Review: The jaguar that roams the mind

When I started reading Robert Tindall’s ‘The Jaguar That Roams The Mind’ I knew very little about the different groups and religions employing ayahuasca for healing and contact with archetypal beings like Jesus and Maria. I had heard Terence McKenna speak about ayahuasceros, and had read Jeremy Narby’s ‘Cosmic Serpent’, so I did have some knowledge of Amazonian shamanism, but not much of religious groups like the Santo Daime, nor did I know much about the principles and practices of vetalismo. Robert’s book contains both objective information about these matters as well as personal experiences with and opinions about them.

As I read the book, it was often easy to identify with Robert’s skepticism about certain magical practices, though at other times I found it hard to go along with his belief in spirits and his criticism of the modern scientific mindset.

For example, there are accounts of a Barquinha grandmother supposedly predicting the way he would get into contact with his future partner, the recurrent theme of Robert transforming into a jaguar and tales about the spirit of a house cat. It makes for an amusing read though, much like the literary style of Magical Realism.

The general story of the book describes Robert’s initial visit to Morocco, where he has some rather disappointing experiences. He then ends up in the east of the Amazon region, travelling further west and deeper into the heart of the rainforest as the story proceeds. It is in this section that we get to know different branches of the Santo Daime, the Barquinha and the União do Vegetal religions, the Kaxinawa Indians in Brazil, as well as some independent healers. All of these descriptions are interspersed with visions and memories of his childhood and youth. Sometimes this was a bit confusing, as it often took me several sentences to figure out which period of his life he’s describing (the present or his past), and where it’s taking place.

Most of the second half of the book is dedicated to his experiences in Peru at the Takiwasi center and with Ashaninca master shaman Juan Flores. It gives a very intimate and detailed portrayal of Amazonian shamanism as practiced by Juan and his apprentice at Mayantuyacu. This part of the book is especially interesting, as it contains a lot of fascinating botanical, cultural and metaphysical information. There’s a lot of discussion about what Robert considers the pillars of vegetalismo: purging, psychoactive plants, and diet. One of the final chapters, about the pollution and destruction of the rainforest, was quite moving. I knew the situation was bad, but wasn’t aware it was that bad.

I think this is a great book for those who want to learn something about the different ayahuasca churches and Amazonian vegetalismo, in the form of an exciting and thought-provoking travellogue.

Ivar Verploegh