For an estimated 2000 years, the ayahuasca drug has been consumed for religious and healing purposes among indigenous Amazonian peoples. The religious uses for the drug serve to provide the individual with some sort of divine knowledge or personal enlightenment through communicating with spirits and the divine. It is also used as a medicine to cure those with mental illness. All of this is achieved through the alternative state of consciousness that is caused by ayahuasca. Shamans lead these rituals, as they have all the knowledge of ayahuasca, including the specific guidelines for consuming it.
A symbolic and interpretive anthropologist would see this spiritual practice as a learned and shared symbol that holds significant cultural meaning for the people of the Amazon. Symbolic and interpretive anthropology’s main focus is to understand symbols from an emic perspective, meaning that the rituals surrounding ayahuasca must be understood from the context of Amazonian culture. From this cultural context, it can be concluded that to the Amazonian people, personal enlightenment and communication with the divine is important for not only religious figures of authority like shamans, but also for the tribespeople. That everyone should experience the alternative state of consciousness regardless of social position or level of authority. In order to fully understand this ritual symbol, a Symbolic anthropologist would first collect information on the observable characteristics included in the practice, what the shamans believe about it and lastly make deductions himself – as anthropologist—from specific contexts, like his own previous knowledge. From these three forms of data, consuming ayahuasca and the spiritual effects it brings to individuals are a way for the people of the Amazon to communicate how they think people should view the world.
A functionalist anthropologist would most likely say that this custom came to be so that a certain basic human need could be fulfilled. In the case of spiritual awakening, this perspective of anthropology would see this practice as a way to satisfy the basic need for human growth. Specifically growth and development of personal enlightenment. This provides insight into the social aspects of this culture as well, according to a functionalist anthropologist. Personal spiritual enlightenment is a very individualistic practice, demonstrating how individuals operate in their own way, so that the society as a whole can successfully function. Since this practice is over 1000 years old to Amazonian cultures, functionalism is a great perspective to interpret it from, being a synchronic theory. While the history of a practice is important to note when interpreting it, ayahuasca use has not changed among this culture since its introduction.
 Rios, Marlene Dobkin De, and Charles S. Grob. “Editors’ Introduction: Ayahuasca Use in Cross-Cultural Perspective.” Journal of Psychoactive Drugs 37.2 (2005): 119-21. Print.
 Sayin, H. Umit. “The Consumption of Psychoactive Plants in Ancient Global and Anatolian Cultures During Religious Rituals: The Roots of the Eruption of Mythological Figures and Common Symbols in Religions and Myths.” NeuroQuantology 12.2 (2014): 276-96. Print.