Thursday, December 06, 2012

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part Five)

Interviews with Shamans (Part One)

Most locals in Iquitos, Peru would no more consider drinking ayahuasca than would the average executive in Manhattan think of drinking moonshine distilled in a car radiator in the secluded hills of Tennessee. The world is larger, however. Daily, planes bring their cargo of anomie-ridden Modernists to Iquitos, and within hours many of those people have taken the Hummer to a luxury lodge in the selva where they are pampered and jaccuzied and buffed till they shine, all in keeping with the up-scale pursuit of happiness and spiritual enlightnement. One such actually pranced around the city square in white robes, looking like a stand-in for Sauroman in The Lord of the Rings but for the vampirish look as he hit on little girls and boys left unattended momentarily by suddenly nervous mothers. He hit on me. And then, seeing my lack of like, he hit on the young woman I was standing with. Three days later, his “ceremonies” complete, he was back on the plane to the Modernist city he'd come from. He's not exactly typical, I guess. And maybe he was enlightened by the time he left. There would be greater miracles. Now, one could say I might wish that particular fellow harm but it doesn't extend to the average ayahuasca-drinking suburbanite from the West. Most appear to be mindless conformity hippies who have lost the train that would otherwise have pulled them willy-nilly through a life of moderate misery to less than horrible conclusion were it not for the near collapse of value in our shared Modern existence today. The Straight and Narrow today is a swamp and one should be at least not bitter that so many fall into it because that swamp is the norm that so much of Modern life requires the unthinking to follow to be acceptable to others. For those who have everything, everything isn't close to good enough. There has to be more, because they're special. They deserver more, and better still, because they have huge piles of cash to pay for it, or the facsimile thereof, in this case, jungle drugs that make them wholly really sick. I calls it drug abuse, but I'm not a priest and I'm not a policeman, and I'm not even your normal guy at all who would care about drinking moonshine in the hills with the two sisters I met one time and we can skip that part now that I think about it. Drug abuse? It's not my problem. I don't wish anyone ill for abusing drugs. And so, let us begin with some clear good advice to anyone considering using or abusing ayahuasca. The stuff can be dangerous.

The best advice for the ayahuasca-drinking Modernist that I have seen, other than my own advice of staying home, marrying the girl next door, having kids, and living a private life, comes from Andy Metcalfe writing in the Iquitos Times, the local expat paper published by Mike Collis. You drink the stuff, you get sick like big-time. Here it is:

Stick to the ayahuasca diet for at least 24 hours before and ideally 2 to 3 days after drinking it. Do not use salt, sugar, spicy foods, dairy products, fermented foods, red meat or pork, and do not drink alcohol. Do not mix ayahuasca with other drugs, such as antibiotocs. And if you have high blood pressure, heart problems, or diabetes, or signs of mental illness such as schizophrenia or depression, do not take ayahuasca. Yes, you might be Gandalf's evil twin, but let someone else have the pleasure of killing you. That latter part is, by the way, my addition to Andy Metcalfe, “A Backpacker's Guide to Drinking Ayahuasca in Iquiotos,” Iquitos Times, Nov. 2012; p. 16. But he probably doesn't want you to die either.

One can buy a one litre Coke bottle of sludge, i.e. ayahausca and its psychotropic agent DMT, for five bucks at Belen Market in central Iquitos, and one could probably find a paper bag and an alley to sit in and drink with bums by the dumpster, but the usual practice is to check in with the local shamans for a guided session, or as local parlance has it, a “ceremony” to ensure that if it gets too rough the shaman will be there to keep one from the worst. They call it a ceremony, which to my mind suggests being married or buried, not being crazy writhing on the floor on jungle drugs the locals won't go near while spoiled Westerners puke on my shoes and wail about their snakes and weep about being lonely. Nevertheless, the drug is powerful and has its impact that exceeds the norms of Oprah-vision. It might appeal to spoiled atomistic nihilists, but the problems one can encounter under the influence of the drug should cause all the least serious to think about taking it under experienced supervision. I hate that! The idea of some befeathered clown from California shaking a baby rattle at me and singing la la while people have vomit attacks and uncontrollably shit themselves is repulsive and makes me want to be alone even if I simply see such people in the park. Still, prudence has its place. One goes to see a shaman for this ayausca business.

Or, in this case, one goes first to see a movie playing at a hole-in-the-wall vegetarian cafe to get a sense of what others want and expect from ayahuasca-drinking. A friend invited me to a screening of a movie about ayahuasca, said I had to see it, and she was right. I would not have believed an oral or written account. Uh oh. But, really, I'm going to relate it as I saw it. That's the truth. I actually sat through about five minutes of Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within. I couldn't make up the rest even on LSD. It was the weirdest five minutes in recent memory, and the movie was about as bad as I expected.

Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within. (USA) Dirs. Rod Mann et al. 2007

The film examines the re-emergence of archaic techniques of ecstasy in the modern world by weaving a synthesis of ecological and evolutionary awareness,electronic dance culture, and the current pharmacological re-evaluation of entheogenic compounds. Within a narrative framework that imagines consciousness itself to be evolving, Entheogen documents the emergence of techno-shamanism in the post-modern world that frames the following questions: How can a renewal of ancient initiatory rites of passage alleviate our ecological crisis? What do trance dancing and festivals celebrating unbridled artistic expression speak to in our collective psyche? How do we re-invent ourselves in a disenchanted world from which God has long ago withdrawn? Entheogen invites the viewer to consider that the answers to these questions lie within the consciousness of each and every human being, and are accessible if only we give ourselves permission to awaken to the divine within.

Written by Anonymous

There is no God. There is only Satan; and one of his devils wrote the blurb above. When ayahuasca-users babble about demons attacking them, the writer above is who they mean, I'm sure. But it gets even worse when one tries to watch the "documentary" in question. The jungle medicine needed here for healing is not ayahuasca, it is aspirin. Tylenol ll. Extra-strength. My aching head.

And then there is Steve Beyer, writer at “Signing to the Plants.”

Since at least the 1970s, a tenacious meme has circulated among a generally progressive youthful demographic, some of whom have now carried that meme with them into their elderhood. The meme states that there is a connection between our ecological crisis and our loss of earth-connected spirituality — a connection to both earth and spirit that we once possessed but have now lost, and which is still preserved for us by some indigenous peoples. Still, the meme says, there is hope. A spiritual awakening is coming, associated with the Age of Aquarius, or the fifth pachakuti, or the culmination of the Mayan calendar in the year 2012.

This shift is away from ego, self-importance, greed, racism, capitalism, consumerism, and left-brain linearity, and toward a recovery of our primal connectedness with nature. The signs of this shift are everywhere — in the rise of neoshamanism, technoshamanism, rave culture, and in the recovery of archaic techniques of ecstasy. Psychoactive substances, both natural and artificial, are an inherent part of this shift. Such entheogens — the term is taken to mean something like awakening the divine within — were the basis of a primal universal human spirituality and, indeed, may have been the basis of the very process of our becoming human. Today, entheogens not only reconnect us with our past but point us toward the future, where we will all be shamans — interconnected, peaceful, creative, and deeply in touch with spirit and the earth.

Or maybe there is a God and He gives some people good minds with which to make their own choices by their own will that they then put toward efforts not so much worthy of their gifts, God standing back with his own bottle of aspirins. I won't pretend to know that part.

I don't have to pretend to know about the film itself, though I confess I suffered through very little of it before excusing myself for having knocked over the table of coffee-- no, herbal tea-- cups on my way to the back of the Circulo Cromatico Cafe where I found Layna, the mapacho-puffing manager looking old and tired out at mid-30, the life of a Jewish hippie in the Amazon having taken a physical toll one need here not wonder at. She smoked, I choked, we had a nice time sort of chatting. The video flickering on the front wall of the cafe on the wooden window shutters kept on flicking. But it has all started out so well....

We entered late to the viewing, finding the cafe to be filled but most tables vacant, a large knot of rat-do, barefootin' American girls in billowing India cotton floor length skirts of too many colours squatting on the cement floor idly scratching themselves more likely out of boredom than bugs given that they hardly spoke to each other, doing the junkie nod while never actually falling asleep or falling over. Once in a while one would slowly reach out and grab cup and sip and slowly place the cup back on the table top above her, careful to ensure the tea didn't fall back down on her. Then back to ommm-ing back to the groove as she and her friends stared into space and had a really special time. Or maybe they were dead tired teenagers back to the city and in need of a shower and a good night's sleep after a few nights in the jungle communing with the Anaconda Spirits, or more likely something less phallicy. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the video was going full-on heavy, a massive visual artillery barrage of images culled from old National Geographic documentaries, jerky, emaciated old Hindu men in high-paint with needles stuck in 'em every-visible-where; naked Negro ladies lined up and dancing in some savanna village where likely they had no idea that well-dressed suburbanite ladies would ooh and ahh their fashion sense 40 years later and go off to have sex with their grandchildren for two weeks during that much needed separate get-away from the husband and kids at home vacation, as if anyone really would notice mom's gone; and thundering jump-cuts of the obligatory all men are loathesome but white guys are evil especially when they are dressed in military uniforms and are marching in formation toward the camera, all the troops wearing gasmasks so you don't know if they are black, white, or women anyway. But they are scary. That's what counts. Faceless killing-machine men who are never in touch with their feminine sides. Their chakrahs are clamped as tight as their butts. Besides, guys like that only want one thing, which is to tie you up and murder you with power tools from the back of the pick-up truck. Or sex. Same dif. As if boys wanted to have sex anyway, not that one would let them, but the boys are always playing video games or shooting hoops and don't even notice when one dresses like a hooker in August on the boardwalk. But we were in the vegetarian cafe watching visual cliches, I know, on the shutters. And OK even if we admit that the rugby scrum of MTV clip images are overdone for the point of no point we need something to break up the monotony of talking head metrosexual guys in their sixties talking about the sixties and how cool it was to be enlightened by LSD and to know stuff, man. But now, having gotten the Ph.D and tenure and a foundation grant or so to do some really cool research into psychoactive drugs with exotic names that don't sound so sixties, the metrosexuals are a tad boring to just listen to so one needs a background of trance Musak for kids to help along the staccato cutting of newsreel footage from the fifties in Borneo and army training videos from Poland in the mud. But that's cool. I am a hep cat. I still like the night life of getting down and boogee-ing. (Where was I?)

The video. Yes, all that “ego, self-importance, greed, racism, capitalism, consumerism, and left-brain linearity.” The bus driver was doing that in Bolivia for a while till he got enlightened and ommm-ed everyone off the Death Road by being stupid and they all died. They are all in heaven now. No capitalism there. Great place, I hear. Everyone is equal. They are all dead, though. So, it's a bit hard to say how good that is, really. But what do I know? Not much, given that I am an old guy who thinks too much. Being a fascist, of course, means I only think about racist stuff. Yes, and my only sex phantasies anymore are of raping Mother Nature. I'm proud to say I took all this like a man, not showing any signs of weakness, even when I was bombed by ugly paintings by the failed medical illustrator Alex Grey, Dr. Feelgood of the ayahuasca art scene, a book of whose art showed up one evening at my bedside delivered breathlessly by a young American lad veering seriously into mental illness, exacerbated by cocaine binges with teenage hooker duos whom he allowed to reduce his limited financial reserves to the point he sold his clothing on the Malecon to passers-by for food and a bare floor to sleep on with bugs for company in the night. “He gets right to the heart of the ayahuasca visions, and it's all here in his art,” the young man said, as if I were too blinded by years of looking at the world to see anything else but the plain facts of an aged existence in a material realm. Kind of teenage stuck-in-the-sixties pop art? Shows what I know. The documentary flashing MTV style images a million a minute included much of Grey's work, and broke up or broke into the New Age talkers about the glories of ayahuasca visions, the enlightenment awaiting the spiritual seeker willing to embrace the inner realities beyond the racist, sexist, homophobic white room of Modernity with it's false consciousness of capitalism, individuality, and reason, rationality, and logic. If only I would put myself in the care of a shaman who can guide my lost soul to the higher realities of post-modern enlightenment, then I might be less a curmudgeon and more a cool guy for kids to hang out with. If only I had watched the video with less knowledge of its actual meaning and with more sensitivity toward its deeper message, then I might have been a better man, or at least less obnoxious about not liking it all. But, damn, I spent too many years at the library indulging in left-brain linearity, and now I am totally screwed.

Godwin's Law states that in an acrimonious Web debate it takes a couple of turns before one or both involved will hurl the Nazi accusation. I try to be careful about accusing others of being Nazis, and I try to point out, as a matter of some import, that Nazis weren't what most people assume them to be, i.e the most deliberately evil people of the 20th C. Far from striving toward the perfect evil of the time, the Nazis attempted to be the best of all people of all time, and in their own minds, at least the committed, of whom one can see there were many, they believed they were doing the world the greatest favour, even at their own expence. That's not just my left-brain right wing-brainery, it's common sense and verifiable in the texts available to those who go to the library and delve into the madness of Nazi Gnostic seeking of the enlightenment of the ubermenschen and the avatar of Germanness. In short, the Nazis were convinced they were onto something special, so good and moral and right that they had to kill off all the evil around them to make a better world for themselves and those who remained living. It's impossible to argue against them because they are right that to succeed in creating a perfect world for perfect people is a perfect goal. The problem of “if” is where many of us stumble; and it is where many of us today stumble with the New Age gurus of ayahuasca neo-shamanism emanating from the bowels of Modernity. So, if I write that the video I walked out on, Entheogen: Awakening the Divine Within, is a na├»ve remake of Leni  Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (Germany,1934) I do so with some awareness of the problem of Godwin's Law and also with some practical awareness of the reaction of such a claim from those who are impatient to provoke a fist fight with me because of my seeming idiot effrontery.

In Iquitos a shaman (pronounced shay-MAhN) is sometimes called by the Spanish term curandero, medicine man, or healer. For the locals since forever, ayausca has been about purging intestinal parasites and other evil influences, such as curses. It's the local medicine. Those today from the West take the “medicine” line as far as they dare by calling themselves somehow sick and in need, as one hears to the point of existential nausea, of “healing.” I will let that go, refusing to allow my inner karma to be bummed out further by such wanker bog, rising up to my spiritual potential in doing so. But still, I just about hate this. That's me, and we are here to look at shamans, to find out what they say, what they do, and what they think of it all. The point here is to watch, listen to, talk to, and think about shamans inIquitos as they work in the ayahuasca business, regardless of any moral dimension it might have to the Modernist skeptic and humanist. Having some background concerning why some Modernists would seek out such a local remedy for parasite in an attempt to gain what one might call authenticity in the world is necessary for a truly enlightened vision of anything that comes later, I think. Idiocy and deliberate ignorance when actual understanding is possible seems to me to be a crime against the mind and life itself. If we can know the truth, and we can know the truth indeed, then let's find out the truth, regardless of what the truth tells us.

Nazi sought the Truth. They believed they found it and that the truth is that Germans are the master race, destined to rule the world and its people by virtue of racial superiority and inherent moral greatness. The matter of proof? Let us first dismiss that left-brain linearity that demands a logical and coherent answer. One can hardly do better in explaining this than to rely on Steve Meyer, who puts it all plainly, though probably naively, in terms of post-Nazi mysticism.

Briefly, and essential to our understanding of post-modernist longing for enlightenment via ayahuasca-drinking and other avenues to New Age awareness of the authentic, the Industrial Age began in 1760. This is the time of the rise of the Age of Machines. From then on, man was secondary in the world of production, his labour being supplementary to machines that made what he had previously made himself with his own hands and his tools. This is the beginning of the alienation that drives so many fabulously rich people into the lush jungles of the Amazon looking for relief from lives of honest misery amidst genuine abundance. It was the Age of Machines that drove the Nazis into the horror of their own dark night of the soul. It was the Age of Machines that makes men today the post-Nazi spirituality tourists so many are. It's not even strange. If not inevitable, it is perfectly understandable. The local shaman in the village in the jungle has no sense of this, nor need to sense any of this; but for the tourist from Modernity who knows not and cares not, all ignorance hereafter is vanity, i.e a bad thing.

At the dawn of the Age of Machines a German philosopher, J. von Herder thought long and hard about the uniqueness of peoples isolated from each other in specific geographical settings, of how such isolation creates people different one from another. Those people are deeply “in touch” with Nature, with their environments, with each other and the Earth. [C.f. D.W. Walker, A Genealogy of Left Dhimmi Fascism, Vol.s 1-5. (2012- ). The machine and mechanical production removes man from the act of creation of his life as person and makes him an appendage to the machine itself, the machine connected to a system of machines, man being merely a small and replaceable part thereof, himself a machine, a number, a thing of labour value. Man is not the authentic man he was but is therefrom a small cog in a great machine about nothing much at all but stuff made for no greater purpose than the sake of someone else's greedy, selfish, individualistic profit. It's all mechanical, like thinking logically, planning, sorting out, counting, and conforming to a mechanism one cannot be an organic part of and would not wish to be. Man, removed from nature and sent to work in a plant in a city is cut off from his real self as unique thing in a unique place, i.e. he is not natural but alienated. “Get back to Nature.”

“[T]here is a connection between our ecological crisis and our loss of earth-connected spirituality....”

Our “ecological crisis” has little to nothing to do with the birds and the bees and the trees. It has much to do with a crisis of faith. Who are we and what is our authentic being if we are just stuff in a machine world of meaningless production of other stuff? What is the meaning of life?

Prior to the Age of the Machine when man lived on a piece of land and among his family, relatives, neighbours, and fellows, regardless of how well he lived materially, he was an organic and inherent and undeniable part of something unique and probably valuable. For some German philosophers such as Herder, Fichte, Schelling, et al, the uniqueness of Germanness was both profound and ultimately good. Germanness was what the individual was in his lifetime, a passing thing connected to the dead and to those Germans yet to be. That Germanness came to one as a birth-right, given to one as a German from a history of blood and soil in the soul. To find oneself in a city of alien men who controlled machines for the sake of making stuff for the sake of making money, and profit at that; to find oneself in ones own unique place suddenly cut off from that uniqueness and to be just another thing among foreign things, i.e. Jews and Poles and rich peasants from America, was to be alienated. Not to recognise the “Land” was to have no identity as a German, and thus to have no identity but ones lonely self. The indigenous German was simply another alien worker in a strange place he could not call home.

“[There was a] connection to both earth and spirit that we once possessed but have now lost, and which is still preserved for us by some indigenous peoples.”

There are those who can write clearly and coherently about a unity of man and nature, and some Germans did so with facility and greatness. They did so with such success that there are those today who unknowingly and unthinkingly and uncritically assume such ideas are their own and right.

One cannot be no one and one cannot be noting, but one can very easily be false. For those seeking reality, authenticity, and Truth; for those who believe they were all good things in their sphere at one time and no are lost; for those who feel cheated; there is the Will to Power to restore the perfect utopia of Right. Or “a recovery of our primal connectedness with nature.” And, yes, “[T]here is hope. A spiritual awakening is coming....”

I won't argue that all New Age spirituality-tourists are Nazis, nor even that any are legitimately such. One can argue rightly that the Nazis were such spirituality-tourists. The Nazis, committed ecologists, hold in their early ranks one Ernst Haekel, creator of the pseudo-religion of oekology itself. It is a struggle for authenticity in an alienated environment.

“This shift is away from ego, self-importance, greed, racism, capitalism, consumerism, and left-brain linearity....”

The longing for a return to the Golden Age of German uniqueness in the Age of the Machine is utopian, of course, but more: It is a return to and a severance from Germanness as it had been for centuries, a tradition of order and religion and culture and society in favour of a gnostic egoism of the will triumphant in spite of all humanness otherwise. But individual will as embodied in the avatar of Germanness, in this case, Hitler, is not a return to a past, it is a creation in the mind of a no place, i.e. a u-topia. It is the ultimate ego-trip of the man who abandons all other thinkers over history as worthless idiots who brought about ruin and who must be abandoned, the books burnt, the cities razed, and the people purified of sin by the new priesthood of spiritually pure and right-minded, enlightened intuitives who know, who are literally “gnostic” about the agathon, the ultimate good. Forgive this cowboy for being wary of such people.
And so it is that as I sat in disgust among smelly airhead girls squatting on the dirty concrete floor of a hole-in-the-wall cafe on a dark street in Iquitos, Peru one evening and watched a rehash of Triumph of the Will, I walked, knowing something more than nothing about the way of the world and its history. It's an easy matter for even the laziest intellectual to find out in detail about the Nazi ecology movement and its outgrowth today across Modernity, and to know much about Nazi mysticism and its pinnacle in the Annenarbe and the SS. That is no mystery to me, nor is the life of an acid-dropping teenager. Who knows what could happen? Maybe “we will all be shamans — interconnected, peaceful, creative, and deeply in touch with spirit and the earth.” Or, if one uses ayahuasca and other such means to epiphany, and if one knows not of the roots of ones search, then the best one can claim is a triumph of the will, an “own goal” for ego and a loss for religio.

I'll leave at that for here and turn next, now that we have established at least my grasp of the matrix of ayahuasca tourism to actual shamans themselves.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:

And here are some reviews and comments on said book:

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