Rainforest Medicine: Preserving Indigenous Science and Biodiversity in the Upper Amazon
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Rainforest Medicine: Preserving Indigenous Science and Biodiversity in the Upper Amazon

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by Jonathon Miller Weisberger, Pablo Amaringo, Thomas Wang, Augustin Payaguaje

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Chronicling the practices, legends, and wisdom of the vanishing traditions of the upper Amazon, this book reveals the area's indigenous peoples' approach to living in harmony with the natural world. Rainforest Medicine features in-depth essays on plant-based medicine and indigenous science from four distinct Amazonian societies: deep forest and urban,


Chronicling the practices, legends, and wisdom of the vanishing traditions of the upper Amazon, this book reveals the area's indigenous peoples' approach to living in harmony with the natural world. Rainforest Medicine features in-depth essays on plant-based medicine and indigenous science from four distinct Amazonian societies: deep forest and urban, lowland rainforest and mountain.

The book is illustrated with unique botanical and cultural drawings by Secoya elder and traditional healer Agustin Payaguaje and horticulturalist Thomas Y. Wang as well as by the author himself. Payaguaje shares his sincere imaginal view into the spiritual life of the Secoya; plates of petroglyphs from the sacred valley of Cotundo relate to an ancient language, and other illustrations show traditional Secoya ayahuasca symbols and indigenous origin myths. Two color sections showcase photos of the plants and people of the region, and include plates of previously unpublished full-color paintings by Pablo Cesar Amaringo (1938-2009), an acclaimed Peruvian artist renowned for his intricate, colorful depictions of his visions from drinking the entheogenic plant brew, ayahuasca ("vine of the soul" in Quechua languages).

Today the once-dense mysterious rainforest realms are under assault as the indiscriminate colonial frontier of resource extraction moves across the region; as the forest disappears, the traditional human legacy of sustainable utilization of this rich ecosystem is also being buried under modern realities. With over 20 years experience of ground-level environmental and cultural conservation, author Jonathon Miller Weisberger's commitment to preserving the fascinating, unfathomably precious relics of the indigenous legacy shines through. Chief among these treasures is the "shimmering" "golden" plant-medicine science of ayahuasca or yajé, a rainforest vine that was popularized in the 1950s by Western travelers such as William Burroughs and Alan Ginsberg. It has been sampled, reviled, and celebrated by outsiders ever since.

Currently sought after by many in the industrialized West for its powerful psychotropic and life-transforming effects, this sacred brew is often imbibed by visitors to the upper Amazon and curious seekers in faraway venues, sometimes with little to no working knowledge of its principles and precepts. Perceiving that there is an evident need for in-depth information on ayahuasca if it is to be used beyond its traditional context for healing and spiritual illumination in the future, Miller Weisberger focuses on the fundamental knowledge and practices that guide the use of ayahuasca in indigenous cultures. Weaving first-person narrative with anthropological and ethnobotanical information, Rainforest Medicine aims to preserve both the record and ongoing reality of ayahuasca's unique tradition and, of course, the priceless forest that gave birth to these sacred vines. Featuring words from Amazonian shamans—the living torchbearers of these sophisticated spiritual practices—the book stands as testimony to this sacred plant medicine's power in shaping and healing individuals, communities, and nature alike.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"People interested in indigenous uses of ayahuasca will enjoy reading this book. Author JMW shares what he has seen, heard and experienced during long years spent with indigenous Amazonian people. He discusses the dangers of sorcery even for those who do not believe in it, as well as the importance of keeping quiet about one's visions. He also discusses a jaguar-centered world view, in which jaguar embodies energy, and energy makes up the universe. JMW  shares nugget after nugget of Secoya wisdom about how to work with rainforest medicines. This book is personal rather than academic, and its approach is "kaleidoscopic", but it is packed with knowledge, experience and respect for indigenous cultures. I will recommend it to friends."
—Jeremy Narby, author of The Cosmic Serpent, Anthropologist

"Rainforest Medicine is a remarkable account from a scholar and experiential adventurer who has devoted more than twenty years of his life, much of the time in the field, to the study of physical and metaphysical realms where plants, nature, and the human imagination merge in the mind of the shaman, the true wizards of the upper Amazon." —Wade Davis, author of One River and Into the Silence, Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society

"Rainforest Medicine offers valuable insights into deepening our understanding of the natural world and thereby rediscovering ancient ways of thought that can guide us toward healthy living."
—Andrew Weil, M.D., author of Spontaneous Happiness: A New Path to Emotional Well-Being

"Jonathon Miller Weisberger, or 'Sparrow' as called by his friends, has been dedicated to the preservation of biodiversity, indigenous cultures, and indigenous knowledge in the Northwest Amazon for over twenty years!  His commitment is one fueled by passion, a deep understanding of why all humanity needs the rainforest and a profound respect for traditional ways of knowing. In this book Jonathon shares the spiritual perspectives of healers and traditional elders as well as his own body of experiences, alongside a compilation of the identities and uses of two-hundred-and-one Amazonian medicines. This books jumps off the bookshelf and urges readers to connect straight to the living heart of the rainforest itself. This book undeniably will be appreciated by researchers of Amazonian topics for years to come, as well as anyone concerned about saving the rainforest and being an ally to its peoples."
—Dennis McKenna, Ph.D., ethnopharmacologist, author of The Brotherhood of the Screaming Abyss: My Life with Terrence McKenna

"Rainforest Medicine carries a timeless message, one that makes evident our essential need—which is to reconnect with nature. This book is an instrument of positive transformation. Highly recommended."
—Graham Hancock, author of Supernatural: Meetings with the Ancient Teachers of Mankind

"Rainforest Medicine teaches us a great deal. While holding true to adventure, the journey goes deep into the earth consciousness where the real medicine for all life exists. Weisberger is one of the great ethnobotanists of our time. Even more so, he is without a doubt one of the finest ambassadors for our planet. His story of the Upper Amazon with its amazing medicine plants, people, and oral traditions leaves you wanting to do something—anything—to save this amazing place. He has a gift for evoking a sense of place and purpose, and the characters he meets come alive on the page.  There is little doubt in my mind that Rainforest Medicine is a masterpiece and sets a new standard in ethnobotany and conservation."
—Michael Cottingham, director of Voyage Botanica School of Botanical Medicine

Praise for Jonathon Miller Weisberger's work
 • "[C]ourageous and innovative work. [He is] working to preserve ancient botanical wisdom, not on some dusty bookshelf, but in the hearts of indigenous youths and in the forest itself. This is a bold and crucial step in these times."
—Robert Hass, former United States poet laureate
 • "Presided over by a most benevolent array of plant energies and animal intelligences, leafing and leaping spirits ... like a dark heart of the wave on the sloping strand in wilderness and wonder."
—David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous
 • "Jonathon Miller Weisberger—a 'young Schultes'—is a master with the plants.... He helps you listen to their myriad voices, each a wise voice singing a different part in Nature's chorus."
—Bill Pfeiffer, Sacred Earth Network

Product Details

North Atlantic Books
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Ethnobotanist JONATHON "SPARROW" MILLER WEISBERGER was raised in Ecuador and the U.S. He has collected over 2,000 herbarium specimens, including first-time collections of several new species. From 1990 to 2000, Jonathon lived in the Ecuadorian Amazon among five indigenous nationalities, and was influential in the creation of three reserves including the Napo-Galeras National Park. He participated in the demarcation of Waorani territory and in groundwork that helped the Secoya people retain a significant tract of their ancestral homelands. He is the executive director of the Council for Cultural and Biological Diversity (known in Latin America as Fundación OSA), supporting rainforest conservation and cultural heritage projects in Ecuador and Costa Rica. He is the steward of Guaria de Osa Ecolodge (guariadeosa.com), a rainforest and ocean discovery and education center on the remote Osa peninsula, Costa Rica. The author lives in Guaria de Osa, Costa Rica.

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Rainforest Medicine: Preserving Indigenous Science and Biodiversity in the Upper Amazon 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
FDR 11 months ago
Here you will learn about the science of yage/ayahuasca from a guy who has spent most of his life in the jungle, and drinking A LOT of yage. He knows his stuff. He's also hilarious and very intelligent, with a friendly writing style. I found Jonathon's book so well-articulated, scholarly, and heart-warming that I ended up visiting him at his ecolodge in Costa Rica. Jonathon presents Amazonian plant medicine as a nondualist perspective with similarities to other nondualist traditions around the world. He is fond of quoting the Tao, which works well with his dialogues on yage. He sees Amazonian plant medicine as a science (a spiritual science with an evidence-based methodology) and explains how this science works on the whole Self rather than just the mind or body or any part in isolation. Rock on Jonathon!
JVanWin More than 1 year ago
Where to even begin… Rainforest Medicine is an amazing tale from start to finish.  I’ve read quite a few books whose emphasis is on Yagé, or Ayahuasca, and the surrounding culture and infinitely vast dimensions of magic that emanate from it – and Rainforest Medicine is really one of the best. It’s crystal clear from the beginning that the author, Jonathon Miller Weisberger, or as his friends like to call him, Sparrow, is truly a master story teller, and in my humble opinion, the very definition of a shaman.  With over 20 years of ground-level jungle trekking, plant collecting, tribe negotiating, land preserving, honey-thick Yagé ceremonies – Jonathon’s story and message is deeply inspirational, leaving the reader with an abundance of hard-earned wisdom to use however they wish… hopefully for the better transformation and renewal of the self and world as a whole. What I really love about Rainforest Medicine is that the author, like a master chef, delicately balances just the right amount of material for each aspect of South American plant medicine culture and the rainforest world. From detailing the Secoya’s time-tested practices with Master Plant Teachers to the current state and heart-wrenching consequences of Western-influenced colonization on rainforest ecosystems, it all fit perfectly together for a smooth, easily absorbed read. Also worthy of their own mention, are the stunning, gorgeous detailed pictures and hand-drawn sketches that interlace transitions and creation mythologies tucked between the pages. The quality photographs serve the reader as portals into a seemingly distant but ever-intimately connected world filled with canopies of vibrant spirit and painful human behavior alike. The most notable dimension of the book that stood out to me among others that I have read is the unique way that it is written. With others I’ve read, the material was of the infinitely complex and mysterious realms of spirit (that anyone who has had a damn-good strong dose of Yagé is aware of), but was presented in a brittle scientific language that left my pallet feeling dry and acidic. Whereas, Jonathon, with many years of medicine work himself, writes in a such a way that is a bridge of synesthesia from this world to the next… gracefully painting your soul’s eyes with the colors and sensations of the invisible worlds that exist intimately with ours. After five plus years of my own travels and journeys with Yagé, I am left humbled by the amount of work and deep soul that Jonathon has put into his own life to be able to create this beautiful, influential and essential book.  The message is clear, the way subtle - we have everything we need, and the connections, allies and love of the rainforest to support us. Love and gratitude to Jonathon M Weisberger (Sparrow), the Secoya, all Ecuadorian people - indigenous and urban, the plants, the animals, the spirits, the forest herself and all others for helping to create this truly amazing book. Highly recommended