By Rodrigo Borges Conti Tavares*
The history of the Santo Daime is the one of an endured people, coming from in the majority of the Brazilian northern-northeast regions, destitute of human resources and many times of natural resources as well. Faithful representatives of the culture that was developed in these regions and still today are cultivated -- in the regional festivities, in the religious celebrations, in the art and music –- they proved to be indefatigable workers in spite of the difficulties lived along centuries. Thus, when writing my personal impressions concerning the doctrine of Raimundo Irineu Serra, I write in memory of those families, which were the pioneers, excelled expressions of the human will, giving to them the character of immigrants of the spirituality.
Irineu Serra was always a devout from a rigid family in the Catholic practices, born in the small town of São Vicente de Férrer, Maranhão, but in that region of difficulties and great distances the clergy was not always present, making the rites be permeated by a strong influence from the people and where the sacred and the religiosity assumed the proper contours of a popular Catholicism, of the rosaries held in the neighboring houses, of the benditos* and received prayers, the community life and spiritual leaders who were born of the own need of leadership.
*Bendito (blessed) a particular type of prayer held in some areas of Brazil, but many times they are also prayers or narrative solos in reference to Saints and Catholic divinities.
It is through the memory of those followers that the Santo Daime doctrine would be influenced, thousands of miles distant from their lands of origin, when around 1914 Raimundo Irineu Serra arrives at the state of Acre. For nearly twenty years he would acknowledge the Ayahuasca in its natural environment, the forest, among the mestizos and Indians of the Amazon, going back to the time of the Inca empire, in a period that the historians classify as of learning, where he learnt the secrets of the forest, of how to make the brew, to talk Tupi-Guarani*, thereby demonstrating that in this journey he not only acquired maturity as man but also as an inhabitant of the forest, fully integrated with nature. It was after this phase of trial and learning that Irineu Serra began his mission on earth, what would become the Santo Daime doctrine, as told by Luiz Mendes do Nascimento.
*Tupi-Guarani - is the name of the most important subfamily of the Tupi languages of the South American Indians.
And She delivered it to him, but Mestre knew that it wasn't enough for him to be [realized]. No! He received it and then went to form himself -- working to start acquiring knowledge, perfecting himself, receiving every day the powers that one needs. In this phase he said that he spent about five years, having doubts on many occasions. The Queen started to appear to him and being next to Her everything was right, but when She would disappear the doubts would come. There is a spiritual stage that, from here [he gesticulates] on to that point, truth goes mixed with lies, they go on interlacing themselves. When it develops beyond that wall, then there is only truth, and actually Mestre only started the mission after passing through all these doubts.
The doctrine that we know would begin in earnest in 1931, when the works were carried out in their own homes, that small group gathered around a table, a candle and a cross*. Accepted as a natural leader, Irineu Serra would give many lectures, teaching the people to work with the drink that at the same time have received the name of Daime. This is when he slowly begins to give shape to his teachings, while at the same time receiving from the Queen of the Forest instructions on how the work had to be developed. In spite of his roots with the brew, among the Indians and mestizos of the forest, his religious memory and the recognition of his spiritual teacher came to play a critical role in the development of the liturgy, however, never denying its natural aspects. It was the long awaited union between man, nature and the heavenly realms on earth.
*the double beams cross, also known as the Caravaca Cross, probably brought to Brazil by the early missionaries, as it is also called the Missioner Cross, was the first symbol of the Santo Daime doctrine. By many is considered the true cross of Christ, for it would have been made with fragments of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. According to the elders, its meaning in the doctrine, represented by the two bars, is of the first and second coming of Christ on earth. This cross still today very popular in the North and Northeast of Brazil, where on April the 26th of 1500, four days after arriving in the New World, in a coral bank of the Red Crown's beach, in Bahia's Southern coast, was prayed an Easter Mass at the foot of a great cross, the first of many that have since been held in what came to become the largest Catholic country in the world.
In possession of this understanding, is it not difficult to think that the doctrine of Irineu Serra was never intended to formalism, but one born to the very need for the group to organize around the Ayahuasca and take a direction. In the past, between the forest people, the drink was used for purposes both benign and for personal gain, and it was through Irineu Serra that the Daime became a vehicle solely for healing and spiritual ascension, thereby changing forever the image of the brew. Some claim to be the strictly dignified approach of Irineu Serra a fundamental factor for the current shamanic panorama of South America, now visited by hundreds of tourists in search of its secrets and mysteries.
In 1945, due to the urban growth, Irineu Serra moves with his group to the placement that would be named by him as Alto da Santa Cruz* (Summit of the Holy Cross), because the land was higher than the surroundings, where a cross overlooked the city. It is in these lands that he would finish his last measures concerning the liturgy, finish his work on earth and to receive the rank of Chief of the mission. It is in these lands that the doctrine was to become recognized in Acre by the healings received and by the character of its leader and be popularly called as "Alto Santo" (Holy Summit).
*Coincidentally, Santa Cruz was also one of the first names given to Brazil in the sixteenth century. Of deep religious character, this Brazilian title was later overtaken by the popular name of a rich native tree exported to Europe. Called by the navigators as Pau Brazil (glowing wood), due to its reddish coloration, became the reference of the new continent between maritime routes linking the main commercial ports of the time. For some scholars, this was a remarkable event in the country's history, when the power of materialism subdued the spiritual belief of the early explorers who thought they were setting foot in paradise. Perhaps this was also a reason for Mestre to baptize his land of this way, in the country that he so much reverenced and fought to improve.
It is known that due to the strong prejudice suffered in the beginning, Mestre struggled to socially recognize his doctrine his whole life, but we cannot forget that Mestre himself, when questioned by external authorities, always chose the Daime. One of the most striking facts of his trajectory is the moment in which the headquarters of the Esoteric Circle of the Communion of Thought, in São Paulo*, which Mestre was part during the 60s, questions the brew's practices. His response was immediate, "If they don't want my Daime they also don't want me. I am the Daime and the Daime is me", he said. With that, he would disconnect from the Esoteric Circle and once again give us evidence that his command was not from earth, but coming from the astral, from the Queen of the Forest, his eternal guide, the Virgin of the Conception.
*Esoteric Circle of the Communion of Thought - spiritual organization founded in the city of São Paulo in the year of 1909 by the Portuguese Antonio Olívio Rodrigues under the slogan of "harmony, love, truth and justice". He would also create in 1917 the Thoughts Publishing Company, right from the start translating and distributing in Brazil humanist texts of different philosophical or religious shades (Gnostics, Hindu's, Humanists, Kardec's, Theosophy and of occultism slopes at that time popular in Europe as the non Jewish cabalists and the Rosicrucian's, among others). Little by little it multiplied centers all over Brazil, as Mestre Irineu personally became a member only in May of 1961, in Rio Branco, thirty years after having began the preaching of the Santo Daime doctrine, when more than ninety percent of the doctrinaire base hymns had been received and the liturgy was entirely defined (with the exception of the blue uniform, used in the concentrations and in the danced services of contrition, introduced after 1971 in obedience to the instructions given by Mestre Irineu in the previous year of his passage (juramidam.jor.br).
Since his first steps in Acre, Irineu Serra faced once again the scarce relation in between the people and the government, in a region in which the colonies were founded in the same order of the small towns and villages in the northeast -- an informal organization in which cooperation was a natural way of survival. The mestizo people of Acre, largely made up of immigrants, were established thru the expense of their own effort and labor, most of the time cohabiting with Indians and the forest in a regime of harmony and exchange, in which small cities agglutinated the deeds of the adjacent communities.
Within this context, we cannot characterize the doctrine of Irineu Serra as being "contemporary", but rather a doctrine in which the memory of Jesus Christ was cultivated in absolute isolation and unaware of the religious practices of the major centers, where since antiquity has been manipulated and directed to the formation of castes, orthodoxy and political conglomerates. In the Amazon, however, the doctrine was practiced within the natural molds of man, of ascension and healing, of redemption and enlightenment -- a union between man and nature without the need for mediators, fruit of the simplicity and humility of purpose. The mediation was present in the divinity of the brew, when the group resorted to it in search of counseling and healing, thereby strengthening the ties of the community itself. It is in the vastness of the forest that these brave pioneers of spirituality sought the meeting with God through the sacred brew, unaware that the world did not know them.
Right from the start, Mestre Irineu taught his followers to pray. His philosophy was always of the simplicity, where the prayer, the meditation and the silence led them to refrain from any outside interference, be it material or not. With this thinking, Mestre Irineu taught his disciples to hear what the Daime had to say, according to each ones deserving, and he presented his spiritual work as being a vehicle of communication with divine beings and the higher realms of the universe, dissuading and refuting any kind of intermediation, by knowing and teaching that the Daime never sends a courier. The own Daime says what it has to say. In the silence of the room, each one accounted and answered for himself, working for the collective through astral projection and teaching that self consciousness and free will are fundamental requirements of spirituality. Otherwise, we would also be charged by the acts of others, and without the benefit of ignorance -- except children, those under the direct responsibility of their families. No different from the astral plane, his ceremony led to all the reality found in the afterlife.
The hymns, instructions from the astral, were presented to us through the deep memory of these followers and together with a strong influence of the Amazon and its mysteries. The steady rhythm and timbre of voice also lead us to the time of the hinterlands, where the prayers were elevated to the skies by those suffered people. The authenticity and value of words and melodies is the fruit of faith and recognition of the heavenly realms, where there they found shelter and comfort that to them was denied on earth. Through the hymns, the group shared among themselves the teachings and the received healings and personal advances. As some tell, Mestre liked to sing the hymns without interruption, one after another, giving no scope for the mind to wander off.
By its universal aspect, also present in the first name of his center, called "Free Center", the liturgy of the Santo Daime was born, developed and reached maturity as a unifying ritual, without preambles and amendments, a fact that motivated him to repeat several times for us to don't invent anything, because people would not account later. Its liturgy made possible in the concentration and healing works the receiving of the teachings and cures in order for in the hymnbook services to "be reviewed" and presented to everyone according each one's merit. Within this simplicity, the doctrine was formed and solidified as a true work of spiritual education to the souls.
A cross, a candle and flowers –- the latter to ornate and make it pleasant, as he liked to say -- and a bottle of Daime are the elements of his work. Silence, prayer, hymns, concentration and self consciousness are key elements of his spiritual philosophy that lead us with certainty to the roots of the Santo Daime -- of the direct communication with the forest and the divine beings, regardless of where we are, if by having willingness to do good, having humility and harmony we recognize its value.
"If two of you agree down here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them" (Matthew).
|*Rodrigo Borges Conti Tavares is a graphic designer, residing in the city of Rio de Janeiro and the idealizer and keeper of The Juramidam Family website.