1. The Cosmic Serpent - DNA and The Origins of Knowledge

  2. Q&A with Jeremy Narby by Todd Stewart

  3. DNA and The Origins of Knowledge

  4. Ayahuasca











The Cosmic Serpent

DNA and The Origins of Knowledge

by Jeremy Narby

from ThinkAboutIt Website



Jeremy Narby, PhD, grew up in Canada and Switzerland, studied history at the University of Canterbury, and received his doctorate in anthropology from Stanford University. He is author of "The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the Origins of Knowledge"




The first time an Ashaninca man told me that he had learned the medicinal properties of plants by drinking a hallucinogenic brew, I thought he was joking. We were in the forest squatting next to a bush whose leaves, he claimed, could cure the bite of a deadly snake.

"One learns these things by drinking ayahuasca," he said.

But he was not smiling.

It was early 1985, in the community of Quirishari in the Peruvian Amazon's Pichis Valley. I was 25 years old and starting a two-year period of field-work to obtain a doctorate in anthropology from Stanford University. My training had led me to expect that people would tell tall stories.


I thought my job as an anthropologist was to discover what they really thought, like some kind of private detective.





During my research on Ashaninca ecology, people in Quirishari regularly mentioned the hallucinatory world of ayahuasqueros, or shamans. In conversations about plants, animals, land, or the forest, they would refer to ayahuasqueros as the source of knowledge.


Each time, I would ask myself what they really meant when they said this.

My fieldwork concerned Ashaninca resource use - with particular emphasis on their rational and pragmatic techniques.


To emphasize the hallucinatory origin of Ashaninca ecological knowledge would have been counterproductive to the main argument underlying my research. Nevertheless, the enigma remained: These extremely practical and frank people, living almost autonomously in the Amazonian forest, insisted that their extensive botanical knowledge came from plant-induced hallucinations.


How could this be true?

The enigma was all the more intriguing because the botanical knowledge of indigenous Amazonians has long astonished scientists. The chemical composition of ayahuasca is a case in point. Amazonian shamans have been preparing ayahuasca for millennia. The brew is a necessary combination of two plants, which must be boiled together for hours.


The first contains a hallucinogenic substance, dimethyltryptamine, which also seems to be secreted by the human brain; but this hallucinogen has no effect when swallowed, because a stomach enzyme called monoamine oxidase blocks it. The second plant, however, contains several substances that inactivate this precise stomach enzyme, allowing the hallucinogen to reach the brain.

So here are people without electron microscopes who choose, among some 80,000 Amazonian plant species, the leaves of a bush containing a hallucinogenic brain hormone, which they combine with a vine containing substances that inactivate an enzyme of the digestive tract, which would otherwise block the hallucinogenic effect.


And they do this to modify their consciousness. It is as if they knew about the molecular properties of plants and the art of combining them, and when one asks them how they know these things, they say their knowledge comes directly from hallucinogenic plants.

I had not come to Quirishari to study this issue, which for me relates to indigenous mythology. I even considered the study of mythology to be a useless and "reactionary" pastime.


My focus as an anthropologist was Ashaninca resource development. I was trying to demonstrate that true development consisted first in recognizing the territorial rights of indigenous people.


My point of view was materialist and political, rather than mystical - yet I found myself quite impressed with the pragmatism of the Quirishari.

This is a people who teach by example, rather than by explanation. Parents encourage their children to accompany them in their work. The phrase "leave Daddy alone because he's working" is unknown. People are suspicious of abstract concepts. When an idea seems really bad, they will say dismissively, "Es pura teoría" ("That's pure theory").


The two key words that cropped up over and over in conversations were práctica and táctica, "practice" and "tactics"  -  no doubt because they are requirements for living in the rainforest.

After about a year in Quirishari, I had come to see that my hosts' practical sense was much more reliable in their environment than my academically informed understanding of reality. Their empirical knowledge was undeniable, but their explanations concerning the origin of their knowledge were unbelievable to me.


My attitude was ambivalent. On the one hand, I wanted to understand what they thought - for instance, about the reality of "spirits" - but on the other, I couldn't take seriously what they said because I did not believe it.


On leaving Quirishari, I knew I had not solved the enigma of the hallucinatory origin of Ashaninca ecological knowledge.


I left with the strange feeling that the problem had more to do with my incapacity to understand what people had said, rather than the inadequacy of their explanations. They had always used such simple words.

In June 1992, I went to Rio to attend the world conference on development and environment.


At the "Earth Summit," as it was known, everybody was talking about the ecological knowledge of indigenous people, but certainly no one was talking about the hallucinatory origin of some of it, as claimed by the indigenous people themselves.


Colleagues might ask,

"You mean Indians claim they get molecularly verifiable information from their hallucinations? You don't take them literally, do you?"

What could one answer?


There is nothing one can say without contradicting two fundamental principles of Western knowledge.

  • First, hallucinations cannot be the source of real information, because to consider them as such is the definition of psychosis. Western knowledge considers hallucinations to be at best illusions, at worst morbid phenomena.


  • Second, plants do not communicate like human beings. Scientific theories of communication consider that only human beings use abstract symbols like words and pictures and that plants do not relay information in the form of mental images.

For science, the human brain is the source of hallucinations, which psychoactive plants merely trigger by way of the hallucinogenic molecules they contain.

It was in Rio that I realized the extent of the dilemma posed by the hallucinatory knowledge of indigenous people. On the one hand, its results are empirically confirmed and used by the pharmaceutical industry; on the other hand, its origin cannot be discussed scientifically because it contradicts the axioms of Western knowledge.

When I understood that the enigma of plant communication was a blind spot for science, I felt the call to conduct an in-depth investigation of the subject.

Furthermore, I had been carrying the mystery of plant communication around since my stay with the Ashaninca, and I knew that explorations of contradictions in science often yield fruitful results. It seemed to me that the establishment of a serious dialogue with indigenous people on ecology and botany required that this question be addressed.

I had myself ingested ayahuasca in Quirishari, an experience that brought me face to face with an irrational and subjective territory that was terrifying, yet filled with information. In the months afterwards, I thought quite a lot about what my main Ashaninca consultant, Carlos Perez Shuma, had said.


What if it were true that nature speaks in signs and that the secret to understanding its language consists in noticing similarities in shape or in form? What if I took him literally?

I liked this idea and decided to read the anthropological texts on shamanism, paying attention not only to their content but to their style. I taped a note on the wall of my office:

"Look at the FORM."

One thing became clear as I thought back to my stay in Quirishari. Every time I had doubted one of my consultants' explanations, my understanding of the Ashaninca view of reality had seized up; conversely, on the rare occasions when I had managed to silence my doubts, my understanding of local reality had been enhanced  -  as if there were times when one had to believe in order to see, rather than the other way around.

It had become clear to me that ayahuasqueros were somehow gaining access in their visions to verifiable information about plant properties. Therefore, I reasoned, the enigma of hallucinatory knowledge could be reduced to one question:

Was this information coming from inside the human brain, as the scientific point of view would have it, or from the outside world of plants, as shamans claimed?

Both of these perspectives seemed to present advantages and drawbacks.


On the one hand, the similarity between the molecular profiles of the natural hallucinogens and of serotonin seemed well and truly to indicate that these substances work like keys fitting into the same lock inside the brain. However, I could not agree with the scientific position according to which hallucinations are merely discharges of images stocked in compartments of the subconscious memory.


I was convinced that the enormous fluorescent snakes that I had seen thanks to ayahuasca did not correspond in any way to anything that I could have dreamed of even in my most extreme nightmares. Furthermore, the speed and coherence of some of the hallucinatory images exceeded by many degrees the best rock videos, and I knew that I could not possibly have filmed them.

On the other hand, I was finding it increasingly easy to suspend disbelief and consider the indigenous point of view as potentially correct. After all, there were all kinds of gaps and contradictions in the scientific knowledge of hallucinogens, which had at first seemed so reliable: Scientists do not know how these substances affect our consciousness, nor have they studied true hallucinogens in any detail.


It no longer seemed unreasonable to me to consider that the information about the molecular content of plants could truly come from the plants themselves, just as ayahuasqueros claimed.


However, I failed to see how this could work concretely.

Maybe I would find the answer by looking at both perspectives simultaneously, one eye on science and the other on shamanism. The solution would therefore consist in posing the question differently: It was not a matter of asking whether the source of hallucinations is internal or external, but of considering that it might be both at the same time.


I could not see how this idea would work in practice, but I liked it because it reconciled two points of view that were apparently divergent.

My research revealed that in the early 1960s, anthropologist Michael Harner had gone to the Peruvian Amazon to study the culture of the Conibo Indians. After a year or so he had made little headway in understanding their religious system when the Conibo told him that if he really wanted to learn, he had to drink ayahuasca.


Harner accepted, not without fear, because the people had warned him that the experience was terrifying. The following evening, under the strict supervision of his indigenous friends, he drank the equivalent of a third of a bottle. After several minutes he found himself falling into a world of true hallucinations.

He saw that his visions emanated from "giant reptilian creatures" resting at the lowest depths of his brain.


These creatures began projecting scenes in front of his eyes.

"First they showed me the planet Earth as it was eons ago, before there was any life on it. I saw an ocean, barren land, and a bright blue sky. Then black specks dropped from the sky by the hundreds and landed in front of me on the barren landscape.


I could see the ‘specks' were actually large, shiny, black creatures with stubby pterodactyl-like wings and huge whale-like bodies.... They explained to me in a kind of thought language that they were fleeing from something out in space.


They had come to the planet Earth to escape their enemy. The creatures then showed me how they had created life on the planet in order to hide within the multitudinous forms and thus disguise their presence. Before me, the magnificence of plant and animal creation and speciation - hundreds of millions of years of activity - took place on a scale and with a vividness impossible to describe.


I learned that the dragon-like creatures were thus inside all forms of life, including man."

At this point in his account, Harner writes in a footnote at the bottom of the page:

"In retrospect one could say they were almost like DNA, although at that time, 1961, I knew nothing of DNA."

I had not paid attention to this footnote previously.


There was indeed DNA inside the human brain, as well as in the outside world of plants, given that the molecule of life containing genetic information is the same for all species. DNA could thus be considered a source of information that is both external and internal - in other words, precisely what I had been trying to imagine.


I plunged back into Harner's book, but found no further mention of DNA. However, a few pages on, Harner notes that "dragon" and "serpent" are synonymous. This made me think that the double helix of DNA resembled, in its form, two entwined serpents.

The reptilian creatures that Harner had seen in his brain reminded me of something, but I could not say what.


After rummaging around my office for a while, I put my hand on an article called "Brain and Mind in Desana Shamanism" by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff. Paging through it, I was stopped by a Desana drawing of a human brain with a snake lodged between the two hemispheres.


Several pages further into the article, I came upon a second drawing, this time with two snakes. According to Reichel-Dolmatoff, within the fissure,

"two intertwined snakes are lying.... In Desana shamanism these two serpents symbolize a female and male principle, a mother and a father image, water and land...


In brief, they represent a concept of binary opposition which has to be overcome in order to achieve individual awareness and integration. The snakes are imagined as spiraling rhythmically in a swaying motion from one side to another."




Concerning the Desanas' main cosmological beliefs, Reichel-Dolmatoff writes:

"The Desana say that in the beginning of time their ancestors arrived in canoes shaped like huge serpents."

I was astonished by the similarities between Harner's account, based on his hallucinogenic experience with the Conibo Indians in the Peruvian Amazon, and the shamanic and mythological concepts of an ayahuasca-using people living a thousand miles away in the Colombian Amazon.


In both cases there were reptiles in the brain and serpent-shaped boats of cosmic origin that were vessels of life at the beginning of time. Pure coincidence?

To find out, I picked up a book about a third ayahuasca-using people, entitled (in French) Vision, Knowledge, Power: Shamanism Among the Yagua in the North-East of Peru. In this study by Jean-Pierre Chaumeil (to my mind, one of the most rigorous on the subject), I found a "celestial serpent" in a drawing of the universe by a Yagua shaman.


Then, a few pages away, another shaman is quoted as saying:

"At the very beginning, before the birth of the earth, this earth here, our most distant ancestors lived on another earth...."

Chaumeil adds that the Yagua consider that all living beings were created by twins, who are "the two central characters in Yagua cosmogonic thought."

These correspondences seemed very strange, and I did not know what to make of them. Or rather, I could see an easy way of interpreting them, but it contradicted my understanding of reality:

A Western anthropologist like Harner drinks a strong dose of ayahuasca with one people and gains access, in the middle of the twentieth century, to a world that informs the "mythological" concepts of other peoples and allows them to communicate with life-creating spirits of cosmic origin possibly linked to DNA.

This seemed highly improbable to me, if not impossible. Still, I had decided to follow my approach through to its logical conclusion. So I casually penciled in the margin of Chaumeil's text:

"twins = DNA?"

These indirect and analogical connections between DNA and the hallucinatory and mythological spheres seemed amusing to me, or at most intriguing.


Nevertheless, I started thinking that I had perhaps found with DNA the scientific concept on which to focus one eye, while focusing the other on the shamanism of Amazonian ayahuasqueros.

About this time, as I continued looking out for new connections between shamanism and DNA, I received a letter from a friend who suggested that shamanism was perhaps,

"untranslatable into our logic for lack of corresponding concepts."

I understood what he meant, and I was trying to see precisely if DNA, without being exactly equivalent, might be the concept that would best translate what ayahuasqueros were talking about.

As I browsed over the writings of authorities on mythology, I discovered with surprise that the theme of twin creator beings of celestial origin was extremely common in South America, and indeed throughout the world. The story that the Ashaninca tell about Avíreri and his sister, who created life by transformation, was just one among hundreds of variants on the theme of the "divine twins."

Another example is the Aztecs' plumed serpent, Quetzalcoatl, who symbolizes the "sacred energy of life," and his twin brother Tezcatlipoca, both of whom are children of the cosmic serpent Coatlicue.

When I read the following passage from Claude Lévi-Strauss' latest book, I jumped:

"In Aztec, the word coatl means both ‘serpent' and ‘twin.' The name Quetzalcoatl can thus be interpreted either as ‘Plumed serpent' or ‘Magnificent twin.'"

A twin serpent, of cosmic origin, symbolizing the sacred energy of life? Among the Aztecs?


I wondered what all these twin beings in the creation myths of indigenous people could possibly mean. I was trying to keep one eye on DNA and the other on shamanism to discover the common ground between the two. I reviewed the correspondences that I had found so far.


Ruminating over this mental block, I recalled Carlos Perez Shuma's challenge:

"Look at the FORM."

I had looked up DNA in several encyclopedias and had noted in passing that the shape of the double helix was most often described as a ladder, or a twisted 'rope ladder', or a spiral staircase.


It was during the following split second, asking myself whether there were any ladders in shamanism, that the revelation occurred:

"THE LADDERS! The shamans' ladders, ‘symbols of the profession' according to Métraux, present in shamanic themes around the world according to Eliade!"

I rushed back to my office and plunged into Mircea Eliade's book Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy and discovered that there were "countless examples" of shamanic ladders on all five continents, here a "spiral ladder," there a "stairway" or "braided ropes."


In Australia, Tibet, Nepal, ancient Egypt, Africa, North and South America,

"the symbolism of the rope, like that of the ladder, necessarily implies communication between sky and earth. It is by means of a rope or a ladder (as, too, by a vine, a bridge, a chain of arnyaw, etc.) that the gods descend to earth and men go up to the sky."

Eliade even cites an example from the Old Testament, where Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching up to heaven,

"with the angels of God ascending and descending on it."

According to Eliade, the shamanic ladder is the earliest version of the idea of an axis of the world, which connects the different levels of the cosmos, and is found in numerous creation myths in the form of a tree.


Until then, I had considered Eliade's work with suspicion, but suddenly I viewed it in a new light. I started flipping through his other writings in my possession and discovered: cosmic serpents.


This time it was Australian Aborigines who considered that the creation of life was the work of a,

"cosmic personage related to universal fecundity, the Rainbow Snake," whose powers were symbolized by quartz crystals.

How could it be that Australian Aborigines, separated from the rest of humanity for 40,000 years, tell the same story about the creation of life by a cosmic serpent associated with a quartz crystal as is told by ayahuasca-drinking Amazonians?


The connections that I was beginning to perceive were blowing away the scope of my investigation. How could cosmic serpents from Australia possibly help my analysis of the uses of hallucinogens in Western Amazonia? I tried answering my own question: One, Western culture has cut itself off from the serpent/life principle, in other words DNA, since it adopted an exclusively rational point of view.


Two, the peoples who practice what we call "shamanism" communicate with DNA. Three, paradoxically, the part of humanity that cut itself off from the serpent managed to discover its material existence in a laboratory some three thousand years later.

People use different techniques in different places to gain access to knowledge of the vital principle. In their visions shamans manage to take their consciousness down to the molecular level. This is how they learn to combine brain hormones with monoamine oxidase inhibitors, or how they discover 40 different sources of muscle paralyzers, whereas science has only been able to imitate their molecules.


When they say their knowledge comes from beings they see in their hallucinations, their words mean exactly what they say. According to the shamans of the entire world, one establishes communication with spirits via music.


For the ayahuasqueros, it is almost inconceivable to enter the world of spirits and remain silent.


Angelika Gebhart-Sayer discusses the "visual music" projected by the spirits in front of the shaman's eyes: It is made up of three-dimensional images that coalesce into sound and that the shaman imitates by emitting corresponding melodies. I should check whether DNA emits sound or not.

It seemed that no one had noticed the possible links between the "myths" of "primitive peoples" and molecular biology.


No one had seen that the double helix had symbolized the life principle for thousands of years around the world. On the contrary; everything was upside down.


It was said,

  • that hallucinations could in no way constitute a source of knowledge

  • that Indians had found their useful molecules by chance experimentation

  • that their "myths" were precisely myths, bearing no relationship to the real knowledge discovered in laboratories

At this point, I remembered that Michael Harner had said that this information was reserved for the dead and the dying.


Suddenly, I was overcome with fear and felt the urge to share these ideas with someone else. I picked up the phone and called an old friend, who is also a writer. I quickly took him through the correspondences I had found during the day: the twins, the cosmic serpents, Eliade's ladders.


Then I added:

"There is a last correlation that is slightly less clear than the others. The spirits one sees in hallucinations are three-dimensional, sound-emitting images, and they speak a language made of three-dimensional, sound-emitting images. In other words, they are made of their own language, like DNA."

There was a long silence on the other end of the line.


Then my friend said,

"Yes, and like DNA they replicate themselves to relay their information."

I jotted this down, and it was later in reviewing my notes on the relationship between the hallucinatory spirits made of language and DNA that I remembered the first verse of the first chapter of the Gospel according to John:

"In the beginning was the logos" - the word, the verb, the language.

That night I had a hard time falling asleep.


My investigation had led me to formulate the following working hypothesis: In their visions, shamans take their consciousness down to the molecular level and gain access to information related to DNA, which they call "animate essences" or "spirits."


This is where they see double helixes, twisted ladders, and chromosome shapes. This is how shamanic cultures have known for millennia that the vital principle is the same for all living beings and is shaped like two entwined serpents (or a vine, a rope, a ladder ... ).


DNA is the source of their astonishing botanical and medicinal knowledge, which can be attained only in defocalized and "nonrational" states of consciousness, though its results are empirically verifiable.


The myths of these cultures are filled with biological imagery. And the shamans' metaphoric explanations correspond quite precisely to the descriptions that biologists are starting to provide.


Like the axis mundi of shamanic traditions, DNA has the form of a twisted ladder (or a vine ... ); according to my hypothesis, DNA was, like the axis mundi, the source of shamanic knowledge and visions.


To be sure of this I needed to understand how DNA could transmit visual information.


I knew that it emitted photons, which are electromagnetic waves, and I remembered what Carlos Perez Shuma had told me when he compared the spirits to "radio waves":

"Once you turn on the radio, you can pick them up. It's like that with souls; with ayahuasca... you can see them and hear them."

So I looked into the literature on photons of biological origin, or "biophotons."

In the early 1980s, thanks to the development of a sophisticated measurement device, a team of scientists demonstrated that the cells of all living beings emit photons at a rate of up to approximately 100 units per second and per square centimeter of surface area.


They also showed that DNA was the source of this photon emission.

During my readings, I learned with astonishment that the wavelength at which DNA emits these photons corresponds exactly to the narrow band of visible light. Yet this did not constitute proof that the light emitted by DNA was what shamans saw in their visions. Furthermore, there was a fundamental aspect of this photon emission that I could not grasp.


According to the researchers who measured it, its weakness is such that it corresponds,

"to the intensity of a candle at a distance of about 10 kilometers," but it has "a surprisingly high degree of coherence, as compared to that of technical fields (laser)."

How could an ultra-weak signal be highly coherent? How could a distant candle be compared to a "laser"?

I came to understand that in a coherent source of light, the quantity of photons emitted may vary, but the emission intervals remain constant.


DNA emits photons with such regularity that researchers compare the phenomenon to an "ultra-weak laser." I could understand that much, but still could not see what it implied for my investigation.

I turned to my scientific journalist friend, who explained it immediately:

"A coherent source of light, like a laser, gives the sensation of bright colors, a luminescence, and an impression of holographic depth."

My friend's explanation provided me with an essential element.


The detailed descriptions of ayahuasca-based hallucinatory experiences invariably mention bright color, and, according to the authors of the dimethyltryptamine study:

"Subjects described the colors as brighter, more intense, and deeply saturated than those seen in normal awareness or dreams: It was the blue of a desert sky, but on another planet. The colors were 10 to 100 times more saturated."

It was almost too good to be true. DNA's highly coherent photon emission accounted for the luminescence of hallucinatory images, as well as their three-dimensional, or holographic, aspect.

On the basis of this connection, I could now conceive of a neurological mechanism for my hypothesis. The molecules of nicotine or dimethyltryptamine, contained in ayahuasca, activate their respective receptors, which set off a cascade of electrochemical reactions inside the neurons, leading to the stimulation of DNA and, more particularly, to its emission of visible waves, which shamans perceive as "hallucinations."

There, I thought, is the source of knowledge:

DNA, living in water and emitting photons, like an aquatic dragon spitting fire.

Am I wrong in linking DNA to these cosmic serpents from around the world, these sky-ropes and axis mundi?


Some of my colleagues would undoubtedly say yes. They would remind me that nineteenth century anthropologists had compared cultures and elaborated theories on the basis of the similarities they found. When they discovered, for instance, that bagpipes were played not only in Scotland, but in Arabia and the Ukraine, they established false connections between these cultures. Then they realized that people could do similar things for different reasons.

Since then, anthropology has backed away from grand generalizations, denounced "abuses of the comparative method," and locked itself into specificity bordering on myopia. Yet by shunning comparisons between cultures, one ends up masking true connections and fragmenting reality a little more, without even realizing it.

Is the cosmic serpent of the Shipibo-Conibo, the Aztecs, the Australian Aborigines, and the Ancient Egyptians the same?


No, will reply the anthropologists who insist on cultural specificity; but it is time to turn their critique on its head. Why insist on taking reality apart, but never try putting it back together again?

According to my hypothesis, shamans take their consciousness down to the molecular level and gain access to biomolecular information.

  • But what actually goes on in the brain/mind of an ayahuasquero when this occurs?

  • What is the nature of a shaman's communication with the animate essences of nature?

The clear answer is that more research is needed in consciousness, shamanism, molecular biology, and their interrelatedness.

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The Cosmic Serpent - DNA and the Origins of Knowledge
Q&A with Jeremy Narby by Todd Stewart
from DeOxy Website

Could you sum up your book "The Cosmic Serpent - DNA and the Origins of Knowledge"?

Research indicates that shamans access an intelligence, which they say is nature's, and which gives them information that has stunning correspondences with molecular biology.

Your hypothesis of a hidden intelligence contained within the DNA of all living things is interesting. What is this intelligence?

Intelligence comes from the Latin inter-legere, to choose between. There seems to be a capacity to make choices operating inside each cell in our body, down to the level of individual proteins and enzymes. DNA itself is a kind of "text" that functions through a coding system called "genetic code," which is strikingly similar to codes used by human beings.


Some enzymes edit the RNA transcript of the DNA text and add new letters to it; any error made during this editing can be fatal to the entire organism; so these enzymes are consistently making the right choices; if they don't, something often goes wrong leading to cancer and other diseases.


Cells send one another signals, in the form of proteins and molecules. These signals mean: divide, or don't divide, move, or don't move, kill yourself, or stay alive. Any one cell is listening to hundreds of signals at the same time, and has to integrate them and decide what to do.


How this intelligence operates is the question.





DNA has essentially maintained its structure for 3.5 billion years. What role does DNA play in our evolution?

DNA is a single molecule with a double helix structure; it is two complementary versions of the same "text" wrapped around each other; this allows it to unwind and make copies of itself: twins! This twinning mechanism is at the heart of life since it began. Without it, one cell could not become two, and life would not exist.


And, from one generation to the next, the DNA text can also be modified, so it allows both constancy and transformation. This means that beings can be the same and not the same. One of the mysteries is what drives the changes in the DNA text in evolution. DNA has apparently been around for billions of years in its current form in virtually all forms of life.


The old theory - random accumulation of errors combined with natural selection - does not fully explain the data currently generated by genome sequencing. The question is wide open.

The structure of DNA as we know it is made up of letters and thus has a specific text and language. You could say our bodies are made up of language, yet we assume that speech arises from the mind. How do we access this hidden language?

By studying it. There are several roads to knowledge, including science and shamanism.

The symbol of the Cosmic Serpent, the snake, is a central theme in your story, and in your research you discover that the snake forms a major part of the symbology across most of the world's traditions and religions. Why is there such a consistent system of natural symbols in the world? Is the world inherently symbolic?





This is the observation that led me to investigate the cosmic serpent. I found the symbol in shamanism all over the world.


Why? That's a good question.


My hypothesis is that it is connected to the double helix of DNA inside virtually all living beings. And DNA itself is a symbolic Saussurian code. So, yes, in at least one important way, the living world is inherently symbolic.


We are made of living language.


You write of how the ideology of "rational" science, deterministic thought, is and has been quite limiting in its approach to new and alternative scientific theories; it is assumed that "mystery is the enemy." In your book you describe how you had to suspend your judgement, to "defocalize," and in this way gain a deeper insight. Why do you think we are often limited in our rational, linear thought and why are so few willing and able to cross these boundaries?

I don't believe we are. People spend hours each day thinking non-rationally. Our emotional brain treats all the information we receive before our neo-cortex does.


Scientists are forever making discoveries as they daydream, take a bath, go for a run, lay in bed, and so on.



Vision of the Snakes
By Pablo Amaringo
Gallery of Usko-Ayar Art


What are the correspondences between the Peruvian shamans' findings and microbiology?

Both shamans and molecular biologists agree that there is a hidden unity under the surface of life's diversity; both associate this unity with the double helix shape (or two entwined serpents, a twisted ladder, a spiral staircase, two vines wrapped around each other); both consider that one must deal with this level of reality in order to heal.


One can fill a book with correspondences between shamanism and molecular biology.

Do you think there is not only an intelligence based in our DNA but a consciousness as well?

I think we should attend to the words we use. "Consciousness" carries different baggage than "intelligence."


Many would define human consciousness as different from, say, animal consciousness, because humans are conscious of being conscious. But how do we know that dolphins don't think about being dolphins? I do not know whether there is a "consciousness" inside our cells; for now, the question seems out of reach; we have a hard enough time understanding our own consciousness - though we use it most of the time.


I propose the concept of "intelligence" to describe what proteins and cells do, simply because it makes the data more comprehensible. This concept will require at least a decade or two for biologists to consider and test.


Then, we might be able to move along and consider the idea of a "cellular consciousness."



Alchemical vision of chromosomal DNA?


The implications of some of your findings in The Cosmic Serpent could be quite large. How do you feel about the book and what it says? Why did you write the book?

I wrote the book because I felt that certain things needed saying. Writing a book is like sending out a message in a bottle: sometimes one gets replies. Judging from the responses, a surprising number of people have got the message loud and clear.



Actual photo of chromosomal DNA.


How can shamanism complement modern science?

Most definitions of "science" revolve around the testing of hypotheses.


Claude Levi-Strauss showed in his book The Savage Mind that human beings have been carefully observing nature and endlessly testing hypotheses for at least ten thousand years. This is how animals and plants were domesticated. Civilization rests on millennia of Neolithic science. I think the science of shamans can complement modern science by helping make sense of the data it generates.


Shamanism is like a reverse camera relative to modern science.

The shamans were very spiritual people. Has any of this affected you? What is spiritual in your life?

I don't use the word "spiritual" to think about my life. I spend my time promoting land titling projects and bilingual education for indigenous people, and thinking about how to move knowledge forward and how to open up understanding between people; I also spend time with my children, and with children in my community (as a soccer coach); and I look after the plants in my garden, without using pesticides and so on.


But I do this because I think it needs doing, and because it's all I can do, but not because it's "spiritual."


The message I got from shamans was: do what you can for those around you (including plants and animals), but don't make a big deal of it.

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DNA and the origins of knowledge
by Hannah Klautz
from ThinkAboutIt Website

Much is written lately about 'indigenous knowledge" especially in the field of traditional plant and medical knowledge. The indigenous societies in the Amazon region have received much fame recently in this area because of their knowledge and use of hallucinogenic materials.


Modern pharmaceutical companies are especially interested in this knowledge and many indigenous leaders have spoken about the need to protect their intellectual and cultural property rights, as well as to capture some of the economic benefits of such knowledge

The Comic Serpent written by James Narby places the discussion of indigenous knowledge in a deeper philosophical and cosmological framework, arguing for an epistemic correspondence between the knowledge of Amazonian shamans and modern biologists. Narby unfolds in his book a very interesting theory about the human DNA and the origins of knowledge.

He came to this after living for several years in the Amazonian rainforest while he was studying the etnobothanical knowledge of different Amazonian Indian tribes.


His book starts with the following:

"The first time as an Ashaninca man told me that he had learned the medicinal properties of plants by drinking a hallucinogenic brew, I thought he was joking. We were in the forest squatting next to a bush whose leaves, he claimed, could cure the bite of a deadly snake.


"One learns these things by drinking ayahuasca," he said.

It was early in 1985, in the community of Quirishari in the Peruvian Pichis Valley.

I was twenty-five years old and starting a two-year period of fieldwork to obtain a doctorate in anthropology from Stanford University. During my research on Ashaninca ecology, people in Quiishari regularly mentioned the hallucinatory world of ayahuasqueros, or shamans. In conversions about plants, animals, land or the forest, they would refer to ayahuasqueros as the source of knowledge.

And each time I asked myself what they really meant when they said this.

"While living their for months doing investigations and asking a lot of questions a member of the tribe tells him:


"Brother Jeremy, to understand what interests you, you must drink ayahuasca. Some say it is occult, which is true, but it is not evil. In truth, ayahuasca is the television of the forest. You can see images and learn things."

Narby is very curious and agrees with it.


He describes his experience with the following: (At one point in his visions he meet some snakes and they tell him that he's just a human being.)

"I feel my mind crack, and in the fissures, I see the bottomless arrogance of my presuppositions. It is profoundly true that I'm just a human being, and, most of the time, I have the impression of understanding everything, whereas here I find myself in a more powerful reality that I do not understand at all and that in my arrogance, I did not even suspect existed. I feel like crying in view of the enormity of these revelations."

And a bit later he writes:

"I sit down next to Ruperto( the shaman) and he resumes his song. I have never heard more beautiful music, these slender staccatos that are so high-pitsched they verge on humming. I follow his song and take flight. I fly in the air; thousands of feet above the earth and looking down I see ann all-white planet. Suddenly the song stops and I feel myself on the ground, thinking: He can't stop now."

After a few ayahuasca experiences Narby goes back home to rural Switzerland to write his dissertation.


He writes:

"Two years later, after becoming a 'doctor of anthropology' I felt compelled to put my ideas to practice. Under Ashaninca influence I had come to consider that practice is the most advanced form of theory. I was tired of doing research. Now I wanted to act."

So he started working for a Swiss organization that promotes community development in Third World countries.


He travels around the Amazon Basin, talking with indigenous organizations and collecting projects for the legal recognition of indigenous territories. He gathers funds for these projects in Europe for four years.

Then Narby decides to write a book about Amazonian shamanism and ecology. He's still wondering about the statements from the Amazonian shamans that their knowledge of the medicinal value of plants has been taught to them by the plants themselves through their hallucinations. He wants to call his book Ecological hallucinations and he wants to investigate the enigma of the possibility of communications with plants.

He's looking again in the interviews he did with the Ashaninca people and he writes:

"For them there was no fundamental contradiction between the practical reality of their life in the rainforest and the invisible and irrational world of the ayahuasqueros, On the contrary, it was by going back and forth between those two levels that one could bring back useful and verifiable knowledg that was otherwise unobtainable. This proved to me that is was possible to reconcile these two apparently distinct worlds."

Then he starts very serious with his research what finally led's to the publication of "The Cosmic Serpent, DNA and the origins of knowledge."


His study is too complicated to describe in such a short article, but I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in shamanism, hallucinogenic plants and the correspondences between this and the latest scientific research about DNA and the origins of our species.


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Essay about the Book "The Cosmic Serpent" of Jeremy Narby

by Patricia Burgos

from EnjoyPeru Website



In 1985 Jeremy Narby, a 25-year-old Frenchman, an anthropologist, visited the native community of the Ashaninkas, located between the Pichis and Perene River valleys, in Peru's Central Jungle.

He was interested in carrying out anthropological research to obtain a PhD in anthropology in an American university. At the beginning of his investigations he discovered that all the biological knowledge of the community was based on the interpretation of what the community shamans perceived during the intake of a drink called "Ayahuasca". These Amazon shamans were the Ayahuasqueros.

He did not know how to interpret this new concept and understand its true sense.

He wanted to deal with the topic in a sensible way to avoid falling into subjectivity, which in the long run would be self-defeating.

Considering that the Peruvian government at the time was interested in confiscating land from the natives arguing that their extractive activities meant an irrational employment of the forest and that the best alternative for the country's economic development was to fell trees and create plantations, Narby understood that his research was vital to defend the conception of the Amazon held by the natives within a system that had saved the forest for centuries.

At the same time this would help the Ashaninkas gain recognition of their territories by the Peruvian government.

During the contact between Narby and the community, there were doubts about the anthropologist's intentions.

Narby's interest in the Ashaninkas' botanical knowledge led him to collect some plant species and some people grew suspicious of his motives. They thought that the anthropologist was trying to make money based on their knowledge of plants.

Considering the natives' justified distrust due to many bad experiences they may have had with foreigners, Narby gave the samples back and they calmed down.

In everyday contact with different groups inside Ashaninka society, he met Ruperto, an Ayahuasquero who proposed him to drink Ayahuasca, in order to get closer to understanding the jungle. Ruperto gave him some indications and some days went by before the experience.

Narby, still doubtful, had not followed the Ayahuasquero's instructions previous to the ceremony.

Here we have a description based on notes taken by Narby the night after the Ayahuasca ceremony:

First, Ruperto sprayed us with perfumed water and smoked us with his tobacco. He then sat with us and began whistling a melody of surprising beauty.

I could already see kaleidoscopic images in front of my eyes, but I did not feel well. Despite Ruperto's melody, I stood up to go and vomit. Having eliminated the remains of the deer and fried yucca meal, I went back to my seat feeling relieved. Ruperto told me that, without doubt, I had also thrown up the Ayahuasca and that I could take it again if I wanted so. I agreed.


He checked my pulse and declared me strong enough for a "regular" dose, which I swallowed.

Ruperto whistled again while I sat down on the dark platform. Images began to flood my head. In my notes, I describe them as,

"unusual or horrible: an agouti baring his teeth inside a bloody mouth, multicolour serpents, very brilliant and shining, a policeman that caused trouble, my father looking at me with a worried look".

I found myself trapped by what I perceived as two giant boas, approximately sixty centimeters high and twelve to fifteen meters long. I was absolutely terrified.

"These enormous serpents are there, I have my eyes shut and I see a spectacular world of bright lights, and in the middle of my entangled thoughts the serpents begin to speak to me without words.


They explain to me that I am only a human being. I feel my spirit break, and in the crack I see the bottomless arrogance of my a priori.


It is deeply true that I am only a human being and that most of the time I have the sensation of understanding everything, while here I find myself in a more powerful reality that I do not understand in any way and that, due to my arrogance, I did not even suspect it existed.


I feel like crying before the enormity of these revelations, but I get the idea that this self-compassion is a part of my arrogance. I feel so ashamed that I dare not feel ashamed again. Nevertheless, I must vomit again."

I got up totally disoriented, and sincerely asking the fluorescent serpents for pardon, I jumped over them as a drunken somnambulist and went to the tree next to the house, below the kitchen.

Although I now tell about this experience with words on paper, in that moment language itself seemed insufficient. This situation was profoundly torturing, as if my last bond with "reality" had been cut. Moreover, "reality" here seems to be a faraway and one-dimensional memory. However, I come to mentally understand my feelings, as a "poor and small human being who has lost his language and feels pity for himself."

I had never felt so deeply humble until that moment. Leaning on the tree, I regurgitated again. In Ashaninka language, Ayahuasca is called Kamarami, from the verb kamarank, "to vomit".


I closed my eyes and only saw red. I saw inside my body, red.

"I regurgitate an electric red liquid, like blood, my throat is bad. I open my eyes and I feel presences by my side, an obscure presence on my left, about a meter away from my head, and a clear presence on my right, also a meter away. Since I am turning more to the left, I am not upset by the obscure presence because I am conscious of it.


But I am startled when I become conscious of the clear presence, and turning to look at it, I do not truly get to see it with my eyes. I feel so bad and I have so little control of my sense that I do not have a real desire to see the clear presence. I am lucid enough to know that I am not vomiting blood.


After a moment I ask myself what is to be done. I have so little control that I abandon myself to instructions that seem to come from outside me (from the obscure presence?): now it is time to stop vomiting, now it is time to spit, to blow your nose, to rinse your mouth, to avoid swallowing water. I am thirsty but my body stops me from drinking."

In a given moment, in the midst of these ablutions, I raised my head and I saw an Ashaninka woman, dressed with a long traditional cotton gown (Cushma), who stopped about seven meters away from me.


She seemed to be levitating above the ground. I saw her in the darkness, which had become clear. Light resembled a film showing an "American night", namely, a scene filmed during the day but using a dark filter to make it look like night.


Looking at this woman who watched me silently in this suddenly clear night, I was once again profoundly thunder-struck by the familiarity of these people with a reality that transformed all my axioms and which I totally ignored.

"I am still confounded when I consider I am done, and I even wash my face and go back in amazement to the fact that I have accepted doing all this complacently alone. I leave the tree, the kitchen, the two presences and the floating woman, and I return to the group.


Ruperto asks: 'Did they tell you not to swallow water?' I respond: 'Yes.' 'Are you dizzy?'. 'Yes.' I settle down and he restarts his singing. I never heard such beautiful music, little fluid tremors, a high voice almost chirping. I follow it and take off. I fly in the air, hundreds of meters above the ground, and looking down, I see a white planet. All at once, the singing stops and I find myself on the ground telling me: 'It is not possible for him to stop now.'


I only see confusing images with a certain erotic content, such as a woman with twenty breasts! He restarts his singing and I see a green leaf with its nervures, then a human hand with its lines, and so on without rest. It is impossible to remember it all"

Little by little, the images disappear. I was exhausted. A little after midnight, I fell asleep.


It was strange for Narby to realize that the botanical knowledge of Amazon tribes that surprised ethno botanists was based on the visions or "hallucinations" produced by Ayahuasca.

Here I quote Narby's description of the composition of Ayahuasca:

The first plant in the mixture contains a hormone which is naturally produced by the brain, dimethyltriptamine, which, however, is inactive when taken orally, since it is inhibited by an enzyme in the digestive system, monoaminooxydase. Now, the second plant in the mixture contains precisely various substances that protect the hormone from the enzyme's assault.


This made Richard Evans Schultes, the most famous ethno-botanist of the XXth century, say:

"One can ask how the people of primitive societies, without knowledge of chemistry or psychology, have managed to find a solution to the activation of an alkaloid via a monoaminooxydase inhibitor. By pure experimentation? Maybe not. There are too many examples and they could be more with supplementary research.

Here we have people who, without an electronic microscope or a background in biochemistry, select, among approximately eighty thousand Amazon species of superior plants, the leaves of a shrub that contain a precise cerebral hormone, which combines with a substance found in a liana that blocks the action of a precise enzyme of the digestive system, with the purpose of deliberately modifying their conscious state.

It is as if they knew the molecular properties of plants and the art of combining them. And when you ask them how they know these things, they respond that their knowledge comes directly from diverse hallucinogenic plants.

Few anthropologists have given attention to this type of statements and for that reason most of them have failed to understand what is essential about tribal cultures.

In this chapter, Narby refers to the incidence of anthropologists in the interpretation of what a shaman is and to the transference of their limitations to the shamans all along history.

For the first anthropologists of the XIXth century, shamans, who, in the case of the Peruvian Amazon would be the Ayahuasqueros, were extremely ignorant and inefficient.

In those days anthropological studies were in their infancy and there was total ignorance of their subject matter.

Then, with the advent of so-called "modern anthropology", they attempted to analyze natives as if they were laboratory formulas. This was done because anthropologists were trying to be considered scientific.

Narby tells us that when anthropology pretended to become established within the scientific community,

"its subject matter, those primitive humans living outside time, began to melt like snow in the sun."

In fact, it became more and more difficult to find "true" natives that had never had contact with the Western world.

Due to this incongruity of anthropology, we understand that anthropology can only interpret facts.

In the XXth century the term "shamanism" is invented by anthropologists to classify hard to understand practices of "primitive" groups.

The word "shaman" comes from Siberia.

In Tungus language a "Saman" is a person who beats a drum, goes in trance and heals people. For the first Russian observers, tells Narby, "they were mentally ill."

Now we know these people, with authority inside a tribal community and known as "shamans" by anthropologists, are recognized for their knowledge and behind those apparently irrational activities there is nothing but ancestral lore.

Narby says:

"This vision of an ordering shaman became the creed for a new generation of anthropologists. From 1960 to 1980, the best established authorities in the field defined the shaman as, before anything else, a creator of order, a master of chaos or an avoider of disorder.

Certainly, things have not happened in such a simple way. Until the end of the 1960s, some survivors of the old school still affirmed that shamanism was a mental disease. In the 1970s, there was a new discourse that presented the shaman not just as creator of order, but also as a specialist in all kinds of trades - that he was, at the same time, 'a doctor, a pharmacologist, a psychotherapist, a sociologist, a philosopher, a lawyer, an astrologist and a priest.' Finally, during the 1980s, certain iconoclasts, stated that shamans were, before anything else, creators of chaos!

So then, what are shamans? Schizophrenic or creators of order? Men who do everything or creators of disorder?

I think the answer is in the mirror. Let me explain myself: when anthropology was a young growing science, still unhappy with itself, unaware of the schizophrenic nature of its methodology, the shaman was perceived as mentally ill. Then, when ('structural') anthropology pretended to attain scientific status and anthropologists busied themselves with finding order amidst disorder, the shaman became a creator of order.


From the moment this discipline is going through an identity crisis ('post-structural anthropology'), not sure anymore if it is a science or a form of interpretation, the shaman has began to pursue all kinds of trades. Finally, certain anthropologists have only recently began to question the obsessive search for order in their discipline, and have seen shamans whose power precisely rests on 'undermining the search for order.'

So it seems that reality behind the concept of 'shamanism' systematically reflects the view of the anthropologist, whatever his or her focusing angle."



Talking to a Tabaquero Ayahuasquero, Narby understood that for Ashaninka natives, Ayahuasca-induced visions were as real as computer screens for our readers.

Narby carried out a long series of interviews with this man and here is the transcription of one of them:

Carlos, the Tabaquero Ayahuasquero, tells him:

"My uncle was a Tabaquero. I used to watch him lay out a lot of tobacco, dry it in the sun and cook it, and I would ask myself what it was all about.


'It's tobacco,' my uncle told me, and once the mixture was black, he would start tasting it with a little stick. I thought it was sweet, like Chancaca (sugarcane concentrate). When he took his tobacco, he would counsel everyone, he could tell them 'this is good' or 'this is not good'. I don't know what intellectuals might say now, but at the time Adventist missionaries used to say: 'He is listening to his bats; his Satan.'


He had no book to read from, but what he said was true: 'everybody has left these things, everybody now goes to the missionary's house. I can't read but I know how to do these things, I know how to take tobacco and I know all these things.' Then, when he talked to me, I would listen.


He used to tell me: 'Listen, nephew, when you become a man, look for a woman to take care of, but before this happens, you must not only learn to write, but also learn these things.'

- Did he mean, learn to consume tobacco?

- Consume tobacco and heal. When somebody came to look for him, my uncle would say: 'Why do you come asking me to heal you if you say that you know God now that you are in the mission and I don't? Why don't you ask the reverend to pray for you, since he says he can heal an ill person through prayer? Why don't you go with him?'


But he would heal them anyhow, pull out his coca and started chewing it, and he would sit like we do now. Then he would suck at his tobacco and during those moments I would watch him and wonder what he would do. The first healing session I saw him in, he said: 'Alright, bring me the sick baby.'


He has begun, he has palpated him and felt his pulse: 'Oh, I can see, he is really screwed up. The sickness is here.' Then he has begun to suck in that place (to suck loudly). Then he has spit making a noise: ptt! Then once more, then a third time: ptt! 'Alright, it's enough.'


He then tells the mother: 'Something has shocked this baby, here is a Piri piri (a medicinal herb) to bathe him in. Then let him rest.'


The next day it could be seen that the baby was better. Then I began to like this and I decided to learn. Uf! The first time I took tobacco I was unable to sleep. - How old were you? - I was eight years old. I thought it was sweet like Chancaca. But it was so bitter I could not even swallow it. My uncle told me: this is the secret of tobacco. Then he taught me everything. He gave me a gourd with tobacco. Little by little I learned to take it and resist it. Very soon, I did not vomit anymore.

- And was it your uncle who also taught you about Ayahuasca? - No, I learned that later, with my father-in-law.

During this search period, Narby experimented on himself the effects of different treatments with medicinal plants practiced by the Ashaninkas. Narby understood that practice is more important than words for a native Ashaninka.

"They taught by example and not through explanations."

Many times, as Narby tells, it was not easy to explain how they healed.

But they healed:

- When you have healed someone, as you have healed Sabino the other day, how does tobacco work? If you are the one inhaling the smoke, how can tobacco heal the person who is not smoking?
- I always say that it is tobacco's property to show me real things. I can see things the way they really are. And he drives out all pains.
- Oh, but how has that property been discovered? Does tobacco only grow in the jungle?
- There is a place, for example, in Napiari, where tobacco grows abundantly.
- Where?
- On the Perene. We have learned about its power through Ayahuasca, that other plant, since it is the mother.
- Which is the mother, tobacco or Ayahuasca?
- Ayahuasca.
- And tobacco is its son?
- It is its son.
- Because tobacco is not as strong, right?
- It is less strong.
- You have told me that both tobacco and Ayahuasca contain gods.
- That is so.
- And you have told me that souls love tobacco. Why?
- Because tobacco has its method, its strength. It attracts the maninkari. It is the best contact for a human being's life.
- And those souls, what are they like?
- I know that every living or dead soul is like those radio waves flying around in the air.
- Where?
- In the air. This means that you can't see them but they are there, like radio waves. Once you turn on the radio, you can receive them. It is the same with souls, with Ayahuasca and tobacco you can see them and hear them.
- And how is it that when the Ayahuasquero sings we hear music that we had never heard before, such beautiful music?
- Well, that attracts the spirits, and as I have always said, when you think it over… (long silence) It is like a tape recorder. You put it there, you start it, it starts singing: hum, hum, hum, hum, hum. And you begin to sing along it. Once you sing, you get to understand it and you can follow its music because you have heard its voice. So music is born, it comes and you can see it. As it happened the other time when Ruperto was singing.
- Tabaquero and Ayahuasquero, are they the same thing?
- The same.
- Well, and I want to know why we see serpents when we take Ayahuasca.
- It's because Ayahuasca's mother is a serpent. Can't you see they have the same shape?
- But I thought that Ayahuasca was tobacco's mother?
- It is so.
- But then, who is the owner of these plants?
- The owners of these plants are really like gods. They are the Maninkari. It is them who help us. Their existence has no end or disease. That is the reason why they tell the Ayahuasquero to put his head in the very dark house:

'If you want me to help you, do it well, then. I give you this power not just for you but for everyone.'

Then, clearly, there it is, the force to decide if you want more life by believing in the plant. It is the way. For that reason they say there is a very narrow road that no one can pass, not even with a machete. It is not a straight path, but at least it is a road.


I abide by these words, and also where it says that truth is not for sale, that wisdom is for you but it should be shared. In other words, this means that to make money out of this is wrong.


After almost two years of living together with the Ashaninkas, at the end of 1986, Narby returned to Switzerland to write his dissertation paper.


After obtaining his PhD, feeling deeply involved with the problems faced by the indigenous peoples of the Peruvian Amazon to save their land, he turned his eyes to those plants able to communicate. So he worked on a project for four years, including the propagation of knowledge he had acquired during his life with the Ashaninkas. However, he refused to deal with certain topics.

And so came the Cumbre de la Tierra in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.

Narby saw a favorable and adequate context to expose his ideas without being called a madman, which he had not done before. However he was surprised to learn that despite the habitual use of medicinal plants to cure diseases by tribal societies in Brazil, very few people referred to the visionary effects of master plants. Those who accepted these qualities did not dare say so.

This led him to the conclusion that his trip deserved an exhaustive study to throw light on the topic. Thus, Narby decided to write the book we are currently analyzing.


After fulfilling all the requisites to edit a paper on the topic, Jeremy Narby began his book.

He delved into writings about humanist anthropology and used the notes he had gathered during his life with the Ashaninkas.

He tried to visualize what he had gone through without making any value judgments. He gave himself to an exhaustive investigation of the topic during five months.

During a visit to some friends' house, they presented him a design made of many dots. Looking carefully at them, he saw clear images that were hidden amidst that apparent set of dots.

Each detail of his life was important in that moment to understand what he had gone through with the Ashaninkas.

He compared all this to his Ayahuasca-induced visions and interpreted that what he had seen with Ayahuasca had been what we have in front of us but which is not perceptible by our eyes at first glance.

Ayahuasca facilitates perception beyond the habitual state known to man.

In the same fashion, we can use our sight to identify an image within a set of dots.

It was more and more clear for Narby that native Amazon inhabitants accessed information about the properties of plants in their Ayahuasca-induced visions, and that information could be scientifically verified. There were too many coincidences.

The question he asked himself was: 'Did this information come from inside the human brain, as stated by science, or from the external world of plants, as the Indians claimed?'

Narby was totally convinced that everything he saw with Ayahuasca had not previously existed in his mind and that it was impossible that his mind had processed it.

Anthropologist Michael Harner, one of the first scholars that found a relation between Ayahuasca and DNA, narrated his experience with Ayahuasca in his writings, which I know quote:

"They first showed me planet Earth the way it was eons of time ago, before the presence of life. I saw an ocean, a sterile landscape and a deep blue sky. Then, black grains fell from the sky by the hundreds and landed in front of me on the arid land. I could see the "grains" were really big black and shiny creatures with wide pterodactyl wings and whale bodies (…)


They explained to me, in a sort of mental language, that they were escaping from something in the Cosmos. They had come to planet Earth to escape from their enemies. Next, the creatures showed me how they had created life on Earth to hide in the midst of a multitude of forms and so dissimulate their presence.


In front of my eyes, the magnificence of the creation of plants and animals and species differentiation - active for hundreds of millions of years - developed at a scale and with vigor impossible to describe. I realized that creatures similar to dragons thus resided inside all living beings, including man.


Retrospectively, we could say they were almost like DNA, except that at the time, in 1961, I did not know anything about the subject of DNA."

Narby perceives that the double helix of DNA was similar to two intertwined serpents.


Delving into the subject, he quotes an article titled "Brain and Consciousness in Desana Shamanism" by Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatuff. Two pictures come with the text.

The first picture shows a Desana representation of the human brain with a serpent between the two hemispheres:


The second design shows the two brain hemispheres separated by two intertwined serpents


In Desana shamanism, these tow serpents symbolize a "female principle and a male principle", an image of father and mother, water and Earth.

The Desana say that in the beginning of times their ancestors had arrived in canoes shaped like enormous serpents.

Narby starts to find similarities between Hearne's account of his experience with the Conibo in the Peruvian jungle, and the one by Reichel-Domlatoff about his experience with the Desana in Colombia.

Both concurred with the representation of the human brain with reptiles separating the two hemispheres and ships shaped like cosmic serpents that bring life to Earth.

Narby continues with his search and reaches what he considers the most rigorous treatise on the subject:

Jean Pierre Chaumeil, in his book "Voir, Savoir, Pouvoir; le chamanisme chez les yagua du Nord-est péruvien.

He first discovers a "celestial serpent", a design by a Yagua shaman that represented the universe. He then indicates that, according to Chaumeil, the Yagua consider that all living beings have been created by two twin brothers who are the two most important characters in yagua cosmogonic thought.

After an infinity of doubts and despite the typical incredulity of his academic background, Narby decides to set his background aside and as he himself states it, with a playful spirit, he wrote the title "ADN - Serpents"


Gathering all his data, Narby finds coincidences.

Ayahuasca is taken during the night, in darkness, with a previous diet that avoids the consumption of fat, sweet, salty or spicy food. The consumption of alcoholic beverages and sexual activity are forbidden during the diet.

The ceremony is in all cases led by an Ayahuasquero who guides the participants and cures them, if such is the case, through chanting. In the case of Ayahuasquero apprentices, they isolate themselves from human contact for months and eat abundant fish and bananas, both rich in serotonin.


The long term consumption of hallucinogens, on the other hand, as Narby indicates, precisely diminishes the levels of that neurotransmitter in the brain. 1) These methods are far from being the outcome of randomness. How have they reached this knowledge? There are many questions.

In this chapter, Narby concludes that shamans, or Ayahuasqueros in this case, while their consciousness is in an altered state induced by Ayahuasca, perceive animation in all types of life and this animation is the transmission in images and sound of the DNA molecule that all living creatures possess. The four chemical elements, A, G, C and T, which form the double helix of DNA, present themselves in visions as intertwined serpents.

Researching writings by many cultures and relating them to the scientific knowledge of DNA, Narby understands that the cosmic serpent mentioned by many cultures and which can be seen through the intake of Ayahuasca, is no other but DNA itself which fell to Earth and became the principle of life.

There was a close link between the "myths" of "primitive" peoples and molecular biology. The question for Narby now was: Who are we and where do we come from?


Narby focuses on the alluded "cosmic serpent" and the origin of life. He was looking for the relation between this "cosmic serpent" and DNA. He thus finds that the DNA representation is in all points similar to what the serpent symbolizes.

Stretching the DNA contained in the nucleus of a human cell, we obtain a two-meter-long thread with a diameter of just a few atoms. This thread is one billion times longer than its own width. Keeping the proportions, it is as if our little finger stretched from Paris to Los Angeles.

A DNA thread is much smaller than visible light perceived by humans. Even going beyond the limits of the naked eye with the most powerful optic microscopes, it is impossible to perceive it: DNA is approximately one hundred and twenty times thinner than the smallest wavelength of visible light.

The nucleus of a cell measures approximately as much as the two-millionth part of a pin head. DNA, two meters long, is compacted inside this minute volume wrapping itself ad infinitum, thus combining extreme length with infinitesimal smallness.

An average human being is formed by nearly one hundred billion cells.

This means there are two hundred billion kilometers of DNA in a human body - equivalent to seventy round trips from the Sun to Saturn. You could travel your whole life in a Boeing 747 at full speed and you would not even reach one hundredth part of this distance. Your personal DNA is capable of coiling round the Earth five million times.

All the cells in the world - human, animal, vegetal or bacterial - contain DNA. On the other hand, they are all full of salty water, a content of mineral salts that resembles the one of primitive oceans: we weep and transpire what is essentially sea water. So DNA is bathed in water, and this plays a crucial role in establishing its shape and, therefore, its function.


In fact, the aquatic medium confers DNA its intertwined ladder shape, because the four DNA bases (Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine and Thymine) are insoluble in water and turn towards the molecule interior to form, by joining in couples, the steps of the ladder; they then wrap around themselves to avoid any contact with the wet environment that surrounds them.

So the DNA molecule is a long chain formed by two intertwined ribbons bound together by four bases. These bases can only join forming specific couples - A with T, G with C. This implies that one of the two ribbons is a duplicate of the other one and that the genetic message is double: it contains a main text on one of the ribbons which is read in a precise direction by reading enzymes, and a complementary reserve text which is not read because it is inverted.

The second ribbon plays two essential roles. It allows repairing enzymes to rebuild the main text in case it has been damaged, and, above all, it supplies the mechanism for the reproduction of genetic messages. In fact, it is enough to open the double helix like a zipper to obtain two separate and complementary ribbons which can then be immediately rebuilt into double ribbons by duplication enzymes.


These enzymes can only couple an A with a T, and so on, since any other base coupling is impossible. This process allows the reconstitution of two twin double helixes, identical to the original at all levels.

Without this duplication mechanism, a cell could never divide and life would not exist.

DNA is the information molecule of life and its essence consists in being, at the same time, simple and double.

DNA and its duplication mechanisms are the same for all living beings.

From one species to the other the only change is in the order of letters. This constancy goes back to the very origins of life on Earth.


According to biologist Robert Pollack:

"The surface of the planet has changed many times, but DNA and its duplication cellular machinery have remained constant. Schrödinger has said that DNA was an non periodic crystal, but this minimizes its stability: no stone, no mountain, no ocean, nor even the sky over our heads has remained so stable and constant over such a period of time.


There is nothing inanimate, whatever its complexity, which has lasted without changes even for a fraction of the time that DNA and its duplication machinery have coexisted."

At the beginning of its existence, about four thousand five hundred million years ago, Earth was a completely inhospitable place for life: its melting surface was radioactive, water did not exist except as water vapor, and the atmosphere was full of poisonous gases like cyanide and formaldehyde, and deprived of breathable oxygen.

About 3.9 billion years ago, the Earth's surface became cool enough to form a thin crust lying on the fusing magma. Strangely enough, life - and therefore DNA - appeared relatively quickly after this. There are sedimentary rocks which indicate possible bacterial deposits about 3.8 billion years old, and true microbial fossils which date back 3.5 billion years.

During the first two billion years of life, there were only anaerobic bacteria on Earth, which regarded oxygen as poison. Living in water, some of them had learned to use hydrogen and to expel oxygen contained in the H2O molecule, activating new metabolic pathways which were more efficient in energy terms.


The gradual enrichment of oxygen in the atmosphere permitted the apparition of a new type of cells capable of using oxygen and provided with a nucleus to regroup DNA. These nuclear cells are much larger than bacteria, at least thirty times more voluminous.


According to biologists Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan:

"Biological transition between bacteria and nuclear cells is so sudden that it cannot be explained by gradual changes in time."

Ever since that moment, life as we know it took form. Nuclear cells associated to form the first multi-cellular beings, such as algae.


These also produced oxygen by photosynthesis. Oxygen rates in the atmosphere reached about 21%, a level that seems to have been fortunately stable for the last five hundred million years, since a bit higher percentage of oxygen would cause living creatures to ignite spontaneously.


For Margulis and Sagan, this fact,

"gives the impression of a conscious decision to keep the balance between danger and opportunity, risk and benefit."

About five hundred million years ago there is an explosion of life in a true lavishness of multi-cellular species, algae, more complex plants and animals which not only live in water, but also on the ground and in the air. None of the living species of those days subsist nowadays.


According to some calculations, almost all species that have existed on Earth have already disappeared, while currently there are between three and fifty million species on the planet.

DNA is a master of transformation: life based on cells informed by DNA has formed the air we breath, the landscape we see and the disturbing diversity of living beings which we are a part of. In four billion years it has multiplied itself in an incalculable number of different species, rigorously remaining the same.

Inside the nucleus, DNA forms curves and unrolls itself, it contours and oscillates. Frequently, specialists compare the shape and the movements of this large molecule with the ones of a serpent.


Molecular biologist Christopher Wills, for example, writes:

"The two DNA chains are similar to two intertwined serpents in a kind of love ritual."

In sum, DNA is a master of transformation with serpent shape, which lives in the water, at the same time long and minuscule, simple and double. Such as the cosmic serpent.

In fact, the genome or necessary information to build a human being (for example) is in three billion letters displayed along a single DNA thread. In some places this thread wraps around itself to form twenty-three more compact segments called chromosomes. We all inherit a complete set of chromosomes from our parents and so we possess twenty-three pairs of them.


Each chromosome is formed by a very long thread of DNA which is basically a double message, with the main text in one of the ribbons of the double helix and its complementary duplicate in the other ribbon. In this way, all our cells contain two complete genomes as well as their copies. Our genetic message, therefore, is twice double and contains a total of six billion pairs of bases or twelve billion letters.

The DNA contained in the nucleus of a human cell measures about two meters. Along its length, the two ribbons of the double helix coil around themselves hundreds of millions of times.

At the level of its material aspect, or its shape, DNA is thus a doubly double text that wraps around itself, in other words, a twisted-twisted language.

Reading enzymes only read DNA segments that codify the construction of proteins and enzymes. These segments, called genes, only represent 3% of the human genome. The rest 97% is never read; its usefulness is a mystery.


Biologists Chris Calladine and Horace Drew sum up the situation:

"The largest part of DNA in our body does things we do not understand at the moment."

DNA is the key to life that possesses the shape of a long simple or double serpent, or a tressed linen wick, that allows passing from one to many and it is located in water.

However, this is just a group of clues that every investigator, or member of the jury, is free to interpret.


Narby, sitting at home in the garden next to his children, began to imagine thousands of million kilometers of DNA that surrounded him:

"The DNA molecule, about ten atoms wide, is a kind of ultimate technology; it is organic and so miniaturized that it approaches the very limits of material existence."

He interpreted that the spirit of living species alluded by Ayahuasqueros, which has consciousness and spirit and sees it all, and that they can perceive when they are deeply intoxicated, is simply DNA.

We transcribe a fragment of his account:

"Lost in thought I stared at the grass and began to follow a black and shiny ant that made its way through the lawn. It crossed the thick grass with the determination of an agile tank and moved towards the tree at the back of the garden that sheltered a colony of ant cows. This ant actually belonged to a species that raised and milked ant cows for their sugary secretions.

I began to think about the fact that this ant had a different visual system than mine but it apparently worked as well. Despite our differences in size and shape, both had been built due to instructions written in the same language - a language we were incapable of seeing, since DNA is smaller than visible light, even for the eyes of an ant.


I found it interesting that the language which contained the instructions for the elaboration of different visual systems was in itself not visible. It was as if the instructions had to be hidden from their beneficiaries; as if we were wired in such a way that we could not perceive the wires…


I tried again to approach the subject from a shaman point of view. It was as if those beings inside us wanted to hide… But that is what the Ashaninkas say! They call those invisible beings that have created life 'Maninkari', literally 'Those who are hidden'!"

With Ayahuasca, in that alternate state of consciousness it brings about, Ayahuasqueros perceive all surrounding nature as colour lights with sound.

They compare their visions with a TV screen. For that reason Ayahuasca is also known as jungle TV.

Narby makes an evaluation of the functions of his own eyes and finds an extremely sophisticated organic technology.

This system of miniature muscles and glands, highly sophisticated, gives us an image of reality, processed in our own brain. But we can never know which the true reality is or how others see it.

Sight plays a very important part in learning through Ayahuasca. As we get deeper into alternate states of consciousness, we learn to handle better this hidden capability of perceiving what we cannot see in a normal state.

The World is an immense network full of life orchestrated by DNA.

From unicellular beings to the ozone layer that protects our genetic substance from sun rays and makes the atmosphere breathable. Anaerobic bacteria at the bottom of the sea. Everything that is alive contains DNA.

This DNA network encircles the Earth.

In this chapter Narby refers to a description by a Shipibo-Conibo Ayahuasquero, Luis Ancon, of his perception of the World:

"The Earth we live in is a disk swimming in big waters. The serpent of the World, "Ronin", half-way submerged, entirely surrounds it."

Narby finds here a direct analogy between DNA encircling the Earth and that cosmic serpent alluded by Ayahuasqueros.


Still with many unknown issues to solve, Narby starts a series of inquiries and realizes that in most cultures of the World the serpent is presented as a source of knowledge. Even in places where this animal is not commonly known, they are present in their ideological world, such as it happens in Siberia, where serpent designs can be seen on shaman clothes.


In this chapter Narby tries to understand why Ayahuasqueros constantly allude to spirits with their own light and what their relation with the consumption of Ayahuasca is during the ceremony.

Ayahuasca activates the perception of DNA which is found in every cell of our organism. Nicotine contained in tobacco accelerates the function of DNA. For that reason Ayahuasqueros refer to tobacco as "something delightful for the spirits".

Equally, the DNA contained in the rest of living beings is emitted by them as photons. In that way, and recognizing the identical side of DNA in all living beings, these can communicate, becoming receptors and emitters at the same time.

It is convenient to establish the main differences between the shamanic use of tobacco and the consumption of industrial cigarettes. In principle, the botanical variety used in the Amazon contains up to eighteen times more nicotine than Virginia type plants used in cigarettes.


Amazonic tobacco is grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides and it does not contain any of the ingredients added to cigarettes such as aluminium oxide, potassium nitrate, ammonium phosphates, polyvinyl acetate and hundreds of others that make up about ten percent of their fundamental matter.


During combustion, a cigarette liberates about four thousand substances, mostly toxic.


Among them, some are even radioactive, making cigarettes the main source of radiation in the daily life of the average smoker. Smoking one or two packs a day, we absorb radioactivity, according to some calculations, equivalent to two hundred and fifty lung radiographs per year. Cigarette smoke is directly involved in more than twenty-five serious illnesses, seventeen of them some form of cancer.


On the contrary, in the Amazon tobacco is considered a remedy. Among the Ashaninkas, the word for healer or shaman is Sheripiari, literally "one that uses tobacco".


The oldest Ashaninka men are Sheripiari. They all enjoy very good health and maintain great physical shape.

Tobacco used in the Amazon belongs to the Nicotina rustica species, wild tobacco. It does not produce the damage registered for the Nicotina tabacum species.

A determining factor is the additives used in the manufacture of brand or industrialized cigarettes.

It seems clear that it is not nicotine that causes cancer, since it notoriously acts on the brain, and cigarettes do not cause brain cancer, but lung, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, rectum, kidney or bladder cancer, in other words, where cancer causing tars penetrate after being also swallowed.


In this chapter Narby refers to that part of modern biology that does not reach the exact origin of things.

For modern biologists the essence of life is inanimate. But if we consider Narby's study as we read his work, we find a different reality in that tribal world he got to know.

For Ayahuasqueros, the essence of life which exists in all nature has, besides a shape, sound and image. Narby finds a relation between the animation that can be perceived by Ayahuasqueros and what molecular biology identifies as DNA.

Modern science recognizes in DNA the inclusion of all the characteristics of the living being. However it does not dare to attribute with self-animation this life principle that precisely contains all the genetic information which bears our own consciousness as a fruit.

Considering each of its cells, the length of DNA contained in the human body is two hundred billion kilometers. Narby relates these dimensions with the heavenly string alluded by the Ashaninkas when they speak of their Cosmo vision. In a part of it they mention how life came to Earth.

Ayahuasqueros refer to their knowledge of the cosmos in a metaphorical way. On the other hand, modern scientists use new terms to refer to new discoveries.

When Ayahuasqueros speak of the heavenly string that came from the cosmos to bring life, it is very probable that they are referring to DNA, which has been the subject of modern science for some years.

For Ayahuasqueros this heavenly string is inside every living creature and it is life itself. Besides a shape, it has sound and transmits information, which can be received and processed by the DNA contained in another living being, be it an animal or a vegetal.

However, for biologists, DNA is a simple chemical product. They describe it as a molecule or a language. But it is not considered conscious or living. They take into account that chemical products are inert.

Narby asks himself how is it possible for that cumulus of characteristics contained in the cell nucleus not to be itself alive.

For both biologists and Ayahuasqueros, their motivation to establish postulates is more a question of faith than science.

Narby ends his book by rescuing an attitude of respect for others and their beliefs. Both the positions of biologists and Ayahuasqueros are respectable; there are still many obscure sides for our eyes.

To finish, Narby presents a hypothesis that I now transcribe:

"…my hypothesis asserts that the vital principle is animate and that nature as a whole is capable of communicating, which contradicts the founding principle of this molecular biology that is current orthodoxy."

As well as Narby, not just in the process of this analysis, but considering my experience with Ayahuasca within the context of tribal communities of the Amazon and their shamanic tradition, I have understood that,

"beyond seeing to believe, you have to believe to see".

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