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The Visionary Root of African Shamanism

Published by Park Street Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

Shows how African shamans have used ibogaine for hundreds of years to communicate with ancestral spirits

• Includes an interview with shaman Mallendi, initiation-master of the sacred root

• Shows that the iboga plant, and its derivative ibogaine, is an anti-addictive agent, especially for heroin

• Reveals how ibogaine has been suppressed by the DEA, the FDA, and Christian ministries

Iboga, spiritual ally of African shamans since antiquity, yields ibogaine, a powerful psychotropic substance. It is used mainly in Gabon and Cameroon in a secret, initiatory tradition called bwiti-nganza, in which physical and psychological illnesses can be rooted out and cured. Intense psychological conditioning that includes the rites of confession, contacting and honoring one’s ancestors, and construction of an in-depth psychological inventory are all part of the initiate’s encounter with this sacred root.

Like many visionary and initiatory plants, iboga is a key that gives access to other modes of being and consciousness. Despite its suppression by the FDA since the 1960s, and more recently by the DEA, researchers have shown that ibogaine provides a powerful adjunct to psychology due to its miraculous ability to break addictions--most notably to heroin. To the followers of the Bwiti religion, ibogaine is the indispensable means by which humans can truly communicate with the deepest reaches of their soul and with the spirits of their ancestors. This book details the traditions and techniques of iboga’s use by African shamans and the essential role it occupies in that community in order both to preserve this knowledge and to show how ibogaine may have an important role to play in our modern world.


from the Introduction

Vincent Ravalec

How to explain the unexplainable?

Can the irrational be rationalized?

Do archaic traditions have points of relevance that can be absorbed into our modern cultures?

Does the globalization that exports fast food but also rites and knowledge from another era really generate anything other than negative aspects?

Can we put the skills of the past to work for a particular concept of what the man or woman of tomorrow might be?

Up to what point is it possible to find where conceptual systems as different as those of the traditions of the forest, the world of spirits, and the cult of ancestors clash with the systems that govern the Internet and the world of audiovisual media?

And yet is it not illusory to think that knowledge could be based on a chemistry, even that of plants?

And isn’t it dangerous to disseminate this information?

It is clear that these questions inevitably crop up when one embarks on writing a book on a subject as complex as iboga.

Iboga, which has been in use since the most remote times, is used mainly in Gabon in the setting of a secret, initiatory tradition called “bwiti-nganza.” It is one of the great initiatory plants, similar to peyote or ayahuasca, which, through Castaneda’s books about peyote and The Cosmic Serpent by Jeremy Narby about ayahuasca, have been brought to the public’s attention and have generated numerous followers in recent decades. Although we may smile at the kind of fascination that flourished during the 1960s, it is clear that today we are on the threshold of a revolution that is equal to the discovery of the New World in the fifteenth century or to the invention of optics. Everywhere on the planet people who are not at all idle dreamers are experiencing this type of knowledge. Scientists, even advanced-level individuals, are turning their attention to what was recently considered the stuff of dreams for the sensation starved. Ethnologists, anthropologists, and physicists are being initiated by those we would have termed sorcerers in the past: sorcerers who are turning up everywhere and who are ready to share what formerly they kept as their sole possession.

This book participates in this dynamic. Its goal is to present a plant, iboga, and the techniques of its use as they have been forged through millennia of practice by the Pygmies and the bwitists-ngenza of Gabon. Its further intent is to cast bridges between fundamentally opposed conceptual systems and to weave connections between cultures and peoples through a system of knowledge that is, in its essence, universal.

Iboga is a plant with powerful and unique effects. In Gabon it is called the Holy Wood, or simply “The Wood,” because it provides the keys to a magic universe, the universe of the night, of ancestors and spirits with whom it facilitates communication, and of divination. It is at the heart of several rites, being used for spiritual or therapeutic purposes but not exclusively either one or the other. A large number of Gabonese are involved with these rites. The two principal groups are the ombwiri, a brotherhood of healers for whom the root is used primarily to carry out diagnoses, and the bwiti, at one and the same time a religion, ancestor worship, and a brotherhood. Bwiti allows each participant to travel in the world of the spirits, and it also has a therapeutic aim. More marginally, and more secretly also, some use iboga for sorcery, like an “invisible rifle,” to cast spells. Iboga and bwiti are inseparable. Initiation, which makes each participant a bwitist, consists precisely in the massive ingestion of the root of the iboga tree, and we can really consider bwiti as the religion of iboga.

Iboga is not taken under just any circumstances, but only as part of ceremonies: after initiation, after feasts marking the life and the death of members of the community, after feasts of the dry season, and so on. These ceremonies always take place at night for reasons of secrecy and because the world of night is the world of spirits and magic. Eating the root is a ritual act, watched over and accompanied by a nganga, the chief healer of the community, and guided by music and dances. Each element of the whole of the ceremony has a very precise function. The place and the articles of the service, the throbbing rhythms of the musical instruments and the dances, flickering light, and the sweet odor of torches made of okoumé resin that are lit throughout the ceremony, all these transport the initiates together.

Once the door of initiation is opened, the banzi can decide whether he wants to follow the path of bwiti apprenticeship. But never again will he eat as much root as he has done during these three days of initiation. He will take only small doses, as a stimulant, to keep himself awake and relax his body during the ceremonies. Even the ngangas, who have gone right to the end of the cycle of apprenticeship in this university of the universal that is bwiti, who direct the ceremonies and treat people, will never again take as much. Because the aim of the ritual apprenticeship is to gain progressive mastery over the root, to get past the passivity of the young initiate, it is necessary to learn how to progressively control its effects, to achieve these effects with small doses; in short, to work with the iboga, rather than the iboga working on you.

About The Authors

Vincent Ravalec is the screenwriter, producer, and director of numerous films as well as the author of many books in French.

Mallendi is a bwiti-nganza initiator and traditional healer in Gabon.

Agnès Paicheler is a social scientist researcher who lives and works in France.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Park Street Press (October 12, 2007)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594771767

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Raves and Reviews

“. . . entertaining and wise, and packed with information. For those interested in psychoactive plants and African shamanism, this book is a rare joy and a must-read.”

– Jeremy Narby, author of The Cosmic Serpent and Intelligence in Nature

“Through the multiple lenses of anthropology, psychology, botany, and medical politics, Iboga brings us closer to the mystery and potential benefits of this powerful African plant-hallucinogen. It is a welcome and valuable addition to the world literature on psychoactive plants.”

– Rick Strassman, M.D., clinical associate professor of psychiatry, University of New Mexico School of

Iboga offers a riveting, multifaceted exploration of one of our planet’s lesser known but most important sacred plant traditions. It combines fascinating historical, cultural, and ethnographic background; powerful firsthand descriptions of an initiate’s psychospiritual experiences; and the best account to date of iboga’s seemingly enormous potential as a tool to address drug addiction--as well as the long battle for its further research despite grievous political impediments.”

– J. P. Harpignies, editor of Visionary Plant Consciousness

"New age collections strong in visionary plants and African shaman rituals will be intrigued by the very specific discussions of Iboga, which has been suppressed by the FDA since the 1960s and which provides the power to break addictions."

– The Midwest Book Review, Jan 2008

"Not only is this book exceptionally interesting and informative, as well as cleverly humorous at times, but it is written by three very different individuals: a screenwriter/producer/film director, a social science researcher, and a traditional African healer. . . . they have done a wonderful job of sharing what it means to genuinely open ourselves and enter a profoundly healing and consciousness-expanding relationship, both with a plant and with ourselves."

– Dawn Brunke, Alaska Wellness, Vol. 13, No. 3, May/June 2008

"Overall this book contains very valuable material and presents it in a way that makes it pleasant to read and entertaining to learn."

– D. Tigermoon, The Pagan Review, May 2008

"Even if you have no interest in shamanism, this book is well worth a read just to get a clearer idea of how the 'War on Drugs' is preventing helpful medicines from being made available to those who need them. You may not become a 'believer', but you will learn a great deal."

– New Witch, Issue 17, Summer 2008

"[Africans] use it to reach into their psyche and to connect with deceased ancestors. A mix of anthropology, botany, psychology, with a dash of medical politics, the entertaining facts combine history and science."

– American Herb Association, 24:1, March 2009

Iboga: The Visionary Root of African Shamanism is recommended for those interested in psychoactive plants and the ethnobotanical uses of African Plants, but also for those interested in African religions and traditional medicine.”

– H. Rodolfo Juliani, Ph.D., American Botanical Council

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