I can kind of see that if one were to sit in a totally dark room with a bunch of strangers in a country far from home where one is then further isolated from the familiar by being in a grass-roof hut, sitting on a thin mat in the Amazon jungle, and one is determined to drink a sludge of boiled vines and leaves that are meant to make one puke ones guts out and then shit everywhere, all this for the sake of going psycho for about four hours hallucinating about being attacked by giant snakes and demons and thinking one is dying, then yes, this might make one fussy about who one chooses to lead one through this “ceremony” of sickness and madness as one is more or less helpless and incapacitated and at the mercy of anyone who cares to be aggressive and hostile and harmful, one who might call himself a shaman or a curandero, the leader of the ayahuasca drinking session so dearly paid for and done in high hopes of an interesting, even life-altering encounter with ones inner self. The thrill of an altered state of consciousness that leads so many to ayahuasca is better done with some experienced baby-sitting, the general concensus insists, and one needs think through who that babysitter might be. A bad shaman, a bad trip. Drinking ayahuasca leads some women to being raped, some people to being robbed, others to being abused psychologically to the point they return in a state of terror from the experience. If one chooses to take ayahuasca, then one must choose wisely who ones babysitter will be during the period ones own self-parent is absent. But, hey, it gets a bit gay for me, this talk about the shamans who are so enlightened and spiritual and wise and who are so this and so that to the point one wonders why anyone ever voted for Obama when these other folks are so available. If the shaman of choice doesn't rape you, rob you, kill you, or mind-fuck you beyond repair, the rest, it seems to me, should be up to the individual seeking an altered state of consciousness, the shaman's role being limited to standing by with a cell phone to call for an ambulance if needed. But such is not the case, from what one hears of shamans. They aren't just special, they are special special. I've met some but I'm not yet a groupie. Maybe I just haven't met the right one so far. This all leads to meeting Ron Wheelock, the Gringo Shaman of Iquiots, Peru.
Ron Wheelock is from southern Kansas. He's a fifty seven year old American. He first went to Peru on 7 March 1996 for a brief visit and returned for a longer period 7 Nov. 1999. He currently lives just outside of Iquitos, Peru.
In an interview, he says of himself:
I mean, I'm still the same person I always was. But I've changed a lot, and when I go back and visit my old friends that I've been around for most of my life [in Kansas], I just don't resonate good with ‘em. I can visit ‘em, but after a short while I wanna go. They're still in the same place, they haven't changed. And some of ‘em's been judgemental to me, like Ron, you've changed so much. Do you not remember where you came from? And yes I remember very well where I came from.
Whatever else one might say of Wheelock, it's clear from the start that he's semi-literate and what some would call a hillbilly. “He's known around town as the Trailer Park Shaman,” said one long time resident of Iquitos. It's not surprising, then, that such a man would raise killer chickens for fun and profit. It's not surprising that such a man, surrounded by people attending him as shaman, would fire a pistol in the dark of night while high on drugs. Call it medicine, then. The man is what he is. What is this hillbilly about? Who is he? I decided to find out for myself. If one is to sit in the darkness alone and entirely vulnerable to the mercies of a stranger when ones life hangs in the balance and one must depend on the character of the babysitter one has chosen, then one must hope one has chosen as wisely as the situation itself allows for. If one is comfortable with a middle aged man who makes his ayahuasca brew by running the woody vines through an industrial wood-chipper “because it makes a finer brew” than the result of rising first thing in the morning to hammer the vines to bits and hope, then one if fine with man and the result, even if both destroy any pretence of high Romantic, suicidally sensitive young Werther or a Rilkesque sensitive poet type. If not for this curiousity of mine and this desire to meet a “type” for the sake of rounding out this look at shamans, i.e. to meet a shaman from America who is, on top of all else, an outsider even at home, I wouldn't nod at a man like Wheelock if I saw him on the sidewalk. But I decided to meet him anyway. What better way to club the drug tourist thrill seekers from home who come to the Amazon to be cooler than cool and to love their vanities evermore deeply than before they drank ayahuasca in a “ceremony” with a man the would despise at home than to meet and write about this trailer trash old guy backwoods hippie who cons the urban affluent out of lots of money and then laughs at them as he counts his money in the jungle?
This German girl I am so mad about could very well sit as I take her out for dinner and tell me how she would like to strip me naked and duct tape me to a plain wood chair and torture me with a propane torch and a dull edged rusty spoon and a bottle of vinegar; and as she described the horror of my torture I would love every word she spoke because she is lovely and I feel good about her talking about anything at all. Except not exactly. She said once that I look like Ron Wheelock's older brother. She has mentioned this a number of times. I respond with a friendly grin and tell her to bring on the needle nose pliers. I can take it like a man. Recently she said Wheelock and I are much alike, the same kind of person in many ways.... And I am a gentleman and I say step on my wounds, I can deal with the screaming. She goes on about Wheelock and me, and I have happy visions of my knuckles being crushed and my ears being cut off so I don't have to clench my fists and listen to more of this beautiful woman tell me I have anything in common with Ron Wheelock. As it turns out, Ron Wheelock and I have much in common, but not the important things.
Ron grew up in small town Kansas, the kind of place some fool wrote a book about called, What's Wrong with Kansas? meaning everything is wrong with those hillbillies living in rural places the intelligentsia in coastal cities refer to as “fly-over country,” as if those who live in the centre of the nation and live private lives are fools who don't know stuff, idiots, fools, bigots, racists, and greedy, stupid pig people. Why do we cling so bitterly to our guns and religion and other
out-dated and dangerous ideas when all we have to do is ask the cool people in the resort areas of California or New York how we should think and how we should be grateful for the wisdom doled out by the Left elite. I meet the leftard minions at least once a week, usually a girl in her mid-20s, bright, smooth-faced, clean, pretty, and so full of self-assurance that one feels a need to step back and let this princess float past as she turns and bestows a benign smile at those standing worshipful on the sidelines of life. Sometimes stopping briefly to drop some words of wisdom on such as we ignorant peasants, she will tell us about the healing powers of ayahuasca and how general use would end all wars and bring women to places of empowerment from where they could create a more perfect union of the cosmos and womanhood for the happiness of all, particularly Mother Nature, the loving earth, and the matriarchy in waiting. They come to Iquitos to take “medicine” with shamans, to expand their awareness of the good, to find their inner goddess, and so on. At home, rather than working with NGOs in remote villages where they teach the locals important life skills that thousands of years of history and simple living have failed to convey, they are, nine of ten so far, waitresses. The boys are gentle things, delicate and lovely. They play guitars and write music and draw and paint in little hardcover notebooks, and they are pretty and sweet and kind to old guys. Mostly they work in restaurants. They aren't educated much, not like the girls who all have undergraduate degrees. The boys, though, are almost always gentle and smiling. Ron Wheelock is not like that, and he comes from the wrong place to be like that, and it shows in almost everything he does and when he speaks and when one sees him. He's south rural Kansas. Poor white trash.
For this discussion of shamans I wanted from the beginning a range of shaman types, a local who lives in the jungle and has little contact with the modern world, Modernity, someone naïve and isolated and “authentic” in a sense Modernists can call the real thing; and I wanted a woman included because in spite of what women in Modernity might claim and do, women are not a better version of men at all, they are women, unique and strange and not men; and finally, I wanted an American hippies, someone so different from the expected, and yet so typical of what we would all assume a hippie in the jungle to be that he would be some cartoon caricature of a hippie shaman. I found one of each, and now it's Wheelock's turn to grace these pages. I called him up and made arrangements to meet him at his home, telling him nothing about myself, leading him to believe I am a curious person interested in ayahuasca, but not more about the man I am or what I do. He met me, I entered his home, we sat in his living room, and we spoke for hours. He would have spoken about ayahuasca all that time and more, but I guided the conversation away from that so I could find out about the man who is the Gringo Shaman of Iquitos. I wanted to know Ron Wheelock, guy in living room at home.
In a generation or so it will be near impossible to convey the reaction of most middle class white Americans toward a man like Wheelock back home. He is despicable to most successful people in that he has little to no formal education, can't speak about social concerns that obsess the majority of well-heeled middle class people, seemingly has no clue about sophisticated philosophers of rights like Peter Singer. He would be in jail if most had their way; and they world. Or, they would were Wheelock not perhaps exempt because he lives in the Peruvian Amazon and is a shaman dealing with ayahuasca. He is now world-famous as a man to be reckoned with in the Arcane. Without that, he would be abhorred by those who now adore him. There is no blanket absolution, of course. There are the leftard religious fanatics who can't stop till everything is pure beyond purity. For them, all must burn. For them, Wheeler would be high on the list. Wheelock probably wouldn't be able to explain the frenzy that drives the Left Savonarolas; and though it's too clear the latter can't explain themselves either, they do have their doctrines, and it is that that would leave Wheelock baffled. He hasn't rejected Modernity in favour of a more sophisticated post-Modernity. The world left Wheelock behind decades ago, and he has caught it only by chance, a figure of awe and wonder among the haters only because the Mystik is strange and those people who would hate his type love the man in spite of themselves. Mostly.
Gart van Gennip February 16, 2011 at 7:20 pm
[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.
[The above quotation and following are from the blog: http://dawnontheamazon.com/blog/2011/02/12/another-iquitos-evening/]
I get concerned when religious fanatics spout off about violence they would do to others, especially when they claim they are only emoting under the pressure of the moment. They are willing to cleanse the world of those they dislike, and they wait only for the mob to join them so they have the power of righteous fury en masse to back their rage with a veneer of legitimacy. They are not harmless. The Righteous Angry Prophet lurks in dark places and rises up in blood when the mob gives him permission. He has, he does, he will again.
[Apart] from [being] an openly gay atheist, I am also a vegetarian. I haven’t eaten any meat or fish since 1984 and I am a strong believer in animal rights. If people don’t stand up to defend animals against other people, then who will?
The writer above devolves into illiterate idiocy when he finds he cannot tell the truth about himself directly. His purity announced for all to admire, he then claims that he must “stand up” to defend the weak; but will not write this openly. He writes instead some dishonest rubbish because he won't admit his longings to be the strongman at the head of the violent mob. “If people....” If I, G. v.G., do not....” He will not say. “I can’t stop Ron Wheelock or anyone else from doing what they do,” he writes, and he makes me nervous. He can't stop others, but the desire is there in the wings waiting its cue. The fascist mind flutters like the falcon in the fist. Who, then, is Wheelock, and why the covert frenzy against? I'm curious about the man. I want to know about the person himself, but also about the limits of shamans. Who is, and why?
Gart van Gennip February 17, 2011 at 9:32 pm
[A]yahuasca is considered a sacred teacher plant. It is part of a very old tradition and culture. It has huge spiritual significance to many people, locals as well as visitors. The way Ron Wheelock produces ayahuasca and sells it at great monetary benefit is nothing less than an insult to this cultural and spiritual significance. It is void of even a shred of cultural and spiritual sensitivity.
I don’t get how anyone who takes ayahusaca seriously can even consider supporting this guy with their money, let alone recommend him to others. To me, it is shocking and offensive.
If you really want to have a true ayahuasca experience, there are countless of alternatives; ayahuasqueros, healers, who offer an authentic, traditional ceremony, maybe even at a better rate as well. But if it is just the power of the brew that matters to you, then why don’t you admit that you just want to get high, and that the rest of it is a load of bullshit.
I like to think that a true shaman lives a holistic, spiritual lifestyle, has respect for Mother Nature and doesn’t care too much about money. I haven’t seen or heard any evidence that these things apply to Ron.
[H]ow can anyone who engages in despicable exploitation of animals for fun and monetary gain be a good shaman? I am already far beyond Ron Wheelock as a person or a shaman,
At Bill Grimes blog a further comment quotes an interview:
Andy Metcalfe April 12, 2011 at 12:25 pm
Steve: There is a tendency — and I talk about this especially in relationship to María Sabina — to romanticize and to spiritualize shamans generally, and shamans in the Upper Amazon in particular. I think that does them a disservice. It takes away the depth of their humanity.
Howard: And their suffering, too. This is another important aspect of Singing to the Plants. You show that life in the Amazon is harsh, and in no way is it a soft and easy reality. The tragic death of doña María illustrates this. It is candid and direct, and no attempt has been to make the Amazon world romantic or “cosmic.” In my experience the shamans are not cosmic. They work to help everyday people in their suffering, their illnesses, and their protection. It is about the nitty-gritty of survival, and that’s one of the impressive aspects to your book.
Steve: Shamans are people who are engaged in dealing with envy, resentment, jealousy, disease, sickness, marital problems, business failures, interpersonal conflict. These are people whose job it is to deal with mess.
And they have their own sometimes messy lives. They have the dirty, difficult, and dangerous job of trying to make sick people better. And I think we do them a disservice when we spiritualize them, romanticize them, and try to turn them into some kind of religious icon. They deserve better than that.
Gart van Gennip December 3, 2011 at 6:08 pm
I apologized to Ron for writing my inflammatory comments during a friendly conversation we had during the recent shaman’s conference. I also found Ron to be a genuinely nice and decent guy; modest, friendly and sincere. I found I had been misinformed about some of the things I accused him of, particularly by an annoying young video-documentary maker who had interviewed and spent a lot of time with Ron, and who I thought at the time was a reliable source. Turns out he was a flake!
So, I was wrong to fly off the handle and I was wrong to write what I did about Ron.http://dawnontheamazon.com/blog/2011/02/12/another-iquitos-evening/
There is more at the link. As well, there is something left to be said about G. v.G.s moral, what we have discussed earlier as philobarbarism, sentimentality, and what I write of extensively, the reactionary longing of the primitive fascist for the return to an imaginary Golden Age of pure perfection as neo-feudalism; the love of poverty as if it were ennobling; what I and others have termed “povertarianism.” The poligion of scientism and Romantic reaction scream out in every sentence of G. v.G. He is not unique. He is legion. He is so particularly in the areas of ayahuasca Irrationalism among anti-Modernist sympathisers of the German Revolution. This obscure reference is important only in light of other works I write, some of which I hope will in time come to light in the world. For now, I simply put it on the record and leave it at that. What we can take away from the dialogue above is that some people claim to be purer than others in the same ayahuasca field, and those like Wheelock are shunned because of their “hillbilly” ways by ayahuasca elitists. To know about ayahuasca and those who use it, those who administer it to others, those who promote it, I looked at as well-rounded an array of possible shamans as I could. Wheelock is at one extreme of the spectrum. About ayahuasca, more later. For now, what about the man in the living room who causes so much frenzy among his fellows? My feeling is that it is a resentment from peasants who live in the Modern world and cannot accept the idea of equality of Man. I mean by this that there are those who pass as ordinary Modernists in all ways but the essential ones, men and women who live in the Medieval economy of scarcity, privilege, and entitlement. They are, thus, generally unconscious adherents of the German Revolution, those who follow unknowing the State socialism of Bismarck, those who would create the perfect Prussian state of aristocratic rule by Philosopher Kings for the good of all others. Modernist seeking ayahuasca utopia are the very people who seek the Golden Age of heroes and grand sacrifice for the glory of self and everlasting nothingness, to flame out in a Grand Gesture of Romantic death. They would take us all with them in their mad longing for gnostic godhead. Where does a hillbilly from Kansas fit in? Where does an uneducated middle aged drop out belong in this pantheon of ayahusaca-dispensing demigods fit in with the hippest of cool elitists who despise him and all he otherwise stands for? He's from fly-over country. How can he take up the titles of the elite? How can he justify having anything more than the miserable life of a starving peasant? How can he presume to live like a noble, a man with a title, i.e. a titled man, in this case shaman or curandero? He's a hillbilly. He's not our kind. Ergo: the man must be a fraud.
A reputable shaman lives, as we have seen, in a hut in the jungle and he takes a chicken in payment for his services as intermediary battling spirits in the vegetable aether on our behalves. Like our general understanding of holy men, he has taken vows of poverty because he is not really of this world of dirt and shit and puke at all, the stuff noble people do not have or know about because they are spiritually above it all. Nor do they care about stuff in general, like giant flat screen televisions and shiny black electrical toys and guitars and electricity and an automobile and cell phones. they might have loads of money, it's true, as much as the most noble of politicians and their multimillion dollar yachts they move from state to state to avoid paying taxes on while they lecture the little people about burning too much electricity with wasteful light bulbs in their apartments. Of course the noble are rich, and it's good because they are so far above it all we can see that to them it doesn't mean a thing. They treat wealth like the worthless bauble it is, pissing away fortunes the low among us cannot begin to dream of. They do it all for us to teach us that poverty is good.
The reputable shaman is poor, like all good people are, with the notable exception of those born to privilege, those entitled, i.e. those with titles, titles such as Executive Director of Sharing and Caring for the Poor at X quango. Or, better still, think political figure who battles for the rights of the poor. Think of the ever-golfing multi-millionaire current U.S. president who is often on vacation at today's equivalent of Versailles. He is a great man, a lover of the poor, and entitled to his perks because he carries the suffering of the world on his broad shoulders. Who is Ron Wheelock to have small toys in imitation of such great men? The man is a hillbilly, and thus must be a fraud. He is not an elite member of the ruling class; and worse, he has no class. He's from Kansas. Rural Kansas! A fraud! He should be pure and poor. "I am already far beyond Ron Wheelock as a person or a shaman."
It doesn't seem to have occurred to Wheelock to have a limousine to carry his guests to his home. A real shaman of the American type so successful as to be among the elite, the true Al Gore type saviour, would have an airport for private jets arriving. For Wheelock, it's come by chicken bus-- or walk.
|The Road to Wheelock's House|
|Downtown at Ron Wheelock's Place|
|The Road to Wheelock's House|
I got to Wheelock's house, deep in the remaining jungle, and knocked on the door, not knowing if I would again be attacked by vicious pit bull dogs like I was when the geriatric beast at the German girl's place tried to eat me. I knocked and waited for the sound of fangs and slobber. Instead I heard a gentle but masculine voice asking me to enter in. Ron Wheelock's place. I stayed and talked for the next three hours.
The next installment is going to piss off anyone expecting to read about ayahuasca. I talked to Wheelock about being Ron Wheelock. Now I know stuff about the man. That's next.
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: