted beings or places that generally are not accessible in everyday life, but which are more commonly accessed in strong experiences of burracheira.

Evolução Espiritual ("Spiritual Evolution"): See Cientificação.

Força ("Force"): See Burracheira and Hoasca.

Grau ("Degree" or "Grade"): A determined level of spiritual evolution; the term represents the quality of something: the grau of a disciple in the internal hierarchy, the grau de memória (see below), the grau do Vegetal, vamos ver o grau do Vegetal means "let's test the Vegetal" to find out quanta burracheira apresenta ("how much burracheira appears"). It can be said that with a given grau, a disciple is able to understand a certain dimension of the ensino ("teaching"); upon obtaining a higher grau, a new, more occult significance to the same teaching may be revealed in accordance with each disciple's merit.

Grau de Memória ("Degree of Memory"): a.k.a. grau de evolução do espírito, grau de evolução espiritual, grau de conhecimento espiritual ("the degree of the evolution of one's spirit", or "the degree of spiritual evolution", or "the degree of spiritual knowledge"), the grau de memória is a measure of the compreensão ("comprehension") of each person during, and when not in, the burracheira. The grau de memória encompasses a series of dimensions that include the abilities to utilize the mistérios das palavras ("mysteries of words"), to speak adequately during a sessão, and to memorize the teachings of the União do Vegetal, such as the chamadas, the stories, Mestre Gabriel's explanations, the history of the UDV, etc. Depending on the person's grau de memória, he or she will hold a certain position in the hierarchy of the UDV.

Hoasca: The name given to ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis caapi brewed with Psychotria viridis). The term bears close resemblance to the Quechua word for vine or rope, waska, which is generally recognized by scholars to refer to the Banisteriopsis species used in the preparation of ayahuasca. The portion of Hoasca that comes from B. caapi is said to "bring force" while the portion that comes from P. viridis is said to "bring light."

Irmão ("Brother"): A term used internally to address fellow UDV members in a congenial, familiar fashion; it reflects the importance of family values within the religion. The collection of UDV members is the irmandade ("brotherhood").

Linha ("Line" or "Thread"): A term used by UDV members and scholars to distinguish the branches of the Brazilian ayahuasca religions (especially the Santo Daime) from one another (e.g., "the line of Mestre Gabriel"). Generally speaking, each "line" has distinguishing features (such as differences in ritual practice and cosmology). The term also appears to connote a spiritual affiliation, invoking a kind of spiritual responsibility that belongs to the patron of the "line" and the filial obedience of those who carry it forth. The term is also very important in Umbanda, where it taxonomically distinguishes spiritual phalanxes and their jurisdictions.

Luz ("Light"): See Burracheira and Hoasca.

Mariri: The Banisteriopsis caapi vine. The UDV recognizes two kinds: the mariri Tucunacá and the mariri Caupuri. Mariri is the masculine principle, responsible for the force of the Vegetal.

Mensagem ("Message"): A term used to refer to a harvest of the mariri (Banisteriopsis caapi) vine from the forest. An amount of mariri that is sent from one núcleo to another is also referred to as a mensagem.

Mestre ("Master"): The highest position in the UDV hierarchy, a Mestre is responsible for the transmission of UDV teachings and the spiritual guidance of the disciples. Only men reach the class of Mestre (with the exception of Mestre Pequenina, Mestre Gabriel's widow). There are several requirements for reaching this hierarchical class, including: memorizing the Story of Hoasca and successfully telling it during a session; being married; and meeting the UDV's moral standards of excellence in family, social, and business life.

Mestre Gabriel ("Master Gabriel"): The honorific title of José Gabriel da Costa (1922–1971), originator of the União do Vegetal.

Miração: A noun used in the context of União do Vegetal, Santo Daime and Barquinha rituals to denote the state of consciousness associated with drinking ayahuasca, especially its visionary aspects. The term is often associated with the verb mirar, which has a range of meanings sharing reference to the visual faculty: to aim, to gaze or stare at, to catch sight of. However, in the context of the older practice of mestizo vegetalismo in Peru, the Spanish verb marear (meaning "to make dizzy" and derived, apparently, from mar, "sea") is often used to describe the effects of ayahuasca and other psychoactive plant preparations. This verb yields a nominal form that also appears to be quite common: mareación. Given the influence of this mestizo tradition on Daime and Vegetal practice, it is possible that this Spanish term gave rise to a neologism in Portuguese based on a rather different portion of ayahuasca's spectrum of effects.

Mistérios da Natureza ("Mysteries of Nature"): A highly valued category of spiritual knowledge that can be accessed through the correctly guided use of Hoasca. Also, see chamada.

Núcleo ("Nucleus"): A set of physical constructions (a plot of land, temple, preparo house and a lavatory) that serves a determined number of UDV disciples. There also exist pré-núcleos and distribuções — developing centers of worship that are lacking some physical infrastructure and usually have fewer members. All núcleos follow the same doctrinal and structural hierarchy and the same ritual calendar, and they function in accordance with the directives passed down from the Sede Geral, the UDV's institutional headquarters located in Brasília (D.F.), Brazil's capital.

Ogã: A term from the Afro-Brazilian universe. In the UDV, it means a person (normally a woman) who is responsible for coordinating the cleaning, maintenance and general organization of the núcleo. This job, as with most of the positions within the UDV, rotates among members.

Peia ("Beating"): A difficult experience of burracheira that might include vomiting, diarrhea or other unpleasant sensations; it is understood as a form of limpeza ("cleasing") and ensinamento ("teaching").

Pesquisar ("To Research"): The event of going into the forest to search for the mariri vine (Banisteriopsis caapi).

Plantio ("Plantation"): A general term, used in the UDV and Santo Daime, for the location where the plants that will be consumed in the religious rituals are grown. In the UDV, there is an equipe de plantio ("plantation team"), normally comprised of men, which cultivates this foliage, either on the land of the núcleo or on private lands donated by the members of the núcleo.

Preparo ("Preparation"): The name of the ritual for making Hoasca.

Quadro de Mestres ("Masters' Board"): The group of all Mestres. There are six levels within the Quadro de Mestres, from lowest to highest: Mestre Assistente ("Assistant Master") and Mestre Representante ("Representative Master"), both of which are authorities within their núcleo; Auxiliar do Mestre Central ("Assistant of the Central Master"); Mestre Central ("Central Master"); Assistente Geral ("General Assistant") and Mestre Geral Representante ("General Representative Master"). All of these positions are occupied by Mestres who are elected for a three-year term, except for the position of Mestre Assistente, which is taken up by a new Mestre of the Unidade Administrativa ("Administrative Body") once every two months.

Quadro de Sócios ("Associates' Board"): The first hierarchical class or grade in the UDV. One may join this group by one's own choice; the higher levels require that one be selected by the núcleo leadership. These members are allowed to attend sessões de escala (every two weeks), sessões de escala anual (special ceremonies on the yearly ritual calendar), and the sessões extras.

Região ("Region"): An administrative and geographic division of the UDV. There are currently 15 regiões ("regions") in Brazil.10

Reinado ("Kingdom"): A place where the mariri vine is found (planted or wild). Sometimes also used in Santo Daime.

Sacramento ("Sacrament"): A term used by the UDV and quite a few of the other Brazilian ayahuasca groups to refer to ayahuasca.

Salão do Vegetal ("Hall of Vegetal"): The physical space in which the sessões are held.

Sessões ("Sessions"): Religious ceremonies that revolve around the ritual imbibing of Vegetal. A sessão is run by the Mestre Dirigente, a disciple of high hierarchical status who is appointed on a per sessão basis.

Sessões de Adventícios ("Newcomer Sessions"): Ceremonies intended for people who are drinking Vegetal for the first time. In general, only a few occur per year, and an interview with the Mestre Representante of the núcleo is required before one can attend the first ceremony.

Sessões de Escala ("Scheduled Sessions"): Regular ceremonies of the União do Vegetal that are intended for all members. These ceremonies always take place on the first and third Saturday of the month. Sessões de escala anual are held on specified dates of the UDV's yearly ritual calendar.

Sessões Extras ("Extra Sessions"): Sessões that are not de escala, are not on the calendar and are not instrutivas; they can be intended for some or all of the members of a núcleo and/or neighboring núcleos and their scheduling is up to the discretion of the individual núcleos' leadership.

Sessões Instrutivas ("Instructive Sessions"): Intended for members of the UDV's Corpo Instrutivo in order to teach them the ensinos reservados ("reserved teachings"). These sessões are generally held at intervals of at least two months, on Sundays, and they begin at noon.

Símbolo da União - Luz Paz e Amor ("Symbol of the Union - Light, Peace and Love"): One of the principal spiritual references in the UDV.

Tucunacá: A variety of the liana Banisteriopsis caapi generally characterized (in comparison to the Caupuri variety) by an absence of knotty segmentation.

Uniforme ("Uniform"): Ritual vestments worn in the ceremonies. Men and women wear a green shirt and white shoes; women wear gold pants and men wear white pants. The Mestre Representante wears a blue shirt.

Vegetal: The name given to ayahuasca, along with Hoasca or chá.

References #
  • Andrade, Anfrânio Patrocínio de. 1995. O fenômeno do chá e a religiosidade cabocla: Um estudo centrado na União do Vegetal. Masters Thesis in Religious Studies. Unversidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro.
  • Araújo, Maria Gabriela Jahnel de. 2004. Cipó e imaginário entre seringueiros do Alto Juruá. Revista de Estudos da Religião, 1:41-59.
  • Brissac, Sérgio. 1999. A estrela do norte iluminando até o sul: Uma etnografia da União do Vegetal em contexto urbano. Masters Thesis in Social Anthropology. Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro.
  • CEBUDV (Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal). 1989. Hoasca: Fundamentos e objectivos. Brasília: Sede Geral.
  • CEBUDV (Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal) official website:
  • Goulart, Sandra. 2004. Contrastes e continuidades em uma tradição amazônica: As religiões da ayahuasca. Doctoral Dissertation in Social Sciences. Universidade Estadual de Campinas.
  • Henman, Anthony Richard. 1986. Uso del ayahuasca en un contexto autoritario: El caso de la União do Vegetal en Brasil. América Indígena, 66(1):219-34.
  • Luna, Luis Eduardo. 1986. Vegetalismo: Shamanism among the mestizo population of the Peruvian Amazon. Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell International.
  • Luna, Luis Eduardo. 1995. Ayahuasca em Cultos Urbanos Brasileiros. Estudo contrastivo de alguns aspectos do Centro Espírita e Obra de Caridade Príncipe Espadarte Reino da Paz (a Barquinha) e o Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV). Work presented in requirement of Adjunct Professorship in Anthropology, Department of Social Sciences, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis.
  • Pantoja Franco, Mariana Ciavatta & Conceição, Osmildo Silva da. 2004. Breves revelações sobre a ayahuasca: O uso do chá entre os seringueiros do Alto Juruá. In Beatriz Labate & Wladimyr Sena Araújo (eds), O Uso Ritual da Ayahuasca. Campinas, Mercado de Letras (2nd Edition). Pp. 201-27.
Revision History #
  • v 1.0 - Jul 30, 2009 - Labate et al. - published on Erowid.