União do Vegetal

A Brazilian religious group combining Christian beliefs with South American shamanistic practices, known for its sacramental use of ayahuasca.

Religion: Syncretist (Christianity; Folk Religions)
Founder: José Gabriel da Costa (Mestre Gabriel)
Founded: 1961
Location: Brazil
Size: Approximately 20,000 members
Other Names: UDV, The Union of the Vegetable, The United Vegetal, The União do Vegetal
Website: udv.org.br

The União do Vegetal (UDV), formally known as the Beneficent Spiritist Center União do Vegetal, is a Christian Spiritist religion that was founded on July 22, 1961, in Porto Velho, Brazil, by José Gabriel da Costa, also reverently known as Mestre Gabriel. Originating deep within the Amazon Forest, the UDV was established with the profound intention of promoting peace and facilitating the spiritual development of the human being, aspiring to elevate moral, intellectual, and spiritual virtues across humanity without bias towards race, sex, creed, social class, or nationality​​​​.

At its core, the UDV is distinguished by its sacramental use of Hoasca tea, a brew made from two Amazonian plants: the Mariri vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) and the leaves of Chacrona (Psychotria viridis). This sacred tea is consumed by members during ceremonial sessions aimed at enhancing spiritual understanding and connection. The practice of drinking Hoasca tea, which contains the hallucinogenic compound DMT, is a central element of the UDV’s religious rituals, serving to deepen the participants’ spiritual awareness and insights​​​​.

The UDV’s foundations are deeply embedded in Christian and reincarnationist beliefs, intertwining with Amerindian influences to form its unique spiritual doctrine. Mestre Gabriel, with humble beginnings and little formal education, emerged as a figure embodying noble human virtues, leading by example in living a life dedicated to spiritual enlightenment and societal contribution without seeking personal gain. His teachings emphasize love, goodness, and the faithful practice of these virtues in alignment with Jesus Christ’s teachings​​​​.

Following Mestre Gabriel’s passing in 1971, the UDV has continued to expand both nationally within Brazil and internationally. It established a significant presence with over 21,000 members across more than 216 congregations (Núcleos) and distributions in countries including the United States, Canada, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Australia, Italy, and Peru. This growth underscores the UDV’s commitment to spreading its message of light, peace, and love, further solidified by its recognition and civic awards for community and environmental service​​​​.

Legal recognition and religious freedom have been pivotal in the UDV’s history, particularly in the United States. In a landmark case, Gonzales vs. O Centro Espirita Beneficente União do Vegetal, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the UDV’s right to religious freedom, allowing its members to legally use Hoasca tea in their ceremonies, despite its psychoactive ingredients. This decision underscored the importance of religious expression and the federal government’s commitment to protecting such practices under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)​​​​.

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