STELLA AZZURRA TIMELINE
1892: Raimundo Irineu Serra (Mestre Irineu) was born.
1920: Sebastião Mota de Melo (Padrinho Sebastião) was born.
1931: Mestre Irineu started the Santo Daime spiritual works.
1945: Mestre Irineu established the Alto Santo community.
1950: Tiziana Vigani was born.
1950: Alfredo Gregório de Melo (Padrinho Alfredo) was born.
1959: Padrinho Sebastião founded Colônia Cinco Mil.
1965: Padrinho Sebastião met Mestre Irineu and drank Santo Daime for the first time.
1970: Mestre Irineu founded CICLU, Centro de Iluminação Cristã Luz Universal.
1971: Mestre Irineu died.
1974: Padrinho Sebastião founded CEFLURIS (Culto Ecletico da Fluente Luz Universal Raimundo Irineu Serra).
1975: Walter Menozzi was born.
1980: Tiziana Vigani lived in the Colônia Cinco Mil and got her fardamento.
1983: Padrinho Sebastião founded Céu do Mapiá.
1990: Padrinho Sebastião died.
1994: Tiziana Vigani started the Santo Daime spiritual works at Casa Regina della Pace — Cielo di Assisi.
1998: Menozzi spent a five-month student exchange at the UFRJ (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro; Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), and approached the Santo Daime center Céu do Mar located in the Floresta da Tijuca.
2000: Menozzi joined the Assisi group.
2000-2001: Menozzi spent seven months interacting with Padrinho Alfredo and his communities (four months at Céu do Mapiá and the rest in other communities). Menozzi’s fardamento took place on December 25, 2000.
2004: Menozzi was stopped at Perugia airport with twenty-seven liters of ayahuasca.
2005: Menozzi and twenty other people were arrested in Reggio Emilia. Hearings took place in Perugia.
2006: The Court of Perugia accepted the case dismissal request.
2007: Menozzi set up the Santo Daime center Stella Azzurra in Reggio Emilia.
2008: CEFLURIS Italia, a confederation of Italian Santo Daime churches (including Casa Regina della Pace, Stella Azzurra and others), was registered officially by the Italian government.
2009: The Court of Reggio Emilia acquitted Menozzi
2013: Brazilian CEFLURIS changed its name to ICEFLU, Igreja do Culto Eclético da Fluente Luz Universal.
2013: ICEFLU Europe was founded.
2013: Stella Azzurra was officially registered as Association.
2017: CEFLURIS Italia changed its name to ICEFLU.
2019: Casa Regina della Pace became a Foundation (Fondazione Casa Regina della Pace Onlus).
Stella Azzurra is an Italian branch of the world religion Santo Daime, that makes use of the entheogenic brew known as ayahuasca as a sacrament. The group was founded and is led by Walter Menozzi. The story and vicissitudes both of Walter Menozzi and of Stella Azzurra have been instrumental in culturally and legally paving the way for similar groups in Italy (and, more generally, in Europe) as well as in shaping the perception of Santo Daime and of ayahuasca among the general Italian public. Menozzi is also a household name for Santo Daime groups across Europe.
Most contemporary ayahuasca movements stem from the experience, narratives, and leadership of Raimundo Irineu Serra, [Image at right] commonly referred to as Mestre (Master) Irineu (1892–1971). Working as an Afro-Brazilian seringueiro (rubber worker) in the city of Brasiléia (in the State of Acre, which borders Bolivia), Mestre Irineu learned from the area’s native people about their usage of ayahuasca. This brew is obtained from the decoction of a vine (Banisteriopsis caapi, also commonly known as jagube or mariri) and the leaves of a shrub (Psychotria viridis, also commonly known as rainha or chacruna) growing in the forest, which were then mixed together. Ayahuasca fulfilled both a practical and a religious function, since it provided its consumers with strength and visions (mirações) that transmitted what was seen as “moral wisdom.” In one such vision, Mestre Irineu, who had been raised a Catholic, was approached by a female spirit, whom he identified as both the Rainha da Floresta (Queen of the Forest) and the Virgin Mary. Later, Irineu moved to Rio Branco (the capital of Acre), where he founded a church branded Centro de Iluminação Cristã Luz Universal (CICLU). The earliest spiritual works are said to have taken place in 1931 at the disciples’ private houses in the Rio Branco neighborhood of Vila Ivonete. In 1945, Mestre Irineu was assigned by the government a plot of land in Alto Santo (Acre), where he established a Santo Daime community, “Alto Santo.” The name was first used informally, in reference to the community, and later came to be used as the name of Mestre Irineu’s church itself. Mestre Irineu became famous as a healer and was said to receive new hymns during his visions, which he incorporated into ayahuasca ceremonies. In such hymns, the imperative “dai-me” (“give me”) frequently occurred and was employed subsequently as a name for both ayahuasca and the religion itself (Santo Daime, or “Holy give-me.”) After the death of Mestre Irineu, Santo Daime branched off into several separate movements. Particularly important was the Brazilian branch, founded by his most notable disciple, Sebastião Mota de Melo (1920–1990, commonly referred to as Padrinho, or “Godfather,” Sebastião). [Image at right] Padrinho Sebastião was familiar with Allan Kardec’s (1804–1869) spiritualism. He had founded a rural community in Rio Branco (the Colônia Cinco Mil, Colony 5000, after the price, in cruzeiros, of the plot where it was established in 1959) when he approached Irineu in 1965 and was healed, according to tradition, of some esophageal disease. In 1983, Padrinho Sebastião, who had already established a Santo Daime church in his community, moved to the Amazonian rainforest, where he founded the community called Céu do Mapiá (“Heaven/Sky of the Mapiá [river]”) in the state of Amazonas. His group was branded CEFLURIS (Centro Eclético da Fluente Luz Universal Raimundo Irineu Serra). After Padrinho Sebastião’s death in 1990, his son Alfredo Gregório de Melo (b. 1950), commonly referred to as Padrinho Alfredo, took the lead. In 1992, CONFEN (Conselho Federal de Entorpecentes, Brazil’s Federal Narcotic Council) upheld the Santo Daime followers’ right to use ayahuasca in their ceremonies, after visiting and studying numerous communities, including Céu do Mapiá (Introvigne 2000; Menozzi 2007; Dawson 2013; Introvigne and Zoccatelli 2016).
Walter Menozzi was born in Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy in 1975. After attending the local liceo scientifico “Lazzaro Spallanzani,” he studied Economy and Finance at the Bocconi University in Milan, graduating in 1999. Menozzi’s final thesis in Economy and Finance was entitled Gli strumenti derivati sulle “commodities” agricole. Il caso dei vini italiani di qualità (Derivatives on Agricultural Commodities: The Case of Italian High-Quality Wines – Menozzi, private communication, November 1, 2016). He was active in a local branch of the scouting and guiding association CNGEI (Corpo Nazionale Giovani Esploratori ed Esploratrici Italiani – National Corps of Italian Boy Scouts and Girl Guides), Reggio Emilia 1, between 1987 and 1997, an experience which likely shaped his organizational/leadership skills and his cosmopolitan mind-set, while familiarizing him with a communitarian and rural lifestyle. Prior to his experiences with Santo Daime, Menozzi describes himself as “atheist” (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020).
Menozzi first came across entheogen-related narratives in the winter of 1997 through reading Terence McKenna’s book True Hallucinations: Being an Account of the Author’s Extraordinary Adventures in the Devil’s Paradise (1993). This prolific U.S. author, particularly interested in shamanism and psychedelic substances, is rather controversial. Menozzi explains that the book touches upon yagé, one of the others indigenous names for ayahuasca (which, like the very term “ayahuasca,” refers both to the plant and to the brew) (Menozzi, private communication, November 25, 2016). In 1998, Menozzi, while spending a five-month student exchange at the UFRJ (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), approached the Santo Daime center Céu do Mar, located in the Floresta da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro, and participated in two ceremonies (Menozzi, private communication, November 25, 2016).
Pivotal for the spread of Santo Daime in Italy were the initiatives led by another Italian, Tiziana Vigani (b. 1950), an architect by education who spent eight months living at the Colônia Cinco Mil in 1980-1981, where she met Padrinho Sebastião. Vigani is reported, however, to have been the third Italian citizen to drink Daime, as her friend Marina Ruberti and another young Italian hippie, Adriano Grioni, had already joined the community (and remained in Brazil, where they continued to live (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020). It is important to remark that such narratives about the earliest encounters and interactions of Italian citizens with Santo Daime communities circulate informally among practitioners and that, up until 2020, Menozzi himself, relying on hymn books that had been used for years, spelled the name Ruberti as Ruperti (Menozzi, private communication, May 30, 2020).
Upon her return to Italy, Vigani maintained no connections with the Colônia, nor did she practice Santo Daime for another thirteen years. Eventually, though, in 1981, she moved to Assisi, where she lived a religious, Franciscan-like lifestyle within a small community of women. In 1994, when Santo Daime started spreading across Europe, she founded the Santo Daime group Casa Regina della Pace—Cielo di Assisi (“Home/House of the Queen of Peace—Sky/Heaven of Assisi”) and resumed contact with other Santo Daime followers. Most notably, she met with Padrinho Alfredo [Image at right] in Spain in 1995. Although the very first Santo Daime-related, informal spiritual activities in Italy are said to have taken place in 1990, the branch founded in Assisi became the most important Italian Santo Daime center. It had around forty active members by 2004, who travelled regularly between Italy and Brazil. Casa Regina della Pace is still in existence, comprising around twenty to thirty members who are also actively running a charitable foundation that provides homeless people with shelter (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020).
Another small, autonomous group was active simultaneously in Genoa. Its two leaders had learnt about ayahuasca independently from Vigani’s experience (although at approximately the same time) and they too were connected with Padrinho Alfredo. This group later moved to Ovada (Piedmont) and split into two groups (Curuchich 2004:12-13; Menozzi, private communications, November 1, 5, and 25, 2016).
In 2000, Menozzi had joined the activities of the Italian Assisi group, which, although small, was known by Catholic and governmental institutions in the region (Menozzi 2011:1-2; Menozzi 2013:278, footnote 32). Between 2000 and 2001, Menozzi spent four months interacting with Padrinho Alfredo and his community at Céu do Mapiá, and another three months at other Santo Daime communities, including de Melo’s newly founded community Céu do Juruá, next to the Peruvian border. Here, Menozzi practiced Santo Daime and worked alongside the very rural community in conditions of extreme simplicity and received his farda (see below) on Christmas night in 2000 (Menozzi 2013:23-24).
While he was under house arrest in 2005 (see below), Menozzi wrote a monograph entitled Ayahuasca: La Liana degli Spiriti—il Sacramento magico-religioso dello Sciamanesimo Amazzonico (Ayahuasca: The Vine of the Spirits—The Magic-religious Sacrament of Amazonian Shamanism). [Image at right] It was first published by Franco Angeli editore in Milan (2007) and then by Spazio Interiore in Rome (2013). Multiple sections and passages of the monograph are written in confessional vein; however, Menozzi always keeps an impersonal style, not expanding on his personal experiences and using the third person even while touching upon his own legal troubles. Furthermore, the sections about the history of Santo Daime and the chemistry of ayahuasca are so rich in references to academic and scientific sources that the book can qualify as a scholarly discussion (although not a peer-reviewed one) that predated by some years the principal scholarly monographs in English on the subject (another precursor can be considered Introvigne 2000). In fact, at the moment of writing, Menozzi’s book can be considered the most complete resource in Italian on ayahuasca and ayahuasca-related religions. It hasn’t yet been translated into English.
The book is divided into twelve chapters. The first one is dedicated, as its very title reads, to the “Botanic identification of ayahuasca’s components.” The second chapter reconstructs the archaeology and mythology of ayahuasca; i.e., it focuses on the history of the Incas and on their narratives concerning sacred plants and brews. The following two chapters discuss, respectively, indigenous (Amazonian people’s) and mestizo beliefs and practices (the usage of sacred plants and brews by curanderos in urban or semi-urban modern and contemporary contexts). The fifth chapter explains the socio-cultural context in which modern ayahuasca religions were born; attention is paid to the influence exerted by Kardec’s spiritualism. The sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters reconstruct the histories and doctrines of, respectively, Santo Daime, Barquinha, and União do Vegetal (the latter two being other ayahuasca-based movements that originated in Brazil). The ninth chapter discusses the therapeutic usage of ayahuasca by referring to numerous scientific and scholarly articles. The tenth chapter contains a detailed and critical discussion of the concept of the “drug.” Chapter 11 traces the historiography of the legal battles surrounding ayahuasca in seven countries, including Italy. The final chapter sums up the observations made throughout the book and offers some concluding remarks.
The introduction contains a brief discussion of the neat separation between “medicine, psychology, and religious spirituality” in Western society (Menozzi 2013:18). Drawing upon some of the observations made by the U.S. psychologist Ralph Metzner (1936-2019) in a 1993 article entitled “The Split Between Spirit and Nature in European Consciousness,” Menozzi remarks that the separation between science and religion brought about by pivotal figures like Newton, Galileo, and Descartes, was necessary in order to bypass the Church’s “domination” and “persecution” but resulted in discrediting subjective experiences. Such a fracture, according to Menozzi, can be cured by reviving shamanic traditions (Menozzi 2013, 19-20).
The first chapter, besides briefly reconstructing the history of the study of ayahuasca and describing the substances contained in Banisteriopsis caapi (harmine, harmaline, and tetrahydroharmine: alkaloids known as β-Carbolines) and Psychotria viridis (Dimethyltryptamine, or DMT), emphasizes two science-related points that are made time and again in the rest of the monograph. First, all the substances within the aforementioned plants are produced by the human body, too. Second, the hallucinogenic effect is not caused by the consumption of DMT alone. Rather, the β-Carbolines inhibit some enzymes (Monoamine oxidases or MAO) present in the digestive system that would otherwise metabolize DMT; i.e., the enzymes prevent it from reaching the central nervous system. Menozzi concludes that “It still remains a great mystery for science how indigenous [Amazonian] wisdom, without chemical and pharmacological notions, could reach such a sophisticated result in vegetal engineering as the pharmacological effect of the components of ayahuasca” (Menozzi 2013:28).
The psychoactive substances contained in ayahuasca are also produced by the human body, and, more specifically, by the brain (Menozzi 2013, 195). The psychoactive effect results only from the combined action of DMT and β-Carbolines (Menozzi 2013, 195). The consumption of ayahuasca is not addictive; on the contrary, increasingly lower doses are required to obtain the same result (Menozzi 2013:202). The consumption of ayahuasca results in beneficial psychological effects, ranging from overcoming drug/alcohol addiction to feeling like a more ethical person (Menozzi 2013:205,212-21). In order to be effective, ayahuasca must be consumed with the right intentions, as well as in the right context, i.e., in the correct “set and setting” (Menozzi 2013:227-29; Menozzi employs the two English terms). Menozzi points out that the very existence of “unpleasant” side-effects, such as vomiting and diarrhea (symbolically interpreted as physical manifestations of spiritual purging), means that people are discouraged in natural ways from the merely recreational consumption of ayahuasca (Menozzi 2013:134). Drawing upon these same concepts, in the tenth chapter, Menozzi deconstructs the concept of the “drug”: he questions its very definition and the legal dispositions based thereupon (in nuce: not all substances that cause addiction and/or alter consciousness are defined as “drugs” and are prohibited accordingly by different governments, the case in point being alcohol. See, Menozzi 2013:232). Complementarily, Menozzi points out that, even if we define a “drug” as a substance that causes addiction, alters consciousness, and generally results in health damage, ayahuasca does not qualify as such, especially if one considers its ritual consumption (Menozzi 2013:233, 249). Menozzi considers the term “hallucinogenic” to be misleading and, in any case, to be inapplicable to ayahuasca, for which he prefers a definition like “entheogen,” referring to a substance that “connects one with their interior divine side” (Menozzi 2013:233).
Menozzi himself summarizes what he considers the most salient characteristics of ayahuasca consumption and/or Santo Daime practice in the final chapter:
In order to obtain a meaningful experience with ayahuasca, personal intentions (set) are fundamental (Menozzi 2013:292).
The religious context (setting) is key, in particular, the use of music and chants that “maintain vibratory-energetic cohesion” (Menozzi 2013:292).
The specific experience obtained is unpredictable (Menozzi 2013:292).
The experience results in the integration of the body, mind, and spirit in an “awakening [of] the awareness of the deep interrelation between physical, psychological, and spiritual health” (Menozzi 2013:292).
The experience is not characterized by the loss of consciousness (Menozzi 2013: 292-93).
The experience “feels true” and leads the subject to learn something that they “already knew” about themselves (Menozzi 2013:293).
The experience is characterized by an immediate and intuitive “diagnosis” or understanding of “hidden knowledge” (Menozzi 2013:293).
The subject encounters “other, non-material worlds” (Menozzi 2013:293).
The learning experience is not linear, but is slow and gradual (Menozzi 2013:293).
The experience is individual and collective at the same time (Menozzi 2013:293-294).
The experience is freely accessible to anyone who wishes to try it (Menozzi 2013:294).
Ayahuasca: La Liana degli Spiriti concludes with a brief discussion of the concept of reason. Menozzi states:
This is not, and does not purport to be, a negative judgment [critica] of the light of reason [“lumi della ragione”; emphasis in the original]. On the contrary, it praises enlightening reason [“ragione illuminante”] through the denunciation of its decline and subservience to the pretensions of cultural and cognitive ethnocentrism (Menozzi 2013, 302).
Similarly to other Italian, confederated centers, as well as other Santo Daime centers worldwide, Stella Azzurra is inspired by the teachings of Raimundo Irineu Serra, Sebastião Mota de Melo and his son Alfredo Grégorio de Melo. The group thus claims continuity with Mestre Irineu’s doctrine and does not proselytize. It adopts the Cross of Caravaca (a cross with two horizontal bars) as one of its symbols and underscores its iconic and theological overlaps with Christianity in general (and with Catholicism in particular). [Image at right] Within the Italian confederation, special emphasis is placed on the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, and the patron saint of Stella Azzurra is Saint Michael the Archangel. Stella Azzurra conforms to the original (and international) ceremonial rituals of Santo Daime. Those who wish to adhere and commit to the doctrine officially receive a uniform (or farda) to be donned during rituals and are called fardados (there are in fact two kinds of farda, a blue and plain one and a white, “full dress” one, to be donned on special occasions). The ceremony in which a member receives their uniform is called fardamento. The ceremonies, or trabalhos espirituais (“spiritual works”), are open to non-affiliates upon request, following individual scrutiny by experienced fardados. Such events are celebrated regularly, according to a specific calendar (Curuchich 2003:14).
During a “spiritual work” men and women are separated, and they sit or stand in concentric hexagons around a table, upon which a Cross of Caravaca is placed, along with other symbols and pictures of the founders. The rituals are led by a presidente or comandante (male or female “president” or “commander”), who sits or stands next to the table, marking the salient moments of the ceremony with invocations and leading the singing of the hymns, which is accompanied by maracas and other instruments. [Image at right] Some ceremonies involve the performance of a basic dance; others include chanting alternated with moments of silent concentration. Ayahuasca is administered individually by the comandante and their aides (other experienced/senior fardados). The participants stand in line to wait for their turn, similar to the administration of the Holy Bread during Catholic mass. The brew is poured from a carafe or a bottle into a small glass in a quantity decided by the comandante or aide by looking at the participant and being inspired by the Daime itself. A special team of fardados called fiscais (“guardians”) stands on the external circle to make sure that ceremonial rules are respected, while taking care of the participants’ welfare (for instance, providing them with buckets if they need to vomit). A ritual can last several hours (Curuchich 2003:10-12).
Locations range from private houses including Menozzi’s to, on at least one occasion reported in scholarly literature, a Catholic hermitage in Northern Italy, allegedly with the consent of local Catholic authorities. Newcomers are instructed by the organizers about the ceremonial behavior they are expected to observe and how to deal with the effects of ayahuasca. Prior to the session, they are advised to purchase white clothes for the ceremony and to abstain from sexual intercourse, eating red meat, drinking alcohol, and taking drugs for three days before and three days after the session itself (Bigliardi 2018). Menozzi explains the necessity of wearing white by stating that “each color has its own vibration, which influences the mood and the thoughts of the participant wearing it as well as the other participants” (private communication, November 21, 2016). Prior to the aforementioned session at the hermitage, which involved 52 participants, they were given the opportunity to buy or borrow a copy of the booklet containing the hymns that would be used during the “work” and to make an unspecified donation to Stella Azzurra. The donations, as it was explained, would cover, among other things, the expenses for renting the location and the food served to the participants after the ceremony. Copies of Menozzi’s Ayahuasca: La Liana degli Spiriti were also displayed and sold. Participants were requested to fill in a questionnaire, in which they were asked explicitly whether they were taking antidepressants and/or whether they were under treatment for hyperthyroidism. Those taking antidepressants were forbidden to participate, while those receiving treatment for hyperthyroidism were warned that their medicines could interfere with ayahuasca and increase its effects. On the same questionnaire, the participants were asked to take full responsibility for their participation and any consequences thereof (Bigliardi 2018).
Menozzi has been married since 2008 to a Santo Daime follower and lives in a country house on the hills in the vicinity of his native city. He set up the Santo Daime association Stella Azzurra in Reggio Emilia in 2007 and is its current spiritual leader, president and legal representative. He keeps a very low profile, notably to prevent his pictures being circulated over social media and the like. Menozzi, who speaks fluent Portuguese, English, as well as good Spanish, usually serves as comandante of the national and international “spiritual works” he attends (unless Brazilian, higher-ranking figures are participating), which can reach up to100-120 per year (including those set up by Stella Azzurra, that are forty-five to fifty per year; Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020).
According to Menozzi’s own reports, Stella Azzurra has approximately eighty “active members,” who participate in the group’s spiritual works at least once a month and contribute financially (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020). Menozzi reports that the average age of such “active members” is between 30 and 35 (among a wide age range of members), and membership is equally split between men and women. Most members have been raised as Catholic (although they may not self-identify as such), but some are Protestants and Buddhists. On multiple occasions, the “spiritual work” was joined by a Catholic priest (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020).
On May 13, 2008, CEFLURIS Italia, a confederation of Italian Santo Daime churches, was registered officially by the Italian government as a “religious organization in the exercise of a cult.” According to Menozzi, as of May 2009, approximately 300–400 people were affiliated with Santo Daime centers (Menozzi 2011, 14). CEFLURIS Italia changed its name to ICEFLU Italia in 2017. Stella Azzurra is one of its founders and, at the moment of writing, is considered its largest group. In addition to acting as the legal representative and president of Stella Azzurra, Menozzi is also the legal representative of ICEFLU Italia (of which Tiziana Vigani serves as honorary president).
Since 2013, Menozzi is also a member of the Board of Directors of ICEFLU Europe, a European confederation of Santo Daime groups (founded in 2013) that has included Stella Azzurra since the beginning (Walter Menozzi – private communication, January 4, 2020).
The shift in name from CEFLURIS to ICEFLU originated in Brazil. It was decided and implemented in 2013 by Padrinho Alfredo Mota de Melo and the directive/doctrinal council of the Brazilian CEFLURIS itself. The reason is that, originally, each community created its distinctive acronym by using CEFLU (Culto Eclético da Fluente Luz Universal) followed by the initials of a notable personality assumed by the center in question as a reference in doctrinal matters (RIS standing for Raimundo Irineu Serra). Over the course of time, however, CEFLURIS became the juridical name of the association related to the church of Céu do Mapiá while other churches, also outside of Brazil, created their name according to the aforementioned procedure. Thirty years after the foundation of Padrinho Alfredo’s CEFLURIS, it was decided to mark the identity of such churches and emphasize their confederation by adopting the acronym ICEFLU, in which “i” stands for igreja (“church),” while conserving CEFLURIS for the original center/church (Menozzi, private communication, May 21, 2020).
Stella Azzurra has been legally registered since 2017 as an associazione per la promozione sociale (“association for social promotion,” in particular cultural promotion) and is officially a non-profit organization. Monetary donations are suggested, not solicited (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020). Since 2018 Stella Azzurra has benefited from a voluntary pre-tax donation in favor of non-profit organizations as well as universities and scientific institutions.
Until 2019, Menozzi was professionally active as a freelance financial counsellor; however, he announced a major (albeit unspecified) professional shift at the beginning of 2020 (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020).
The name Stella Azzurra was chosen in 2008-2009 in reference to a recurring image (described by him as “a being soaring from the bottom of the sea on a divine throne”) in Menozzi’s Daime-related experiences since 2001. Menozzi emphasizes, however, that the image of a “Blue Star” (Estrela Azul in Portuguese) can also be found as a mysterious entity in Santo Daime hymns related to Saint Michael Archangel and that an Estrela d’Água (“Water Star”) is mentioned in a hymn by Mestre Irineu. Menozzi personally interprets the “Water Star” and the “Blue Star” as overlapping and as conjuring up the figure of Mother Earth. Estrela d’Água is also the title of a small book of hymns that Menozzi received (Menozzi, personal communications, November 1, 5, 2016). Menozzi began receiving hymns in 2012 that were submitted to, and approved by, Padrinho Alfredo according to a procedure that is widespread worldwide among Santo Daime practitioners (in other words, leaders and practitioners receive hymns subject to the approval of higher-ranking/senior Santo Daime leaders before being used during ceremonies). Menozzi states that, in Italy, the same experience was made by other members of Stella Azzurra as well as by Tiziana Vigani and other Santo Daime members. Two of Menozzi’s hymns, including the first one, were received in a dream and none (until now) were received during a “spiritual work.” The hymns were received in the form of music as well as of lyrics in Portuguese, and they contain references to Jesus, Saint John the Baptist, the Divine Mother and the Afro-Brazilian tradition. They are also sung during Stella Azzurra’s “spiritual works,” although priority is given to the hymns of Mestre Irineu, Padrinho Sebastião and other elder, notable members that the Center takes as a reference (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020). Since Menozzi has no background in musical theory and practice, upon receiving a hymn he keeps singing it mentally, writes down the lyrics, and eventually records it through a phone. Sometimes this procedure is followed on the same day as the reception; at other times, Menozzi waits a few days before saving the hymn, in order to be sure that it “comes back” with the same rhythm and lyrics (Menozzi, private communication, April 8, 2020).
The Santo Daime center of Assisi issued an application on June 20, 2003 to the Prefecture of the Republic in Perugia, which was later forwarded to the Ministry of the Interior, to receive official recognition as an “agency of an operating cult” (the term culto in Italian does not carry negative connotations in this specific context, but refers in a legal and neutral way to the cultivation of religious doctrine and practices). The application included, inter alia, a detailed description of ayahuasca’s preparation and composition. Menozzi, upon his return from a journey to Brazil in 2004, was stopped at Perugia Airport with twenty-seven liters of ayahuasca. Menozzi has stated that up until that moment, small quantities of the substance had been imported to Italy via a phytosanitary certificate issued by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture. This time, however, due to some bureaucratic impasse, the certificate had not been issued. The Santo Daime was confiscated by Italian customs employees. Chemical analyses demonstrated the presence of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), classified as a Schedule I substance by the United Nations Convention of Psychoactive Substances (1971) (i.e., deemed to have strong potential for abuse and no accepted medical use). An investigation followed, and Santo Daime followers’ houses were raided in several Italian cities, leading to small quantities of the beverage being confiscated. In February 2005, a young Brazilian woman was arrested in Milan and her ayahuasca confiscated. It was only after some time that she was given the opportunity to plead guilty, resulting in a sentence of one and a half years of probation and permission to leave Italy (Menozzi 2006, 2011). It is important to specify that the Ministry of the Interior decided not to proceed with the aforementioned application for juridical recognition, (as Menozzi learnt in the early months of 2004) based on an anti-terrorist law approved in the aftermath of 9/11 according to which no legal entities were recognized in Italy that referred to leaders based in extra-European countries (in other words, the application did not try to obtain juridical recognition for a new Italian association, but for the Italian branch of a Brazilian association) (Menozzi, private communication, May 30, 2020).
On March 15, 2005, in the evening, one day before leaving for a three-year mission to Mozambique on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (he had been appointed as general manager of a farming cooperative), Menozzi was arrested in his native city on the suspicion that he was an escape risk. The main crimes in question were criminal association (according to the juridical formulation in Italian “di stampo mafioso,” i.e., mafia-style) for international drug trafficking (punishable by fifteen to thirty years in prison). On March 16-17-18, the local newspaper Gazzetta di Reggio published articles describing Santo Daime as a “sect” and a “pseudo-religious community” characterized by “orgiastic rites” and emphasizing that ayahuasca, a “new drug,” was an “utmost powerful hallucinogenic” that enhanced “sexual potency” but also caused “permanent damage” to the central nervous system and liver (Gazzetta di Reggio 2005a). Similarly phrased articles would follow while the events were unfolding (Gazzetta di Reggio 2005b, 2005e, 2005f). Some space was given in the newspaper to declarations by Tiziana Vigani, who insisted that Santo Daime practitioners were Christian and that their organization operated in Brazil in the field of fair trade and charity. However, the same article defined ayahuasca, with remarkable if inconsistent lexical creativity, as a “pseudo-hallucinogenic tea” (Gazzetta di Reggio 2005c). The newspaper also addressed two Catholic priests, a summary of whose opinions provided the title for another article: “That One Is Not a Religion” (Gazzetta di Reggio 2005d). Meanwhile, after one week of prison, Menozzi, along with other Santo Daime followers arrested on similar charges in several Italian cities, was put under house arrest.
On April 4, 2005, the first hearing took place at the Court in Perugia. In Menozzi’s own words:
We presented a complete set of documents regarding religious, juridical (international), [and] scientific aspects, about our activities and the destination of the contributions we were sending each year to IDA [the NGO Instituto de Desenvolvimento Ambiental – Institute of Environmental Development], including an official letter of WWF Brazil appositely written for the Italian consulate in Manaus (Amazonas). However, the main argument of the defense at this point was about the fact that the Santo Daime is not included in the list of the controlled [forbidden] substances for the Italian law (Menozzi 2006).
Nevertheless, the Court rejected the defense, declaring that: “Santo Daime, being a mixture of two plants and not only one, is not a natural product but has to be considered like a laboratory preparation […] containing DMT” (Menozzi 2006).
An appeal was then made to the Supreme Court (Corte di Cassazione) in Rome. The appeal was accepted on October 7, 2005. The written motivation behind this decision was received on December 15. In Menozzi’s reconstruction:
The main points of the declaration concerned how it needed to be interpreted by the Italian law on drugs regarding the specific case of a substance made from natural plants that are not controlled but that contain a controlled alkaloid:
The Supreme Court declared that the public prosecutor didn’t show how ayahuasca/Santo Daime was prepared;
If the substance was a laboratory product containing DMT, it needed to be forbidden;
If the substance was a preparation that came from a “simple derivative process” of natural, uncontrolled plants, it depended on whether the preparation effects were product of the effects of the consumption of both the two original plants or not. This can be measured by the alkaloid’s quantity in the substance in relation to the presence in both the original plants, in particular;
If the substance presents a clear “surplus” of alkaloids with respect to the original plants and effects are very potentiated with respect to the ones induced by the consumption of both the original plants, in this case the preparation also needs to be controlled;
If the preparation presents a quantity of alkaloids (and also the effects) comparable to the consumption of the original plants, in this case the preparation is not controlled (Menozzi 2006).
Menozzi also interpreted the dates of October 7 and December 15 as symbolically significant since they coincided with the birthdays of Padrinho Sebastião and Mestre Irineu, respectively (private communication, May 21, 2020).
On January 13, 2006, Menozzi’s defense presented a new scientific report signed by an Italian chemist, who stated that Santo Daime was a “decoction” of two plants, a “simple derivative process” of plants presenting alkaloids in a quantity comparable to the original plants. On April 4, 2006, the Court of Perugia accepted the case dismissal request.
The twenty-seven liters of Santo Daime sequestered in 2004 were devolved in 2008 with an order of the Supreme Court dated April 23, 2008 (also this date was seen by Menozzi as symbolically significant, coinciding with the Day of Saint George, whom he regards as one of his main spiritual guides -Menozzi, private communication, May 21, 2020).
In 2016, a report in the infotainment TV show Le Iene (January 31) revealed the existence of Italian groups in which the brew is administered in a non-ceremonial setting, while heavy financial charges (i.e., between 100,00 and 300,00 Euro or more) are made to the participants, who are reached through social media. The reporter joined a session incognito, and emphasized how the participants (including minor teenagers, and children) were not informed of the possible effects of ayahuasca. Such effects (including arrhythmia, convulsion, coma, and permanent damage on organs) were explained in an interview with a physician based at the Poison Center of the Niguarda Hospital (Milan), and by referencing cases of death (outside of Italy) reported in the press. Despite specifying that ayahuasca usage stemmed from shamanic tradition, and that ayahuasca it is not illegal in some countries, and despite a claim by the physician, according to which an unspecified “legislator” had decided to consider its religious usage as ruling out its definition as a “drug,” the reporter repeatedly described ayahuasca as a “drug” and called it “the most hallucinogenic substance in the world” (Ruggeri and Fubini 2016). The report did not mention or represent groups that make use of ayahuasca in a religious setting.
Other juridical cases about Santo Daime were won by Menozzi and other members of ICEFLU in 2009, 2010, and 2018. Besides specific cases of arrest and trial like the aforementioned ones, over the past few years, occasional discussions about ayahuasca have been made available to the Italian public via online newspapers and magazines. Sometimes these stories are written in an ethnographic fashion and with skeptical undertones (Alì 2015); sometimes the tone is more sensationalist (Accolla 2008, Turrini 2015). In addition, at least one article has tried to strike a balance between the criticism and praise offered by various experts with scientific credentials (Villone 2016). Such pieces, however, cannot be considered to have the potential to reach a public comparable to that of the aforementioned TV show Le Iene.
Menozzi strives to contribute, through his work and initiatives (including occasional talks), to creating a more favorable perception and reception of Santo Daime and ayahuasca among the Italian public and institutions.
A major challenge for Santo Daime groups and practitioners in Italy is represented by the fact that, currently, the plants through which ayahuasca is produced have not been fully cultivated in the country to ensure sufficient supplies, considering the frequency of “spiritual works” and the number of participants. Favorable climate conditions can be found in Southern regions; however, cultivation and production in large quantities require systematic planning, extensive lots, considerable time, and manpower. As of May 2020, Menozzi reports that Italian Santo Daime practitioners are engaged in the extensive cultivation of both plants; however, he calculates seven to eight years as the time needed to produce Santo Daime in Italy (Menozzi, private communication, May 21, 2020). To be sure, given the existence of a pool of consumers that extends beyond Santo Daime practitioners, the production of ayahuasca on Italian soil may represent a promising if dangerous market for underground entrepreneurs. Santo Daime groups, however, are not interested in purchasing ayahuasca from non-affiliate cultivators and sellers since the very production of Santo Daime is a religious ritual. The import of the brew from Brazil or any other foreign country exposes carriers to inspection on behalf of customs authorities and the identification of the substance as forbidden can result in legal troubles, including imprisonment and trial. Since the Italian legal system is based on civil law, unless a specific law concerning the usage of entheogens in religious contexts (or, more specifically, ayahuasca and Santo Daime) is passed at the parliamentary level, the troubles experienced by Stella Azzurra’s leader are likely to be repeated by anyone who tries to cross Italian borders while carrying ayahuasca, although judges and courts can make reference to precedents while making decisions. In other words, although Menozzi’s case and the 2006 dismissal may be used by lawyers to encourage judges and courts to formulate similarly favorable verdicts, it is still technically possible that, under analogous circumstances, anyone transporting ayahuasca into Italian territory will still be subject to arrest, imprisonment, and trial (as well as to bad publicity in the media). However, as of early January 2020, Menozzi reported that five legal cases involving Stella Azzurra (including his own one) turned out favorably for the members involved and that, among those five, only one was actually brought to court (Menozzi, private communication, January 4, 2020).
Image #1: Raimundo Irineu Serra.
Image #2: Padrinho Sebastião.
Image #3: Padrinho Alfredo.
Image #4: Cover of Ayahuasca: La Liana degli Spiriti—il Sacramento magico-religioso dello Sciamanesimo Amazzonico (Ayahuasca: The Vine of the Spirits—The Magic-religious Sacrament of Amazonian Shamanism.
Image #5: Cross of Caravaca.
Image #6: Spiritual Work in Northern Italy in 2020.
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Alì, Maurizio. 2015. “Sciamani del terzo millennio” [“Shamans of the Third Millennium”] Query 20. Accessed from https://www.cicap.org/n/articolo.php?id=275977 on 5 April 2020.
Bigliardi, Stefano. 2018. “Santo Daime Narratives in Italy: Walter Menozzi, Stella Azzurra, and the Conceptualization of Ayahuasca and Science” Alternative Spirituality and Religion Review 9: 190-219.
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27 June 2020