Saturday, January 05, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part 12/1)

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part 12)

Interviews with Shamans, Part 4.1

A tall and way too skinny Italian lad showed up at my place, hastily and pointlessly parked his backpack in the way of general traffic, and disappeared to the bathroom for too long; in all pretty much leaving a bad first impression on me as I looked over his collection of hardcover books that had fallen from his pack when he dumped everything on my floor and zipped off to the can. I stepped over a large volume of the wit and wisdom of some generic Hindu yogi, a couple of self-help paperbacks by a popular writer these days, and then I didn't bother to look further at his hardcover book on ayahuasca, it being as well in Italian. The things one travels with. A drug tourist in search of a clean bathroom to mess up and leave to others. I paid no attention to him and he soon enough packed up and left for some place in the jungle to take drugs and hallucinate and find himself and himself as special, a newly minted demigod if only the philistine likes of me could grasp his essential beauty. I thought he was a goof. Now? Well, now I don't know what to think about the lad. He came back a changed fellow.

I've been looking into ayahuasca for months now and I've read and heard and seen some of the outright stupidest crap in my life since I sat stoned in a friend's parent's basement listening to Jimmy Hendrick's playing on the stereo as we all were out of our heads on LSD back then in the late sixties as teenagers. How, I have often wondered, do such people as the imbecilic creatures I sometimes meet find the means to fly to Peru to stay at fancy places paying so much money to take ayahuasca? Life is filled with mysteries. And why, I wonder, do such people spend their money on drugs in the Amazon when if they cared to they could find better drugs at home for nothing like the price they pay in Peru. What is it that draws people to the jungle to take ayahuasca? Is it the semi-legitimacy of drug-taking as a “ceremony” of innocence? Is it the exotica of doing something at home seen as, at least by a fair number of middle class people, basically a dirty and foolish and illegal activity? Or is it simple anomie, the lack of a soul in the Modern world so many cannot cope with emotionally, masochists now lacking the masters of past sadistic life in brutal security under the savage command of privilege and entitlement and raw physical power in a quasi-military social structure? Kick me, kick you, kick him in a round of sensibleness that hurts and shames but is solid and unchangeable and ordained by Power. Cut loose to float freely in the alien oceanic, what is there for the not very bright but determined empty vessel to do to find a mooring in a world otherwise tossed? Like kids on the beer-stinking couch in the basement of a teenager's indulgent parents, adults sit in befuddlement and spout stuff about, and it seems to make sense of a senselessness unexamined in detail. I read, I hear., I see. Slowly, slowly, come to know a bit about.

I know a bit about stuff, and some about ayahuasca. I have yet to meet anyone till now who knows as much as I. Just bad luck. But bad luck is usually the result of not trying hard enough to improve a situation; and so I made my way a few whole blocks to talk to a woman who should know about ayahuasca and its servants of the plane I know and the planes I don't. I went to talk to the head lady of all shamans in Iquitos. It's not just bad luck that I haven't previously met an informed and articulate ayahuasca professional; it's a matter of continued effort. Kick me-- break your legs. The free man is not one who can do as he likes: he is the man who knows that he can think it through and find a better answer till at some point he has as good an answer as one can hope for. It can mean breaking a cycle of ignorance and power by breaking the rules and breaking a man's legs if needs be. Or it can be simply breaking down the barriers of obscurity and idiocy till one finds enough small lights of accumulated knowledge that give one epiphany. Talk, move on, listen, break a tyrant's leg, move on, keep asking. Luck changes.

Comes information. Comes knowledge. Comes understanding when one kicks down doors and breaks legs and listens to quiet sense where once was reckless babble.

Hello, you. Tell me about stuff.

As luck has it, I met someone who knows more about ayahuasca than I know. I met at last a true expert who lives the life of plants and knows what it's about in terms I can understand. I met an intelligent and articulate shaman. My devious plan had been to take an hours long ride by mototaxi, a three wheel contraption of half a motorcycle pulling a covered two wheeled passenger carriage on the back so I could find myself in the middle of nowhere outside of Iquitos from where I would then start a long hike through the flood swollen jungle of high grass and deep mud and millions of mosquitoes till I came to a resort where I might encounter an American shaman who carries a revolver, lives surrounded by pit bulls with genuine teeth, (unlike the beast that tried to eat my foot a few months ago,) and who, when he isn't using an industrial wood chipper to grind ayahuasca to sell overseas, illegally, of course, would probably hate me if he knew what I think of him raising fighting chickens and living like a Medieval baron in the midst of rich and fawning tourists corrupting the local culture with his rip-off of Amazonian people's ethos about hallucinogenic drugs. He's in it for the money, definitely, and probably for any number of creepy things I can't begin to assess till I meet him in his cocoon of Modernist living in the Peruvian jungle. As luck would have it, I didn't meet anyone like that at all. I didn't even leave town. In fact, I walked across the street from the Plaza de Armas and found myself jostled by a crowd of locals assembling for a concert at the intersection, a bandstand covered against the incipient rain storm in yards of black plastic tarps flapping in the gentle breeze, piles of boxy black acoustic wares piled high on the platform tangles like snake balls and hanging from metal branches overhead, intense musicians tuning electric guitars, and a man pounding a drum set in a frenzy till my head was bursting, a smple cacaphony of warm up for the real thing. I was at the commercial centre of Iquitos on a very busy late afternoon during a celebration of an anniversary of colonialism and exploitation of native people and the destruction of native culture. Folks around me were loving it, and I forgot about the evils of Modernity so fast I now wonder if they even crossed my mind as I searched for the address of my contact, the shaman who would tell me stuff about shamans generally and about ayahuasca. Being a hard-driving intellectual, I stopped at the corner for an ice cream cone so I could think deep thoughts about important things. I wondered why is it that if chocolate is the favourite flavour, then why the girl tells me nearly every time there isn't any chocolate left because so many people like it that she always runs out and I have to settle for strawberry rather than she gets a lot of chocolate so people can always get what they want? I wanted to be thinking about tough guy shamans, but I was on my way this time to meet a lady, the generic female shaman on my list. As luck would have it, I didn't get what I was hoping for. I got strawberry ice cream. Sometimes I am sure the gods love me. It was good.

I was standing then, at past 4:00 on the sidewalk among a thousand or more revellers happy to celebrate their horrid history and this day in the warm that melted my ice cream so fast that I got long streaks of sticky pink on my shin bones as the ice cream dripped down on me unknowing, and I was pissed off that my appointment had bombed, there being no answer at the upstairs metal door I had been rapping on with a large coin till I was ready to rip the chain off and take down the gringo alcoholic recently around who is going to get a major wail-on if he antagonises me again. I'd been back to the IPeru office to get a call in to the lady I was supposed to meet; and sure enough she said to come up and see her. But I did that, pounded on the door till I was nearly deaf and my fingertips hurt from the rapping and I couldn't evern hear the drummer outside any longer. Still no response from the open stairway above where the lady was. And there was me at half four fuming, my ice cream melting, and I saw the bum, the histrionic gringo drunk, abusive with the embarrassed locals, the police gently moving him on by standing by him and slowly moving him out of the crowd without ever looking at him or touching him. I'm not that kind. I got the security guard at the office building I was trying to gain entry to to accompany me upstairs and had him pound the lady' door; and miracle of miracles, she appeared. Not what I expected of a lady shaman: She didn't look like a shaman much at all, nor even like much of a lady. I wasn't happy; but still, being an easy-going-laid-back-West-Coast-kind-of-guy I didn't remark on her taking out three keys and taking four attempts to unlock the chain around the grate, and then five attempts to unlock the metal cage door that swung out and made me step down into the dark stairwell as she sullenly looked me over and seemed not too impressed with the old guy who hasn't had a haircut recently in a few years, a guy she didn't know about, and who didn't seem that friendly. I went up the stairs to her office as she slowly made her way across the room to a desk and chairs where we sat to chat, me with her, about shamans and ayahuasca, leaving her place five hours later in serious need of a toilet to take the piss of my life.

Was a time when I would meet my uptown friends on Sunday mid-day to have brunch and chat at an upscale diner filled with folk who took out a few hours from work at the home/office where they caught up on whatever it is that pays for the twin Porsches they take out of the double garage daily and park on the driveway while they drive the Toyota to work in the city, returning to the house late in the evening to repark the Porshes covered, the the maid-boinking delivery men and the gardeners and low level job folks rather than career types having had a chance to ooh and ahh the lives of the rich during the working class day. Frequently would be a middle aged bone-rack woman standing with bangles on her saggy skinned wrinkled wrist waving and jerking like she had St. Vitus' dance, she proclaiming to her fat, bald, middle aged and infatuated boyfriend that it is so terrible what America does to the poor people of the world, and imagine how they must feel when they look up at the sky to see bombs falling down to kill everyone and destroy the pretty little grass hut village they live in so peacefully. The horror of anticipating death as they watched helplessly the bombs coming from big shiny steel American planes to kill them and their children. “The horror!” she would cry, and then start crying.

I was riding my bike once through a canyon in the far north of Scotland on some barren and nearly deserted island, me the only person around for a hundred miles, the whole place to myself on a rare sunny day, and me singing at the top of my lungs, exultant in my freedom, fair howling the words of my favourite song:

Hey, hey, I am a Monkey
I'm just fooling around
I'm too busy singing
To put anybody down.

Hey, hey, I am a Monkey
I am the new generation
And I got something to say.

I was going to go back into that dark place of my mind where I settle and brood over just what the hell is it that I have something to say about, but as I was singing I saw a tiny speck in the sky above and far beyond me, a bird, a plane...

I was rocked on the road to the point I thought I'd crash in the rubble of stones shaken loose by the training fighter jet that had just passed and brought with it a sonic boom that causes houses in the Hebrides to crash down and kill their residents. Watch the bombs falling? One really must not know a lot to not know about the life of people in a village in the world as it is in Peru, for example. Crying publicly for all to see at an upscale diner during a break from amassing yet a larger fortune is some kind of creepy ignorance of reality and emotion that only the filthy wealthy and coldly aggressive can indulge in. To a degree, sometimes greater, such is the kind of person I meet when I meet those who come to Iquitos to take ayahuasca with the local shaman. What do I know? I'm a monkey. I'm too busy singing to put anybody down.

A chain to keep out the unwanted

I took a seat in the lady shaman's office and made myself sort of comfortable when I removed the stuffed animals and assorted stuff piled up on my chair. Made a clear space on the corner of her desk and laid out my notebook and pens and asked if she minded if I took notes while we talked. I don't have any notes regarding what she said because unless people are telling me something important I would rather respect their privacy. I asked what her name is, though I am a clever guy and I knew already! Her name is Rossana, the spelling of which I got from my secret source of good information about the city and things related, Edwin at IPeru. She said her name is Rossana, which I took to be a good sign, that she wasn't lying to me right off. I asked her if she is the head of the association of shamans in and around Iquitos, the go-to person for information about shamans, the person who mediates disputes between rivals, who is the liaison between government and corporations and shamans in this part of the Amazon. I knew all this to be true because I am very clever and I listened when Edwin Villacorta, the local supervisor at Iperu, told me. The bulky lady in the sort of whitish track pants sitting across from me said yes, she is the one the elders of villages in the area have picked to represent them to various officials and to take care of internal affairs among the people and the shamans. Pen in one hand, choking a stuffed and fuzzy yellow teddy bear with the other in my high excitement at the trick question I had ready, I asked her why the village elders and mass of shamans had picked her. She said she was nominated by the group of shamans who meet once every year of so to find a person to help them deal with the Modern world, and they chose her, and keep choosing her (for ten years now) because she speaks English and gets along well with people. Ah ha! I thought. So that's what's behind all this shamanism and jungle drug-taking among tourist philistines who don't know what their miserable lives are about. But that thought is too deep for the world as it is, and I left it there to die a lonely death unloved. I hurled another zinger at her: “Do they elect you?” She said yes, though she often shows up late at the meetings and is already elected by the time she comes around and doesn't actually do much to get elected. Her community work seems to be sufficient for that. I looked around for a revolver, for some vicious pit bulls, for the torn and bloody remains of fighting chickens. Not nothing to see. No signs of heaps of hidden cash or an industrial wood chipper to make ayahuasca for the international underground drug market. She had a jungleful of stuffed animals laying around the room. The wild man violence of doing battle with the forces of cosmic evil on the astral plane, not so much of it in view. I found myself speaking to a middle aged fat lady in a tight sweat pants seated among kids' toys. Not so scary. I kind of liked her; and as I looked at her I saw she's a pretty girl indeed. We started chatting. That went on for five hours.

Far from the vision some have of Noble Savages in Iquitos and the Amazon jungle, happy-go-lucky people living a kind of Disneyland dream life of easy fruit-picking and lazy fishing in the sun and non-committed sex all the time until greed-crazed imperialists came to destroy everything good and sacred, Rossana told me that life for the jungle people, of whom she is one to a fair extent, was, and to a degree still is, a hard life of war and violence and hatreds. Ever it has been so among the 64 ethnic groups in the area, they speaking 70 dialects, they being jealous of others' successes, fearful of the resentments of those who would destroy their small victories. And there is the war that comes with raping children and murdering those men and women strong enough to resist. Life with sticks and stones is more brutal indeed than the imaginary life of American bombers dropping death from the sky on the innocents of the world. No war for Rossana. Rossana isn't a tough-guy battling demons in the aether. She's got some demons to fight, but that's not the story she was willing to tell me. Rather, she spoke for hours about shamanism and ayahuasca in and around Iquitos. No shapakas, no shrunken heads, no mood music icaros playing on the stereo system, no incense burning in an oily ashtray, no misty sentimentality about jungle life. As luck would have it, a pretty lady at a wooden table in a room full of office writing boards and water-based pens used to write about administrative things of use to village elders and feuding shamans and skeptical and cynical government lawyers from the Andes and corporate oil company or mining interest p.r. flacks from Modernity explained things to me. I got lucky. I sat in a classroom and learned a bit about. No guns, no dogs, no dead chickens or bullshit. She told me about stuff.

Sometimes I want to gag and sometimes I want to punch people when I hear such as “I have this friend, a really great shaman who helped me heal and ya ya.”

Rossana's mother was a shaman, as were her mother's grandparents. Rossana's daughter is a shaman. Rossana herself is a shaman, but it wasn't supposed to be that way. Rossana was deliberately left out of the shaman succession. As a woman it would be hard enough, especially until recently, to become shaman, but back then in Rossana's youth very difficult in the macho male world of shamanism. And worse, the world of the village and the shaman world in the village is not the happy idiot place so many sentimentalists from Modernity would like to pretend it is. It's often violent and deadly; and then there is the spirit world to cope with. But first, one has to live to live in the world, and Rossan nearly didn't make it at all, coming to the earth too soon, saved to live because her mother knew about plants. But Rossana's life was not to be that of a shaman. Her mother refused to teach her. Rossana was lucky, and she became a shaman anyway. One could call that determination. Now she is the representative of all shamans organised in the area. Her daughter, raised from birth to be a shaman, is a medical student in Germany, the girl wanting to be expert in both ways of healing.

Rossana knows both sides of the medical world, if not as a Western educated doctor, then as a German doctor's wife and as a shaman, she moving freely across the frontiers and arbitrating disputes as well as one can in such polar areas as that of full-blown Cartesian science in the 21st Century and the world of jungle plants that have spirits that can both heal and kill. She knows, too, the men involved in such cosmic battles in and around Iquitos. When a European tourist is wandering naked down the road in the middle of the night high on ayahuasca, the police bring her to Rossana who deals with that and the shaman who let it happen. When one shaman follows an ayahuasca taker to the next shaman and uses the tourist as a conduit to attack a shamanic rival, Rossana is there as well to prevent further conflict by talking. And when French biologists come in search of plant medicine and find that the shaman they want to speak to is deaf, Rossana is there to tell the shaman that a blue-eyed girl is not exactly evil and won't cast spells on him, even if he can't stand the sight of her eyes. Rossana knows stuff. She learned from living in the shamanic world of her mother, and she learns still from paddling a canoe to villages isolated by the seasonal floods to speak with people who would otherwise not speak were she not so trusted. Because in spite of the instant friendships Europeans develop with the locals, in spite of the embraces on the sidewalks and the cheek kissing and the handshaking and gushing professions of love and eternal care, the village life is one closed tight, against outsiders of all sorts, and even against ones own family if one senses rivalry and potential ill will. Suspicion and even outright paranoia is the norm in many places ruled by spirits who can and do come unbidden to cause harm. The plants have minds, as it were, and not all of them are kind and compassionate. Some are demonic. Some are murderous. Rossana knows both worlds: of Rationality in which nothing of this sort exists; and she knows the world where a look can mean death by evil eye. Rossana's is likely the last generation of the area where such a life is possible. The end is coming for the shamans in the jungle, they being harvested and “clear-cut” as surely as are the hardwood forests, the shamans being cleared from the selva and transplanted in “lodges” for tourists to adore and take ayahuasca with. I've seen it happen, and I don't need anymore that ayahuasca to make me vomit. Good or bad, the Modernist has come to wipe out the forest magic.

There is a loss of jungle life in that people are suspicious there, locked in a universe unending of devils and harmful magic and powerful enemies. The shaman who feared blue eyes is the man who claimed deafness, caught out when he was found listening to the football game on the radio, his embarrassment due to his lie and too for being found to be so deeply involved in a city person's sport. Plants? Kids don't care about their parents' and grandparents' ways of life. They want football and radios and motorcycles and life in the city. For many that will mean a start in the slum of Belen. There the traces of jungle life linger, but the lure of Modernity is too strong to keep the young in step with the world of plants. The jungle's call falls on the unhearing.

The jungle life rejected by the young is not so pretty as one might come to think if one listens solely to the tourist who loves the wise old shaman who cured him of this and that terrible traumatic wound suffered from since one was too young to recall. The shamanic life is one of competition against other shamans, some of whom might not stop at simply stealing ones power but might if they can cast harmful spells that ruin and kill. Not my lovely shaman, of course, he being wise and kind and loving. But the others? Well....

There are selva communities on the surface one might see that one cannot enter. Likely one would not know. How could one know that some watch the ash of a mapacho cigar and see ones being and accept or reject on the basis of it? Or it might be so simple as the outright rejection of mestizos, let alone the blue-eyed tourist demon. And further, it might mean the general rejection of a family member who does not have a turn in the atavism of shamanic lore. A girl. There is no saying. Into this world of shamans and villagers and warfare in the jungles and in the forest aether one moves in fear and one dies. What life is, good or bad, well or ill, depends on the evils of others and the spirits and the power of the shamans to do battle on ones behalf. It is a world of deep suspicion of others, even ones own. In this world Rossana makes her way to heal, as it were, conflicts between the State and the people, between numerous interests ranging from oil companies to plant demons and men with hatreds deep and dark between. And often enough, no one wants to listen to the old folks talking about plants anyway. Tourists, yes, for an uncomfortable hour, perhaps for a tedious weekend while waiting for ones lift-off dose of ayahuasca, the point of plants for the drug tourist who has that special shaman wrapped around her finger, who has that special shaman in his pocket. Going and going, and the more there is lost the more shamans abound. One has never seen so many shamans as now. All thanks to the sixties. There are shamans like raindrops; shamans everywhere. One might never really know because the selva life is secretive and closed to outsiders. Those who do not know are prone to speak aloud volumes.

Rossana let me into her place and I sat and listened to her talk about shamans and ayahuasca and people she knows and knows about because she knows them. I don't know stuff so I listened and she spoke. Now I still don't know stuff but I know more than I did. I know that one must think about stuff one hears and sees and cannot trust as replicated in this world from our own. I don't know because I don't know. Others don't know because they don't want to learn; and some don't know because the knowledge is guarded and taken to the tomb. But don't fret it about that: there is no shortage of shamans.

One from the selva knows the topos and the avatars of plants. By “knowing” I mean one has a knowledge of the spirit of the plant and is able to enter into the realm as shaman rather than as victim. One with knowledge has power to protect oneself from the spirit of the plants and the power to make the plants work for the entrant being. Woe to the fool who thinks he knows the spirits of plants and does not. So with shamans among shamans. As each place is specific and has its avatars in plants, so too does each village have its garden, as it were, of elders, some grown wise with the age and some simply twisted, hard, and bitter. None of such men are necessarily shamans. Nor is the doctore, the man who knows plant lore but is not a shaman at all. One knows oneself; one knows ones place. The shaman knows his spirits and they live in his selva as spirits of the wood aether. This is not a place for tourists. It's a combat zone.

My plan was to talk to a woman shaman to see for myself what it's like for females in the kick-ass world of macho spirit masters. Hearing Rossana I heard “prudence.” You don't understand what goes on here. No, I didn't know. Now I know a bit more, and next time we'll look a little deeper, learn a little more, and find out we don't really get it no matter how special we are for having seen the snake. That will be next time as Rossana continues to tell about stuff.

Street number


 Rossana's desk.


Friday, January 04, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Just what the "doctore" ordered

The first step in jungle medicine reporting is to lose a shot of a pot of stuff that looks gross. Then you lie about how well the stuff in the pot works on sore and weeping foot wounds. When you've totally wiped out any credibility with the world of normal people and have pissed off a French guy in the hospital you go out and bring the patient an ice cream cone so you don't get tossed out of the small but tight knit expat. community for being a prick. Meanwhile, the doctore cooks a stick of Sangre de Gato on the stove. How it resembles cat's blood is out of my non-professional abilities to decipher. The main thing is that so far the gas cannister hasn't exploded and burnt down the neighbourhood like happened in Belen when three blocks of houses went up in smoke and came down in ashes at Christmas.

To read the rest of this story, please turn to the following link;


Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part 11)

How does one explain to la-la girls from social democratic utopian non-nations where everyone is innocent till they're corrupted by profits and capitalism and Zionism that there are some seriously bad people in the universe who don't need any excuses to do evil. (Not a question; and thus no question mark.) How does one begin to explain to these people the very concept of evil? Well, if one hopes to get laid, one doesn't bother. One might affect a hippie coolness, even going so far as to puke all over said girl while trying to impress her with ones daring and do by taking her out for an ayahuasca “ceremony.” I used to take girls out for a soda, but things have changed. Now it's a rock-bottom cheap room at a dirty hostel, a bottle of rompe caison, (the local jungle version of Viagra, translated as “Panty-Ripper,”) porno video on the ipod, and a night of four hairy legs thrashing under the worn out sheets. OK, I call that fun, but I can be a less than great guy. I can on occasion be a bad guy. I accept evil in the universe as there objectively. I accept evil as real in the eternal world. It's the nature of things, according to me-- except when I want to get laid. As the Marxist says, “Those are my principles, and if you don't like them, well, I have others.”* I could find myself being a shaman in Iquitos, for all I know. Some shamans are interested in and make money at violence. If one comes to look honestly at shamans, this is not at all surprising. They don't have to be nice people. In some cases, if not all, it makes good sense for them to be vicious bastards intent on murder. Yes: shamans are supposed to be worse than the evil spirits they do battle with. They might well be fans of Kurt Vonnegutt's line: “There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organisation. If there are such things as angels, I hope they are organised along the lines of the mafia.” Kurt Vonnegutt, Sirens of Titan. (1959.) It's a bad world out there, and it's even badder in the spirit world. Only the toughest survive. When you're battling daemons for your life, do you really want a sissy doing the heavy lifting for you? Of course not. You want a really nasty prick doing your dirty word.

Upon meeting the shaman one usually encounters a man off the street, and seldom is he or she dressed like a Walmart Indian in a grass skirt, a man who takes you down to his place by the river, his beads and feathers bought at Salvation Army counters. Still, to me a shaman's load of stuff looks like the jungle version of dumpster diving. For example, every shaman has a shakapa. Every shaman sings icaros songs. With this and a bottle of ayahuasca and lots of toilet paper for the puking and shitting to follow, the shaman is more or less in business, wherever that might be, from a flop-house in the city to a luxury resort in the jungle and any place in between, depending on the skill one has at making money. It's not about the money of course, which mostly means its about the money. But the money comes for a reason, that reason being the healing one expects from the shaman who provides one with cool-- or not so cool-- visions of oneself as God.

About the money, as much an epistemological question as a moral one, Fitiou puts part of it thus:

The more secure a shaman feels about their position in the market, the larger amounts they charge, which in turn creates hostility and resentment in local society. Tourists depending on their background and their financial situation will either consider expensive shamans as frauds who exploit indigenous knowledge, or they will consider the price fair for what they are receiving. (Ibid. Fitiou.)

The question is about the authenticity of the shaman, but also about the authenticity of shamanism. what makes one a real, i.e. authentic shaman as opposed to a charlatan? Is it bad to be greedy? Is it bad to be a scumbag? Does one need to dress up like a cartoon shaman? Can one be a decent person and still do battle with killer spirits? Is any of this even worth considering in a Modernist world? When confronted with need, what is right? When one goes to the doctor for healing, what does one expect? A clean white lab coat and a shiny stainless steel stethoscope? Or what?

The shaman's paraphernilia of sticks and leaves and stuff to swallow is prep for the effects of ayahuasca drinking. For the drug tourist none of this is about native culture, but is about visions of oneself, which is why one would pay lots of cash for the experience of being sick and psychotic. How, though, does one know one has met and is “healed” by a genuine shaman and not a rip-off artist? Before we talk to the shaman, let's find out more about what a shaman does and why and who he is as a shaman. Thus, we'll look at shapakas; find out a bit more about icaros; see what the purging is about; and then look at the effects of ayahuasca on the mind, if not the brain. Even though I have never taken ayahuasca, my idle curiousity prompts me to find out the difference between a shaman and a man who has some longings that one might confuse with shamanistic essence. Who's a pro and who's a con? Even those who are pros, as it were, are still playing a game for drug tourists, whether they know this or not; and many have picked up on key words their customers want to hear, an embarrassment when one finds a shaman stumbling badly to say things about yoga, Hinduism, Buddhism, and New Age fucking flaky. It is the nature of things to trade and absorb and pass on to others; and so too do shamans pick up from their customers all kinda stuff and such. They might say they've know this all along and now use more familiar terms for old concepts; but one might wonder. A bit of honesty can shed a great deal of revelatory light. Finally we'll look at why one would need, as it were, a shaman in the first place, assuming one is there for something-- anything-- more than to indulge ones wanker search for ones own perfect self in a bottle. What kind of weltanschauung does one need to be a part of ayahuasca? What do real ayahuasca people think the world is about and what does the ayahuasca-using shaman do for them? Then we can move on from Fitiou's interesting and informative doctoral thesis and go find out about a shaman in person again, this time armed with more information, with a light to shine on the shaman and his craft, so we know the real from the shadow, the light from illusion. First, some background, and interestingly some vivid examples in the moment.

The schacapa

The schacapa is [an] important tool for shamans. It is a rattle that consists of a bundle of leaves from the Pariana spp. palm. It might appear that its sole purpose is to provide a monotonous sound during the ceremony.... It is used to direct energy where needed or to remove negative energy from the patient’s body.
(Ibid. Fitiou.)

A shakapa is a foot long stick with some leaves tied on it. One must indulge in some serious willing suspension of disbelief, to refer to the movies, if one is to see more in it than that. It takes all of a few minutes to make one, and once made, it's a stick with leaves on it. Having said that, it makes a noise that other things don't make. It's as trivial if one wishes it to be so as incense burning in a pot at a church.

In the ayahuasca setting, the shaman rattles his shakapa and sings icaros. This is meant to manipulate the scene and its effects on the shaman and others, people as well as spirits.

The Icaros.

While the shaman sings he or she shakes the schacapa producing a monotonous sound that accompanies the icaros, while when he or she does an individual healing on someone they tap their body with it. The sensation of tapping the schacapa on the crown of the head can be very soothing. When the ceremony is lead by multiple shamans and there are several schacapas used at the same time the effect can also be very impressive. 

The icaro carries the healing intention of shamans and there are icaros for a variety of other purposes. Icaros are also the way that the curandero communicates with the spirits of the plants mentioned in each icaro. This way, the song contains the powers of the healing or curative plants. At the beginning of the ceremony the shaman sings icaros in the individual servings of the brew using the name of the participants for their protection and to solicit a certain outcome. Then he or she invokes the mareación as well as the plant and animal spirits and puts their curative powers inside the patients’ bodies. I was told that during the ceremony, sometimes the patients feel stronger while other times they may initially feel weaker because the power of the spirits combats the spirit of the patient while at the same time strengthening it. Most shamans advised participants to concentrate on the icaros during the ceremony especially if they are having a hard time or are afraid. One shaman said that the icaros are 100 percent healing (100 porciento curativos). A very common phenomenon related to the icaros, is that of synesthesia, where participants say they can literally “see” the music. Every time there is a change in song the visions change. In fact, it is said that a curandero can move or manipulate a person’s visions or state of mind by using different icaros at different times or change the overall energy and feeling of the ceremony. ... What is important here, and causes these dramatic changes are not the words of the icaro, which tend to be repetitive and variations of the same themes, but the intonation in which they are sang. Some icaros might be whistled or whispered especially at the beginning of the ceremony when they want to attract the spirits, while they can become much more intense later in the ceremony. (Ibid. Fitiou p.36.)

The icaros are said to be given to shamans directly from the spirits during their apprenticeship, in ceremony, or when dieting and in the course of their lives they might accumulate more icaros. The way that icaros are learned is directly from the spirits; shamans hear the icaros from the plants and they are told to follow them. They also learn and receive the icaros of their teacher which they learn and follow during their apprenticeship. This is what an ethnographer had to say about the transmission of icaros from the spirits to the shaman: Under ayahuasca influence the shaman perceives from the spirit world incomprehensible, often chaotic, information in the form of luminous designs. He then “domesticates” this information by converting it into various aesthetic notions: geometric patterns, melodies/rhythm and fragrance which play a key psychological and spiritual role for both the patient and society. Only through this mediating step the awesome and incomprehensible become applicable corpues of shamanic cognition suitable for the mundane village. [Luna 1986:62] The fear that others will copy their icaros is very common among curanderos and some will not allow recording of the ceremonies for this reason. ... The more common strategy used to avoid copying of the icaros is using a mix of words from native languages, especially Quechua, or what they call spirit language that is difficult to decipher and copy by other shamans. I was told by a shaman that I should use as many obscure words as possible if I want to be a shaman because it will make my icaros more powerful and more difficult for someone to learn. One shaman used words from Spanish, Quechua, Shipibo, Campa and Urarina in her icaros. [I]t is not enough to learn an icaro and sing it. Each icaro has a particular power or energy and that can only be transmitted by the master shaman to the apprentice by will or by the spirits themselves when they give the icaro to the shaman. Therefore, even though someone can just copy someone’s icaros and sing them in ceremony, these icaros have no power and therefore are not able to heal, protect etc. (Ibid. Fitiou: p. 187.)

Icaros are the vehicle through which the shaman will infuse an object or the brew with a power, whether healing, cleansing or harmful energy and transmit this energy to the patient. … At the end of familiar words each shaman will add a short suffix that usually does not mean anything and sometimes was mentioned as “spirit language”. I was told that the meaning of a word is not as important as the feeling of it. The way the shaman feels at the moment is what determines the words. ...

“The Icaros come from inside the body of the shaman”, one shaman told me showing his belly. He added that he uses some of the Icaros of his teacher but mostly his own. He explained that he took the base (spinal cord as he put it) from his teacher and developed his own ritual. This is very common in shamanism; there is a degree of following tradition and a lot of room for each individual shaman’s creativity. 

[T]here were quite a few similarities between [icaros]. This might be because the vast majority of icaros are for special cases and they rarely get to be used or simply because the claims of knowing a hundred icaros are an exaggeration in the first place. There are icaros that are meant to do a variety of things such as heal, protect and defend against enemies, call the mareación, call the spirits, take the mareación away, remove negative energy, and even win the love of a woman-- this last category are called huarmi icaros

During the ceremony the curandero will blow smoke on the crown of the head, the back and the hands of the participant after they drink the ayahuasca. In some cases they will repeat it during the ceremony when they perform a personal healing on the person. This does not happen in ceremonies with a high number of participants even though a few curanderos feel strongly about this and will perform the individual healings regardless. The curandero during his training and diets acquires spiritual force or medicine as it was called by others, which normally resides in his or her body. During ceremonies he or she can then blow (soplar) this medicine into the patient and change their condition or heal them. Sucking, or chupada, is another element that is important in removing negative energies or disease from the body but it was not used as widely as soplada in the context of tourism. Even though it is a very important part of indigenous Amazonian shamanism, it was used by two of the shamans with whom I worked and I have only observed it three other times in ceremonies around Iquitos. The one time was when the curandero was trying to remove sorcery from a local woman, the second time when the curandero was healing a local woman of what was suspected sorcery and the third time when the curandero treated me and a local friend. On that occasion he sucked from my belly button for a few minutes but without making the dramatic sounds that are often described in ethnographies and I witnessed during the ceremony to counter sorcery. What is sucked out of the body is the physical manifestation of disease or the ill will of a sorcerer. It can take the form of a variety of objects such as twigs, worms, feathers, stones etc.
(Ibid. Fitiou: p. 185-192.)

My parents were those types who forever complained about my behaviour, saying, “Don't do this; don't do that.” No doubt this would have been of benefit to my little brother had they ever seen-- or believed what he said-- I did to him. Often, though, prescriptives are meant to make the person feel better about himself and his group, such as taboos against whatever the case is. Denying oneself something that one enjoys is a matter of self-discipline, and thus is a way of elevating oneself above the low masses: “Don't do this; if not, then those who do are repulsive because they do and we do not.” Often it takes the form of food taboos. The more restrictions one has in ones own life, the more righteous one might feel in the presence of those who indulge. Conversely, it makes some sense not to eat before going for surgery. It makes some sense not to eat some foods before going into a bout of puking and shitting from swallowing an emetic and laxative like ayahuasca. “Don't do that” makes empirical sense sometimes.

Puking and Shitting.

Purification and cleansing are also very instrumental for ayahuasca healing. There are certain dietary restrictions that are meant to keep the body pure before the ceremony. The diet requires refraining from spices, sugar, salt, oils, meat, especially pork, which is to be avoided for 30 days after the last ceremony, stimulants and sex. Pork is to be avoided because of its “dirty energy”, especially its fat. Diet is very important in other shamanic traditions as well. Siikala mentions that Siberian shamans fast, meditate and go into seclusion before ceremonies (1992:213). 

Amazonian shamans also fast during the apprenticeship and practice sexual abstinence. Following a specific diet is very important as in many Amazonian societies illness is considered to be the result of breaking food taboos, of which there are many (Hugh-Jones 1979). The diet includes abstinence from sex for a few days before the ritual and eight days afterwards. The idea behind this is that the plants remain in one’s system for days after the ceremony, so will continue to work and heal or teach the person, provided that they stay pure. ... On the day of the ceremony one is not supposed to eat anything after noon. … One of the prohibitions that is not very popular is the sexual abstinence rule. ... One shaman said that ... the spirit of ayahuasca is very jealous and does not want people to have sex when it resides in their body. In his opinion and from a Western point of view the rationale behind the prohibition is because sex is a very strong, very open, energetic exchange. The energies of the persons interfere with each other and it can “defocus” someone who is dieting and doing spiritual work. [I]f the diet is broken, the healing or spiritual work stops and sometimes even worse things can happen. (Ibid. Fitiou: pp. 192-94.)

Purging during the ceremony is also extremely important. … Vomiting is not the only way to purge; … yawning is also cleansing and that crying is the best form of cleansing because it is also cleansing at the emotional level. Sweating is also cleansing as are other bodily sensations. ... One participant described his purging experience thus: “During the vomiting, I felt like my skin had turned red and bat wings had appeared in my back. When I vomited, I felt like I was cleansing myself and throwing out all the shit I had inside: physical, emotional, psychological. I kind of saw that when I vomited, during the act of vomiting, my skin turned from red to pink and then white, I wanted white, so I wanted to vomit, I didn’t want to be a ‘demon’, I wanted to be an ‘angel’... I could feel the shit been sucked from my toe, coming up and accumulating and then thrown out to the bucket. I wanted to be white, not red”. (Ibid. Fitiou: pp.195-96.)

I wanted to be a fireman.

There are at least two kinds of ayahuasca users: the locals, and the Modernist drug tourists; the former being mostly those who have not made a full and successful transition to the Modern from the jungle, i.e cholos still stuck in the past; the latter being of various sorts, ranging from the merely curious, the tourist who happens upon ayahuasca by chance; the seriously flaky who live in a state of anomie and want to “find themselves,” a problem, one must assume, compounded with the terror of finding that there is nothing much to find in the final event but a lonely and bitter drama queen; to the hard core drug-using hippie who will take anything for the sake of whatever. Of the post-modernist refugee from the Modernity, the Freak Show promoter of all things for his own self, there is a constant lack of commitment to family, traditional religion, and employment: Who can raise a family, go to work, and be a member of a productive community if one is taking drugs in the Amazon jungle? Perhaps such people really do need “healing.” Me? I'm special.

People take ayahuasca for a reason. They take it for the effect. The locals take it as an alternative to Modernist medicine, though often in conjunction with the latter. Others take it as, in effect, recreation, if that includes “re-creation” of the person.

Ayahuasca effects:

Beyer (2009:23-4) lists three phases in the ayahuasca experience: the first phase is dominated by [seeing] geometric figures; the second by contact with the spirit world; and the third is quieter, with physical symptoms lessening and more pleasant visions. 

The effects of DMT, which provides the hallucinogenic effect in ayahuasca, as described by Strassman (2001) are: sense of timelessness, loss of control, contact with other “beings” or “entities”, feeling that another intelligence directs their minds, visions of unseen worlds, of DNA-like spirals, of jungle animals etc. Like other psychedelics, it can induce states similar to mystical experiences. In addition to the visionary experience, ayahuasca causes sensitivity to light as well as violent vomiting and diarrhea, which are considered to cleanse the body. Many people report the perception of parallel realities or universes during an ayahuasca experience. Common visions mentioned in interviews were: geometrical shapes, one’s own death, and contact with non-human persons. People also reported that visions change very quickly and often it is very difficult to understand what one is looking at and even more difficult to remember all of it afterwards. Change between light and darkness is often reported as well. One of the things that a shaman is able to do and everyone learns by experience is to control the visions–or to be more precise-- to catch up with them and make sense of them. Here is how Stafford and Bigwood summarize the ayahuasca experience:

Visions. Ayahuasqueros describe long sequences of dream-like imagery; geometrical patterns; manifestations of spirit helpers, demons and deities, tigers, birds and reptiles. They see dark-skinned men and women. They experience sensations of flying and of their own death; they see events at a great distance. Many users claim that these visions appear in a spiritually significant progression. [Stafford and Bigwood 1992:349]
According to ethnographers the most common themes in ayahuasca visions are: (1) the feeling of separation of the soul from the body, and the sensation of flight, (2) visions of jaguars, snakes and other predatory animals, (3) a sense of contact with supernatural agents (demons and divinities), (4) visions of distant persons, cities and landscapes (perceived as clairvoyance) and (5) detailed reenactments of previous events (Harner 1973b:172).
(Ibid. Fitiou: p. 16.)

In the interests of full disclosure about your humble writer here, I have to make it plain that I hate George Bush jr. only because he didn't invade enough countries and didn't give enough tax breaks to the rich. Worse still for some, the only trans-sexual who doesn't make me puke more that drinking a bucket of ayahuasca is Deirdre McCloskey. Therefore, when it comes to taking medicine, if I take any at all, it would be from a certified Modernist doctor who has some idea of what he's supposed to be doing. I'm not one to see a witchdoctor in the jungle. It's the kind of man I am. Unfortunately, not everyone is like I am. Some prefer “natural” medicine. 

This is central, if not so much of interest to those solely interested in ayahuasca, because it tells of the person in deep ways not so obvious to the casual inspector of his own soul. I am endlessly surprised and dismayed by the incuriousity of the average “seeker” of truth and light and whatever who has no interest in much beyond his narrow and generally uninformed ideas gathered up from friends and self-help books at the local drug story magazine and book rack. I find myself then asking the age old question: “WTF!”

If people choose to see a shaman for “healing,” why do they do so rather than suffer in silence or rather than seeking out standard medicine we have generally come to recognise as more effective than the use of agua de florida, though one must admit it's as good a cure for male pattern baldness as any other. So, at the risk of antagonising my readers with more history of stuff, let's look very briefly at medicine as some reject it in the post-modern world today, and then we might know more about why we do what we do. I would call that freedom. 

Just because the gods love me there are at my place at Iquitos, Peru currently two people in serious need of medical attention at this moment, one with a badly infected foot from an incident in the jungle, the other a man coming down with blood poisoning that looks like gangrene. One has turned to a local for treatment and is hobbling around with a smelly foot and runny bandages; the other is trying to get his mates around here to cough up some cash to pay for his stay at hospital. The odds of either of these people getting better are beyond my capacity to predict, though I suspect neither of them will have much luck. The gods provide me with these two as vivid examples of what one might do in a medical emergency situation. There is a third party involved here, and they too are evidence the gods love me: the third party, after panicking momentarily over a fellow citizen's predicament, have retired to the rooftop to seek herbal medical relief for their anxieties. The question of import is how one sees the nature of illness, disease, wounds, and sickness. What-- or who-- is responsible? And in deciding on that, what is to be done? Who is to do the doing? One injured, one sick, and both have opted for divergent treatments. About the pot smokers on the rooftop, one might say...  yeah, well, whatever, man.

Strange it is to me that what so many call alternative medicine is not the alternative at all but is  the same old and explicitly ancient medicine of Galen and Hippocrates that hardly budged an inch in millenia that was demonstrably worthless and usually iatrogenic as opposed to an ever-changing and radically innovative, allow me to say revolutionary empirical and scientific alternative to nothing much at all, i.e. medicine as an "art."

My grandparents all survived the Great Depression, which they could hardly get through an evening without mentioning in deep detail. They survived the Second World War, which was almost as constant a topic of conversation. but they also survived the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919, which my grandmother told me she didn't want to speak about because it was too terrible to recall. Now I have some idea what she meant.  

Many shamans in Iquitos charge each person anywhere from 50 to 150 soles for an ayahuasca ceremoney, two euphemisms in one. Most of the curanderos I know in villages around Iquitos charge one chicken, or about 20 soles, give or take. But regardless of how much one pays for it, only the truly weirdly sick take ayahuasca because they like it's effects, they being bulemics and scatologists. Yes, they exist, and that's why words for them are so commonly used. But aside from them, the majority by far take "ayahuasca" for the chakruna. To suggest, to say aloud, that one takes ayahuasca for its healing powers is to say the same as one takes pills for the sake of chalk and capsules because of the gelatin or that one dates a woman because of her shoes covering her feet, if that's a good analogy. Ayahuasca is the coating that allows for the effects of the chakruna. Calling this a "ceremony" is too puerile to bother discussing. Most people in this bitterly poor country where a working class man in his prime breaking his health makes 20 soles a day, to make S150 per head from tourists per day by the dozen, let's be honest here, is a better alternative. when the local village shaman prices his services so dearly, then only the drug tourist can afford him, and thus the peasant is left with little alternative but Modernist medicine. How horrible is that? It depends on ones vision of reality, and that means that when one has an infected foot or when one is laid low by blood poisoning one has to decide quickly what the medical option is going to be, shamanism or modern chemistry. My grandparents didn't have the latter option, and they couldn't bring themselves to talk about the effects of country doctors accepting chickens for the art of medicine they practiced as millions died in their prime in the aftermath of industrial slaughter that was World War One. The pandemic without the benefits of flu vaccines was a horror even they, hard and sometimes brutal people, couldn't speak about. We spent thousands of years with Galen and little else. Today we have effective alternatives. Some Modernists reject it. The question is "Why?"

What or who causes illness? Some deliberately reactionary Christians, the ones "sophisticated" people like to tar all Christians as in an attempt at erecting straw men, do argue, as it were, that this or that is caused by God's wrath. So what? We know better, Christian normatives or leftard buffoons alike. And yet, one finds both gangs resorting to herbal remedies and tarot card readings-- and ayahuasca-- for medical reasons. They conveniently skip the embarrassing native superstitions and go for the gauzy "ancient" aspect instead, as if millenia of failure is a priori authentic and anything Modernist is a priori a source of  horror. But for the local it is, and almost entirely is all about, faith. It's not about plants, I think I see, it is about the spirits of plants, a matter of faith in spirits and the shaman's ability to use them wisely and beneficially. The plant material is secondary for the local, but not for the drug tourist who wants to get stoned. For him, without the drug-induced effects of ayahuasac, he would not be at Iquitos taking cabbage leaf soup for an infected foot. Why not? The locals do it. And that is because they know their enemies have caused them illness and injuries and only a very nasty shaman can kill the devils and perhaps curse the other shaman who did this to them. It doesn't want a sissy in charge. It wants a mean motherfucker. The rest of us settle for antibiotics.

Cause of illnesses: Why one would consult a curandero.

[P]ersonalistic and naturalistic. In personalistic systems disease results from purposeful intervention of an agent, such as evil spirits, other spirits when offended, curse or witchcraft by other humans. In this scheme, there is little room for accident or chance and illness is only one of a number of misfortunes brought about in this way. Amazonian shamanism would fall into this category, since illness is mostly diagnosed in these terms. In naturalistic systems, disease results from natural forces or conditions, such as the environment, an upset in body’s equilibrium, aging etc.. The familiar biomedical system is a naturalistic system. In the context of shamanic tourism the personalistic explanations of the shamans come together with the naturalistic ones of westerners and often there is a shift in the way westerners view illness. 

[In] Evans- Pritchard’s (1976) work on the Azande, which is one of the most important in the discussion of witchcraft and sorcery [he] used the Azande’s distinctions and showed that ideas of witchcraft for the Azande functioned as a means of explaining misfortunes that could not be explained otherwise. For him these ideas were a reasonable way for the Azande to explain things and also gave shape to their moral worlds. Witchcraft accusations were a means of expressing and discharging tensions between people. For Mary Douglas witchcraft is an alleged psychic force; “an anti-social psychic power with which persons in relatively unstructured areas of society are credited, the accusation being a means of exerting control where practical forms of control are difficult” (1966:102). Witches defined like this are marginal. Witchcraft can also be involuntary. Sorcery for Douglas is a form of harmful power which makes use of spells, words, actions and physical materials; it “can only be used consciously and deliberately” (1966:107). Evans-Pritchard also argued that witchcraft accusations indicate social conflicts. In Iquitos, the phenomenon of witchcraft and the frequent accusations are a result of the strained local economy and the antagonism between shamans competing for the few tourists. Ayahuasca tourism is limited and the income the tourists bring is highly desirable. In this context, sorcery becomes a battle for limited resources and a means of exerting power.( Ibid. Fitiou.)

So, harm is caused by agency; or shit happens. For the postmodernist, shit happens, but the way to make it less smelly is to refer to an "authentic" healing shaman rather than to a greedy and chemistry-based Modernist doctor. Some, even those with more money than I, Steve Jobs, for example, die because they wish to be cured "organically" rather than chemically. Jobs likely no more believed in spirits than I do, but he had faith in "authenticity," and it killed him.

One might shake ones head in disgust at the "faith' people have in the ugly religion of scientism that is so often held by the same people who say with a straight face that they also believe in the healing power of Juan-Carlos' soup cooking on my stove as a remedy for a person's infected foot at this time. The Modernists don't believe, as does Juan-Carlos, in the spirits; they say they believe in the curative powers of his soup because he is a native of the Amazon who therefore has power in himself because he knows what healers have known for thousands of years. Juan-Carlos knows how to cook soup. He doesn't know how to practice medicine. He laughs when we speak and says they want the soup. He went to a hospital recently and got stitches in his own foot. No soup for him because he's not a fool. Others? Well, I'm a gentleman, and I won't comment on those who "believe."

A very important element of an ayahuasca ceremony are the spirits, also called doctors, or doctorcitos. The curanderos have a special relationship with certain spirits with which they work closely; even participants encounter spirit doctors who manipulate their body with the purpose of healing them. The curandero might also employ spirits for future protection. Shamans ascend to other worlds to consult spirits and even god in order to heal a patient. One of the shamans I worked with used to say that she comes closer to god with ayahuasca. The spirits tell shamans what to do, for example if they need to direct energy to a person with the schacapa. They also tell shamans when enough energy has been directed to a person and manage the chaos of energy that might ensue during the ceremony. Each plant, human or object has multiple spirits, which are arranged hierarchically. When invoking a spirit, the shamans call the head spirit of each plant or madre de la planta. (Ibid. Fitiou: p. 196.)

The madres look at what is needed and send the appropriate spirit to each person. I was often told that one has to be receptive to receive help from the spirits. Sometimes when one asks for their help the immediate response is unpleasant because they bring in more energy than the body can handle but when they pull negative things out the person feels better. In a way, “it gets worse before it gets better.”

Some interviewees have described quite dramatic interactions with the spirits. One of them said that once the spirits performed open heart surgery on him. He believed that the visions are like anesthesia and are meant to distract someone while they are healing their body. This idea that the visions are really a distraction and not the actual purpose of the ayahuasca experience was shared by many people. (Ibid. Fitiou: pp. 196-97.)

But when all is said and done, ayahuasca is a tourist-driven business, the village curandero usually selling out, as it were, as soon as he gets a chair at a luxury resort and has a chance to screw tourist girls and make a lot of cash. Such is the nature of man, women-- and spirits, no doubt. To fit in as a shaman, one has to act the part as expected of them by tourists. The village idiot turned shaman has to learn to talk about chakras, for example, and might even have to dress up in a grass skirt like the Boras with whom he has nothing in common ever at all. Give the customers what they want, and they will pay. The tourists want "healing ceremonies" as they get high? Fine, and say "chakras" a lot as if you know what the fuck you mean.

Foreign concepts–from Asian traditions– are adopted by the shamans in order to accommodate tourist expectations and needs. Notably, a mestizo shaman with whom I worked for two months would often refer to the body’s chakras, or energy centers, a concept borrowed from eastern spirituality. People, including shamans, adapt constantly to new circumstances and as anthropologists soon realized, culture was always taking new forms and can never be viewed as static. While cultural exchange has always been part of shamanism and curanderos have been always been eager to adopt foreign powerful elements-- for example biomedical symbolism has been part of curanderismo for a long time (Greene 1998)-- the factor of tourism might speed this process up. As a result, the shamans who have figured out the expectations of the tourists about what is authentic attract the most people. Some aspects that tourists consider authentic are the dress of the curanderos, exclusion of Christian elements, as well as their location. For example they consider being in a “clinic” or retreat near Iquitos the authentic experience, because they are in the jungle just a few kilometers outside of the city, while locals drink ayahuasca in dark rooms in the city. The clothes that some of these shamans wear during ceremonies, are a mixture of attire from the surrounding ethnic groups, mainly Shipibo, who sell their crafts in the streets of Iquitos, or bought at the market. Most curanderos who choose this attire wear a long robe with Shipibo imagery and usually some sort of head dress made of feathers. I have seen tourists be impressed by these shamans. For example at the Amazonian Shamanism Conference in 2005 it was said that the sign up sheets for the shamans who wore indigenous dress filled up much more quickly than the ones for shamans that were older and more experienced but were dressed in Western clothes and did not make an impression. The “authentic” mestizo shamans that cater to Peruvians wear regular Western clothes and are Christian. For example an older shaman that works from his house in Iquitos and has no lodge in the jungle always has a picture of Jesus in front of him during ceremony. Some tourists might initially be put off by the fact that these shamans are Christian, because they do not identify with Christianity themselves, others just accept it as part of the culture. As a result, the shamans who react to the expectations of the tourists about what is authentic attract the most people. I have observed a certain shaman adjust her attitude according to the group she had on a particular night. She would remove the Christian images and symbols from the ceremonial space when she realized they were offensive to some visitors and put them back when she had groups of Peruvians coming to ceremony. She would also try to distance herself from institutionalized Christianity for the sake of the tourists and openly criticize the Christian church. Curanderos will also decorate ceremonial spaces with indigenous handicrafts bought at the market. To be fair, not all local curanderos partake in this performance of “authenticity”. Some will only do it for ceremony to create a more “sacred” mood, while others, as in the case of the conference, will dress up to appear more authentic or attractive to potential clients. However there is an increasing number of curanderos who are critical of this trend and will refuse to dress up and insist on wearing Western clothing at all times. Those are few but it is clear that they want to differentiate themselves from the rest and maintain some sort of integrity. I was surprised to see that in one of the most well known ayahuasca retreats near Iquitos the maestro and apprentices wore their regular clothes at all times and at no time did they try to appear more authentic. Even more surprisingly, guests [at one place once] did not seem to mind and I never heard anyone complain that they were not getting an authentic experience, which shows that tourists are not as superficial as they are thought to be. (Ibid. Fitiou: pp. 137-39.)

To end this part of the ayahuasca look-at we have seen the shapaka and the icaros of shamanism, the rattle and hum of the trade. We've looked at those who practice shamanism in resorts and those who live in remote villages, both doing the same sort of thing for altogether different reasons for altogether different clients. We've looked at why anyone in a world of pandemic flu outbreaks so devastating that hard people can't bear to recall the times would indulge in sentimental pseudo-medicine. We've seen how some will play the game that the customers demand. These are important things to know and consider in light of taking ayahuasca in the Amazon among people who take it seriously as part of the life of their living culture. I personally find drug tourists to be repulsive and disgusting in their preening and sentimentality. But they buy stuff from my friend Amelia and she pays the rent and feeds the kids, so in all, what's to complain about? But there is something more, and if it weren't more I would never have bothered looking at this tourist idiocy in the first place.

That something more is the nature of the universe as it is, something morons on dope miss altogether, and something that ayahuasca might indeed reveal to the interested person in better form than one can access through the mind unaided. It's probably clear by now at the end of eleven installments of ayahuasca that I truly hate drug tourists. I hate them not because they take jungle drugs but because they are mostly lazy, stupid, and phony. but the world is a big and complicated place full of mystery that I cannot begin to grasp the sense of, so perhaps such people perform some greater good that escapes me. I know too that there are some seriously evil people in this world who do seriously evil things; and it takes equally serious and equally evil people to fight them successfully. Armed then with something like knowledge of the ways of right and wrong, true and false about ayahuasca, the next step is to talk to two shamans, a gringo hippie arsehole and a native woman who is likely as bad in her own way as anyone else one can find in this world. If you want to fight devils, don't be nice about it. Get them and kill them. To a large degree, that's what ayahuasca is about. The battle between cosmic good and evil.

Orwell puts it well:

"Men sleep peacefully in their beds at night because rough men stand ready
to do violence on their behalf."

Now I think we know enough to know if shamans really do kick arse in an evil universe. Let's find out.

*The only Marxist  with principles is Groucho Marx.

Many thanks to Doctor Fitiou for the work I have so freely quoted without her prior permission. Great work, Doctor, and I hope we can meet if you return to Iquitos.

Dag Walker
Iquitos, Peru
Jan. 2013.

A gentle reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at the link here:
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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Iquitos, Peru: Ayahuasca (Part Ten)

I see and hear in my travels into the world of ayahuasca that most locals in the city don't take ayahuasca. My buddy Juan took it once, he said, and it tasted bad. He didn't get high, didn't see God, didn't think of himself as God. It made him sick and he didn't like it. Juan is about as low on the status ladder as one is going to get except perhaps for Juan Carlos, another buddy of mine. He said, about ayahuasca. I asked a number of locals of all classes and levels of education. I asked at Belen Market, and there I found it is thought of and used as a purgative, not a vision-quest tool. It's one of many herbal remedies not significantly different from rose water or other tonics meant to cure a range of problems, most psychosomatic. A physiotherapist said “Andeans and coastal people seldom if ever use ayahuasca” because it's for selva people rather than montana people or Limaneros. As well, he said, he was under the impression that one must be invited to use ayahuasca with locals in Iquitos, and that no one had ever asked him. If they had he would be nervous about saying yes because shamans have a bad reputation as thieves and rapists, which is certainly true of some in Iquitos, many tales of bad character surfacing with little prompting. Lima had some shamans from the jungle but they were apparently so bad that now all are shunned generally. Ayahuasca, then, is seen by most as a superstition that those striving for a live in the Modern world forgo.

What I see and hear is that Modernists come to Iquitos to take ayahuasca to “heal” themselves of traumatic experiences as a rule, and secondly to heal their bodies. The only people in the city who do that, other than Modernists with a lot of money to spare, are those few who come from the jungle, and they do it to facilitate medical treatments. They puke on purpose, not to see themselves as Gods at one with the universe. That is left to affluent Modernists and backpackers on a limited budget, i.e. those who are not members of a church, who are not members of a club or group, who have no children, who are alone- more or less-- in the universe itself and have no one and nothing in the way of responsibility toward anyone other than themselves, if that. Ayahuasca is a self-indulgence, from what I see, among those who are, to dip into the Dag-bag of difficult technical terms, “fucking losers.” I should be loving the stuff. I'm qualified.

Ayahuasca is Amazonian, and yet the word/s are Quechua, coming from the mountains, Incan in origin. This suggests to me that the Incas, being the superior power in the area are those whose register, i.e. whose dialect, sets the overall authoritative tone for all others, like Castillian Spanish, for example.

The term Ayahuasca is Quechua, the language of the Inca Empire, today spoken in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, and Argentina. Naranjo (1983) speculates that the term spread through pre-Colombian contact between Andean and Amazonian populations. The fact that the most widely used name for the plant brew happens to be Quechua might indicate knowledge of the plant by the Incas (Naranjo 1983). Evidence of the wide use of the term can be traced back to the 18th century (Naranjo 1983). According to the bulk of the literature ayahuasca means “vine of the dead” or “vine of the soul” and it refers to the freeing of the spirit from the body that it induces, as well as contact with the spirit world (Schultes and Hofman 1992) and dead ancestors (Naranjo 1983). In Quechua the first half of the word aya means dead person as well as spirit or soul (Whitten 1976), while the word huasca means vine (Naranjo 1983). Whitten (1976:61) discusses that in Jungle Quichua there is no correlation of the word with the dead and he prefers the English translation “soul vine”. However, some scholars argue that the actual Quechua meaning comes from the words jayac huasca, which means “bitter vine” (Oberem 1958, Frank Salomon, 2002, personal communication). … Ayahuasca has varied names among the indigenous peoples of Amazonia, including caapi, dapa, mihi, kahi, natema, pinde, yagé, nishí, nape, camorampi, mii, pitujiracu, and tucondi (Naranjo 1983, Schultes and Hofman 1992).
Evgenia Fotiou , “From Medicine Men to Day Trippers: Shamanic Tourism in Iquitos, Peru.” University of Wisconsin, Madison. 2010. [Doctoral thesis.]

Far be it from me to stick to the straight facts if I can have fun playing around with a story; but then there is the serious side of reality that demands some care and attention to truth. When looking into the nature of ayahuasca there's little reason to lie about it unless one cares to lie to oneself for reasons of ambivalence about drug using or reasons of personality disorder. Those who claim the need for trauma cure through ayahuasca use are those who have abandoned the scientific paradigm of medicine for the Romantic, at best, and for a fascist nostalgia at worst, if most likely unknowing. Fotiou writes:
“[T]he translation “vine of the soul” prevails, a fact that might have to do with a strong tendency to sensationalize and romanticize. (Fotiou, p. 9.)

If we search for the facts about ayahuasca, then we stand a better chance of grasping some fundamental truths about it later. “Bitter vine” seems at the intuitive level at least to be far superiour to “vine of death/spirit.” In searching for the plain and ordinary facts about ayahuasca we might then, having started well, do the same with shamans, looking at them and what they do as it objectively is rather than as a projection of the miserablist counter-Modernist reactionary.

In an earlier interview with a shaman I spoke with Gido, a plain and decent fellow who lived until recently with his family in the jungle where he was the village doctor. His work involved plants.

Mestizo shamanism involving ayahuasca as it is practiced in urban centers like Iquitos, is known as vegetalismo and its practitioners as vegetalistas, specialists in plant medicine (Luna 1986). Luna introduced the concept of the “plants as teachers”, explaining that plant spirits teach the vegetalistas directly how to diagnose and cure illnesses (Luna 1984). This is different from an herbalist who knows how to utilize a variety of plants but does not necessarily communicate with them. This approach of plants as living sentient beings and the communication of the curandero with their spirits, as well as other non-human persons, for a successful healing was central in my observations in the field. (Ibid. Fotiou.)

Earlier I have mentioned my friend Amelia, a Shipibo lady from Pucallpa, whose father is a curandero of high standing. She upset at least two young men when I introduced her and had her explain to them what is involved in taking ayahuasca: She said that one must live in a Shipibo village in the jungle for at least three months so one is accustomed to the place and its life, i.e. vegetation, and one must eat, drink, think, live with people for whom that life is life. Then, if there's some urgent requirement, one consults a man such as her father for a remedy, and he might or might not take ayahuasca to find a path to wellness of the sufferer of X. Needless to say, Amelia's discussion was not what the young men wanted to hear. Amelia told the truth about native use of ayahuasca, which doesn't address the needs or wants of most Modernists. The difference is significant and legitimate. One need not decide to abandon all of Modernity to “go native” for the sake of an authentic experience as an ayahuasca user. But one might address honestly ones actual desires and accept them for what they are rather than lie.

Going to a luxury resort to take drugs with locals and see oneself as God is as good a way to spend money as anything I've ever heard of. But it is what it is. To go to Iquitos to take drugs with a shaman is to take drugs, not with local shamans, but more than likely with someone who has come to Iquitos to get in on the tourist trade, there being “not many sights or activities in Pucallpa for tourists,” as my disappointed friend Jose used to say when searching for work daily in the city. Shipibo shamans and others from Pucallpa take the six day cargo boat ride to Iquitos to make a living.

The Shipibo communities are not geographically close to Iquitos and any Shipibo living there are actually migrants from the Ucayali River. They belong to the Pano linguistic group and their population is estimated to be up to 30,000 (Behrens 1994). They are considered to have among the most powerful ayahuasqueros. (Ibid. Fotiou.)

But they all look the same, don't they?

Fotiou points out other misconceptions and outright nonsense spouted by drug tourists. They use too often, as I do because I don't care, the term shaman to describe the curanderos locally.

Shaman ... is not the traditional word for this type of practitioner in the area. However, it is the word that almost everyone would use in Iquitos within the context of shamanic tourism, even though some older shamans would find it very funny when tourists called them “shamans”. The most appropriate term would be ayahuasquero, which denotes a healer who specializes in ayahuasca ceremonies.

Another word often used is curandero, which literally means a healer, but implies utilizing a wider range of healing techniques. In Iquitos the word curandero is used to denote someone who can heal using plants or other methods. It is not necessarily someone who leads ayahuasca ceremonies even though sometimes they do. In several discussions with locals they stressed the fact that a certain person who did ceremonies was not a curandero and that a curandero is someone who can heal a wide range of conditions, using a variety of plants. (Ibid. Fotiou.)

I often don't distinguish only because I don't really care. Ne would assume that those who do would pay some attention. Seldom done, in my experience of drug tourists.

There are different types of ayahuasqueros in the area, such as paleros, who specialize in working with tree barks as well as ayahuasca. Ayahuasqueros are considered the weakest practitioners by the other specialists. All other specialists require a much more rigorous training and thus are harder to find. (Ibid. Fotiou.)

Any idiot can give a tourist a cupful of ayahuasca and call it shamanism. Giving out a bucketful of ayahuasca to romanticizing Moderists in search of ecstacy and self-awareness is a cheap and easy way to make $75.00 per head. That term shaman is not related, by the way, to the English term shame.

The word shaman comes from the Tunguz word saman (Eliade 1964). The word entered the European vocabulary in the 18th century from travelers and 80 explorers in Siberia who were mostly Dutch or German native speakers (Laufer 1917, Flaherty 1992). Even though shamans are not the only religious figures in their societies according to Eliade the shaman alone is the “great master of ecstasy” (1964). In fact, because of Eliade’s work shamanism even today is closely associated with Altered States of Consciousness (ASCs) even though some have challenged the usefulness of terms like trance and ecstasy as analytical tools when it comes to discussing shamanism (Hamayon 1993, 1998). According to Casanowicz (1926) the Tunguz word means one who is ‘excited’, ‘moved’, or ‘raised’. Hoppál (1987) adds that another translation of the word shaman is “inner heat” and it comes from the Sanskrit word saman that means song. The word has been widely discussed and contested as being an inappropriate word for defining such a wide spectrum of traditional healing practitioners to the point that most anthropologists today prefer to speak of shamanisms (Atkinson 1992) and others argue that because the use of the term has changed so much over time it is impossible to arrive at an agreed upon operational definition (Jones 2006). Most definitions are either general and universal or context specific. In indigenous languages there is a specific word assigned to healers usually related to some important aspect of that culture’s healing complex. Atkinson has brought attention to the diverse approaches and theories on shamanism and warns of generalizing theories that might lead to “unwarranted reductionism and romantic exoticizing of a homogeneous non-Western “other”” (1992:309). (Ibid. Fotiou.)

Such it part of the ugliness of philobarbarism, the 'unwarranted reductionism and romantic exoticizing of a homogeneous non-Western “other” '.” Get the terms wrong, skip the immersion in the local culture because it's time consuming and one has a real life back home, and then lump Amelia with jorge as “brown people” as one of my stalkers has done in accusing me of “hating brown people” and one ends up as a full-blown idiot racist spouting cliches and evil stupidities that get people killed. However, if one is clear about ones interest in taking drugs for the sake of self-awareness or even self-indulgence, there is possibly some value in it for individuals. Lying can't benefit many other than those who would steal from them, rape them, or otherwise harm them. Such things happen frequently to the foolish. How is the false person to protect him or herself from a strange reality when one lies about ones ordinary reality?

Earlier we noted that Gido doesn't need ayahuasca to do his work. If he doesn't need,it, why would the consultee? Clearly it is not for the drug tourist to have any concerns other than for himself. That would have nothing to do with me, and thus is not a criticism of drug tourists.

In Amazonian shamanism the special power of the hallucinogenic plants is not attributed to alkaloids but to the spirit believed to inhabit every plant, something which is encountered in other cultures as well (Furst 1993; Whitten 1976). Plants are believed to be the teachers of shamans (Luna 1984, 1986), even though learning from the plants does not imply that the person will become a healer. For some, this process is more a philosophical quest, the desire to learn, to understand; learning how to heal is part of the knowledge acquired during initiation, not the primary goal. (Ibid. Fotiou: p. 159.)

Gido spoke of his “X-ray vision.”

[I]n the practice of ayahuasca healing, the ayahuasca is said to enable the healer to see the inner parts of his patient and thus establish a diagnosis. some of the shamans I interviewed reported that the brew literally enables them to see the inside of their patients’ bodies. One shaman after a ceremony described to me what he had seen in my body as wounds (heridas) on particular organs. (Ibid. Fotiou.)

Gido went further, though it wasn't clear to me at the time what he meant. Fotiou clarifies it.

Ayahuasca shamanism is perceived as ancient and representing a time when people lived in harmony with nature and each other. This romantic approach to shamanism has not been there from the beginning. Even though there is evidence of ayahuasca used in ancient times it is unlikely that it was used in the same way that it is used today even by indigenous people. Gow (1992) has argued that ayahuasca shamanism with a focus on healing, is a result of colonialism and a response to the brutal history that I describe in the introduction. I argue that it is not only possible that colonialism has played an important role in the development of ayahuasca shamanism as we know it, but that tourism continues to do so. This is particularly important when dealing with the more ambivalent aspects of shamanism such as sorcery and the possibility of tourism increasing sorcery attacks between curanderos. (Ibid. Fotiou, p. 304.)

With that we can look further to see how Gido did a serious pantomime that called to my mind a scene from Milton's Paradise Lost, better summed up below by Fitiou.

One of the biggest misconceptions about shamanism in the West is that shamanism revolves around spirituality and love. A Western shaman in his attempt to differentiate himself from New Age, says that scholars have erroneously argued that shamanism is about a magic journey “but neglected the dimensions of love and spirituality that are in its core” (Kottler and Carlson 2004:44). This viewpoint seems to ignore the political dimensions of shamanism as well as its role in conflict (witchcraft etc.). One reason that this belief is so pervasive might be the disbelief of westerners for the effectiveness of witchcraft and their automatic dismissal of it. On the other hand it could very well be a conscious effort on the part of the practitioners; if the people who have made a career out of shamanism in the West dwell on the negative side of shamanism then it would not be so attractive to their audience. They have an idea of what their audience craves and they reckon it is not battles with evil spirits and shamans. (Ibid. Fotiou.) [My emphasis.]

To sentimentalise Gido's battle of the spirits is to deny him his legitimate reality as a man and a member of a unique culture. Philobarbarism is exactly a denial of the reality of others, as is drug tourism that pretends to laud its anti-Modernist mode of production and to claim some superiourity for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of those who lack, for example, the rudiments of Modernity such as sewerage. People, and often whole villages of people, die because of a lack of simple Modernist infrastructure that the post-Modernist claims is evil, i.e. the works of Modernity in the form of, again for example, sewerage systems. Or we can look at vaccinations. Or any number of other aspects of Modernists public health. Instead, the sentimentalising drug tourist can lump all “brown people” into one lump and claim that if only it were possible the post-modernist would live such life, but alas.... Missing from all this drivel is the violence of communal life in the jungle, not restricted to spirits, and not assumed by the locals as pathological. Drug tourists do not, in my experience, look at the real violence of ayahuasca culture. They don't know, they don't care, and they probably would dismiss it if they had to think about it. It's not part of the tourist package to see reality beyond the pay-off of self-awareness and a great summer vacation story to tell back home later.

Recent scholarly work on the subject of shamanism in Amazonia stresses that “Amazonian shamanism is not a loving shamanism” (Fausto 2004). The concept of energy is a key metaphor in Amazonian worldview and is related to the soul, power, desire and intention. Power resides in the human body and is affected by the ingestion or expulsion of substances. Just as in North American shamanism object intrusion is considered a common cause of illness. It is considered to be the consequence of malevolent intent and ascribed to sorcery and witchcraft. The healing shaman sucks the foreign object from the patient’s body and spits it out. In this worldview, good and evil are not fixed categories but are relational and highly contextual. (Fitiou: p. 209.) [My emphasis.]

There is only so much ones colleagues will tolerate from another, and that usually ends at expressing a belief in witchcraft. Thus, the drug tourist must dismiss an essential aspect of Amazonian reality, wiping out the whole of Pasaje Paquito, for example, at Belen Market, the very embodiment of selva life and the efforts of curanderos in the lives of the people. No one in the office is going to take seriously the drug tourist who returns to work speaking about witchcraft as legitimate. That would be embarassing, and one often goes on a drug tour to gain prestige among ones group rather than to be laughed at. So one must ignore the prevalent reality of Amazonian life when it messes with ones epistemological hair-do. Gido explained it all to me quite clearly in our earlier interview, and I had no idea what he meant. Now that I have some clue I find I like him even more.

I wrote elsewhere and perhaps mean-spiritedly about an alcoholic t.v. repairman who makes a few dollars on the side by reading fortunes at Pasaje Paquito. He's a decent fellow in all, and yet he too discussed the battle with evil spirits he engages in. His violence is limited to knocking off beer by the dozen, but it is there and fundamental to his life. So too with Gido, a friendly fellow, also a violence obsessed curandero. This is important in that such men face death, as I noted in the first part of my discussion on the curanderos missing at Yurimaguas, presumed dead by murder. For drug tourists ayahuasca is not a culture and it is not a life to be taken seriously: it is a game for them. For the rest, it's a matter of life and death.

Warfare between shamans is very common and can take many forms. While combating sorcery in order to heal patients during the ceremony, the shaman is vulnerable to attacks by other shamans. Shamans find different ways to attack their rivals. For example, if a client has drunk ayahuasca with a malevolent shaman and that person drinks with someone else afterwards, the malevolent shaman tries to interfere in the ceremony of the rival shaman through the person that was previously their patient. They might manifest through the body of the patient making noises that are distracting for the rest of the participants or direct negative energy to the rival shaman. They can also place dangers and threats for the rival shaman in the astral realm so that he or she will have to fight them off as soon as he or she enters it under ayahuasca inebriation. This means that for a shamanic fight to take place, both shamans do not need to be in ceremony at the same time because time in the astral realm is not linear; merely placing something there guarantees that it will be there whenever the rival shaman enters the spiritual dimension. I was told that these attacks are not as powerful as when both shamans are having ceremony at the same time, and they are easy to defeat. (Ibid. Fotiou: p. 222.)

To the average office worker at home, this account of reality is nonsense that he would be embarrassed to mention in his account of how he achieved spiritual specialness with a loving and altogether groovy shaman in the Amazon jungle at a beautiful retreat in the rain forest. Reality, which is what the drug tourist is so adamantly against, is a lot dirtier. Yes, one might say it's all true, but then coffee time ends and one must return to ones desk to complete the effort of looking at actuarial tables to determine how much it will cost the government, i.e. the taxpayer, to pay for medical insurance for Mr. Eyks who doesn't have a job. But no, one would be as embarrassed by this as is the average Peruvian living and working and raising a family in a state of cleanliness and modern medicine that allows his children to survive their first five years at an average of greater than 50 percent.

In warfare, shamans need to have weapons. One of my consultants has a protective spirit suit and boots that one of his teachers gave him. In fact one of the ceremony participants said that she felt the boots with her hands while he was standing over her. The weapon of choice that shamans use in Amazonia is the magic dart or virote. Much like the medicine substance, virotes are stored in the phlegm that resides in the shaman’s body and he can retrieve them as necessary. Shamans project virotes to make someone sick or to attack another shaman. They can be removed from the body of the victim by sucking. For the most part, this type of attack is used against other shamans but the darts can hit participants in the ceremony by accident. One of the shamans said that he never got the physical phlegm but it was given to him in a dream. The spirits gave him a cup with a white substance and he had to drink it. Then he felt it settling across his chest. He also said that his whistling was given to him in a vision. In order to keep its power, in his icaros he sometimes sings the word mariri; that is because if something is not used it loses its power. (Ibid. Fotiou, p. 223)

To deny such realities of others is to dismiss their authenticity as human beings; and to suggest that one actually believes in such superstition is to invite ridicule from ones more honest fellows. The sentimenalising philobarbarist thus remains ignorant at best and deliberately ignorant at worst.

Who is going to return to modenity to say to ones peers the wonderful shaman one took ayahuasca with prevented grievous harm from a jealous shaman rival spirit? Christians seldom if ever refer to Paradise Lost as equivalent to the local newspaper. How would one feel about saying something like this:

[H]e cannot attack a shaman unless he is attacked by him first. Even if he is healing a patient of witchcraft, if the shaman who caused the witchcraft does not fight he cannot attack him. He said that battles at this level look like some of the battle scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies. (Ibid. Fotiou.)

The point of drug tourism is not to return to ones familiar places to be laughed at but to be lauded. Thus, one must claim that ones shaman is otherworldly in a sensible fashion, somehow legitimate and eternal in the sense of practicing a ritual, a “ceremony” unchanged over 5,000 years, and one few at the office have heard of, let alone done themselves, thought they might have had colourful cocktails at a resort in the Caribbean. To talk of ones shaman in glowing terms is to bask in the reflected glory of. Reality? Sometimes not so romantic. There is the dirtiness of reality always intruding, such as:

[T]he existence of alcoholism among many shamans. This is a common phenomenon in Iquitos and many shamans are known for their bad temper and excessive drinking. This is usually known among locals but it is easy to conceal from tourists that are only in town for a few days. For example, locals would say about a shaman that she was considered to have been very powerful until she started drinking. The same shaman told the tourists that she never drank alcohol and never ate Chinese food because it was unhealthy. (Ibid. Fotiou.)

The things one never hears about. Thieves, rapists, terrorists, and general outright arseholes, some shamans are nothing but drunks on the make who find idiot tourists wanting piss away vast amounts of money to brag later about how grand they are in comparison to those mediocre fellows they must share office space with.

Some shamans are unlike the stereotypical cliched maunderings of post-menopausal ladies with rich but now dead husbands, or metrosexual kids who can't get laid going on about how cool it is to see themselves as one with God instead. Lots of babble. I try to skip them. But there are some shamans worth actually talking to. I won't be asking any locals about this guy, they not seeming to be into ayahuasca as much as Modernists, and they not being so much into American hillbilly shamans at that if they were.

[A] fraud like Ron Wheelock. This man claims to be a shaman, but in reality is nothing but a greedy charlatan. He uses a woodchipper to produce large quantities of ayahuasca, which apparently he sells to buyers abroad, thus raping the local culture and the spiritual essence of ayahuasca. Apart from that, this fool organizes cock fights -which are illegal in his own country for very good reasons!- and breeds pitbull terriers (god only knows for what purpose). In my humble opinion, people like Ron should be tarred, feathered and run into the Amazon River.
Gart van Gennip February 16, 2011

This is a long story. I'll come back to it as soon as I can.

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: