The Beneficent Spiritist Center União do Vegetal (Union of the Vegetal) is also known as UDV, one of the third religions for the Holy and Divine Mother Ayahuasca to immerse in Brazil. The term ‘Vegetal,’ corresponding to the case of ‘Daime,’ is used to designate both the Holy Medicine that results from the mixture of the Holy Banisteriopsis Caapi Vine with leaves of the Psychotria Viridis Plant, as well as for the church itself. The UDV started in the early sixties in a region near what is now the state of Rondônia. José Gabriel da Costa created the organization. The exact date of the creation of the União do Vegetal was July 2nd, 1961.
The UDV has active, practicing communities – in over 100 villages and cities throughout Brazil, with 21,000 members worldwide. Approximately 600 UDV members live in the United States, and there are active practicing communities in New Mexico, Colorado, California, Connecticut, Texas, Florida, and Washington.
The UDV has created a path of esotericism with a doctrine unifying Christianity with reincarnation and developing the individual soul to increasingly higher spiritual levels. This religious organization is highly hierarchical, and the teaching resources are separated based on the hierarchical level of the members. Advanced teachings are set aside for higher-level members. There are four different hierarchical levels of UDV, and each level has specifically reserved teachings. The four-hour ritual ceremony involves solo chanting, listening to music, and sermon. UDV members regard the Holy Medicine as a sacrament, referred to as “Vegetal”, “Hoasca”, or simply “Tea”.
The proselytization process of UDV is not random. Though members have the right to invite new people to the ceremonies, senior members interview every prospective new member before their first session.
History of União do Vegetal (UDV)
In 1922, José Gabriel da Costa or Mestre Gabriel was born in Coração de Maria, in the state of Bahia. At the age of 20, he left his birthplace to go to live in Salvador, the capital of Bahia, and joined the ‘Robber Army’ in the following year, 1943, and was transferred to the Amazon in 1944. In 1959 he experienced the Holy Medicine for the first time.
In 1961, for the first time, he used the name União do Vegetal, and according to the UDV teachings, it was at that moment that Mestre Gabriel had a revelation. The Holy Medicine gave him insight into his past lives, and he realized that his mission was to reestablish a millenary order that King Solomon first created. Under this revelation, the first UDV chapter was created in the 1960s in the middle of the Amazons was, in fact, the continuation in time immemorial.
After establishing among people from lower socio-educational backgrounds in Porto Velho, UDV began to spread to southern Brazil. The main reason for this expansion was young white students in search of mystical experiences. In the next decades, UDV became a national urban middle-class phenomenon. In the 1980s, the international expansion of UDV began toward four main destinations, which are Paraguay, United States, Japan, and Europe.
From 1980 to 2000, due to the Brazilian diasporic movement, many UDV members among the Brazil population spread throughout the United States and Europe, which was one of the main thrusts in this expansion process. However, the growth of UDV overseas has been very slow. One of the main reasons for this slow growth is that the language barrier. Foreign nationals who like to take part in the higher ranks of the organization must learn Portuguese, as most of the teachings and chanting are created to be reproduced in their original language. There are only 15 UDV churches overseas: Spain (2), EUA (6), Peru (1), Portugal (1), Switzerland (1), England (1), Australia (1), Italy (1), and more recently Netherlands (1).
In 1998, the result of large research and study on the safety and status of health of the consumers of the Holy Medicine, the UDV members, was published, famously known as The Hoasca Project. Dennis McKenna commenting on the results of the study, said, “We discovered many things, but I find that the key issue is that Hoasca is in no contexts toxic or harmful to the human body, does not cause any neurological, cognitive or personality dysfunctions.” That study concluded that “there does not exist any pattern of dependency, abuse, overdose or abstinence.” The author of that study finally added that “it is not unthinkable that long term use of Hoasca can have positive and therapeutic effects on the psychiatric and functional status of individuals.”
Religious ritual of União do Vegetal
The UDV has Love, Peace, and Light as a symbol of human society. The UDV understands that, through unity with the Holy Medicine which they refer to as “Vegetal”, human beings are given a chance to change their thought patterns and behavior and transform feelings in such a way that one can reconnect to this Symbol of União, strengthening a good family and social life.
UDV is the religion of the paths for the spiritual improvement of human beings. The religious rituals or Sacred Ceremonies of the UDV, referred to as ‘Sessions’, takes place in temples of the UDV. The disciples drink the Holy Medicine and achieve a state of mental concentration, which is referred to as ‘Burracheira’. In the sessions, in the effect of the Holy Medicine, the UDV members study the specific spiritual teachings and doctrine of Mestre Gabriel. In this doctrine, Mestre Gabriel explained in the simple form that he has found “a way to remove evil from people’s hearts with the Holy Tea.”
The Doctrine of União do Vegetal
The doctrine of the UDV is based on the existence of the spirit, which grows throughout successive reincarnations. With his teachings, Mestre Gabriel recognized Jesus as the Savior of humanity and “the true Man, the son of God.” The UDV spreads teachings orally and brings, fundamentally, the same teachings which Jesus had brought.
To lead the spiritual journey, the doctrine of the UDV involves teachings, stories, explanations, and ‘chamadas‘ which literally means calls or chants. These are all connected with Jesus, Divine Nature, and others recognized by Mestre Gabriel as emissaries of God who came to the world with a certain objective such as Jesus, Joseph, Mary, Saint Anne, Noah, John the Baptist, Saint Cosmo, and Saint Daime. The doctrine also mentions the entities Janaina and Iansa, among others.
Legal status of União do Vegetal
The use of the Holy Medicine or the Vegetal as the members of the UDV call, within a religious context, is fully authorized and has been recognized by Brazilian authorities since 1987. To the authorities, it has been proven to be harmless to the health. This fact gives peace of mind to the disciples of the UDV and other religions which commune with the Holy Medicine. It has also set institutional and legal priority, allowing the UDV to expand in a sustained manner in Brazil and abroad.
In 2004, the Brazilian government introduced a multidisciplinary working group to assess and witness the religious involvement with, and research the therapeutic effects of, the Holy Medicine. They also created a national register of all organizations which consume the Holy Medicine in religious settings. The working group was composed of councils of the religious organizations which signed a Letter of Principles in 1991 and members of the academic community and the government.
In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a historic decision, unanimously approved the religious use of the Holy Medicine in the United States by the UDV. This was an important step in the international recognition of the UDV, opening a path to be followed by authorities in other countries where the UDV is present.
- Goulart, SL. (2006). Religious Matrices of the União do Vegetal. Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, [online] Available at: https://neip.info/novo/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Goulart_UDV_FIR_Journal_2006.pdf [Accessed 17th May 2021].
- McKenna, DJ. (1992). The Hoasca Project: Proposal For A Biomedical Investigation of Ayahuasca. Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelics Studies, [online] Volume, 3, p. 3. Available at: https://maps.org/news/bulletin/articles/459-bulletin-summer-1992/8383-the-hoasca-project-proposal-for-a-biomedical-investigation-of-ayahuasca [Accessed 17th May 2021].
- União do Vegetal, (1998). Hoasca Project. [online] Available at: https://udv.org.br/en/scientific-research/hoasca-project/ [Accessed 17th May 2021].
- União do Vegetal, (2020). The Origin. [online] Available at: https://udv.org.br/en/udv-creation/the-origin-of-the-udv/ [Accessed 17th May 2021].