Virola (Virola calophylla, Virola colophylloidea, and V. theiodora) are among the most recently discovered entheogen plants.
These jungle trees of medium size have glossy, dark green leaves with clusters of tiny yellow flowers that emit a pungent aroma.
The intoxicating principles are in the blood-red resin yielded by the tree bark, which makes a powerful snuff.
Virola trees are native to the New World tropics. They are members of the nutmeg family, Myristicaceae, which comprises some 300 species of trees in 18 genera.
The best-known member of the family is Myristica fragrans, an Asiatic tree that is the source of nutmeg and mace.
In Colombia, the species most often used for hallucinogenic purposes are Virola calophylla and V. calophylloidea, whereas in Brazil and Venezuela the Indians prefer V. theiodora, which seems to yield a more potent resin.
An intoxicating snuff is prepared from the resin of the bark of Virola trees by Indians of the northwestern Amazon and the headwaters of the Orinoco.
An anthropologist who observed the Yekwana Indians of Venezuela in their preparation and use of the snuff in 1909 commented:
Of special interest are cured, during which the witch doctor inhales Hakudufha. This is a magical snuff used exclusively by witch doctors and prepared from the bark of a certain tree which, pounded up, is boiled in a small earthenware pot, until all the water has evaporated and a sediment remains at the bottom of the pot.
This sediment is toasted in the pot over a slight fire and is then finely powdered with the blade of a knife. Then the sorcerer blows a little of the powder through a reed . . . into the air. Next, he snuffs, whilst, with the same reed, he absorbs the powder into each nostril successively.
The Hakudufha obviously has a strong stimulating effect, for immediately the witch doctor begins to sing and yell wildly, all the while pitching the upper part of his body backward and forwards.
Among numerous tribes in eastern Colombia, the use of Virola snuff often called Yakee or Parica is restricted to shamans.
Among the Waiká or Yanonamo tribes of the frontier region of Brazil and Venezuela, epena or nyakwana, as the snuff is called, is not restricted to medicine men, but maybe snuffed ceremonially by all adult males or even taken occasionally without any ritual basis by men individually.
The medicine men of these tribes take the snuff to induce a trance that is believed to aid them in diagnosing and treating illness.
Although the use of the snuff among the Indians of South America had been described earlier, its source was not definitely identified as the Virola tree until 1954.
Preparation of Virola resin snuff varies among different Indians.
Some scrape the soft inner layer of the bark and dry the shavings gently over a fire.
The shavings are stored for later use. When the snuff is needed, the shavings are pulverized by pounding with a pestle in a mortar made from the fruit case of the Brazil- nut tree.
The resulting powder is sifted to a fine, pungent brown dust. To this may be added the powdered leaves of a small, sweet-scented weed, Justicia, and the ashes of amasita, the bark of a beautiful tree, Elizabetha princeps. The snuff is then ready for use.
Other Indians fell the tree, strip off and gently heat the bark, collect the resin in an earthenware pot, boil it down to a thick paste, sun-dry the paste, crush it with a stone, and sift it. Ashes of several barks and the leaf powder of Justicia may or may not be added.
Still, other Indians knead the inner shavings of freshly stripped bark to squeeze out all the resin and then boil down the resin to get a thick paste that is sun-dried and prepared into snuff with ashes added.
The same resin, applied directly to arrowheads and congealed in smoke, is one of the Waika arrow poisons.
When supplies of snuff are used up in ceremonies, the Indians often scrape the hardened resin from arrow tips to use it as a substitute. It seems to be as potent as the snuff itself.
*This article was originally published at www.iamshaman.com