Author Topic: Ayahuasca Pseudo Shamanism as a Cult  (Read 28402 times)

Offline educatedindian

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Ayahuasca Pseudo Shamanism as a Cult
« on: February 13, 2010, 04:53:56 pm »
Article by a French psychologist giving a firsthand account of infiltrating ayahuasca taking circles in Europe.


Nicole Bétrencourt

Psychologist and writer


For over three years I have been investigating for a book I am writing which should be published shortly, on the drift of hallucinatory shamanism. Shamanism, which is known as the oldest form of religion observed since times immemorial, has made a return in force in popular esoteric circles in the West.

This ancestral knowledge of ancient peoples has had a favourable echo for those who thirst for spiritual values or for a certain form of the sacred. After reading books or having attended conferences, a number of people are seduced by these practices. But their gullibility can be abused by charlatans who attract searchers with pseudo-practices of shamanism which are not always inoffensive, especially when they are conjugated with a drug. Their leaders are often well known by the MIVILUDES, and by victims' associations several of which belong to the FECRIS network.

The more appreciated shamanic traditions are those which use drugs in their rituals. Particularly popular is the Amazonian tradition with its powerful hallucinatory drug, the ayahuasca, the effects of which are similar to those of L.S.D. Other sacred drugs are also concerned by this racket. Just behind the ayahuasca today, one finds the rising power of the iboga, the African L.S.D., used in the Bwiti's tradition.

Before these perversions, the use of the ayahuasca was limited to the restricted circle of Amazonia. It's a traditional medicine which treats local populations. It is used by the Shamans of Amazonia, called "ayahuasqueros", in the framework of magic-religious rites, practised after dark. These people believe that the origin of illness is caused by magic and this is diametrically different to the Western conception of disease. The ayahuasca is a sacred drink since times immemorial composed of two plants: the ayahuasca liana (Banisteriopsis caapi) which has given its name to the drink and which grows in abundance in the Amazonian forest and another, the chacruna, which contains D.M.T, an Illegal drug at international level.

Behind its natural facade, the sacred drink of the Indians of Amazonia is highly hallucinatory. Its effects are close to those of L.S.D, the psychoactive drug of reference. The Amazonians call it the "Liana of Death". This is experiencing new popularity in Europe. Distributed by cultist micro-groups, it has acquired the status of a very effective chemical tool for the induction of undue influence. The increasing numbers of these small hallucinatory groups, often independent from each other, has created a new sectarian nebula both insidious and difficult to identify.

The ayahuasca makes it possible for charlatans, gurus of individual health care and well-being, alternative medicine and psychotherapy to trade in destabilising behavioural techniques. These techniques are creating an increasing number of victims. All cults hide behind masks and Amazonian pseudo-shamanism is no exception to the rule. I will tell you the story of my personal experience in one of these cultist hallucinatory micro-groups to illustrate the mechanisms of seduction used by the leaders of shamanic micro-groups to recruit candidates and how they are able to make people believe that the Amazonian drug is harmless,

Within the framework of my investigation, I had infiltrated one of these very closed circles and accepted the Amazonian drug. On the second occasion - instead of the expected shamanic journey - I had a "Bad Trip" provoked by the drug's powerful effects. I should make it clear that I was the victim only of the drug and not of the cultist influence as unfortunately may have occurred to others. It was a kind of industrial accident which happened to a writer who had gone too far in her investigation. I do not recommend that anyone should try to repeat such an experiment as it is extremely difficult to escape the pressure of a hallucinatory group's rituals. I only fell partially into the trap tended by two leaders of a micro-group similar, alas, to many others that exist in France, Belgium and elsewhere in Europe.

The victims of this pseudo-shamanic nebula undergo a double submission - chemical and cultist - as highlighted by the pharmacologist, Dr. Gilbert Pépin, Cultist undue influence leads to the psychological de-structuring which falls under the French About-Picard law.

The idea of writing on the perversion of shamanism occurred to me after a series of discussions with a doctor friend of mine. Profile of the 1968 revolutionary, now and then smoking a joint, he was always in research of new alternative medical methods or of a new psychotherapy to solve his existential difficulties. As time went on, I saw this brilliant personality change. That made me curious.

Enthusiastic, he told me of his experience under ayahuasca, a drink originating in Amazonia that he had been taking for a few months both in France and in Peru. The colours, the feelings which he described made me think of reports on the psychedelic phenomenon that I had read. Unknown in Europe, this friend called it “The Plant”, I had not thought of the ayahuasca as being a drug. Curiously, although he was a doctor, he never imagined at any time, that this might be a drug like L.S.D. He was fascinated by the context surrounding the absorption of the Amazonian drink as by the healing virtues of the plant which was supposed to solve all physical and psychological problems of Western populations seen from the point of view of the "Change of Paradigm" discussed earlier today by Jean-Pierre Jougla.

In France, this doctor friend was initiated by Guillermo Vilar, a Peruvian Shaman, the hero of the documentary film by Yan Kounen, "Other Worlds". All the participants of the primitive training courses of this shaman were co-opted and carefully selected: people from the cinema world, doctors, psychologists, psychotherapists… In those days, ayahuasca had not as yet been classified as a drug. Only DMT[1] was, and few of those who took the Amazonian drug in France knew that it was a drug. To know that, one had to have visited Peru. And one should not lose sight of the fact that the information of the public relates primarily to narcotics distributed by dealers.

It rapidly became clear that this friend had been duped into believing a sham. Indeed, he had fallen victim of the double submission - chemical and cultist, mentioned earlier, and he had not detected it. The idea of writing a book on the subject to denounce these perversions attracted me more and more. I had never taken the ayahuasca, or any other drug. I quickly realised in the course of my investigation on the ground, that Amazonian shamanism was cheapened by a new age syncretism which denatured the original tradition of the Amazonian shamans.

With the complicity of this doctor, I was introduced undercover into this very select circle. We both registered for a conference on shamanism where the participants illegally take ayahuasca. It was organised by an Argentinean, teacher of kundalini yoga and his fried, a masseur using sensitive techniques who was a priest of the orthodox patriarchate of the apostolic filiations of Antioch. For the weekend, one of their followers, a hospital nurse, had put at our disposal her companion's barge which was moored on the banks of the Seine, at Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

I took part in two sessions, at one month's interval between January 2002 and February 2002. We were fifteen participants. Once on board, my attention was attracted by three people that I learned later were a mother with her two children, a young woman and her brother in their twenties. They were there to follow a strange kind of family therapy with “The Plant” to free themselves of the influence of an alcoholic father.

Once embarked on the barge for the night, I followed the preliminaries of kundalini yoga, a group healing session slightly disconnected from reality, a sort of game which was fun if one looked at it with a critical eye but that the followers took very seriously, under mental constraint and regular intake of ayahuasca, provided by the two leaders. When the stage of intake of the sacred drink had been reached, distributed by the two rogues in a new age folklore context of tobacco fumes and pseudo-Indians chanting, I tried to wriggle out of my turn. But I was cornered, under the pressure of the group, to drink the Amazonian brew. The new age “dealers” had it all taped so that it was impossible to escape.

On that weekend, at the time of my first intake, all went well for me: I did not feel any effect of the drug; my thoughts were clear without colour visions. Only my imagination and emotions were more acute. I took this opportunity to observe the group. I saw sick participants bringing up, bent over in anguish and pain. Both gurus were present accompanying the participants, the majority of whom were patients of their medical practice. The pseudo-shamanic ritual was complementary to further individual work in yoga and holistic therapy.

Between the two sessions on the barge, a month passed. In retrospective, I realise that drug had created a craving which I had refused to admit. I feverishly waited for the next session on the barge, attributing my impatience to my research for my book.

But when I took the drug a second time always in the same new age syncretism, I felt a sudden harsh pain in the head. I shouted "Help" and the only thing I remember before falling into a coma for an indeterminate time, is that I was insulted and asked to keep quiet so as not to trouble the others' experience. When I returned to consciousness, I experienced feelings worthy of a Stephen King book. Nobody came to my assistance. Neither one of the two leaders, nor my doctor friend prostrated by the effect of the drug, nor any other passenger even looked at me. I learned later that many of them had thought that I was dead and that the two dealers had given instructions not to take any notice.

It took me several weeks to get over this bad trip. I went through transient psychiatric de-compensation treated as an out-patient. In incredible circumstances, I managed to get rid of the two leaders and my doctor friend who, to stop me from testifying against them, had formed an alliance against me and tried to convince me that I had gone on shamanic trip in hell.

This group which I had infiltrated may be considered as a typical group of all those which propose the ayahuasca in Europe. Many people have fallen under the chemical and cultist influence of Amazonian pseudo-shamanism. I have met victims who, in the long run, have been psychologically destroyed. Observation of those who took the Amazonian drug in this sectarian context showed that it resulted in psychiatric de-compensation, cases of suicide a few months after having taken the drug, comas and of deaths by overdose. Many direct victims do not wish to call victims' associations to testify for fear of reprisals by the leaders who have actually managed to make them believe that they can be punished by practises of sorcery.

The consumption of ayahuasca in groups in Europe is only the preliminary step before a visit to Peru which clinches the chemical and cultist influence. The applicants to learn shamanic, psychotherapeutic and humanistic techniques among others go on strange holiday camps where ayahuasca helps them in their spiritual evolution, and nurses their spirit and body thus helping them to overcome the change of paradigm.

All the leaders of pseudo-shamanism have common features and I have drawn up their "Profile".

For these men of influence, the debate does not seem to pivot around the drug or the practises with which it is associated but the ultimate objective which is that of individual and religious freedom.

The pseudo-shamanism leader is either a:

–        Medical doctor

–        Pharmacist

–        Psychotherapist

–        Holistic therapist (New Age)

 –        If he is a doctor or a pharmacist, he knows about new Amazonian shamanic medicine through Doctors without Frontiers, Barefoot doctors, Pharmacists without Frontiers.

–        If he is a psychotherapist or holistic therapist, he knows Amazonian shamanism by participating in private psychotherapy training programmes or by visits to Peru where he/she was initiated in Amazonian traditional medicine.

–        He calls himself as shaman or apprentice-shaman practising modern shamanism or neo-shamanism.

–        His ideology is that of the transpersonal movement, that of New Religious Movements (Esalen and New Age).

–        He is the author of scientific counter-culture articles on hallucinatory substances, or of books on popular esoterics.

–        He gives conferences in esoteric bookshops, in private training institutes on the training of psychotherapists.

–        He mainly recruits his correspondents within the New Religious Movements nebula, holistic medicine, humanistic psychology, which are porous between themselves.

–        He proposes a new concept of care by holistic medicine: personal technique of care based on modified states of conscience by Amazonian or African natural plants and humanistic therapies or psychosomatic therapy.

–        He proposes to develop a new spiritual way based on shamanism and modified states of conscience, syncretism of psychedelic neo-shamanism

–        He is often an ex-addicted of hard drugs

–        He does not consider that hallucinatory drugs are similar to drugs traded by narcotic traffickers.

–        He was initiated by Peruvian, African or North American Indian Shamans. Or belonging to other traditions close to voodoo.

–        He organises initiation conferences in France, in Belgium and residential visits to Peru in therapy communities.

–        He has created a therapy community or a residential centre in Peru

–        He has close relationships with the cult leaders.

–        He may have been charged for incitement to drug consumption

–        Or because of the About-Picard Law

–        He has been pinpointed by contradictory articles in the media

Psycho-spiritual tourism is organised between Peru and Europe. Over there, Westerners consume hallucinatory drugs and other toxic local plants quite legally in therapeutic communities, specialised in the treatment of drug-addiction and in all kinds of psycho-spiritual disorders.

The most important residential centre is that of T…, a centre that treats drug addiction managed by a French doctor, once a member of Doctors without Frontiers and an ex-drug addict himself. This centre of natural medicine hides behind the official mask of a therapeutic community, a method of treating drug addicts which no longer exists in France after the cultist perversions of L. Engelmajer, the Patriarch.

All over the world, therapeutic communities exist as a method of treatment for drug addicts. Their modus operandi is inspired by the Anglo-Saxon model of Synanon and Daytop. A short reminder of the story of Synanon or of its founder Chuck Dederich who introduced coercive methods which caused Synanon to drift into cultism. The Italian therapeutic community model which includes the spiritual aspect is most appreciated in America and in Latin America. T… is thus officially a therapeutic community, approved by the Peruvian State, which at the start treated local drug addicts with traditional medicines.

Anyone can visit the Internet site of the TC of T…where the programme of treating drug addicts is developed in Peru using ayahuasca and other Amazonian toxic plants and psychotherapeutic techniques, of which some are known for their potential as psycho-cultist tools (like holotropic breathing invented by Stanislav Grof, leader of the transpersonal movement).

I am concerned about the effectiveness and the danger of a programme which treats drug addiction by administrating another drug at the moment of detoxification, the ayahuasca a kind of L.S.D and other highly toxic plants as datura which deteriorate conscience, and accompany this treatment by psychotherapeutic techniques which provoke modified states of conscience?

This care programme for drug addicts is contested by the official scientific community. But it is cautioned by gurus of alternate medicine. This approval is far from the criteria defined by WHO with regard to traditional medicine and primary education care in countries medically under-equipped. This includes the medicine practised by the ayahuasqueros officially reintroduced in Amazonia by the programme AMRITA 2000.

The Director of T. comes to France regularly to give conferences, he publishes articles in reviews specialised in New Spirituality and with his indisputable charisma recruits candidates to go to Peru to take ayahuasca, which is legal there and to follow his teachings, on how to deliver the "New Keys" of the change of paradigm.

T... proposes training courses for adolescents whether drug addicts or not, to taste the sprit of the plant

and pseudo-shamanic rituals; there are also conferences for non-addicted adults of psycho-spiritual development.

This kind of centre must be financially profitable because the ex-business partner of this doctor, a Spaniard, opened another such centre even more specialised in psycho-spiritual development. Its programme is very Science-fiction sometimes they speak of organising meetings with humanity's oldest ancestors like certain plants there, or animals who have come from other planets such as snakes and dragons.

When I boarded the barge, my two leaders were organising journeys to Peru to the centre created by this Spaniard. Since then they have had created their own Peruvian centre, judged by other pseudo-shaman competitors as deviant.

In these dark files of shamanism, all is axed on the manipulation of concepts: ecology, anthropology, psychology, alternate medicine and science.

The pharmacology of ayahuasca is prone to playing around with scientific concepts. The leaders omit to compare ayahuasca to L.S.D, a forbidden narcotic. If they admit that ayahuasca contains DMT, a forbidden but less known narcotic which was consumed for its entertainment value at the time of the psychedelic revolution, they insist on the serotoninergic action of ayahuasca observed in an anti-depressive series of medicines. According to them ayahuasca is not toxic and does not create dependence. In short, a multi-usage medicine which heals everything, even cancer… but what of the psychiatric side effects?

However, the characteristic and side effects of ayahuasca are partly those of L.S.D. With a pharmacological component and unknown side effects stressed by Dr. Gilbert Pépin.

 According to charlatans of shamanism, there are very few victims. And when they exist, they are generally exceptions due to failures to follow recommendations on the use of ayahuasca. Not those registered by associations of victims or by doctors but due to attacks by malignant spirits, sorcery, and magic. Their point of view is of a para-psychological nature and pseudo-scientific.

If the charlatans deny the dangers of ayahuasca, it would seem that they are reconsidering the question with regard to iboga (drug and rites associated), estimated to be more dangerous than the Amazonian drug.

The result desired by the intake of ayahuasca is the opening of the conscience through a modified state which is thought to be comparable to a shamanic trance. It must at all costs stimulate with a hallucinatory drugcalled entheogene, a zone of the brain that Vilayanur Ramachandran of the University of San Diego, called “God's module".

Scientific literature speaks highly of ayahuasca. Surprising reality, but when one looks more closely one realises that this has been written from psychedelic research tolerated on the other side of the Atlantic, under so called draconian conditions, by the FDA. The director of T… wrote in MAPS (the review of psychedelic research) in 1992 and 1996, articles one the treatment of drug-addiction by the Amazonian plants. Currently, ayahuasca is being studied by the ethno-medicine branch of psychedelic research. On the other hand, traditional scientific literature speaks much of the side effects of LSD and DMT.

Only two European experts implicated in non psychedelic research, to be precise, expose the dangers of ayahuasca: Gilbert Pépin, a French pharmacologist, expert attached to the courts, and the Swiss toxicologist, Laurent Rivier.

There is a enormous variation on the level of the classification of the ayahuasca in Europe. Although DMT is forbidden everywhere, it is not the case of ayahuasca and of other natural hallucinatory drugs. Ayahuasca is legal in Belgium, tolerated in the Netherlands within the religious framework of Santo daïme, but illicit in Italy, Spain and France. The iboga is allowed in France but forbidden in Belgium. Thus European legislation is confusing and contradictory.

The leaders benefit from the gap in European law to recruit followers as fast as they can, organising amateur training courses in those countries where the hallucinatory drug "x" is not illegal. In the meantime the list of victims increases all the time.

In spring of 2005, the French medical authorities (the ASSAPS) strengthened the prohibition of ayahuasca in France, by classifying the liana itself as absent in the European biotope. But the non-prohibition of ayahuasca, apart from DMT, in the rest of Europe remains an important problem.

The saga of the Santo daïme European court cases where one consumes the daïme (another name for ayahuasca) as a sacrament, illustrates the ambiguity of the legal gap in Europe and its tolerated intake within a religious framework. This Brazilian spirit and condomble church is legal in Brazil just as the ayahuasca is, within its religious framework. In Brazil, moreover, DMT is not illegal. For its followers, Santo daïme, it is just popular shamanism or folklore.

If Santo daïme is implanted in Brazil, it is because in this country, the beliefs in spirit doctrines are part of Brazilian culture. Brazil is the first country in the world to propagate spirit literature, in particular that of Allan Kardec. Spirit mobile libraries furrow the country, both in the villages and in urban centres. The spirit Movement has its charities which cover a whole number of needs from day nurseries to psychiatric hospitals to schools and old people's homes.

Santo daïme has ramifications in Europe having been the subject of lawsuits. Initially there was the Dutch case in 2001, and then in 1999, six Frenchmen were arrested In Paris for consuming the daïme. The charge retained against them was the intake of DMT; the sectarian character of the hallucinatory church was not taken into account.

In these two countries or the European Union, the daïmists were accused of possessing, transporting and consuming illicit drugs. In Holland, in the same category as heroine and the cocaine, the ayahuasca is an Illegal drug because of its DMT content. But below are some common arguments used by the defence which allow the release of prisoners in Holland and France: there is no scientific base to affirm that “natural” DMT is a drug endangering public health. The DMT analysed in the seizures were in insufficient quantities to prove its toxicity.

I was present at the two phases of the French court proceedings, taking place in the Paris law courts, in 2003 and at to the appeal in 2004. The expert, Jace Callaway, known for his in psychedelic research, testifying for the indicted in both European cases that ayahuasca was not dangerous in the religious context of Santo daïme. During the hearing of the French case in Paris, the expert opinion of Dr. Gilbert Pépin, made on samples taken on the cans of daïme put under seals on the arrest of the daïmists, was only briefly raised.

One of the defence lawyers in the French case, in favour of decriminalization of what is known as "soft" drugs, invented the following term which explains the prestige of this profession. He called the daïme: cider of the tropics. One may presume that he had never taken the famous daïme and that he never had a bad trip! It should be added that another of the defence lawyers had already defended certain cult representatives who were in trouble with the law.

In 2005, the Santo daïme saga continued: in Italy a score of daïmists were arrested, in March 2005, by the Italian anti-Mafia brigade for being caught consuming DMT. They are on standby for judgement.

         However, after the French judgement, a tolerance of ayahuasca consumption, within its religious context, was granted in New Mexico to the Plant Union (a branch of Santo daïme). Precision: the Plant Union is under study officially in the departement of ethno-medicine by psychedelic research for its ritual use of the "tea" (another name of the daïme).

The future will tell if Italian justice will align itself on this international religious tolerance or whether the cultist character of Santo daïme will be proven in Europe. The Magazine MAPS autumn-winter 2005/2006 explains the latest research carried out on the curative use of alternate ayahuasca in medicine within the framework of the Santo daïme ritual, studied in the Amazonian village Céu Dio Mapià.

         I will conclude with very fresh news, obtained here a few minutes ago from the Chairwoman of a victim's association from the South-West of France. An ethno medical congress was held in Toulouse a week ago. It gathered the opinion leaders of pseudo-shamanism, which has become an international royal freeway for a new cultist use of drugs. Some doctors aware of ethno-medicine, thinking that they could find interesting information, felt tricked by the contents of the congress and are ready to expose this hoax.

Among the participants there were young people, 18 year-olds, probably the public of rave parties where indications show an increase in drug consumption as it was in the 70s, if nothing is done to stop the phenomenon these young people will in the long run be interested by the seductive mask of shamanism, sponsored by the dealers of the 3rd millennium,

There is a risk that the use of ayahuasca will rapidly become banal. That's what happened with ecstasy, twenty years back. The press spoke greatly of this drug for its very new age qualities of opening the conscience and of empathy. It is today a curse which devastates rave parties.

Thank you for your attention.


Manuscript „The Ayahuasca Connection"

Draft The Dark dossiers of shamanism         

Personal notes


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Re: Ayahuasca Pseudo Shamanism as a Cult
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2010, 01:44:28 am »
The use of hallucinogens in a religious setting is certainly controversial, to say the least.

However, I find this article alarmist, and containing a lot of imprecisions.

I apologise for the long post, but I could not leave this uncommented.

First, I would like to say that I know France a bit, as I lived there for three years and speak the language. France is very science oriented, and the public is not very critical to standard western medicine. The medical system is excellent as what regards high-tech medicine, but alternative medicine is under developed. I don't have statistics at hand, but psycho-active prescription drugs such as antidepressants and antopsychotics are prescribed at much higher levels than in other European countries, as are strong pain killers and antibiotics. At the same time, the intellectual climate in France is very much based on the notion, the rationalist tradition going back to the Lumieres (Age of reason) is the only approach possible, anything else is considered "obscurantist".

Thus, I am not surprised by somebody close to the French medical establishment taking a position such as that in the posted document.

However, there are a number of imprecisions in it. The active principle in Ayahuasca is NOT a narcotic. It has nothing to do with iboga, which is another drug use in Kamerun.  It is wrong to compare ayahuasca to heroin (narcotic) or cocain (stimulant). DMT it is a hallucinogen. As such, it has little toxicity and no tendency to cause addiction. However, it is true that it can cause "bad trips", which can result in psychotic episodes. Based on the logic that the ban of other hallucinogens is justified, asking for the ban of still unregulated hallucinogens seems congruent.

The current situation of ayahuasca is that of a legal loophole. Pure DMT is illegal, but as this is a chemical contained in many plants, one can buy dried plant material. Extracting the active principle, as in the preparation of the brew called ayahuasca, is illegal. There is no exempt from that legal situation for religious use. The same applies to a number of other hallucinogens I won't list here. Thus, in front of the law, one cannot get busted for the possession of the plants, but having a ready to drink ayahuasca is illegal.

I find the article alarmist, because taking ayahuasca is, from all that I know about it, barely a pleasant experience, as it involves drinking a foul smelling concoction that induces violent vomiting and inducing frightening hallucinations that often result in a complete loss of touch with consensus reality. Thus ayahuasca as a nightclub drug - forget it, won't happen. As what regards people distributing an ayahuasca brew - this is already illegal under existing law.

One can take different positions on whether use of hallucinogens in bona fide religious contexts is justified - if one would agree, ayahuasca is a good candidate, as it is such an unpleasant drug that the claim of religious use is credible. Whether then the practicioner should have a certain standard of qualification, in order to provide a appropriate frame and avoid or contain "bad trips" is another issue. To reach that level of question, the state would need to accept a therapeutical benefit in using hallucinogens. This will certainly not happen in France, where they seem to prefer to drug patients with mind numbing prescription drugs, but this is actually currently the case in Switzerland, where hallucinogens are licensed under strictly controlled conditions in therapeutical settings.

Apart from that, I would like to know how to define "pseudo-shamanism" and "cult".

Shamanism is originally an anthropological term, that has more recently become popular in teh New Age movement. It seems to have a very negative connotation in this forum, but I don't know quite why. There is some controversy whether the term is applicable to Native American practitioners, I am aware of that. However, whether you call it shamanism or not, healers who can - by the use of hallucinogens or without them - establish contacts to the spirit world and thus obtain information about the cause and possible remedies of illnesses etc also exist in Native American cultures.

In the West, the figure of the shaman has for long been the personification of the fraudster. Recently, and quite strangely, it has become the incorporation of wisdom and what not for the New Age movement. In my perception, this goes along with quite a misconception of what a shaman is. Shamans are people with extraordinary gifts, who take a lot of hardships on them to develop them. In cultures where shamanism exists, very few people become shamen. It is not a path of self-development or something like that. Obviously, Western culture will deny the very existence of shamans. Thus anybody claiming to be a shaman is a pseudo-shaman of mainstream Western culture. Unless you want to base the definition on ethnical terms. Meaning, only those people can be true shamans who come from a culture where shamanism has existed before. However, this puts in my view too narrow limits on the human potential. We used to have shamans here in Europe - the so-called witches - who used hallucinogens, and were herbalists, healers and diviners. The witch hunts actually started around the same time the conquista of teh Americas started, which in turn was about the same time the rebelling farmers in Germany, who were just asking for fair living conditions, were butchered with the approbation of boith the Catholic church and Martin Luther. It was also about the same time when radical rationalism started becoming the mainstream wetsren thought.

As what regards the term "cult", it is just a derogatory term for any minority religion. As soon as they reach a certain critical mass, one stops calling them a cult. The term cult also implies brainwash, intimidation of critics etc. But as what regards ayahuasca, I am aware of evidence justifying calling it a cult for such reasons.

Offline educatedindian

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Re: Ayahuasca Pseudo Shamanism as a Cult
« Reply #2 on: February 15, 2010, 03:31:47 pm »

1. I find the article alarmist, because taking ayahuasca is, from all that I know about it, barely a pleasant experience, as it involves drinking a foul smelling concoction that induces violent vomiting and inducing frightening hallucinations that often result in a complete loss of touch with consensus reality....

Apart from that, I would like to know how to define "pseudo-shamanism" and "cult".

2. Shamanism is originally an anthropological term, that has more recently become popular in teh New Age movement. It seems to have a very negative connotation in this forum, but I don't know quite why. There is some controversy whether the term is applicable to Native American practitioners, I am aware of that....

3. As what regards the term "cult", it is just a derogatory term for any minority religion. As soon as they reach a certain critical mass, one stops calling them a cult. The term cult also implies brainwash, intimidation of critics etc. But as what regards ayahuasca, I am aware of evidence justifying calling it a cult for such reasons.

I added numbers to make it clearer what I'm responding to.

1. In the US there was for a while a fad of teenagers licking toads because they had heard there was a drug on their skin. Some people are so desperate or reckless for a high they will do such things as auto asphyxiation (masturbating while hanging yourself). Peyote use can also involve vomiting. That hasn't stopped an entire fake Nuage
"church" from springing up around the practice. Look up James Mooney in the older threads.

2. Shaman and shamanism are outsiders terms imposed on literally thousands of traditions. I'm wary of anyone outside of anthros using them and would prefer that people use the term that tradition uses. In English that will generally be medicine people as a broad term, though some would simply prefer priest to state they're equally as valued as a Christian priest.

3. Size of a group has nothing to do with it. Within cult studies, a cult by definition uses deception, coercion, monitoring or control of followers, and is abusive and exploitive towards. Some discuss the cult aspects of Mormonism, or even of secular political groups. The Larouchites are a cult. Some even talk about cultlike behavior of the North Korean gov't.


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Re: Ayahuasca Pseudo Shamanism as a Cult
« Reply #3 on: February 15, 2010, 08:24:45 pm »
Thanks for your clarifications.

I take your points, and that of the French author that use of hallucinogens can increase the manipulatory power of cult leaders. However, I still find the article alarmist in that it sees hidden microcults everywhere, and seems to be quite sure that her negative experience can be generalised.

Else, I wanted to correct myself on the toxic potential of ayuhuasca. While  DMT itself is "just" a hallucinogen, thus its dangers are not toxicity, ayahuasca is a mixture. To be orally effective DMT has to be combined with some type of enzyme inhibitors. Thus the combination of at least two plants in the brew. Which can then, combined with food or medication people have had, become really dangerous.

Offline Unegv Waya

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Re: Ayahuasca Pseudo Shamanism as a Cult
« Reply #4 on: February 15, 2010, 09:00:05 pm »
A few years ago a lot of people started concentrating and using "diviners sage" (salvia divinorum) for a hallucinatory trip.  Now it is difficult to get the plant for what most of us used it for - as a ground cover plant in gardens.

Offline E.P. Grondine

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    • Man and Impact in the Americas
Re: Ayahuasca Pseudo Shamanism as a Cult
« Reply #5 on: February 25, 2010, 02:02:39 am »
3. As what regards the term "cult", it is just a derogatory term for any minority religion. As soon as they reach a certain critical mass, one stops calling them a cult. The term cult also implies brainwash, intimidation of critics etc. But as what regards ayahuasca, I am aware of evidence justifying calling it a cult for such reasons.

3. Size of a group has nothing to do with it. Within cult studies, a cult by definition uses deception, coercion, monitoring or control of followers, and is abusive and exploitive towards.

Educated Indian, you've hit all the key points that identify cults, and cult leader's behaviors.

As all here know, all of these are far from Native American spirituality and the behavior of spiritual guides.

In my opinion the best and definitive book on cults is "Combating Cult Mind Control" by Steven Hassan.


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Re: Ayahuasca Pseudo Shamanism as a Cult
« Reply #6 on: September 23, 2010, 05:17:44 pm »
I also posted on something similar on the Tantra thread, but spiritual tourism is booming and bringing in much-needed foreign dollars to Peru and Bolivia. But the downside of that is that there seems to be a high number of folks claiming to be shamans with "handed down through the generations" worth of teachings and secret rituals. While I have no doubt that there are genuine shamans and healers among the Quechuan and other tribes there, Ayahuasca seems to be the new marijuana there and every second backpacker wants to take the trip.
I was even surprised to find out when I got to Macchu Pichu that it closes at 4pm everyday because they rent out the site after that time to "spiritual tourism" groups, same with Lake Titicaca. Pseudo-shamanism there is rife, I'm not even sure how you would be able to connect with a genuine Elder if you wanted to.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2010, 05:30:27 pm by pencil »